[Note: The featured picture is not of the old woman (obviously) nor of Bethany (though she does look a tiny bit like her). She is but one of the many cemetery ghosts who rise from their graves only to retreat to the doors of the catacombs as even more dire entities appear.]
Then it – or rather she – appeared in the closing glimmer of twilight: A spindly old woman, no bigger than I was, whose face looked like it had needed ironing since the day they finished the pyramids.
“May I shtay with you gentlemen?” she asked in a voice more palsied than her face was wrinkled. “I fell ashleep on my hujban’s grave, and now it’sh dark and I can’t find my way. I’m frightened, and I think we’re all locked in here, in any event.”
I had my doubts: an old woman with the body fat of a lizard inadvertently falling asleep on a mound of snow, or at least a patch of hard frozen ground – grave or no grave – when even the air temperature couldn’t have been more than a couple of degrees above freezing? This story wasn’t ringing true.
But before I could ask her anything, Ian piped up and said, “Of course you can stay with us, Granny, as long as you want.”
So we were stuck with her.
It was nightfall; a low hum began to pervade the cemetery.
I could barely make out the shadows of Rufus, Tiny and Drusilla and had no way of reading their facial expressions. But I did hear a disgusted “urrrggggh” from Drusilla as a foul, pungent odor that, over the years, I’ve come to recognize as rotting flesh permeated the air. A greenish fog gathered above and around the graves, and rose from the doors of the catacombs. It began to coalesce, and, like Bethany as she manifested, to form human shapes.
Eventually, the shapes also began to take on human features, though their skin was wan and greenish, and they were more translucent than Bethany. They were a motley assortment covering all classes and ranks, spanning a full century from the 1840s to the 1940s: From the Dickensian years, through late Victorian and Edwardian times, through the 1920s, 1930s, and both world wars. Some rose from monuments and graves nearby, but drifted to the catacomb doors, from whence most of the spirits emerged. They hovered there motionless, anxiety written on their faces.
I dropped to the ground; no matter how cold that ground might be, at least I’d be safer there.
The stench grew stronger, overwhelming, smacking us in the face as if a casket buried decades ago had been newly disinterred immediately in front of us, its lid opened under our noses. I covered my face and closed my eyes, trying to block out the oppressive odor, but it inundated me whatever I did – my very skin seemed to inhale it.
Forcing my eyes open again, I saw a multitude of shapeless, formless dark spirits darting about. I instantly pulled Ian and the old woman to the ground beside me and lay atop them, shutting my eyes tightly once more.
© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
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