Friday, April 6, 2012

30 Days, 30 Stories: Walking Cemetery

Walking Cemetery 
by Melissa Stockham

Gerald Kingsly looked up at the theater before walking in. It was nestled between two other businesses in the small downtown area, built when things were just one continuous building that spread down the streets.

At the moment there was a production of Harvey going on, proudly announced on the marquee. Coming next was No No Nanette.

The owners wanted the ghost gone before “No No Nanette” opened.

He opened the door and walked into the cozy lobby, complete with red plush carpet and ornate wallpaper. They’d kept the old sconces on the walls, and the big chandelier on the ceiling, giving it a nice old fashioned feel. One could pretend they were once part of the rich and elite who could afford to go to the show.

One of the owners poked her head out of the office door and smiled at him when she saw him. “Mr. Kingsly?”

He walked to her and offered her his hand, his big beefy grip swallowed her small hand and he shook it carefully but firmly. “Jerry, please.”

“I’m Anne. Thank you so much for coming.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” he assured. And he wouldn’t. It was part of the family job, or curse. When there was a ghost, you had to go. End of story. Even if he hadn’t wanted the job, in a few days his brain would be beating him into submission and he’d be there anyway. At least this was a paying customer. 

“What’s been going on?”

She smiled, “All theaters are haunted, just ask anybody who spends any time in one. Missing keys, props, things being mislaid, just little reminders that there’s a ghost’s just a part of the atmosphere.” Her face fell, “But this is worse. People have started getting hurt.”

“I see. What happened?”

“Things falling on actor’s heads, small things at first like plaster from the walls, but then a light came down and injured the two actors on stage, both needed stitches. I would have just chalked it up to being an old theater with all its quirks, except for the laughter.” She paled a little.

Jerry brought her back to him, “Male or female laughter?”

Anne blinked, “Female.”

“Any smells?” He asked.

“Yes, something awful, burning and acrid. It drove us out of rehearsal a time or two.”

He nodded, “So a mean female ghost who laughs at misfortune and smells awful.”

She hugged herself, “That about sums it up.”

“Can you show me around?”

Anne led him from the lobby to the auditorium. The seats were covered in old gold fabric and in good condition. Lights lit the floor as they walked down the aisle towards the stage.

“You've taken good care of the place.” He commented, and saw Anne smile with pleasure.

“I love it here. It hardly pays the bills, but it keeps itself running.” She looked up at the stage. It was set for Harvey, with a big portrait of a man sitting with a giant bunny prominently in the middle.

“So when did the trouble start?”

She thought for a moment, then said slowly, “Just a month or so. When we started rehearsal for our next show.”

Jerry opened the door to his two bedroom apartment and tossed his keys on the table. It was dim, dark, and musty. He walked to the fridge and pulled out a beer, taking a long swig of it. Alone again.

He turned the television on for some background noise and started a TV dinner in the microwave. He booted up his laptop and took another sip of beer. He started a search of the theater when his Skype pinged him.

Hi daddy.
His heart melted a little and he smiled.
Hi sweetheart. What are you up to?
Trouble. I did something bad.
He sighed, Did it involve your mother?
Yes, today's her birthday. I sent her flowers from you.
He cringed. I'm sure she loved that.
She was mad. She cussed you out something fierce. Then threw them against the wall.
She has a temper. It's something I like about her. You need to stop getting involved between me and your mother. We had a good run, we had you, and sometimes things happen to make people grow apart. It's not your fault, sweetheart.

There was silence from her then a cheery, Night daddy! I love you!

“I love you too, Lisa.” he said aloud.


He sat down in his usual seat in the front row and looked up at the stage. He settled in and spoke loudly but kindly, “Abigail. I know who you are now. Abigail Streets, born in 1902, and disappeared 1928.”

She appeared in the middle of the stage, looking less of a mess than usual. Her face had stopped shifting between madwoman, scorched skeleton and pretty lady. She had thankfully settled on the latter.

“You found me.” She said softly, “I was forgotten.”

“I know that’s how you feel.” He said, and pulled out the old newspapers, “Ten thousand dollars for 
your return...hundreds search for missing actress...James Sinclair vows to never stop looking for her...”  

He stood and placed them on the edge of the stage.

She walked towards them and sat down, her ghostly fingers swiped through them. “James was always so kind to me.”

“He was your lover?”

She smiled, “No, James loved only the theater. But we were his children, and he treated us like such. 

Sometimes an overbearing father, and a strict one, but we all knew he loved us as much as he did this place.” She sighed.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” he asked. He backed away and returned to his chair, he’d found most ghosts were long winded when it came to regaling their demise.

“Arturo Gutierez killed me.” She said softly.

Jerry frowned, “I never found anything about him.”

“You wouldn’t. He was a shy timid little mouse of a man, who stayed out of everyone’s way and worked behind the scenes to make everything run flawlessly. He had six children...and was a hard worker. He could fix anything, make anything. He was an artist in his own right.

“I had stayed late one night to practice my singing number for our next production. I hadn’t even changed out of my costume from Jane Eyre...” she fluttered the long arms of her Bertha Mason nightgown.

“Arturo was here, working up on the catwalk with the lights. A bulb had gone out during that night’s performance. He was up there, working away while I sang my little heart out. I’m not sure what happened next, I think that a piece of the catwalk was just old and rusty. He leaned against the railing and it came off. The long heavy bar came down on my head and snapped my neck in two. I was dead before I hit the ground.

“Arturo panicked. I can’t say I blame him too much...he had a family to feed and didn’t speak much English. He came down and tried to revive me, frantically speaking in English and Italian. He slapped my face a few times, and I remember him crying. But a dead actress found with a immigrant didn’t look good, no matter what had really happened.

“He towed my body downstairs to the giant coal furnace. It was already burning hot. James made a huge fire at night before we left to try and keep the building warm. Arturo stuffed me inside. It smelled awful. I remember watching him in horror as he broke my bones to make me fit.

“He didn’t leave until I was well charred. He moved the bones around to the back of the furnace, and took it upon himself to be there first thing every morning to start the fires. He did it every day until the theater got electricity, and the furnace was retired.”

Jerry was quiet for a moment, watching her. “You thought you’d been forgotten.”

She nodded, “Everyone moved on. You know the old adage...’The show must go on!’ I didn’t know, about all this.” She pointed down to the newspapers. “I just saw what went on here. Getting madder and angrier every year. Then when that little girl was singing my song, the one that I’d been working on so hard to get right when I’d died. I went a little crazy.”

“Are you ready to go?” he asked.

Her eyes widened. “Go, go where?”

“You can’t stay here. It’s not good for you.”

“Where else is there?” She threw her arms out to encompass the theater, “This is all I’ve ever known.”

“Don’t you have family? Friends? I’m sure they are missing you.”

“Then why didn’t they come and get me here.” Her face morphed into that of the madwoman.

“Because you were lost.” He said simply, coming to his feet. “There’s a reason we’ve been burying our dead and putting them in a well marked place for thousands of years. It’s not just so the living can pay their respects. It is so the dead can find each other as well.”

He walked towards the basement, and made his way down the rickety stairs.

She appeared in front of him, and made him jump little when he passed through her freezing form.

“Sorry.” she said, “But what are you doing?”

“Taking care of you.”

He walked to the old furnace and stared at it a moment, trying to figure out the best way to open it.

“You want my body!” She screamed.

“Just a piece. For a burial. Trust me on this.”

“You are a sick man.”

“Yeah, I know.”

He wrestled the door open and looked in at the ashes and dust. He looked down at his good suit and sighed before crawling inside.

He didn’t fit very well, his large barrel chest made it very hard to search very far inside. His fingers scraped through the piles of debris, not finding anything solid.

“Oh for heaven’s sake. Get out of there.” She demanded.
He pulled out, coughing and brushing off his clothes. He heard rustling in the furnace and then a small blackened bone fell to the ground at his feet.

“I think it’s my finger,” she said.

He chuckled, “Thank you.” He bent down and picked it up, taking great care to wrap it in a clean white handkerchief and put it in his pocket.

“What happens next?” she asked.

“I find you a nice spot to rest in.”

He shut up the furnace and walked up the stairs to the lobby. He poked his head into the open office 
door and knocked on the doorjamb. “All done.”

Anne looked up from her desk and smiled, “Really, that’s it? No spells or incantations or beating things with a hickory switch?”

“Uh, no. Nothing so dramatic. You’ll find the dead are just like us, and most listen to reason.” Most. 

She smiled and stood, handing him an envelope. “Your fee, I expect a refund if it didn’t help.”

“If it didn’t help, then you have another ghost, and I’ll come back for free,” he promised, pocketing his money.

She smiled, “Yes, well, what would a theater be without a ghost? Thank you, again.”

He walked towards the door and held it open, looking at Abigail who had followed him up, “Let’s go, Abigail.” He held out his hand to her. 

She walked towards him hesitantly, and reached out her ghostly hand. It slid into his and he felt the cold chill of her touch, which turned to warmth as she hitched a ride in his body.

“So are you, possessed now?” she asked as they walked down the street to his car.

“I guess so. It’s a short term arrangement, so don’t get comfortable.”

“You’re too big and bulky to be comfortable in,” she muttered.

She wondered in amazement about the car and it’s many luxuries, having him flip through the radio several times and alternate between the heater and the air conditioner.

Once they reached the cemetery, she was quiet.

“It’s pretty here,” she said at last as they exited the car and walked to the trunk. Resting inside was a wooden marker with her name that he’d carved in with a wood burner. “It’s not much. I’ll get you a proper stone one, but this will work in the meantime.” He pulled it out, along with a shovel.

“One with flowers and comedy tragedy masks on it?” she asked.

He grinned, “Sure.”

They walked onto the land and she picked out her own plot, on the side of a hill facing the river below.

He dug a hole and fitted the marker in it, burying it so that it was sturdy and solid.

He dug another hole next to it, about three feet deep, and carefully placed the handkerchief in it. He covered it back up with earth and knelt over the place. He felt her leave his body and stand next to him, 

“Now what?”

“Now you watch.”

He hated and loved this part of the job. He loved the feelings he got when they were released, and the joy that surrounded the entire area. He hated the fact that he had to cry to do it. Big manly men just don’t cry.

But tears came easily for her, for the life that was lost, and the sorrow she had felt when she thought she’d been forgotten. They fell gently onto the ground where she rested. He heard her gasp behind him, 

“Oh. Look at all the people...”

He never looked. It just felt wrong to intrude on such a private and intimate moment. He’d have his own someday. For now, he’d just bask in their presence.

He went to the cemetery the day they installed the headstone for Abigail. He was sure it was what she wanted, with a big comedy/tragedy on the left upper side. Her name was written in big letters. Just like a marquee, and she was the star.

His cell phone rang and he answered without looking.

“Hi Daddy.” His heart leaped a little as a smile came to his face.

“Hey baby.”

“Just saw you paying your respects. New client?”

“Just got her headstone done.” He started walking away from Abigail's marker and headed towards another.

“I'll bet it's awesome. Maybe you should call Mom today? She actually picked up the flowers and put them in a new vase.”

“You don't need to worry about your Mom and I,” he told her for the millionth time.

“But I do, Daddy, I worry about it a lot.”

“How about we take a walk?” He asked, “Just you and me and we'll talk about it.”

She laughed, “No, I don't think so, Daddy. I'm not ready yet.”

He knelt down by the marker with the bold letters 'Lisa Kingsly' at the top, followed by the dates that declared her to be 17 when she died.

“I'm going to find you, sweetheart.” He whispered into the phone. “You need to move on.”

There was silence, then, “Not until you and Mom are ok.” He heard an audible click, and the phone went dead.


Scott said...

Ghost story! Cool! And with a sweet ending. Nice job.

Sarah said...

More shameless bragging for me... Melissa is my friend. She has some serious talent that she has been hiding in a box, buried under life.

She needs to keep at it!


Celesta said...

Well done! Great characters and smart, snappy dialogue. I loved the surprise ending and that Jerry has to cry for the dead to move on. Your theater owner is right--every theater needs a ghost. I'd love to read more of this.

Julie Daines said...

Ohh! I LOVE ghost stories! And this reminds me of Supernatural and I love that show. And Supernatural reminds me that I should look over my shoulder because if there is something out there, it's going to be behind me. *shudders* Sometimes free association is not my friend.

Anyway, great story! Thanks for posting.