4: Sea of Forgotten Souls

“Max?” I asked, confusion heavy in my voice. “Max!” I repeated when he didn’t answer, his gaze staring right through me. I fell to my knees, taking his arms in my hands and shaking him. The cage he held clattered to the floor in a heap, shattering his trance-like state.

Only then did he react, slowly blinking. Color returned to his chalk-white face, filling his cheeks with a rosy complexion. His eyes slowly focused on me then flickered to Finn who had come around to knell down next to me, the little wren in his hands.

“Max?” I said, warily. 

His brows crinkled and he cocked his head, peering at me with bewildered brown eyes. “Rose? How…I was just…you…?”

“Max,” Finn said. “What happened? It looked like you just saw a-” He bit his lip and glanced at me. In his eyes I read what he was going to say: ghost.

I was grateful for Finn at that moment. I didn’t want him to bring up the whole seeing-a-ghost thing again. It was all part of Max’s vivid imagination. Ghosts didn’t exist, everyone knew that. They were just superstitions adapted to modern day horror movies and ghost stories.

“You got the cage.” I lifted the intricately made bronze cage and set it on the counter. Finn flashed me an uncertain look and I pleaded him with my eyes to forget about Max’s abnormal behavior.

Max nodded his head slowly. “Yeah. I-I…” He scratched his head and threw a glance behind his shoulder as if making sure that nothing was there. When he turned back around his face was still twisted in bewilderment, but he let out a long, dragged out sigh and walked towards Finn, gazing down at the little bird in his hands.

“Is she okay?” he asked in a small voice.

“Yeah, she’ll be fine. I’ll look after her for a week or two – until her wing is mended. Then we’ll set her free.”

“We can’t keep her?”

Finn shook his head, a crooked smile lifting at the edge of his mouth. “No, she belongs in the wild, not in a cage.”

Max understood and nodded. He padded towards the dining table and sunk down in a chair, watching us with feigned interest as Finn and I settled…I whirled around on my heel and asked, “Hey, Max? What’s a good name for her?” I pointed my finger at the little blue ball of feathers, earning a smile from Finn.

Max leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and looked at the little wren, thoughtfully.

After a long pause Max said, “Sky.”

I looked over at Finn and he smiled, nodding his approval. “Sky it is.”

With a name and a new home, the three of us took Sky up to Finn’s room, setting down her cage on his bedside table. Max and I shuffled out of the room quickly, his hand fiercely holding onto mine. I didn’t need an explanation for Max’s fear. He was still scared from whatever he thought he saw up here earlier.

We made our way down stairs and each step we took Max visibly relaxed until we stepped outside. He made a mad dash across the street and into our lawn, picking up one of his discarded superhero action figures on the way.

“So, I’ll see you tonight?” I asked, peering up at his face hopefully.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “I was hoping you’d forgotten about that.”

I raised my eyebrows, surprised at his admission. “You’re not scared are you?”

He chuckled. “I’ll see you tonight. How does Midnight sound?”

“There’s no better time to go searching for the dead.”

*

After safely tucking Max in bed at eight, I waited impatiently until Mom and Dad came home at ten-thirty. I was lying on the couch watching Despicable Me when I heard the key in the lock, signaling their arrival. There was nothing else on as I had flipped the channels finally settling on the Disney movie. The movie promptly ended at 11:36 and I groaned, shuffling upstairs and preparing for the night.

I grabbed my brown messenger back and stuffed a flashlight, winter gloves (I didn’t have any cool sleek black gloves so those would have to do), wallet, and keys inside. I tied my long chestnut brown hair into a high pony tail and stared at my creamy freckled reflection. Dark brows framed my face under bland brown eyes – strong attributes that I got from my nanna. In her time it was considered beautiful and exotic, at least, that’s what she said. But in my age…well, why couldn’t I have normal eyebrows like Marcie instead of bushy caterpillar-like ones?

I sighed and slung my messenger back over my shoulder. As quietly as I could muster I tip-toed through the hall, down the stairs, and halted at the foot of the door. My heart hammered inside my ears as I unlocked the door and opened it, a small squeak escaping from its hinges. I froze, listening intently for any sound coming from upstairs.

Silence.

I closed the door behind me, softly, and leaned back on the wooden oak. Relief flooded my nerves as I drew my hand to my heart as if that would stop the mad drumming inside my chest.

When I got my bearings straight, I looked up and saw Finn making his way across the street towards me. I met him half way, a smile curling my lips at his messy brown hair and sleepy eyes.

“Ready?” I asked, gesturing to the dark, desolate road.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” he muttered, but followed my lead. “You’re not like most girls.”

I let out a shaky laugh, my heart sinking a bit. “I get that a lot.”

Sensing the slight melancholy in my voice, Finn turned his full attention towards me. “I didn’t mean…” He rubbed the back of his neck, gazing up at the sky as if he’d find the right words to say in the shining, bright stars. “It’s not a bad thing,” he finally said. “It’s good to be different. Being the same is over-rated.”

His words filled me with warmth and I smiled. “Different is my middle name.” I bit the inside of my cheek, wishing I had just kept my mouth shut. That must have been the cheesiest thing I had ever said. What was wrong with me?

“Well, would you look at that. It so happens to be mine, too.”

We stared at each other seriously for the duration of 2.5 seconds before bursting into a fit of giggles. I clamped my mouth shut with my hand, the sound too loud for the stillness of the night. Finn pressed his lips together, stifling his laughter, and with an effort that cost us plenty we trudged on in comfortable silence.

My mind wandered to the dark road ahead with only the light of the street lamps guiding our way. Every house we passed was dark without a single light turned on. Even the porch lights had been shut off as a means to save electricity. It’s the same thing that my parents did. The night sky was beautiful with a smattering of stars sprinkled across the vast Milky Way.

The woods were a different story.

When my gaze traveled in their direction I shivered feeling something cold and slimy crawl up my spine. Finn drew closer to me and instantly I felt better, safer. It felt like something dangerous and evil lurked through the forest, looking for something new to prey upon.

The gates of the cemetery were in sight and I let out a sigh of unconceivable relief. Finn stepped away from me and trudged towards the gate. His hands drew forward, seizing the bards and rattling the locked, weathered chains.

“Great,” he muttered. “How are we supposed to get inside?”

“Around back. We’ll have to climb.”

I rummaged through my bag for the flashlight and fished it out, flicking the switch on. “You coming?” I flashed the light towards him and he squinted at the sudden brightness. Not waiting for his reply, I turned on my heels and began heading towards the back gate. I heard shuffling behind me and a second later Finn caught up with me, shaking his head in amusing dismay.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

“C’mon,” I pressed. “Tell me.”

He shook his head, his eyes gleaming wickedly. I hung my head and harrumphed. He found it funny, a small smile creeping onto his face.

“Alright,” I said, handing the flashlight to him. “I’ll go first.”

I stepped onto a huge boulder and put my hands on top of the ledge for support and pushed myself up, straining my body with the effort.

“You don’t do this a lot, do you?” Finn said, handing me the flashlight once I swung my legs over and sat on the ledge.

“Do what exactly?”

“Breaking and entering.”

I flashed him a sly smile. “Didn’t you know? I’ve always wanted to be on America’s Most Wanted.” I turned back around and looked down at the ground below. I braced myself and jumped the six feet to the ground, landing with a soft thump.

When I looked up I saw Finn’s sidling up on the ledge. In one swift motion he jumped, perfectly landing on his feet like one of those Olympic gymnasts sticking a landing on the vault.

“Alright,” he said, peering around the dark cemetery. “Where to?”

I flashed the beam of light to the left where the old plot first began back in the early years of settlement. We started forward, weaving our way through the weathered, beaten path. The grave markers and headstones were worn from age, showing signs of cracked concrete and illegible letters eroded away by harsh climate and time. The trail thickened with overgrown brush as it weaved like outstretched claws waiting to dig it’s fingernails into our skin.

Shaking my head, I willed my brain to thinking such dreadful notions. I was becoming paranoid, losing the bravado that I had at the beginning of this entire outing. Finn was right. I wasn’t like most girls. Most girls wouldn’t suggest a trip to the cemetery as some sort of mentally deranged field trip.

Why hadn’t I had the sense to suggest coming to the cemetery in the day? It wouldn’t have been as scary and morbid as it was now.

“Rose?”

I jumped at the sound of my name, my heart leaping inside my throat.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to hide the note of panic in my voice. “Did you find it?”

He shook his head. “Where do we even begin?”

I bit my lip, looking out into the night before us. Dark shadows outlined the vast plot, like a sea of forgotten souls. I tried to remember what old man Jenkins, the caretaker, raved about whenever he gave tours of this place. He usually didn’t venture to this part of the cemetery, letting the shrubbery go untrimmed. It looked like a scene of the ghostly and misty woods from The Hollow. I feared that the headless horseman would materialize right in front of me and chop my head off in one swift and powerful stroke.

God. I really needed to stop my brain from conjuring such dark and vivid images.

“We need to find gravestones that begin in the 1820’s and end around 1880’s. That should point us to the right direction where Will and Elizabeth could be buried.”

“Okay,” he said. “But which way do we go?”

“That way.” I pointed the flashlight to the right, lighting up our way. It was only when the dates on the grave markers matched the dates that we were looking for that I let out a silent ‘Hooray!’  in my mind. As luck was on our side we found a handful of Wittaker grave stones. They were near the end of the cemetery with weeds obscuring the names engraved on the weathered stone.

“There’s no Elizabeth,” Finn said after dusting away the dirt on the stones with his hands. “She must have married Will. We need to find the Kensington plot.”

My heart sank, realization dawning on me. “But what if they went back to New York? I doubt that Mr. Kensington stayed here when he had his business in the city. Will might have stayed for Elizabeth, but even then…”

I lost my train of thought as Finn came around and ceased my shoulders under his strong hands, a shiver running down my spine. Whatever he was going to say passed as his eyes roamed my body. “We should get back. It’s getting cold out here.” He made a show of rubbing his right hand down his left arm, using a steady friction to warm himself. I smiled gratefully, but shook my head.

“The cemetery will still be here tomorrow,” he continued, giving me another chance to decide to go home. “We can continue our search then.”

“It’s okay. Let’s just get back before two. We’ve got,” I peered down at my watch and was astounded at the time. “Twenty minutes.”

He nodded, started forward, and I followed his lead. We didn’t follow a path this time. Instead we trudged through the barren landscape, carefully minding out steps after I had accidentally tripped over a weeded bramble. It was eerily quiet, which only made what I heard a moment later strike terror in my chest.

I twisted my head to the left where the sound of a branch breaking resonated from the thin scattering of trees where we had just been a few minutes ago.

“Did you hear that?” I asked Finn, drawing closer to him.

“Hear what?” He stopped in his tracks and cocked his head to the side, listening to the sound of crickets chirping, and the swaying of the trees rustling in the breeze.

I glanced back towards the woods, seeing nothing remotely threatening and shook my head. “Never mind.” It must have been only the wind I was hearing. Plus, I was already paranoid to begin with. Add that into the mix of a creepy cemetery and no one would be in their right mind.

“C’mon,” he said, reaching his hand forward. I hesitated for only a fraction of a second, taken aback by his kind green eyes. I smiled and took his hand, immediately feeling a radiating calm washing over my nerves.

Minutes later we stumbled upon the thing that we were looking for. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead us to the mystery behind Will and Elizabeth. The grave belonged to Vanessa Kensington. Hers alone was the only other grave marker that bared the named Kensington, leaving Finn and I at a dead-end.

I groaned, letting out my frustration. “What now?”

The sudden sound of deafening crunching leaves garnered my attention. I looked over at Finn and saw his attention towards the back entrance across the lot where we had entered. A beam of flashlight penetrated the mist that had settled over the land along with the sound of footsteps heading our way.

Finn pulled on my hand and we ran, turning off the flashlight and veering to the right and hiding behind a tall headstone that belonged to Henry Vanderhuest. Whoever the man had been I blessed his soul for giving us the cover we desperately needed at that moment. My heart drummed loudly in my ears and I also prayed to the heavens that whoever was walking the cemetery didn’t hear it.

“Rose?” Finn whispered dangerously close to my ear.

“Hmm?”

“Can I have my hand back?”

My brows furrowed as I looked down at our clasped hands, seeing that I was practically squeezing the life out of it. I let go abruptly and he flashed me a lopsided smile. I peered around the edge of the gravestone until the small figure in the shadows became distinct.

It was old man Jenkins making his rounds with the old oil lantern that he liked to carry around with him. Finn stiffened beside me as Mr. Jenkins drew closer, the light of his lantern shining right above our heads. I held my breath, my heart beating erratically inside my ears like a never-ending drum march. After a few seconds, Jenkins strided forward and I let out a breath of relief, laying my head back on the headstone.

“That was close,” Finn said as Jenkin’s form disappeared among the misty darkness.

“Too close.”

He pushed himself up and dusted his hands off from the dirt on the front side of his cargo shorts. “Let’s get out of here before we run into him again.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

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