“Welcome to Ravensgate Memorial,” the old man said, his voice absurdly loud and cheerful. Zack decided that he hated the ancient grave keeper. Men of such professions, he believed, ought to be more solemn - their voices soft and chilling. Also, the migraine pounding behind his eyes turned every sound into a nail piercing straight into his brain.
Apparently unfazed by the lack of response, the fellow continued, more brightly than before. “Is there someone you have come to visit today? A relative, yes? Maybe a grandparent?” The man stretched out a shaking hand, gesturing toward the collection of decaying graves on his left. The fondness in his eyes as the old man surveyed the cemetery reminded Zack of a wealthy man showing off his collection of old, state-of-the-art cars.
“No. Leave me alone.” Zack’s emotionless reply came tonelessly and without conscious thought, as if his irritation was a living thing and had decided to answer without asking him. In fact, he most certainly would have liked the man’s assistance, no matter how irritating. He’d only been to the grave once, and Ravensgate Memorial was one of the largest cemeteries in the city. Considering his absolutely horrid sense of direction, there was very little chance he’d be able to find it alone.
Still, Zack was never one to admit to faults, nor to retract statements, even when he was thinking clearly. Brushing past the crone without another word, he strode determinedly into the maze of graves and monoliths. “Ho, ho! A cheeky one, yes,” the man crowed as he followed. Zack ignored him and continued on, but the clicking of the geezer’s cane followed doggedly.
“Have I seen you before, boy? I never forget a face, oh no no, I never do. You were here recently, for a funeral. Which one, I couldn’t tell you, yes. But if you are seeking one of the newer plots, I must say you go the wrong way, oh yes.”
Zack stopped in his tracks, and the clicking stopped as well. Turning slowly, he saw that the old man was only a few feet away, standing just as he had by the gate, shoulders hunched and leaning heavily on a cane. The grave keeper, he saw, wasn’t even winded, although keeping up with his pace should have been extremely difficult for someone so old. As he watched, the man gestured with his cane, back the way they had come. Sighing, Zack motioned for him to lead the way. This was just not his day.
“Ho ho, you kids all act the same. Moving before your brain has time to think, digging yourself deeper and deeper into your graves early in life. Takes a lifetime of work, yes, digging back out again. And then you go and die, and other people have to dig ‘em for you.” The man hobbled slowly back down the cobbled path, every step shaking and feeble. “Yes, you kids all look the same too. Boys, girls, rabbits. Living or dead, it doesn’t matter. But I tell you, I never forget a face, no I never. I remember them all.”
“Wonderful. I really care so much. Thank you for the life lesson, old man.” Zack stopped himself before he could continue. He really had to watch his tongue, as it was far too loose. Besides, I’ve already dug mine all the way to hell, and plenty of other people’s too, he added silently to himself. He wondered suddenly how many of them had been buried right here, in this very cemetery.
“Oh ho, a tongue on you, yes boy. Well boy, if the rambling of an old man has no interest for you, what about a story?” The man continued before Zack could begin to form a reply. “You see, we have our own ghost here at Ravensgate, yes we do. She’s almost always here, sitting beside lonely graves or giving her friends flowers. She sings to them too, yes, to the lonely dead.” The man glanced sideways toward Zack, whose face had contorted into a mocking grin. “You laugh, boy, but I’ve seen her, yes. I’ve seen our little Flower Girl with my own two eyes.”
“Oh don’t worry, I’m just terrified of ghosts,” Zack snickered at the old man, rolling his eyes for effect. “Especially the ones with glowing eyes and slime pour-” He broke off with a choked growl and raced ahead, catching the man by surprise and easily outdistancing him.
The girl looked up, as if startled by his sudden approach, but she was too slow. He bowled her over in one movement, shoving her away from the headstone. “What the hell are you doing?” he yelled, barely stopping himself from striking the child. She glared up at him with over-large hazel eyes, pushing the thin brown hair from her face, but made no move to answer. “Dammit, get away from here! Go desecrate some other grave!”
At that she did move, going alarmingly pale as she scrambled to her feet. “I was just-” But Zack cut her off with a snarl.
“Get out!” And surprisingly, she did just that, threading quickly – if unsteadily – away from him, deeper into the maze of tombs.
“Heh heh, seems you’ve met the Girl herself, yes,” the gatekeeper crooned as he hobbled back toward the gate. Zack felt an instant’s discomfort, knowing that the man had seen him so out of control. It made him sick.
He rammed down on the feeling, crushing it before it could blossom. He would just have to be more careful the next time; that was all. Then again, there might not be a next time, if the right people found out about this. So much for keeping a low profile. Not only had the gatekeeper surely memorized his face, he’d made himself stand out far too much. And that girl – whatever the man said, she was certainly no ghost – she’d remember as well.
Too many witnesses, especially when he was doing something so risky.
Sighing, Zack turned back to the grave, resting a hand on the headstone and reading the inscription that was already burned into his memory.
Rest in Peace
Loving daughter, sister and friend.
The wounds you leave us
with will never heal.
The words are still just as true, Zack thought as he relaxed himself enough to let the hot tears slide down his cheeks. Still true, always true. And giving one wretched cry, Zack fell to his knees, burying his face in his hands as he wept before his older sister’s grave.
It was only as he finally turned to go, the tears and sobs that had built up over the past few weeks finally exhausted, leaving his eyes red-rimmed and grainy, that he saw the single wildflower sitting accusingly beside the headstone.