Headstone House - Cemetery

Updated: Oct 13

By: Marius Crowley


A grave is where you go to end a story. And the more stories that end, the more headstones you find. I suppose if you build a house atop the headstones, it becomes a place that welcomes those that are already dead. And if you listen closely to the walls, you can hear the cold pulse that still runs through them. And all the stories they carry. I lived in a house like that for 204 years. The Headstone House, I called her. And I know all her stories. This is but one.

I sat by the hearth, and let the fire illuminate the pages of two books. I was reading Turn of the Screw, and my dearest daughter (or Owlet, as I called her), Alyssa, was reading Salem’s Lot. It was how we had spent so many of our evenings together.

No matter how busy either of us got, we always found time to read the scariest novels we could find. Especially at this time of year. It was nearly Halloween. Most haunted houses had their share of unwanted visitors around this time. But not the Headstone House. With legends growing in the neighborhood about people going missing, and with the police having long given up on these cases, nobody else came by.

The streets were dark, we had our books, and nobody would dare approach.

That was until an ethereal glow came through the window.

“What’s that?” Alyssa asked.

“Not entirely sure, my Owlet,” I admitted.

I rose up from my armchair, and put Turn of the Screw on the side table. The glow was one that I remembered from my days of walking along cemeteries, not long after I had turned. And it had been far too long since I saw one this close. And so intensely.

A strange thought, considering that this was the Headstone House.

I looked up and saw that it was not the only soul that was lost that night. There were many lights scattered across our lawn.

More than I had seen in years.

“Stay in the house,” I insisted.

“What is it? A wraith? A demon?” Alyssa asked.

I’d forgotten how many horrors that Alyssa had faced in this house. Either of those would have been my first guess. But there was no way to determine what this threat was. Not until I met it head-on.


I reached for the mantle, and I collected the two items I always took with me: my Ruger LCR Pistol, and my phylactery. I put them on my belt, and made my way to the door. When there was a threat that had visited the Headstone House before, one of them could always get the job done. And while I was confident that I could face the threat again with one of them, I had never had a soul visit the property before. On the outside.

I left the house, and locked the front door behind me.

There was no telling what these souls wanted. Not unless I talked with them. There were 24 souls floating across the grass. I didn’t know what to make of them, so I kept my hands on both of my weapons.

It was a common precaution for the departed to take the form of these ethereal spheres. It was a defense mechanism that allowed them to take on the vaguest of shapes, and allow them more time to make decisions.

If a non-believing mortal had seen them, they could have dismissed them quickly as tricks of the light. Mortals that held a belief in the supernatural had often gorged themselves on the endless stories and superstitions that made this spirit orb a number of different meanings. And depending on their reaction, the spirit taking that form would be able to determine their next action.

And then there were those like me, those who had seen these spheres before, and knew that it was indeed a defense mechanism. And with two weapons in hand, one for physical forms, and one for supernatural forms, I was ready for whatever would arrive.

I remembered my training from ages ago, and the words had crossed my mind.

Ghoul. Demon. Poltergeist.

None of them gave an inch, or revealed what they really were. They just remained there, suspended in the air like jellyfish in a tank. They were waiting for someone to make the fatal mistake of making the first move.

I tried to garner what I could from the encounter, and yet I knew there was one crucial aspect to their arrival that made this even more suspect.

The number of spirits on the lawn.

Far too few to represent the number of kills I had claimed, even in the last year alone. Had they come here for revenge, there would be something that would give me a hint as to how I could kill them. A change in color would have meant they were Revenants, and I could have banished them with the phylactery. A sudden return to a dead form, one that was coiled in darkness would have been a Wight, and I could have killed them with the revolver.


But still, there was nothing.

They were patient, they were unmoving, and they were not trying to gain the tactical advantage by splitting apart, encircling me, or trying to scatter to hiding places. They were all remaining there, and they wanted to be seen.

They wanted to talk.

“What do you want from me?” I asked.

The souls hovered in the air, and finally, one approached.

It hung heavy in the moonlight, while the others didn’t dare move. Clearly, this was their emissary. Every graveyard had one. And it was this gesture that suddenly began to put the pieces together.

The sphere began to let loose a smog, and it billowed to roughly the size of a human. I realized that it was foregoing its spherical form, and wanted to speak to me as a person instead of a spirit. Not every departed soul could do this, and that meant that it was capable of making the decision to forego the theatrics and speak with me. I doubted now that it would wish harm on me, or on Alyssa.

It was not a Revenant or a Demon.

I watched as a shadow clung to the cloud, and the light flashed in pockets of its cover, like thunder catching itself in a storm cloud. The figure that emerged was that of a young man. One that had died well before his natural time, no matter what age he came from. He couldn’t have been older than eighteen years old. His clothes formed around his body, and I realized he was a man of the 1800s. If I remembered correctly, he would have been from the 1840s. I remembered that age when men started to adopt jackets and small scarves, and began to let any amount of excess funds turn into gaudy frills. But even in death, this man’s finest clothing had no frills, and his hands were calloused.

He was a man that looked after and sacrificed everything for his loved ones. And looking at the other spheres, it was clear that he had many to look after, even beyond the grave. He appeared to be exhausted, like he had not eaten or slept in a week. A dire state to be in, and he could hardly stand.


Even if the needs of a departed soul were not the needs of a human, this man had been put through hell and came back a shell of what he should have been.

I pitied him when I looked into his sunken eyes. He had the look of a man who was on the run, and was at his last chance for help.

As he spoke, his voice was caught between life and death. A voice that belonged to a boy in part, and a fearful presence in part.


It was clear.

This boy was a Wayward.

A soul that had bound itself to a location in the living world, and for whatever reason, was unable to move on. The existence of a Wayward was always a difficult one, and it was rare that you found one that embraced the good aspects of remaining on this side of the mortal coil. Some could manifest the powers of a benign Poltergeist or a Spirit. Someone who could gain a fleeting appreciation for the physical world. But if they surrendered themselves to despair or jealousy, they could just as easily gain fleeting and devastating powers of a truly evil presence. Not belonging in any plane of existence, and no state of the physical world.

We have been rejected everywhere else. Every consecrated place of rest has been claimed.

“This house is the furthest thing from a place of rest. You would not find peace here,” I warned.

We don’t want to rest. We want protection.

A sudden chill crawled up my spine.

“You’ve been followed here?”

Yes.

I scanned the street, hoping that this Wayward had brought something that I could handle with just a few bullets and a corrupted soul.

“You have exhausted all of your options, coming here? No house of worship? No home to hide in?”

You know what we are. I can see it in your eyes. And you know that the Rite of Sanctuary is all that can protect a hunted soul.

This Wayward had clearly spent his time learning about what it meant to be tied to the land of the living. The Rite of Sanctuary was a special pact that the living could make with the dead. And with that came benefits and consequences.

Many pacts had been made in the past, and with every type of person and departed soul. It was a harrowing endeavor to take, as the pact could extend for a single night, or it could extend to eternity. I would need a Ravenshade if I was going to even alter it slightly. And what’s worse is that these pacts had been used to take advantage of hapless humans and turned their lives into a living hell.

I had to be careful.

“What followed you here? If you want the Rite of Sanctuary, you must tell me what is following you. There may be a way to help you, and I will do what I can.”

A man with white eyes followed us, from the moment we lost Sanctuary.

The breath in my lungs had frozen, and I looked at the man’s eyes. There was no lie in them.

“White eyes? You’re certain?”

He nearly claimed me when the excavation began. Our land had broken, and our Rite of Sanctuary had been violated when it was no longer a place of rest. And I fear the worst for all of us, if we’re caught.

Each of the spheres had sprawled out on the ground. And the cover was broken as the smog had billowed around them. I wasn't sure if they were making a point, or if they had reached their limit at the time their emissary had admitted the truth. They all reverted to their human forms, and lay on the ground. Everyone one of them was breathless from an intense pursuit from some abomination in the shadows.

I looked out at the stretch of souls. Men, women, and children. All exhausted from lack of Sanctuary. And many of them had patches of pure white on their clothing and their bodies. Their souls had gone through a terrible injury. One that could not be the result of a gunshot or a phylactery. This was something far worse. And there were precious few things that it could still be. I prayed that my first instinct was wrong.

Night gathered across the neighborhood, and the lost souls looked at me, with what little strength they had. We all knew that if I refused, they would have to take their chances elsewhere. And their chances would have been slim to survive the night. I doubted they could even crawl to the next house over.

We will agree to any pact you think is fair. No. I will agree to any pact you choose, so long as you save them. I will become the slave of this household, if only you will save us from what is hunting us. Whatever it is. I can smell death on this land, and I know in your eyes that you know what we are. Then you must know a way to save us.

I looked on, and I could hear Alyssa arriving at the window, and that she was still heeding my warning and not opening the door. I had a choice to make. These departed souls had a look of genuine fear in them, and I doubted that this level of injury could be faked.

Still, there were ways.

It was possible that this was all a ploy by a clever demon, or an insidious mage. Someone who had taken advantage of these Waywards, and was waiting for the agreement to be made so that the slightest weakness in the pact could have given them what they wanted. Uninterrupted access to the house, the ability to possess a resident, or to kill indiscriminately with all the powers of the living and the dead.

All were possible.

And all I had seen before.

But this request was one that left me shaking with indecision. I had to find a way to protect Alyssa, and to give these Waywards what they wanted. There was no telling what they were capable of or what would happen to them if I waited any longer.

“I have a pact. And if you will honor it, you may observe the Rite of Sanctuary in my home.”

Of course. Name your terms.

“My home and its inhabitants are under the complete protection of Sanctuary, and will not be subject to any theft, harm, or death by your hand while you are here.”

Agreed.

“You will remain powerless as long as you are in the house, completely devoid of all Powers of the Grave.”

The emissary looked back at his followers, clearly torn on the decision. But he knew that he would not find a better deal than this one.

Agreed.

“If any of these terms are broken, you will be banished from my home, under pain of damnation.”

Silence.

Agreed. But I have a term of my own.

I took a breath. It was a bold set of terms that I had just introduced, but even the most experienced Ravenshade would agree that they were shaky at best. There was so much more you could do to protect yourself from incoming souls. A single change in the terms was risky for everyone involved. Most of all Alyssa and I.

"Go on,” I answered.

This pact will be honored, but will be nullified at sunrise. And subject to revised terms, by both parties.

These souls really were being chased by something that terrified them. They had agreed to enter a lifeboat that was full of holes, and I was barely willing to let them aboard. But the pain and fear in their eyes was clear. They agreed to enter, because a shark was lurking beneath the shadows.

“I agree to this Rite of Sanctuary. Now get the fuck inside my house,” I cursed.

The Waywards had faded from view, and Alyssa turned around and saw that there were souls behind her.

She didn’t scream, but threw herself up against the wall.

I could hear her heart beating like a jackhammer, but I could also hear the voice of the Wayward emissary, now much more substantial and human.

“My name is Erasmus. And we mean you no harm. We are observing Sanctuary while your guardian is outside.”

"He’s not my guardian. He’s my father,” Alyssa insisted.

That sentiment warmed my heart, but I didn’t have time to reflect on the bond we had formed. Alyssa was in danger, and I had to deal with the souls hiding in my house, and I had to confront whatever had terrorized them.

Finally, I saw a figure emerge from the shadows of the stretch of woods just beyond the house. It had been waiting there long enough to hear the terms of our Pact. I was sure of it. This monster was letting its presence be known, and it had hidden from me the entire time. It was rare that any being, living or dead, could have accomplished both with me.

It knew everything. Its ancient, white eyes made that painfully clear.