Welcome to a preview of my new novel. Please read the earlier chapters first.
Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.
Click here to read Chapter Six.
Click here to read Chapter Seven.
A M O U R N E R
I was on top of the world as I drove away from the restaurant. It was hard for me to comprehend the wide range of emotions I had experienced over the last twenty-four hours. I went from haunted to heartbroken to happy. Amazing.
Despite my assurances to the contrary, I was already imagining what it would be like to date Teri, but I had no illusions. I would not violate our agreement by asking her out romantically unless she sent some very strong signals in my direction. One thing I learned the hard way during my thirty-six-years was that dating was not my strong suit. Friendship was a reassuringly open-ended thing. Dating wasn’t. Every date was an audition with a pass/fail option. I wasn’t about to risk a promising open-ended friendship with an attractive, like-minded woman for an uncertain romantic future.
That’s why I never asked out any of the women I danced with every Friday night. Now I could laugh and dance with them. There was no telling how things would work out if I asked them out on dates. It was best to leave well enough alone. Still, I couldn’t help but hope that Teri would come to Gina’s wedding with me. Going to her wedding alone, provided I was invited, was too pathetic for me to consider.
My thoughts were so focused on Teri that I didn’t put too much active thought to where I was driving. I planned to head straight home, so I was surprised when Eternal Faith came into sight as I crested a hill. I felt an instant pang of fear, as if some alien hand reached deep inside of me and twisted by intestines. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for as long as my position in traffic would allow. When I opened my eyes, I took solace in the bright sunlight. It dispelled the evil. There were no ghosts or spirits. No undead. No haunting. No supernatural. Once again, my rational pride took over. I refused to allow myself to become a victim of superstitious fears. I decided to face the dilemma head on.
I turned into the cemetery. There were few cars in sight. Sunday was a big day for visiting the dead, but most people made their appearances after church services. It was three-thirty now. The rush was long over. People had left their flowers and gone back to the place of the living.
“What am I doing here?” I asked myself, but quickly dismissed the thought. I had every right to be here. After all, like it or not, one day this place was going to be my permanent home.
The road took me past the rise where my family was buried, but I ignored them as usual. My Catholic upbringing was to blame for that. I always remembered the lessons Father Isidore gave us before our first confession. He said that people who died with mortal sins on their heads, like suicide, were damned to hell. Although I had turned my back on mother church decades ago, those words still haunted me, especially after the death of my brother. What cruelty! Lenny never had a chance in this world, and, if Father Isidore was right, he was damned to hell in the next one. The fate of my mother was even crueler. She lost a husband and a son and had to deal with cancer too. And now she was damned to hell because of one decision she made in a moment of pain. A God who would do that was no God at all.
My blood started boiling, but I put those thoughts out of my mind. I couldn’t deal with those emotions now. I kept driving on the main road past the office. It was closed, but the mausoleum remained open until five o’clock. I often wondered about that. Did one of the employees actually drive into the cemetery and lock the large glass doors at five o’clock? I doubted it. I suspected that the warning signs were only posted to discourage curiosity seekers or possible vandals.
But what if they really did lock it? I shuddered at the possibility of being locked inside the mausoleum overnight. Of hearing the click of the door being locked, and racing toward it to see Jose, the groundskeeper, driving away. That would really be a nightmare. With the mausoleum looming ahead of me, I quickly checked my watch again: Three-thirty-two. Plenty of time for a quick visit,
But who was I visiting? Why had I even driven there? This was definitely not something I set out to do.
I pushed those questions out of my head. Once again, in the light of day, my rational mind rejected my superstitious fears. Although I knew there was no rational explanation for why I had driven to the cemetery in the first place, turning away would definitely be giving into fear. I refused. Nothing in that mausoleum could hurt me. The dead were dead.
“I should have invited Teri,” I thought to myself.
“No,” I quickly said aloud. Why would I think that? That was crazy. I had no desire to involve her in this madness. I had even stopped her from looking at the Kostek memorial online.
Things were getting out of hand. Even a rational mind couldn’t ignore the ongoing evidence that it was being played by an outside source. But who? Or what? Those were questions I didn’t dare consider. The answer to that question was the route to madness. It was unbelievable. I wasn’t even there yet and fear was already getting the best of me. I calmed down considerably when I saw a Buick parked in front of the mausoleum. At least I wouldn’t be alone inside. I don’t think I could face that prospect now, even in the bright light of day. I parked behind the Buick and hurried over to the large glass doors of the mausoleum. I saw the other visitor, an elderly woman, and, much to my surprise, she was slowly walking toward the Kostek vault.
I stepped inside as quietly as possible. I kept my distance, feigning interest in the other graves as I slowly followed behind the old woman. The same palatable sense of gloom that I felt the day before still filled the place, although it appeared that most of the dead flowers on the floor had been safely swept away. New flowers, recently placed by mourners in the decorative bronze vases alongside the vaults today, were already withering. They would not last the day.
I discreetly returned my attention to the mourner. Gray hair peeked out from under the scarf that respectfully covered her head. She was wearing a print dress but also a coat that would normally have appeared totally out of season, but it felt quite appropriate in this marble-lined refrigerator. It made me wish I wore a jacket. As it was, I could feel goose pimples rising on my arms.
The woman walked up to the Kostek vault. She stood silently for a moment, before she knelt briefly and placed a small bouquet of roses on the floor in front of it. Standing up, she turned quickly before I had the chance to look away. We made eye contact. I’m not sure exactly what I saw in her eyes -- fear, shame or embarrassment --but she quickly turned away and hurried toward the door in a path that would bring her alongside me. It was unavoidable.
Over the course of the hundreds of hours I spent in cemeteries, I made it a point never to interfere with a mourner. Oftentimes, I had been asked by mourners to help find a grave, but I never approached someone on my own. However, I knew I had to break my rules this time. I needed to talk to someone who knew Elisabetta Kostek, and who could explain her strange hold over me.
As I started toward her, the woman pointedly turned her face further away from me. She veered toward the opposite wall, but there was no way for her to leave without passing me.
“Excuse me,” I said. “May I ask you a question?”
No response. No eye contact. But she was nearing me.
“Ma’am, may I talk to you for a second?”
No response. Now she was passing directly alongside me. I had no choice; I reached out and gently touched her shoulder. “Ma’am, please,” I said.
The woman turned to me with eyes filled with a volatile mixture of fear and rage. “Leave me alone!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, her dentures rattling, and spittle hitting my face. I immediately withdrew my hand. Practically running, she was out of the mausoleum before her voice even stopped echoing off the cold, marble walls.
What the hell? I certainly did not expect her to be friendly or solicitous, but I was caught completely off guard by the fierceness of her rebuke. After she disappeared out of sight beyond the glass doors, I turned back to the Kostek grave. I walked forward into the overwhelming scent of roses. The number of flowers seemed about the same, but some of the floral arrangements were definitely new since yesterday. That meant she was receiving new flowers every day. Why?
I looked up from the flowers into the oval, ceramic memorial photo of Elisabetta. Today, her smile looked smug and her eyes drilled into me like she had been expecting me.
“Who are you?” I asked, and, honestly, half-expected her to answer. But she didn’t. She just continued to smile.
“I’m done with this crap,” I announced, bringing up my middle finger. “Screw you.”
She just kept smiling.
My eyes were glued to the door as feared what I would see if I turned to either the right or the left. Grabbed by an additional fear that one of the groundskeepers had locked the door while I was inside, I began to run. I knew I needed to get the hell out of that mausoleum or I would die.
Click here to read Chapter Nine.
Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.
Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.