A sharp inhaled gasp and Iñes’s eyes snapped open, body wavering before she regained her balance but not without dropping the toy. What had that been? Her ears weren’t playing tricks on her again, were they? She had been desperate to hear her son once before but now, of all times? The point of all this was to end the torment, not urge more of it!
A boy, an odd, disturbing looking boy had run into the room with a skull in his hands, a candle burning on the top. There had been joy on his face until he skidded to a stop, his smile falling quickly in shock once their eyes connected, his eyes momentarily looking down at what was around her neck. Iñes felt herself stiffen up. Who was this, this child who caught her in the middle of what she could only imagine was the most disgraceful fall of her life? Children shouldn’t see someone like this, she thought frantically while her shaking hands wrapped around the rope under her chin, whether they understood what was happening or not they shouldn’t see such sinful, pitiful actions! It was then, the blurring world her overdriven emotions had brought began to focus again when the building tears spilled down, seeing the child more clearly now. She gasped again, unable to keep her feet from stepping back just a step, forcing her to regain her balance again to keep from falling. “L…Leo-!” Iñes choked out at first, the child leaning forward in anticipation upon hearing the beginning of a name, but she clamped her mouth shut.
Was this really her Leonardo? Whatever it was took the form of him yet was anything but his normal appearance with its green, sickly skin, dark circles that surrounded brightly yellow-orange eyes that only cats should posses.
“A-are…could you be a demon?” Her voice quavered, eyes widening. Then a thought passed her mind, one that made her eyes widen wider then grow steely. Yanking the noose over her head she stepped down from the chair, rage bringing a hue of growing red on her tanned skin. Iñes’ flame, in the darkest of times, had roared back to life. “Have you been the one tormenting me!?” She howled in pain, stepping towards the demon who, at first, stood its ground before fearfully walking backwards from her advancing stride. It tried to open its mouth to talk but Iñes was far from finished. “You! The one who refuses to let me sleep without seeing his mangled body every time I close my eyes! Forcing me to starve from guilt! How dare you take my son’s image and bastardize it into…into this! I know I didn’t protect him! I do not need you to remind me!!!”
The demon kept silent, looking up at her with those strange eyes that glowed in fear then flickered in hurt at her questions and accusations, its bottom lip quivering. It seemed to be undergoing its own quiet thoughts, clutching the skull in its hands tightly, wounded before it melted into accepted sadness as if it deserved this.
Iñes swallowed, trying to wet her mouth so she could speak again, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. It was difficult to yell at something that looked like a child, morbid appearance or not. And it was especially hard when it looked like her son, about to cry at that. Was this right? Demons would work this way though, wouldn’t they, to attack your vulnerabilities and manipulate them to their liking. It could be acting to gain her sympathies. “What more do you want from me?” She continued to scream with extended hands, curled stiffly, begging for answers. Her frustrations and pain had finally been allowed to crawl out and would not be stopped. “Why have you shown yourself? I was about to let myself drop from the rafters, submitting myself to damnation! Is that not what you’ve been whispering to me to do? Is this not what you wanted!?” The thing shook its head, eyes growing moist, trying to speak but unable to. “Then what is it!?” Iñes was crying now too. “Why are you here!?”
“I missed you.”
Silence settled between them, the only sound coming from Iñes’ loud breathing through flared nostrils, her aching, mourning heart still ready to cast this supposed demon out of her home and life with vigor. She refused to believe she had just heard what she had…she had heard correctly, right? “What was that?” Her voice was low and quiet.
It stood there for a moment with a noiseless, flapping mouth, struggling to create an answer, its eyes trying to read her for her next move, to see if he should be ready to be yelled at more. “I…said he missed you.” The creature’s tense exterior began to loosen, feeling safe enough to finally speak, wiping its eyes dry hastily with a long, familiar looking sleeve. “What I mean is, um…I’m your son’s messenger while he’s in Limbo!”
“…Messenger?” She asked slowly, gradually standing up straight now. Accepting a demon in her home had been easy after how far she had fallen but she was still getting over the idea that this thing wasn’t here to drive her to suicide, eyeing it with suspicion. Was this a trick as well? It didn’t make sense if it was. She had just been about to knock the chair over! About to end her life! Why had this thing stopped her? To prolong the pain? It all seemed ridiculous, the thing wasn’t even trying to rub its morbid appearance in her face, blame her for her son’s death…what was its purpose? “’Limbo’, I-I do not…understand…what-I mean, who are you then?”
“I just said I’m a messenger-oh! You mean…uh…I’m…” It wagged a finger in the air, thinking, before giving a smile and its answer, pointing at her. “I’m a pumpkin! A magic one, watch,” Before her eyes, the creature’s head turned into a jack-o-lantern, causing her to give a cry of fright before seeing that silly little grin on its face. “Ta-dah!” The pumpkin child extended an arm, as if revealing a magic trick before reverting its head back to what must be normal for it.
Pumpkin? Magic pumpkin? This had to be an unholy force if it was doing magic like that! Yet she felt no malice in anything it said or did. “How did you do that?” Iñes stared, slowly kneeling down before her legs could give out, taking this all in. It was hard to do so, this night beginning to feel more like a dream the longer she sat in the presence of this…pumpkin. “And why…why do you look like-“
“Your son?” The pumpkin child asked eagerly, Iñes nodding in reply. Seeing this, it seemed to beam happily, for what exactly she could not read in its body language. “Because he couldn’t see you on his own and wanted you to see something like him, to keep you company. He’s busy!”
“Mm-hm. He’s working to get back home. To you! But he missed you so much that he wanted to see you again somehow…so he made me! So I can talk to you and tell him how you’re doing!” The child’s smile faltered, looking at her nervously then at the rope that still hung from the rafters. “…you’re okay, right?”
Whether this was a dream or she had succumbed to the madness of despair finally, Iñes felt herself growing relatively calm and even a little embarrassed. She had been scared of this thing, even accusing it of such horrible things like… “Ah!” She had turned to see what the pumpkin was looking at, blanching at what she had left behind, still dangling ominously above the chair. Getting up on her feet, Iñes hastily made her way over, climbing up on the table to try and reach the noose to get it down, no longer having any urge to end her life. “I am sorry,” She murmured to the boy who had followed behind her, keeping its distance from her. “I never wanted anyone to see this.”
“Would that have hurt?” It asked curiously, still not showing any understanding of what the rope fixture was. By how the woman spoke about it though the pumpkin seemed to know well enough it brought nothing but bad news with it.
“Yes. But you do not have to worry, I mean,” Iñes looked down, simply accepting this now. It was easier to treat this as a nightmare turned surreal dream. “You don’t have to tell him about this. Please don’t. You…really are a messenger for him? That’s what you said, yes? He made you? What is this ‘Limbo’? What is he fighting, I don’t understand much of anything you’re saying. And,” Her eyes moved to the skull, the candle on it a little shorter than it was before, hardened wax keeping the candle more founded. “Why are you carrying that?”
The pumpkin had been looking around the house—something to look at that wasn’t the noose maybe—before returning its attention back to her, climbing one of the chairs and then onto the table as well, sitting on it and resting the skull on his lap. “Yeah, he made me from a pumpkin. I don’t know how it works, but I can talk to you as long as this candle’s lit! We can’t touch though,” Its eyes looked away briefly, as if to say ‘not that you’d want to’. It made Iñes deeply regret her earlier outburst. “And Limbo it’s this…place! With lots of other dead kids and it’s always night, and it’s always cold and foggy. I-He doesn’t like it that much but it’s not bad. There’s lots of woods to explore and he’s made a lot of friends there!” With his hand out, he started counting his fingers while Iñes finally managed to loosen the rope enough to free it from the rafters. “There’s Maria, Ukki, Ayanna—they’re like brother and sister now!—Thema and Quill! And I guess Mucha too, she’s not really a friend but she’s okay…”
It continued to ramble on about what could be considered irrelevant things such as pumpkin patches that grew turnips and ‘ember flies’ but Iñes found herself unable to stop listening intently. Getting off the table, she sat in the chair in front of this odd messenger, finding herself strangely comfortable even with the product of her earlier grief still held in her hand. Even when all that the pumpkin shared sounded impossible it was all very charming. The way this ‘Limbo’ was described and the tangents that were taken sounded just like how her son would tell his own made up stories, whether they were made up simply for entertainment or an attempt to cover a lie. Iñes hummed a gentle laugh. Leonardo had been awful at lying but, after he was rightfully punished, she had to admit his tales to get out of trouble were quite amusing.
“Limbo does not sound like a place children should be in,” She whispered, disappointed with the idea that Leonardo was there. Like any parent who raised a yammering child, she was able to listen and converse with the odd information given to her, playing along like it was all fact. And maybe it was just that? “I thought…should they not be in Heaven? My chiquito might have been mischievous but he was a good boy, he deserves to be with the angels...Why and what is he fighting?”
The pumpkin’s jolly face winced at that pet name, speaking up before the woman could question the reaction. “He fights to get back home.” He kicked his legs, eyes on the candle, still shrinking slowly, sweating beads of wax that rolled down its sides. “Because of how he was killed someone felt sorry for him and all the other kids in Limbo so they promised to bring them back to life if they fight monsters off for the kids who are still alive!”
The pumpkin was struggling with his explanation but Iñes didn’t blame it nor did she ask for further clarifications on certain things, like just who offered these children such a horrible deal—who would be so cruel?—concerned about the limited time the creature had spoke of. She would just have to hold her tongue and do her best to understand what was told. “That sounds dangerous.”
“Pshaw!” It waved a hand, smiling to ease her obviously conveyed concerns, lines knitted on her brow. “It’s not dangerous! Well, maybe a little, but they’re not so bad! He’s good at fighting! You should see him! He can use his shovel to make holes in the ground and WHOOSH! Appear behind them! He beat a wolf that blew wind like that once! He almost got eaten by a monster too but smacked it away! Man alive, it was BIG! And he can summon treats and bread when he needs to feel better! Sometimes pictures fall when that happens too, we don’t know who they are but he likes to collect them so they’re not so alone! He can turn his head into a pumpkin just like me too!” The pumpkin, who had been talking enthusiastically with wild arm and hand movements, stopped himself there, clearing its throat before shyly looking up at the woman. “That’s…kind of it about me…can I ask things about you now?”
“Me?” Iñes leaned away some in wonder, not expecting such a fantastical creature such as this pumpkin boy to be interested in someone like herself. The pumpkin nodded, slumping some, looking away again. Leonardo had done the same thing whenever he was lying or ashamed, the woman recalled, watching it much more closely. There was something off about what she had been told.
“He told me a little about you but…I don’t know much. I think. I’m suppose to look like how he died, so,” The pumpkin knocked its head, glancing back at the woman to give a sheepish, awkward smile who only looked paler at the hollow sound his head made. She was quite sure just what part of Leonardo’s death that conveyed. “I don’t remember much…I forget a lot of things. And sometimes he does too.” It frowned, looking away again but occasionally glancing back here and there. “I bet he’d like to hear about you and other stuff in his life. That way he has something to make him want to work harder! Don’t you think?”
It acted so nervously now, like it regretted not knowing about her nor it’s owner’s life. What did it matter if it was just a messenger? A pumpkin at that! In fact, why was a pumpkin even worrying and emoting as much as it had its entire visit? It wasn’t a real child, it was, as it said, created as a visual replacement. But it did more than just sit there for looks, didn’t it? Iñes finally took the time to truly study this anomaly sitting in front of her. It really did look like Leonardo, messy hair and all, wearing a very hodgepodge outfit. Something about it all seemed familiar, especially what appeared to be a scarf wrapped around his arm. What kind of fashion decision was that? “Is there anything you would like to know?” She asked, continuing to study the child and its responses carefully.
The boy opened its mouth, then shut it…opened, then shut, slouching in thought. Did he really have nothing to ask, thought the woman. Or were there too many questions to figure out which to start with? “Who are you?” She hesitated to ask, confused, before he corrected himself. “I mean, you! I know you’re his mama, what’s your name?”
“Iñes. Iñes Pe-“ She thought twice on that answer. “…Tierney. Do you have a name?”
“Does he have a papa?” He ignored her last question or maybe he was too excited with his own questions. They had limited time together after all. “And not that bad man that hurt you. Where is he?”
Iñes hesitated. She had accepted it after three years but it that didn’t mean it hurt any less to say it aloud. “He did, but he died too. In an accident. I…remarried to keep us off the streets. I would not have done so if there was any other way.” At least methods that didn’t involve sacrificing her own dignity. But after what had happened and how Thaddeus had treated both her and Leonardo she wondered if there really was a difference. She really had been selfish; Iñes’ guilt came trickling back. “But even then choosing that man for a husband I suppose I did not protect him at all. He must…he must resent me. What kind of mother fails to keep her son safe?”
“NO!” The boy blurted out, snapping her out of her guilt trip. He was gripping the skull tightly, staring down at it with a heavy, serious expression. When he spoke again, it sounded as if he were trying to keep from sounding choked up. “He loves you. He loves you a lot and thinks you were really brave. You kept him safe! And…and now he’s the best at hide-and-seek because you helped him so much, you know!” He looked up sadly at her now. “And he’s sorry he couldn’t help you like you helped him.”
Speaking with this child was beginning to feel therapeutic, even when it forced her into territories she had refused to explore herself. If this truly was a dream, her mind could have been creating all of this to assuage her guilt, another attempt to keep her from suicide. Even so, it had given her all the freedom to finally let out her insecurities, her troubles, doubts, guilt—not that she was proud of that part when it had been painfully unfair towards the child—and now it was granting her a moment to escape from the hardships of her life and her losses. Another chance with her son. Somewhat. To think this child, whom she had considered an envoy for Hell was turning out to be a Godsend.
She just hoped she was, in some way, helping him now.
“He tried.” She spoke softly. “And he was very brave too. I am grateful for what he did even if…if it resulted as it did…I am glad he can still love someone like me.” The smile that had grown on Iñes’ face wobbled as she tried to conceal her own want to cry. “I love him still with all my heart. I miss him as well.”
This seemed to encourage the boy to regain his energy, puffing up and curling his grip on the skull with determination. “You won’t have to for long! He’ll be back soon! And,” He seemed to be struggling with a thought before shouting out. “He’ll come back before his papa died and keep him from ever dying! Then you won’t have to be with that awful man!”
Such a promise to make! And from such a small thing. Iñes looked at the boy with the upmost respect, wondering if such a thing really was possible. It couldn’t be. But if there was a chance, even the slimmest one, she prayed for it. “And Leonardo…he will be safe trying to achieve this?” Her thoughts wandered to what he had said earlier about her boy almost being eaten up.
The boy nodded, looking away once before those yellow eyes focused on her again, a smile pinching at them. “Of course!” Iñes looked doubtful, clearly catching his nervous ticks for lying which caused him to look more determined. “I mean it! He’ll be okay! He has to be so he can come home! And he will!” His eyes shifted back to the rafters. “And…and he’ll see you again when he comes back, right?”
Iñes smiled softly, sadly, still regretting what the boy had seen. She knew what he was really asking. “Yes. I promise, I will be here.”
“Good.” He exhaled with a dramatic slump over the skull, satisfied with her answer. The boy seemed content, his eyelashes lifting again to allow him to watch her silently but suddenly tears began to build and his lower lip trembled. He turned his head away, embarrassed, wiping at his leaking eyes with his sleeve.
“What is wrong?” The woman panicked, worried she had convinced him just as poorly as he had to her earlier, though her answer had not been a lie like his. Her hand reached out to console him but instead phased right through his shoulder, causing her to recoil with a flinch. That’s right, he had mentioned not being able to be touched. Iñes frowned, pitying the child, but perhaps he didn’t want to be touched by a strange woman he just met tonight. Luckily for her, he hadn’t even noticed her concerned motion. “Are you alright? I promise, I stand by my word. I do! You do not have to worry!” He shook his head, hiccupping sobs now. That wasn’t the issue? “Then what is the matter?”
“I don’t want to leave!” He wailed, holding out the skull for her to see what he had just realized. The candle had shrunk during their conversation. Only little time remained andhe was beginning to have trouble speaking through his sobs. “I j-just got here! I wa-wanna t-talk more! I like you! I wanna stay with you!” Quickly, he added, gulping in air. “H-he probably won’t be h-happy by how little I learned…!”
Now Iñes really regretted she couldn’t hold him, wanting to gather the boy tightly in her arms and calm his tearful fit. All she could really do was scoot her chair closer and stay composed. Children needed adults to be a foundation when they themselves felt unstable after all.
“Shh, calm yourself,” She gently shushed him. “Yes, I suppose it is almost time for you to go but…but we still have a few minutes left! If we both get too wrapped up in our emotions then we will waste what little we still have, right?” The boy seemed to consider this for a moment, sniffling before nodding, Iñes smiling warmly up at him in return. “Then we have to do our best to keep calm for now.”
“Okay…Sorry for crying.”
“Do not worry yourself about it, it is alright to cry once in awhile. I do not want to see you leave either,” Iñes hoped her smile would help to urge the boy to cheer up. “But it won’t be long until you’re back. Right?”
“Yeah. I guess so.” The boy sniffed one last time, rubbing his nose with his sleeve now, too busy recovering from his crying to realize his slip up. Looking down, the candle burned strong but had melted a great deal since he first arrived. It almost was beginning to resemble more of a lump than its previous rod like structure, blanketed by layers of past fallen wax. “Damnation.” The boy mumbled, hating the horrid little timer.
“Now! Do not say that, it is a vulgar term. Just where did you learn that, anyway?”
“People who passed by the pumpkin patch. I mean, he saw a lot of things before having to go to Limbo. He saw you too! Sorta.”
Her eyebrows raised in interest. “Did he…?”
The boy smiled and nodded. “Mm-hm! But not that much. He said you looked out the window at the pumpkin patch sometimes, but it’s hard to see through the glass.”
“And he was in the pumpkin patch…” Iñes thoughts wandered. He had been there and she didn’t know? Or had there been signs? Something connected. “You stole the scarecrow’s clothes!” Iñes cried out, hands covering her mouth at this epiphany.
Leonardo looked baffled before folding his arms, looking away. He seemed nervous, not sure if he would get in trouble should he be honest. “No! M-maybe! They looked nice and they’re comfy.”
“It looks very nice on you. But I think you still have some growing to do for your shirt.”
“I like it how it is.” The boy turned back to her smugly, kicking his feet and waving the floppy sleeves proudly. He seemed rather pleased she hadn’t gotten mad at his thievery. Silence settled between them, the atmosphere growing bittersweet with shared acceptance towards the candle’s inevitable end. “I miss you already.”
“I will be with you as long as you remember me. Just as I will remember you.” The response had been so perfect, so well done it left Leonardo speechless, a dumb grin spreading on his face. He was missing a few teeth, Iñes noticed, enough that he had managed to grow a gap between the biggest two front ones. It made her chuckle, reaching out to cup is face, knowing full well she couldn’t hold it. “Be safe for me.” Leonardo was going to cry again, the flush around his cheeks and eyes evident of that, but he bit his lip, nodding a response. Lifting the skull up, he closed his eyes…
“LAND ALIVE! Um,” Before blowing out the candle, the boy had whipped up a hand to protect the candle, not wanting it to go out just yet. “I almost forgot! He wanted you to know he…he wants to be called Lenny when he comes home!”
“Lenny,” She repeated, tasting the name on her tongue. It was different, that was for sure, but it was simple, cute. Especially when her son had requested it personally. It suited him just fine. “Alright.” Iñes smiled, nodding to him. “See you soon…mi chiquito Lenny.”
Lenny, feeling about as ready as he could muster himself into leaving, raised up the skull yet again so the candle lump was at mouth level. It was then a flicker of realization crossed his face. “Hey! You called me-!”
The candle, already at the end of its life and unable to support itself anymore, flickered weakly before snuffed out completely by Lenny’s exclamation. Gone was the flame and, like the wiping of a slate, Lenny vanished, a shocked, open-mouthed smile the last thing of him that lingered in Iñes’ mind. She had chuckled before settling back against the chair, a hand lifting to cover her closing eyes. Just as she had shut them, her tired eyes opened again.
Alone in the farmhouse, one candle had retired for the night, perhaps blown out by a breeze. Iñes sat up, looking around. Had she fallen asleep? It felt as if she had been awake all this time but clearly, by the candle on the table’s now shorter stature and the darker night that overwhelmed the outside landscape, she must have nodded off at some time during her drive of anguish. Luckily though her soul had felt pacified, the woman looking down at the rope in her hands, which she quickly tossed into the far corner of the room. She didn’t want to see that thing again, no longer feeling the weight of drowning despair. She hadn’t felt this weightless in a long time. Nothing had change. Her loved ones were still dead, she was still alone and would eventually be persecuted for the murder of her husband in due time. And still, she felt at peace. How very strange, she mused to herself. How strange of her to be acting to light hearted after being so violently driven to suicide mere hours ago. Perhaps she was going mad.
If that were the case and it meant feeling this comforted though, she didn’t care. “You will be alright,” Iñes told herself whilst standing up, moving to the ofrendas again, wiping away the moisture in her eyes that must have come from her sleep. Once there she struck a match, relighting the candles and, after waving the match to extinguish it, placed the twine horse that had found itself on the floor back on it’s display box. “Things will work out.” There was no foundation to base this statement on but, in the depths of her heart, Iñes felt this to be true. “If not for yourself, for Seamus and Lenny-“
She stopped. ‘Lenny?’ What on earth had possessed her to call her son that, a nickname never given to him by her or any other person in his life? Not that she knew of, anyway. The more she pondered on it, the more she enjoyed its sound, bringing back a mysterious sense of overwhelming happiness. It had a nice ring to it, a name just as silly and sweet as the child she had so happily once known. One she’d keep alive with her memories, one she’d hopefully see again.
One she would patiently wait to reunite with.