As several came close to me I pulled Emily closer to me. The ghost nearest me was that of a woman in her eighties. Her face wrinkled from age. “Be not afraid child. We all know your quest and you must make haste. Don’t linger here, please. Reach the cemetery. You must. For the child’s sake.” she told me and she looked down at Emily and smiled. “But which direction do I go? I’m lost!” I cried out.
She pointed to her left to guide me on my way. Many others pointed as well. I thanked her and made my way quickly out the door and down the church steps. Suddenly I stopped dead in my tracks. I remembered what Emily’s mother had told me. I remembered her ominous warning that I would or could be tricked into letting someone else touch Emily.
But no one, not even the grandmotherly ghost, had tried to touch or take Emily. If I followed the direction they told to me it was supposed to lead me to the cemetery or would it? Or was it a trick to deceive me? The right choice was so important.What was I to do? If it wasn’t a trick I would be delaying saving the life of Emily and myself if I didn’t go left. But then again, if I was being tricked, I needed to walk right instead of left.
I had no time to linger and wait on indecision. I had to make a decision. Keeping Georgia’s foreboding warning in mind I chose to ignore the old woman’s advice and headed right instead of left. With each step taken the winter winds seemed to blow harder and bite into my skin so deep I felt numb. But I continued on and on never encountering a single person. After walking perhaps six terribly freezing blocks I could clearly see the cemetery in the distance.
It had a large tall black wrought iron fence around it with two huge gates. But that wasn’t all I could see. A black cloud like mist was forming less than twenty feet from the gate. The blackness swirled in a circle slowly at first and then faster and faster until it circled like a tornado and then stopped. As the blackness disappeared the shape of a man appeared. He wore a black cape that covered his entire body.
I couldn’t even see his hands or feet. I knew he wasn’t about to let me pass and enter the cemetery. He wasn’t about to let me take Emily with me. When I was six feet from the figure, I stopped. Neither of us said a word nor made a sound. It was as if time had stopped. Before I could decide what I would say or do, he spoke. “Lay the child at your feet and I will step aside and let you pass. Refuse and I will take the child and your soul. You will be like the others and I will torture you for all of eternity!” he shouted.
The confrontation had begun. The threat had been issued and the decision was now mine to make. As I listened to Emily’s soft and peaceful breathing I remembered how battered and bruised she was. I remembered in spite of black eyes and bloodied lips how she had smiled up at me. She trusted me, Her mother trusted me and here I was at the cemetery.
All that was left to do was reach Georgia’s headstone and help Emily by touching her momma’s headstone. I could see the huge oak tree in the distance behind the gate. But at that moment it might as well of been a hundred miles away because the demon before me would not let me pass. I wasn’t going to leave Emily behind and I felt deep inside that he would kill me anyway. Thankfully, I remembered what Georgia had told me.
Defiantly I yelled, “Are you so afraid of me that you hide yourself behind that cloak of blackness?” I shouted and the sound of my voice startled Emily. In a split second the demon discarded his cape and as it fell onto the snow for the first time I saw his hideous features. His skin was bluish with blistered sores all over oozing pus. His eyes were sunken deep into his forehead with only a bright black shine where his eye balls would have been. On top of his head were two horns and from each horn I watched steam rise in the cold air. He looked upon me with the gloat of power over someone weaker. “In this world it isn’t you who commands, it is I. I command everything within my realm. For those who do not obey me it is I who brings misery and pain, not you.
Give back to me that which is mine and you shall pass unharmed. I will not be so kind if you refuse. What’s your answer?” he said angrily. The ultimatum had been made. Now it was up to me to decide my fate. “Step aside! This child will leave with me, not you!” I shouted. The demon was enraged and flames shot out from him in every direction and snow near him turned to water before evaporating as steam. Before he could attack me suddenly every person he had tortured and killed appeared and attacked him. I watched as they all fell to the ground on top of the demon. Suddenly, Georgia appeared and waved frantically for me to run through the cemetery gates as she cried out, “Go now, while you can, save my baby and yourself!” she shouted.
As she finished speaking she too threw herself upon the demon to buy me time to run like the wind through the black iron gates. I had barely taken two steps inside the cemetery when I heard a thunderous explosion behind me and I was knocked to the ground. I turned my head and looked behind me. A huge ball of fire faded and only the demon remained as he stood up, looked around and saw where I was. His anger at being cheated of the child was beyond description.
“Others will come to this world just as you did. The suffering will never stop. Behold!” he shouted.I continued to stare and with a wave of his right hand a massive iron chain appeared. It circled the two gates again and again before I saw a huge ancient padlock appear and I heard it click.“No one shall ever leave. They are trapped here forever just as you should have been!” His voice thundered.
Quickly as he spoke those words he vanished. I had cradled Emily quickly to protect her when I slipped and fell. As I got back on my feet I pulled back her blanket to find she was wide awake. She lifted up her crippled right hand towards me and I kissed her broken and knarled fingers before covering her back up. I made my way through the snow and found three headstones by the oak tree and brushed the snow off of each one. The third headstone was Georgia’s and I kissed her headstone.
“Thank you Georgia and everyone else for giving us both time to escape. I promise to guard and protect Emily for the rest of my life.” I whispered. My tears fell upon Emily’s blanket. As I pulled back part of Emily’s blanket she gazed at the cold concrete headstone. Gently I extended Emily’s deformed hand and helped her fingers touch her momma’s grave. Instantly the small child bundled in my arms disappeared and all that lay in my hands was Emily’s blanket.
In that split second tears began to fill my eyes. I found myself back in my own world sitting behind the wheel of my car stuck in the snow bank. That was when I felt the sting of horrible burns all over my face, arms and back. The pain was excruciating. My car had not caught fire so the burns had to have come from the explosion at the cemetery gate. For just one moment I thought that everything I remembered had been a dream and that I had been knocked unconscious.
But then I looked down into my lap. On my lap lay Emily’s yellow blanket and I knew what had happened was all too real. Someone driving by my car stopped to see if I was hurt and called for an ambulance on their cb radio. I was taken to the hospital emergency room and treated for my second degree burns. I told the doctors everything that had happened but no one believed a single word. I was never the same after that terrible day. I was placed in a sanitarium for the insane and for seven years I sat in a one room cell with the memories of that horrible day haunting me. My story during therapy never changed a single word over all those years. Some patients got better and left while others stayed and received shock therapy or experimental drugs in the name of science.
On Christmas day, during the seventh year of my imprisonment, I was in total isolation and never received one visitor. I died in my sleep. But I was never at peace. My spirit lingered within the walls of my cell long past the time the sanitarium was closed down by the state. Then one morning I had two visitors. They were Georgia and Emily and they appeared in my cell. Georgia told me how sorry she was that those in my world had treated me so unkindly. Emily was now almost eight years old and she ran quickly to my loving arms.
”Thank you for rescuing me from the man who was so mean to me.” Emily whispered. Her hand reached up to wipe my tears and I saw that her fingers were no longer deformed and I kissed her hand. When Emily returned to her momma’s side Georgia spoke, “Come with us Cassie, leave this place and come with us. There is a place where you’ll have no scars, no pain and best of all you’ll feel loved.”
I walked over to Georgia and she hugged me tenderly as Emily hugged my leg. It had been years since anyone had hugged me or been kind to me. “But how can I leave, Georgia?” I asked helplessly. Georgia looked down smiling at Emily as she nodded and both of them offered me their hands. At the moment I held both of their hands I turned and looked at my bed and saw that I was asleep. It was then I realized that I had died. I knew I would never be lonely or hurt again.
“Look at your arms Cassie, feel your cheeks, your scars are gone!” Georgia said to me. I looked down at my arms and saw my burns had healed. Trembling, I reached up and touched my face and felt nothing but smooth skin. I don’t know whose smiles were brighter theirs or mine. That was when I began a journey to a happier place as we all held hands and left that terrible room.
© 2008 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)