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Grim

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2021

Eva Olsen leaned against the cool stone wall of the small white chapel, gazing out at the quaint graveyard before her. The cool sunlight, trying its best to peek through the white clouds above, cascaded down on the scene below. Her eyes roamed over the moss-drenched and dirt-coated tombstones, counting the number to herself. She had already been working steadily for the last week, making slow progress. But today would be her last day as there were only a couple more stones she needed to wash. She tightened her grip on the bucket in her hand.

 

Father Thomas sighed from his place next to her. “I can’t even remember the last time some of these old stones were washed. It must’ve been before my lifetime at least.” His Scottish accent was thick with emotion.

 

Eva nodded. “Well, I’m glad I’m here, then.” She held the bucket up to the priest, showing her humble array of brushes, sponges, and towels. 

 

His pale, gray eyes crinkled at the edges. His lips curved into an appreciative grin as he clasped his hands together in front of him. “Thank you very much for your generosity, Miss Olsen. It’s very kind of you to ask to do this.”

 

Eva grinned, switching the bucket to her other hand so she could grab her tub of cleaning solution and water. “Absolutely. I’m happy to do it. Though, I will miss coming here every day to clean.”

 

Father Thomas waved a hand. “Oh, no, Miss Olsen. It’s us who will miss you. You bring life back to this old place.” He paused, a smile twitching at the corner of his lips. “Pun intended?” 

 

Eva laughed, moving to head to the next stone when Father Thomas cleared his throat. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind, but may I ask you a question?” he asked her.

 

“Of course, Reverend.” 

 

“Well, you see, not many teenagers want to visit this humble chapel with the cathedral being just down the road, and fewer students who ask to spend time in the graveyard.” He shrugged. “So, I guess, what made you volunteer to clean the stones?”

 

Eva set her bucket on the grass and wiped a stray brunette hair out of her face. Her brows scrunched together as if she was carefully thinking over her answer and making sure not to divulge too much.  “I wanted a new hobby,” she said finally. 

 

Father Thomas laughed as he shook his head. “Fair enough. Let me know if you need anything or when you’re finished.”

 

“Yes, Reverend, I will,” Eva said.

 

Father Thomas nodded and disappeared into the church.

 

Eva turned back to the graveyard, tilting her head ever so slightly to the side. She thought that she should perhaps start with the imposing gravestone near the front. Its stature towered above the rest of the stones, making it both the guardian and leader of the rest. The grassy roots had turned it into a sprawling sea of green. Or she could start somewhere in the middle and choose one of the regular-sized stones. The markings were caked with ancient mud that covered all traces of the original carvings and names. 

 

However, the gravestone she decided upon was the tiniest one, furthest from where she stood. She hadn’t noticed it before in the previous times she’s visited the graveyard. Its small frame had become nearly invisible due to the tall weeds and bristles barricading it. 

 

Eva grabbed her bucket and some cleaning solution, keeping her eyes trained on the tiny stone. If she looked away for even a second, she knew that the stone would very well disappear from her sight forever. Eva carefully picked her way toward the stone, maneuvering her path to avoid treading directly over someone’s burial ground. Even though no one had explicitly told her otherwise, she feared that traipsing, however respectfully, over someone’s grave was sacrilegious and just plain rude. 

 

Once she arrived at the tiny stone, she set about her work. Eva took out her shears and began cutting away at the foliage. She brushed away the twigs, the towering weeds, and decaying leaves. Once the site was cleared of thorns, Eva doused the gravestone with her cleaning solution, making sure every inch of its surface was slick. Then, she picked up her brush and began scrubbing at the front side of the stone, moving her hand in circles. 

 

As she worked at removing the centuries’ worth of grime, the soft breeze grew more forceful. The winds whipped at her ponytail, throwing wisps of her hair into her eyes. Eva batted the flyaways back and looked at the sky. The clouds raced to cover the last of the sunlight’s warmth. The moment the sun was shielded from her view, the winds vanished. A hush fell over the graveyard, making the hairs on Eva’s arm freeze. 

 

Eva was suddenly overcome with the sense that someone was watching her. 

 

Eva’s eyes roamed over the graveyard. All the gravestones stood with their backs to her, acting as sentinels of the sacred ground. There was not a soul to be seen. Shaking her head, Eva continued to scrub away the gravestone’s grime, thinking herself silly for suspecting that someone could be watching her.

 

Just as she moved to douse the gravestone with another wave of cleaning solution, something scuffled behind her. 

 

Eva glanced over her shoulder. “Reverend?” she called.

 

Silence.

 

Eva squinted at the forest line surrounding the graveyard. The trees hung low over the bushes, reaching toward the wrought-iron fence. Other than the foliage, nothing alive moved through the area. Figuring she’d just heard a small, harmless animal scamper through the bushes, Eva turned back to continue cleaning the tombstone. 

 

However, when she glanced upon the gravestone, she saw a pair of glowing amber eyes staring back at her over the marble’s edge. 

 

Eva yelped and scrambled back. A shaggy black dog, as big as a wolf, crept around the gravestone. His calculating eyes watched as Eva clamored to her feet a few paces away. 

 

Usually, Eva loved dogs. Having grown up with a German shepherd made her feel more affectionate for dogs. Her childhood dog, Nala, helped to calm her down when she began having panic attacks after middle school. She especially loved the gentle giants, as they were the most kindhearted creatures. But this dog, with his shrewd eyes and large stature, made Eva feel like she was a trespasser, one who would not leave the graveyard unscathed. 

 

She hurriedly tried to gauge her next course of action. She could have reached out a hand to prove to the dog that she meant no harm. Of course, then, the dog could very well just chomp her hand off and swallow it whole in a single gulp. But she worried that if she tried to make a break for it, the dog would quickly overtake her, bite her heels, and--

 

Just when the dog looked about ready to pounce, the beast sat back on his haunches, tilted his head to the side, and started wagging his tail. 

 

Eva took an involuntary step back, surprised. Upon seeing the dog’s happy grin, Eva felt her pounding heart begin to calm. She placed a hand on her chest, her eyes never leaving the dog. Eva reached out a tentative hand. The dog sniffed it before leaning into her touch. She patted the top of his head very gently until he started wagging his tail. Then, Eva dropped down to her knees to pet the dog’s whole head.

 

“Aw. You’re just a big ol’ sweetheart, aren’t you?” she asked.

 

The dog gave her a big toothy grin. His tail whacked into the gravestone, but he didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.

 

“Seems Grim’s finally made up his mind about you,” an unfamiliar voice commented.

 

Eva whipped around. 

 

A boy, no more than fourteen years old, leaned against a tall gravestone. He looked like he had stepped out of medieval times with a flowing white shirt that cinched at the neck, brown pants that were ripped short around his knees, and black boots with scoffs around the soles. And if his appearance wasn't odd enough, even though he appeared young, his eyes held too much grief and desolation for a normal teenager. 

 

Eva glanced between the dog and the boy, unsure how to proceed. “Um, hello,” she said finally.

 

The boy smiled, surprised. “You can see me, lass?” He spoke with a thick Scottish accent, even more so than Father Thomas. 

 

Eva stood up from the ground, looking at the pair, thoroughly confused. What was going on? Why was there a boy in medieval attire in the middle of the graveyard with a giant, black dog? Was he a cosplayer or something? Was he acting in a period drama? Eva looked over her shoulder, searching the tree line for a film crew. Father Thomas hadn’t mentioned anything about a movie company shooting scenes, so maybe the boy was just a kid who preferred to dress like he was going to Medieval Times? She frowned, thinking of his last question. Why shouldn’t she be able to see him? He was standing right in front of her, clear as day.

 

“Should I not be able to?” she eventually asked, suspicious of the oddly dressed boy.

 

The boy shrugged. “Not normally, but….” He paused. “I am sorry for your loss.”

 

Eva was sure her face broadcasted her confusion from their conversation because the boy waved a hand at the gravestones around them. He asked, “Are your ancestors buried here?”

Eva shook her head. “No, I don’t think I’m related to anyone buried here.”

 

“Oh,” the boy said, dropping his eyes. He looked at his feet, appearing to contemplate his next question. He reached behind the gravestone he was leaning against and grabbed a long walking stick. He twirled the staff in his hand as he pushed away from the towering gravemarker, carefully picking his way over to the small gravestone by the dog. He came to a stop next to the beast, patting the dog’s head. The dog leaned into his master’s touch.“Then, might I ask you why you’re cleaning Grim’s grave?” He met her gaze again.

 

“Grim?”

 

He rubbed the dog’s giant head. “Aye, this here is Grim.”

 

Eva turned to the beast to see the dog give her another big, toothy grin. “He’s...uh, lovely.”

 

The boy laughed. “He’s not supposed to be. He is the fearsome Grim of this graveyard, and I am its sentinel. But as he’s officially welcomed you to the grounds, he does appear more ‘lovely,’ now, doesn’t he?”

 

Grim let out a giant yawn, reminding Eva of Nala. She, too, had had a formidable appearance with quick reflexes and calculating eyes. And while the other kids on the street had been terrified of her dog, Eva had only known Nala to be the sweetest, most gentle dog in the world. She had never once snapped at Eva or threatened her in any way. She had been Eva’s protector, her family.

 

Eva was brought back to the present when the boy gave a slight bow, extending his arms to the side. “Oh, forgive me for not introducing myself earlier. I am Duncan.” He cut his eyes back up to her, seeming to wait for her response.

 

“I’m Eva,” she said finally, shocked by his old-style manners.  “I’m sorry, but what did you say you do again?”

 

Duncan leaped with surprising ease on top of one of the taller gravestones, perching upon it like a bird overlooking its nest. Eva took a step back in shock. Okay, maybe this boy did acrobatics? 

 

“I’m the graveyard’s sentinel,” he explained. “I’m tethered to this site, meant to watch over everything here with Grim until the next person is...buried here.” His voice was very soft and quiet as if he was trying not to scare her.

 

Eva couldn’t understand what he meant, though. Sentinel? Weren’t Father Thomas and other members of the church the graveyard’s caretakers? Who exactly was this Duncan?

 

Eva asked, “Are your ancestors buried here?”

 

Duncan shook his head, pointing to one of the gravestones Eva had yet to clean. “No, I am.” 

 

Eva gave a kind of half-snort, half-gasp. Even her body didn’t know how to react to this boy’s answers anymore. He was buried here? Did he really think she’d believe that he’s a ghost? Sure, he looked like he stepped out from a different century and spoke with a barely discernible Scottish accent, but that didn’t mean he was really dead, did it?

 

Duncan frowned, obviously interpreting her weird sound for disbelief. He jumped from his perch on the tall gravestone to a smaller, humbler stone near Grim’s grave. Eva’s eyes widened in surprise because Duncan didn’t really jump. He leaped and floated through the air to the grave as if he was weightless. Once on the smaller stone, he used his staff to point out the name on the tombstone. 

Eva’s eyes wandered over the inscription: 

 

Duncan MacLean

Son of Alistair MacLean

Birth: June 15, 1724 

Death: October 31, 1738

 

“If this is your grave,” Eva started, her eyes frantically jumping from the stone to Duncan to Grim, “then that means you’re a...a…”

 

“A spirit,” Duncan finished, keeping his gaze locked on her. 

 

The sun broke through the gray clouds in the sky, illuminating patches of the graveyard in golden sunlight. One of the sunbeams fell across Duncan’s grave, and instead of casting him in warm light, half of Duncan’s face disappeared from view, as if he couldn’t remain visible in direct sunlight.

 

Eva gasped at the sight, her hands trembling. She wanted him to be kidding. She needed him to start laughing and say everything was just a joke or a prank. But when he remained silent, Eva felt herself sink down to the grass. In the week since she started washing the tombstones at the cemetery, she had never thought she would meet a ghost. Ghosts didn’t exist. They shouldn’t exist. 

 

Grim wandered over to her, laid down, and put his head in her lap, just as Nala had done when Eva had gotten panic attacks. Eva stroked his head, finding comfort in the familiar shaggy fur under her fingers. She bent her head.

 

“Are you alright, Eva?” Duncan asked, looking concerned. Or well, the side of his face that was visible looked worried.

 

Eva tried to reassure herself that she wasn’t in any danger. If Duncan had wanted to hurt her, he would’ve done so. But he seemed genuinely concerned about her, so surely that meant he was a kind spirit. Nothing to be afraid of, right? 

 

She shook her head. “No, but I will be, eventually. Hopefully. Just, um…” She cut her eyes toward Grim’s grave. “Is Grim a...a...ghost too?” 

 

“Aye,” Duncan answered. “He was the first to be buried here.”

 

Grim settled closer against Eva as she continued to scratch his ears. “What do you mean?” she asked. She needed to keep him talking, just long enough to calm her down again.

 

She heard Duncan approach her carefully, seeming to take louder steps to appear more “lifelike” for her sake. “As with all graveyards around these parts, a dog, normally one similar to Grim, is buried first before any human. They consecrate the land if you will. Then, when someone dies, Grim guides them toward heaven.”

 

Grim moved his head as if agreeing with Duncan about his role.

 

Eva remembered something Duncan had said earlier, something about Grim welcoming her to the graveyard. “Does he also protect the graveyard?”

 

“Aye. It’s Grim’s role to keep watch over the tombstones and souls from trespassers or evil beings,” Duncan said.

Eva slowly nodded, seeing more of Nala than Grim in front of her. Her old friend.

 

Eva finally looked up at Duncan, who was thankfully cast in shadow and appeared whole. She tilted her head to the side in thought. “Then, what’s your job as a sentinel?”

 

At that, Duncan rubbed the back of his neck, looking sheepish. “Uh, lass, I am...uh, I was the last person to be buried here.”

Eva nodded, silently asking for him to continue. Duncan shifted his weight between his feet as his eyes darted around at the trees behind her. “And as such, I’m supposed to help Grim keep the area safe and protected until the next person is buried here.”

 

“But there hasn’t been another funeral here in centuries, according to Father Thomas.”

 

“Aye, that is correct,” Duncan agreed, still not meeting her eyes. 

 

“So, you’ve been waiting here all this time? Alone?” 

 

Duncan shook his head, trying to regain his smile. “But I have not been alone. I had Grim to keep me company.” 

 

Eva’s racing heart pounded in her chest, but it was no longer from fear. She felt sad for the boy standing in front of her. He’s been all alone for centuries, and Eva couldn’t imagine how that must have felt. Having no one to talk to, feeling isolated from the world around her in a foreign environment…Actually, the more she thought about it, the more familiar the situation became to her. Too familiar.

 

Grim picked his head off of Eva’s lap, sensing her changing emotions. She stood up from the grass. “Are you really tied here to the graveyard until someone else is buried here?” she asked.

 

Duncan turned away. “Not exactly,” he whispered. 

 

“Then, why…?”

 

Duncan spun around and leaped onto another tombstone, swinging his staff around. “Enough about me. I want to know more about you now,” he declared, effectively switching topics. “Why have you been washing gravestones for the past few days?”

 

Eva shrugged. “I needed a new hobby.” 

 

Duncan eyed her skeptically. “That may be some of the truth, but not the whole of it. Why are you here now?” Duncan grinned. “And why do you have such a strange accent?”

 

“Me? I have a strange accent?” Eva asked, almost offended by his choice of words.

 

“Aye. It is not Scottish or anything I have heard before. Where are you from?”

 

“America.”

 

Duncan’s eyes sparkled. “You are from the colonies?”

 

Eva remembered Duncan’s gravestone. He had died before the American Revolution, so he didn’t know any history after 1738. “Actually, the colonies are now their own independent country, the United States of America. We declared independence from England in 1776.”

 

Duncan leaped into the air, shouting for joy. “Oi! That is wonderful news! Tell me now, has Scotland finally been granted independence too?” He landed gracefully in front of her, looking up into her eyes with excitement. 

 

Eva sucked in a breath, reluctant to share the truth. “Um, no. Not yet.”

 

Duncan’s joy burst at her words, and he became somber again. “Oh.” Instead of dwelling on the subject, though, he turned back to her with a new question. “If you are from America, then why are you here now?”

 

Eva kicked a rock with her boot, beginning to feel uncomfortable with his questions. It was only a matter of time before he started to ask the ones she feared the most. “My dad got a new job here, working for a whiskey company. Because I’m still not old enough to live by myself  yet, I moved with my family.”

 

Duncan nodded, listening intently. Eva couldn’t help but wonder how long it had been since the last time he had a conversation with another person. Even if he had died centuries before, did he talk with other frequenters to the graveyard?

 

“How old are you now?” he asked.

 

“Seventeen.”

 

He raised an eyebrow. “Really? That seems old enough to me.” He leaned against another gravestone, spinning his staff in between his fingers. “How the times have changed….”

 

Eva used his break of questions to turn the conversation back to him. She wanted to avoid talking about how she was becoming accustomed to living in Scotland. “How long has it been since you last talked to someone? Do you talk with Father Thomas?”

 

Duncan laughed mirthlessly. “No, he can’t see me.”

 

“Can’t see you? Why not?”

 

“Because he is not grieving. Only those who are in mourning can see me, and as there hasn’t been a visitor to the graveyard to grieve for their lost loved one in well over two centuries, you could say that it has been a while.” Grim walked over to his master’s side. Duncan petted the dog’s head, and Grim leaned affectionately into his touch. Duncan turned back to Eva. “That is why I said that I was sorry for your loss because, to see me, you must have lost someone very dear to you.”

 

The way he was looking at her now, eyes full of sympathy, made Eva straighten her spine and fight the urge to punch him. She cut her eyes away. Eva had never been comfortable with pity, especially when it was undeserved. She felt belittled by another person’s sympathy as if she couldn’t find the strength to take care of herself. She hated feeling lesser, smaller, or weaker. And she refused to let this boy—however old he may actually be—pity her circumstances.

 

Eva wrapped her arms around herself, pretending to be battling a non-existent breeze. “But no one in my family or that I know has died.”

Duncan shook his head. “Just because someone is still alive doesn’t mean you can’t grieve for them, lass. In your move to Scotland, did you leave anyone behind?”

 

There it was. The question that would lead into too personal of territory for Eva. She decided to give an honest answer but kept it short to stop further questioning. “Sure. Of course, I had friends in America, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m not grieving for them.”

 

Duncan raised an eyebrow. “Aye? That is the truth?”

 

“Well…” Eva didn’t want to share more. She wanted the question turned back on Duncan somehow, and she didn’t mind being blunt about it. “What about you? Are you really stuck in this graveyard forever?”

 

Duncan first appeared shocked by her words. Then he grinned as if he were in on an inside secret between them. “We are still strangers, I see.” He settled against the gravestone with Grim laying on the ground beside him. “I do not want to let the conversation end just yet, though. I don’t know when the next time I’ll talk with someone will be.”

 

Duncan took a moment to think about his words before continuing, allowing Eva to find a comfortable spot in the grass. “I have used someone not being buried here next as an excuse, really. As you asked, I can travel to the beyond with Grim as my guide, but I have yet to go.”

 

“Why?” Eva asked.

 

Duncan shrugged. “I’m afraid? I don’t know what to expect? I don’t really know if I can say why. You may think that having centuries to think about your next step would allow you a moment of clarity, but it never really came.”

 

Eva nodded, silently encouraging him to continue.

 

“Everyone I had known in my previous life, all of my family and friends, have moved on. And while there is the possibility I may see my family again in heaven after so many years of being apart, I don’t know for certain. I can’t know for certain. I am losing what I love here to go somewhere else where there’s only the potential of seeing my loved ones.”

 

“What do you love here?” Eva asked.

 

“Grim,” Duncan answered, his voice strong and without hesitation. “He has been my companion for all this time. When I am gone, I do not know if  I will see Grim again. As you can tell, I have grown quite attached to the dog,” Duncan explained, rubbing Grim’s head. “I have lived this way for so long now that I don’t know if I can ever leave for something unfamiliar.” He waved a hand around. “This is my home, my role, my purpose in death. Who is to say that I will not regret moving on from this place?”

 

Eva saw how Duncan’s face fell. His anguish, his brutal honesty, obviously rocked him to his very core. He held onto Grim as Eva had once done with Nala. He clung to his familiar friend as if he was going to shatter without Grim as his anchor. 

 

But Duncan had a point. While Eva couldn’t relate to being dead, she could understand wanting to spend eternity in her familiar, comfortable bubble. Eva had moved to Scotland with her family and had given up everything familiar: her school, friends, and home. Now, she was in a new place, and she was still struggling to decide if she could let go of her regrets. Just because she was forced to move didn’t mean that she still didn’t regret fighting harder for her comfort. 

 

Eva whispered, “I understand.”

 

Duncan’s head snapped up. “You do?”

 

Eva nodded, wrapping her arms around herself again. “Maybe not the whole ‘being dead’ part, but I didn’t want to move here. No offense to your Scotland, but I liked my life back in America. I loved my friends, my school, and my house. I wanted to stay home with my friends, but I had to come with my family. And while I don’t regret moving with them and spending time with my parents and siblings, I do….” She sighed. “I do miss my friends.”

 

Duncan’s gaze was no longer filled with pity but understanding. Eva could tell that he found comfort in someone relating to his position, however unusual it may be. And for the first time since moving to Scotland, Eva felt comfortable sharing more.

 

“My friends are not gone, you know?” she said. “They’re still alive. Out there. They’re going to school, spending time together, and talking every day. But somehow, at some point, they decided that they were done with me because I was gone.

 

“With death,” Eva continued, “I like to think that there’s closure. That at some point, the grief fades, you say your final goodbye, and you move on, believing that the person you loved and who loved you is in a better place. But I didn’t get a final goodbye. I didn’t have a moment for closure because we were so sure we would keep in touch. But somewhere along the way, all my friends decided that  I wasn’t worth the effort anymore. I don’t even remember the last thing they said to me or what I said to them. I wasn’t even worth a final phone call or text. They just stopped responding to me.

 

“So, I guess that’s why I started cleaning gravestones,” Eva admitted. “Yes, it gives me something else to focus on, but there’s peace here. I find comfort in knowing that those buried here are not forgotten, even with the separation of death. I can choose to wash their stones in remembrance of the dead. I can choose that those who are gone are still worth my effort, even if I’m not worth someone else’s time.”

 

After she finished, the pair sat in silence for a moment, lost in their thoughts. 

 

Then Duncan said, “I am sorry that they no longer communicate with you, Eva, and I am sorry that this loss grieves you.” He paused. “But I know that time will ease the pain of this death.”

 

Eva picked at the grass in front of her, twirling a green blade in her fingers. “Really?”

 

“Aye. If anyone knows how time eases deep wounds, it’s me, and I believe this pain will fade. As you said, death can bring closure, but it also brings new beginnings—the life after death. For you, it is life here in Scotland. You have found something new that brings you joy, and I am grateful that it has led you here to me so I could meet you. But as you continue to age, you will find new friendships and a new purpose, and at some point, this land may become your new familiar. Your new comfort.”

 

Eva saw Duncan’s genuine kindness shining in his eyes, and she felt herself begin to smile with hope. He grinned back at her.

 

“Thank you, Duncan,” she said, “for listening and for the advice. It means a lot. I mean, it still hurts that my friends and lifestyle are gone, but I appreciate the encouragement that it will get better eventually. It’s just a pain that I have to be patient, though.”

 

“Aye. It is difficult to wait.” Duncan agreed.

 

“But you know, I can’t help but think that some of what you said to me kind of refers to you too. That you may find new familiarity and comfort in your next destination.”

 

Duncan rubbed the back of his neck, looking down at his feet. “Aye, I got the sense of that myself. The irony of life and death, it is.”

 

“You’re pretty wise for a fourteen-year-old, you know.”

 

Duncan clapped a hand to his chest, feigning offense. “Oi! I may not look it, but I am far older than you, young seventeen-year-old.”

 

Eva stood up from the grass, retrieving her bucket. “Okay, okay.” She looked at the half-finished gravemarker and then back to Duncan. “Do you think you’ll ever choose to go to your next destination?” 

 

Duncan gave a half-shrug. “Aye, I will. I know I will.” He looked thoughtful, staring out at the tree line. “But I think I’ll stay for the rest of the day.”

 

Eva picked up her brush, dousing the stone in the cleaning solution again. “Why?”

 

Duncan hiked his staff over his shoulder and leaped onto a nearby gravemarker. “Because I have some more talking to do with my friend before I go.”

 

Grim barked with a lopsided grin, agreeing with his master. 

 

Eva scrubbed Grim’s gravestone, feeling surprised. “We’re friends?”

 

“Aye. After that exchange, I’d say anyone would be friends.” He hesitated, peering down at her from his perch. “Aren’t we?”

 

Eva nodded. “Absolutely. Though, you know…”

 

“What?” Duncan leaned forward, balancing precariously on the edge of the stone. 

 

“A real friend would help me finish cleaning these stones,” she said, holding a sponge up to the ghost boy.

 

Duncan shook his head, laughing. “Sorry, lass. I cannot. If I do, you’ll be done sooner and on your way. I’ve waited centuries in this graveyard, and I can stand to wait a bit longer so long as I have an entertaining conversation.”

 

Eva shook her head, smiling as she stood from the clean gravemarker. Grim sniffed the edges of his freshly cleaned grave, his tail wagging. Eva patted his head. “Are you happy now, boy?”

 

Grim barked again in approval, racing around his gravestone.

 

“He really is a handsome dog, you know. Not so much the formidable foe,” Eva joked.

 

“Well, you should have seen him in his prime, two centuries ago. He was always out barking, chasing away grave robbers, and battling evil spirits who wandered too close. He was every bit the dangerous beast and protector.”

 

Grim sneezed and jumped back, trembling in fright.

 

“Uh, I think your ‘dangerous beast’ just scared himself with a sneeze,” Eva laughed.

 

Duncan scoffed, folding his arms. “Grim! You’re embarrassing me.”

 

Father Thomas appeared at the entrance to the graveyard. He appeared quizzical as he looked around. “Excuse me, Eva, but are you talking to someone?” His eyes came to rest on Eva’s spot in front of the gravestone.

 

Eva looked between Father Thomas and Duncan, confused as to why he couldn’t see Duncan and Grim. Then, she remembered Duncan’s words. Father Thomas wasn’t grieving.

 

Duncan smiled sadly, taking a seat on the top of his gravestone. He nodded to Father Thomas in greeting. “At least he’s at peace,” he murmured.

 

Eva turned back to Father Thomas. “I’m...just thinking about my new friends.”

 

Father Thomas looked as if he was gazing right at Duncan, but there was no recognition in his eyes before he answered, “I just came to check on how you’re doing. Are you well out here?”

 

Eva nodded. “Yes sir. I’m okay.”

 

“Almost done?”

 

“Just two stones left.”

Father Thomas rocked back on his feet, placing a hand on the wrought-iron fence. “Okay. Well, again, let me know if you need anything.”

 

Eva waved a hand as Father Thomas walked back into the chapel. “I will!”

 

Once he was gone, silence fell over the graveyard. Eva didn’t know what to say now. She squirmed under Duncan’s gaze. She could feel his loneliness weigh down on her, but she didn’t know how to comfort him. Or if that was even appropriate. But they were friends now, right?

 

Thankfully, Duncan broke the silence first. “So,” he called down to her. “What shall we talk about now?”

 

Eva picked up her brush again, swiping off the moss and lichen from the marble. “Well, I’m sure you have questions about what’s been happening in the world since you’ve died, right?”

 

Duncan’s eyes sparkled with mirth as he leaped to his next perch. He settled back against the stone tower to watch Eva begin cleaning the new gravemarker. “Aye! That I do! Now, tell me, Eva, what happened to make the colonies not only declare independence from Great Britain but win a war?”

 

As Eva scrubbed the marble stone, listing off pieces of American history to Duncan, she couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. She had found a new friend in Scotland. Sure, he was a ghost boy, who would be departing for the afterlife soon. Certainly not a conventional relationship, but still. She had found a friend in a place of unfamiliarity. She had found someone who listened to her and wanted to talk with her. And if she could befriend a spirit and his dog in a graveyard, then she could find other friends wherever she went. 

Would it hurt when Duncan decides to depart? Absolutely. But Eva wasn’t worried about being alone anymore. She would appreciate his friendship while it lasted. And she decided to use the same lens when thinking back on her friends in America. They were in her life for a period of time, only a chapter, and she had appreciated the joy and comfort they brought her. Just like Nala had done as well. But all things did come to an end. And while she would mourn every loss or end, she would always hold onto hope that she would find happiness again. 

 

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