William said that he met the Grim Reaper. No shit. The real deal, according to William.
“I know it sounds crazy,” he told me, “but if there are ghosts, doesn’t it follow that there’s a Grim Reaper, too?”
“How the hell would I know?” I shrugged. In our business you tend not to be skeptical of much. I had never seen the Reaper myself, but who was I to deny that he existed.
According to William, he was investigating some “angry spirits” reported in one of the nicer homes in Twinbrook. Apparently one of the older residents of the home was scared so badly that he up and died. Thus the Grim Reaper came and took the guy’s soul.
“And then he stopped to chat with me,” William said, shaking his head in disbelief. “He shook my hand.”
“It’s true! And then he told me that I needed to be careful of what I wished for. He said we were nearing the end of our quest, but I might not like the results as much as I thought. He said I needed to be sure I really wanted to be a living person again.”
“Well why wouldn’t you?”
We were fishing out in the swamps when William let me know if his discovery. The two of us often went out. We did a lot of fishing, but we went all over the swamps and other remote areas hoping against hope that we might stumble across some life fruit plants or seeds.
“I’ve thought about this a lot,” William continued after thinking for a bit. “Me coming back to life will present quite a few complications that we haven’t really thought about.”
“Like what?” I asked. I couldn’t believe William was second guessing our quest to find a way to bring him back from death.
“Well, what about ID?” he asked. “And explaining to people how I’m suddenly alive? Especially your girlfriend who I know you haven’t told about me!”
“I tried!” I repeated. “I bring up work and ghosts and she gets this look. It makes her uncomfortable.”
“Exactly,” William nodded. “Imagine what her reaction will be when you say, ‘Remember my dead brother, Will? He’s not dead anymore.’”
“I’m going to tell her,”I promised.
“Even if you do, other people will be shocked, and I am legally dead. We’d have to fake a new identity for me. Maybe we’d even have to move to some out of the way town or city so that people won’t know us or our history.”
I reeled in my line and then looked at my brother. “William, I would do anything. Go anywhere. Do whatever it takes to bring you back to life.”
“I know, Homer. I know.”
Eve was attempting to write a novel. She said she loved teaching, but her real aspiration was to be a romance author. She had the TV on in the background—some cooking show. I often wondered how she could work like that, but she assured me that the TV kept her from getting distracted by other things.
“Baby,” I sat down across from her. “I have something we need to talk about.”
Eve looked up from her laptop. Seeing the serious look I was giving her, she shut the lid and then used the remote near her left hand to silence the television.
“What is it?” She asked, looking concerned.
“I need to tell you something. It’s about my brother.”
“He died, right? When you were little?”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “Yes. We nearly drowned in the ocean when our boat stopped working and I had to swim both of us to shore. We made it, but then William got pneumonia afterwards and he died.”
“Yeah. But that’s not really what I wanted to tell you.”
It took a little time, but I eventually got the entire story of William haunting me since I was a teen and how he also appeared to Charlotte. I explained how I got the job and S.E.E. and what Charlotte and I were trying to do with the Death Fish and the Life Fruit.
I discovered that Eve had never really believed me about my job. I had to take her to the cemetery (which took a lot of convincing, let me tell you!) and show her the Death Fish. Then I showed her my Ghost Exterminator 2000.
“I suck up the spirits and haunts in this,” I explained, “that is, if I can’t convince them to move on.”
“So you’re saying there really is an afterlife?”
I shrugged. “I really don’t know, but I think so. If there are ghosts and they can move on, I have to believe there is somewhere for them to go, right?”
I told her how I thought that William was stuck between life and death. He could neither move on nor return, which was why Charlotte and I were desperate to find the Life Fruit and combine it with the fish to make Ambrosia.
“And you think this Ambrosia stuff will bring your brother back?” Eve asked skeptically.
“Well, I don’t really know. Charlotte is the scientist. She’s conducting all of these experiments. She’ll do a bunch of tests before we do anything. But I’m really hoping it works. I hate it that William is like he is.”
Eve nodded. “I can see how you’d feel that way. Is he with us now?” she asked, looking all around us as if William would peak out from behind a grave and yell, “boo!”
“No. He’s out working. He works for S.E.E., too.”
“Your brother the ghost is a ghost hunter?”
William said the Grim Reaper appeared again when our old cat, Hattie, died. Neither of us had any idea that cats had some sort of afterlife.
“Grim said the cat could be a ghost, too,” William told me. “And he also passed on another warning.”
“Let me guess, he said you shouldn’t continue the quest for the Life Fruit.”
“Something like that,” William told me. “He said that we’d find it soon, but if I wasn’t sure I really wanted life, I would suffer greatly if we were successful in creating Ambrosia.”
“Charlotte and I won’t let you suffer,” I assured him. “She’ll run all kinds of tests. We won’t let you try something that will harm you in any way. You said it before, this life you have as a ghost is better than no life at all.”
“I know you two won’t do anything to hurt me,” William said, “but I think Grim is right. I need to be sure of what I want.”
I called Charlotte as soon as I got the chance. We’d been talking about William’s doubts since he first brought them up.
“What if we’re doing the wrong thing?” I asked my sister. “What if being a ghost is the best William can hope for?”
“Homer, until we find the fruit, this is a mute point. We won’t know anything until we find it. Tell William to stop worrying until we know all the variables. Then, after some tests, we can make an informed decision.”
“You’re so sure we’ll find the fruit?” I asked.
“I think so. You said that this Grim Reaper (and I am not sure I completely believe that there is such an entity!) told William that we were close?”
“That’s what Will said.”
“Well, then maybe we’re close. I’ve been out looking. I’ve also got some feelers out online. Maybe someone in another town knows something. Doesn’t hurt to ask around.”
In the meantime, even Eve decided to help us look for the fruit. She and I went on hikes around the area to find strange seeds. We’d pick them up and then bring them to Charlotte to analyze. Most of the time the seeds were a bust. Occasionally, however, we’d discover one that Charlotte couldn’t figure out. Those seeds with unknown and strange properties, we planted in Dad and Mom’s old garden. We’d have to wait to see what they produced, but at this point we were willing to try anything.
Spring in Twinbrook is a rainy time. While my garden was fertile and growing, and my spirits were high in anticipation of actually discovering Life Fruit, Eve and I often spent our rainy days and nights indoors.
Other than playing video games, exercising together, or playing chess, there wasn’t much to do, so naturally, Eve and I got creative in finding ways to entertain each other.
And like our garden, we too were going to bear fruit…turns out that Eve was pregnant.
“I can’t believe this has happened!” Eve told me when she came home from what she thought was a visit to the doctor for stomach flu.
“We haven’t exactly been celibate,” I said. “No birth control is 100% effective.”
“Thanks,” Eve glared at me. “I so don’t want to hear that right now. What are we going to do?”
I shrugged and sort of smiled. “I guess we’re going to have a baby.” My grin grew to a huge smile.
“So you’re ok with this?”
I laughed and grabbed her to me, kissing the top of her head. “I’m ecstatic. I love children. I’ve always wanted kids, didn’t you? At least 3!”
Eve poked me in the gut. “3! Let’s get through this first one! I’m just getting used to the idea.”
Asking Eve to marry me was much easier than I expected. It felt exactly right, so I wasn’t nervous at all.
We were married as soon as we could arrange it. Eve looked beautiful even if she said she hated her maternity wedding dress and felt fat.
All of our friends and family attended the back-yard ceremony. We ate cake and had dancing and even allowed people to take a dip in our hot tub.
After everyone left, Eve and I sort of collapsed in Dad and Mom’s old rocking chairs on the porch. The rocking chair was one of the few places Eve felt comfortable.
“You did it,” William said, floating up to us. I looked over at him and said, “William’s here.”
Eve was still surprised whenever I said he was present. She looked all around and I pointed out where William was floating.
“He wants to tell us congratulations. He says you look lovely and the ceremony was beautiful.”
“Thank you William,” Eve said, addressing the air where she supposed William was.
“You should take her upstairs, Brother,” William said to me. “She looks wiped, and like she could pop any second now.”
I looked over at Eve who did look tired. She had her eyes closed and she was rocking gently.
“William is telling us to go to bed,” I said. “Let’s go in.”
Eve and I read every pregnancy and parenting book available. Still, nothing quite prepares you from the joy and worry that comes with having a baby. We decorated our new son, Peter’s, room in shades of lime green. The theme, Eve said, was jungle. I knew most of the furniture had animals on it, but I had to take her word for it that it was a jungle.
During Eve’s pregnancy and leading up to our wedding, the unknown seeds we’d planted in my parents’ garden grew and started to bloom. Most of the plants proved to be strange herbs called Wonder Petals, or an odd plant called an Omni fruit (Charlotte had had to do a lot of research to discover what it was. Omni fruit is even rarer than Life Fruit!).
I despaired that any of our efforts would pay off, but one plant was slow to flower. When it finally did, the fruits growing on it were golden and glowing. I wasn’t sure, but I thought they were probably exactly what we were looking for!
Homer brought me a new plant specimen to analyze. He thinks that it fits the description of Life Fruit, and I have to agree. Nevertheless, I had to caution him not to get his hopes up. Even if it was the legendary and elusive fruit, there was no proof that it would work. Ambrosia is as much a mystery as the two principle ingredients. Who knew if we could even make it!
Even though I had warned my brother not to, the more I tested the fruit sample, the more excited I got. It, like the Death Fish and the Death Flower seemed to have similar properties. If I was right, then the fruit was indeed the Life Fruit! I couldn’t wait to run tests on live species to see if it had the properties of extending life like the legends said.
“So,” Tiffany said while we were eating breakfast, “what have you found out? These last few days you’ve closeted yourself in your lab and I have hardly seen you.”
Startled, I looked at her and apologized. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to neglect you! I guess I got caught up in my research.”
Tiffany smiled. “I’m teasing. I know how important this is to you and your brothers. I just hope you aren’t working so hard for nothing.”
“Me too.” I lowered my voice to a whisper since I knew William was working out behind us. “William keeps talking about not using the ambrosia. He doesn’t want to be disappointed if it doesn’t work. I just want him to be alive again.”
Tiffany reached out and squeezed my hand. “I know. It’d be nice to actually ‘see’ him instead of just hearing the TV or stereo and assuming he’s there. If Timothy was in the same situation, I know I’d be working day and night on a cure.”
It took months to test and analyze the Life Fruit. I had to test the fruit on the vine and the seeds once they fell. There was no doubt about it, though, this fruit had some unique properties. Finally, when I felt I had discovered everything about the plant that I could, I started testing it on live animals. I tested rats, birds, lizards and a small turtle that I had found in the water near the cemetery where Homer had found the Death Fish. In each case, the results were promising. On the cellular level, it appeared as if eating the Life Fruit revitalized and rejuvenated the specimens. I considered the results a promising success.
“I think I know everything there is to know about Life Fruit,” I told William.
“Great!” he said, looking somewhat excited. “But why don’t you look happier about it?”
“Well, I am pretty sure that the Life Fruit does what people say it does. I am also certain that Death Fish has properties in it that are unique and indefinable. What I’ve read about the legend is that it can either prevent death or cause death. I’m not willing to test it on live specimens, but when I’ve used it on plants, I know it causes rapid decay.”
“Ok…?” William hated it when I started on what he called ‘science babble’, but I wanted him to know that I was stuck.
“What I don’t know,” I continued, “is whether or not the rumors of Ambrosia are true. I don’t even know how to make it. Surely it is more than just chopping up the fish and mixing in the fruit. The problem is that I don’t know the recipe. We have too few specimens of the fruit for me to do cooking trials! I don’t even know how many Death Fish we can acquire!”
“So you’re stalled?”
“Yeah,” I frowned.
“Maybe it’s best if I just stay this way,” William said. “I really don’t mind being a ghost.”
“Don’t say that!” I turned to him. “I’m just stuck. I’ll continue to work on it. I’ll ask around. I’m going to find the answers!” I promised.
William put his hands up in a defensive position. “Ok, sis. Calm down! I know you’re working on it. I just want you to know that I’m ok just the way I am. Don’t work yourself to death and don’t get upset if you find nothing.”
So I turned my investigative efforts toward finding exotic recipes. I practically read every book in the Twinbrook library on the subject. I even looked online and found even more odd recipes. The problem was, while Ambrosia was mentioned several places, I could find no recorded recipe for it.
One day in the library, a woman who obviously worked at the restaurant sat down next to me. For awhile, we both sat their reading our books. Then, when I left she approached me.
“I noticed you were reading ‘Exotic Fish Recipes’,” she said. “Are you a chef? I don’t think I’ve seen you around the Bistro or the Diner.”
I blushed. “I’m not a chef,” I said. “I am just doing some research on a certain recipe I’ve heard about. It’s called Ambrosia. Have you heard of it?”
The woman got a sort of furtive look in her eyes. She looked around the library as if judging if anyone could overhear us. Then she leaned in an spoke softly. “I’ve heard of it. But you’ll never find the recipe. Only grand-master chefs know of it. It takes years to master and the ingredients are tough to come by.”
I got excited. It sounded like this woman knew more about Ambrosia than any other source I had found. “Do you know anyone who can make it?” I asked. “I mean, if they had the ingredients, do you know someone who could combine them properly?”
The woman looked around again and then shook her head. “There are no master-chefs in Twinbrook. I don’t know of any anywhere. You should just give up your research.”
“I can’t do that,” I said. “If you hear of anyone, let me know.”
The woman nodded but quickly turned to leave. I could tell that she wasn’t going to be any more help.
A few days later, I was back at the library. That same woman was there reading a book, but she refused to acknowledge me. I sat down with yet another recipe book. This one was titled “Using Exotic Fruit in Food”. I read for awhile, but the book never once mentioned Life Fruit or Ambrosia. Disappointed, I got up to leave.
“Excuse me,” I heard from behind me as I put the book back on the cart for the librarians to return to the shelves. I turned and was startled to find a vampire behind me. I stepped back.
The vampire was dressed as a chef and she looked sternly at me. I started to get nervous. “I’m sorry,” I apologized, hoping that she would not bite me or something like that. “I didn’t know you wanted this book,” I added lamely.
The vampire smiled, flashing me her fangs. I gulped. “Cher, I’ve already read that book,” she said. “I’ve read all recipe books. Written some, too,” she said, laughing. “I’m a master chef.”
At that pronouncement, I looked up into the vampire’s eyes, shocked and somewhat excited. I forgot that you’re not supposed to look at a vampire directly or they could mesmerize you. At the moment, I was hoping that I was going to get the breakthrough I was looking for.
“Do you know how to make Ambrosia?” I asked. The vampire laughed again.
“’Course I do. Why you trying so hard to learn this dish?” The woman’s Cajun accent was fascinating. I found myself captivated by her voice.”
“I’m a scientist,” I answered. “I’m trying to find a way to resurrect the dead.” As soon as I spoke, I was immediately aware that the vampire was manipulating me. But, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from telling her everything.
“So you say you have all of the ingredients for Ambrosia?” the vampire asked me. I answered affirmatively in the sort of sing song voice that I’d been using while she extracted information from me. In my head I knew I was mesmerized, but I couldn’t stop talking.
“I have been studying both the Life Fruit and the Death Fish. I know they both have properties of life over death, but I don’t know how to combine them properly.”
“You should give up your quest,” the vampire told me. I shook my head slowly back and forth.
“I can’t. My brother is a ghost. I need to bring him back.”
The vampire looked startled at that bit of information. She was silent for a bit. Then she said, “Even if you had the recipe, you lack the skill to make it. You must be a master chef to do so.”
“Okay,” I said. “I will become a master chef.”
The vampire laughed again, and I could feel her control of my mind break. “Good luck to you, Cher. You’re going to need it!” With that, the vampire sped out of the library with amazing speed. I just stood there. Part of me wondered if I could study vampires to find out what made them like they are. They lived for a long time. Maybe if I knew how they managed that, it would help my research.
In the meantime, I guessed I’d have to improve my cooking skills. Luckily I was descended from a terrific chef, Rachel Fields, and I wasn’t a terrible cook. I’d have to get a lot better, though, if I wanted to become a master chef!