"The Curse of John Trafford's Grave"

This was my contribution to an anthology I edited, A Quiet Blue Wheel, consisting of stories by my writing students. Thanks to student Greg Westrich, who was acting editor and reviewed and accepted my story for inclusion. The anthology was a specific assignment: students were told the title, and had to write stories that echoed that title; in this case, there had to be a quiet blue wheel in the story, whatever that meant to them. Students also had to ensure their stories had a protagonist, an antagonist, a plot, a resolution to the plot that the protagonist helped bring about, and change in the protagonist on some level (the five key things I insist on whenever I read for publications of my own).

"The Curse of John Trafford's Grave"
by David M. Fitzpatrick

I remember every detail of that terrible night in 1981 like it happened yesterday. Thirty years later, I still don’t go anywhere near that cemetery—not even during the day, when the sun makes the grass appear the happiest green, and the gravestones seem like bright and cheerful monuments. That is, except for one day out of the year: my birthday. Every year, when I should be celebrating making it through another trip around the sun alive, I steel my nerves and I go there long after the sun has gone down, when it’s dark and foreboding and utterly haunting, and try to find peace with what happened that night so long ago.

We were in high school, too old to be kids and too young to be adults. Jimmy Ellerby was my best friend, as he had been since kindergarten. And we were friends with Darcie Keegan, although we both wanted more than friendship with her. While Darcie wasn’t one of those popular preppies, she was definitely above our social status; we’d always been the kids nobody liked much. But she hung out with us anyway. She was that kind of friend.

And she was beautiful. I can still see her face that way when I close my eyes. Hers was a soft beauty framed by quiet elegance, innocent and overpowering, and so pure it made my heart ache. I first met her when her family came to town while I was in the third grade, in 1974. They’d moved in right across the street from me, in the old Fenton place. I remember the whispered rumors about that house, because Old Man Fenton had supposedly smothered his wife with a pillow. Years later I found out she’d actually died of a heart attack in bed, and he’d gone crazy with grief. But kids keep crazy rumors alive, so of course we believed the Keegans were moving into an evil-ghost house, and that something in there would eventually drive them all mad and smother each other with pillows.

Those silly stories flew right out of my mind the moment I saw Darcie, pretty as a princess in her green-and-red plaid dress, with yellow ribbons in her auburn-colored pigtails. We grew to be great pals over the years, but eventually puberty grabbed hold of me and I started thinking of her in other ways. Her mane of silky auburn hair, her widening hips, and the bulging lumps we’d been teasing her about that had become full-fledged breasts suddenly seemed attractive. And she smelled nice, too—of melon-scented shampoo, of coconut lotion, and sometimes of flowery perfume. It was intoxicating.

Jimmy had it for her, too, but he was just horny. It was far more than that to me. On my twelfth birthday, I told her I loved her; she just laughed and called me silly and gave me a quick birthday kiss on the cheek. I told her again on my thirteenth birthday; once again, she laughed and called me silly, but this time the quick kiss was on my lips.

When I told her on my fourteenth birthday, there was no laughing. She locked her lips to mine for many long seconds, and it was exciting and wonderful and neither of us had any clue what to do. But when it was over, she wished me a happy birthday and called me a good friend, and headed home. We didn’t talk about it again.

Since my birthday kiss had been getting more special every year, on my fifteenth I got myself alone with her and we actually made out. She let me touch her in places I thought I’d never get to touch a girl, but when it was over she breathlessly told me that we couldn’t do this again, because we’d end up ruining our friendship. I agreed, because I thought I was supposed to agree and didn’t want to make things difficult by going against her. But secretly, I was willing to wait another year. I was sure we weren’t just being careless friends; I loved her, and I knew she loved me.

The day before I turned sixteen, Jimmy came up with the idea to scare the pants off Darcie’s little brother, Lenny. He was ten and quite naïve, so when Jimmy told Darcie and me about his plan, we knew we could pull it off. It would involve the grave of the long-dead Captain John Trafford.
Like the Old Man Fenton story of Darcie’s house, there had been tales told about Longview Cemetery—but people had told them as far back as anyone could remember. Nobody had been buried in its back half of Longview since the mid-1800s, and the headstones dated to the 1770s. It was spooky even in broad daylight; kids never went there even close to sunset. Even our parents and grandparents had told the stories of the faint, but unearthly, wailing that had occasionally been heard over the centuries. We’d never heard it—not one single wailing note—but we all told the story as if we had, and we stayed away from the place at night.

On the sunny afternoon the day before my birthday, the four of us had cut through the cemetery after throwing around a yellow Skyro flying ring in the park. We walked four abreast, Jimmy and Lenny to my left and Darcie to my right. I was already thinking of what my birthday might bring this year—heck, I’d been thinking of it every day for the past year. And I knew she was thinking about it, too, the way she’d turn her eyes away and blush a little when I caught her looking at me.

As Darcie and I bounced looks back and forth, Jimmy was telling Lenny he’d been out near the graveyard the night before and had heard the wailing.

“I wonder what it is,” Lenny said. He was a little slow, but an innocent, nice kid. Darcie always looked out for him, but had a weakness when it came to Jimmy messing with him. Jimmy did it a lot, and it was always funny.

“It’s the ghost of a man who can’t rest in peace,” Jimmy said, reciting his prepared script as he spun the Skyro on his wrist. “He wails because his lover abandoned him for another man.”

Lenny’s eyes were wide. “Why’d she do that?”

“I dunno—guess she didn’t love him anymore,” Jimmy said. “He died of sadness, so he haunts the cemetery. Here, check it out.”

He led us to the farthest corner of the cemetery, where the giant headstone stood. It began as a massive, octagonal block of granite in the middle of the plot. Atop that was a towering obelisk standing fifteen feet high. The giant monument was tilted slightly, the result of centuries of the ground beneath it settling. Beneath it all, we knew, was a dead man who had slumbered for two centuries. In big letters on the facing side of the octagon base, mostly obscured by countless decades of dead lichen never scraped off, was the name TRAFFORD.

But the cool thing wasn’t the octagon and obelisk. The massive headstone was surrounded by a strange circle of blue granite stones. They were big, and they butted against each other like some crowded Stonehenge. The blocks were a foot high, containing a circular plot of land a foot higher than the surrounding landscape. At a dozen points around the stone wheel were blocks twice as wide as the others, jutting out like the handles on a ship’s wheel. It was unlike anything in the graveyard—or in any other graveyard.

“Wow,” Lenny breathed. “Why are those rocks blue?”

“They say he had the granite quarried in another country and brought here,” I said, and this was true. The rocks were predominantly very dark, but were filled with shiny blue crystals that made it look as if it were burning with blue fire in a bright, noontime sun. “He built it himself, before he died.”

“Who was he?” Lenny asked.

“Captain John Trafford, one of the oldest residents of this graveyard,” Jimmy said, he voice as solemn as a minister delivering a eulogy. “He was a sea captain who traveled all over the world, exporting granite out of Maine and importing it from other countries. He built the ring in honor of his ship’s wheel. He was buried here in 1781.”

Lenny squinted at the hard-to-read engraving. “He died on June seventeenth,” he announced, and then he spun to us, eyes big. “That’s two hundred years ago tomorrow!”

“Hey—that’s Marty’s birthday,” Darcie said, feigning surprise as part of our plan. Our eyes met again, and she looked away with a slight smile, her freckles climbing her high cheekbones. She was so absolutely beautiful.

Of course, Jimmy and I knew all about Captain Trafford’s grave and its coincidental death date. We’d discovered it several summers before, and it had been a source of minor amusement for us. But with Lenny unaware, Jimmy’s tale would hook him. “You’ve heard about the wailing here, right?” he pressed Lenny.

“Yeah.” Lenny was visibly nervous. “Everyone says it’s really faint, and nobody can hear where it comes from.”

“Oh, they know where it comes from, all right,” Jimmy said with a grave expression befitting of a cemetery. “They say that every year, as the anniversary of his death approaches, Captain Trafford wails because he misses his beloved. The wailing comes from right here—from right inside this ring of stones. It comes from his grave, Len.”

“No way,” Lenny said, and his bright eyes were big blue wheels as well.

“Yes way. But on that night, he can be put to proper rest—if someone dares.”

“How?” Lenny said, incredulous.

“Supposedly, he needs only to see his love again, but she’s dead. If only she could appear to him at midnight and tell him she loves him, he’ll move on to the next world. Otherwise, he’ll haunt the graveyard forever.”

“Wow,” Lenny said.

“Come to think of it,” Jimmy said, scrunching his brow like a master scam artist and tapping his chin with a finger, “Darcie looks a lot like her.”

“She does?”

“Yeah—I saw a painting of her in an old book at the library. She was pretty, with auburn hair and green eyes and freckles. Just like your sister.”

She was pretty, all right, in all her Irish glory, pursing her lips as she tried to stop a smile from spreading across her face in the wake of Jimmy’s ridiculous story. She and those beautiful lips were all I could think about. I’d be kissing them the following night, and maybe more, and I could barely contain myself enough to stick with the joke.

“Hey, you know what?” Jimmy said, eyes brightening. “We should do it.”

“Do what?” Lenny said.

“We come here tomorrow at midnight, with Darcie dressed up to look like John Trafford’s beloved. She tells him she loves him, and the poor guy can finally rest in peace.”

I could tell from the look Darcie shot at me that she felt the same way I did. There was no way we were coming to this graveyard at midnight. Lenny didn’t seem to like the idea, either, turning pale and stammering more than usual. Jimmy kept messing with Lenny’s head during the walk home, until Lenny met up with some of his friends and parted company, giving us a chance to hear Jimmy’s plan. It involved a white dress for Darcie and me hiding in the woods in the dark behind Trafford’s grave, dressed in old clothes and fake blood and white makeup. When we realized he was serious, Darcie put a stop to it.

“I’m all for messing with my little brother, but there’s no way I’m coming here at midnight,” she told Jimmy. “And anyway, I’ve never heard about putting his spirit to rest..."

Of course, she will go to the graveyard, with the rest of them... and it won't go as planned...

Portions of the proceeds from the sale of this anthology benefit Literacy Volunteers of Bangor. Please visit www.EpicSagaPub.com to learn about this project and to purchase a copy.

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