Nov 2, 2014

A Halloween Tale by Melanie Robertson-King

Brian and Emily climbed off their bicycles outside a large three-storey, red brick house in the west end of the city. A huge sign bearing a griffin and the words Bed and Breakfast hung from a post in the front yard. “Is this the place, Em?” he asked. 
“I think so,” she replied, sliding her heavy rucksack off. She dug into its small outside pocket and pulled out the confirmation e-mail. Scanning it, she looked at the house and sign. “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 front door. Just as Emily reached out to ring the bell, the inside door opened. Startled, she jumped back.
“You must be Brian and Emily. I’ve been expecting you,” the grey-haired, bespectacled woman said, craning her neck to see past them. “How did you get here? I don’t see a car.”
“Bicycles,” Brian answered.
“Come in, you must be exhausted. Your room is this way.”
Holding hands, the young couple followed the proprietor to their room.
“Here you are,” she said, opening the door. “I serve breakfast from seven to nine o’clock. You’re on your own for lunches and suppers but there are a number of places to get a good meal further along into town.”
“Thank you, Mrs. … ” Brian began.
“Griffin. Miriam Griffin.”
Meanwhile, Emily had walked to the window and was looking out at the street below. “We passed a couple of cemeteries just west of here,” she commented, turning to face Brian and their hostess. “What can you tell us about them?”
The woman’s face suddenly went pale. “Y-you don’t want to be going to the cemetery on the south side of the road,” she stammered. “Rumour has it, it’s haunted.”
“We do. I think my ancestors are buried there and that’s why we came. We’re doing a bit of genealogical research and want to take some rubbings of the family stones and photograph them for the book we’re writing.”
“If you think you must go there, go early in the day so that you’re away from there well before dark.”
Emily dropped onto the bed and ran her hand over the white duvet. “Tell us more. This sounds intriguing.”
“Well, it was 200 years ago this Halloween that young Emily McPherson disappeared. My, but your name is Emily, too, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Please go on.”
Brian sat down on the bed and put his arm around Emily’s shoulders.
“The story goes that a young girl lost her fiancé – a soldier – in a tragic accident in the early part of the war of 1812. His ship was carrying a load of explosives and it blew up. Everyone on board was killed.”
“What does that have to do with the cemetery?” Emily prodded.
“Well, they say she visited his grave every day until she disappeared and was there as always when a terrible storm blew up and folks never saw hide nor hair of her again. But before she vanished, a blood curdling scream was heard over the thunder – and then nothing. Just silence. The storm cleared as quickly as it had formed and Emily was gone. Alarmed by the terrible scream that came from the direction of the cemetery, some men sprang into action. When they reached the grave where the poor, bereft young woman spent most of her time, she was gone. No sign of a struggle. No sign that she had been dragged off – just the bluish glow that surrounded the headstone. From that night on, no one had ever set foot in that corner of the cemetery. You see why it’s imperative that you’re out of there before dark.”
“What a tragic, yet romantic story. We must find that grave, Brian,” Emily said, her eyes sparkling.
“We will but tomorrow after breakfast. Today, we scope out the town.” Brian stood and helped Emily up from the bed. “Thank you for sharing that, Mrs. Griffin. Em, here, well she’s a sucker for a cemetery and a love story,” he said squeezing her shoulders.
***
Out on the street, Emily wrapped her arms around Brian’s waist. “I wish we didn’t have to wait until tomorrow.”
“Come on, Em. If anything untoward is going to happen in that cemetery, it will be tomorrow on the actual anniversary. Not today.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she muttered.
Brian took her hand and they walked towards the town’s centre, stopping first at the local museum where the genealogical society’s archives were housed.
halloweenEmily scanned the floor to ceiling shelves lined with books, binders, maps and the society’s own publications. If the McPherson girl’s disappearance were such a big deal, then there had to be something written about it. She found a binder of newspaper clippings dating back to the beginning of 1812, sat down at one of the tables and flipped through it. Emily found the article about the explosion and couldn’t believe how much detail had been included on the crews’ injuries. Still, she took the page from the binder and made a photocopy. A few pages later, she found the other piece including a photo of the alleged haunted grave. While she looked through newspaper clippings, Brian busied himself with the old maps. When Emily photocopied the second article, two older women came down the stairs. They spoke in hushed tones about the anniversary of the McPherson girl’s disappearance.
Having the information she wanted, Emily and Brian left the museum and went to a nearby pub for a late lunch. Over a pint and burger, they shared their findings.
“According to the one article, Emily got engaged on June 1st and her fiancé was killed on June 2nd,” she said, taking a sip of beer.
The longer they stayed in the pub, the more uncomfortable Emily became. She felt as if she were being compared to the long-since missing girl. “Let’s get out of here,” she said, “these people are creeping me out.”
“If you want,” Brian replied, picking up his pint and draining the last of it.
After leaving the pub, 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. While she fastened the clasp, another young couple entered the shop, talking about the cemetery. They say that grave is haunted. Emily overheard. Yeah, I know. Even in the daylight people don’t go near it.
When Brian and Emily returned to the Bed and Breakfast, she emptied the contents of her rucksack onto the bed ensuring she had everything she needed for the next day. Camera, extra batteries, blank newsprint, and charcoal sticks in a baggie. She added the photocopies to the essentials and repacked her bag.
***
At breakfast the following morning, Mrs. Griffin begged them to reconsider visiting the cemetery. “It’s just all of the talk about how the poor girl vanished and this being the 200th anniversary,” she moaned, wringing her hands.
“We’re leaving as soon as we’re finished breakfast 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 rucksack onto her back. “Don’t worry. We’ll be back late this afternoon.” Pausing by the front door, Emily turned back. “Bye, Mrs Griffin. 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 bikes along the narrow road and parked them against a tree near the river. Emily took her camera out and shot a few wide angle shots of the area for comparison later on.
Since they hadn’t gotten away from the Bed and Breakfast as early as they would have liked, Emily decided they should split up in order to cover twice as much territory. She gave Brian some of the sheets of newsprint and a couple of the charcoal crayons. He had a small point and shoot camera so could photograph the stones as well as take rubbings.
A row of white stones, beginning with two substantial ones followed by smaller ones caught Emily’s eye and she walked to them. It appeared to be an entire family – 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 and saw that Brian had worked his way out to an older section near the highway.
Walking along the narrow road, Emily spotted a flight of stone steps leading to an area sheltered by trees. As she climbed them, she noticed a small headstone next to a bathtub-like sarcophagus. Then she looked up onto the rock about four feet higher than the ground where she stood. A solitary monument occupied the space. Emily pulled the newspaper articles out of her rucksack. This headstone matched the one in the photocopy. The thick canopy of oak, pine, and maple trees kept the area in darkness even at his time of day. A gust of wind rustled through the tree tops overhead and a leaf fluttered to the ground, landing on the carpet of brightly coloured autumn leaves. What was once a stately oak tree stood guard over the site; its trunk and remaining branch denuded of bark and pocked with woodpecker holes.
HalloweenUp close, the headstone didn’t look menacing. Emily walked around it, feeling its roughness under her fingertips, and read the inscription which told the sad tale of a young man who lost his life tragically in a ship’s explosion. She photographed the inscription.
“Brian, come quick,” Emily yelled. She turned and waved her arms to get his attention. “I think I’ve found the haunted monument!”
He looked up and waved back but made no attempt to approach.
When he didn’t respond a second time to her calls, she scampered off the rock, 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 found the headstone of the young soldier.
“You’ll remember where it was, Em? I’d like to get some rubbings of the stones in this section. Let me finish up here and we’ll head over,” Brian answered. He pulled Emily close and kissed her forehead.
Another stone with a worn but interesting inscription soon held their interest and they became engrossed in it – Emily with her camera and Brian with the newsprint and charcoal. They were so preoccupied that they didn’t notice the skies darkening.
HalloweenNot wanting to leave without a final visit to the haunted grave, Emily ran off towards it, Brian following close behind. It was dusk when they reached the location. As they drew nearer, the hairs on the back of Emily’s neck stood on end.
Suddenly, the sky turned pitch black. Not even the glow of the city’s streetlights could be seen. Emily couldn’t see Brian, yet they were only arms length apart. A brilliant flash of lightning and a simultaneous, deafening clap of thunder frightened Emily and she screamed. The pungent smell of ozone filled the air. The headstone now bathed in that ominous bluish glow, made her entire body tingle.
***
The next day, once it was realized they had failed to come back to the Bed and Breakfast the night before, a search party went to the cemetery to look for them. Just as it was when Emily McPherson disappeared all those years ago, there were no signs of a struggle, no signs of the young couple at all. But at the base of the stone, one of the searchers found a pendant – the same one the young woman was last seen wearing when she and her partner left for the cemetery. On the back was an inscription which read, ‘to my Emily June 1st, 1812. All my love BW’. The searchers looked at each other incredulously, then at the headstone. BW – Brian Wolfe. Were these two young people the ghosts of Emily and Brian?

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