Monday, January 29, 2007

The Face of the Enemy

A cheesy Sherlock Holmes story I wrote on a whim. I like it but I might be biased.

The young woman walked up the steps of 221b Baker Street and knocked firmly. She smoothed out her skirt and tucked a stray hair back under her hat before the door was opened by an elderly woman. “Hello. My name is Elizabeth Jameson. Is Mr. Holmes available to speak to?”

Considering her for a moment, the woman stepped back into the hall. “Please come inside Miss Jameson. I will go see if he is home.”

Elizabeth stepped inside and watched the woman head upstairs. She listened to the low voices as she was announced, her heart leaping when she was led upstairs and into a large sitting room.

Two men were sitting on opposite sides of the room, one gaunt and thin who was reclined in a chair and considering her almost lazily, she knew him to be Sherlock Holmes. The other, a fuller fleshed man who was smiling pleasantly, rose to his feet to greet her.

Holmes motioned to his companion. “This is-“

“Dr. Watson, it is an honor to meet you.” She said, cutting Holmes off and crossing the room to take his hand. “I have read with great interest your records of Mr. Holmes’ many works. You have a gift for writing sir.”

Watson looked exceedingly pleased by her praise. “Why thank you Miss..?”

She laughed and blushed slightly. “Oh yes, forgive me… my name is Elizabeth Jameson.”

“And you have come today to meet with the great novelist, Dr. Watson? I see you have a book in your coat pocket, perhaps you wish him to sign it for you?” Holmes asked.

Her blush deepened and she backed away from Watson, embarrassed by her display.

Watson laughed and motioned for her to sit down. “Pray, tell us what brings you here.”

Sitting down on the edge of the chair, she ran a hand over the book in her lap before looking up at Holmes again. “I have come to ask for your help Mr. Holmes. I’ve riddled out this mystery as far as my abilities have allowed, but the only conclusion that I have been able to come to is that there is some great danger hovering close to me.”

Holmes shifted in his chair, his eyes drooping. “Tell me everything with great detail.”

She nodded slightly. “Nearly two months ago I began receiving strange letters in the post. And by letters I do mean…” She pulled an envelope out and carefully poured out a handful of letters that had been cut carefully out of newspaper headlines.

Watson leaned forward to inspect the bits and pieces in her extended hand. “How odd. Did anything else come with them?”

She shook her head. “No sir. Just the letters.”

“Did you keep the envelopes?” Holmes asked suddenly.

Smiling, she produced a packet of envelopes and surrendered them to the man. “I wrote the dates they arrived and the letter it contained on the inside flap.”

He flipped through the envelopes slowly. “No message to be deciphered if you go in order of arrival… please continue.”

She set the scraps of paper down on a table. “Every day I received one, they’re marked with the date on the back. I noticed that they were cut in a unique way, rather like puzzle pieces.” She began shifting the letters around on the table. “They fit together only with other certain letters.”

Both men watched with interest as words began to take shape.


Elizabeth straightened up and sighed, looking down at the messages. “I am not easily frightened Mr. Holmes. I thought it was someone playing a joke. Or perhaps even a strange attempt to gain my affection. But then these began arriving, just this week.” She passed over a pile of letters to Holmes, who flipped through them slowly.

“Counting down from ten, I see we still have five days left.” He said before setting the papers aside. “Miss Jameson, can you think of any reason for someone to be harassing you in such a cryptic manner?”

She shook her head. “No sir. I live a fairly quiet life. My mother is very ill and remains in bed at all times, my father passed away some years ago when I was still just a girl. We live off of what was left behind for us. He was not a rich man, but he invested well and saved everything he earned. He was not a healthy man and wanted to be certain we were provided for.”

He considered her slowly. “Any suitors who might want to take revenge after being spurned?”

“No sir. My mother occupies most of my time. I do not go out, so I have not had many suitors. And those who I have attracted have been the ones doing the leaving?”


Watson frowned deeply. “Really Holmes.”

Elizabeth looked between the two men before looking down at her hands. “My mother occupies my every waking thought Mr. Holmes. Most gentlemen want a lady who will dote on them and think only of them. I cannot give them that.” She became lost in her thoughts for a moment before returning to herself. When she lifted her eyes Holmes was staring at her intently. “I’m afraid for my mother sir. If anything were to happen to me I’m afraid it would be the end of her. And these letters… it’s as if I’m living life with a sword hanging over me, just waiting for it to fall.” Her eyes welled with tears and she pulled out a kerchief to wipe at them carefully. “Please Mr. Holmes… can you help me?”

He leaned forward over the messages, staring at them intently. “Your case is one of great interest to me Miss Jameson. I will do all that I can to riddle out this mystery, as you so eloquently put it. Please, return home and tend to your mother. And do take a cab rather than walking. If someone is following you it would be best if you don’t wander much on foot.”

Rising to her feet, she looked down at the messages. “You will let me know if you come to any conclusions, won’t you?”

“Of course we will Miss Jameson.” Watson said with a smile, holding out an arm to lead her to the door. “Rest assured that we will do all we can.”

Smiling, she nodded and left the room. “I have new strength. Thank you both.”


Elizabeth had initially felt renewed and encouraged when Mr. Holmes had agreed to look into her mysterious letters. But three days had passed without hearing so much as a word from the man and she had begun to wonder if other more interesting cases hadn’t caught his attention.

It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when he and Dr. Watson appeared at her door as if there had been a long standing appointment. She rang for tea and sat down, watching the pacing man expectantly. After several minutes she broke the tense silence. “You have news Mr. Holmes?”

“No.” He said simply, his expression for just a moment betraying his disgust at that fact. “No news. No clue. No trail to follow.”

Bowing her head, she tried to swallow back the panic that rose up. He was supposed to have been the one who figured it out. He was supposed to help her, save her.

Her maid, Chloe, entered with a tray of tea. It was a welcome distraction and she busied herself with pouring out cups. Holmes refused his when offered and Watson took his without meeting her eye.

“I have been everywhere. I have been watching you and those around you and still he alludes me.” Holmes burst suddenly, making her jump. “This man is clever. He is cautious. This makes him all the more dangerous…”

Chloe entered the room again. “A telegram for you Miss.”

She took the paper and opened it up, her eyes sliding over the writing before the color drained from her face and she fell to the floor in a faint.

Elizabeth opened her eyes to find Dr. Watson hovering over her, a bottle of smelling salts in his hand. “Oh… I’m sorry I…” Panic sprang up in her eyes again. “I have to run. I have to get out of here.”

“Calm yourself.” Watson said gently. “You’ll faint again if you keep this up.”

She shook her head. “But the letter.”

Holmes was standing in front of the fireplace, holding the letter in one hand. “Three, two, one. Time is up. Tonight.” He read slowly, glancing up when Elizabeth made a soft, terrified sound. “This plays perfectly into our hands. He is impatient and it has gotten the better of him and his caution. Watson tonight you and I will stay here-“

“You know I can’t do that Holmes. Jackson asked me to sit over a patient tonight.” Watson said immediately, shaking his head.

Looking annoyed, Holmes threw himself down into a chair and pulled out his pipe. “Of course. Your legitimate duty calls…” He lit the pipe and took several long draws before leaning forward intently. “Miss Jameson, you need not be alarmed. Tonight I will remain here and we will see just who this mysterious man is.”

She nodded slightly. “Thank you sir.”

Watson stayed for dinner, though he seemed the only person with any appetite. Holmes sat in front of an empty plate and stared meditatively at the ceiling while Elizabeth made occasional attempts to rouse herself to eat, though without much luck. When Watson had departed for the night the pair retired to her sitting room.

It was a decidedly uncomfortable atmosphere in the room. Elizabeth made a few weak attempts at conversation before abandoning it in favor of the heavy silence. Finally she brought out a book to read, trying to distract her from what was to come.

“So you read Watson’s stories, did you?”

His voice broke through the silence and she looked up in surprise. “Yes. I enjoyed them very much. Though…”

He quirked a brow. “Though what?”

She rose and poured two glasses of wine from a carafe, handing one to him. “You must not tell him this, but I found them a touch too romantic. It seems that they might have been used as almost training guides for young detectives and police, but he reduced them to mere stories.”

A smile flickered briefly over his face. “That is an opinion we share.” He fell silent again and she was about to open her book up when he shifted in his seat and leaned towards her. “You said, when you first came for help, that you had riddled it out as far as you could manage. What did you mean?”

Elizabeth blushed slightly. “I don’t pretend to be a detective Mr. Holmes. And I’m sure that my methods, such as they are, may seem laughable to you. But when the letters started arriving I inquired at the post office and at messengers to see if they had any record. I asked them to please keep track of anyone posting letters to this address. When it started to look as if he wasn’t sending them by post or messenger I decided to keep watch, but I could not see how anyone could deliver a letter in a different way. Except perhaps by bribing my servants to deliver messages. Chloe denied it most violently and when I searched the whole house I could find nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t think she’s forgiven me for that just yet.”

Holmes clapped his hands together once and laughed. “Miss Jameson you impress me. You are cleverer than I gave you credit to be.”

The conversation came more easily after that point. Between the two of them the carafe of wine was nearly emptied and the room rang with their mingled laughter as they challenged each others’ wits with complicated riddles.

“I do believe I have outwitted you Mr. Holmes.” Elizabeth said with a smile, watching his expression as he struggled to figure out the cryptic mystery.

He held up a hand, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “Now now, give me half a moment to think…”

She leaned towards him and placed the barrel of the revolver under his chin. “No Mr. Holmes… time is up.” With great satisfaction she watched the little color drain from his face, the smile fade and a blank expression consume his face. “And I have outwitted you.” She rose to her feet and pointed the gun into his face, smiling at the satisfying sound as she cocked it. “You’re sweating. Good. You have every reason to be afraid.”

Straightening in his chair, he eyed the gun before looking up at her. “So you mean to murder me?”

Laughing softly, she walked slowly around his chair. “Brilliantly deduced Mr. Holmes. Though murder is a harsh word. I prefer… settling the score.”

Holmes turned his head slowly to watch her. “I was not aware that we had scores that needed settling.”

“Perhaps because we have not been properly introduced. My name is Elizabeth Moriarty.” She smiled as the stricken look that flashed across his face. “Now you see the score that needs settling.” She placed the barrel of the gun to his temple. “You killed my father. Whatever I might do to you is justified revenge.”

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “The police might think otherwise. Your father was a criminal. An infectious disease upon society.”

She struck him hard in the head with the gun, watching as he struggled to remain conscious. “The world was built on the shoulders of men like my father!” She shouted. “There has never been a king or emperor or ruler who was not a criminal at heart. He could have taken the crown if he so chose to. But you… you took him away from me. You killed him in cold blood. He offered you a chance at peace and you killed him!”

He slowly sat up, raising a hand to the lump on his temple. “No more than what he would have done to me.”

“He called me Lizzie.” She said suddenly, her eyes welling with tears. “Told me that I was the most important thing in the world to him. Treated me like a queen…” She pointed the gun at Holmes again. “Killing you is the least I can do for him.”

There was blood trickling down his temple. “And the police?”

“It’s well known that you’ve been investigating a potentially violent attack on my life. A pity that the criminal should get the upper hand over you. But you’ll have died defending my life.”

He looked over at her. “So I die a hero and you live forever indebted to me?”

She smiled again. “No Mr. Holmes. You die a failure and I live to resume my father’s work.” Walking behind the chair where he was sitting, she placed the barrel of the gun to the back of his head. “Shot in the back of the head, too stupid to turn around and face your end. Your supposedly brilliant mind splashed across the room. As undignified an ending as you gave to my father.” She held the gun in both hands, rubbing the trigger with one finger. “Goodbye Mr. Holmes.”

Something hard and cold pushed against the back of her head and she heard the cock of a gun. “Watson…” She breathed softly as the man’s hand slid down her arm and pulled the gun away from her.

Holmes rose to his feet and turned to face her, smiling. “Excellent timing Watson.”

Nodding, Watson moved slowly into her view, still pointing the gun at her. “Happy to help Holmes, as always.”

Elizabeth looked between the two men. “All along? You knew?”

Holmes considered her with an almost pitying expression. “My dear girl you have all the features of your father save that you are perhaps more shapely than he was. I have known since the moment you walked into my room. Though I will admit it was a good act you put on. There were times when I wondered if perhaps I was wrong in my assumptions. It was the telegram that made things clear in my eyes.”

“How?” She demanded angrily.

He walked over to where it was sitting and picked it up, considering it for a moment. “I left word at every telegram office that if anyone should send a telegram to you I was to be notified immediately with a description of the person. When word arrived that you had sent yourself the note, why it was doubtless that I was, in fact, dealing with the spawn of my deceased nemesis.”

Several police officers entered the room. As she was handcuffed, Elizabeth turned to smile at Holmes. “I won’t be in prison for long Holmes. I look forward to our next encounter.”

Bowing slightly to her, Holmes mirrored her smile. “As do I, Miss Moriarty. As do I.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An Even Trade

Casey pulled the car into the only remaining spot and climbed out. The sun was shining down in a ruthless sort of way, outside of the air conditioned car the temperatures were spiraling upwards towards the 100’s. Sweat began to form on the back of her neck where the strap of her camera was hanging.

She’d been meaning to come to Graceland Cemetery for years; to photograph the headstones that were surrounded by ghost stories and strange myths. Dexter Graves, whose headstone, a 25 foot statue of a mysterious, shrouded figure, was said to give visions of death, Ludwig Wolff, who was so rich and eccentric that he had a ventilation system built into his grave, so that he could breath after he’d been entombed, and little Inez Clark, whose statue disappeared from within the glass case during lightening storms, storms like the one that killed her so many years ago.

“Mommy… why are we at a semi-tary?”

Casey inwardly sighed. None of the scenarios of her exploring the cemetery had included having her six year old daughter along for the trip. She walked around the car and helped the girl out of her car seat. She smoothed the girl’s hair before putting her baseball cap on and straightened her shirt, which proudly proclaimed ‘Chicks Rule!’ across her chest. “Mommy just needs to take a few pictures here, then we’ll go get some lunch.”

Zoe perked up immediately. “McDonalds?” She asked happily. “Can I get a Happy Meal? Can I play in the tunnels? Can we stay for an hour? For two hours? Can we stay for two hours Mommy? Please? I’ll be so good, I promise! I’ll be so good if we can only stay for three hours!” She held up three fingers hopefully.

“We’ll see.” She told the girl before taking her hand. “Now, remember this is a quiet place, so you have to be very quiet and not run around a lot.”

The girl nodded and, as they passed through the fence, began tiptoeing along, trying to be as quiet as possible.

Casey led the girl around the cemetery, clicking random pictures now and then. The girl was behaving so well that she felt she may well have to let the girl stay in the tunnels at McDonald’s for three hours as a reward.

Finally she found Inez Clark’s grave, the one she had been most interested in photographing. “Sweety, sit down right here by the tree while I take some pictures. Tell BoBear a story.”

Zoe sat down and sternly told her bear to stop making so much noise and listen up before beginning to rattle off a nonsensical story about a butterfly with an elephant trunk.

Circling around the statue, Casey admired the fine work that had been done. It was life size, the girl was almost the same size as Zoe and sitting primly in a little wicker chair on the sand. She was wearing a beautiful dress with lace around the collar and wrists, the sort that Zoe often begged for when shopping and cried horribly when she was denied. There was a straw hat hanging from her neck, held there by a ribbon, and she was holding a lace umbrella with which she’d written her name in the sand. It truly was a beautiful memorial to the girl who had died so young.

The click and beep of her digital camera was the only sounds for several minutes while she took photo after photo of the girl, wanting to get every detail on record.

Click, beep, the girl’s colorless eyes were staring into the camera.

Click, beep, her smooth cheek and the curve of her jaw.

Click, beep, the lobe of one ear sticking out from under a gathering of hair.

Casey lowered the camera with shaking hands. She’d taken the three pictures in rapid succession without moving an inch. She peered through the glass and saw that indeed, the statue was now looking the other direction entirely. Almost on instinct, she turned to see what the statue was now facing.

BoBear was lying abandoned on the ground and Zoe was no where to be seen.

The thrill of seeing someone so amazingly paranormal was immediately replaced by pure terror. “Zoe!” She yelled and dropped her camera, distantly she heard it click and beep as it took another photo. “Zoe Ann!” Her voice echoed through the grounds and several people turned to stare at her.

“I’m here Mommy. I was playin’ with the little girl.”

Casey whipped around and felt all the breath leave her as suddenly as if she’d been punched in the stomach.

Zoe was standing just behind her, beaming excitedly at her mother. “We traded!” She said happily. The girl’s jeans and tee-shirt were gone, along with her flipflops and baseball hat. Instead she was wearing a beautiful dress with lace around the collar and wrists, a straw hat perched neatly on her head. Spinning around, she watched the skirt flare out in all directions around her before opening up the lace umbrella and dancing around with it.

“Traded?” She asked the girl weakly.

Nodding, Zoe pointed up at the statue encased in glass. “See Mommy?”

Casey turned to look at the glass and backed away in alarm.

The statue was no longer sitting primly in her little wicker chair in her beautiful dress. Instead she was sitting cross-legged in the seat, one flipflop abandoned on the sand in front of her, a tee shirt proclaiming ‘Chicks Rule!’ on and a baseball cap pulled low, as if trying to hide the impish grin on her face.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Alone In The Grove - Part 3

When we last left our heroine:

Quite suddenly the sobbing stopped and the woman’s head slowly lifted, staring off into the darkness for a long moment before slowly and deliberately turning to look at Chris, catching the woman’s eyes with her own colorless, milky white orbs. “Chrisssss…”

“Oh I so did not hear that.” Chris said and shook her head. “Nope…” She shut her eyes tightly and let one hand slide into her bag, searching for her cell phone. It was just a figment of her imagination, it couldn’t hurt her, couldn’t even really see her. Just her overtired mind, reacting to the fact that she was sitting inside a cemetery. That was all, simple explanation really.


Her eyes snapped open and she let out a shrill scream. The woman’s face was hovering just inches in front of her own, looking at her, seeing inside of her and gazing through her all at the same time. Chris screamed again as the woman’s hand lifted towards her.

Abandoning her search for her phone and forgetting completely about the injured ankle, she scrambled to her feet and ran. Something in her ankle popped and the pain abruptly vanished. Just dislocated, just popped out of place. She could have fixed it herself, could have been out of there long before dark.

Away from her little fire it was black as pitch. Sprinting through the trees, she collided with them, feeling the bark tear at her skin. She didn’t dare turn and look behind her to see if the thing was following her.

The wind was knocked out of her when she ran, full speed, into a chain link fence. She grabbed it and shook it hard, as if it would fall down at her touch. “No! Let me out of here!” She squinted into the darkness along the fence off to her right, but she didn’t see an exit. Turning to her left, another scream tore itself free from her throat when she came face to face with the woman again. Her legs worked without her conscious command, carrying her away from the ghost as fast as possible, one hand running along the fence to guide the way.

The fence ended suddenly and she sprinted through the gap, letting out another scream. No ghost or apparition caused it this time, the ground sloped dramatically and she fell, tumbling head over heels, over and over until she slid to a stop at the base of the hill. Panting hard and aching all over, Chris shut her eyes and blissfully slipped into unconsciousness.

“Miss? Miss are you all right?”

Chris opened her eyes and shifted slightly. Bright sunlight was streaming through the trees and distantly she could hear the hum of traffic. A man was standing over her, a park ranger from the looks of his uniform.

She pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked around. Her clothes were shredded where the trees had torn through, but her arms had no bruises from the collisions in the darkness, no scrapes from the bark. Even her ankle seemed entirely healed. She rose to her feet and stared at the man for a moment. “How long was I asleep?” She asked after a moment.

He frowned slightly. “Well, it’s Friday.”

“One night…” She murmured, looking down at the torn fabric and the smooth skin peeking out. “My bike, my bag… it’s in the cemetery. I crashed and…”

“Wait, you were in the cemetery last night?” He asked in an alarmed voice. “Were you hurt, were you attacked?”

Chris looked at the man with a deep frown. “What do you mean?”

He sighed heavily. “Two nights ago the body of a young woman was found in the cemetery. She’d been abducted from her house and murdered. Last night police, answering a 911 call for help, found the killer there. Apparently he’d been hiding out in a dug out grave.”

“That was my call…” She whispered softly, covering her mouth. “I crashed my bike and called for help, but they said it would be hours until someone could come. If…” She shook her head hard, trying to rid herself of the ‘what-ifs’ that were buzzing around her head. “My bike and my stuff are still in there, can I go get them?”

He nodded. “Sure, the police are done with the investigation. Are you sure you’re ok? Do you need an ambulance?”

After assuring him that she was fine, they hiked back up the hill and into the cemetery. Police had roped off sections with yellow warning tape, to keep out the curious.

Chris walked over to where her bike was sitting and her stomach did several back flips. Where she’d been sitting was roped off. The ground in front of the headstone where she’d spent hours knitting and waiting was opened up like a door, a dark pit underneath. She’d been sitting over the killer without realizing it. If she hadn’t gotten scared, hadn’t run away…

“I’ll push your bike if you grab your bag.” The man said, making her jump slightly.

She nodded and gathered up her things, frowning as she picked up her knitting needles. She’d finished the socks the night before, but they were no where to be seen. Shoving everything back into the bag, she nodded to the man and followed him out.

At the gate she paused and turned to look back into the cemetery. It looked so pretty in the bright, dappled sunlight. As she watched a woman walked out from behind a tree, the same woman that had so terrified her. But it wasn’t the white, ghostly figure from the night before; instead she was a solid, flesh and blood person. No longer searching for the hiding place of her killer, she strolled between the headstones, smiling each time the sun hit her face.

Chris watched her for a long while, smiling softly. Their eyes met only briefly and she was certain she heard a soft “Thank you,” carried over on the wind.

“Thank you.” She whispered in return, watching as she turned and walked away, fading away into the bright sunlight. The last thing that faded from view was the woman’s legs, a pair of handknit socks sticking out above her shoes.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Alone In The Grove - Part 2

The cemetery was large and decrepit, only two of the headstones were still standing and several of the graves showed signs of being dug up. Beer bottles and cans littered the edges of the grove, rusted and ancient signs of parties long past. A condom had been pushed over a long, thin branch, a victory flag of a successful conquest. The elements had shrunken it until it fit over the branch like brittle, aged skin. Each time the wind blew it seemed to beckon to the viewer, inviting them further into the cemetery.

Chris stared at the mock-finger for a long moment before turning away, looking instead down at her swollen ankle. “Oh this is just… fan-fucking-tastic.” She said, unlacing her shoe and slowly easing her food out. “Ow, ow damn it.” She bit down hard on her lip before grabbing for her bag.

“911, what is your emergency?”

Letting out a sigh of relief, Chris thanked the cell phone gods for giving her service out there. “Hello, yes. My name is Chris, I was in an accident and I need… I don’t know, I guess I need someone to come get me.”

“Are you badly injured?”

She shook her head. “No, I was riding my bike and I think I broke my ankle.”

“Did you lose consciousness?”

“No, no I just fell off my bike.”

There was the sound of typing as the operator filled in the form. “Where are you located?”

Chris glanced around, taking in the crumbling headstones surrounding her. “I’m… I’m in a cemetery. I think that it’s called Bachelor’s Grove, at least that’s what my map-“

“Miss, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is off limits to visitors.” The woman’s voice had lost the trained calm and sounded angry.

“I didn’t know that. I’m not from around here and I was just biking through. I didn’t mean to end up here. I had no idea that it was off limits. It was an accident.”

“Ah yes, you accidentally broke through the fence and accidentally ended up in an off limits cemetery and accidentally-“

“Look! The fence was open, I didn’t know it was off limits and I don’t really think that it’s the important thing right now. I’m hurt and I need some help. OK?”

There was a long, icy silence before the woman spoke again. “Unfortunately all of our paramedics and fire squads are in a neighboring township dealing with a very serious fire. The majority of our police are there as well. As you are not seriously injured and didn’t lose consciousness, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait until an ambulance returns.” She sounded rather pleased as she said this and Chris could almost imagine the smug little smile she had to be wearing. “It shouldn’t take longer than a few hours.”

“What? Are you serious? You expect me to sit in a cemetery, by myself, until five or six o’clock?”

She gave a little laugh. “Of course not.”

Chris let out a sigh. “Good, good.”

“I expect you to sit in a cemetery, by yourself, until nine or ten o’clock.”


“Thank you for calling 911. An officer will be with you at the earliest possible time.”

With a very solid click the operator hung up on her, leaving her sitting, dumbfounded, holding her silent cell phone to her ear. After a moment she laughed and dropped it back into her bag. “This is… this is just fabulous.” She said loudly. “Lets start filming the horror movie now, already got the injured blond alone in the spooky cemetery. Come on Freddie Kruger. Come on Jason, time for the slashing.”

An hour later she was leaning back against the headstone that she’d crashed into, a small fire burning off to her left. The sun was starting to set and there was no way she was going to sit in a dark cemetery alone. The dying light was already starting to cast strange shadows between the trees and stones. She pulled out her knitting and tried to ignore the throb in her ankle, working until the shadows were too thick, until the darkness was pushing in on her small fire, trying to extinguish it.

“Oh yeah… this is just… so much fun.” She said out loud, peering around herself in the darkness. Glancing down at her watch, she scowled. It was getting close to ten o’clock, she’d nearly finished all of her water and she was completely positive that if she ate one more energy bar she’d get sick from the taste.

Her eyes had just started to droop when a bright light danced across her lids. She opened her eyes and looked around, spotting the bobbing flashlight beam. “I’m over here!” She called, lifting a hand and staring to wave. Her hand froze, then seemed to wilt in the air as she watched the light dance around the cemetery. It wasn’t a flashlight beam, it was more like a floating orb of blue light. As she watched it seemed to spread and expand into the ghostly shape of a woman. “Oh my god…” She whispered softly.

The figure glided through the stones, not disturbing the high weeds as she passed through them. Dressed in a long, white gown with shoulder length hair, she moved from stone to stone, seeming to search for something.

Chris pressed a hand hard over her mouth to keep herself silent, staring at the woman. It wasn’t happening, not really. She wasn’t seeing what she was seeing, she was just dreaming is all. A mixture of pain from the broken ankle and exhaustion from how far she’d traveled. That was all, that was all.

The ghostly woman sat down on one of the stones and hung her head as if defeated. A few moments later she began to sob, the sound echoing in the silence, sending chills up Chris’ spine. “My baby… they’ve taken him… my poor lost dear…” She continued to sob, her arms curling up to cradle a child that wasn’t there for a few moments before dropping to rest on her legs.

“Not happening. Not happening.” Chris whispered softly to herself, pressing her back against the headstone as if she could pass through it and hide in safety on the other side.

Quite suddenly the sobbing stopped and the woman’s head slowly lifted, staring off into the darkness for a long moment before slowly and deliberately turning to look at Chris, catching the woman’s eyes with her own colorless, milky white orbs. “Chrisssss…”

Friday, May 19, 2006

Alone In The Grove - Part 1

It was turning out to be the perfect day. Chris stood still for a few moments, drinking in the lush, green landscape of the forest surrounding her. Her bike was straddled between her legs, legs that were tingling from the length she’d ridden already that day.

It had been a fleeting idea that had turned into something grand.

“Why not take a vacation and bike to Illinois for Stitches Midwest?” The comment had been left on her blog, mostly as a joke she was sure, but the idea had true merit. Chaos hadn’t agreed, but after receiving promises of copious amounts of tuna, kisses and SRMs upon her return, he had given her his permission to leave.

And so she had, three days prior. Everything had fallen into a wonderful rhythm; bike from first light until just before dusk, while away the nights knitting and enjoying the deep sleep that only comes from being thoroughly exhausted, wake the next morning to do it all over again. The weather had been perfect all the way, warm sun, mild temperatures, no rain and a cool breeze to refresh her whenever it tickled across her face.

She pulled out her map and considered it for a long moment, tracing the back road that she was on, the one that had led her deep into the picturesque wood. If she continued on it, it would lead her straight into Midlothian, where she could stop for the night. The ride would take her the remainder of the day, the road seemed to snake through the woods, as if it was a sightseeing trail more than a thoroughfare.

Once the map was tucked safely away she continued on, iPod playing in her ears, the dulcet tones of Hanson urging her on. “Mmmbop bawah do wop…” How she loved that song.*

A few miles down the road she slowed to a stop, pulling out her map once more. The road in front of her rather abruptly forked to the right and left. She wondered, for a moment, why she hadn’t seen the divide before, but the road to the right was there, large as day. Where the main road winded through the woods, the street to the right went straight through, passing through a place called Bachelor’s Grove before rejoining the main road and heading straight into Midlothian. She could cut hours off of her trip and actually have an afternoon to relax, let her legs rest up, before she reached Stitches.

Grinning, she took the right road and continued on her way, eager to get into town. There were a pair of socks she could finish knitting with the extra time and she was impatient to get started.

The road was obviously less traveled, with potholes and broken pavement, but she couldn’t imagine why. It seemed silly to take such a long road when a perfectly good shorter one was there.

But a mile or so down she realized why it was the road less traveled. A huge fence had been built, with gates blocking the road. Only the gates had been forced open, creating a space large enough for a grown person to walk through. She walked her bike up and hesitated for a long moment, looking from the gates to the road that had brought her there. She could go back, take the longer road and just hope that she reached her final destination in time to get a little rest. But she allure of being able to relax that night was impossible to ignore and, against her better judgment, she pushed her bike through the gate before continuing on. The gates were probably only there to keep hunters out.

She told herself that the forest only seemed darker because she technically wasn’t supposed to be there, that the feeling of eyes watching her was just paranoia, and perhaps a few curious possums or deer hidden out of her sight. Tugging her earbuds out, she frowned at the stillness, the silence that seemed so heavy around her. The road was overgrown at parts and the ride became rough, as if the road itself was trying to discourage her from continuing on.

Just as she’d made her choice to turn around, take the safe and smoother path, the road flattened, her bike tires humming audibly in the silence. Weeds grew so high on either side of the path that they were bowed over, hiding the ground from sight. She started to slow, but the ground sloped downward suddenly and her bike sped up. “Hey!” She yelled and clenched both of the brakes, but the bike still gained speed.

She saw it all in a strange, clichéd sort of slow motion. The weeds blocking her path parted around a large object speeding towards her. The front wheel hit it with such force that the bike flipped into the air, throwing her off. She didn’t even yell, the whole thing seemed far too unreal. That is, until the ground came rushing up so eagerly to meet her. She thought for a moment that she was going to land on her feet, and in a way she did. Her right foot hit the ground at an awkward angle and her ankle crumpled with a sudden flash of pain that radiated along her body as the rest of her landed, the force pushing all the air out of her chest.

For a few moments she laid there, struggling for breath, her mind reeling from shock and pain. Finally she pushed herself up with shaking hands, checking herself over for damage. Both hands were scuffed up, her cheek felt swollen, her knees were bloody and she was positive her ankle was sprained, if not broken completely. “Shit… shit!” She yelled angrily and turned to glare at the object that had caused the collision.

It was a tombstone. She was sitting in the middle of a cemetery.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Night Shift

“It’s an easy enough job. You patrol the cemetery once every two hours, keep an eye open for vandals and call the cops if you see anything out of the ordinary.” The old man was standing on one side of a tall, wrought iron fence. As he spoke he was turning a large key inside a lock. It clicked loudly and he stepped away from the gate. “Someone will be here at six in the morning to open up. Do you have any questions?”

Kirk shook his head, adjusting the strap of his backpack on his shoulder. “Nope, I think I’ve got everything down.” He bade the man goodnight before watching as he headed off to his car. “I’ll stay here all night and make sure the dead people don’t have a party.” He mumbled as he turned and walked towards the little office building where he would be spending most of his nights.

The job had seemed too good to be true when he’d seen it on a job board while on his way to class. Twelve bucks an hour to sit inside a cemetery and do his homework. Sure, it kept him away from his wife at night, which wasn’t the most ideal of situations, but they needed the money and the schedule was perfect. His last class ended at eight thirty, he grabbed dinner on the way into Chicago and worked from 10 at night until 6 in the morning. He avoided traffic because he was heading out of the city in the morning when he left. Then home for a few hours sleep before heading to class again.

Upon hearing about his new job, his sister Kelly had gleefully filled him in on all the different stories and myths surrounding Mount Carmel cemetery. But she was weird like that, believing in ghosts and urban legends. He was a complete skeptic. Until he saw it for himself it wasn’t real. Sometimes they seemed so different it was hard to imagine that they were siblings.

Dumping his bag in the small office, he picked up a large flashlight and headed out for his first patrol.

It was eerie to be out, wandering among headstones at ten o’clock at night. But as he walked he began to understand why they wanted the cemetery guarded. Each headstone was more a work of art than a grave marker.

Turning the corner, the flashlight glinted off of something on the ground. He frowned and walked over to see what it was, the hairs on the back of his neck lifting when the odd thought I’m walking on top of people drifted through his mind.

Piled on top of a plain stone set into the ground was a bottle of Glenlivit, several decks of cards, poker chips, several expensive cigars and an old fashioned porkpie hat. “Wow… dinks, smokes and gambles. You’ve got quite the problem there Mr…” He lifted the hat and fell quiet. The lavish gifts had been left on top of Al Capone’s grave.

“People have to leave the gifts there,” his sister had told him during her longwinded recitation of ghost stories surrounding Mount Carmel, “because if they offend his spirit he’ll pinch and poke them until they apologize.”

Setting the hat down, he picked up the bottle of liquor. “Boy, whoever left this must have really pissed you off, this is fifty dollar scotch.” A soft whisper tickled in his ear and he set the bottle down, rising to his feet. “Ugh, I’m going to kill her for telling me all those stupid stories.” He muttered, turning away from the grave and continuing on.

He passed by several other graves, including another one that his sister had told him about. He stopped to investigate the grave closer. It was the grave of Julia Buccola Petta. Other than a lifesized statue of the woman in her wedding dress it seemed fairly unimpressive, but it wasn’t the statue he was looking at. It was a small porcelain photograph that was set into the headstone. The photo was of the woman, looking as if she was simply asleep, the casket rotting away around her. After five years of nightmares that she’d buried her daughter alive, Julia’s mother had gotten permission from the church to dig her body up. The photo was what they found; the woman hadn’t decayed at all in five years.

Once his patrol had been finished he returned to the little office and seated himself at the desk, pulling out his laptop and continuing his work on a term paper he’d been writing.

The surrounding silence was almost suffocating, each little sound echoed all around. When the phone rang at a quarter to twelve he let out a little scream before composing himself. Breathing a little faster than usual he picked up the phone. “Mount Carmel cemetery, night security speaking.” He said, reading from a card that was sitting by the phone.

“Hi sweety!”

He relaxed immediately, letting out a long breath. “You scared the crap out of me Sarah!” He hissed into the line. “What are you doing calling so late? You’ve got classes in the morning.”

“I just wanted to call to see how things were going.” His wife said from the other end of the line. “Seen any spooks yet?”

He snorted softly. “No, but I’m going to kill Kelly for telling me all those stupid stories. She’s got me all freaked out.”

Sarah laughed on the other side of the phone. “Well if you aren’t in class tomorrow I’ll send the Ghostbusters.”

Hanging up the phone a few minutes later, Kirk grabbed the flashlight and headed out to do his next patrol. “Midnight. Fantastic planning Kirk.” He mumbled to himself as his watch chirped, heading outside.

If being in a cemetery at ten o’clock had been eerie, being in one at midnight was completely unsettling. His mind relentlessly wandered back to all the horror movies he’d ever seen and every shadow began taking the shape of something different. Freddy Krueger was lurking by a tree, Jason was crouching by a tomb, waiting for him to unwittingly pass by within the reach of their weapons.

“Not dead…”

It was as if someone had whispered the words into his ear. He let out a strangled sound and dropped the flashlight as he turned around. No one was standing there. Breathing heavily, he bent to pick up the flashlight and shine it around. “Hello? Is someone there?”

A hand caressed the back of his neck and he whipped around, holding the flashlight up like a club.

A young woman was standing in a long, white wedding gown, her expression sorrowful. “Not dead.” She whispered softly, reaching out towards him with one hand, the other holding a bouquet of dead flowers. “I’m not dead. Help me…”

Rigid with fear, it wasn’t until her hand, with the ice cold flesh of a corpse, caressed his cheek that he was able to move. He turned and sprinted away, barely aware that he’d left the flashlight behind.

In the darkness it was impossible to see what was coming until he was right in front of it. Several times he only barely stopped himself from running straight into a headstone by spinning left or right, each time flashing back to high school football practice.

His feet struck something solid and he fell hard, skidding across the grass for a few feet before stopping. Turning to see what he’d hit, he made a low sound when he saw scattered glass, poker chips and playing cards. He’d tripped over, and destroyed, the gifts left on Al Capone’s grave. Only one cigar had survived, the rest soaked with the liquor from the broken bottle. He toyed, for a few seconds, with the idea of trying to pick up the scattered poker chips and cards, but when he saw a white shape gliding slowly through the grounds he scrambled to his feet and took off again.

It wasn’t until he reached the refuge of the office that he stopped, leaning against the door. The lights inside were bright and safe. He walked into the bathroom and splashed his face with cold water. “Calm down… didn’t see that. Just imagining things.” He peered at his reflection for a few moments before laughing softly. “We’re good.”

Sitting down again, he leaned back in the chair and shut his eyes, covering his face with his hands. “Calm down. It was just a shad- ow!” He caught hold of his shoulder and turned around, staring at the wall behind him. Something had poked him, hard. “I don’t believe in ghosts!” He yelled loudly into the silence. “So just… leave me alone.”

As he turned the air around him seemed to change. It grew cloudy and denser. He drew in a sharp breath and realized it was smoke, cigar smoke. “Oh my god…” He whispered softly and backed away from the smoke, pressing himself back against the wall.

“Not dead. Help me. Release me…” The woman’s face was in the window next to him. She reached through the glass and caught hold of his shoulder. “I’m not dead. Help me Kirk.”

Something prodded him hard in the other shoulder again as he cowered against the wall. “Leave me alone!”

Another hard prod in the shoulder, the woman’s hand still clutching the other. “Kirk... Kirk… Kirk!”

He woke with a yell and the chair he was in fell backwards onto the floor. For a moment he had no idea what was going on, the dream refusing to fade away now that he was awake. After a moment he rose to his feet, glancing at the clock. Six in the morning. He’d slept through his entire shift.

The woman who had woken him up, an older woman with a stern face, was shaking her head at him. “You’re not supposed to fall asleep on the job. I’ve half a mind to tell the boss.”

Gathering his things, he mumbled a few vague apologies before heading out. He didn’t look around at the headstones as he walked, staring down at the path leading out of the cemetery and to where he’d parked his car. It wasn’t until he’d stepped out of the gates that he was able to relax. “Just a dream stupid.” He told himself, digging into his pocket to grab his car keys.

His hand closed around something, but it wasn’t his keys. Slowly, and very reluctantly, he pulled his hand out of his pocket and looked down at it. There, in his palm, was the stub of a cigar and a long dead rose, it’s petals crumbling. Throwing them from himself, he jumped in his car and sped off without looking back. Maybe he’d get a job delivering pizzas instead.