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art by Agata Maciagowska


Holly Jennings lives in Tecumseh, Ontario with her Chow Chow named Jake. She works for an engineering and architectural firm during the day and spends her evenings gallivanting with ghouls, gargoyles, and other creatures of the night. This is her first published piece.

A cry echoed through the cemetery.
The ghoul stood in the graveyard, working mechanically, like the crankshafts on a steam train. His shovel cut through soil, digging holes and filling them. So many dead. So very many dead.
He wore a ragged shirt, three sizes too big, covered in dirt and holes the size of baseballs. His pants were too short, ripped off halfway down his calves, he had no shoes. Dressed like this, he worked in the cemetery.
Until he heard the cry.
A living dead grown restless? He looked down the line of graves, fresh mounds of overturned earth. No clawing fingers had broken through the surface in need of a good shovel-smashing--in need of a good convincing to just lie still. Nope. Nothing.
So the ghoul lifted his head, gaze turning to the asylum beyond the graveyard. An enormous edifice of iron gates and barred windows. But it towered silently in the background, glowing against the twilight mist.
The cry came again. Hearing it now, he decided it wasn't the usual insane shriek of the living dead, or even a werewolf's howl.
No. This was something else.
He staggered forward, weaving between graves and the willow trees, and dropped his shovel. The wooden handle clanged against a headstone and tumbled down, landing with a dull thud against fresh earth. As he stumbled around, blades of dew-covered grass curled over his toes, though he felt nothing through his rotting skin. The pleasure of cooling grass, its soft texture, was lost on him.
He lifted a small rock and peered beneath it. Hmm. Not there.
He continued forward, but found nothing in the dim moonlight. Just shadows behind trees. Darkness clouding the graves. But across the cemetery, the sound grew louder.
There. Just behind that.
The ghoul crept up to an oversized tomb, wrapped his fingers around the stone, and peeked over the edge.
A baby?
Lying on the ground, pink-fleshed and healthy. Wailing.
The ghoul covered his ears and looked around, frantically searching for its owners. Nothing. The graveyard was empty and silent, except for the screaming infant.
Crying. Too much crying.
He tiptoed up to it, crawling around the tomb, and poked the baby, tapping rapidly on its chest. Hello? Stop crying.
No luck.
He pushed up the baby's chin, closing its mouth. There. Stop crying. The ghoul smiled to himself. But the baby squirmed, smacked the ghoul's hand away, and screamed even louder. The blanket around it came loose in the child's fit. Its teddy bear tumbled away to land face down in the grass.
Frustrated, the ghoul grunted, sat cross-legged, and swooped the baby into his arms. He retrieved the lost bear, wiped it on his pants and tucked it back into the blanket as he fixed it around the infant, swaddling it tight in his arms.
Stay still. Stop crying.
Tears subsiding, the baby opened its eyes and looked up at the ghoul. And surprisingly, as they sat there staring at each other, the ghoul had no thoughts of devouring the child. Surely it couldn't be corrupt with the lies and disdain that made flesh so delicious.
The ghoul stroked its face, wiping away trails of tears. The baby stared at its caretaker and, despite the ghoul's decaying face and missing nose, didn't cower in fear or turn a lip in disgust. Instead, it snuggled into the monster.
The ghoul thought he felt his heart flicker, and shook his head until the foolish notion disappeared. How absurd. That organ rotted away long ago.
Then the infant's chin wrinkled and lips puckered, growing weepy again.
No, no. Don't cry.
The ghoul desperately looked around, trying to find something to please the baby, and remembered the large, round watch tucked into his pants pocket. He pulled it out and smashed it on the ground so hard, both covers opened--front and back. No matter. It was broken before. But he hoped the shiny glass faceplate would entertain the infant, despite the dead arms and lifeless innards of the timepiece.
He brought it up to the baby's face and bounced the chain. It glimmered in the heavy moonlight. The baby laughed and curled a thumb around its smiling lip. But when the watch swiveled around to the back, the infant suddenly reached out and snatched it between its fingers.
The insides were frozen, gears trapped in motion. The baby shook it and, as if through the infant's will, the components started to turn. The ghoul almost felt the moving arms and the spinning gears echoing in his chest as the pocket watch came to life, a beauty he'd never known before. He looked down at the baby and noticed it, eyes wide, also studying the mechanisms with the same fascination.
So together, they watched the spinning gears turn the hands of time. After several minutes, the ghoul peeked up at the surrounding graveyard. The owners would be back soon.
Yes. Soon.
But as time passed, it stayed still and quiet in the cemetery. No signs of life, of anyone coming back.
He rocked as he waited. The baby yawned, eyes fluttering shut with the pocket watch still clutched between its little fingers. Peering down at the infant, swaddled in the blanket with its teddy bear nestled against its cheek, the ghoul saw an unwanted soul, not unlike himself. Both forgotten. Alone in the darkness. So under the vigilant eye of the moon, he kept the infant in his arms all through the night.
And even as the child drifted to sleep, the revolving gears of the watch never stopped ticking--a rhythm matched with the soft thumping of the ghoul's beating heart.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 31st, 2012
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