Cold Little Heart

Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery 

 Gideon was the sufferer of chronic curiosity. As the day poured itself out into the horizon, a blue twilight ushered in a triumphant moon. The October night's bite didn't deter, though he was sure Loretta would scold him for being out without so much as a windbreaker to cut the chill. Fingertips skimmed over the lichen-covered crescents of the Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery headstones. He went row by row, idly trying (and failing) to read the emotions of the dead.

  The dead didn't have feelings of course, but it was a good bit of fun to pretend they did.

  When he got a different kind of read, Gideon paused, trying to hone in on the slight thread of energy in the air. Like a breadcrumb trail, he toddled after it, stopping a few yards away from a curly-haired man who was just as much of a witch as he was. "And here I thought I was the only one silly enough to go for a stroll through the cemetery in the dark."

”What’s a nice guy like you doing on a night like this?”

Charlie’s curiosity didn’t typically veer into the macabre. He wasn’t averse to spooky settings, and he found a certain amount of joy in the Halloween season, but he had never found interest in Ouija boards (being a witch made commercial occultism far less compelling than it was for his normal human peers). He didn’t make a habit of picnicking in graveyards for photo shoots as were popular on some of the social media accounts this time of year, but he wasn’t afraid of them. An ongoing construction project had taken over his typical walking route, and just as too much spice in his food set his tongue aflame, the discordant inescapable loudness of jackhammers haunted his ears and gave him headaches. To avoid that, he’d sought alternative routes.

Like cutting through the cemetery.

The empath hadn’t expected to run into anyone, off the beaten path as it was, and the fact that it was early yet – both time of evening and day of the month – for the Halloween revelers to take over the grounds for séances and rituals. His messenger bag was slung over his shoulder – his Bag of Holding he called it to the affectionate eye rolls and good-natured groans of his friends and family - as he strolled through rows of stones. Yet, brown eyes snapped up at the sound of a voice, the tingle in the back of his brain he felt whenever in the presence of another witch.

Which, by the inverse property (misapplication) meant that this stranger could sense that about him as well. Charlie never knew whether that made it more awkward or less.

It was always so much easier when surrounded by his family, but most of them were back east, and those that weren’t still lived outside of Portland.

“It’s, um.” Smooth, Charlie. It occurred to him that he probably resembled Ichabod Crane a bit, all awkward height and gangly limbs. “I’m not too worried about zombies. Unless you know something I don't."

 Gideon sipped the other witch’s uncertainty, but like a wine made from fickle grapes, he could do little to pinpoint the source. It was typical for him to fall into a similar qualm, and like the choosing of a lilac or violet bow to finish his newest creation, he was never to sure what version of himself to put forward, what would best be received.

 Perhaps this witch was legitimately concerned about zombies, and it made Gideon smirk at his expense. "None of the undead things I’ve met enjoy skulking around their own graves. Not that it’s impossible, but what an exceptionally morbid pastime."

 It was careless, the way he was talking, but Gideon liked to think that when someone heard talk of fantastical things, they simply didn’t listen. "I’m Gideon Blythe, and you are?"

For want of a shortcut, Charlie suddenly found himself in over his head. From the other man, he mostly sensed…confidence? Bemusement? Standard, benign emotions that one would expect from another person spending time in a graveyard presumably with the expectation that he wouldn’t be disturbed. Nothing that provided the math professor with the slightest bit of insight into the other man’s motivations.

If Charlie had known that he was in the presence of another empath, then self-conscious embarrassment would have taken root, overwhelming his other emotions at the thought of sharing every detail of this with a stranger. It was bad enough when he lost control to the point of unintentionally projecting onto other people. (Which was to say that Charlie had never met another empath before.)

He nodded slowly, unsure of whether the other man was serious or if this was his primary means of recreation, telling tall tales in the cemetery when a stranger happened upon him. At least he hoped this was the latter, because he couldn’t square that with the otherwise absent agitated state with which he associated active psychosis. “That’s…good.”

A rippled of relief washed over him when the other man offered introductions. Those were familiar, and Charlie knew how to comport himself. “I’m Charlie Glass.” He raised his hand to wave in lieu of offering a handshake.

 His name belied his emotions - a dirty cocktail of feeling, shaken and poured out in the few words and a stunted little wave. Working not to wrinkle his nose, Gideon crossed his legs and leaned against one of the taller gravestones - Joyce Anderson. Beloved mother and wife. 1934-1989.

 "Have you been in the city long?"

 The Blythes were hardly magical mayors, but new arrivals to their little supernatural bubble were hard not to notice, another witch in particular. Still, there was every possibility that this curly-haired tweed had slipped by, surreptitious and unknown.

“Yes? I mean, I’m not a native or anything, but I’ve been here a few years.” Charlie hadn’t moved last week or at the beginning of the new school term. He was on his fourth lease for an apartment now, and he had developed a little bit of seniority in his apartment, such that he was no longer the new guy which also helped a bit with his job security – although he would breathe the biggest sigh of relief in the Pacific Northwest if and when he achieved tenure. He had some friends, a dry cleaner he used, his favorite restaurants, and both a dentist and a doctor who could tolerate his startle reflex.

“Are you…now, of course you aren’t new.” He touched the bracelet on his arm to self-soothe before starting again, brown eyes drawn not to Gideon’s face but the name and dates etched into the stone that he used as a support railing. Only 55? That was too young.

She had also died the year before Charlie’s birth which simultaneously felt like an eternity ago.

“How long have you been in Portland?” Charlie was receiving born and raised vibes but that could be reading signs that weren’t there, confusing comfort and extroversion for history and roots. “And, ah, do you spend a lot of time in the cemetery? Or is tonight something special?”

 Not so new, then. Mr. Glass had all the makings of a mouse - hard to notice though the evidence was there. Native or new edition, Gideon wondered if the man’s mark on the city would have been the same.

 He offered Charles a wide smirk that exposed his back teeth. "Any night where I meet someone who I have so much in common with is special." Not what he meant, certainly, but Gideon schmoozed with all the suffocating charm of big city smog.

 "We haven’t been in the city too terribly long - that is to say, my wife and I. We run a shop in the Southeast called Remains To Be Seen. It’s a taxidermy and oddities shop, among other things. So I suppose you could get away with saying I have an affinity for the dead."

It was an unflattering but not altogether inaccurate assessment of Charlie’s personality. He had a friend in school who followed the Chinese zodiac rather closely and always used to tease him about how he should have been born a few years earlier because he had the heart of a rabbit, right down to how his nose twitched and brow wrinkled when faced with a taxing or unfamiliar situation.

He could credit his meeting with Jaime for desensitizing him a little bit and allowing him to pick up on euphemisms more easily than he might otherwise. So much in common with obviously referred to being witches, and, unlike with the doctor, they weren’t in a crowded room on the campus of Charlie’s employer. It was the evening, in the middle of a cemetery otherwise bereft of (living) people capable of overhearing them. Why couldn’t they speak more freely?

Of course, Charlie still lacked the other man’s confidence and extraversion, but that was the result of personality differences.

His brown eyes lit up briefly at the mention of the shop, sparking the memory of passing back and forth at least a hundred times while driving or on foot as he ran errands. “I know that shop. I like the pun, and you have that window display.” Of course, he had never shopped there; taxidermy as a practice made him somewhat…uncomfortable – not for moral reasons (he had no objection) but the instinctive fear of confronting an animal that should pounce on him was impossible to suppress. “Is your wife like us too?”

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