Originally posted 2015-10-02 10:00:13.
The sun was low on the horizon, casting long shadows on the red minivan as it bounced along the back roads of Chase County. Trent sat in the passenger seat; his firm arms were crossed against his chest. He stared out the window at densely packed trees and rolling hills as the landscape rushed by. His mother, in the driver’s seat white knuckles gripping the steering wheel, sighed as she made a left turn down a rough gravel road.
“It’s for your own good,” she repeated for the hundredth time that ride. Trent couldn’t tell if she was still trying to convince him or if she was trying to convince herself.
When the van rounded a bend in the road fifteen minutes later, Trent knew he was almost “home.” The trees were becoming less dense, opening up into a wide field with the occasional tree here and there. The waves of that green ocean were defined by row after row of headstones; it sent a chill down his spine. A stone and wrought iron gate became visible and grew larger as they approached. A low wall appeared next. It started at the large central gate and ran along the horizon like a massive set of wings. As they passed under the arch, Trent saw an iron plaque on the right pillar that read: Serenity Memorial Cemetery. Inside the gate stood a Victorian style, three story house; its blue paint was bleached by the sun. The shingles on the box framed roof were a washed out gray. The minivan pulled to a stop in front of the small porch.
His mother shifted into park and shut off the engine. Even though she got out of the car, Trent didn’t. He gritted his teeth and stared at the house. He watched his mother’s every move as she went up to the front door and knocked. Trent had never been religious, but he started praying that no one was home. He groaned when the door opened and his mother hugged the figure that stepped out.
The man was short, not the average kind though. He was the stooped, old man kind of short. He wore a green plaid, short sleeve shirt and a pair of faded overalls that were two sizes too big. His glasses were small and round, pushed up high on the bridge of his nose, and his white hair was thin and cut extremely short. He shuffled with purpose across the porch, talking and laughing with Trent’s mother. Ambling behind him, right at his heels, was a white and brown mottled basset hound. It followed him to the edge of the porch before it flopped down. His mother jerked her hand, motioning for him to get out of the car. He slammed his thumb onto the seatbelt release and roughly pushed the door open and got out.
“You must be Trent,” his voice sounded like a cross between a wheeze and a creaking gate. Trent turned and put on a fake smile.
“Great Uncle Gilbert.”
“Please, sonny, call me Gibby,” he pointed toward the hound on the porch, “and that’s Scout. He’s a laid back dog, so he shouldn’t give you any trouble. Now let’s get your stuff inside.”
Trent looked to his mother, his eyes begged her to let him go back with her. She shook her head and opened the hatch on the back of the van. He was stuck here. Gibby babbled on as he helped haul Trent’s things to the bottom of the stairs, he apologized.
“These old bones just don’t get around like they used to. I’ll bring the rest in, you two can take them upstairs. You can pick any room up there.”
Trent carried his duffle bags up the slanted, creaking stairs. He poked his head into each of the rooms before selecting the last room at the end of the hallway. It was a ten foot by ten foot room with walls that looked like they had been stained by chewed tobacco spit. A dusty dresser with an antique lamp sitting on top of it was up against the right wall and a dustier bed against the far wall. There was a window on the same wall as the bed, complete with dirty beige curtains and dingy horizontal blinds. It was the biggest, cleanest room on the floor. Trent stepped into the room and dropped the two duffle bags he was carrying and looked around. He remembered how his mother told him that staying here was better than the inside of a jail cell. Right now he really couldn’t see the difference.
“Well, once you unpack, you’ll feel right at home,” his mother said behind him. The false cheer in her voice made him grind his teeth. She nudged him with another bag. He took it and dropped it on the bed and a cloud of dust rose up from the gray mattress.
“Yeah, right at home.”
When the van was unpacked, the three stood out by the vehicle under the dim glow from the single working porch light. His mother gave him a tearful hug and told him to behave. Her voice was heavy with regret and self-loathing, as much as she wanted to blame him for all of this, Trent knew she blamed herself.
“Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll keep him out of trouble. Maybe even teach him about a good honest day’s work,” Gibby said. He patted Trent on the back. The young man winced. His mother smiled, got in the car, drove back down the gravel road, and through the gate. Gibby patted him on the back again.
“Let me show you around, Trent,” he said and started toward the house, his basset hound flopping at his heels. Trent looked away from the shrinking taillights and followed his great uncle for the grand tour.
The downstairs had three main rooms. The first was the office for the grounds, complete with a huge map of plots that was hung up on one wall, a huge polished wooden desk, and a wing back office chair behind the desk and two smaller chairs in front of the desk. The second was a large parlor that was occasionally used as a showing room for grieving families if they couldn’t afford the funeral parlor in town. The final room was a small kitchen with a beat up, brown card table set up in the center of the space.
“That door leads out back, and this one leads down to the basement. That’s where the washer and dryers are at. Now you got a good look at the second floor. Feel free to move the furniture around to get what you like. I haven’t been up there in over two years. The third floor is the attic; it used to be servant’s quarters, but all of the past caretakers use it as extra storage, so who knows what’s up there.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“Down here in the office. Don’t get any funny ideas; I’m a light sleeper and so is Scout,” he winked at Trent. “That reminds me.” He got up from the table and shuffled down the hall. Scout raised his head and looked like he considered following his master, but thought better of his and put his head back down. Gibby returned a moment later with a stack of papers. He handed them to Trent.
“Here’s some information about your new high school. I think there’s a copy of your schedule in there and a map of the school.” Jackson glanced down at the map that lay on top. Timber Vale High School, home of the Cougers.
“You can take the truck tomorrow morning. I’ll take care of all my paperwork while you’re at school, and when you come home we can tend the grounds until sunset and then you can do whatever homework you have.”
“Wow,” Trent let the sarcastic remark slip.
“You weren’t sent out here to socialize. From what I understand, that’s what got you in trouble in the first place.”
Scout huffed in his in his sleep, but it sounded like a chuckle to Trent. He straightened the stack of papers and stood up.
“I’m going to go unpack and go to bed,” he said heading toward the hallway and stairs.
“Good idea,” Gibby agreed. “Big day tomorrow. Good night, Trent.”
Trent didn’t respond. He climbed the stairs taking comfort in the fact that the old man wouldn’t follow him. Once in his room, he tossed the papers onto the floor. He went through each of the bags and began pulling out shirts, jeans, socks, shoes, underwear, and all of the other items he packed. He filled the small dresser with clothes and when he ran out of room, he left them in piles on the floor. He found the sheets and comforter his mother had packed and made the bed. The duffle bags, once empty, were shoved under the bed. From a small box, he pulled out his alarm clock and set it using his watch. His bulky laptop was left on the floor, plugged in to one of the outlets and left to charge. Trent, settled in as much as he cared to, lay down on his bed and stared at the ceiling.
The wind raged through the trees outside. The dry leaves blew around sounding like thousands of quick footsteps. There was a high pitched whistle as the wind wormed its way through the cracks around the window. Trent’s eyes grew heavy and he closed them. He wished it was all a nightmare that he would wake up and everything would be fixed, but he knew wishes were for foolish children who didn’t know anything. He fell asleep listening to the wind that sounded like the tired moans of a hundred ghosts.
The next morning, Trent awoke, cleaned up, and headed downstairs to the smell of coffee, eggs, and bacon. His nose led him into the kitchen. Gibby sat at the table sipping from a mug and reading the morning paper; he was dressed in the same overalls, but a different shirt. Trent noticed there were two plates piled high with delicious looking bacon and eggs. Gibby looked up from the paper when Trent entered the room.
“Breakfast, Trent? Back when I was a growing boy I had the most fearsome appetite in the mornings. I didn’t know if you were the same way.”
Trent felt a small pang of guilt. God only knew what time this old man had to get up to make all this food. He sat down at the table where there was an empty plate. He picked up a fork and started serving himself.
“I don’t usually have breakfast, but this smells really good,” Trent shoveled in a mouthful of eggs, chewed, and swallowed. “Tastes really good too.”
Gibby smiled at this and he got up from his chair. Shuffling to the cabinets, he opened one and pulled out a mug.
“Would you like some orange juice, maybe some milk?”
“Coffee’s just fine.”
Gibby filled the mug and placed it on the table in front of Trent as he continued eating breakfast. The old man sat down and sipped loudly and swallowed even louder.
“How did you sleep last night?”
They lapsed into silence as Trent finished up the food on his plate and checked his watch.
“I probably better go,” he stood. Gibby also got up and followed him to the door. Scout was once again at his heels.
“Truck’s around the side of the house,” Gibby instructed and handed the key off. “Now to get to the high school you just need to go down the gravel road until you get to the main one. Go right, that will take you into Franklyn. The high school should be one of the first buildings on the left. Have a good day, and don’t dawdle after school, we’ve got work to do.”
Trent was glad to shut the door behind him. There was an oppressiveness to the house that choked him. He couldn’t blame Gibby though. Gibby was at least trying; it was more than his mother had done. Book bag slung over a shoulder, he rounded the corner of the house. There sat the saddest looking truck he had ever seen. It looked like it used to be a 1957 Chevy pickup truck with its rounded cabin roof, hood, and wheel wells. The original coat of green pain had almost been taken over by rust and the tail gate was missing. When he opened the driver’s side door, it resisted with a dry groan of metal on metal. The seat bench had been repaired with duct tape and was lumpy to sit on. When he started up the truck it sounded like a shotgun going off.
The truck rolled out of the drive and Trent had no trouble finding the main road, after a quick drive, and having to turn around once, he made it to the school parking lot and parked the rusty behemoth. Judging from the few of cars, he had arrived way earlier than need be. So he sat, looking from his surroundings to the steering wheel as the anger from yesterday settled on him.
Trent blamed his mother for all this. If she had just minded her own business, they could have gotten along just fine. When his father died in a car accident, two things happened. The first was that he decided to live his life to the fullest, no second guessing, no regrets. He didn’t want to lose it in an instant like his father. The second thing that happened was that his mother had insisted on integrating herself into every facet of Trent’s life. The frequent check-ins while he was doing homework, the sudden interest in “family” dinners, and the early curfew. He had hidden his new habits from her as long as he could, but it was only a matter of time before she found out. Trent knew she overreacted, that she would come around. That she would come back for him.
A few more cars had pulled into the lot, and Trent sighed. He snatched his book bag from the passenger side of the bench and got out of the truck. The few people who were loitering turned to stare when the rusty truck door creaked open and slammed shut, courtesy of Trent. He ignored the stares and just walked to the main entrance. The end of the day couldn’t come soon enough.
Gibby and Scout were waiting on the front porch when Trent pulled up the gravel drive. Off to the side of the porch was a gas tank, a riding lawn mower, and an ancient looking weed whacker. Trent parked, grabbed his bag, and got out of the truck. Gibby smiled.
“How was school, Trent?”
“Sucked,” he said remembering the stares, whispers, and the isolation from the rest of the student body.
“A shame to hear that,” Gibby shook his head. “We’ll be doing some lawn upkeep in the northern part of the grounds. So get changed and we’ll get moving. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”
Trent went into the cool house and went up to his room. He dropped his bag on the bed and changed into a pair of grungy jeans, a beat up tee-shirt, and a pair of grass stained shoes. By the time he had gotten back outside, Gibby had set up a ramp to the truck bed and had the riding lawnmower half way up. Trent helped him with the last couple of feet and then loaded up the gas tank and weed whacker. Gibby clamored up into the driver’s seat.
Sighing, Trent climbed into the passenger seat, where Scout was already sitting like he owned it. He scooted the dog over and climbed up. He didn’t even have the door shut before Gibby started down the trail.
The autumn air was still and warm as the truck ambled through the graveyard. The grounds were mostly silent. Only the cawing of crows broke the silence as the flapped from tree to tree, headstone to headstone. A few of the trees looked like lit matchsticks that flickered when the wind blew. The leave that had fallen skittered across the ground nosily like the running footsteps of little children.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Gibby’s voice was soft and barely audible over the engine. Trent shrugged.
“It’s more creepy than nice.”
“That’s what I used to think,” Gibby chuckled, “back when I was your age. Back when my dad was the caretaker. I used to hate helping tend the grounds, but he’d make me do it every day after school. He just kept saying that I’d find something I liked about it. That I would eventually understand why he did it. I thought he was crazy as a jay bird for the longest time. But you’ll learn, and you’ll respect this ground.” Gibby’s voice trailed off, like he was listening to a voice only he could hear. Scout let out a low, soft bark and Gibby pulled the truck to a stop and parked it.
It was one of the less populated areas of the cemetery. There were a several tightly clustered family plots along either side of the road, but for the most part it was about an acre of open grass that needed mowed. Gibby got out and Scout followed him down. Trent groaned and opened the truck’s door.
“Now I’m going to take the mower out into the field and get that taken care of. I want you to take the weeder and go around the headstone and take care of the grass in the family plots. Once I get done with the field I’ll be through to take care of the paths between plots. Shouldn’t take too long to clear this whole area,” Gibby pointed around at the acre of open field and the acre of crowded headstones. The riding mower was now down the ramp and on the ground and Gibby sat in the seat and turned it on. “You know how to work that thing?”
Trent looked at the weed whacker in his hands and located the pull start and tugged on it hard. The engine wheezed and sputtered. He pulled on it again and this time it started up. Gibby nodded and started off, riding the mower in the direction of the field. Scout looked after his master and huffed before lying down under the truck where it was shady. Trent sighed and headed toward the nearest, overgrown family plot and started cutting down the tall grasses. The ground was spongy beneath his feet as he moved from marker to marker. It was a little unnerving for Trent to feel himself sink down half an inch with every step he took. It felt like he was being pulled down by the dead bodies six feet under him. He tried focusing on the drone of the weed whacker, but that didn’t work. He tried humming, but that too didn’t work. He could still feel the loam beneath his feet give way every step.
The weed whacker was buzzing through the grass around a tall, pillar marker for the Saeger plots and its smaller marker when a thought crossed his mind.
Who were the Saegers?
It was a floodgate question, and once that question was asked hundreds of others plagued his mind. Was George A. the father, or was he one of the sons? What happened to Emmaline S. that caused her death in 1905 at seven years of age? Did they always live here in Franklyn? Or did they leave and get shipped back when they died? He didn’t know the answers, so he them up. They weren’t elaborate stories, just simple explanations based on birthdates and death dates. It kept his mind busy while he cut the grass around the graves. He was in the Hamilton plot, coming up with a reason why Ester and Gregory decided to have nine children when Gibby roared up on the riding mower.
“Good deal, you’ve nearly got the whole acre done.”
“Huh?” Trent looked back along the path he had taken. He’d cleared almost a dozen rows of plots and the sun was dipping below the tree line. He so engrossed with story explanations that he hadn’t realize how much work he’d done or how much time had passed.
“Why don’t you finish up that row and we’ll call it an evening?”
“Yeah, sure thing.” Trent had them cleared in about five minutes. By the time he got back to the truck, Gibby had loaded up the riding mower and was sitting in the driver’s seat relaxing. Trent dropped the weed whacker into the back and climbed into the passenger seat, after scooting Scout out of the way.
The ride back was slow and quiet. Trent could feel the exhaustion seeping deep into his muscles. He couldn’t remember a time where he had done that much physical labor. When they were back at the house, Trent unloaded the mower and the weed whacker and put them in the small, crowded garage next to the house. He rubbed his aching arms as he headed into the house and up the stairs.
“Do you want something to eat?” Gibby called after him from the kitchen.
“No, I’ll grab something later,” Trent called back. Once up the stairs and in his room, Trent collapsed on the bed. He knew he had homework to do, but he just wanted a minute to breathe. Every muscle began to ache and his eyes were getting heavy. He inhaled deeply and sat up, telling himself not to fall asleep yet, but it was a losing battle. The wind was howling again tonight, and as Trent fell asleep it almost sounded like the wind was saying something. A single word:
The rest of the week wore on in the same, tired way. Trent would wake up, go to school, come home, work in the cemetery, do his homework, and go to sleep. It was not the life he wanted. The repetition of the same daily routine began to wear him down, and he became the one thing he never wanted to be. Content. For weeks Trent lived the same day. Then he was broadsided, like a mobile home hit by a Kansas twister.
Her name was Alexis Jones. Trent had biology and history with her, but had pretty much ignored her along with the rest of the school. But it was hard for him to ignore her when she slammed down her lunch tray and sat directly opposite of him. He looked up at her, startled. She looked at him; her gaze was curious and scrutinizing.
“Can I help you?” Trent was confused.
“I figured it was time for someone to pop the Trent Higgins Bubble,” she replied while opening her juice bottle.
“You know . . . the bubble that’s been around you for the past month and a half. Haven’t you notice how no one talked to you or even acknowledges the fact that you exist?”
“I just figured it was some conspiracy and didn’t question it.”
She laughed loudly, tossing her head back.
“You weren’t far off. All the teachers warned us that you’d be a trouble maker, a bad influence on us. It’s a small town, so people believed it.”
“So why are you talking to me now?”
She tilted her head to the side and looked at him long and hard, considering her words carefully.
“You’ve been here for almost two months and the world hasn’t ended,” she took a swig of the apple juice. “I figure you can’t be the anti-christ that everyone set you up as.”
Trent smiled for the first time since he arrived. They talked the entire period, and Trent realized how much he missed contact with people who were his own age. He could feel the eyes of everyone else in the lunch room on him and her, but he didn’t care. The inevitable question came up though.
“So what did you do to get the bad rap?”
The bell, signaling the end of lunch rang and the whole room was filled with the sounds of chairs scraping on the linoleum, the clattering of lunch trays, and loud chatter. Trent stood up to dump his tray. Alexis stood and grabbed his shirt sleeve.
“Are you going to answer my question?”
The rest of the day was different. Alexis was the first pebble of the avalanche of attention. For the rest of the day people he passed in the hall addressed him, asked him how he was doing. One kid even asked him a question about the reading for their English class. It was a complete one-eighty from even the day before. It was a much appreciated change of pace.
When Trent got home that afternoon, Gibby was waiting on the front porch with a couple of shovels. Trent parked the truck and got out.
“Don’t tell me Scout died,” Trent called out playfully. Gibby looked at him funny and stepped to the side, there sat Scout looking around lazily.
“Nah, he’s alright. We’ve got some digging to do though. C’mon.” Gibby walked down the stairs and motioned for Trent to follow him. Trent took the shovels from Gibby and followed him as they walked through the main plots and the rows of graves and plots. After a minute or so of walking, they arrived at a rectangular plot that was marked out with small orange twine tied to stakes in the ground. The headstone looked new, untouched by weather like many of the others.
“We have to dig a grave? By hand? Are you insane? Why don’t we just get a back hoe or something?”
“Can’t,” Gibby said his voice soft and distant. “We can’t disturb the peace. It upsets the graveyard, all that noise.” Gibby extended his hand for a shovel and Trent handed him one and the two began digging. Trent felt goose bumps run up his arms and down his back every time he plunged the shoved into the earth. It felt to him like he was sticking it into flesh. After about an hour, Gibby had to bow out. He was winded and the hole was getting deep enough that he was having trouble getting out. Trent continued digging, and did his best to think about anything but where he was. But it couldn’t be helped.
As he dug his way deeper into the earth his chest tightened and he had a hard time breathing. He remembered his father’s funeral, standing over the gaping hole in the ground, watching the casket get lowered down into the darkness. He remembered his vow to live life the way he wanted. He didn’t want to be stuck in a job he hated and never getting to live any of his dreams. . Trent remembered one conversation he had with his father. It was late at night and Trent couldn’t sleep. He had gone downstairs to get something to drink and his father was still up, sitting at the kitchen counter his head bowed and in his hands.
“What’s wrong, Dad?” He asked. His father looked up.
“Nothing, son, just wore out.” His father sighed and sat up straight. “Promise me one thing Trent.”
“What?” He pulled out a can of Sprite from the fridge and cracked it open.
“That you’ll do what you want to do, that you’ll have a goal in life and do everything to get it.”
“Sure, Dad,” Trent went back upstairs to bed. Two months later, his father was dead. The police said it was an accident, that he had hit a patch of black ice and lost control of the car. But Trent never believed it, he always felt that his father had crashed on purpose, to get out of a life he hated.
So, standing over his father’s grave he made a promise. He promised to live life to the fullest. To experience everything and anything he wanted, regardless of the consequences. Then, and only then, when he did everything he wanted, he would settle down. Being stuck in a hole in a graveyard was the last thing he wanted to do. It took him a few hours to dig the hole to Gibby’s standards and satisfaction, and when he was done, Gibby dropped down a ladder for Trent to get out. On the drive back, Trent made the decision that starting tomorrow he’d take his life back one step at a time.
The next day at school was completely different. Everyone wanted to talk to him, and it seems like everyone did. He joked with people before classes and the one table barrier at lunch vanished. He sat with Alexis and her friends and they talked about music, movies, teachers, assignments, and people. They also talked about their afternoon plans, and hanging out at a nearby diner.
“There’s not much else to do in Franklyn other than hang out at Sam’s Diner,” Alexis explained. “But I’m sure you’ve got someplace you need to be.”
“What makes you say that?”
“C’mon,” Alexis replied rolling her eyes, “with the way you rush out of here every day, it seems like there’s a fire you need to put out somewhere.”
“Usually there is,” he laughed and winked. “But I wouldn’t mind hanging out tonight.”
“You sure?” asked another boy, Greg Wilson. “I’d hate for you to get choked by pulling on your short leash.” The table laughed hesitantly, most were waiting for Trent’s reaction before laughing.
“Nobody keeps me on a leash,” Trent said coolly, staring down the upstart Greg. The table went quiet before Trent cleared his throat causing Greg to bolt from the table and everyone to laugh.
“So, really, what’s fun to do around town?” he asked the group at large once everyone settled down. They all started talking over one another. Most of them complained there was nothing fun to do around town, others suggested going down to Vicksburg. It was the nearest large town, there were plenty of things to do there.
“We could always break into the cemetery outside of town after dark,” Alexis suggested. Trent looked at her confused. He wondered if she knew, if they all knew.
“Yeah, the caretaker is some crazy, old guy who lives all by himself,” another boy spoke up. Trent bit his tongue to keep the smart reply from escaping. Everyone at the table was in agreement.
“Besides, I hear the place is haunted,” another girl said.
“All the better,” another boy said, “the ghosts will be out and about.”
The table laughed as a whole. Then the talk turned serious, people began making plans, figuring out when and where to meet. Trent began to get a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, but agreed to meet everyone at the time and place.
The drive back seemed far longer than usual. The one thing Gibby cared most about was respecting the rest of those within his care, he had made that much clear to Trent in the time they had spent together. But it didn’t matter, he was just some old man who had gone senile. He convinced himself that’s all there was to it that nothing would come of his classmates poking around after dark.
Gibby wasn’t waiting at the door when Trent parked, he went inside, calling for the old man.
“Office,” Gibby called, “Taking care of paperwork today and giving these old bones a rest. Here let me show you some of this.” The next few hours were filled with explanations of family plots and single plots, finances, and how to bill for various services. As the sun finally dipped below the horizon, he knew he needed to find an out to meet up with this classmates.
“This is all very interesting, but I’ve got some other homework to do. See you tomorrow.”
Once upstairs and in his room, Trent checked the time. It was a quarter to eight; he only had fifteen minutes to figure out a way to get out of the house. He looked out the window, but there was no ledge, just a straight drop. He was sure he could make it, but he didn’t want to deal with the sprained ankle or broken leg. He looked around his room and noticed the pile of laundry that had accumulated in the corner of his room. It had been a few weeks since he had done it.
He quickly stuffed his dirty laundry into a duffle bag and carried it downstairs with him. He walked as quietly as he could past the open office door, where his uncle and Scout were still sitting. His foot hit a floor board and it creaked loudly. Gibby’s head bobbed up and his eyes connected with Trent’s.
“Sorry Uncle,” Trent held up the bag, “I need underwear. I didn’t mean to wake you up.” Gibby nodded and his head bobbed back down to his paperwork. Trent went into the kitchen and down into the basement. He started up the washer, dumped his clothes in, and checked his watch. He needed to get moving to meet everyone else. Up the basement stairs and back into the kitchen, he went to the back door and opened it slowly, praying it for it to stay silent. Mercifully it did. It took him ten minutes to get to the small group of trees that they said they would meet at. He was the first one there, so he climbed a tree and waited for the others to show.
It had only been about five minutes when he saw the first few pinpricks of flashlights down at the end of the road. There were eight flashlights, but there were more voices than that. As they approached, Trent dropped down from the tree and chuckled when he saw all the flashlights jump up.
“You guys scared or something?” He asked and was promptly smacked by a hand in the dark.
“Jerk,” Alexis’s voice was close and sent chills down his spine.
“Keep your voices down guys,” another voice hissed. “We don’t want to wake the guy up.”
They walked in silence down the gravel road that crunched under their feet. The wind picked up, the blowing leaves sounded like people shadowing the teenagers’ steps. A chill ran up Trent’s spine and he felt like he was being watched. He thought he could hear the faintest whisper on the edge of the wind that said, “Don’t.” He ignored it chalking it up to paranoia.
They had no trouble vaulting the low stone wall when they got to it. When Trent landed on the soft ground and felt it sink under him, he felt his stomach turn. Something was very, very wrong. But he kept his mouth shut. It was his chance to finally fit in, to start taking his life back. The group walked past the house, it was dark, no movement inside. It didn’t stop Trent from feeling like he was being watched.
Then someone tripped, and swore loudly. It echoed off the many grave stones and bounced back harshly in their faces. Everyone froze and looked toward the house. The porch light came on and the running started. Trent ran with the group; they were just getting to the house when the front door banged open.
“What are you kids doing?” Gibby hollered and clamored down the porch steps. Scout baying at his heels. The other kids were running and laughing. Gibby chased them as best he could, and most of the kids were over the wall by the time Gibby had gotten to the gate. Trent was about to vault the wall when he heard a sickening, dull thud. He looked back over his shoulder. Gibby was laying on the ground, clutching his chest.
“Uncle Gibby!” Trent ran back to him. “What’s wrong?”
“Trent . . . Trent,” the old man’s voice was hardly a wheeze. He grabbed Trent’s hand and held on tight.
“You’ll be fine, Uncle Gibby. I’m going to go call an ambulance. I’ll be right back.”
“No, no, no. Wait.” Gibby’s grasp tightened. “Listen to me. They’re yours now, take care of them.”
“You’re going to be okay, I’ll be right back.” Trent ran to the house and picked up the phone in the office. He dialed 911 and rattled off the nature of his emergency and his location. He left the phone off the hook and ran back to the front door. When he got there, he could see a crowd had gathered around his uncle.
“Hey! Get away from him!” He ran out to them. When they turned to look at him, he stopped dead in his tracks.
They were the faces of the people he had imagined. The stories in his head all the month he had worked here. He could see right through all of them as they stared at him with voided eyes. He could tell they blamed him, they didn’t have to say a word, he could feel it.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He knew his life had hit a dead end. As much as he fought being grounded to any one place, he was grounded here now. He had paved the path that led him here and he realized that now. The sirens were louder now, filling the air with their wails and disturbing the peace of the graveyard.