I’m not dead, Julia.
Julia tilted into the sunlight streaming through the living room’s bay window and reread the letter’s first line.
I’m not dead.
From the fort of cardboard boxes came a timid, “Mom?”
“Shut it, stupid,” Kevin nudged his sister, “you’ll get us in trouble.”
She elbowed him back. “It was your fault.”
Through the shards of broken glass and splinters of grandfather clock, they chased each other from the living room, abandoning the boxes they been hiding among and the unpacking they were supposed to be doing.
“Careful” whispered Julia.
The responsible part of her wary of cuts and scrapes noted the bang of the front door, the laughter of her children on the lawn, the thump upstairs and the rush of nearing feet. The rest of her remained locked with the faded page she held, the one fallen free from the clock’s heart after her staggering bump, and its tumble then smash.
You don’t know me, any more than anyone can know someone who disappeared weeks after they were born. But I know your grandfather. I know your mother. They’ll tell you I died. They’ll keep to common sense. The easy explanation.
I know somewhere in our blood though, you’re different, Julia. You won’t be like them with their day jobs, their quaint houses, their tidy family lives. I felt the difference when I held you. I saw it when I looked into your blue eyes, your great grandmother’s blue. It’s because of that blue I took pen to paper and tucked this note away.
If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to keep this old clock safe. We’re the klutzes, you see? The misfits. The ones who break the rules and suffer the consequences. I did. Which is why I’m not dead. I know I’m right about you too because you’re reading this and perhaps now you’re ready to break more than dusty furniture.
“I heard the bang,” said Mike, breathless from his descent, “what happened?”
Clutching the letter against her chest, Julia stared up from the sea of debris. “What do you mean?”
Mike squatted by the base of the grandfather clock, eyed the field of glass, the bits of brass flung free, then motioned at the mess. “This.”
“The kids.” Julia bit her lip until she heard them outside.
They howled back and forth, then the whip of bicycle spokes took them down the street, to the safety of the cul-de-sac. Retreating to the couch’s armrest, Julia sank her gaze into the glittering shards sprinkled on the hardwood floor.
“They popped out of the boxes and scared me. I backed up and, the klutz I am, I knocked it over.”
“I knew we should have left it in the entryway.” Mike raked a hand through his hair, concern shading his face when he looked her way. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” She waved away his worry, the motion making the letter flutter.
Cursive script drew Julia back and she gnawed on her lip as she sought the place she’d left off.
You see I’ve found a way—
“What’s that?” Mike lifted his hands when she hugged the letter again and glared. “I’m just asking.”
“Sorry.” With a long exhale, Julia let the tension in her ebb, let the memory of forbidden books swiped away and the confiscation of sketch pads fade. She returned to the page, drawing a finger along the wrinkled edge. “I’m not sure, but I looks like a letter from my great grandfather.”
She started reading again and Mike sat beside her, silently following along.
I’ve found a way to leave this world. To go beyond the five senses we share. Exceed the four dimensions we experience every day. Perhaps this will be mundane by the time you read this, but I doubt it. No one here has believed me, therefore anyone when and where you are probably has no idea what’s possible or else we would have already met.
Regardless of the disbelief of others, I want to pass this knowledge to you, little Julia Marjorie Chase. You’re the one who deserves to see the truth, the world beyond the ordinary. What I’m offering is a key to a new perspective. A chance to explore like no one has done since I took my first step. Come. Find me. Join me. Live.
Until the time and place of your choosing,
Melvin Charley Herbert
Mike slumped into the cushions. “That’s creepy.”
Julia lowered the page. “That’s all you can say?”
After a shrug, Mike slipped from the couch and towered over the clock’s remains. “Didn’t your mom call him Mental Melvin?”
“Granddad did.” Julia brushed the signature line, the dents in the page evidence of a strong hand and steady pen. “They didn’t get along.”
“The scientist versus the banker?”
“Sounds like Melvin’s taking his last revenge.”
Julia surfaced from the letter. “What do you mean?”
“He writes a spooky note. Gets his great granddaughter all rattled up. Scares her. Worries her. Riles up the calm. Rocks the proverbial boat and gets a laugh from the great beyond.”
Her mouth dropped open, and then she balked and waggled the page. “You think this is a joke?”
Mike shoved a cardboard box aside and collected the pendulum bob, the round brass filling his hands. “I think we have a broken clock scratching our new house’s floor and an old letter.” He put the bob on top of the box. “Come on. Help me flip it over and we can get the glass out of here before Stompy and Whine get back from their ride.”
“But…” Julia slouched, the letter limp in her hands. “Now?”
“You want to explain shredded feet to the emergency room? Or better yet, Social Services?”
His logic quieted the letter’s draw, muting her curiosity, her wonder. Placing the page on couch’s bare cushion, Julia stepped carefully through the debris to the crowning finial.
Mike counted down and, together, they flipped and laid the clock on its back. Weights thumped. Cables twanged. Broken glass tinkled against the wood and showered the floor. In the base, the long hole where the pendulum and bob had hung gaped. Below the finial, the face with its brass hands, pearl numbers, and astronomical center, peeked out behind a cracked pane of glass.
Julia reached for the winding door’s latch tucked beside the nine.
“Careful,” said Mike, already harvesting the largest shards.
“I’m just making sure nothing else is broken.”
Opening the face’s door revealed the hour and minute hands as well as the circle of numbers. Julia ran her fingers along the pearl inlay, brushed dust off the sun, moon, and the emblems for each season making up the interior, and then checked the brass indicators.
The hour hand snapped off with a sharp pop.
The break had her wobbling in her squat, glass crunching beneath her sneakers. But when sunlight glinted on the pointed tip thoughts of balance, of deep cuts, and the costs of repairs, vanished.
Standing, Julia cradled the longer of the two halves, words and breath stripped from her throat.
“Jules?” Mike touched her shoulder.
“Look at it.”
He frowned but did so. “It’s broken.” His grip tightened on her shoulder. “We’ll get it fixed.”
“No. Look.” Julia shoved the broken tip into the air. Instead of pointing at the time, she twisted the end as she might have with a lock. “What does that remind you of?”
“A key, I guess.”
The cursive line floated from the page and off her tongue in a whisper. “The key to a new perspective.”
Mike’s hand slipped from her shoulder. “Julia.”
She spun to face him. “What? Why not? Why couldn’t Melvin be—”
“Alive? Because he’d be over a hundred and fifty years old.” Drawing her close, he kissed her on the crown of her head. “It’s just a letter, Jules, from someone who died a long, long time ago.”
She eyed the tip of the hour hand, and then drifted to the page abandoned on the couch. “But why would he do this?”
“I don’t know.” Stepping away, Mike dropped back to the clock’s mess. “Let’s get back to unpacking. Set some things in order.”
“I want to set this in order.”
“Alright.” He sighed and scooped up another bit of glass. “If it is a key, then what’s supposed to open?”
Tiptoeing through the debris, Julia fetched the letter. She skimmed through the text but nothing in Melvin’s words suggested a lock for her to unfasten, a place for her to explore, a destination other than the impossible. She perched on the cushions, her feet eager, her course unknown.
“He just says to find him.” She scanned the page again. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Mike tossed another handful of glass into the clock’s gaping mouth. “Where was he last?”
“Before this,” Julia flapped the page, “I’d have said a grave.”
“So where’s that?”
Julia quieted her sway of the letter. “Edgewood Cemetery.”
The slope of green spilled across her thoughts, the details unfolding as clearly as the heartbeat of time when she watched the grandfather clock tumble, her reaction too shocked to halt its fall. Headstones poked up from neatly trimmed blades, each stone etched with dates, with names. Fresh flowers adorned some, the shade of oaks darkened others. Flags fluttered. Blue sky streaked overhead. Birds and breezes beckoned.
A touch on her knee brought Julia back and she blinked at Mike, at the mess on the floor, the light-dappled boxes, the living room where they were supposed to be making a home. Mike caught her gaze as she reoriented.
“You won’t be here, really be here in this quaint house, with this tidy family life, until you check this out, will you?”
With a wince, Julia sank into the cursive script he’d quoted, her legs tingling, her mouth parched, the weight of the house on her shoulders. “I don’t think so.”
“Then go.” Mike shoved a pile of glass aside and stood, brushing his hands clean. “Find him.”
She floated from the letter and peered up at him. “Are you sure?”
“We’ll be fine. We’ll do pizza and a movie.” He offered her help off the couch. “Just come back safe.”
She pecked his cheek, his squeeze of her fingers running up her arm and into her chest. “Thank you for understanding.”
“If I didn’t, I’d have started calling you Mental Marjorie years ago.”
“I’m not mental.” After a playful shove, Julia darted through the boxes and found her jacket. “It’s in my blood.”
“That explains the kids.”
“Maybe it does.”
With a final wave, Julia pocketed the hour hand and letter. She swept outside, heading for the car, for a gravestone, for whatever destination, whatever new perspective, Mental Melvin had in store.