Cemetery Girl SNEAK PEEK

Prologue

Once the moon chases the sun away, you can find me lurking among the tombstones of the long forgotten. I’ll be sitting in my cemetery, back pressed against one of cold, mossy graves, pondering my future. A future I will never have. During such melancholy reflections, nothing is more comforting than the unchanging solidness of a tomb.

When not contemplating my life, I sit among the dead and worry about which scenario would bother the average person more, living life as an orphan or growing up in a cemetery. Now, I don’t mean any old cemetery. No, the graveyard I’m referring to is Sinners Acres, the abandoned burial plot situated down the road from where my house used to be. For centuries, the denizens of Sinners Acres have watched over the remains of my father’s people. None of the creatures, entombed in my cemetery, would be welcomed on more sacred ground. Among the inhabitants, I’m the only one made of flesh and blood. I’m the only breather. Until recently, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Loneliness has a funny way of changing a person’s perspective, not that it matters. Who would want to join me? Who among the living would willingly give up the normalcy of society to cohabit with the dead?

For most of my life, Sinners Acres has been my home. Since the age of six, I’ve lived in the family mausoleum. It’s a huge, intimidating building full of darkness, stale odors, and spiders. Despite my initial trepidation when I first walked through the doors, I’ve grown to love the place. Since one musty, leaf-scented October day, it’s all I’ve known. Now, at nineteen, it’s almost all I can remember…almost.

I would give anything to be able to forget the events that brought me to the cemetery. After thirteen years, I can still recall what it was like to stand in the smoke-filled air, ignored and inconsolable while my parents slowly roasted inside our home. The guilt over not being able to save them still eats at my soul. Not that anyone else put much effort into rescuing them.

Down the road from where I stood, the good folks of our town watched while my family’s beloved mansion crumbled to dust. Most of the onlookers seemed happy, as if glad to be rid of the spooky, eccentric couple who lived at the far edge of town. I remember seeing several of the city elders standing huddled together. Their whispered voices floated toward me on an ash-filled breeze. I couldn’t decipher their words, but knew they spoke of dark, devilish deeds. The muddled red and black colors of their auras gave it away. To this day, I wonder if, on Sundays, those same men kneel in their shiny, happy churches and pray for forgiveness for their sins. Do they beg whatever god is in season to spare them from the fiery wrath of hell?

I hope not. Why should they be spared when my parents weren’t?

The townspeople hated my family. They wore their prejudice like a badge. The more they spoke against us, the harder my parents worked to make our home seem ugly and uninviting. When compared to the neat, cookie cutter houses scattered around the county, our house was an embarrassment. My ancestral home looked like a cheap, amusement-park fun house. At first glance, there was an air of desolation about it. Even before the fire, our mansion looked like little more than a ruin. If any of the gentle town folk had bothered to come inside, they would have realized the exterior was a façade. Inside, the house was beautifully decorated. Our home was sturdy, safe, and far from ready for the wrecking ball. What people thought of as a haunted house was, in reality, an elegant tribute to the macabre. The outside of the mansion had been glamoured to look uninviting and ruinous. The inside was neat and orderly with cobwebs lovingly placed here and there for added ambience. Books and paraphernalia, related to a wide variety of occult subjects, lined the walls. The more exotic pieces in my parent’s collection were kept in my father’s study. After all, we didn’t want to scare away visitors…if we ever had any.

Years later, my grandpa told me that as soon as the smoke from the fire cleared, the town’s lawyers stepped in. They were eager to raze what was left of the house and put the land to good use. Our family retainer thwarted their plans. Ironclad, decades-old documents ensured the property could never be touched, unless a full-blooded member of the Enright family approved the sale. I was the last living child of my father’s line. No way was I going to turn our land over to those murderers. The city council may have been deadlocked in their pursuit, but I doubt that stopped them from slapping each other on the back and claiming victory. After all, that family was gone. The parents crisp and ashy and the daughter sent away.

In my dreams, I still see myself standing there, watching the chimney of our massive stone fireplace crumble while a town matron prattled on about some great aunt who was coming to get me. Distaste glowed from the old bat’s eyes as she told me this news. Like most of the people I knew, she couldn’t wait to get away from me. Why everyone was so afraid of such a small child I couldn’t say. Maybe they sensed there was something different about me.

As it turns out, my aunt never showed. Instead, Great Aunt Francis drove her flashy, gold-colored Cadillac off a bridge. Now, she lives on in the offspring of the fish that swim and reproduce at the bottom of Sinners Lake. Or so I’ve been told. I didn’t mourn my aunt’s passing.

At six, I already had an uncommon view of death. I knew being dead didn’t mean your life was over. Besides, the prospect of being raised by Aunt Francis didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her. I didn’t know her well enough to make that call. The problem was I could never understand why she’d been given the title, great. To my young mind, Great Aunt Francis was, in truth, a far below average human being and certainly not at all…great. I can still remember many unpleasant family visits, always at my aunt’s house. Each encounter ended with my mother crying and my father yelling something about how their beliefs made the Enright family what it was. Though I never knew what the fights were about, my love for my parents caused me to root on their side.

None of the townspeople, in all their Christian goodness, thought to take me in. Two days after the fire, when it became obvious my aunt wasn’t coming for me, I snuck out of the police station where I’d been left waiting. Unnoticed, I walked back to the remains of my burnt out home. When I arrived, I took refuge in the one area that had remained flame free, my father’s basement study. His den had been encased in a fireproof vault; it escaped destruction. So much rubble now covered the room it couldn’t be easily seen unless you knew where to look.

I stayed inside my dark sanctuary until overcome with loneliness, hunger, and a strong desire to talk to someone; I decided I wanted to be closer to my family. After dumping out the toys I kept stored in a wagon behind my father’s desk, I filled it with books and an old, beat up teddy bear. Satisfied with what I’d packed, I began searching the drawers for a large, oddly shaped key I once watched my father hide there. When I found it, I pushed through the rubble of the house and then walked the five miles to the family mausoleum.

I knew exactly where our crypt lay. On weekends, my parents often took me to the cemetery to visit my relatives. I used to think the large, ivy covered building looked like a dark castle. I liked to pretend the graveyard was a fairy kingdom and our crypt the seat of its magical realm. All the other mausoleums gracing the cemetery were topped with crosses, angels, and other sundry Christian and non-Christian religious tokens, but not ours. The Enright burial chamber was guarded by a large, imposing gargoyle I’d affectionately named Rover. The wooden door of our crypt was carved with runes, Celtic knots, and other arcane images; all of which validated the town’s belief something in the Enright family wasn’t quite right, even dare to say…unchristian.

Thirteen years ago, I entered the crypt unobserved by any living creature except for one ragtag, curly-coated dog who must have wandered into the cemetery through a hole in the fence. The memory of closing the mausoleum door behind me and then leaning against its hard, wooden surface is a physical one. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I made my way to a panel my father once told me lay hidden in the wall at the back of the crypt. Eager to get settled, I parked my wagon next to the empty casket of a long dead ancestor. After picking up my teddy bear, I started feeling along the wall for a secret lever. When I found it, I pushed the handle up. A stone panel shifted. Taking a deep breath, I entered a dark, narrow chamber. As I made my way down a curving staircase, my grief lifted. My parents souls may have moved on, but I’d soon be with people who loved me. The room at the bottom of the stairs was large and well furnished. Inside was a hand-carved bed and a matching dresser. Catty-corner from the bed sat a tattered sofa, a rocker, a writing desk, and a table with two chairs. After walking past an ancient ice box and make-shift kitchen, I climbed onto the oversized bed. Lying back, I sunk onto the hand-stitched feather mattress and smiled for the first time since my parents’ deaths.

“Hi, Grandma, I’m home.”

If anyone had been with me, they wouldn’t have heard a reply. Since I’m a little different, I heard a much-loved voice say, “I know, child. I know.”


Chapter One

“I can’t believe I let myself get caught up in the past like that,” I said as I stood and stretched. Looking down, I traced my fingers over the rough letters engraved on the tombstone I’d been using as a backrest. After saying goodnight to the soul resting there, I brushed some loose leaves off my skirt and then started walking back to the mausoleum.

It wasn’t like me to brood over what couldn’t be changed. The ease with which I’d slipped back into my old memories worried me. Maybe it was because it was October and close to the anniversary of my parents’ deaths. Maybe it was because, lately, I’d been feeling off-kilter and not at all like myself.

Nearing the crypt, I paused to look around. I was alone, well, mostly alone. I couldn’t shake the feeling someone was lurking nearby, someone who didn’t belong in my cemetery.

“Stop it.” I rolled my shoulders and tried to shake off my paranoia. This wasn’t the first time I sensed someone living trespassing in the land of the dead. I’d been feeling the unwelcome presence for a couple of weeks. My ghosts would’ve told me if our visitor meant me harm and that gave me comfort. Letting out the breath I’d been holding, I entered the crypt. After making my way downstairs, I collapsed on my bed. Lying on my back, I kicked my feet until my oversized ankle boots fell to the floor. I didn’t bother undressing. What was the point? No one but the ghosts ever saw me. Sinking onto the big, feather mattress, I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to come. When it didn’t, I flipped onto my stomach and sighed.

“What’s claimed your mind now, child?” My grandmother didn’t bother materializing. The lavender scent gracing the room told me it was her.

“The girl needs to find herself something to do. She needs friends, real friends,” the gruff voice of my grandfather chimed in. His spicy, pipe-tobacco smell mixed with my grandmother’s lavender, and I sighed in contentment. No matter what thoughts plagued me, that unique aroma made me feel safe.

“You’re right, Hershel. Ella, come morning, why don’t you head to the village and play with some of the other children? You need to spend time around people your own age.”

“Grandma, I’m nineteen, almost twenty. Girls my age don’t play. I’m fine here. You know spending time with other breathers isn’t high on my list of favorite things to do.”

“Have you thought about giving that school another go? Now, I know you’re just gonna argue with me, but I think you gave up without a fight,” my grandfather said.

“All the living have ever done is make my life miserable. Last time I tried going to that bloody college, things didn’t end well.” A lump formed in my throat when I thought about how the other students tormented me. “I was miserable, you know that.” Wanting to be left alone, I hid my head under my pillow and then snuggled farther into the mattress. Drawing the quilt to my neck, I began humming in an attempt to block the voices.

The more I tried not to think about what happened the last time I tried integrating myself into the land of the living, the more the movie projector in my brain forced me to replay each hideous scene. My grandpa was right…sort of. The suggestion I give other breathers another chance to humiliate me was way off base. But the idea I needed to find a hobby was spot on. Too much introspection never led to anything good. Since introspection seemed to be my middle name, I was heading toward serious trouble.

“Herschel, Bea, leave the girl alone. She belongs here with us. The folks at that fancy school never treated her right,” my uncle Frank said. Whenever I headed into town, I carried Frank’s soul with me. His spirit fit nicely inside the purple and gold amulet I wore around my neck. I brought him in case I needed an adult presence with me. As the oldest and strongest ghost, Uncle Frank was able to materialize at will. He could also interact with humans better than the other ghosts. He was with me the day I registered for college. After arriving on campus, I waited until I was alone and then released him from my necklace. As soon as he materialized, we stepped out of the alley we’d been hiding in and made our way to the registrar’s office. Uncle Frank still appeared human or human enough, if no one looked closely. I was hoping, if anyone noticed Frank, they would focus on my uncle’s striped pants, waistcoat, and top hat, and ignore everything else.

Like mine, Uncle Frank’s clothes were from another era. He dressed that way because, as a ghost, he was stuck wearing the clothes he’d died in. Since he passed away in the early nineteenth century, his attire was a little old fashioned. At least he’d been wearing a suit when he died. Being well aware of Uncle Frank’s proclivities, let’s just say thank God he was appropriately dressed in the fashion of the day when he passed on.

My wardrobe was outdated because the antique trappings of my long dead relatives were the only things I had access to. My clothes came from trunks scattered throughout the crypt. Most of what I was forced to wear hadn’t been in style since years before my grandma’s birth. Since I’m small, her clothes, the only ones that could at all be referred to as modern, though that was a stretch, didn’t fit me.

The clothes nearest my size had once belonged to a young cousin, a cousin who never got the chance to grow to womanhood. Having been trampled by a horse, when she was twelve, Cousin Grace was stuck wearing brightly colored ankle-length dresses that dated back to the late nineteenth century. As much as I disliked her old, outdated dresses, I was glad she wore them; though I wouldn’t dream of telling her that. To me, the constricting, floor-length gowns worn by the women of her era looked uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure I would have felt trapped inside them. I think the reason Cousin Grace longed to wear those horrible, dark-colored dresses with their corsets and bows was because they signified adulthood. Something she would never achieve.

“Ella’s attempt to integrate herself into modern human society was an abysmal folly,” my aunt Ethel chimed in. “She has no business being in a place with so many men. Men bent on ogling her with their lust-filled eyes.”

“Don’t worry, Aunt Ethel. I’m not planning on repeating that nightmare. Once was enough.”

“Ella, you’re a young woman now. You can’t stay here with us forever. You need to find a man to take care of you,” my grandmother said.

“I need to what?” Fighting through a coughing fit brought on by a sudden intake of air, I asked, “Why do I need a man? I’ve been taking care of myself for the past thirteen years. I see no reason why that should change.”

“You’re lonely, Ella. I can see it in your eyes. You’re lonely for something we can’t give you.”

What could I say? My grandmother was right; I was lonely. Loneliness led me to that college in the first place. Intellectually, I was prepared for the rigors of higher education. Aunt Ethel, my long dead maiden aunt, had seen to my lessons. I may not have talked, acted, or dressed like the other students, but I was extremely intelligent. Most of the things being taught in the entry level classes, I already knew.

Knowing I’d be bored, I attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince the registrar to let me sign up for advanced classes. Stuck being spoon-fed information I already possessed, it didn’t take long to discover that mingling with other humans was going to be a nightmare. The girls in my classes made fun of me. Even the social outcasts teased or ignored me. I guess my freak flag flew higher than theirs did; at least that’s what I once overheard someone say.

Aunt Ethel wasn’t too far off the mark about how the male students reacted to me. Though, I wouldn’t tell her that. Most of the guys I ran into either treated me like a social pariah or tried to coerce me back to their dorm rooms. I willingly went with the first boy who tried this. He said he wanted to talk to me about one of the classes we shared. I can’t remember what subject vexed him; it seemed to me most of the other students struggled with all their classes.

Once the guy had me alone, he grabbed hold of my shoulders, pushed me down on his bed, dropped his body on top of mine, and tried to kiss me. Unsure what to do, and kind of wanting the kiss, I was a willing participant until his hand snaked between us and he squeezed my breast. Shocked at the unwelcome invasion, I lifted my knee and drove it into his groin. The imbecile fell off me, doubled over in pain. Once I was satisfied he wouldn’t be able to stand and follow me, I left.

Later, when I got home, I told my grandmother about what happened. She wasn’t a sympathetic listener.

“Grandma, you remember what happened the last day I attended class, don’t you? Remember the guy who needed my help?” I hoped she knew what I was talking about. I didn’t want to repeat the details, especially not with Aunt Ethel lurking nearby.

“And what sort of help did you think that boy needed, alone in his room like that?”

My grandmother was right. Trying hard to fit in, I hadn’t given much thought to what I was doing. In the back of my mind, I carried the knowledge that the families of many of my classmates played a part in the death of my parents. Still, I tried not to resent them. They weren’t responsible for what their parents did. My grandmother taught me not to hold grudges against the innocent. She always said such judgment never led the holder to better things.

“Bea, you weren’t there to hear the other kids taunt her. I was,” my Uncle Frank said. When encased in my amulet, he was able to hear everything anyone said to me.

“I had to leave, Grandma. If one more person told me to go back to the museum, I would have lost it.”

Only one student had been kind to me. I couldn’t member his name. I’m not sure I ever knew it. It would be a long time before I’d forgot what he looked like. He was tall and broad with shaggy, dark hair and big, dark eyes. He played football and dated one of the vapid cheerleaders. Though his friends teased him about it, he was always polite to me. He even talked to me once or twice. Though, what passed between us could hardly be called a conversation.

After my experience at the school, I never ventured into town unless I needed food, supplies, or a new book. I guess I could have bought more stylish clothes on one of my trips, but the thought never crossed my mind. I doubt it would have made much of a difference. No matter what style I dressed in, people would have teased me. Numerous other things set me apart from the mundane humans. No matter what I wore, or how I talked, I’d never be part of their world. I’m human…I think. But I’m also a little bit more. Someday soon, I hope to discover what that more consists of.

“I still say you quit before giving it a real chance,” my grandfather scolded.

Feeling antsy, and not in the mood to talk anymore, I jumped off the bed, grabbed my boots, and headed for the door. “I’m going for a walk.”

“It’s dark outside,” my Aunt Ethel cried. Aunt Ethel was a worrywart. In fact, it’s what she died from. I’m sure her death certificate listed some fancy medical term, but extreme fretfulness had been the real cause of her demise.

“I walk in the dark all the time. No harm ever comes to me. No one visits the cemetery. If anyone intent on threatening my virtue happens to stop by, I’m sure Rover will save me.”

Rover was the gargoyle who guarded the family tomb, and he was very much alive. Twice a month, I watched him take to the sky and fly off to God knows where. Three days later, at exactly midnight, he’d return looking…satisfied. Whenever I asked him where he went, he’d settle himself back on top of the crypt and stare at me in stony silence. In retrospect, thinking about the full look he had on his face when he returned, I didn’t want to know where he’d gone or what he’d been doing.

Stopping to pull my boots back on, I worked the long laces into perfect little bows. When done, I looked around for my wrap. “Is it cold outside?” I asked of no one in particular.

“It’s always coldcoldcold,” a voice howled from across the room.

“No, it’s not, Cousin Gertrude. Just because you froze to death while attempting to get your cat down from a tree doesn’t mean it’s always cold outside,” I admonished as I shot a glance toward my cousin’s shimmering, translucent form. She was sitting in the corner, petting the cat that had died along with her.

“Don’t wait up,” I told the ghosts before climbing the stairs to the main part of the mausoleum. Although they didn’t actually sleep, my family of ghosts tended to rest at night. I knew my ghosts preferred lurking around when it was dark, but my grandmother had convinced them I needed to be kept on a human schedule. Whether or not the others agreed with her, I couldn’t say. My grandmother was a forceful presence, one all the other ghosts obeyed.

Walking out into the crisp fall air, I took a deep breath and then peeked at the stars. The sky was a clear, dark blue. Everywhere I looked little lights danced across the heavens. The moon was three quarters full. In a few days, the lunar orb would be round and bright.

Walking toward the back of the crypt, I stopped at the graves that still held occupants. After dropping a kind word to the creatures I met along the way, I decided to head to Sinners Lake. Halfway there, I stopped at an elaborately carved sarcophagus. The identity of the owner was a mystery. No one would tell me who was buried in the ornate grave. All I knew was the spirit was male.

He wasn’t an extremely friendly ghost. He came and went without talking to anyone. One time, I was standing next to his grave when he suddenly appeared on top of it. I said hi. He didn’t reply. Instead, he gazed at me with the oddest expression on his face and then flew away. He seemed more solid than my crypt ghosts. His strange behavior and appearance only added to the mystery.

This time, when I stopped at his grave, I traced my fingers across the dull, worn letters that had once spelled his name. As usual, I couldn’t make out what they said. Not even an earlier attempt at grave rubbing gave me a clue to his identity. Running my fingers along the cold marble of the tomb, I thought about what he looked like. My unidentified ghost was tall and thin. The grace of his movement proved he was strong and muscular.

He had the blondest hair I’d ever seen and piercing blue eyes that touched my soul. The word handsome didn’t come close to describing him. I ran my hand back and forth over the wind worn marble and wondered if my mysterious ghost felt as lonely as I did.

Still thinking about the oddly handsome specter, I walked away from his grave and continued toward the lake. I was almost there when I heard voices, locked in a heated argument. Not used to hearing human speech in my cemetery, I stopped for a moment and listened. No one ever came to Sinners Lake. Now not only did I have a mysterious trespasser lurking about, but more humans had taken it upon themselves to enter the rusted, locked gates of the graveyard…but how? And more importantly, why?

The lake was part of cemetery property, my property. The town’s people thought it was haunted. They were right, of course. I knew better than to venture near the water if living, breathing people were there. No one knew I lived in the cemetery. I’d managed to keep my unique living arrangement secret for the past thirteen years.

It helped that the cemetery belonged to my family and was closed to public burials. A string of retainers and relatives, all residing across the immense salt-water pond protected it. When I was young, my ghosts and I discussed the idea of me trying to find my living relatives. Money for travel wasn’t a problem. More money than I’d ever need was strategically stuffed in trunks throughout the cemetery. I didn’t want to leave. The cemetery was my home. The ghosts were my family. There was also the little problem of a passport. It’s hard to get one when you don’t have a birth certificate, social security number, or real address.

Despite knowing I’d be in danger if anyone saw me, the voices drew me in. As if being pulled by a magnetic force, I continued walking toward the lake. On tiptoe, I made my way to a large tree. Hiding behind it, I peeked at the fighting humans. I watched as the guy who’d always been nice to me when I was at school, stood arguing with three men. All were clad in jeans, T-shirts, and football jackets. The other men were waving their hands around and yelling at my…friend? Placing my foot inside a hollow spot in the tree, I climbed until I was high enough to look down at the angry breathers without fear of being seen.

The argument continued for quite a while. From what I could pick up, the three guys seemed to think the object of their discontent was acting strangely, and he had been for some time. They were yelling at him for breaking up with his girlfriend, quitting the team, and acting like an all-around jerk. Finally, a large guy with red hair swore and shoved the dark-haired object of their rage.

The aggressor turned and walked away. After a few steps, he stopped and yelled, “You can find your own way home, asshole.”

“Fuck you,” my dark-haired almost friend growled as he watched the others leave.

The dark-haired man turned toward the lake, ran a hand through his shaggy hair, hair that seemed longer than I remembered it, and said, “I know you’re there, Ella. You can come down. I won’t hurt you.”

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