Traffic was still zipping up and down Main Street, life moving on without me. I kept close to the building, in the darker shadows, as I glanced up, down, and across the street. The last thing I needed was for my guardian angel to take me by surprise again. The sidewalk was clear, and from this distance, I couldn’t see anything by the park across the street, next to Anthony’s building. I had never really registered that he lived across the street from Cemetery Park, so named because it was an active cemetery up until the early 1940s.
Sometime in the sixties, the city decided to convert it into a park, but they never moved the bodies. The place always creeped me out, especially when I saw people playing fetch with their dogs or taking a picnic with their kids, knowing they were on top of hundreds of unmarked graves. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw that night.
Dozens and dozens of spectral entities were all around the park, obscuring the finely manicured lawn. In the last few days, I had seen other ghosts’ fleeting forms, but none as tangible as me and none returned my gaze. Here though, when I crossed the street and stood in front of the park next to Anthony’s apartment building, no less than four spirits turned their deathly gaze upon me. For a
moment, I felt as though I couldn’t move, like a mouse caught in a corner as the big angry cat hunkered down in front of it, just waiting.
Of the four staring at me, two were small girls who looked to be about nine and ten years old. They both wore plain white dresses that hung past their knees and cinched up to their necks. Their high-top black dress shoes were practically lost in the shadows. Another of the four was a war veteran. Of what war I couldn’t be sure, but he didn’t look much older than me as he glared my way. The last was an old, hunched over Chumash woman. Her bedraggled, dark hair swung down, obscuring her face from time to time as she swayed where she stood. Her face was a relief map of wrinkles, a testament to the long life she had before she died.
I wasn’t sure who to keep my eyes on; they were all glaring at me but spread out enough that I had to make an effort to look at each of them. The larger of the two girls tilted her head to the side, drawing my attention to her. Her large eyes looked black in the night. She blinked slowly, her mouth opening slightly, as she lifted one hand and crooked her pale finger, beckoning me to come. Absurdly, I felt the desire to step forward, to answer her call, just like the pull of the White Light.
I managed to keep my feet planted on the sidewalk, though my toes were dangerously close to the edge of the grass. I had the feeling that if I crossed the line of cement and desecrated ground, that tiny waif of a girl would be on me like a rabid dog on the last bone in the world. I shifted my weight and took one small step backward. I heard the howling of the lost souls milling about the grounds. The girl’s head snapped back, and her mouth opened into a terrible black maw. She screamed long and loud before she rushed for me.
Her fingers were crooked into claws and her hands stretched out as she flew across the ground in her mad rage. I flinched against the sounds she made, feeling something for the first time in days, and covered my ears. I panicked and scrambled backward, tripping over my own feet, and fell to the ground. She was nearly on top of me. I started to gather the shadows about me, ready to flee, but as she reached the edge of the grass, she slammed into an invisible wall, then bounced off and tumbled backward.
The milling mass of spirits began to shift toward us. The noise and reverberating energy drew their attention like moths to a flame. I pushed back, putting a little more distance between me and the edge of the cemetery, before I got to my feet. I dusted my hands off on my jeans out of habit and straightened my sweater. When I finally found the courage to look up again, the entire population of the cemetery was pressed close to the edge of the grass, practically looming over me. I clenched my hands into fists to keep them from shaking and lifted my chin. They couldn’t cross the line to get to me, and there was no way they would get me to do it for them. I was fine; I just had to stay on the sidewalk.
The soldier caught my attention, pulling it away from the still glaring, screaming girl in white. He stepped forward out of the crowd. A few tendrils of pale white slipped from his shoulders. He wasn’t quite at the grass line. His face was calm and sad. I watched as he inclined his head toward me in a nod, which I returned. One corner of his mouth lifted in a small half smile. I stepped forward.
He lifted his hand, his fingers splayed as if he would intertwine them with mine. I lifted my hand, opening my fingers and began to reach for him. I took another half-step forward, a few blades of grass bending over the toe of my boot.
“Shayna, no!” a voice called out like a ringing bell in the still, silent night.