This was a short story that I wrote that won first place in the Betty Field Memorial Youth Writing Contest a few years ago. There were certain words and phrases we needed to use within it, such as the phrase “At that moment” within the first paragraph, “candelabra,” “asylum,” “embellish,” “loquacious,” “quandary,” and “tangible.”
I was eight years old when I first touched a tombstone. At that moment, I knew that I was… different.
I was visiting my cousins in London for a week while my father conducted business in the city. After the long train ride, I wanted nothing more than to curl up in a warm bed and fall asleep, but my cousins had other plans for the night. I remember how the air was deathly still and so cold that not even my fur coat could stop me from freezing, and the darkness of the night pressed around me. My eldest cousin, Elizabeth, had brought along a single candle to light the way, but I wished we had carried an entire candelabra, nay a whole army of candelabras, to chase away the night.
The graveyard was shadowy and the cry of birds echoed through the otherwise silence around. Elizabeth’s candle flickered as we walked past the rows of stones standing as proud sentries for their charges under the ground. My cousins started to dare each other to go up to random gravestones and touch them. I was happy to be left out, but eventually Elizabeth turned to me and pointed at a grave with ivy growing over the top and covering the words. I gulped and shook my head, but my cousins kept goading me until I tucked my head and shuffled towards the tombstone. I knelt down in the grass and felt icy droplets of dew soak through my dress and wet my knees. Using my sleeve, I rubbed the dirt and vegetation from the stone and looked at the words carved upon it. Minerva Blackwood. I can remember that name even now.
With a shaking hand, I placed my palm on the porous stone. At first nothing happened. I went to lift my hand off the tombstone, but then I saw light and heard sound blossom around me. I screamed, but nothing passed my lips. My hand was stuck to the surface of the stone, and I had no choice but to watch. A party evolved around me, with beautiful ladies in flowing ball gowns and handsome men in black jackets dancing across the room, the slight smell of candle smoke drifting lazily in the air, and music floating in gentle streams, reaching out tendrils of melodies to all around. It made me feel strangely comfortable. It was warm and beautiful, and I was happy there.
Then a girl of perhaps eighteen walked down the stairs, her gorgeous blue dress trailing behind her. She smiled coquettishly at the crowd and a young man took her arm. He handed her a glass, which she thanked him for and then drank deeply from. Then her forehead crinkled, her eyes unfocused, and the goblet fell from her hands. The girl tumbled to the floor. Moments later the vision disappeared, and the cold of the graveyard surrounded me again.
I was finally able to take my hand off of the tombstone, so I reached it up to my cheek and it came away wet with tears. That was the first murder I had seen. I have seen many others since.
My cousins were by my side, trying to pull me to my feet. My whole body shook, but surprisingly I wasn’t scared. I was shocked, and surprised, but not scared.
Nine years passed, and I never told anyone, not even my mother and father. I was afraid that they might think me mad and lock me in an asylum. After all, who would believe that I had seen the last moments of a person’s life, simply by placing a hand atop their tombstone? The story sounded embellished at the very least, completely fabricated and quite crazy at most.
And then something happened that made me doubt my decision to keep it secret. When my mother was discovered on the dusty road to my home, dead, I almost told them all about my power. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
My mother was buried on a rainy day, and it seemed to me as if the heavens themselves were crying for her. My father put a hand on my shoulder when the ceremony was over, and whispered to me in an attempt to be comforting, “It’s alright, Hattie. Everything will be fine.”
He kissed the top of my head and walked away, leaving me alone in the rain. I blinked away the mist that landed on my eyelashes and took a deep breath, trying to gather my thoughts, but I was interrupted as a gloved hand slipped into my own. I looked up, and my older brother smiled sadly at me. I hadn’t seen him in years, not since he had left the family home for better opportunities in the city. My parents had refused to acknowledge his existence after, but now, with our mother’s death, of course he had made a reappearance.
“I have a secret,” I said softly to him.
“No hello?” Michael asked. “Well, I suppose you never were a loquacious one.”
He smiled but I didn’t return it. “It’s true. There is something I’ve never told anyone.”
Michael wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. “Do you want to tell me, then?”
I nodded against his shoulder, but only said, “I missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too.” He pulled away. “But that wasn’t what you wanted to tell me.”
I walked slowly over to the new tombstone that had been erected over my mother’s grave. I knelt on the wet grass, just as I had that night when I was eight years old and looking at Minerva Blackwood’s grave. With one quivering hand I reached out to touch the headstone, but stopped inches shy of it.
“Hattie?” my brother asked, concerned.
I reached a little further, and was about to place my hand on the stone when Michael cried out, “Hattie, stop! Don’t do that!”
I hesitated a moment, then touched the stone and let the graveyard dissolve around me. In its place was the road my mother had been found on. The darkness that night was so deep it felt almost tangible, and the wind howled like a wild animal. My mother stumbled onto the road and started to walk home, but then lightning flashed and briefly illuminated another figure on the street. The person extended his arm, and I saw the outline of a revolver in his hand. There was a flash from the muzzle as the powder ignited and a bullet flew from the gun. My mother staggered as the bullet inevitably made its mark. Then she fell to the ground.
The figure turned away until he was facing me. Lightning flashed again and the man’s face was temporarily lit. My brother’s face, the face that had before smiled so kindly at me. Now it was glaring with anger.
The vision dissipated and I was back in the graveyard. Michael was standing over me, his eyes dark and mean.
“Well,” he said. “This is quite the quandary, isn’t it? You just had to go and look. But not to worry.” He pulled out his revolver. “Soon both of our secrets will be safe.”