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.


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