Grave Matters

grave mattersGrave Matters

Have you ever stopped to think that all the founding fathers of our country could be ghosts? Here’s a view of them you might not have thought of before.

“Did you ever investigate ghosts?” Alyx asked me. Alyx was one of the Artemesians, a group of self-proclaimed witches who specialized in healing and moon worship. She came into the tearoom as much a friend as a client. She was not a reader, but she was a brilliant herbalist and a very gifted psychic healer. Blond and willowy, she might have come from Danvers four hundred years ago. She might even have been hanged. Now Alyx was a rising star in her coven.

Alex had the “it-girl” factor. She had the “cool girl” thing going on. When in high school, I was far too emotionally delayed to understand the relationship dance between the girls who fluffed pompoms and went out with the football players. Or their often-cruel friendships. There was a witty, catty script to their dialogue, so vaguely cool that I almost didn’t notice the cruelties behind the words. I wish I could say I didn’t join in because I was better than that. I wasn’t. I wanted to belong, like every other backward, awkward wallflower, leaning towards the sunlight of the golden girls. By their lights, I was not worthy.

I was so flattered Alyx had befriended me that I found myself unconsciously mimicking her. It was a terrible shock when I found some of those mincingly cruel comments coming out of my mouth as well. But I felt warm around Alyx, as if I were resting in a pool of sunlight.

If she wanted to go ghost hunting, of course I’d join her. She began by making a list of equipment she thought we’d need.

“Why don’t you just talk to the ghosts?” I asked her.

She turned a baneful glance on me. “No one really talks to ghosts, do they?”

“I’ve talked with ghosts all my life. Or rather they demand to talk to me. But I never went in just to look around.”

“You talk with ghosts?” she said scornfully. “How do you codify that? How can you prove it? It must be done scientifically. You measure the temperature, take pictures, document energy surges, make films. You can prove there are ghosts. It’s not like telling someone a tale and hoping they believe you.”

Nona had always taught me not to worry about whether people believed me or not. She told me, “You believe yourself and that’s plenty and enough. If you saw it, it’s there. If you heard it, it’s there. You can’t prove anything to people who don’t believe and you don’t need to prove anything to anyone who does.” But she also warned me a lot of people would be threatened, and I should keep what I hear to myself until I know how it will be received. I was intrigued that you might actually be able to have proof. Would having proof make speaking to ghosts more legitimate?

“How do you prove you’re a healer?” I asked.

“It’s simple. If the people you work on get better, you’re a healer,” she said smugly.

“So why is talking to ghosts different?” I asked, just to burst her bubble.

“It just is. You can’t prove you did. If you use the equipment, you can prove what you’ve accomplished!” She looked down on me scornfully.

I just shook my head.

“So where would you go to ghost hunt?” I asked her.

“Don’t be silly. You go where there are ghosts!” She gave another smirk.

“What did you have in mind?” I asked.

“Granary Cemetery is right down Tremont Street. They say it’s deeply haunted.”

“Isn’t that like the most public graveyard in all of Boston?” I asked.

Alyx pulled a strand of hair behind her ear. “The sisterhood knows a little trick they use for privacy. We can investigate there all night and no one will be the wiser.”

Alyx went home to prep ghost hunting equipment for an evening’s exploration. I finished up the day in the tearoom. Rita called me into her office.

“So do you have plans tonight?” she asked me.

I was embarrassed to tell. “I’m going off ghost hunting with Alyx,” I confessed. It seemed childish to say it that way.

Rita looked firmly at me. “You watch Alyx,” she told me. “She’s on the fast track. I’m just not quite sure where she’s headed.”

I gave her a funny look. Couldn’t Rita see how cool Alyx was?

“Do you know where I’m headed?” I asked her.

“You’re a work in progress, but you’ll be a fine reader in your time,” she said. “How much do you know about ghost hunting?”

“I know I’ve always seen ghosts. And sometimes I can speak to them. Although sometimes they don’t seem to see me back.”

“That’s the difference between a ghost and an apparition,” Rita explained. “A ghost is usually a lost or misplaced human soul. You feel like you’re talking to a person because you are. They just happen to be dead. Sometimes they’ve stayed here for one reason or another. Sometimes they don’t know they’re dead yet. It’s a grace to tell them that if you can do it in a way that’s kindly.

“An apparition is anything you see. The psychic world is the Wild West, even here in Boston. Most apparitions are like a recording of something that happened in a particular place and time. If will go through the incident repeatedly and consistently, like a tape recording. The ghosts won’t notice or speak to you. My guess is that the memory is strong enough to replay itself over and over but that no one is really present in that memory.

“But there are other apparitions as well. Be careful what you talk to. When you talk to an entity, it has permission to talk to you. Not everything golden is good.” She shook her head gently.

“Why can’t Alyx see ghosts?” I asked.

“Healing is about ritual. She’s a fine healer. Talking to ghosts is about discernment. It’s not the same thing.” she explained. “Go have fun.”

I ran out the door.

It was a soft fall evening with an enormous moon, yellow as a ripe lemon. I walked down the street, looking for Park Church. I almost missed the sidewalk that led into the graveyard. Alyx called me over. “Right here!”

“How could I have missed the turn?” I asked her. I looked around and saw small witch lights at each corner of the graveyard.

“I did a little masking spell. No one will see us. They’ll just walk right by, thinking nothing’s there.”

I had a momentary flash of jealousy over Alyx’s abilities. Or maybe over her training. No one had taught me tricks like that. Then again, it was not what we did at the tearoom. The Artemesian sisters practiced what they called gray witchcraft. They did not claim always to be white and insisted they were never really dark. But they practiced the manipulation of the world and things within it. That was something readers did not do in the tearoom. Rita was adamant about that.

Alyx had a knapsack full of gadgets. I shook my head as she started to pull them out of her bag.

“Don’t you just talk to ghosts?” I asked her.

“I can’t do that,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who can really do that. I always thought that was a myth. Besides, we need to get proof.”

It seemed imprudent to remind her I’d been talking to ghosts since I’d been three.

She pulled out two flashlights and cameras, a notebook, a digital recorder and EMF meter, followed by a collection of candy bars and other junk food. “We need to keep our strength up,” she explained. I chose a candy bar and listened to her plan.

Alyx spread her arms in display, over the pile, showing off her available technology. “We can set up equipment all over the cemetery if we wish. It’s smaller and that is better, since we can cover it more easily. Do you have anyone you want to focus on?” she asked me.

“I hadn’t thought. I didn’t know you went hunting for a particular ghost.”

“We could. We don’t have to. We can focus the equipment on someone specific or we can try to see who is most active.”

“Why don’t we see who has the most to say?” I asked.

“You think you can get someone to say something?” she taunted me. “We’ll see.”

It was a challenge, pure and simple. She didn’t want it to speak to me. Or with us. She wanted it recorded on her machines.

We set up camcorders along the wall and sat waiting for something to happen. Alyx kept checking the equipment, going from one tripod to another, taking readings with her EMF meter. It was a warm enough night that I dozed off.

Something poked me very gently. I thought I woke. But the graveyard was full of people as I opened my eyes. There was a small boy in a tricorn hat and waistcoat.

“Forgive me, milady,” he said as he removed his hat. “It seemed you slumber here. Night is swift as shadow. This no place for the quick.”

I blinked several times. He didn’t go away. “No, I suppose it’s not,” I replied. “But I wanted to see who was here.”

“Look and you shall know,” he told me. “The other girl is head blind, is she not?”

“I guess. She does seem to need her equipment.”

Alyx was now tinkering with a meter that was presumably not working. She whacked it several times with her hand, in impatience.

“She’s waking everyone,” he told me. “There are those best left sleeping.”

“What is your name?” I asked him.

“Master Patrick. Master Patrick Williams.” I shook the shape of his illusive hand.

“Can you tell me what she’s doing?” he asked me, pointing to where Alyx was set up in the corner.

I looked over to Alyx. Her face was reflected in the screens of her instruments. She walked from one to the other checking everything, scribbling notes in her notebook by the light of her flashlight. “Alyx!” I called out. “There’s a ghost right here!” She stayed hovering over her readings, unable to hear me. She was oblivious to the boy and me.

“She wants to know if ghosts exist,” I explained. “She’s trying to find scientific proof.”

‘’Like Ben Franklin’s witchery?”

“Well, as I understand it, Ben Franklin was a scientist along with everything else. He had a lot of equipment that probably looked pretty weird.”

Patrick rolled his eyes. “Mr. Franklin was out in a thunderstorm with a key dangling from a kite trying to catch lightning. They say he was a statesman and an author, but he was outright daft.”

“A lot of science looks that way if you don’t understand it. Alyx is trying to get scientific proof of life after death, I suppose. So, no. It’s not witchery. It’s cameras and measuring equipment.”

“What’s a camera?” he asked.

“Well, it takes a picture of an image and freezes it in time.”

His eyes had glazed over by now. Perhaps all science looks like magic if you don’t know what it is.

“Anyway, she wanted to see ghosts.”

He started to giggle hysterically. I couldn’t help but join him. He went over and put his hand on the meter. Alyx jolted for a moment and began to scribble madly in her book.

“You don’t need proof, do you?” He still was bent over laughing.

“Never did. But I told her I’d come along.”

“Everyone wants to meet you. We don’t always get visitors who can see us.”

“I would be honored.”

“Not everyone actually.” he equivocated. “There are some folk you probably should not meet. But I’ll introduce the people of quality.”

A wispy image of an elder woman climbed out of her grave, as if her hips were still sore and stiff. She stood herself up and curtsied.

Patrick announced her. “This be Goodie Goose.”

“The Mother Goose? Elizabeth Goose?” I asked. I’d seen the tombstone.

“Lizzy Goose. I’m snail-paced and a sorry sight but here at your pleasure, child. You’ll have to forgive our gentlemen. They argue and tussle every night. They are rebels all, in their own ways.”

There was a heated discussion coming from one corner. On a flat tomb-surface, three men played a board game, hardly watching the moves. Instead, their focus was on a conversation so angry they were declaiming over each other.

“John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Alexander Hamilton.” Lizzy pointed out the three.

“Do they know what happened? Do they know they’re dead?” I asked her. One of them looked up at me. “Well, of course they do. This is a graveyard. To a large extent they remain here to hear what is said about them. At one time, none of them knew whether they would be heroes or hung. It was rather a near thing.”

“So, they stay here listening to tour guides?”

“It’s heady stuff for them,” she acknowledged. “They’re grander here than they were in life. But they also lived for the fight. Had they not had the revolution, they’d have argued with their neighbors or their church or their second cousins. It’s who they were. And don’t think that because they were on the same side of the war they agreed with each other. These were never men of peace. They liked nothing better than a huge, messy, irresolvable quarrel. They still love their little nightly squabbles.” The ruckus got louder.

Sam Adams pounded his ghostly hand on the stone. “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen on setting brush fires of freedom in the minds of men.”

“How do you set a brush fire in the middle of a tea party?” Hamilton smirked at Samuel.

“It accomplished both goals,” Samuel grinned. “I soaked their finances throwing tea into the harbor and set alight the fighting fire of our men.”

“Hear, hear!” Hancock cheered.

“But how will you do commerce?” Hamilton continued. “No colony will survive at all if they can’t trade with each other. You need a strong set of rules agreed upon by everyone so that business can flourish. That takes a central government, a common currency, roads and banks that all work together.”

“Are they still making the same arguments?” I asked Lizzy.

“As in life, so in death,” she said

“It sounds endless,” I said as I watched them pontificate at each other.

Lizzy answered me, “It is. It was. It has been. And will be. That’s why they’re still here.”

“Actually, the things they’re discussing are still not resolved. Different states, colonies, still have very different opinions of how much the central government should do, if anything. But we settle it by voting instead of fighting, usually. That’s something they gave us.”

“They did,” Lizzy acknowledged. “They weren’t fools. They just loved the fight.”

A plainly-tailored man walked near them. He tipped his hat in recognition and they looked up at him. “Are you tyrants still at it?” he said to the three.

Hancock answered, “Rev. Byles, we are not tyrants. We are patriots.”

“That,” the reverend said, “remains to be seen. Which is better, to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants not one mile away?”

Hancock stared at him levelly. “No one cares for what you say, you Tory son of George!”

“I am not George’s son, nor Tory whole, but servant of Christ,” Byles returned.

“But you still deny the rights of liberty!” Sam Adams roared at him.

Byles tipped his hat and walked away from the three rebels.

I looked in a corner. A beautiful young black woman in a Georgian dress and mob cap sat on a tree stump. She read her words aloud as she wrote.

“Great God, what light’ning flashes from thine eyes?

What pow’r withstands if thou indignant rise?

Against thy Zion though her foes may rage.”

She didn’t look up at us. Her whole focus was on her writing. Byles walked by her, stopped and looked over her shoulder at her writing. She looked up at him in reverence

“Who is she?” I asked Lizzy.

“She’s a marvel. Phyllis Wheately. ‘a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.’ Her master taught her to read and write. So she writes poetry, as fine as any in America. Mr. Byles said so after he examined it. Better than mine. Mine are rhymes to put babes to bed.”

“Lizzy, people are still putting babies to bed with your poetry.”

“Really?” she smiled. Perhaps she hadn’t known.

“My mother read them to me,” I told her.

“Your mother could read?” she said in astonishment.

“Most people do now,” I confessed. Lizzy looked amazed.

“It must be a wonderful age. To all be learned!”

“It’s like every age,” I said. “Some wonderful things, some terrible messes and some things you just have to get through.”

Three shimmering riders on horseback burst through a monument. “Revere, Dawes and Prescott,” Lizzy pointed out.

Across the graveyard, I saw a lovely woman in apron and mob cap wave her hankie. “Now you be careful, Willie Dawes, and come home safe to me.”

Dawes turned his horse towards her and cried, “I’ll be back by midnight, Mehitabel.”

Revere grabbed Dawes’ reins. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Will. Ride. We need to reach Concord by morning.”

The three men halted in front of Lizzy. “Madam.” They dismounted, removed their hats, and gave her a short bow. Then they rushed through the cemetery to Adams and Hancock. The game was forgotten as all the men spoke in desperate whispers.

“Do they make the ride every night?” I asked.

“Oh, assuredly. Sometimes three and four times a night,” Lizzy told me.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s their strongest memory. They warned Lexington and Concord that the British troops were on their way. The apparition repeats it over and over because it was the most important moment in their lives.”

The ghost of a black man drifted up through the stone erected for the martyrs of Boston Massacre. He walked across the graveyard, neither looking left or right. He seemed unaware of everyone.

“Who is that,” I asked.

“Poor Crispus,” Lizzy answered me. “Crispus Attucks.”

I could hear the man mutter to himself. “Just walkin’ through Bunker Hill on a short cut. Tryin’ to get back to my ship. Damn all white people yellin’ and shootin’ at each other. I pushed at someone trying to get away and they had to go and shoot me! Damn all.” His specter trudged through the graveyard and evaporated at the fence. Several seconds later, he drifted through the tombstone again and went through his march, like a set piece.

“He’s stuck?” I asked Lizzy.

“No one knows, child, but he responds to no one and nothing. I believe this is just his memory. It’s sad though.”

“Why are you still here, Lizzy?” I wondered what could have held this sensible woman here at her grave.

“I miss my babies,” she told me. “I miss my Thomas too. He still wanders through here and I’m waiting for him to be done with this world. When he’s done, I’ll go home with him. Until then, I watch after other people’s babies.

“Babies?” I asked.

“You all are babes. I always enjoyed caring for the young. It’s just that the young are a bit older now.” She smoothed her skirt with her hands.

There was a rumpus in the back of the yard and one of the stones split open as a man in black robes strutted among the tombstones. A black robed winged creature clung to the man.

Master Patrick grabbed my arm.

“You might best leave, mistress. This is not commodious company.”

The other ghosts evaporated in front of the apparition.

“Who is he?” I asked.

“Cotton Mather and his master,” Patrick told me.

“The thing on his back?” I asked.

“Purely evil,” Lizzy answered me. “We keep well out of its reach.”

Another man opened a door from his tomb. Like the first man he wore a judge’s robe. But the black was a clear galaxy as opposed to the filth hanging on the first judge. Light showed out of his open hand.

“Cotton,” the second man bellowed, “you’ll not bring that trash in with the rest of us.”

“‘Sewell, you’re deluded. You wanted charity, proof, legal reasoning. Against demons. A court of law is the only place to decide such things and that was our job. Couldn’t you smell the devil at Danvers?”

“You’re an idiot, Cotton,” Sewell answered. “You rail against demons and you wear one like a robe.”

Both men turned their attention to Alyx.

Sewell turned towards me. “And why are the living here?” he asked me.

“I was curious,” I stuttered. The man put out his arm. It blocked me from Mather’s sight. I could see Alyx if I stretched past his protective arm.

Alyx had been watching the meters closely. Apparently, the readings bounced off the chart when the two judges started to rail against each other. She walked steadily towards Mather with her meter extended in her hand. From her face, I could see her amazement. She saw him.

“You’re a ghost!” she exclaimed. Her face beamed with wild excitement.

“What if I am?” he said, maintaining his dignity.

“But I’m here to see ghosts. Are you a real ghost?” She waved the meter at him as if to get a better readout.

“You’re a witch, like as not,” he snarled at her. He reached to the upside-down silver star at her throat. His voice rose to a bellow. “The Maleficum speaks of such deviltry. Do you have a familiar? Do you rut with Satan?”

“I just wanted to see a ghost,” she continued simply.

“What would you like? Should I rattle my chains? Moan? Appear and disappear?” He was haughty, aloof and handsome in his regal court manners. She reached out to touch him. He pulled himself out of range and stood mighty as he had always in court.

“I just wanted to see if you were real,” she exclaimed.

The ragged demon riding him reached out and touched her hair. It picked a strand up and started to play with it. The wind rattled bushes and trees like castanets.

“Alyx!’’ I said, anxious to leave. “Let’s get out of here!” I ran up to grab her. Sewell blocked me from reaching her. I could see her, the ghost and the demon all together in an unholy trinity.

“Will you teach me?” she said to the pair. “I want to know everything about the afterlife.” She looked up to Mather with longing.

I watched Mather smile at her one way as the demon smiled a much crueler smile. “But of course child. We’ll teach you.”

“Alyx no!” I screamed. “It’s not what you think it is. Come on. Come with me. Let’s go.”

Lizzy and Patrick were on the side screaming “GO!

I ran through, grabbed at Alyx’s hand and pulled. She pulled away me and slapped me so hard I fell to the ground.

I rubbed my cheek, feeling the bruise already.

I looked up at her. She was beautiful. Cool. Chic. And a demon like a black rag was draped around her shoulders, stroking her face.

“You can go if you like, wimp. I’ve found my ghosts. You are such a baby.” Alyx dismissed me, the way the cool girls had always dismissed me. It still hurt.

Lizzy grabbed my hand and Patrick stood guard behind.

Lizzy ran with me to the cemetery fence, dragging me along when I stumbled. I flew over it as she released me. “Go!” she shrieked. “Don’t look back.”

But of course, once I was over the threshold, I did look back. I could see the church, but the cemetery and Alyx were blanketed in thick mist.

I ran down the middle of the street, terrified to be near the bushes or the buildings. When I got home I slammed the door, locked it and shivered over my hot tea in a hot bubble bath.

The next morning, Alyx marched into the tearoom. She looked triumphant. “I thought you’d like to see the tapes and readings.” She didn’t laugh out loud at me, but I could hear the sneer in her voice. “It’s a shame you got scared. I got some great readings after you ran away. What was wrong with you? I wouldn’t have thought you were that kind of a coward. I told the story at the sisterhood and they’re still laughing. Who’d have thought?”

Was there something different about her? A dark cloaked thing clung to her back, close and tight to her skin. But I could see it. Was there a thread of burnished gold around her outline?

Rita stepped out of her office and called to me.

“Sorry, Alyx. Got to go,” I said. It was a reprieve. I didn’t want to hear Alyx tell me what a baby I was again.

“See you.” She dismissed me with a wave and left.

Rita opened the door and waited for me to sit.

“What did you do last night?” Rita’s eye bore through me.

“We investigated the Granary Graveyard,” I said, as quietly as if I hoped she wouldn’t hear me. But she did.

She stared at me deeply, investigating, probing. Did she wonder if I had brought back a visitor as well? “You seem to be all right.”

“I hope I am. I had help. What was the thing on Cotton Mather?”

“You saw old Cotton?” she asked me. “What did you think it was?”

“I don’t know. It was just nasty. Mean and violent and evil. It gave Alyx what she wanted, but it felt vile.”

“Exactly. That, Marlene, is a demon. And you better not bring one home as a souvenir.”

“I’m afraid Alyx did. Is there something I can do to help Alyx?”

“Did she choose to engage with this thing?” Rita asked. “Actively?”

I thought about it. “Yes,” I concluded.

“There’s a reason I would never have Alyx as a reader at the tea room. Alyx will only learn if she’s allowed the dignity of her choices,” Rita explained. “She’ll find her own way to recover from her mistakes. Or else she won’t. But I don’t think she’ll learn except by experience. What did you do?”

“I chose not to talk to that nasty thing,” I said simply. But I’d been helped by the others in the graveyard that meant no harm.

She smiled. And poured another cup of tea.

“Then you can’t change her choices. But you may stay,” Rita said with finality.

I hadn’t realized leaving might be a consequence of the night before. I let go of my breath. “Would you have thrown me out for talking to it?” I asked her.

“In a heartbeat,” Rita smiled.

Tea Room Tales

Did you enjoy this story? It’s a part of Book One: Tea Room Tales, from the Sight Unseen Series. Leave a comment or you can review it on Or you can purchase Book One: Tea Room Tales on Amazon.