I love the fall. Something about the colors, smells, and pumpkin everything makes me want to write up a storm. I just finished a new YA thriller. By finished I mean drafted and sent to my mother for plot-hole filling. She loves mysteries and is the best person to point out why my huge twist at the end doesn't make sense. Once she gives me the okay, I'll edit like a mofo and send it out to my CPs.
In the mean time, I've been dabbling with a little upper MG ghost story action. I'm only 11k in, but here's a little taste - a sip if you will.
The rustle of static wakes me up before the pebble against my window does.
“Echo Lima Sierra Indigo Echo, do you read me?” My best friend’s voice comes over the grey walkie talkie he got for Christmas last year.
I sit up and scramble through my nightstand drawer until my hand wraps around the hard plastic. I turn the volume down and hold my breath, waiting for Dad’s thundering footsteps. They don’t come. Another pebble hits my window. I hold down the long plastic button on the side of the walkie. “Romeo Oxford Mike Alpha November, I’m up. Stop chucking stuff at my window.
I can hear Roman laugh without the help of the walkie talkie. “You tryin’ to chicken out on me?”
“No, but if you don’t shut up I’ll be busted before I leave.” I toss the walkie on my bed and stand up, still dressed in my clothes from school. I grab a can of pam out of my nightstand – the same one my sister Beth gave me before she left for college – and spray it around the windowsill. The window slides up without a peep. I hop on the roof, crawl to the edge, and fall into the night. I land in the middle of the trampoline and scamper off.
If I’m going to get caught, it’ll happen now. I give Dad a courtesy minute to turn on his bedside lamp and fling up the blinds. When he doesn’t, I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding and hear Roman do the same from somewhere in the shadows.
“Ready, Freddie?” He asks once I join him under the burnt out street lamp. The bulb went out two months ago but no one has bothered to fix it yet. Mom calls the town hotline and leaves messages, but they ignore her.
“I will be once you tell me where we’re going.” I zip up my sweater and stuff my hands in my pockets.
“You’ll see.” Roman grabs his bike and wheels it onto the street.
“Last time you said that we both got grounded for a week,” I say as I swing my leg over the back tire and step onto the purple pegs sticking out from the wheel.
“It was so worth it.” Roman pushes off and we sail down the street.
I grab Roman’s shoulders and smile as the wind pushes my hair out of my face. Roman was right; the last time he said “you’ll see” had led to an epic outdoor swim with a couple of other kids in our grade. We would’ve made it scot free if the Wilson’s hadn’t upgraded their security system to include the backyard. The cops showed up after Travis Smith decided to jump off the shed, somehow setting off the alarm that had ignored us swimming for the house before.
“Is anyone else coming?” I ask as Roman turns onto an unfamiliar side street.
“Naw,” he says. “I thought it could just be us tonight. I need to talk to you.”
My stomach flips a little. The last time Roman needed to talk was to tell me he was breaking up with Claire Mitchell. The time before was because his grandpa died. I think back to the last week of school but I can’t remember any new crushes or fights. He did get his English test back on Friday though so maybe his teacher discovered he was some sort of Shakespeare genius and he was leaving for Yale immediately. That means I’m going have to finish grade eight alone.
“You’re not leaving me for Yale, are you?” I dig my fingers into his shoulders as he pops up onto the curb.
“What are you talking about?” Roman peddles onto a grassy trail that leads into a bunch of trees.
“Never mind,” I say.
Roman skids to a halt once we reach the first tree. “We have to walk from here.” He leans his bike against a short, iron fence that’s been there so long the trees have grown through the spaces between the metal bars.
It takes me a second to realize where we are. “You’re crazy if you think I’m going in there.”
Roman reaches back and snags my hand. “Don’t be a baby, Elsie.”
I yank my hand free and climb over the fence. I am not a baby. I follow Roman down a dark, twisting path that most likely leads to the spookiest part of Fredric Falls cemetery. We crunch over fallen orange leaves and hop over tree roots as we go farther and farther into the shadows. I have to look down as I walk; if I trip and rip my new jeans, Mom will know I snuck out.
“We’re here.” Roman stops walking so fast I almost crash into him.
“Where are we?” I look around at the tree we’re standing under. It’s unlike any tree I’ve ever seen before, and I’ve been to summer camp, so I’ve seen a lot of trees. For starters, there’s not a single piece of bark on it. The trunk is smooth and so pale grey it’s almost white. The branches reach for the twinkling stars but there isn’t a single leaf anywhere on them.
“It’s called the Bone Tree,” Roman says. “Neat, hey?”
“And creepy.” I sit down on the dirt and rest my back on the tree. “So are you gonna spill your guts or what?”
“I have to tell you the story of the Bone Tree first.” Roman sits next to me and pushes his square-rimmed glasses up his nose. He got contacts for his thirteenth birthday but he wears his glasses when it’s just us. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a packet of twinkies. He opens them and passes me one. “My brother told me about the tree last night. He and his friends, Rory and Trish, came here on the weekend.”
I stuff the twinkie in my mouth and try to talk around the sweet, fluffy goodness. “Did they take turns frenching Trish?”
Roman shrugs. “I didn’t ask. Now shut up, will ya? I’m trying to tell you a ghost story.”
I swallow the twinkie and stick my tongue out at him.
Roman clears his throat like Dad does before grace. “’Kay, once up a time, like four hundred years ago, there lived a priest named Samuel. He came over from Europe with his wife, but she died on the ship. He settled here, in Fredric Falls, and started a church. He was happy with his congregation but he was lonely. A month later, a huge flood wiped out a bunch of the farm land surrounding the town. A local farmer offered Samuel his only daughter if he could plant crops on the church’s land.”
“He traded his daughter for dirt?” I shake my head. “What a crappy dad.”
“It was a different time,” Roman says. “Your dad would trade you for a herd of goats if you lived back then.”
“No he wouldn’t.” My wavy, messy blonde hair blows in my face so I grab a handful of it and twist it into a braid.
Roman stares at my hair. “You’re right. You’d be worth at least two herds. Maybe a pig too.”
I throw a handful of leaves at him. “What happened to Samuel and the girl? Did they get married?”
Roman nods. “They fell in love too. They had a little boy and they were really happy for a couple of years. But then Mary, the wife, got sick.”
“The priest has no luck with the ladies.” I run my hands through the soft dirt.
Roman stands up and looks up at the glowing moon. “She died right before the fall harvest. Samuel went crazy. He sent his son away and kept Mary’s body locked up in his house. He prayed over her body for days, and when that didn’t work, he brought in a witch to bless the body. It wasn’t until Mary’s father showed up that the priest decided to lay his love to rest.”
For some stupid reason I feel a tear running down my cheek. I wipe it away before Roman can see. “What does any of this have to do with the tree?”
“I’m getting to that.” Roman pushes his shaggy black hair out of his eyes. “The farmer dug his daughter a grave in this cemetery and planted a tree over top of her body because they couldn’t afford a headstone.”
I half jump, half crawl away from the tree. “Why didn’t you tell me I was sitting on a dead person?”
“Because she didn’t stay dead,” Roman whispers in my ear.
I shove him away and wiggle as a chill crawls up my spine.
Roman keeps going. “The priest turned his back on his church and locked himself in his house to grieve. He didn’t come out until he heard reports of a woman in white roaming the cemetery. Samuel spent night after night at Mary’s grave, crying and begging God to show him his wife.”
“Did God answer his prayers?” I try to remember my old Sunday school classes. I know people rose from the dead all the time, but I can’t remember if they roamed graveyards after or not.
“Someone did, but I don’t think it was God.” Roman walks in a slow circle around the tree. “On the fourth day Samuel found his wife, still dressed in the white gown she was married, and later buried, in. Samuel scooped her up but she was made of icy mist and nothing more. She didn’t laugh or smile like she used too either, and when the sun came up she disappeared. Samuel waited for her the next night and when Mary came back, she spoke to him. She told him she wasn’t strong enough to stay on her own. She needed help.”
“So what did the priest do?” I wrap my arms around myself and hop from foot to foot. “Bring her a power bar and an energy drink?”
This earns me a full on Roman chuckle. For such a skinny guy, Roman has a huge laugh. “This was four hundred years ago, Els, not four. Samuel read books on black magic and voodoo spells and found out if he buried articles from other dead people it would give Mary strength.”
“Things?” I ask. “Like bones?”
Roman shakes his head. “I don’t think so. Jake said it was stuff like lockets and handkerchiefs. The priest wasn’t a grave robber—he only took things the dead left behind, and he always asked their families first. Soon, once he had buried enough stuff, Mary came back to him. She was only there at night, but it was enough for Samuel. Mary was as white as chalk and freezing cold, but Samuel could actually touch her. He spent years in the cemetery with his wife, and each time she started to fade away, he’d bring her back with a photograph or a letter.”
“That’s stupid,” I say. “What kind of life is that? He could have met another girl but instead he wasted his life in the dark and dirt.”
Roman shrugs. “I dunno, if you could keep someone you loved around, wouldn’t it be worth it?”
I wrinkle my nose. I can’t imagine loving a boy, let alone loving one enough to spend the rest of my life in a place like this. The thought makes something in my brain snap into place. “Why are you telling me all of this?”
Roman takes his glasses off and gives me a sad little smile. “Because I’m dying.”