Return of the Phantom Violin by Nimble Ginelle Quinn
Francis stood under the shade of the lightning-struck tree, watching Mr. González as he shoveled the last pile of dirt on the grave of an elderly man who died the night before. Mr. González had to come down from the morgue to bury the poor man, because the man was the gravedigger, so basically he couldn’t bury himself.
Francis was going to be trained to be the new gravedigger, but because he was only 14 years old he would only be working during the night. He would be digging graves only, not actually burying anyone. Francis was pretty glad about that, because touching a coffin with a deceased person in it would freak him out.
“Alright Francis, Morris has been successfully buried,” the morgue man said with a sigh. “Such a shame that he had to go-he had been so kind and always helped out the people of Santo Pollo when their loved ones died. I sure will miss that man.”
“He’s in a better place now,” Francis commented, watching as a group of Buffaloons flew overhead.
Mr. González patted Francis’s shoulder and smiled. “Don’t feel down my boy, and besides, you can pay your respects tonight; you are taking the night shift here. I need you to dig 5 rectangular holes for me tonight so I may bury a few more coffins the day after tomorrow. A family lost one of their relatives, and the other four are deceased criminals. Boot Hill has many graves, citizens, lawbreakers, and legends alike.”
The man tipped his hat to Francis and walked over to the docks. He climbed aboard his ship and sailed away as the sun began to set below the horizon. Francis walked over to the spot where the first grave was to be dug, so he thrust his shovel into the dirt and began digging quickly.
“Nothing like hard work to keep me focused,” Francis muttered as he heard the snap of a twig over by one of the graves. “Ghosts aren’t going to bother you, so just stay focused.”
It was 8:30 at night when Francis was completely finished. The old man Morris must’ve been an expert gravedigger, because it took forever for Francis to dig the holes. Francis sighed and slumped against the dead tree at the summit and set his shovel on the ground. “At least I’m getting paid for this,” Francis breathed heavily. “After that Dad can buy that house in Santo Pollo that he really liked. Apparently it was owned by Morris, but Morris never lived in it…weird.”
Francis watched the night sky. There was full moon in the sky, just like the night before. Usually there were at least 3 full moons, and this was the second one, the greatest and fullest of the three. It was also a bit breezy, and a few tumbleweeds tumbled off of the island. Francis sat up straight against the tree and sighed again, but when he looked over to the left he almost shrieked in surprise.
A man wearing a long overcoat like the kind the highwaymen would wear was kneeling (on one knee) in front of a grave, placing a rose on the base of the headstone. His face was covered all except for his eyes, which shone pure white against the night sky. The cape that billowed against his back was tattered at the edges, and his flat, wide-brimmed hat covered the top of his head and cast a shadow over his shrouded face.
The man was as quiet as an assassin, and he seemed to have noticed Francis but ignored the boy anyway. Once the rose was gently in place, the man rose up and took a violin case off of the sling around his shoulder. Francis didn’t even notice the violin case, but he did now, and he gasped silently as the man withdrew a green violin from the case. He took out the violin’s bow and was about to play when Francis interrupted him.
“Uh…ex-excuse me…but…who are you..?” Francis asked, slowly walking over to the man’s side. “I…don’t think…people are allowed out here late at night…”
“There’s no need to worry,” the man said in a calm but firm voice that frightened Francis. “I am just visiting an old childhood friend of mine. I am also going to play for all the others who rest here-it is my tribute to the dead of Boot Hill…and to my lost love. I am the Phantom, and that is all I will ever be.”
“Whoa…that’s pretty amazing,” Francis commented, glancing at the grave and then back at the Phantom. “What happened to your lost love?”
“She was killed in a bandit attack,” the Phantom replied sadly. “She never knew who I was, because of my disguise. I was hoping to reveal myself to her, so she would remember who I was, but then the bandits came and attacked in Santo Pollo…those Banditoads showed no mercy whatsoever, and they burnt the house she was visiting. The smoke from the fire was too harsh on her lungs, and she did not survive. If she only knew who I was…she would have never been harmed, and we would be together.”
Francis hated to admit it, but that story was really depressing, and he felt like crying almost. Francis was strong though, and he sniffed and faced the Phantom. “So is that why you play that green violin?”
“I bring her a single rose each full moon, but my violin playing is for all of the spirits on this hill,” the Phantom said. “That’s all.”
He took up the violin and placed his chin on the edge of the violin and began to play a soft song, as gentle as the breeze but with a fast-paced rhythm like the rolling of the tumbleweeds. Francis sat under the lightning-struck tree and listened to the song, and as he gazed out at the various graves he saw ghosts rise up and begin dancing to the beat. It was quite a sight watching the ghosts having fun, and Francis almost felt like joining them. If only Dad could see him now!
The Phantom looked over at Francis, and though Francis couldn’t tell the Phantom was actually smiling at him. Francis reminded him of when he was 14, when he hung out with his friend. She would always laugh when he told a joke and would act nervously too if a stranger came out of nowhere. He knew that just like the old man from the previous night, he wouldn’t live for much longer, and he couldn’t keep playing his violin each night as he grew older.
The Phantom finished playing, and the ghosts returned to their graves. He began to put his violin away, but then looked over at Francis.
“You know, I am not immortal,” the Phantom said. “Just like the man Morris, I will eventually leave this world and join the rest of these ghosts, or head into the Afterlife. I will need a successor to take over my identity, like with El Toro, only the Phantom’s mission is not to fight tyrants, but to play the green violin each night for the spirits. Do you think you can commence with my task?”
“Wow, I-I’ve never had any kind of responsibility like that,” Francis breathed, rather surprised. “But…if it’s for a good cause-to honor those who have passed on-then I will do it!”
The Phantom smiled (although Francis couldn’t tell) and he handed the violin case over to Francis. “It’s a large responsibility, and I will say this one thing-do not tell anyone your identity unless it is the one you love. It could save a life…”
“What about the outfit like what you’re wearing?” Francis asked with a frown.
The Phantom grinned and patted Francis’s shoulder. “I know a man in Santo Pollo who can get it for you.” He handed Francis another rose. “Give this to him and he will know what you need. Just trust me; I am the one who plays the violin for his deceased brother.”
With that the Phantom climbed down the summit of the hill and vanished. Francis fitted the violin case sling over his shoulder and walked opposite of the Phantom, heading down the dirt path and walking over to the shack where Morris lived in. He climbed into the hammock inside and fell asleep rather quickly.
In the morning, Mr. González happily nodded his head in approval at the 5 holes that Francis dug.
“I’m impressed by your work,” the man laughed, eyeing the holes. “Tomorrow the coffins come in, but today I have decided to pay you for your hard work. You’re an excellent junior gravedigger, and you might be promoted to professional if you keep it up. But then again, you are just 14, so you have more aspirations than me, so you probably have a different job in mind…”
“Well, that’s very kind of you to say that, sir,” Francis admitted. “May I have the money now?”
Mr. González laughed again, a hearty, kind laugh. “Of course you can my boy, you absolutely deserve it!” He handed 1000 gold to Francis with a smile, and Francis thanked him and waved as he unbottled his raft and sailed all the way back to Santo Pollo.
In the town of Santo Pollo, Francis headed to the outfit vendor outside of the General Store. The horse man smiled as Francis approached with his bag of gold.
“Hello señor, how may I help you today?” the vendor asked happily.
Rather than answer, Francis withdrew the single rose given to him by the Phantom and handed it to the vendor. The vendor gasped in surprise at the rose, but then nodded his head in acknowledgement, for he knew what the rose meant.
“So, the Phantom Violin has returned, eh?” the vendor asked. “Well sir, stay here, and I’ll show you what I have…”
He snuck behind the General Store and then came back out with a long raider’s overcoat, which was Francis’s size. “I suppose you are going to please the spirits of Santo Pollo, is that correct?”
“My mission is to honor the dead sir,” Francis replied with a salute. “I am the Phantom, and nothing more.”
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