A chill breeze blew between whispering rows of pines around the old Monroe City cemetery. Dried leaves and lawn clippings drifted between darkened headstones. Evening was waning into night as the wizened grounds keeper, Mr. Portsmith, made his final rounds to the dead.
“Cold air tonight.” He said to himself as he brandished his walking stick on the smooth asphalt path. Shadows crept lengthwise across a worn garden shed. Mr. Portsmith’s hunched shoulders turn down a paved path leading deeper into the cemetery. The night air grew heavy with moisture. Mr. Portsmith looked at the setting sun and continued to mutter, “Must be a storms coming.”
Mr. Portsmith had worked within the cemetery for as long as anyone could remember. Everyone knew his gnarled form, working with youthful energy each morning and evening. Gaunt frame inspecting the sprinklers as they shot water across immaculate lawns. Deft hands working between manicured hedges and clearing away growth from worn stone. Even the unmanageable lilac hedge running one length if the property bent to his careful hand.
In the twilight no other soul stood between the rows of pines, linden and willow trees. Mr. Portsmith continued along the cemetery perimeter, legs pushing forward. He slowed as the ground rose to meet the lilac hedge and paused for a time on the small hillock.
“Yes, there’s a good town if I do say so myself.” His eyes crinkled as he sought out the faint lights beginning to spread around the city. Between black pines stretched the city of Monroe, a place full of the small town feel. On main street sat a tired looking city hall, city library, and police station. Across the street a modern looking grocery store, movie theater, and gas station. Sleek and efficient lines drew a stark contrast against the crumbling past. Beyond main street lay straight rows of suburban homes, a two-story junior high and high school. What was not visible beyond that was the local park, and elementary school. The city of thirteen thousand strong began to tuck into the night.
Mr. Portsmith shifted, bending a tired knee as he remembered the past. “So much growth, so much so.”
Above him the sky drew in a brilliant sunset, catching the tips of clouds and setting them aflame. The old man moved on, following the fragrance of lilac. Clumps of purple, blue, and white shifted in the wind, bleeding to black.
Mr. Portsmith stopped again, drinking in the flowers with his whole body. But the moment was short-lived. A sudden chill ran down his spine, and he felt his leg seize. With a grunt he took a hop forward, “Whelp, its past time I headed back to the Misses-”
A sudden noise beyond the hedge made the man pause. It was a lovely evening, but the path seemed darker, colder as if shifting deeper into the night. More noises brushing through vegetation gave Mr. Portsmith pause. An unmistakable sound of feet crunching through dead leaves sounded in Mr. Portsmith’s ears. And for an unknown reason fear set his skin crawling. Someone was walking beyond the hedge, someone who did not want to be seen.
“Hello?” The caretaker tied to say, but his breath caught in his throat, and he felt himself move closer to the hedge. His hand clasped tighter onto his cane. Above him the sun’s final rays alighted on the tips of the pines by the far side of the cemetery next to the main road.
Confused the old man tried to make sense of his actions. Was he actually feeling, fear? The footsteps continued on, growing faint until they disappeared. Mr. Portsmith breathed out a slow breath, whoever it was had gone.
He had just step out back onto the path when a form broke through a gap in the hedge without a sound. It moved no more than fifty feet from where he stood. A figure dressed all in white.
Blood drained from his face as he felt a disquieting twist in his stomach. A creeping desire to remain hidden within the depths of the lilac bush curled tight round his neck. It was near impossible to see the old man, but still he remained motionless.
The figure in white weaved between headstones, reaching out to touch them as they walked by. As they did so Mr. Portsmith saw a shock of dark hair spilling down what could only be a white night-gown.
“Who is she?” He whispered, his voice sounding loud in the dark. Desire to divine the woman’s intention gripped him, and he stepped onto the path. Forgetting the cold, and his bad leg he began to move.
The woman clad in white continued forward, at an angle to the old man’s path. Ahead of her a man-sized granite headstone jutted from the ground.
“She’s headed for the angel garden.” He thought. Many years working in the depths of the graveyard had given Mr. Portsmith time to be creative. Both shadows walked toward a collection of carved figures resting around a thick willow.
The woman stopped at the threshold of the carved circle of figures. Using reflexes he didn’t know he still had, Mr. Portsmith skipped behind a cracked obelisk. He clung on tight to the side of the carved stone and stole a glance around it. The woman cast hear head around, taking in the figures. Drinking in the gentle shifting of willow branches. Forms played all around the cemetery as wind taunted aging branches.
As twilight grew the woman seemed to draw in light, causing her whole body to shimmer and glow. Mr. Portsmith stared in wonder as the woman ran forward to a figure in the center. The night air breathed again, and he felt his skin crawl. Beyond where the old man stood, a dark a shadow shifted.
It was at this moment that Mr. Portsmith’s mind switched back into his caretakers roll. He took a half step around the marker, muttering, “What’s she doing now? She shouldn’t be here, it’s after hours.”
The woman hadn’t noticed and was now doing something rather strange. It made the man pause, filling his gut with unease. With arms raised to the sky, the figure in white began to dance.
Feet kissing the ground, she began to spin around, deftly placing each foot on the cool wet ground. Circling the central figure the wrath I’m white moved faster and faster. Hair flying around her head, white cloth dress blowing around her.
Mr. Portsmith wanted to stop looking. He wanted to turn his back on the bizarre spectacle and walk with purpose confident to his shed. To open the closet where his tools and myriad of keys hung and car was parked. He could see his hands finding the key a hundred times over, felt the door handle click beneath his fingers. Even the turning over of the car engine sent a vibration through his feet and hands. Everything in his body told him to flee.
But he didn’t. So drawn to the woman was he that he didn’t even notice the large form breaking from the lilac hedge. Nor did he see its deft movements towards him, weaving between gravestones.
Mr. Portsmith felt himself step out into the night, not realizing he was a stones throw now from the woman. She continued to dance, and he contention watch. Then as if realizing he’d been there all along the woman stopped mid stride, hands raised once more to the sky. With halting and jerking movements she turned to him.
She had large dark eyes,and a wide mouth framed with a mass of unkempt waving curls. Twigs and dead leaves clung to dress and hair alike. Her face was white as the cloth that garbed the thin body. Full lips parted and Mr. Portsmith watch as the woman’s brows raised, and eyes filled with terror. He stepped back as she screamed. Mr. Portsmith felt a searing pain in the back of his head, and then all went black.
Trees moved in the dark, swaying to and fro. Leaves crackled across the ground, catching on cold headstones. A faint scream echoed beyond the Lilac hedge. Tall stands of pines swallowed all noise coming from the cemetery as the night stilled.