[Mysteriousheartland.com] The rickety, wooden bridge groaned as The Cruxshadows’ “Marilyn, My Bitterness” echoed from the speakers of the dark blue, Toyota Corolla.
Mike, with his thick, furled brow, nervously played with his keys dangling from the ignition, hoping the bridge over the swollen Kaskaskia River would hold. Davin, dressed in a plain black hooded sweatshirt and jeans, gazed out the window as Aurelia, with her characteristically hawkish face and matted hair, sat in the front passenger seat.
“Do you think it’s healthy to go to these cemeteries all the time?” Davin yelled over the music.
“I don’t know,” Mike replied in a monotone voice. “Do you think it’s healthy to sit on your computer all day?”
The reply went unanswered as their car cleared the bridge and made it safely to the other side. The road curved harshly. A long, neatly trimmed graveyard lay beyond an old, abandoned hatchback in a small dirt pull off to their left. A white farmhouse and barn stood on the other side of the road, and a forest grew behind it. Several horses huddled along a nearby fence to get a look at the strange visitors.
Mike pulled his car off to the roadside and handed a jar to Aurelia. “Here,” he said. “Put this blueberry jam somewhere.”
“Why did you buy that?” Davin asked with his own brand of excited distain as the engine and music cut off simultaneously.
“That’s small-town America jam,” Mike shot back. “You can’t get that just anywhere.”
Aurelia rolled her eyes and placed the jar on the floor.
As the four companions climbed out of their car, Chesterville Cemetery unfolded in front of them. It was a typical rural cemetery; rectangular and park-like, with the older graves in the back and the newer graves sprawled out near the road. A chain-linked fence surrounded the acreage, which sat quietly along the Kaskaskia River in east central Illinois.
Mike stopped next to the gate and spread his arms. “Listen,” he said. “Silence. No Pan-Continental Paranormal Research Society with their TV cameras anywhere.”
“What are we looking for again?” Davin inquired as he pushed his way past.
“A tree with a fence around it,” Mike replied. “Supposedly a woman spoke out against the Amish community in the early 1900s and they accused her of being a witch. She turned up dead one day and her family buried her in this cemetery. They planted a tree over her grave so she couldn’t rise and take revenge. Of course, there are problems with this story. The Amish aren’t known for being violent.”
“They’re pacifists,” Aurelia said. “They punish members by shunning them. I don’t buy the story. Besides, they wouldn’t bury a witch in a Christian cemetery.”
“According to another version, the woman was a well-known healer and died of natural causes,” Mike explained.
“I think that’s the tree over there,” Davin interrupted. Sure enough, in the distance they saw a tree surrounded by an ornate, wrought iron fence. The three headed toward it.
“Well, we’ll never know who they buried here,” Aurelia said as she got closer. She pointed at the base of what used to be a headstone. “Someone stole the top of her marker and carved the letters M and L into the granite.”
“Maybe you can try and sense something,” Mike suggested. He took a few photos of the headstone and the surrounding cemetery.
“Ugh,” Davin sighed. “Aren’t we too old for this?”
“What?” Mike responded with irritation in his voice. “No. I’ve been doing this for my entire life. Why should we stop now?”
“Yeah,” Aurelia cut in. “Remember when we were kids and you used to pretend Lydia from Beetlejuice was your girlfriend?”
“You shut up about that,” Mike shot back. “Winona Ryder is a goddess.”
Davin rubbed his forehead and turned away while Aurelia took a few deep breaths and closed her eyes.
“I can just sense someone saying ‘Hi.’ That’s all,” she laughed. “Just ‘hi’.”
“Great,” Davin interrupted. “Can we leave now?”
“Stand a little closer to the tree,” Mike suggested. “I want to try an experiment.”
Aurelia moved closer until she nearly touched the fence, then rested her left hand on the trunk.
“Okay. You’re going to ask questions, and if the answer is ‘yes’ we’ll hear a knock. If the answer is ‘no’ we’ll hear two knocks.”
Aurelia thought for a moment. “Are we alone?” she asked. For a long moment the three heard nothing but the wind. Then, faintly, two hollow taps emanated from the oak.
With a grin, Mike encouraged her to continue.
“Is the ghost of the woman buried here with us now?” she asked. A quick tap followed her question, but before she could say anything else, two more hollow taps quickly issued forth.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Mike said.
Aurelia shrugged her shoulders and Davin broke out in laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Mike demanded.
Davin pointed up at the treetop, where a series of sharp tapping sounds rang out. “Sorry to disappoint you, but your spirit communicator is a damn woodpecker,” he chuckled. “All that time watching the Discovery Channel finally paid off.”
“I guess this shows sometimes the supernatural is the perfectly natural,” said Aurelia.
Mike grumbled and folded his arms across his chest. “Fine, whatever,” he spat. “Let’s get out of here then. Maybe something will show up on the pictures.”
“Probably more birds…” Davin mused as the three walked out of the lonely cemetery.
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