My (long) short story Gravewatcher appears in the newly released Tales from The Graveyard from North Bristol Writers. Here’s a sample from the opening.
Carina watched from the cemetery gate. Her new arrival tried to shove the gardener’s shoulder, passed straight through, and stumbled to his knees. Those who died suddenly always went through a period of confusion. Denial. This one, a young man, wore a dinner jacket, unbuttoned, and a bow tie hung loose over his blood-stained dress shirt.
The blood wasn’t real. More an echo of how he’d died.
She needed to catch his attention, but it would be tricky with the gardener there, so she waited. Steam rose from the warm paper cup between her gloved hands. A daily double shot latte had become her morning crutch since sleep began to elude her. Since Maggie died.
The spirit stepped in front of the gardener and waved a hand in front of the man’s face. “Hey! Look at me!”
But, the man methodically pushed his mower between the graves, completely oblivious.
The ghost raked his hands through his dark hair, and folded his arms across his chest. Now that he’d calmed down Carina had a better chance of controlling the situation. She tucked a loose curl of hair under her beanie, then strode up the gravel path.
“Good morning, Doug,” she called.
The gardener looked up and she raised her coffee cup in greeting.
“Good morning Miss Lewins. Turned a bit fresh today.” He carefully manoeuvred the manual mower around a clump of daffodils.
“It certainly has. Still won’t let the boss buy you a proper electric mower?”
He chuckled. “Oh no, this is better. Can’t be making a racket around the residents.” He nodded towards the gravestones.
Carina smiled and when Doug returned his attention to his work she made deliberate eye contact with the young man perched on the headstone. He tensed. She gave a subtle nod towards the rear of the cemetery.
“See you later then,” she said.
“You have a pleasant day, Miss Lewins.”
As she set off towards the heart of the cemetery the young man hopped up and fell into step beside her. She braced herself for the inevitable hard questions.
“Can you see me?” he asked.
She kept her eyes forward. “Mmm hmm.”
“What the hell is going on? Why couldn’t he see me? Is this my blood or… I can’t remember how I got here.”
“It’ll come back in time,” she said. “I’m afraid you died.”
“No, that’s not—” He tried to grab her arm and she flinched, even though his hand passed straight through her.
“Do you remember your name?” she asked.
“Victor.” He frowned at his hand. “Victor Mason.”
“I know it’s difficult to accept, Victor, but you were buried here yesterday afternoon.”
He blinked slowly and then looked down at his bloody clothes. “Nah, this is bullshit. Someone’s sick joke after the wedding.”
Carina hid her reaction by chugging some more of her coffee. She couldn’t get caught up in his story; he was just passing through. She schooled her expression and offered a sympathetic smile. “It’s true. But it’s okay, I’m here to help you.”
“If I’m dead, like you say, isn’t it a bit late?”
“This isn’t the end. When you’re ready, you can move on.”
“Move on where?”
She gripped the paper cup tighter. “I can’t tell you that part.”
He curled his lip. “Of course you can’t. But I should trust you and everything will be fine? Right. Lady, this is all nuts.”
She winced at the scathing bite in his tone.
“Screw this,” he said. “Tell whoever put you up to it that I’m not playing.” He strode away towards the cemetery gate.
“You can’t leave,” she called after him.
She let him go. He’d find her when he was ready and someone else needed her more.
Towards the south side of the cemetery, pale pink blossom, from a pair of cherry trees, fluttered on the breeze. In the shade beneath the trees, a child huddled beside a grave; her own. Her shoulders trembled with sobs, but her long blonde hair hid her tears. Bare toes peeked out below her soft cotton pyjamas.
Carina paused and finished her coffee. The bottle in her bag whispered to her. Liquid courage. But, no. The caffeine would have to be enough. The bottle was only to help her sleep. If it came to the point where she couldn’t get through the days without it, then she was in trouble.
The little girl reached for a teddy bear one of her grieving relatives had placed on the grave. Her small hand passed through, denying her even that small comfort. Spirits couldn’t affect any change on the world, and anything living, or ‘of the living’, was as insubstantial to them as air.
Carina set her empty cup on the ground beside the path, took off her scarf and gloves, and draped them over a headstone. The child kept her head down as Carina sat cross-legged on the grass beside the grave.
In the five years since she’d first felt the Call, she’d helped too many kids cross over. It never got any easier, but she’d learnt to arm herself with information.
The little girl’s head snapped up.
“It’s okay. I’m here to help.”
Susannah blinked big glassy eyes, her cheeks glistening with tears. “Where’s my mum?”
“She can’t be here right now, sweetheart. I’m sorry.”
“I want to go home.”
Carina’s eyes stung. “I know. But, you can’t go home now. You have to go somewhere else. I can show you the way. And when you get there, your grandma’s going to take care of you.”
“Mummy said Nanny had to go away and can’t come back.”
“That’s right, she did. And now you’re going to go there too, to see her. Won’t that be nice?”
Susannah wiped her eyes with her sleeve and nodded.
“Are you ready?” Carina held her breath as she extended her hand. Susannah’s fingers slid into hers. and Carina released the breath. “Good girl. Well done.”
She closed her eyes and felt for the ever-present edge of her reality; the veil between the living world and the mystery beyond. She drew back the curtain.
“Nanny!” Susannah sprang to her feet and her hand pulled free.
Carina’s arm dropped to her side.
“What did you do to her?” Victor said behind her.
She jumped. The accusation stabbed her raw nerves. She kept her head down and wiped the tears from her cheeks so he wouldn’t see. “She did it herself. All I did was open the way.”
“The way where?”
“Wherever she’s supposed to go. Like I said, I don’t control that part.”
She rose and returned to the path. He watched her warily, fresh pain in his eyes; he must have tried the gate. She felt for him, but some spirits couldn’t be told, they had to learn the hard way.
She held out her hand
He flinched away from her. “Don’t touch me.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. When you’re ready.” She couldn’t force him. He’d have to get there on his own. She checked her watch; ten minutes left to visit the others before work.
“Wait, where are you going?” Victor asked.
“Come along and you’ll see.”
The maze of paths led deeper into the wooded part of the cemetery where grand monuments to the Victorian dead listed and toppled into a sea of ivy. The path dipped towards the Dell—a small clearing where several routes crossed at the base of a steep bank.
“Hey, Gravewatcher,” one of Carina’s lost souls barked from his perch on the side of a raised tomb. “Have you found my boy yet?”
“Good morning to you too, Mr Tully.”
“Bah! What’s good about it? It’s shit. Like everything else.”
“Hey!” Victor said. “What’s your problem?”
Mr Tully focused on the new spirit. Carina sighed and moved between them. “Ignore him. He’s just a bitter old man who won’t let go.”
“And what would you know about bitter, Gravewatcher?”
She said nothing. She knew enough.
Mr Tully leaned back. “At least you ain’t stuck here.”
“Neither are you, George. You can move on any time you like.” She turned her back on him and continued into the middle of the clearing.
Victor trailed along behind her. “What did he mean about finding his son?”
“He doesn’t approve of his son’s life choices. Wants me to pass on a message.”
“And? Will you?”
She stopped and faced him. Hope shone in his eyes. Hope she had to shatter quickly. Cleanly.
“No. I can’t.”
“But, why not? You could—”
“No I can’t. It’s not allowed. Like the gate.”
He sagged. “Oh.”
Around the her little gaggle of lost souls gathered; those who couldn’t move on because of some lingering attachment to the living world. One young woman with short, pixie cut dark hair crouched, rocking on her ankles. Another woman, wearing a green satin evening dress, stared up into the trees with a soft sad smile on her lips. A man in biker’s leathers sat with his back to a headstone, knees drawn up. He scratched at a patch of bare earth with a finger, leaving no impression.
Half a dozen others loitered among the trees. It would be so much easier if she could act as a medium. Then she could do something to offer them closure.
A matronly spirit named Peggy, hurried towards her.
“Carina dear, have you seen Juliette? I can’t find her anywhere.”
“Not yet, no. But I’m sure she’s around.”
It wasn’t exactly out of character; Juliette had died as a teenager, about eight months ago, and her grief for her life was still fresh. She preferred to work through it alone.
Peggy pulled her knitted wrap tighter around her shoulders and glanced at Victor.
“Is something wrong?” Carina asked.
“We heard noises last night. Shrieking.”
Carina tried to swallow against a suddenly dry throat. She took several shallow breaths. It was important the spirits saw her as confident; Maggie taught her that very early on.
“Have any of you actually seen anything?” she asked.
Peggy shook her head.
“Well then. It was probably nothing. Don’t you think we’d know if there was something here?”
There hadn’t been a piece of the Darkness larger than a cat in her cemetery since Maggie defeated the last serious threat. The chances that two would find her spirits in such a short space of time seemed impossibly unlikely. She closed her eyes and tried to will away the tension in her gut.
It had to be nothing. Had to be. She started walking towards the crematorium.
Victor followed her. “Wait, where are you going now?”
Her mind was elsewhere. “What?”
“You’re leaving me here?”
She rubbed her eyes. “I have to go to work, I’m sorry. The others will help you.”
He frowned, but retreated a pace. She offered an apologetic smile and hurried back toward the land of the living.
Enjoyed this excerpt? Read the rest of the story in Tales From The Graveyard. Available from your local bookshop or online book retailer.
An eBook version is available. Contact me for more details as we’ve had some delays getting it listed. You can use the contact form or message me via Twitter @ChrisseyWrites