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Ezrah's PlateauLegend of the Cemetery Witch
By Jacqueline Mahan
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Jacqueline Mahan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOctober 2009 Thursday Morning
THE DAY WAS unusually warm as Angela Horne looked around the kitchen for any sign of newness in her grandmother's home. The walls were still that old yellow ochre color. She smelled the mustiness that permeates the fabric of old houses. The wooden plaque that preached, 'Forgive Us Our Trespasses,' still hung on the wall over the door to the washroom, as it had since Angela was a child. The thick knotted slab of lacquered wooden tabletop lay flush against the wall so that the family could only sit at three sides. Her grandmother, Cecilia Horne, sat in one chair, her hands wrapped around a sweating glass of iced tea. The clock above the sink read 4:48 pm. Angela ran her hand through the layers of shoulder length blond hair and widened and blinked her tired green eyes. She clenched her jaw together as she yawned. She was happy to visit her grandmother for the weekend but not so thrilled with the reason for it. She straightened her yellow tee shirt and ran a flat hand down her stomach. She was not "society" thin, and she didn't care; she kept herself healthy. Angela considered her build to be somewhere between athletic and ice cream. She tugged her jeans up on her waist and asked, "So how are Mr. and Mrs. Walters?"
"Fine as ever," grandma answered, "They're away. The forecast is nice for the weekend. A perfect Indian summer in October."
Angela looked out the bay window above the kitchen sink remembering the days when she and her sister would climb the fence and run and play in the old graveyard among the trees and the headstones. Sometimes after dark, they would take flashlights and walk among the stones, reading the names and dates, wondering who some of these people were when they were alive. The single mausoleum, that of the town's founder, Ezrah Caine, stood just outside the kitchen window, to her left as she looked out into the graveyard. From there it blocked her view of the graves in the back and a portion of the woods.
Movement at the back of the cemetery caught Angela's attention. She glanced back at her grandmother who was quietly nursing her iced tea at the table. "Kids still do this, huh?" She pulled a small yellow box of Milk Duds from her jacket pocket and popped a few into her mouth.
"Do what?" Grandma Horne stood with her glass to join Angela before the kitchen window and followed Angela's gaze out to the old Ezrah's Plateau cemetery that lay between the Horne house and the former church which was now the Walter's residence. The two properties were separated only by an iron fence boasting sharp spires along its top. "Oh, yes, occasionally. Have you called your mother and father to tell them you're here? Pay them a visit, perhaps?" She turned away and quickly sat back down at the table.
Angela watched her grandmother. "I'll make plans to see them later. Maybe." Turning back to the window, Angela stared at the empty section of the section of the cemetery and said aloud, "I always stayed away from that part." Many parents in Ezrah's Plateau had warned their children about the Cemetery Witch. She would get you if you went against God. She likened it now to a perverse version of Santa Claus, someone who knew when you were behaving badly but instead of merely leaving coal in your stocking she would "get you". It had worked well when she was young.
She watched the kids now. Three boys were standing near the back of the cemetery; the oldest could not have been more than ten. Angela remembered the game. She cranked open the pane on the right side of the bay window to listen. She heard taunts of, "Go on! Go!" and, "the witch is gonna get you!" then, finally someone yelled, "Dare you!" Angela watched and listened. That was it—the dreaded 'I dare you.' The game began when you'd walk to the back of the cemetery toward the empty section. The spot had earned the label because there were no headstones in that small part of the cemetery, however it was believed that the body of a witch was buried beneath the dirt. The last person to yell "Dare you!" past the last standing headstone was the one who actually had to walk to the back and sit in that section. The unlucky kid had to repeat three times the name of the woman who was supposedly buried in that spot. It had been the neighborhood game for decades. After all the trouble and the fright Angela now wondered if anyone was even buried in the empty section.
Her room at the Horne house overlooked the cemetery. When she stayed with her grandparents as a child, Angela spent hours by the window looking down into the graveyard, with its crooked lines of centuries old headstones, some cracked and broken; others on a slant or nearly flat because trees had grown up through the graves and pushed the stones aside. A four-foot high wrought iron fence surrounded the small burial ground. The trees were sparse around the gravestones until the edge of the cemetery where the tree line burst out into full dark forest. Angela always thought the woods behind the cemetery held secrets. For a small graveyard it was historic and quaint, until you learned about the 'empty section'. Only the naïve ventured there.
She remembered how, as a youngster, seeing the kids who scared the hell out of themselves just by sitting there was enough to keep her away. Hearing of children who had run home with wet eyes and pants to match because they thought they saw the witch didn't motivate her to check it out for herself. She'd grown into a tough nut, but seeing the cemetery now brought back memories.
Angela would make excuses to leave if her teenage friends suggested going to the empty section. She shook off the memories and again straightened her tee shirt around her waist. After all, it was just a stupid game based on a story. The legend of the cemetery witch had scared her and so many others growing up in Ezrah's Plateau.
Looking out the bay window Angela could see that the smallest boy had been unlucky. He'd been slow to speak and slow to run. And there he sat, in the middle of the empty plot of land. Angela's bottom lip felt dry and she realized she was pouting. She wanted to comfort the little boy. Instead she leaned in toward the window, squinting as she read his lips. His two friends stood back among the gravestones, watching. He had said the name of the buried woman twice and hesitated. His mouth opened then closed. The little boy took another tentative breath then clamped his lips shut. His shoulders rose and fell with deep breaths. Then his face scrunched up and the tears began to flow. The legend of the cemetery witch had won again.
Angela turned to her grandmother and said, "I'm going to get the rest of my things from the car. Want to come outside?"
Chapter TwoLATER, AS EVENING descended on Ezrah's Plateau, the sky glowed pink on the horizon. Angela sat outside while Grandma Horne fixed more iced tea in the kitchen. As she waited for her grandmother to come out, Angela piled wood into the small fire pit on the large circular patio behind the house and set up two chairs in front of it. She crumpled newspaper and tented the logs into a triangle. Within minutes the flames leaped up into the evening air, then calmed to a soft crackling hum. The crisp scent of smoking, burning wood filled her nostrils alongside the cool fresh air of the fall evening. She pulled her box of Milk Duds from her pocket and chewed the last three. This was another thing her parents had told her not to do. Don't eat too much candy; don't drink alcohol; don't use profanity ... the list continued. She made a mental note to get another box from the multi-pack in her duffle bag.
Angela breathed in deeply. For a screwed up town, Ezrah's Plateau sure smelled fresh. Of course it hadn't developed much in the decade since she'd left. From what she had seen so far the layout of buildings and land had remained much the same. Well, she was only here for the weekend and that was only at the request of her grandmother, for whom she would consider doing anything. While she had her peculiarities, Grandma Horne was not as restrained as the rest of her family; nor did she pester Angela into 'following the path'. Grandma Horne was religiously respectful, but her beliefs and actions weren't as deep-seated as the rest of these people. The most informative contact they kept with the outside the world beyond the Plateau was one newspaper from Fieldstone County, which was over 50 miles south of the town. It was a little thicker than the weekly Plateau Paper, which covered, if Angela remembered accurately, the most insufferably standard things the town had to offer from school events to marriages and engagements, recommended books, when the knitting club met and regular bingo night postings at the church. The Fieldstone paper came in only on the weekends. Extra copies were quickly rid from vending areas come Sunday evening. She guessed things were still this way and wondered how her grandmother remained so cool in her manner of thinking and handling the way of life in Ezrah's Plateau.
Grandma Horne stepped down from the porch holding two glasses of iced tea. In the dusk the liquid appeared as dark as soda. She sat beside Angela and smiling, they clinked their glasses in a toast and then drank.
Angela sipped her tea. "Who painted the fence?" She gestured toward a wooden fence that separated the Horne property from the Holden's, whose house was on the opposite side of the woods.
"The Walters' nephews came up one weekend and did the whole thing for me. Then they cleaned up the inside porch. It looks so good I may have them come back to paint the kitchen!" she exclaimed happily. "Nice boys. Helpful."
"Did you pay them?"
"I fed them." She smiled. "And I threw a couple dollars their way."
"Did they ask to clean the attic?" The question flew out of her mouth before she could stop it. She looked at her grandmother, who did not seem perturbed by the question. Grandma Horne was silent for a long moment, then simply answered, "No." She turned directly to face Angela and added, "And neither can you." There was a twinkle in her eye but Angela knew the answer was serious. She played along.
"Damn!" she cursed, snapping her fingers. "I thought for sure things would be different now. I'm twenty-seven. I mean that rule was just for when we were kids, right? Neither Jack nor Roslyn nor I ever broke it when we were little."
Grandma Horne squinted and answered flatly, "No. It goes for everyone, any age. The attic is still off limits." Before Angela could protest, Grandma Horne held up a hand to stop her. "I have never limited your playtime or exploration time when you stayed at the house with us. But with this I insist: the attic is off limits."
"Does anyone go up there?"
"Only me, occasionally."
"What if something happens to you?"
Grandma hesitated, "It may not matter much then ..."
Angela wasn't convinced.
"What won't matter? Come on Grandma; do my parents know?"
"No. They couldn't go up either."
"What is it some big family secret? Is it haunted? And by the way, you didn't sound so sure that something wouldn't matter." Angela sat back aloofly and sipped her iced tea, feigning sudden disinterest. She glanced at her grandmother and saw that the woman's eyes were dim, vacant, her thoughts a secret behind them. Angela watched and understood. This was the only thing for which Grandma could never be a pushover. No excuses or reasons, just, "no one goes up into the attic." Angela laid her head back on the chair and looked up at the darkening sky already salted with stars. She wondered what Grandma Horne was thinking, and what was still so forbidden about the attic.
Chapter ThreeIN HER OFFICE at the Town Hall, Michelle Slocum looked out the window and beaming at the most beautiful sunset she thought she'd ever seen. She continued rifling through paperwork and permits associated with the parade in honor of the town's savior and Path founder Caleb Horne. The parade kicked off the weekend's events at 2:00 pm Friday. She checked her notes: there were five floats, three bands, which included the high school marching band and the fireman's auxiliary band. Members of both the police and fire departments would be marching and rolling along before them would be an ambulance, hook and ladder engine and a Police cruiser. Various other town groups had signed up to participate.
Michelle neatly ordered her permits and lists and placed them in a manila folder, which she slid over to the right corner of an otherwise spotless desk. The only other thing occupying the surface was the flat green blotter in the very center and the pen lying perfectly parallel to its edge.
She looked at her wristwatch. Six forty-five. Michelle knew Angela would be arriving today; the excitement of seeing her high school friend welled up inside her. They had spoken last week when Angela called to ask if she were available for lunch sometime during the weekend. Michelle had jumped at the chance. They spoke only briefly, making the plans. Michelle anticipated asking Angela all about her life: who she married, how big her children were, all the good stuff. Tonight, though, she had to get the town's historical documents together so the mayor could write his speech. She asked if he wanted her to write it for him, but he declined, saying he wanted to brush up on the particulars of the settling of the Plateau and study the events surrounding the hanging of The Witch and Caleb Horne's work to rid the town of the evil she embodied. The late 1800's, after The Witch's hanging, represented the beginning of a new chapter of righteousness to the God fearing residents of Ezrah's Plateau. Michelle simply nodded and said she would collect the records he'd requested.
She retrieved another manila folder from the filing cabinet and neatly printed 'EP Docs for Harry' on the tab in black marker.
Chapter FourIT WAS 7:00 pm when Grandma left the house to meet with Father Macabee regarding some details about the parade the following afternoon. Angela declined the invitation to accompany her, "I'll call Mom and Dad and let them know I'm in town."
"Alright Dear. I'll be about an hour or so." She lingered an extra moment.
Angela waited. Grandma looked as though she wanted to say something. Instead, she walked over and kissed her cheek.
Angela closed the screen door, walked to the couch and flopped down upon its cushions. She grabbed her cell phone off the coffee table, flipped it open and pressed her parents' number. It rang five times and connected her to their answering machine. It was the same stilted message, in her father's authoritarian voice, as it was nearly a decade ago. "Just as well," she muttered. She left a message, flipped the phone shut, sat up and secured it to her belt clip.
The house was silent but for the hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen. She didn't feel like watching television and didn't feel like reading. She read so much at work that these few days would be welcome reprieve. No interviews to conduct or articles to write; no one to chase down from which to glean information on a topic. She thought about walking through town, maybe calling Michelle and getting together early. But then a thought occurred to her. It popped into her head so quickly she wondered if it was even her own thought. She could venture up into ... no ... if Grandma came home early ... Angela didn't want to compromise her grandmother's trust. But she was an adult now. She knew she could handle whatever was up there. She investigated things for a living. How big a deal could it be? Her curiosity was strong. Her stomach tingled excitedly. Grandma had just left; it would take ten minutes just to walk into town, and another ten to walk back after the meeting. She calculated time in her head and estimated just how long she might have.
Excerpted from Ezrah's Plateau by Jacqueline Mahan Copyright © 2011 by Jacqueline Mahan. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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