The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ genre event – Recess: Children Stories for Adults. Please enjoy.
The summer after Pastor Lowry disappeared, Shayla was bored pretty much all the time, and so she jumped on the story of the graveyard ghost.
Pastor Lowry had been the grown-up’s preacher at their church, and after he joined Shayla had stopped going to the kids’ service. She liked to hear him speak. Her dad said it was because he had heart. There was a lot of sadness in his words, a kind that Shayla didn’t understand yet, but wanted to. He was gone now, and it was summer, and she was bored.
The rumor was a warrior-ghost had taken up residence in the cemetery on the far west side of town. It was an olden times warrior, they said.
Some said he was once a Viking. Charlie, one of Shayla’s bigger but dumber friends, claimed he was Thor, Odinson himself.
“He doesn’t wield a hammer,” Shayla argued. “He carries a broadsword.”
In the summer, the children’s parents left early for their trades—the carpenters, the men of law, the manager of McDonald’s, and left them to their adventures, mostly video games. It was then that the children talked about the warrior-ghost. “It’s not a broadsword, it’s a katana,” Charlie said. “He was a samurai, and was buried here by the Native Americans five million years ago.”
“There weren’t people five million years ago,” Shayla said.
“Maybe he’s a Native American,” Charlie claimed.
“There’s only one way to find out,” Shayla said.
They spent the night at Charlie’s house. His mother had a boyfriend and didn’t care much for Charlie or his older brothers and so they could go missing without attracting attention.
The sun set late, almost ten o’clock, and they waited until even later. They packed a satchel full of provisions—candy bars, bottles of coke—and set out.
Shayla and Charlie had both been to the graveyard at one point or another, but it was a different place after dark. The gate was closed and a heavy chain draped across its high, black, wrought-iron face. The stone pillars that guarded the gate on each side were too high to climb. They followed the fence until they found a weak spot, a shadowy corner where a tree branch had brought the fence down. The children crawled, trembling, into the darkness.
Shayla could barely see the winding path in the feeble light of distant street lamps. Charlie jumped at every sign of movement, the fluttering of flags over soldiers’ graves, the whisper of owls’ wings in the trees. They stopped after a few minutes to eat candy bars and speculate over the warrior-ghost.
“Maybe his soulmate is buried here,” Shayla said.
Charlie shook his head. “He was murdered here.”
They took turns guessing until the sudden rising of a shadow made the pair fall silent. Candy bars fell forgotten into the grass.
A tall form came up over a hill, ambling slowly in their direction. It didn’t walk like a human but fell a little to the left and right, then lurched forward a few steps, then fell back. For a moment they stayed frozen. It was just a story, but there it was, and Charlie shrieked and rushed forward, running for the street but crossing the figure’s path along the way. Shayla didn’t know if ghosts were dangerous.
“Stop!” she darted after Charlie, and watched his foot catch on a tombstone. He tumbled forward, and fell crumpled on the gravel path, directly in front of the shadowy figure. “Charlie, run!” Shayla screamed, but whether he was hurt or simply paralyzed by fear, Charlie lay still on the path. Shayla soon reached him, and helped him to his feet. All the while the shadow grew and with a final stumbling lurch that sprayed them with gravel, it stopped walking, not ten feet away.
“Don’t hurt us,” Shayla said.
He didn’t move, except to sway a little. His bearded face was concealed in shadow. A haggard, leather, cape-like coat hung from emaciated shoulders. A helmet covered his matted hair, or maybe, Shayla thought, it was a very battered leather hat. In his right hand he had a long, evil-looking sword.
She felt Charlie pulling her shirt from behind. She turned to see him slithering several yards further down the hill.
She was terrified, but this was her only chance.
“Who are you?” Shayla asked in a voice that was loud, if shaking.
The warrior-ghost peered at her. He took another stumbling step forward and a smell hit her suddenly, reeking unwashed clothes, grease and bile, and another smell, stinging and sweet, one that she realized she had smelled before. It was the smell of the stuff her dad kept in a blue glass bottle in the kitchen’s highest cabinet.
“Yeekiss…” the warrior-ghost growled and Shayla shivered. She let her eyes drop to the broadsword. It was dented and bent in places, rusted near the handle, the kind they sold at the thrift shop down the street from the high school.
“Yee…you kisss…you kids. You kids ge’ou’ere.” A trembling hand came up and pointed to the road. Shayla looked at the hand, and saw it was familiar, long, slender. She knew that hand. She had seen it raised before. Under the growl was a voice that had once been warm. Charlie shrieked,
And he took off fast down the hill but Shayla backed away slowly, watching the warrior-ghost. She wanted him to turn, to look into the light so she could see Pastor Lowry’s face. A new kind of fear was tingling under her skin, not the fear of death, but of something worse—
“Shayla, let’s go!”
When she was far enough away, concealed in the graveyard’s shadows, she watched the pastor continue his lurching walk along the graveyard path. He lifted the sword as he stumbled forward, swept it through the air in high, arching, almost graceful movement, until his foot caught a rock and he dropped it. It clattered on the gravel. The figure, all shadow now, pulled something small from inside the leather coat, took a long draw, put it back, then stooped for his sword. He continued on his path, and Shayla caught up with the Charlie down by the road.
Charlie hooted and talked in a loud voice about their ghost, and the stories they would tell. Shayla was quiet, though, and at the top of each hill turned to see the graveyard, looked for movement, the flashing of an antique rusted sword, or the glint of light on a bottle.