On Wednesday I found a little free time and decided to take a walk. I walk a lot, so nothing strange yet. I decided to walk to a place called “Bell’s Neck” in Harwich. It was maybe a 10 minute walk, so I had time to go there and perhaps even go into the woods a bit.
As I passed the Swan Pond Cemetery, something caught me eye. I don’t know if it was that it looked more overgrown than I’ve seen it, that it is getting close to Halloween, or, perhaps, just that I noticed some of the stones looked ancient. I usually don’t walk in cemeteries unless I have a reason, but I decided to go in.
I glanced at some of the stones to try to find the oldest. Most were from the 1850s to the 1880s. A few newer, into the early 20th century. After about 1930 there was a gap until 2015.
I stopped at one. Date of death was 1823. I didn’t see the date of birth, but it said 24 years old. I didn’t study it for long, but decided to get a quick photo so I could look later. I wanted some of the overgrown grass in the photo. I didn’t look so didn’t realize that the phone focused on the grass, not the stone. Oh well, I can’t read the dates now. (The photo at the top, though I did color it before posting.)
As I walked on after that, things got odd. There was a stench of death in the air that grew at every step. I started to grow nauseous, I’m assuming from the smell. I suddenly got a bad headache that grew worse with every step. And there was something else, as if a force was trying to stop me.
I can take a hint. I turned around. Literally, as soon as I took a step back towards the entrance I felt freer, the stench went away, I was no longer nauseous and the headache vanished. It didn’t fade one footfall at a time, it was one step and gone.
I don’t walk in cemeteries often and I guess there is a reason ;)
In my WIP, The Old Mill, I have the main character, Gill Baxter, take a walk in a cemetery. Like me, Gill walks a lot. Below is a rough draft of the first part of a chapter called “Amesbury Center”.
Gill missed the turnoff to Amesbury and went a couple of miles before taking the right onto Center Street, which went up to Amesbury Center. He had had a long day at the office, sitting in several meetings and making some high-level calls. It was another day at the office, not telework. That meant he didn’t have any chances to get out and walk except for one short spin around the parking lot at lunch. He was so looking forward to walking when he got home.
But for some reason ended up not going home.
Gill parked in the little square in the middle of the village of Amesbury Center and got out to stretch.
The village was centered around a grassy “square” or green with most of the buildings on the four sides facing the center.
Gill walked to the large church, what was called a “meeting house”, for it was used for far more than religious services back in the day, and studied the square.
“Square” was the wrong word as it was more of a rectangle. The meeting house dominated one of the longer sides, but there was still room for two rambling houses on one side of it and two buildings on the other, one a house and the other another public building built many years after the meeting house.
Across from these there were six large farm houses and then there were two ancient farm houses at either end of the square.
The main street, Center Road, ran down the east side of the square, the side away from the meeting house. It went south into the valley, surrounded by other old houses. The intersection with Miller Road was about a hundred yards down the hill. To the north it continued up out of the valley, but at about a quarter of a mile out it dipped into another little river valley before continuing up into hillier country. Farm houses were spread out going to the north, a little farther apart than to the south, but then the slope was gentler. A road followed the little stream down into downtown Amesbury. Hill Street. Gill knew that Miller Road merged into Hill about a half of a mile down.
Gill walked around the square twice. He had driven through Amesbury Center many times, but had never stopped.
Although most of Southern New Hampshire had had been allowed to return to its natural forested state, the little village was surrounded by agriculture much as it was 250 years ago, with fields and orchards stretching out behind most of the houses.
Well, not completely surrounded by agriculture, for a large cemetery sat behind the meeting house.
Not knowing what else to do, Gill walked into the cemetery. He looked at a few stones, trying to cipher out the dates, see if he could find the oldest stones. After 10 minutes, the earliest he saw was a “born in 1684”. He whistled. That was a while ago. Of course the man, a Mr. Miller, was born somewhere else, only died in Amesbury in 1741. Still, 1741 was very old, over 275 years.
He studied the stone a little more.
It was funny how often Gill had seen the names “Nathaniel” and “Miller” without thinking about who they might belong to. “Nathaniel” was a very common name in Amesbury, even if he didn’t know anybody named “Miller”. When he stopped to think of it, he realized that Jessica’s husband was “Nathan”, a shortened version of “Nathaniel”, something he often forgot, just thinking “Nate” meant “Nate”.
The stone next to Nathanial Miller’s marker was so worn that he couldn’t’ make out the names or dates. How old was this one? As he stood trying to make out the marks, he became aware that someone was next to him.
Gill jerked his head up and found himself staring into the cold blue eyes of an old man.
The man’s face was distorted into an angry snarl.
“What are you doing here? This is a private lot! Get out, now!”
He pointed with his gnarled hand.
Gill walked three paces in the direction the man was pointing before stopping. He had just realized that the man was dressed funny. He turned.
The man wasn’t there, Gill was alone in the cemetery.
With a sudden shiver, Gill rushed to his car and jumped in.
Where did he go from there? I can tell that he met with further adventure, but I won’t say what – you’ll have to read the book when I release it in early 2020 ;)