Strange and devious happenings in a small town.
|Emily swore under her breath. The road appeared unfamiliar in the darkness. Her headlights were caught in a dance between shadows and light. Since the last time she had driven to Bloomfield, she thought the hedgerows must have grown, encroaching, making the road feel even narrower than usual. Branches and leaves brushed the side of her car. Leaning forward, peering through the darkness, she began imagining unfamiliar shapes and figures.|
‘You’re being stupid,’ Emily spoke the words out loud, as she continued on with a sense of caution.
As the country reporter for one of the city’s television channels, whenever there were reports of disturbances, road accidents or community protests about local issues, Emily was sent to report on it. Normally, she enjoyed the time alone behind the wheel of her car. It gave her time to listen to her audio books, plus it was usually in the daylight. But listening to Steven King’s ‘Misery,’ as she drove in the darkness, hadn’t been a good choice. She flipped her radio on to a music channel.
Emily’s assignment this time was to report on a case of desecration and vandalism at Bloomfield’s cemetery. She’d reserved a room at the town’s only hotel and the young reporter breathed a sigh of relief when at last the lights came into view. Pulling into the carpark of ‘The Bloomfield Hotel,’ Emily visibly relaxed. She’d stayed there before, the last time, a few months ago when a road accident had taken the lives of four local teenagers.
After checking in, the first thing she did was to take a hot shower and then make herself coffee.
It’s a bit late for coffee, it’ll keep you awake, her mother’s words played in her mind.
Sitting crossed legged on the bed with her laptop, she sipped her hot drink while scrolling through the town’s history. As in all small, isolated towns, Bloomfield had its share of myths and legends. Emily even discovered the Bloomfield Hotel was rumoured to have its own ghost. A tragedy had taken place in one of the many rooms just after it had been built in 1918. A young soldier, recently returned home from the First World War, hung himself there, after his wife couldn’t bear to look at his disfigured face. His body had been interred in an isolated part of the cemetery in unconsecrated ground because he’d taken his own life. The legend continues to the present day. It’s rumoured his ghost sometimes appears, unable to find peace.
For the first time, Emily realised how old the hotel actually was and began to think of all the hundreds of people who must have stayed in this very room. Of course, it had been modernised and bore no semblance to its original state, but after turning off the lamp, she lay in the dark and wished she’d not had that coffee.
The following day, after a good breakfast, Emily set out to see for herself the damage caused at the cemetery.
It was normal practice for Emily to decide if the news story was worthy of the expense of a cameraman. She wasn't expecting there to be much of interest and could use a camera herself to take some footage and to do a few interviews. She thought it was probably just bored kids with nothing better to do.
Bloomfield’s residents were proud of their small but well cared for cemetery. It was even on the tourist’s pamphlet of places to visit. It was still in use today but had a section of ancient graves dating back to when the town was first gazetted. These were the resting places of pioneers, and it wasn’t unusual to find whole families interred together, often including babies and very young children.
A police car parked outside the ornate gates told Emily the investigation hadn’t finished at the site. She wanted to get a couple of interviews from the cops and a bit of footage of the desecration.
The little bell over the door tinkled when she entered the warmth of the cafe at the cemetery’s entrance. She was hoping to get a little local knowledge and information on where the event had taken place. She wasn’t disappointed when a rotund, rosy-cheeked lady behind the counter chatted freely as she made Emily’s ‘black with two sugars’ coffee.
“I knew this would happen. Ever since those poor kids were killed in that terrible car crash last year, this place has held a fascination for some of their friends from up at the school,” she nodded her head towards the town centre. “I told Syd, the caretaker, he should put security cameras up outside the gate.” She tutted before saying, “Mind you, kids are brazen these days, not frightened of anything. There are no repercussions for bad behaviour anymore.” She handed Emily her coffee, “Here you are, love.” She glanced at the camera hanging around Emily’s neck. “Reporter are you?”
“Yes. Channel seven.”
“Anything you want, love. I don’t mind giving you an interview. The name’s Gladys.”
“Ok, Gladys, I’ll see what the cops think and maybe I’ll pop back. Good coffee, by the way.”
Gladys had given Emily directions to the desecration. She walked past well-manicured graves, and others, neglected and forgotten, some adorned with long dead flowers. She passed the gravesite of the four boys killed last year. It had been decided by their families to keep them together in death as they had been in life.
The desecration had taken place in the old section of the burial ground, where Emily saw police tape around a section of grass. A couple of plainclothes police were crouched over a grave and a uniformed officer stood guard.
“Emily Stevens, Channel Seven.” She showed her lanyard to him to prove her identity.
“Hello, Miss. Sorry, can’t let you nearer, they’re not done yet.”
“What’s the thinking? Kids? Weirdo’s?”
“Who knows?” The young police officer shrugged.
“Can I at least take a look at the headstone?”
“Nah. ‘fraud not, Miss, but you can take a photo from here. If you want to know whose grave it was, look at the registry. Plot number 137.”
Emily took a photograph and a short video of the scene before leaving. “Thanks anyway. I’ll find out about the poor soul whose peace has so rudely been disturbed.”
Emily popped her head into the café again and asked Gladys who it was she needed to ask about burial plot numbers.
“Oh, I have the registry here, love.” She reached under the counter and brought out a thick register. “What number was it?”
“Oh, that’s in the unconsecrated section. Probably some poor soul who killed themselves. As if life hadn’t been tough enough to make them do themselves in, they couldn’t be allowed to rest in peace and go to God.” Gladys crossed herself, whilst shaking her head in sadness.
“Can I look in the book?” Emily asked, holding out her hand.
“Of course, love. That’s what it’s for. I have many people each week looking for lost graves.”
When she found the name of the resident in plot 137, Emily realised it must have been the returned soldier she’d been reading about last night. ‘Private John Parker aged 25. Died by his own hand, June 12th, 1918.’
Two nights previously.
Seventeen-year-old Charlotte took another drag on the joint, breathing the smoke deep into her lungs before passing it to Troy. “I wonder if the guys know we still visit after all this time?”
Troy took a drag and passed it to Coby, who was lying on their friend’s grave looking up at the stars. “I dunno, Charlie, I hope they know we’ll never forget them. What d’you think, Cobes?”
“Shit knows.” He held the joint in between his lips before he asked, “What d’you reckon they look like? Now I mean. Under here.” He patted the gravel on the grave where he lay.
“It’s been over six months since the crash. I expect they’re just bones. Aren’t they?” Charlotte whispered.
“Nah, it takes longer than that to turn into a skeleton.” Troy said. “Years, I reckon.”
“I dunno, my dad accidentally dug up our cat after about six months. She still had skin.” Charlotte shuddered.
“I suppose we could find out.” Cody laughed and took another drag on the joint.
“What! Dig ‘em up?”
“Well, not them. But there are plenty of really old graves we could dig up. No one would care. Just to satisfy our curiosity. An experiment you might call it.”
After sharing more joints and a few beers, they went for a walk. Weaving, laughing, pushing and shoving each other, they tripped over tombstones, stumbled through the darkness, over to the old part of the cemetery. There, overcome by a mix of a morbid sense of curiosity and terror, they reached plot number 137.
Troy shone the torch onto the simple headstone. “This guy’s been dead for over a hundred years!” He squinted to read the rest of the engraving, ‘died by his own hand.’ “Shit! He topped himself. That’s probably why they stuck him right back here.”
Cody whispered, “There’ll be nothin’ left but bones. D’you still want to do it?”
Charlotte stepped back. “Let’s just go. We’ll get into trouble.”
“Nobody’ll know it was us. I say let’s dig the sucker up.” Troy laughed.
“Shh, someone might spring us.”
But Troy had already begun to scrape away the dirt with his hands. So, as if the decision had already been agreed on, they were soon all on their knees, digging in the soft soil. The earth clung to their fingers, like cold, lifeless hands, as if trying to pull them in to the grave to join the corpse. As they continued to dig, the wind began to strengthen, shadows danced on the surrounding tombstones, spectators to this dastardly deed. Eventually they reached what was left of a simple wooden coffin. Troy shone the torch down into the hole. Charley let out a scream, loud enough to wake the dead, spooking the others. They joined her as she scrambled blindly, slipping and falling, before finding her feet and headed toward the exit and home.
Emily checked in with the television station, uploading the small amount of footage she’d been able to obtain which included the video of the cops around the gravesite, the desecrated grave and broken headstone, plus a five-minute interview with Gladys who had been eager to oblige.
“Nothing else, Em?” Her manager asked.
“Sorry, Sam. I’ve asked around town about any previous troubles with the kids. Apparently, the cemetery has been a drawcard for them since their friends’ deaths. It looks to me like it was simply a stupid act of vandalism or curiosity.” She heard a sigh of resignation from the phone, before she added, “Look, I’ll try to get a bit more information while I’m here. I’ll stay tonight and come back tomorrow with what I have. Maybe I could tie it in with the ghost story.” She told him about the alleged ghost at the hotel.
After eating dinner at a local restaurant, instead of returning to the hotel, she headed to the cemetery. There was no sign of police presence, the café was closed and there was enough of a gap between the padlocked gates for her to squeeze through.
She knew the way to the grave and walked quickly by the light of her torch. In a few minutes she was at the site. To her surprise, the grave still hadn’t been filled in. The police cordon flapped in the breeze around the open grave. Emily ducked under it and turned the video camera on, keeping a running commentary; “This is Emily Stevens for Channel Seven News. A despicable act of vandalism was perpetrated two days ago here in the usually serene town of Bloomfield. The desecrated grave was the resting place for a brave, returned soldier from the First World War.” She paused while she crept closer to the headstone, “This unfortunate soldier was badly injured, probably suffering from what we would call today, PTSD. He hung himself at the local hostelry.”
She zoomed in on the scattered mounds of soil and tentatively pointed the camera down the hole. As she did so, mist drifted from the grave and swirled around her legs. She captured vision of the gruesome remains of Private John Parker, which Emily knew would never get to air. She shivered, although it was still a warm evening.
Turning away, being extra careful where she placed her feet as visions of losing her balance and falling backwards into the open grave passed through her mind.
“Good evening, Miss, did you have a productive day? The man at the reception smiled at her when she asked for her key. “Got what you came for?”
“Oh, you know, it’s never enough for the station, but hopefully I have something they can use to fill a few minutes on the news.” She was just about to turn away and go upstairs to her room when she asked about the hotel’s alleged ghost. “Which room was the young soldier in when he killed himself?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts Miss, but they say it was in the room overlooking the park.”
After writing her report, Emily yawned and pulled back the bedcovers. Aware of a sudden chill in the room she padded, barefoot, to check the window, glancing at the park when the lights over there went out. She left the window slightly ajar before going to bed.
Sometime later, during the night, a gentle breeze carried a wisp of ethereal mist through the window, materialising from the darkness outside. An apparition of delicate tendrils glided across the room until coalescing into the shape of a man.
Emily sensed a presence in her room but scarcely dared to move. Taking shallow and almost silent breaths, she half-opened her eyes. Pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, she scarcely believed what was happening before her eyes. Being the reporter she was, her first instinct was to grab her camera and aim it at the scene developing before her. She had no idea if there would be any vision to actually capture, but she continued to film. Sitting up in bed, she watched in fascinated horror as the ghostly image came nearer until it was hovering so close to her face she could smell death and decay. It stared at her with his dead eyes. It was as if he was gauging her reaction to his appalling facial disfigurement, perhaps expecting her to recoil, before he placed a rope around his neck and hung himself from the main beam in the bedroom.
To Emily, it was as if she was viewing a hologram, blurring the line from what was real and what wasn’t. And then as quickly as it had appeared, the apparition was gone, leaving Emily shaken, unsure and bewildered. Her racing heart slowed, before an overwhelming need to sleep overcame her.
Prompt is an image of a broken gravestone.
Words of actual story 2468