Death Watch (The Undertaken #1)

By Ari Berk; Published In 2011
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Mystery
Amos surely left it behind for a reason, and more and more Mrs. Bowe felt she was following a path trod out for her by another. For the time being, she was willing to play the part allotted to her. But she would keep an eye on the boy in her way.

And somewhere, buried away deep inside him, a hidden chamber of his heart opened.

And that’s the worst of it, the part no one ever tells you about.”

“What part?” he said, his voice still clenched with grief.

“How it never stops. How the pain of missing people never stops. When you burn your finger in a fire, it hurts, but it only hurts one way because you know what caused the pain and why the pain is there, and you know that it will settle, in a bit. But heart pain has facets, Silas. A thousand different sides, sharp and hard; most of them you don’t even know exist, even when you’re looking straight at them. When someone leaves, or dies, or doesn’t love you in return, well, you may think you know why your heart hurts. But wrapped in there are a hundred kinds of fear all tangled in a knot you can’t untie. Nobody wants to be alone. We all fear being left alone, being left behind. I know such things exist. But you must learn to see death as something more than loss, more than absence, more than silence. You must learn to make mourning into memory. For once a person takes leave of his life, that life becomes so much more a part of ours. In death, they come to be in our keeping. The dead find their rest within us. Thus, in remembrance, we are never alone. But people forget the power of memory. So we fear death in the deepest place of our very being, because we don’t know that memories make us immortal. We focus instead on being gone and the awful mystery behind absence. Love and death—and those two are very closely bound together—scare us because we can’t control them. We fear what we can’t control. That fear is really part of what makes us human, but mostly, we’re just afraid of the ends of stories we can’t foresee.

At first Silas liked the subjects simply because of their strangeness, but slowly he began to believe in the possibilities of what he was reading, in a world filled with secrets and magic. When he was younger, he’d suspected his father believed in many of these things too, so that made it easy for them to talk. As he grew older, Silas began to see the glimmers of hieroglyphic logic behind the occult. There was a reason for these oddities to exist, perhaps as strange connections between the mind and the things people feared or desired. Magic was a conversation. Ghosts were real, and they were watching because something had happened that necessitated their presence.

Besides, love flourishes best in ignorance…or in absence.

Dolores liked that story. Men were wolves and practical women took the knife to them, and those wolves, those sharp-toothed men, they didn’t come back after that.

Each of them had been looking for a way out of their own black midnights, and each of them still had a long way to go until they found some kind of dawn.

For didn’t everyone have secret parts and shadows?

For when we read, don’t we summon the past into the present? Hold out our hand and invite an author to sit with us for a time?

He had plans, but his hopes for higher education, like all his others, were built on “mights.” He might go hang out somewhere, with someone. He might get a job and earn some money. He might go to college, a really old school with gray stone buildings and an enormous library. He was thinking of applying next year. Maybe the year after. He wasn’t thinking about application deadlines. That sort of detail wasn’t a part of his plan. Not at the moment. And why tell his mother about this anyway? It would rekindle her expectations, and she’d only start riding him again. Better to let it be. When his dad came home, they’d sort it out together. His mother retreated into her world, Silas into his. What a family, his mother would say, but until now, Silas had never realized that they weren’t really much of one. The names of the days retreated from them both, and soon after the school term ended, Silas was no longer sure what day of the week it was. Every morning when he woke up, he missed his father more keenly than the night before, but the details and differences of each day blurred and eventually vanished. For Silas, the passage of time became a longing ache in his heart that grew daily worse.

He passed his hands over some of the fine embossed bindings as he thought, I am a book also, words and thoughts and stories held together by flesh. We open and close ourselves to the world. We are read by others or put away by them. We wait to be seen, sitting quietly on shelves for someone to bother having a look inside us.

Here, in this house, her recollections glowed like embers on the hearth, and each night, in their warmth, she’d take a memory or two down from the shelf and dance with them for a while.

Honest error may play prologue to wonders.

I am a book also, words and thoughts and stories held together by flesh. We open and close ourselves to the world. We are read by others or put away by them. We wait to be seen, sitting quietly on shelves for someone to bother having a look inside us.

In life, a person will come and go from many homes. We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.

It was a stalemate Silas was willing to live with, and apparently, so was his mother. They both knew it wasn’t about the hem on a pair of pants. One of them was mourning, the other was not, and their individual reactions to Amos’s disappearance created a powerful tension. The air in the house was charged with it.

Like him, Uncle had eccentric tastes and liked old things. The difference, Silas was beginning to see, was that Uncle saw such objects as extensions of himself, of his body, essential, required, uniquely his. This thought made Silas uneasy.

Little things like time and generations don’t matter very much with good friends who are fond of each other’s company.

Love is fragile and rare and cannot live long in open air.

Most people give little enough real thought to their own mortality. Oh yes, they gabble on about heaven and the bosom of Abraham, but really, they are weary of life almost from the time they’re born, and are only waiting for it all to end. They live their days quietly, obscurely, and underneath their daily toils, they long for oblivion.

Or maybe a ghost was only a thing that endures, like the furnishings of this room, like the chairs or table; a little worse for wear, but still here because someone cherished it, or because it was made of such hardy stuff that time couldn't wear it down fast enough.

She could feel the common blood song inside the place, the chorus of ancestors moving about in familiar constellations.

She thought he cared too much. Sometimes Dolores could see that her son felt what other people were feeling. He was sympathetic, she knew that. But Silas managed to make his feelings about others into another kind of absence. You’d laugh, Silas would laugh. You’d cry, he’d start crying. It was like he was tuning in to a radio station. It took a moment for the distant signal to lock in, but once it did, he’d be right in sync with you. Only when he got angry, or hurt, did the signal fail and he’d become very present indeed, and very annoyed to have his calm broken. Then it was nothing but static.

Silas deliberately ignored that question, which he knew was as much for him as it was for Uncle. It was going to be one of those nights where she’d sink her teeth into a topic and keep chewing and chewing at it.

Silas knew words could have power behind them. Usually it was just a sort of bad luck. He also knew, very early on, that you could never tell when that bad luck would jump up to claim its due, so it was best to be careful. Quiet was safer. He wished his parents had been quieter when they were together. Who knew what might happen when you said something awful to someone else? It was hard to take some words back. Some words stuck and you couldn’t shake them off. Silence was better than those kinds of words. Silas had learned that lesson the hard way.

The past is a chatty companion, I can tell you.

To get ahead, sometimes you had to retrace your steps.

To love you is her nature. But hers is a love from which no good may come. And your desire for her will lead only to cold, dark places.

Uncle seemed to take pleasure from knowing things other people didn’t. Silas did not like thinking this about the man who’d given them a place to live, but there was a sort of smirk hidden inside his uncle’s words that made Silas feel like he was being laughed at. He knew that tone. He’d heard it often enough from kids at school, from the ones who’d look at you like you weren’t worth talking to, from the ones who looked at your unfashionable clothes, or the shape of your face, and told everyone else that you were a freak. Silas was scared of those kids, because usually, those were the ones who didn’t think that normal rules applied to them, the ones who thought they could get away with anything.

Worry can pull a person’s face into a mask of anxious lines, and he could tell she’d had some of that, but even worried folks could laugh.