Sunlight bathed the Paris outdoor street markets sending forth sweet fragrances of freshly-cut flowers and bins of ripe yellow, green and red fruit. Diners and waiters alike slowed to the lazy afternoon pace of the Paris café. Rutherford Zucks, who was an older man, his mother, and his adopted child sat beneath a brilliant green and yellow umbrella.
"Rutherford, this has been the most enjoyable time I've had in years. I feel ten years younger," Zelda Zucks said to her son. The petite, thin woman sipped champagne as she waited for her ham and cheese omelet. She leaned over to whisper to her son, "I hope we brought enough money."
Rutherford patted her hand. "We're good. Momma, you look absolutely beautiful. The air must be good for you." He was pleased to see his mother's smiling face, formerly gray hair freshly dyed a shade of honey brown and splash of makeup, quite a change from earlier despair when her best friend Trudy died suddenly and her own health issues. They took in Trudy's grandson, Brent Field, as he had no other home. At that time, Rutherford contacted a travel agency to plan that long-desired trip to Europe his mother spoke of so often while she was still healthy enough to enjoy it. One of her wishes was to while away an afternoon at a French café. Her blue-grey eyes greedily took in the street sights, food aromas, and the exotic sound of elegantly spoken French conversations.
The young boy, red-headed and freckle-faced, took all these sensations in stride. Brent blew on his steaming cup of hot chocolate covered with clouds of whipped cream that left a white frothy mustache on his upper lip. Since his grandmother's death, Brent seemed unusually quiet, though he'd spent many hours at the Zucks home, now his permanent refuge.
Rutherford was thin and pale, having just recovered from a severe bout of flu last winter. His thin gray hair and dentures testified to long years of life. Now he sipped dark rich coffee and ate an open-faced tartine, a delicious sandwich of salmon and cucumbers. Brent ate only buttered bread and asked for another cup of hot chocolate. Zelda declared the omelet was the most delicious she'd ever tasted. She smiled as she recounted their day's touring of the Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise, the cemetery as final resting place of Chopin, Moliere, and Jim Morrison (or was he really there, they debated).
"Oh," Zelda exclaimed, "I just hope Brent wasn't scared in those catacombs."
The Paris catacombs -- final repose for 7 million Parisians when the church graveyards were full to capacity and bodies dumped from their coffins into the dark caverns below the City -- in quiet dampness now these bones made up a grotesque mosaic of neatly stacked walls composed of human femur and skulls.
Rutherford remembered Brent's fascinated stares at the walls of white bones. At first, he was repulsed by the sight but then strangely drawn to these silent witnesses hiding a lifetime of secrets. The tour group walked in silence as if they felt a solemn reverence for the exposed dead. Death, the great equalizer. Here in this tranquil world resided those past caring for power or wealth, no more obsessing about blue-eyed blondes, weight or fashion. The sign at the end of the tour declared: Principium et finis - eternite, which translated meant "In peaceful sleep rest great people." Rutherford mused that perhaps a good death was one of dignity and peace, one wrapped in velvet dreams.
The tour director declared they would not visit the ordinary tourist sites, and she certainly delivered on that promise, Zelda told Rutherford more than once during their visit to Paris. Rutherford had also heard that Paris café coffee was $6 a cup and saved accordingly for the one lunch on their own not provided by the tour company. Only this premonition saved Rutherford from culture shock and washing dishes as he paid the bill. He considered it well worth every penny, seeing his mother and Brent's smiles as they walked to meet the tour group in front of an art museum.
The tour guide, a young lady named Nicole with long, straight red hair, spoke excellent English with just that fascinating hint of French accent. "Messieurs, Madames, and l'enfants, tomorrow will be a real treat. We shall board the train early and arrive in Romania in time for lunch at the Casa Vlad Dracula," she paused for dramatic effect and continued, "the actual birth place of Vlad the Impaler. This home is now a restaurant, and their motto is: Satisfaction guaranteed. You bat your life."
Delighted laughter met her remark.
"Sadly, plans have been scrapped for Dracula Land Theme Park," she continued.
"Oh, shoot, I was hoping to ride the Screaming Bat," a young man complained.
The tour guide continued, "But we should have a howling good time anyway when we visit Dracula's castle."
The tour group cheered and broke up, some entering the art museum while others, including the Zucks family, walked to the hotel for an early rest. Zelda persuaded Rutherford to stop at a fortune teller shop where an elderly woman sat at a table staring into a crystal ball. She stood up and spoke loudly, "Arete! Stop!" She looked directly at Rutherford and Zelda seated at her table. "Great danger lies ahead. You must leave immediately."
Brent, standing behind Zelda, jumped back in confusion and fright. Zelda shivered as a chill ran down her back. The fortune teller leaned forward and whispered to Zelda, "Please take them home to safety. I see bat people."
To purchase a copy of Beverly's book, Gothic Bedtime Stories, contact her at P. O. Box 803, Alderson, WV, 24910 or by email: hbpoe(at)excite.com. The cost of the book is $15.00 -- mention the Piker Press for free shipping.