Chapter 2: Summer’s Grave
It was mid-afternoon when we reached the cemetery. I opted to walk instead of drive, because drivers who seemingly talk to themselves make others on the road a little nervous. But no one pays attention to a man walking down the street holding conversations with no one. They just figure you for another crazy street person. I have often wished that others could see what I see. The dead walking among us, wondering where to go and how they ended up in this state of non-being. But it’s not like I see them everywhere. I can’t see every dead person, only those connected to me, either in present life or the past. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to see Miss Summer if she hadn’t come to see me. By walking through my office door she made the connection that now binds us. Any other way and I would be oblivious to her standing there.
Still I can feel the dead around me. Obviously, I can’t see them all, but I know they are there. If they don’t consciously connect with me, they will remain just a feeling, the notion that someone is out there fumbling around in the dark. It’s confusing I know, but you aren’t the one who feels what they do when they brush by me. In the early days it was hard not to jump out of my skin when death passed by. Now it doesn’t faze me. Often I feel them long before they’re even here.
Summer couldn’t see them either. She was new at this, lost in her own experience. Unless the spirits made a connection with her, she’d be just like me, walking blind to all the death around us. It’s scary to think of all these ghosts swirling around you day in and day out, and yet you can’t see them. If you think it’s rough for me, imagine how it must be for them. No wonder most spirits go mad after several months of banging around…
New Sutcliffe only had four cemeteries. Summer’s grave wasn’t at the first one we came to. This kind of surprised me, as spirits who are confused usually don’t stray too far from their final resting place. We wandered through the cemetery, me waiting to see if anything sparked a memory inside of her, and her looking to me as if her tombstone was going to reach out and touch me. One thing could be deduced from our walk through though. Summer obviously wasn’t catholic, as this was the graveyard of the local diocese. The next cemetery was only five blocks away so it didn’t take long to get there. Unfortunately, the search there was fruitless and time consuming as well. Though I was more familiar with City Cemetery, and knew my way around it, I felt we were going in circles. All the graves here were old, and we were looking for something fresh. Her grave would be fresh dirt packed down with no grass. Maybe just a temporary marker, as tombstones often had to be ordered and took some time to erect. I was of the opinion that Summer hadn’t been wandering around for long. I told myself that if we didn’t find her grave before evening, then tomorrow we would hit the library and check newspaper obituaries.
By late afternoon, we were at cemetery number three and hit pay dirt. I should have known. The wife once told me third time’s the charm. Bitch. No, that’s not true. Lacey’s a good girl. It’s just when we split she took pretty much everything with her. I guess she figured she didn’t want to come back in case she forgot something, and so she packed everything in bags and took off one night while I was at work. But hey, I don’t hold any grudges; I call her bitch because that’s what her keychain says. I still have that thing in a drawer somewhere. It’s funny how we don’t like to let go of the little things when a relationship’s over.
Wheaton Cemetery is a relatively new place. It’s not one of the old graveyards like City Cemetery, the catholic graveyard or Everest Gardens. We used to make fun of the latter as a kid. Everest. Get it? Ever Rest. Yeah, I guess you’re still with me.
A wrought iron fence surrounded Wheaton. Not one for entrances, I just climbed the thing. Summer walked through it. Being a spirit does have its small advantages.
“Does anything look familiar?” I asked, as we stood in the grass, looking out over the flat expanse of the memorial garden. My eyes searched the tombstones and statuary around us, most of them so new you could still read the writing on them from a distance. I imagine most of the folks here were still wondering where to go to. I wondered briefly if they were watching us. I’m sure they were. Someone always is.
“No,” Summer said. “I can’t remember. I don’t even remember them burying me.”
“Well, not many spirits do,” I told her. “We’ll just take a walk around and see if anything comes to you, okay?”
We stepped onto the gravel drive that went around the graveyard and began to walk.
“So Miss Summer, do you remember anything about your life? What you were like? Your friends? Were you in love? Any enemies?”
She shook her head. “Everything is so cloudy and vague. I remember my parents clearly. My home, my bedroom…All that is clear, as if it’s something I am always meant to remember.”
“Family ties are often the strongest.”
“But other things aren’t clear at all. I think I was in love. At least once anyway. But I can’t remember their face. I can’t even recall the name of a single friend. And if I had enemies… well, they are missing from my memory too. Will it ever come back to me, all these lost memories?”
“Summer, this isn’t a very easy thing to grasp, but from the moment of our death, things slip away from us. Some things leave rapidly. Other things take their time. This is why family memories are the last to go. They are often the strongest. Whether your family life was good or bad doesn’t matter, it just kind of sticks to your soul.”
“So once the memories are gone, they are gone forever?”
“On this plane of existence, yes. I suppose you could make new memories if you stuck around long enough, or you could possibly trigger the old ones if put into the same situation, but for the most part they are gone.”
She looked about ready to cry. Most spirits are broken by such notions that their old life is fading away. I can’t say I blame them, but there is good news. “Summer, the memories are still there, you just can’t get to them. Look at it this way, when you die you are separated from a flesh and blood existence. You have no discernible form. The same way is with memories. You are separated from them, but just as you’ll have a new form when you move from this state of limbo you’re in, so will your memories return.”
“So how do I get out of this limbo, as you call it, and go on to wherever I’m supposed to go?”
“Well, it’s hard to say. It’s different for everyone. We must find out why you are still here before we can find out what you need to do to find your way. If we could find your grave, maybe we could trigger one of those memories and start to find out what happened to you.”
She smiled at me, and for a spirit it was almost inviting. “So, how did you get into this line of work, Mr. Winter?”
I hesitated for a second, but there was no sense hiding it. “Someone close to me died. Painfully.”
“Yes, me too,” I said. “But after they died, their spirit lingered and eventually found its way back to me. I’ve been trying to help the dead ever since.”
“But why can you see spirits and others can’t?”
“I’ve always had an affinity with the spirit world for some reason. When I was a kid my grandmother called me on the phone.”
She looked at me questioningly.
“She called me AFTER she died.” I let that sink in for a minute. “As a teenager my best friend was killed in a car accident. I was at the scene and could see him leave the body.”
“You saw him go to heaven?”
“No, not exactly.” I didn’t want to tell her how the scavenger dogs had come down the street, slavering for his soul, or how he had looked right at me as they dragged him kicking and screaming to…well you know the place, no need for me to say it.
“But I have always known of the spirit world,” I continued. “Every now and then someone from there would connect with me. I figured the least I could do is try to help them.”
“Sadly, I can’t always help them. I may not even be much help to you. I have had my share of failures.”
“I know you won’t fail me,” she said, and gave me a reassuring smile. She went to touch my hand and it passed right through me. I jerked back, because I could almost feel it, a longing that passed through the air, a desire for human contact, for affection within a touch.
“Nothing.” I looked at her hand. “You just freaked me out that’s all.”
“Not many dead girls try to hold your hand, do they?” she giggled.
“No, not many,” I agreed. It was a very awkward moment, and made me think of Lacey. When was the last time I held her hand? Was one of the reasons she left because I stopped sharing quietly romantic moments like that with her? Maybe I should ask her next time I see her if she’s not too pissed off.
We had nearly walked the entire cemetery road without anything coming to her, when suddenly she said, “Stop.” She looked around us, as if searching for something in particular.
“You remember something, Summer? Anything looking familiar?”
“Someone is here,” she whispered quietly. “Watching us.”
“I imagine so. This is a new cemetery. A lot of recent souls here, I would imagine.”
“No, this isn’t a soul. This person isn’t dead.”
I took a closer look around, suddenly alert. All I saw were trees, gravestones, flowers, and concrete angels. “I don’t see anyone,” I said.
“He’s coming,” she hissed and hid behind a tombstone. I thought that was kind of funny.
“I’m the only live person who can see you,” I reminded her and then she screamed. I spun on my heel and was confronted by a man with a scraggly day old beard in a long gray coat. He held a shovel in his hand.
“Who you talking to?” he asked gruffly. I had to fight the urge to point to Summer, whom I knew he couldn’t see.
“Nobody. Just talking to myself.”
“What you doing in here?” he asked, with a bit of menace in his voice. “We’re closed.”
“Closed?” I looked at my watch. It read four o’ clock.. “Since when does a public cemetery close during daylight hours?”
“Repairs,” he answered gruffly. “Somebody dug some folks up.”
“You mean someone vandalized some graves?”
“Mmm-hmm. Stole a body, too.”
“Where was this?”
The man looked at me suspiciously. “Why you want to know?”
I pulled my card and flashed it at him, hoping the only thing he’d see was “Investigations”. I’ve gotten quite good at doing that, so that most people see it and automatically think I’m still law enforcement.
“Over here,” he finally said, and led me across the cemetery grounds. I looked back and saw that Summer was following us, still ducking in and out from behind gravestones. It looked quite comical and I laughed. The man glanced back at me, a look of pathetic disgust on his face. He shook his head; I guess he figured I had to be crazy to be in a cemetery talking to myself in the first place.
Something told me the grave was hers before I even saw the temporary marker. Someone had dug it up all right. The empty coffin was exposed, its top lying on its side. I looked at the name etched onto the marker. Summer Lynn Dennings. I turned to look at her. She had come out from hiding and walked up behind me. “Well, looks like you were of drinking age,” I said, pointing to the date on the headstone. “Twenty-two years old.”
Her voice nearly choked in her throat. “Lot of good that does me now.”
The graveyard man didn’t hear her, but he certainly heard me and was giving me this look that said, ‘Good thing I have this shovel to protect me from this nut bag.’
I peered over into the empty coffin before looking at the man, who was leaning on the shovel. “Was this the only one?”
“Yup. It’s the only body they took. Knocked over some headstones, spray painted some others.”
“Yeah, typical kids stuff.”
I looked down in the grave at the coffin again. It was certainly empty of its occupant , but for a moment I thought I noticed something shiny inside, reflecting off the velvet lining . So I jumped in.
“Holy… what the hell you doing?” the man exclaimed.
I was in the coffin, down on one knee. I looked up to see both he and Summer looking at me with curious faces. The cemetery man clearly thought I was a kook, but the dead girl beside him had her hand up to her mouth as if to stifle a sob. I felt around the coffin liner. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew I had seen something there. Finally, my hand brushed against something in the lining. Something that had fallen from the dead person’s body as it was being removed. Or perhaps it was something from the person who had stolen her. Either way, it was a ring on a broken chain. A simple band of fake gold. Inscribed inside were the words “Summer, love Jeff.”
I held it up. “This yours?” I asked her.
“Nope, not mine,” the gravedigger said.
Summer smiled. “Yes, I think it was. I think I remember it.”
I nodded. We had finally made good progress in our tour of cemeteries. We had her name. We had a ring from her beau. And now we were getting somewhere…
“Advocate For The Dead” 2017 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.