Friday, August 31, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 15


“Oh, my God!”  Della gasped and startled Steve.

They’d been on the couch in silence for about 45 minutes.  Steve looked up from his crossword puzzle that was lying across the desk she had so lovingly created with her feet on his lap as she lounged and read.

Della sat up and pulled her feet in towards herself and nearly dropped the handful of papers in her hand as she leaned in towards Steve to show him what she’d found.

“I can’t believe this.”

“Well… spill it.”

“These papers.  The ones that Mr. Rondel sent over from the Midvalley Museum.  Look at this article.”

Steve took the paper from her and began to read.

Midvalley Times

July 23, 1917

The community of Midvalley has suffered yet another tragedy surrounding the Jansen family. 

Cy Jansen  was viciously attacked and killed by an angry mob earlier this week while in the custody and care of Sheriff Colburn.

Sheriff Colburn reports that mayhem and chaos ensued when his office suddenly  flooded with people demanding justice for Ivy and Mary (Mr. Jansen’s’ child and wife, who had recently passed and it was for Ivy’s death that he was being held, awaiting trial).  Sheriff Colburn was caught unawares by a blow to the head and when he came to, found himself on the floor facing  the open door and he spotted Mr. Jansen’s  body in the street,  broken and bloody.

This most unfortunate circumstance may finally bring an end to the controversy surrounding the unexplained death of Ivy and the dreadful passing of his wife, Mary, who apparently saw fit to take her life in the aftermath of the child’s death.

Mr. Jansen is survived by his parents, who, shortly after burying their son next to their daughter-in-law and granddaughter, began making arrangements to relocate to a neighboring state where they will remain for a time with family members.

Charges are not expected at this time as the identity of the mob members remains unknown.

“Well, what do you make of this?”

“I think that journalism has come a long way since 1917.”

“Oh, stop.  I’m serious.”

“I don’t know.  Back up the truck.  Beep.  Beep.”  Steve made an ‘exits-are-to-the-back-of-the-plane’ hand gesture and sighed.  “I’m still processing your whole experience with the ghost hunters and I’m having a hard time discerning what is fact and what is fiction.”

“What I experienced is not fiction!”  Della was impatient and began talking. “Mary killed Ivy; Cy got blamed.   Mary killed Mary; Cy got blamed.  He went to his grave with everybody thinking he killed his child.    His parents were ostracized and they left.”

“Sounds like a plausible theory.”

“Oh, stop being such a prosecutor.  Let loose.  Let’s have some fun.  I know… let’s go to the cemetery and see if we can find their graves!”

“Right now?”  Steve’s eyes were popping out of his head.

“Yes, right now.  Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“It’s called trespassing, State Code 76-6-206.  It’s called illegal.

“Oh, come on… it’s a cemetery with a puny little two-foot tall brick wall around it.  How can it be illegal when it’s so easy to get into?  And I’ve never seen any “no trespassing” signs.  And besides, it’s owned by the county and we pay taxes here in this fine county… "They both chuckled at the inside joke.  More often than not when Della asked how his day was going, he would respond by saying that he was “living the American dream, serving the citizens of this fine county, getting paid more than he deserves."

“…so don’t we kind of own it?  You can’t trespass on your own property.  Come on, come on!  I’ve got your back!  I’ve got connections!  I know people.”  She playfully poked him in the ribs.

"Just because you got away with it last Halloween when you took CJ and his friends up there to try to scare them, doesn’t mean you’ll get away with it this time.  Besides, it’s almost midnight."

“Sometimes it’s just fun to do things that are kinda naughty.  And since you won’t ever go toilet papering with me, you can make it up to me by taking me to the cemetery.”

“Young lady…you will be the death of me.”  He exhaled with a smile on his face, grabbed her shoulders and kissed her on the mouth.

“Bring your camera.”

“It’s already in the car.”

“I’ll grab a flashlight.  Whoo-hoo!  Let’s go, my leetle partner een crime.”

“Really?  A French accent?  It ruins the mystery.”

“How ‘bout a southern belle?"

“That’ll do.”

They were both grinning like kids as they hurried out the front door.


“Over here.  These are the older ones.”  Della weaved in and out of the headstones and was able to quickly read some of the inscriptions by the moonlight.  She turned on her flashlight to look more closely as she neared the area where she suspected she would find the Jansen family.

“How do you know that?”

“I spend a lot of time here.  At least I used to.  I came here a lot during college to read.  I think it’s peaceful and beautiful… the mixture of nature and the architecture of the stones.  It amazes me and I love to imagine what the people’s lives were like.  You know, a lot of historians use cemetery information to re-create history.  They can draw conclusions about disasters or epidemics or whatnot, based on the information on the headstones.  Maybe we’ll learn more about the Jansens when we find their markers.”

“Are headstones really at people’s heads or are they placed over the center of the casket or at the foot?”

“I don’t know.”

“When my grandma died, I swear they put her headstone where her feet were.  I’m just going by memory, but it didn’t seem like it was placed at her head.  Why are they always facing east?”

“I don’t know.  Actually, they’re not always that way.  Over at the Winder cemetery, some of the graves face southwest.”

“I’m not even going to ask…not going there, little miss.”  He grabbed her hand and they walked from marker to marker, stopping only for Steve to take pictures when he jokingly announced that he felt “something.”  The only “something” he was feeling was his urge to poke fun at her and try to make her to laugh.

Steve was an  accomplished amateur photographer and his new digital camera was bigger than Della thought a digital camera could ever be and it was loaded with features.  After fiddling with some of the gadgets, they reviewed some of the photos as they moved closer to the center of the cemetery and Steve pointed out some odd things in a couple of shots.

Mary playfully scoffed, “Oh, those are just orbs, or sometimes bugs.  I don’t give much merit to those.  It’s usually just the reflection off of moisture or wings or dust or something.”  Della sounded very sure of herself.

“Where’d you hear that?  Ghost U?”

“Ghost Hunters.  Duh.”

They continued in silence, the dry grass crunching under their feet.  It had been weeks since it had rained and apparently, the sprinkler systems weren’t enough this year to keep the lawns lush and green.

“Oh, dear Lord!   Here it is.”  Della stumbled over the tip of her own foot and when she’d caught her balance, she shone the light on the tiny, worn headstone with the baby lamb carved across the top.  The inscription had eroded and was barely legible.

Ivy L. Jansen
b. 1916
Beloved daughter of Cyrus and Mary

 “Can you take a picture of this?”


Mary was to the right of Ivy and Cy was to the left.

“It doesn’t seem right that Cy should be buried so close to them.  It’s so weird to think that almost a hundred years ago, people stood at this very site and attended their funerals.  People probably never imagined that all these years later, someone would be standing here thinking about them and imagining them.  Do you think they had all this grass back then?”  Steve was finally getting into the spirit of the night.

“Well, well, well, my leetle friend… I do believe you are becoming a convert and no, I don’t think they had grass back then.  I think when the county bought the adjoining property for more space, they upgraded and landscaped the whole thing.”

“Seriously, how do you know that?  Maybe you need a hobby.  Actually, I’m getting a little creeped out and I want to get out of here before we get caught.  I can just see the headlines now… ‘Deputy District Attorney and paralegal Arrested in Cemetery:  Body Snatching Plan Thwarted.’  Imagine the scandal -gasp- not to mention our secret would be out.”

“Would that really be so bad?”  Della unexpectedly burped and didn’t have much chance to cover it up.

“That was attractive.”

“Thanks.  I’ve always been known for my genteel and delicate nature.” 

“Let me get a couple more shots and then let’s get out of here.”

They leaned their heads together to look at the screen as they walked back towards the car.

“Wait.  Go back one.  No, one more.”

Steve complied and Della slipped her arm through his.

“What’s that?  Right there.”

“Don’t touch the screen with your finger.”

Della tapped on the screen to zoom in and drag the photo to the right.

“Right here.  Tell me that’s not a person.”

“It’s not a person.  It’s a shadow.  Probably from a tree.”

“No, look here.”  She dragged her finger on the screen and outlined the “shadow.”

Steve cringed and decided to not say anything.

“Here’s a bonnet, and a shoulder and a bent elbow and the outline of a skirt… like a woman’s trying to hide behind that tree.  She’s even glowing a bit.”

“I don’t see it and you just want to see it.  It might be the moonlight shining through some of the trees.  We’ll put it on the computer when we get back home and we’ll be able to see it better.”  He paused and Della remained intent on the screen.  “And the answer is no.”

“Look closer.  Right here.”  She paused and looked into his face.  “What do you mean, no?”

“The answer.  To your question.”

A spotlight from the opposite side of the cemetery appeared behind them and pierced its way through the trees, the bushes and the headstones.  Della saw the light shining on Steve’s shirt sleeve.

They both drew in a sharp breath at exactly the same time.  Their eyes opened wide and Steve whisper-screamed, “RUN!  It’s the cops!”

By the time they reached the car and sped away, they were laughing heartily and their gleeful naughtiness could not be denied, not even in Steve.


A figure in a bonnet and a long skirt stepped behind a tree and disappeared as Detective Ashram shone his spotlight around one last time; certain now that there were no rabble- rousers running around. 

He shifted his car into reverse and refocused his attention from the cemetery to the train station where a pedestrian had just been killed by a commuter train.  He drew the short straw for being on call that night but the good news was this would be his first case as lead investigator, so he wasn’t going to complain. 

Damn.  A cup of coffee sounded good.  If he hurried, he could pick one up at the corner convenience store and still reach the scene before the crime scene techs. 

The figure in the bonnet peeked out from behind the tree as he left and slowly evaporated into the night.


Sabrina E. Ogden said...

I'd love to wander through a cemetery at night. Great post, Ellie...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sabrina. How 'bout tonight...Magna cemetery????