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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Locked in the Cemetery

On a Sunday evening in late August years ago the sun broke through the thunderclouds after a day of storm just prior to setting. Karen and I decided the day wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t take my camera and go to the cemetery. Her roommates called us ghouls, but we wasted no time heading into Salt Lake City, about 20 or 25 minutes from Karen’s home in Murray. I drove, having been given Marj’s car while Marj was in England.

In the cemetery we strolled about, keeping our backs to the wind and our faces to the Salt Lake Valley stretching below us. The sun had just set, and another thunder and lightning storm approached on the wind. We discussed the murder mystery Karen was writing, with me as the heroine and herself as the victim before the book even opens. What a perfect mood, we agreed her opening, eerie chapter had set up. Speaking of eerie, the graveyard was getting to be just that. We came up over a rise, and suddenly silhouetted against the valley was a life-size crucifix with a body hanging on it. Lightning stabbed at the city behind it, throwing it into even blacker relief. We grabbed each other’s arms, at the same time realizing we were in the Catholic section.

The talk turned to Life and what it was we’d prepared for, planned for, made promises about—knowing we’d forget—hoping we’d succeed in everything important; and here we were in it; would we, when we were like all these (beneath tombstones) have done everything we were supposed to have? 

The storm approached; the wind moaned in the fir trees. I suggested we get back to the car: we did not want to be out under the trees when the lightning came striking this part of the city.

Accordingly, we faced the wind and let it try to beat us back from reaching the car. When we reached it and got in, I drove to the gate we’d come in. It was locked. No matter, said Karen, when the next gate over was found to be also locked. The sexton had once told her that the southwest corner gate was always left open. We drove down there. It was locked. The padlock stood out in the glare of the headlights.

“Try the next gate over,” suggested Karen. I drove over there. It was locked. Maybe the one on the other side of the one that’s supposed to be open. It was locked. All right, we’ll just go all the way around and try every gate. They must be locking up now. I wondered briefly who was locking up—a legitimate cemetery worker, or the Unknown, who knew two young women would be trapped alone? Vampires came to mind. But I shifted mental gears as I drove around to each gate, finding them all locked. This was getting ridiculous—this couldn’t really be. At the south end we found a gate open: Ah ha! But Karen cried, “Wait!” and jumped out to look. Sure enough, the gate was at the top of a wide but steep flight of stone steps. We sat back in the car, staring at the open gate in the headlights, blackness beyond.

Action! “Maybe they’re back at the truck yard,” I said, shifting into reverse and backing up the dirt lane, almost running into a tree in the darkness. We got over to the group of buildings where trucks and tools are kept, and where it appeared that the sexton had a house. A light glowed from somewhere inside the house, but not near one of the outside windows, and no lights were on outside, except over in the truck yard.

Should I honk or go in? Better go in, I decided. Karen said, “I don’t know whether to stay here or come with you.”

“You’re coming with me,” I said. “If you think I’m going alone, you’re crazy.”

When we got out of the car, we could hear the wind shrieking through the trees, and every little while lightning flashed, lighting up the tombstones weirdly, while thunder cracked around us.

“What if Boris Karloff answers the door?” Karen asked.

“Shut up!” I answered.

We stood on the front walk of the big stone house, looking up at the black shadows of the porch, which could have hidden any number of monsters.

“This is a perfect B movie script,” said Karen, “and I might scream at any moment.”

“But Karen, you never scream.”

“I’ll faint then.”

“No you won’t. Come on.”

We felt our way up the first six steps, , turned right to go up four more, and then left up two more. The wind groaned, the lightning and thunder crashed, black shadows moved and swayed—we froze.

The wind. The bushes were moving in the wind. We breathed again. I felt for the doorbell on the wall.

Chimes rang hollowly, echoing inside.

“Trick or treat?” I whispered to Karen, trying to laugh and squeaking instead. We waited, for anything, hoping for nothing. Nothing. I realized that little as I wanted to face something coming to the door with that dimly frosted pane, still less did I want to remain locked in the cemetery!

I rang again. The chimes echoed horribly.

“What if creeps are in here with us?” Karen voiced both our fears. “Vampires or something!”

“Shut up!” I said, scared. “We have to be the heroines of this, whatever happens,” saying whatever I could to get some courage back. “So no matter what, be cool. We have to be cool.” I only half convinced myself.

We practically ran to the car. “Check the back seat!” I yelled as I unlocked my side. Empty. We jumped in. Maybe there was a body in the trunk. No, couldn’t be.

“Karen, we are locked in this graveyard.” The wind howled around the car. “Where is a policeman when you want one? Don’t they patrol this area for vandals? Can’t they see there is a car in the cemetery that should not be here?”

“There’s only one thing to do,” said Karen. “We have to leave the car, climb out over the fence, and go call from a house.” She sounded confident, but I was too panicked to understand the plan.

“Call who?”

“The police. Or the sexton.”

“But I can’t leave Marj’s car here! What if something happens to it? I’d have no legal claim to it, and its owner is in England until December!”

But we had no other choice.

As we crossed the street after locking and leaving the car at that gate that should have been open, I asked Karen if she’d considered whether this house we were approaching was owned by creeps. “What if the Hell’s Angels or somebody lives here?”

“Marci. Shut up.” She was in no mood for such speculations. “And be ready to run,” she added as she pushed the doorbell from an arm’s length away, her fingertips barely touching it.

My curiosity and a good story were ruined when the huge door was opened by a young woman of about our age and appearance, who thought the whole story was the funniest she’d heard, and it turned out she had gone to school with one of the guys I was teaching with.

Karen’s roommates came to our rescue after the police had just laughed at us on the phone without being of any more help than to promise to be aware of the car being left in the cemetery overnight.

We always planned to use this story in a murder mystery, of course, but it still remains to be written.

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