Leaning Mausoleums

Week 58

As I said, I had some massive editing to do on this chapter. The other was from a period when I would have written anything to have done with this. I've learned better.


Chapter Ten The Leaning Mausoleum of Cadwallader

“Your biggest decision as caretaker,” Grandpa Dov told me, “will always be whether to mix in with the business of the undead, or flip them the bird and walk away.” I do not know even now if I made the right decision that first day of June. I heard the vampires as close as if all the residents of Section A had remained above ground to chat in low towns. That is, loud enough to hum and sputter over the road noise, the few birds who dared rest in the oak tree, and the screaming kids over on Egret. If the living knew how busy a cemetery can be by night…but few do. Most would rather not know. They like the idea of “eternal rest” for those buried there, particularly the ones who likely made others’ lives hell during their corporeal stay. Or maybe people are in fact longing for the rest for themselves, when Life has worn them to the barest of threads. I sometimes think the leading, well-off people like Old Sharpe feel cheated that an exception was not made for them in this returning to dust business. The poor I’ve talked to or read about expect little else, and probably look forward to an end to the struggle. In the CPF, as I suppose in all the other cemeteries everywhere, there is finally equality, whether the soul wants it or not. But, before you ask, yes, for vampires it is different. That night, a faint spirit or possibly two from the Potter’s Field flitted through Section A, raising goose flesh on my neck. They wove in and out of each other’s specter, which may or may not have been a form of spectral sex. It’s possible. I didn’t know them, so I was not about to ask. Rin and Lallie perched on their respective headstones trying to outdo each other with one-footed stances and poses. Missy and Mischa hovered in Section G, hushing the lingering children’s distraught spirits. Missy added her tone-deaf lullabies to the effort, to Mischa’s annoyance. It reminded Mischa and me both of the grackle who nested in Section A’s oak tree in March as an unofficial greeter to visitors. I wanted it to stop, all of it. The lullaby, the silliness, the kids, the vampires muttering on the back side of the hill. I did not want to have to learn what Derek and his folk were up to now. I wanted sleep. Instead, I tripped over a root in the gravel path and swore the rest of the way to the Cadwallader mausoleum, the CPF’s only “Wonder of the World.” I told myself I could always see what was happening, and then decide to flip them off. Or not. I walked up the hill, with middle finger at the ready. Why call the mausoleum a “Wonder,” you ask? Because everyone who sees it wonders why it was built so badly. I’d say the better question is: why was it built to begin with? There is a bit of a story to it, as if you hadn’t guessed. Ambrose Cadwallader had been flush with cash in the early 1910s. He told my great-great-grandfather Isidore that drink or his wife would be the death of him, so he wanted something that would stand tall for him when he couldn’t stand up at all. He commissioned a mausoleum and crypt about the width of two of today’s tiny houses above ground, with a underground family crypt large enough to hold his remains, his wife’s if she ever did him the favor of dying (Isidore’s notes), his children, and grandchildren, etc. The CPF took one hundred fifty-five dollars for the plot and underground site. The stone mason received a further three hundred dollars to construct a miniature Greek temple with a façade of Doric columns surrounding the iron gate door. All this the stone mason built with three marble steps leading up to the portico, according to Ambrose’s wishes and against his own judgment, on the sandier soil near the drainage ditch bordering Section E. Further, Ambrose had insisted on the largest lettering for his family name only to find his family name did not fit in the space allotted for it. There was no money to fix it by the time the stone mason finished. And so visitors today pass by a vine-covered little Greek temple which is listing to the left with the large-lettered family name of “Cadwall.” A few of Derek’s “family” lingered outside. They hissed as a greeting to me. I suppose most of them would as soon have fed on me as look at me, but Derek made damned sure that every member knew he forbade this, on pain of “ending” that vampire’s life. I could tell from their twisting lips and shaking hands that we all had fresh memories of Helen and Nestor, as well. “Derek’s pissed,” a dreadlocked newbie added. The others punched him in the back and shoulder. “Enough for you to get some dessert?” I asked. I shouldn’t have, but their unholier-than-thou belief that they were the superior species did grate on my nerves. “Bitch,” a newbie in a button-down shirt and khakis snapped. No doubt most of his irritation came from his poor choice of clothing, since not one piece of it was really big enough for him and the whole outfit had to chafe him at the neck, armpits and crotch. “Wait ‘til Ambr’ sees her,” one of them growled. “Or ‘til she sees Ambr’,” another said. The group laughed. Now, I would never advise anyone living or undead to enter the mausoleum. The marble steps are perpetually slick. Further, the “first level” is completely dark and all of three feet wide before 12 stairs that list with the sinking structure offer even poorer footing to the crypt. There is, however, something resembling light in the crypt. The CPF still receives a small yearly fee to keep six oil lamps filled and eternally burning – Ambrose’s one concession to Sarah Louise’s desire for eternal life as promised by her religiosity. These glow with a reddish glow with flickering shadows that I had always thought offered the visitor (or resident, if you count Ambr’) a preview of the Christian Hell I’d seen in books. Without the crowding, that is, for, despite Ambrose’s plans and hopes, the wide expanse for family burials contained only three marble sarcophagi. Sarah Louise had never remarried and Ambr’ was made while still a physical virgin. But the dark forms huddled by Ambrose were hellish enough. Ambr’ bent over a prone form, the vampire’s body blocking all but a pair of young, dark-skinned legs ending in flip-flops at one end and a cascade of extension plaits at the other. A dark pool spread out under and through the hair. Ambr’ sucked, smacked her lips with a low, growling laugh, and sucked again. Derek appeared beside me. I yipped a little and that brought up Ambr’s head. “So we’re eating in tonight?” I went for levity. It was either that or faint. Ambr’ stood, then whirled. The lower half of her face was dark with the victim’s blood. Her white blood hair hung heavy beside her oval face, the ends dark and dripping. She pretended to ignore Derek and sneered. “I feed at home when I wish, but I always return the vessel. Well-emptied.” She leaned towards me, claw-like hands raised towards my throat. I looked past her. The hair, the plump body, the long-toe feet in flip-flops all looked so young. So like the students who paraded past my house during the school year to the district middle school three blocks down. “She can’t be more than fourteen,” I said. Derek leaned forward, pretending to examine the kill. “Where did you find her?” Ambr’ tossed her sodden hair back over her shoulder. “By the school, of course. She was anxious to trade anything for a baggie of drugs.” She sneered again. “Even her body.” “But she’s a kid!” I protested. A stringy, bloody shrug. “Then I saved her from the life of drugs and prostitution she was obviously headed for.” She tried to smile for Derek. “Why is she here?” One talon pointed at me. “Or she could have grown up and done something wonderful with her life. You stole that from her.” “Oh, boo-hoo. Derek, if you must travel with this little bitch, please do me the favor of tying her up outside.” Ambr’ flounced her stained skirt. “And you can beat her, too.” “Irrelevant and immaterial,” Derek said. “You have not obeyed me and fed outside the boundaries I set.” She pouted. “You know I don’t like a crowd; but I’d go with you –“ “You fed in a church.” “Lies!” Ambr’s screech shot up my spine. My jaw clenched. “I’ve only gone into the basement. It’s not consecrated.” Then she feigned youth, innocence – a good trick, with her face still bloodied. “I used to go to church when I was younger. It soothes, me, Derek, hearing the prayers and the songs. She sidled up to him, her talons stroking his bespoke suit jacket. “Wouldn’t you like to come with me some Wednesday night? Hear the hymns? Remember, just a little?” Derek’s shove threw her back over the dead girl into her father’s sarcophagus. Ambr’ howled. “Why do you always reject me?” “You disgust me.” She drew herself up and was before him, thrusting her small breasts against his shirt. “Well, you made me!” A loud fluttering came from outside the mausoleum. The rest of the “family” had scattered. Derek’s long-fingered hand took Ambr’ by the throat. He lifted her off her feet to snarl, “And I can end you, as well.” “Yes,” she hissed. “Strangle me, beat me, cut me to ribbons. I’ll heal slowly and painfully and then I’ll let you do it again and again.” He dropped her in a heap on the stone floor. “No.” His hand closed on my arm and we flew – is there another word for it – up out of the mausoleum back up the hill. Ambr’s howls followed us like a raging wind. Derek released my arm, which felt half-pulled out of the shoulder socket. We both breathed a little harder than could be kept quiet in the gloom of the cemetery. He spun towards me. “You have questions.” “Do you have answers?” It occurred to me too late that flippancy might not have been the wisest tone to take at the moment, but it was (and is) a default setting for me. “Go home,” he said. “Wait for me and, for the sake of anything you hold holy, stay decently dressed! I shall come to you later.” Promise or threat, I chose to face him in my office. I learned later that Derek had left the CPF to feed. I like to think to this day that he preyed on some old wino to get the Dutch courage from the alky’s blood. His dark eyes did appear a bit glazed when he appeared in front of my desk, but that might have been only the yellowish glare of Grandma Rose’s lamp. He would not sit. He paced with the same hands-in-pockets fury of Ian’s first night before he spoke. His long index finger shook at me over the desk. “What I tell you does not leave this room. You tell no one. Not even those two empty-headed hain’ts you constantly have here.” He stepped back, shifted his shoulders in the tailored jacket. “And never let her know that you know.” “Know what?” I settled into the cranky old chair, holding the arms tight enough to strain the living skin over my knuckles. Derek let out a heavy breath. He sank into Grandma Rose’s couch and began.

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