So, of course, with ice cream cups in hand, we all started back out into the sub-freezing temperatures. You could see the river across the street, and a moderate northeast breeze came off the water, biting into my face.
“Ma’am!” I called, but she kept walking, and I noticed as she did that she was barefoot.
“Geez,” I said, nudging Rob, “she’s barefoot.”
“Ma’am!” Rob called. “Do you have a friend we can call?”
But the woman didn’t stop. Instead, we heard her voice drift back to us, “All my friends are dead.”
We passed an empty intersection, and she didn’t look either way or break stride. We scrambled to move faster on the icy pavement, but the faster we went, the faster she seemed to go . . . until she pulled up suddenly in the middle of an empty sidewalk. She faced a small road that began just across the street from her.
“Ma’am,” I said, as we all drew near, “can we get you a ride home? It’s freezing out.”
She didn’t change her gaze but stared across the street and said, “William Sturtevant, can you help me?”
“Yo, she know you,” said Quan. “How she know you?”
“How do you know me?” I said.
“They say my brother is right over there,” she said, “but he’s not.”
“I’m sorry,” said Rob. “Why don’t we get you into a car and you can tell us about it there? Maybe on the way to your place or a relative’s?”
“Robert Greenslade,” she said. “You have two younger brothers.”
“Who are you?” Rob said, stepping back from her. “How do you know my name?”
“If they sent your brother to war and you never saw him again, you would look for him, wouldn’t you?” she said.
My breath billowed around my face, and I glanced around and saw everyone else’s breath. But not the lady’s. We were all silent.
“You see, they have been lying since he disappeared. There’s a stone over there even, and they say he is there. But he never came home.”
“Did he go to Iraq?” Jackie said.
“He should be there with the rest of the family. But don’t you see, Robert and William? The overseer took everything from me. I can’t find my brother. I can’t find my children. Can you help me find my brother? Can you help me find my children?”
“What are you talking about?” Rob said.
“Dude, we need to get out of here,” I said. “What is this place?”
She was still gazing across the street, never looking at us. “This is where my whole family rests. My parents and other siblings. But the ones close to me? No one is here. Do you see? They all forgot about me. They gave me to the overseer, and he took away my kids and they sent away my brother.”
“It’s the Catholic cemetery,” said Rob. “And the town cemetery right next to it.”
“They brought the other boys home and there were funerals, but they did not bring my brother. And the overseer never brought back my children. Can you imagine, Robert and William?”
“Dude, we do not belong here,” I said.
“They erased my family,” said the woman. “My kids, my brother. The overseer. He took Louis away. Then he took my children.”
I started to back away.
“Go on, William Sturtevant. Walk around the cemetery. Try to find Martin. He is gone. Like he never existed. Would you like that, William? To be erased?”
“Come on, Rob,” I said. “We gotta get out of here.”
“What do you mean?” Rob said to her. “Are you threatening him?”
She turned suddenly to us, and her eyes looked hollow. Rob was closer, and she grabbed his arm first. For a moment, all was still.
Then Rob screamed. “What are you doing to me?”
He struggled, but her grip tightened. I rushed to Rob while the others backed away. She grabbed my arm with her other hand, a vice-like grip that stunned me. As the grip tightened, I felt my strength dissolve. Rob was screaming unintelligibly, but his voice was growing weaker.
“Call the cops!” Jackie yelled.
My vision was growing blurry, and I held my other hand up. For a moment, I could swear that I could see through it. I was cold and clammy but could feel sweat and a blinding headache.
“You feel powerless, don’t you?” she said.
I couldn’t move, and Rob’s body was starting to flop and go limp.
“Do you want to be erased, William Sturtevant and Robert Greenslade?”
I tried shaking my head because my voice was gone. Rob would have toppled except for the strength of her grip. I gasped for air, feeling that it had been sucked out of my lungs.
“This is what it feels like to be erased.”
I was nodding unconsciously now, and the snowflakes swirled around me like pinpricks of light shooting across my vision.
“You sit by yourself in the cold, but someone grips you, and darkness gathers around you and you can see everyone in your mind’s eye but nothing with your real eyes. Does that sound correct?”
I tried moving but was planted. My breathing was shallow.
“You can see all the people you ever loved, and you wonder, ‘Will anyone come for me? Will anyone stop the cold, the darkness, the weakness?’”
My hearing was going—the other kids were yelling, but all I could hear was muffled movement and the woman’s clear, penetrating voice.
“I am tired of waiting, William Sturtevant and Robert Greenslade. I am tired of waiting for a man who will come and do the right thing.”
“What do you want?” I squeaked at last.
“Find my family. Or I will erase you.”
Her grip released, and Rob and I dropped to our backs with loud thuds. My head rolled right, and I saw her walk casually across the street. When she crossed the threshold to the cemetery, she was gone.