Authors: Bryant Delafosse
When we finally reached the cemetery it was just after three in the morning. Claudia led us to a tree just outside the barbed wire fence line and leaned her bike up against it. She rested her shoe on the middle wire and pushed it down, while lifting the top wire with her hand. “C’mon.”
I ducked my head, squeezed through the gap, yet still managing to clip my shoulder on one of the prongs. Once inside, I held the wires apart for her.
Removing her backpack and tossing it over, she slid through the wires like a practiced expert, scooped up the pack and kept moving without a look back.
“Hey, wait for me,” I hissed, whispering as if there were a possibility that I might wake someone.
We walked together through the staggered rows of tombstones, the moonlight giving the stones a blue glow. I had a disturbing image of the gardens that my father sometimes planted. The way the rows were laid out was similar. It was like a garden of the dead.
“The harvest is coming.”
Though the voice came from my own throat, I barely recognized it as my own. My initial thought was that it had come from my immediate left, which, of course, caused an instinctively reaction to leap right, plowing into Claudia and eliciting a single sharp shriek of which I didn’t know she was capable.
She threw one hand to her mouth and began slapping me with the other. I leaped away, defensively throwing up my hands.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I don’t know.”
Claudia studied my face. “What would make you say such a bizarre thing, Paul Andrew Graves?”
It was the first time I recall any girl outside of my own mother using my full name. The familiarity of it was startling yet comforting at the same time. It created within me a strange dynamic between wanting to hide myself out of a sort of indefinable shame and wanting to show my one true face to someone all at the same time; a feeling perhaps as ancient as the first garden.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Why the hell did you jump?”
In that moment, I suddenly wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to tell her about the dreams. About the damned tune I kept humming. The voice in the storeroom. But when I opened my mouth to say the words, these desires to come clean were somehow trumped by another overwhelming desire that confused me so much that I was speechless.
The moonlight was hitting her face at an angle, this perfect angle, and giving her pale skin such an amazing internal glow that she looked like some kind of Renaissance cherub on a painted canvas of pure light. It was breathtaking. On the heels of this came another strange desire that took hold and wiped all the former thoughts of dreams and voices from my mind.
She immediately looked away. “C’mon,” she growled, squirming out of her backpack even as she started away from me.
I found her at Mr. Wicke’s grave, shivering from the cold. Her coat was thrown over another tombstone. I immediately snatched it up and apologized profusely to whoever happened to be down there.
From her backpack, she removed a board that unfolded from quarters into one of those Ouija boards, but not the run of the mill wooden one you see hidden away on the dusty top shelf of closets. This one was a special mail-order variety, a colorful feast for the eyes, created for artists by artists. It didn’t just have the letters and numbers, but a blazing sun for “yes,” and a full moon for “no.”
It was called the “Psychic Eye,” probably because it had a big pyramid with an eye on the back. What made this one different was how much more serious it was about what most people who dabbled in it considered an interesting party game. The alphabet took up most of the board, but in addition to that all the zodiac signs were there along with tarot images like the ones on the cards. Y’know, the Lovers, Death, Colonel Mustard. It even came with this instructional booklet that was as big as any Stephen King novel.
Claudia laid the board on the ground and sat Indian style in front of it. “C’mon,” she said, removing the planchette. She looked up at me with impatience. “Well? Sit down.”
“I’m not going to touch that thing.”
“Do you know who believed in the power of the séance, Paul? President Abraham Lincoln, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Graham Bell, and Marconi, the inventor of telegraph and radio.”
“Well, I was on the edge until you mentioned Marconi. Now I’m really on-board!” My sarcasm seemed to be lost on her.
“Even the inventor of the television supposedly contacted the spirit of Thomas Edison.”
“What did Edison tell him? Stop screwing around and invent something else?”
She rolled her eyes. “Paul, I know you don’t believe in it…”
“I do know one thing. Harry Houdini’s wife Bess, conducted a séance in his honor every year on Halloween for ten years after his death because of a pact they made.” I’d read about it just the other day when the subject of séances had first come up.
She sighed laboriously. “Yes, I know all about that. They had a secret code that only she knew.”
“He went around the world debunking psychics and their séances for years, but was so open to the possibility of the dead contacting the living that he told his own wife that after his death if he could, he would contact her from the other side.” These were all facts I figured that she already knew as well, but facts of which she needed to be reminded. “In one part of the world or another, a séance has been conducted for him every year on Halloween and, Claudia, Houdini has never contacted the living. What does that tell you?”
“Houdini was a skeptic. Just like you.”
“According to your friend, this won’t work unless I believe.”
“Paul, just give me the benefit of the doubt.”
I sat down opposite Claudia, holding her cloak in my lap. She gave me a self-satisfied nod and placed her hands on the planchette. “Put your fingers on the other side. Light pressure. Don’t push on it. Let it move on its own.”
Instead of following her instructions, I reached down and took her hands in mine. They were as cold as ice. She looked up with wide eyes.
“I came out here because I knew you’d come anyway and I didn’t try and stop you, even though I don’t believe what you believe,” I told her. “Why don’t you try to respect my beliefs?”
Claudia dropped her eyes, sighed, and slowly withdrew her hands out of mine. There was no snappy comeback. No name calling. She had no choice but to accept my position.
I rose and stood at what I felt was a respectful distance with my hands in the pockets of my jacket. As I stood there alone in the dark, cold night, I felt as strong and solid as I could ever remember feeling. I felt present in that moment, fully grounded in the here and now. I had taken a stand, but for more than just myself. I felt somehow that I had taken a stand for Claudia. I didn’t immediately know how or why, but I had felt the rightness of what I had done in my bones.
For the first time, I didn’t feel like a boy. I felt like a man.
I felt like Paul Andrew Graves.
Wind blew through my hair and instead of feeling it a nuisance, I reveled in it as a part of the world around me, not obstructing me, but interacting with me. Somewhere in the distance, I could smell the dying embers of an outdoor grille and I could hear a dog bark in response to another. I closed my eyes and let a gentle smile drift across my lips.
I opened my eyes and looked over my shoulder. “What?”
Claudia remained seated in front of her board, eyes closed. She made a face and opened one eye. Somehow she managed to glare with that single eye.
I turned back around and continued my lone vigil. But was I still alone? I cleared the thought with a shake of my head. Of course, I was alone. What the hell? Was I hearing voices? No, I decided. I was hearing a voice. One. Somehow I was sure of that.
I chuckled softly and tried to regain a little of the calm “centeredness” that I had only moments ago. Obviously, this was all in my head. I was stressed from the long day and now the lack of sleep. That had to be it. Hearing voices was the sort of thing that psychotics in Claudia’s crime books did, not me.
After another twenty minutes, Claudia slammed the board closed and shoved it loudly into her backpack. She rushed past me and snatched the cloak out of my hands. “Let’s go.”
I rushed to catch up with her. “What happened?”
She gave me a look that made it clear a smart person would drop the subject.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t that person.
After we reached our bikes and I checked my tires again, we started back home. By now it must have been closing in on three-thirty. My body was tired but my mind was humming.
“Claudia, your father is not in that cemetery.”
“Drop it, Paul.”
“I’m just saying if I were a spirit, I’d want to be around people I loved, not there.”
Claudia didn’t say a word.
When I glanced over, I realized that she was no longer riding along beside me. I looked back and realized that she had stopped in the center of the road a few yards back. Her head was lowered and as I approached, I realized that she was crying.
I started to approach, then hesitated, wondering what was appropriate at a time like this. Before I could second-guess myself, she dropped her bike and clutched me, crying with the kind of abandon that I’d never been witness to before that night; the kind of crying of which only women and the clinically depressed are capable, a kind of primal cleansing sob. She pressed her face into my chest and just cried on and on for what seemed minutes.
Then she pulled away, dragged a hand across her face in obvious frustration and leaped back atop her bike. Before I could say a word, she started off again into the darkness. I had to work up a sweat just to catch up to her again.
We reached the “tunnel-o-trees” again, but this time, the moon was shining just bright enough that we could see hazy blue light welcoming us on the other side. She gave me a shy, distracted look and increased her speed slightly, giving me the answer without my having to ask. In the end, I was glad we didn’t attempt to ride through the same way we did before. The moment had become all the more special because of its uniqueness. Repeating it would have only trivialized it.
Though we made it back to Claudia’s house in pretty good time, it didn’t change the fact that it was nearly four o’clock in the morning. Both of us looked at the windows. They were still dark. That was a good sign.
It was on the tip of my tongue to say something profound to wrap up the off-kilter evening, but before I could, she gave me a nod and started up the driveway with her bike. “You better get home.”
I knew she was right, but I took my time nonetheless, walking the bike beside me instead of riding. Something was telling me that regardless of how fast I walked, I would have some explaining to do. Then in a sudden flash of horror, it occurred to me that I had left the television on downstairs and forgotten to lock the door behind me in my eagerness to discover why Claudia had been crying.
My hunch was correct and my first indication that something was out of the ordinary was that I smelled cigarette smoke. The last time I smelled that was the Fourth of July after Dad had retired from the department. Mom had hoped that if the stress of being a Sheriff was the reason he smoked a pack a day, then retiring would enable him to cope without them. Eventually he did, though he always kept a pack around. Once he told me that the only way he could continue to fight the addiction was to keep an available pack around, his way of tricking himself into believing that his stopping was only temporary.
As I started up the sidewalk, I could see the glowing tip centered just within the top part of the dark silhouette sitting on the swing on the porch. I stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up at the face of my father. He gave me a hard look, crushed his cigarette out beneath one of his sandals and rose. He pointed to the door.
“We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
I went inside, past my mother’s snoring body on the couch, and upstairs to my room to await the execution at sunrise.
When I’d finally gotten to sleep it must have been five AM. A mere two hours later, my door was thrown open and the shade on my window was mercilessly snapped up to reveal the searing morning sunlight.
“Get up,” my father said over his shoulder as he stomped off into the hallway. “You need to cut the grass this morning.” So, this was how the punishment would begin. My father knew that “hate” was not a strong enough word for how I felt about cutting all three acres of our property. More than anything else, it was probably the threat that I’d be eternally cutting the lawn of the Devil himself in Hell that kept me on the straight and narrow.
I dragged myself through the shower and put on the first thing my eyes landed on when I opened my closet.
Downstairs, Dad was sitting at the kitchen table with his coffee and his newspaper like it was any other Sunday, the lack of music coming from the garage was the only indication that it wasn’t.
I sat down and immediately started in on my defensive argument. “Last night, Claudia was crying and I could tell something was wrong.”
Dad folded his paper in half and set it aside, his full attention on me now.
“She had to go see her father. It was late but she had to go then and she was going with or without me.”
His piercing eyes lost a little of their intensity.
“You went to a graveyard?”
Mom was standing in the doorway. Dad flashed a stern look at her as she took a seat at the table. She seemed to be dressed for something, though I wasn’t sure what.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t about to wake you up and tell you that I was going to a cemetery.”
“Did you ever think of perhaps leaving a note? Maybe turning the TV off?” She leaned across the table confrontationally. Dad sighed in frustration and placed a hand on Mom’s arm. It was too late, though. She had already hit the accelerator and the momentum was going to carry her straight through to the end. “Y’know, even locking the door would’ve been a little less suspicious. It looked like you fled the scene of a crime.” Her eyes glazed over then came back into sudden sharp focus on my face. “Or was a victim of one.”
Dad finally lifted a hand and inserted a firm, “Please, hon.” He then turned his attention back to me and asked, “Do you know what’s going on out there this morning?” He turned the newspaper around so that I could read the headlines. It read: “San Marcos Teen Found.” “They’re investigating another crime scene,” he announced.
A quick scan of the article gave me the identity and location where the body was found. The victim had been Sadie Nayar, who had disappeared from San Marcos three weeks ago. Her body had been found in a dumpster behind an abandoned parts supply warehouse in Pine Marsh. My first question that came to mind was, “Where the hell was Pine Marsh?” Eventually, I would discover that the tiny almost-town of Pine Marsh, which sprang up to meet the demands of the auto plant in neighboring Grover, had basically been starved to death when the plant closed and cut off its cash flow.
Significantly, Pine Marsh was thirty minutes from Haven.
I shook my head in denial. “There’s no way we could have known about thi… Waitaminute. There’s no way
could have known about this.”
Dad and Mom traded looks. “I got a call last night from a friend in the department. That’s what woke me up from a dead sleep.”
“I went downstairs to find out why the TV was still on and couldn’t find you anywhere,” Mom added reproachfully.
“The last thing I wanted to do was worry your mother, but under the circumstances, I didn’t think I could hide the fact that our son had mysteriously vanished from the living room.”
“Paul, this silly fascination with what’s going on out there has gone on far enough,” Mom snapped at me. She reached across the table and grabbed my hand, her grip going from firm to “death clutch” in a matter of moments. “I don’t care which one of you two are more responsible, I just need for it to stop.”
I gently pulled my hand away and focused on the more reasonable of the two.
“Dad, we did exactly what I told you. We went to the cemetery and came straight back. She was going with or without me, and there was no way I was going to let her go off by herself.”
“I never thought you would’ve gone anywhere without telling us,” my father replied with a belabored sigh. “But I was also banking on the fact that this had something to do with Claudia.”
Suddenly it dawned on me. “You called Pat.” It was more a statement than a question.
“I told myself that I would wait another thirty minutes before calling her, and buddy, you got in just under the wire.”
“Great, so I’m in trouble for something Claudia wanted to do and Pat doesn’t even know about it.”
Mom leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. “She does now. I called her this morning.” Both Dad and I glanced over at her in surprise. “I figure neither of you will be making any more cemetery runs for now until Halloween.”
“Wait. Wait. Wait.
punished?” I looked to Dad. “You said yourself I couldn’t let her go off on her own, especially with this Mad Strangler loose.”
Dad glared at me and leaned forward almost confrontationally. “Is that what they’re calling this bastard at your school?”
I searched his face. I hadn’t expected that sort of reaction. “No, I-I just made that up just now.”
“Well, save the funny names for your stand-up routine.” He sighed and seemed to regain a little of his composure. “I figure it won’t be long before the press is worshipping this sicko. I don’t like to hear it from my own son.” Dad threw himself up out of his chair and disappeared into the garage.
I glanced over at Mom. She was giving me that look like she wanted to wrap me in a blanket and cradle all one hundred thirty pounds of me against her chest like I was three months old again. It gave me the creeps.
Just to break the silence, I asked, “Why are you dressed up?”
“I’m going to church,” she replied. “And you’re coming with me.”
Once the surprise subsided, I realized that this was a much more acceptable option to cutting the grass. I didn’t argue.
“What about Dad?”
She lowered her head. “I’m working on that. He’s a harder sell.”
“Can I take my own car to church or is that part of the punishment?”
Mom gave me a look of confused shock. “Of course not, Paul, but don’t you want to go with..?”
Ignoring her, I strode into the garage behind my father, giving the door a slam of my own.