Graveyards didn't normally creep me out. I wasn't particularly squeamish about the dead--they'd started talking to me, after all. So, you know, I was mostly on friendly terms with dead people.
This place, though....
The ghosts that haunted me at the Hughes County Cemetery weren't the traditional kind.
Gravel crunched under the tires as we pulled in through the gate. I must have sucked in an unconscious breath as Jack slowed the car to follow the unpaved road between the gravestones because Valentine gave my thigh a comforting squeeze.
The three of us were jammed into Jack's antique VW Beetle. Jack in the front and Valentine and I smooshed together in the back. Valentine's shoulders were not made for a space this small. All the same, I was comforted by the too-closeness. Jack's car smelled of him: fast food, the faint scent of soldered metal, and a spicy aftershave that was sharp, but not unpleasant. I wanted to curl into the space between the comforting odor and the solid strength that Valentine's body radiated and hide there forever--especially when the car rolled past a section of scorched earth.
I sat up a little, despite myself, to look at it: the power of my curse.
Even though summer was in full-swing, the grass in a three-hundred foot perfect circle remained blackened and dead. What was weird about it was, that, while my brain wanted to use words like "scorched" or "burned" to describe it, that wasn't exactly accurate. A burn would have left broken nubs of grass. A blast would have leveled the stones. Instead, it was more as the space was... cut out, replaced by a flat blackness. Everything looked almost normal... except it was a featureless, flat black. You could see where people had tried to 'fix' it: various gravestones had been replaced here and there and brightly colored plastic flowers were placed in the ground. The repairs were uneven, however. They'd only been done where and when people could afford them.
That made the whole thing that much sadder to me, my guilt deeper and more heavy.
Jack glanced over at me sympathetically. His lips twitched as though he wanted to say something, but no words came.
"I wish I had money to help replace stuff," I muttered, not adding the obvious: because it's all my fault.
Valentine frowned. "A waste of gold."
We passed out of the strange dark ring, and I turned to him, "How can you say that? These are people's family plots. You know? Grandma or grandpa."
Valentine's eyebrow twitched irritably. He opened his mouth and then thought better of whatever he was going to say. With a shrug, he sighed, "As you wish. Perhaps you could do a kickstarter. Marble and engraving is expensive."
Of course I couldn't do anything of the sort and Valentine knew it.
Neither the Precinct nor I had ever officially acknowledged my involvement in the "strange, deadening occurrence" at the cemetery. We might have done, if we weren't so focused on finding all of Hannah's parts and locating the last remaining rabbis that practiced the Kabbalah in America to reanimate her.... and dealing with Devon's sudden blindness on top of all that. By the time anyone in the Department thought of it, the newspapers had already picked up the story, and the Hughes County cemetery was making all the international occult conspiracy websites as a 'phenomenon.' It was too late to try to spin the story in a way that might have made it easier for me or the Department to offer any kind of restitution to the families whose graves had been affected.
"Maybe I could make an anonymous donation to the cemetery owners?" I wondered out loud, with one last backwards glance through the VW's back window.
YOU ARE READING
Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring cushy job. She didn't count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she'...