In keeping with the spooky atmosphere of the evening, I give you one of my short stories. The cemetery I based this story around is located just west of my hometown.
I chose the particular headstone because it’s set off by itself on a bit of a hill surrounded by trees.
I hope you enjoy this seasonal piece.
A Halloween Tale
Brian and Emily clambered off their bicycles in front of a large three-storey, red brick house in the western end of the city. A huge sign bearing a wildcat and the words B&B hung from a post in the yard. “Is this the place?” he asked.
“I think so.” She slid her heavy rucksack off, dug into its small outer pocket, and pulled out the confirmation e-mail. Scanning the document, she checked the house and guidepost. “Yes. We’re here.”
Emily slung her pack over one shoulder. They walked their bikes to the side of the house and leaned them against the wall before going to the door. She reached out to ring the bell. At the same instant, the inside door opened. Startled, she jumped back.
“You’re the Wolvertsons? I’ve been expecting you.” The grey-haired, bespectacled woman craned her neck to see past them. “Where is your car?”
“We rode,” he said.
“Come in, you must be exhausted. Your room is this way.”
Hands clasped, the young couple accompanied the proprietor to their room.
“Here you are. Breakfast runs from seven to nine o’clock. You’re on your own for lunches and suppers but the town has a number of places for a good meal.”
“Thank you, Mrs. …, ” he began.
“Griffin, but you can call me Miriam”
Meanwhile, Emily had walked to the window. The street below bustled. “We passed a couple of cemeteries west of here.” She turned to face Brian and their hostess. “What can you tell us about them?”
The woman’s face went pale. “Y-you don’t want to be going to the necropolis on the south side of the road. Rumor has it, it’s frequented by spirits.”
“We do. I think my ancestors are buried there and that’s why we came. We’re researching our family tree and want to take some rubbings of the ancestral slabs and photograph them for the book we’re writing.”
“If you think you must go, go early in the day so you’re out well before dark.”
She dropped to the bed and ran her hand over the white duvet. “Tell us more. This sounds intriguing.”
“Two hundred years ago this Halloween that Emily McPherson went away. My, but your name is Emily, too, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Please go on.”
Brian sat down put his arm around Emily’s shoulders.
“The story goes a young girl lost her fiancé – an infantryman – in a dreadful accident in the first part of the war of 1812. His ship was carrying a load of dynamite and it exploded. The blast killed everyone on board.”
“What does that have to do with the churchyard?”
“Well, they say she visited his entombment every day until her disappearance and was there as always when a terrible storm blew up and folks never saw her again. A blood curdling shriek was heard over the crashing – and then nothing. Silence. The disturbance cleared as quickly as it had formed. Alarmed by the horrendous noise that came from the direction of the graveyard, some men sprang into action. When they reached the location where the poor, bereft young woman spent most of her time, she was gone. No indication of a scuffle. No suggestion someone dragged her off – just the bluish phosphorescence surrounding the headstone. From that night on, no one had ever set foot in that corner. You understand why it is imperative you’re out of there before dark.”
“What a tragic, yet romantic tale. We must find that grave.” Her eyes sparkled.
“We will but in the morning. Today, we scope out the town.” Brian stood and helped her up from the bed. “Thanks for sharing that. Em, here, well she’s a pushover for a burial ground and a love story.”
Outside, Emily wrapped her arms around Brian’s waist. “I wish we didn’t have to wait.”
“Come on. If anything untoward is going to happen there, it will be tomorrow on the actual day. Not today.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she muttered.
Brian took her hand and they walked tothe town’s centre, stopping first at the local repository where the genealogical society housed its archives.
Emily scanned the floor to ceiling shelves lined with books, binders, maps and the society’s own publications. If the young woman’s exodus were such a big deal, then there had to be something written about it. She discovered a notebook of newspaper clippings dating back to the commencement of 1812, sat down at one of the tables and flipped through it. Emily ferreted out the piece about the detonation and couldn’t believe how much detail the press included on the crews’ injuries. Still, she removed a page and made a photocopy. A few pages later, she found the other including a photo of the alleged sinister chamber. While she perused those, he busied himself with the old charts. Two older women came down the stairs as she photocopied the article. They spoke in hushed tones about the anniversary of the McPherson girl’s departure. Armed with the information she wanted, Emily and Brian left the museum and went to a nearby pub for lunch. Over a pint and burger, they shared their findings.
“According to the one, Emily’s engagement occurred on June 1st and her fiancé died the second,” she said, taking a sip of beer.
The longer they stayed, the more uncomfortable Emily became. The people pointed and stared at her, like they were comparing her to the long-since missing girl. “Let’s leave. These people are creeping me out.”
“If you want.” Brian picked up his glass and draining the last of it.
After exiting, they wandered in and out of some of the more eclectic stores on the main street. In a second-hand shop, Emily bought a cherry amber pendant. Another young couple entered, talking about the city of the dead as she fastened the clasp.
“They say that tomb is haunted.”
“Yeah, I know. Even in the daylight people don’t go near it.”
On their return to the B&B, she emptied the contents of her backpack on the bed ensuring she had everything she needed for their trek. Camera, extra batteries, blank newsprint, and charcoal sticks in a baggie. She added the photocopies to the essentials and repacked her bag.
The next morning, Miriam begged them to reconsider visiting the ossuary. “It’s just all the talk about how the unfortunate girl vanished and this being the bicentenary,” she moaned, wringing her hands.
“We’re leaving as soon as we’re finished eating so will be back long before it gets dark,” Brian reassured her. “If it makes you feel better, we’ll stop here before we go to supper.”
Emily slipped on her leather riding gloves and heaved her pack on her back. “Don’t worry. We’ll be back late this afternoon.” Hesitating by the front door, she turned back. “Bye. We’ll see you later,” she called cheerily as they exited.
It took about five minutes to reach the cemetery’s entrance. After dismounting, they walked their cycles down the winding road and parked them against a bench near the river. She took her Canon out and shot a few wide angle shots of the area for comparison later on.
Since they hadn’t gotten away as timely as they would have liked, Emily decided they should split up so they could cover twice as much territory. She gave Brian some of the sheets of printing paper and a couple of the anthracite crayons. He had a point and shoot Kodak so could take pictures as well as rubbings.
A row of white tombstones, beginning with two substantial memorials followed by some smaller, all of the same design, caught Emily’s eye and she walked to them. It appeared to be parents, and their ten children. She carefully photographed each one planning on looking into the family at a later date. Emily glanced over her shoulder. Brian had worked his way out to an earlier section adjacent to the highway.
Walking along the narrow road, she spotted a flight of stone steps leading to a spot sheltered by trees. As she climbed them, she noticed a small marker next to a bathtub-like sarcophagus. Up on the rock about four feet higher than the terrain where she stood, a solitary tribute occupied the plot. Emily pulled the copied articles out of her holdall. This matched the one in the copy. The thick canopy of poplar, pine, and maple trees kept the space in darkness even at his time of day. A gust of wind rustled through the treetops overhead and a leaf fluttered to the ground, landing on the covering of brightly colored autumn leaves. What was once a stately oak stood guard over the site; its trunk and remaining branch denuded of bark and pocked with woodpecker holes.
Up close, the tombstone didn’t look menacing. Emily walked around it, feeling its roughness under her fingertips, and read the epitaph. It told the sad tale of a young man who expired away tragically in a ship’s explosion. She took a picture of the wording.
“Brian, come quick.” She turned and swung her arms to get his attention. “I think this is the monument.”
He lifted his head and waved back but made no attempt to approach.
When he didn’t respond a second time to her calls, she scampered off the crag, pausing to take more photos then ran to him, stumbling over the uneven ground. Breathless when she reached Brian, Emily found it difficult to tell him she had identified the cenotaph of the young soldier.
“You’ll remember where it was? I’d like to get some rubbings of the ones in this precinct. Let me finish up here and we’ll head over.” He pulled her to him and kissed her forehead.
Another one with a worn but interesting inscription soon held their interest. They were engrossed with it – Emily with her digital SLR and Brian with the paper and carbon. They were so preoccupied they didn’t notice the skies darkening.
Not wanting to leave without a final visit to the shrine, she ran off towards it, with him following. It was dusk when they reached it. They drew nearer and the hairs on the back of Emily’s neck stood on end.
Suddenly, the sky turned black. The intensity of the city’s streetlights no longer visible. Emily couldn’t see him, yet they were only arms’ length apart. A brilliant flash of lightning and a simultaneous, deafening clap of thunder frightened her and she screamed. The pungent smell of ozone filled the air. The tall masterpiece now bathed in that ominous cerulean glow, made her entire body tingle.
The next day, when the owner of the B&B raised the alarm after they had failed to come back the night before, a search party went to the funerary grounds to look for them. Just as it was when Emily McPherson disappeared all those years ago, there were no signs of a struggle, no trace of the couple at all. At the stone’s base, one of the rescuers found a necklace – the same one the young woman was last seen wearing when she and her partner left for the cemetery. On the back was a message which read, ‘to my Emily June 1st, 1812. All my love B.W.’. The searchers looked at each other incredulously, then at the gravestone. B.W. – Brian Wolfe. Were these two people the ghosts of Emily and Brian?
And here is the row of headstones belonging to the family near the haunted one on the hill.
Strange phenomena? Coincidence? Or were Brian and Emily really the ghosts of the couple from long ago?