“This place gives me the creeps, Terri.”
Genealogist Terri Brandon adjusted her camera strap and peered over her sunglasses. From the entrance gate, she looked at the cemetery that stretched before her. Above her head, the Shiloh Cemetery sign announced that the cemetery was the oldest in the county, established in the early 1700’s. Gravestones were scattered on the ground. A broken ballpene hammer lay next to one of the crypts, the lid in pieces and evidence of an interrupted eternal slumber. Crushed beer cans littered the ground and filled some of the crypts. Wrought iron gates squeaked from rusted hinges and tall weeds grew where sections of fence once enclosed the graves. The tombstones that stood were spray painted with graffiti. Crosses, anarchy signs and swastikas appeared to be the favorite. One lovesick artist painted “James loves Veronica” across the front of a gravestone and covered the name of the deceased. Even in the daylight, a feeling of sadness and foreboding surrounded the place.
“I know what you mean, Sarah. This cemetery could use some tender-loving care.” Terri shivered. “It looks like a scene from a scary movie. I wouldn’t want to be stuck here after dark.”
“I don’t want to think about it.” Sarah said and looked around nervously.
Terri smiled. “Don’t tell me that you’re afraid of ghosts.”
Sarah drew herself up indignantly.
“Let me tell you, Terri Brandon, there are some things in this world that can’t be explained away with science. Some things can’t be explained at all.” Sarah stomped through the entrance gate and into the cemetery.
Terri called after her. “The name on the tombstone we’re looking for is Marcus Jessup.”
Sarah didn’t reply.
Terri sighed and with her camera in hand, she walked the path beside the gravestones. She knew that Sarah despised going to the cemeteries, but Shiloh was a large cemetery set back in the woods. Terri made a point not to go to such places alone. The people buried in the ground didn’t bother her, but the people that walked above the others made her cautious. Safety first she thought.
Every stone she passed she looked for the name she sought. Each gravestone represented a piece of history and Terri loved history. Each family tree was unique with its heroes, scoundrels and every day Joes. Elijah Jessup’s family tree was no exception. His great-great-great great grandfather, Marcus Jessup, settled in the area in the late 1700’s. The Jessup’s were a prominent family in the county.
She reached the end of the path and crossed to the other side when Sarah called to her.
“Terri, come here. I’ve found something that I think you might want to see.”
Terri edged her way past a large tombstone that had fallen on the path and followed Sarah’s voice where tall hedges grew against a brick wall.
“Did you find Marcus Jessup’s grave?”
Sarah stood in front of a large wrought iron gate at an opening in the hedge. Her face solemn, she pointed and said, “Look.”
Terri took hold of the gate and pushed. It squeaked open on rusted hinges. She slowly walked through and into a clearing where six small gravestones stood in a circle. An old oak tree grew beside the graves, its limbs spread over them like a protective cover. The area was neat and the lawn manicured. A vase with flowers placed at each grave.
“What is this place, Sarah?” She stared at the scene before her. Sarah moved to stand next to Terri.
“I don’t think its part of the cemetery, Terri. This part seems to be separate from it. There’s another grave over there and it doesn’t seem to belong with the others.”
In a far corner of the enclosure, one grave stood apart from the others. Unlike the other graves, it was overgrown with weeds and no flowers placed there. A gargoyle perched on top of the tombstone as if guarding the grave. Faded by time and the elements, Terri was unable to read the name on the stone.
Terri raised her camera and took pictures. She took pictures of the circle of stones and the grave in the corner. Sarah watched from the opening while Terri made a close-up shot of one of the small stones. A look of shock registered on her face as she lowered her camera.
“What’s wrong?” Sarah grinned and said jokingly, “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“Sarah, these children were murdered and the murderer’s name is carved on their stones. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Terri snapped a few more pictures.
She walked out of the enclosure. She threw her camera bag over her shoulder and strode through the cemetery. “I’ll meet you back at the office.”
Sarah hurried to catch up. “Where are you going?”
With a determined look, Terri replied, “While I get these pictures developed, I need you to call county records and research this cemetery.” They walked through the main gate and headed for their cars.
Terri left the photo shop with her pictures in hand. When seated in her car, she took the pictures from the package and quickly flipped through them until she came to the pictures of the enclosure at the cemetery. She looked at each one carefully. When she got to the photos of the children’s graves, the hair stood up on the back of her neck. A man stood in the circle. He wore a black tricorne hat, brown waistcoat, black trousers and boots. His brown hair was long and stringy. He stared straight into the camera. The anger on his face apparent and his stance was that of a man about to face an intruder.
Terri’s skin crawled. Who was the man? Where did he come from? Was there a homeless person living in the cemetery?
She reached for her cell phone and dialed her office. On the third ring, a voice briskly said, “Family Tree Specialists. This is Sarah. How may I help you?”
“Sarah, you won’t believe what just happened.”
“Terri, where are you and what are you talking about?”
The pictures, Sarah. A man showed up in the pictures. He stood right in the middle of the children’s graves.”
“What man?” Sarah exclaimed. “There was no man there.”
“Did you find out anything at the county records about the cemetery?” Terri asked.
“Yes, I talked with Warren Parker. He said that there were no records of that part of the cemetery. If there were, they may have been part of the records before 1862. Unfortunately, all of those records were destroyed in the fire.” Sarah continued. “I went to the library and dug through the old newspaper archives. There was a series of murders in 1795 and all of the victims were children. A teacher named Jeremiah Daniels was accused, tried and hanged for the crimes.”
Terri stared out of the car window while letting the information sink in. Her mind raced with questions. Who was the man in the picture? Who was buried in the grave in the corner of the enclosure near the children?
“That’s not all, Terri. Marcus Jessup was part of the trial. He testified against Jeremiah Daniels.”
“Sarah, if there were any drawings of the people involved in the trial, I need you to go back to the library and make copies of them. In the meantime, I’m going back to the cemetery.”
Sarah gasped. “Terri, you can’t go back there by yourself. There’s something wrong with that place.”
Terri started the car and backed out of the parking space. “You’re right, Sarah, there is something wrong with that place, but I have to find Marcus Jessup’s grave. A man appeared in those pictures, Sarah. I want to know if he will show up again.”
Before Sarah could argue further, she hurried to continue. “I have my cell phone with me, I’ll be okay. You can meet me at the cemetery after you go to the archives. I’ll see you there.”
Terri ended the call. She turned onto Main Street and drove toward Shiloh.
Dark clouds gathered by the time Terri arrived at the cemetery. She parked, grabbed her camera bag and exited the car. She glanced around warily. Something felt different. The hair stood on the back of her neck and she felt like she was being watched. Terri glanced over her shoulder then slid through the entrance gate and down the trail that led deeper into the cemetery.
On each side of the path stood rows of gravestones of the families buried there through the years, but none bore the name of Jessup.
Where was that man buried? Terri asked no one in particular as she moved further down the path. He has to be here somewhere.
She still felt as if eyes watched her. Terri turned around and looked in the direction from which she had come, but saw no one there. Get a grip, girl, she scolded herself, your imagination is working overtime.
She came to a fork in the path. One path led to the enclosure. The other went further into the cemetery. Terri saw a large building off to one side of the other path. When she approached the mausoleum, she saw that it was made of gray stone with a black wrought iron door in the front. A bench sat on one side of the building next to the path and what appeared to be a pond filled with overgrown weeds on the other. Vines covered the entire structure. Terri shivered. Even in the daylight it looked foreboding. There was a carved stone plaque that was barely visible over the door. Terri picked up a stick off the ground and stood on tiptoes to push the vines aside to get a better look at the name. The name on the plaque said Jessup. She walked around the mausoleum and moved the vines again. There were smaller plaques attached to the side of the building. Terri leaned over and inspected the first one.
“The one you are searching for is not there.” said the voice behind her.
Terri whirled with the stick ready to attack. Wide-eyed she stared at the man who sat on the bench. She felt as though her heart would pound out of her chest.
“You have no need of a weapon, Madame. I will not harm you.” He said with a grin.
Terri glared at the stranger with the stick held in front of her.
“Who are you and where did you come from?” She demanded. Her eyes narrowed as a thought struck her. “You’re the one who’s been following me.”
The stranger laughed. “Madame, I’ve been here for quite some time.” His face became serious. “My name is Jeremiah Daniels and I’m wondering why you have come here looking for a monster?”
Terri’s mouth fell open and her face paled. Her mind was full of questions.What was he talking about? Was this man a descendant of Jeremiah Daniels? Sarah never mentioned whether Jeremiah Daniels had children or not. Somehow, Terri thought in the back of her mind, this was not the case.
Jeremiah continued. “I have waited a long time for someone like you, Terri Brandon, someone who could see me and hear me, who would listen to my story and help me to clear my name.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts.” Terri answered emphatically.
Jeremiah’s brows raised and he sighed as if talking to a difficult child.
“Believe or not. Here I sit before you.” He said.
Terri looked at Jeremiah Daniels. He seemed flesh and blood, as solid as she. He was dressed in old-fashioned clothes, with dark hair that hung below his shoulders and lifted with the breeze. His eyes were what stood out the most. He had the clearest blue eyes that Terri had ever seen. They seemed to look straight into her soul.
Terri hesitated only a moment then came to a decision. She threw down the stick, walked over to the bench and sat next to Jeremiah. She looked him in the eyes and said, “Tell your story.”
“In the year of 1795, the town leaders of Fellowship sent to England for a teacher. I was that teacher. I arrived in the spring and met with Marcus Jessup, one of the town founders, who introduced me to people of the town with children who would attend the schoolhouse. There were no living quarters for an unmarried teacher so; each of the families took turns boarding me at their homes.”
Jeremiah looked off into the distance as if to collect his thoughts and he continued.
“In the summer of 1795, the first child went missing. They found her body in the woods. She was the first of six children who were found strangled or beaten to death. The town’s people were frantic to find the one who killed their children, but the constable could not find the person responsible for the terrible deeds.
It was an August evening when I walked the trail through the woods to the farmhouse where I was to board next. I remember the moon was full that night and the trail well lit. I could see my way without a lantern. I was walking along when I came upon two figures, one large and the other small. The moon was bright enough that I could see that the large figure was of a man and he was bent over the smaller one. When he heard me on the trail, he jumped up and ran through the woods. In the moonlight, I could see the man’s face before he disappeared into the night. It was Marcus Jessup. I went to the figure lying on the ground. He was one of my students. His name was Joseph. I bent down to check if there was still life in him, but he was dead.”
Jeremiah propped his head in his hands and stared at the ground.
“I ran to the town to get help. When I arrived, Marcus Jessup pointed at me and told the people that he saw me kill Joseph. They grabbed me and dragged me to the jail. I protested my innocence, but to no avail. No one would listen to me. There was a trial where Marcus lied on the witness stand. I tried to tell them that it was Marcus who was the killer of the children, but they would not listen. They found me guilty, took me to the tree where they had buried the children and hanged me. They buried me in the far corner.”
When Jeremiah finished, he looked broken. Terri watched him while he told his story and her heart went out to the soul who was falsely accused and who died unjustly. How different things were back then. She could not begin to understand the terror he must have felt- knowing that he was going to die for something he didn’t do. No one would believe him. Could she believe him?
Terri decided to deal with the problem directly and said, “How do I know that you are telling me the truth, Jeremiah? What proof do you have to show me that it happened just as you said?”
Jeremiah stood and turned his back to her. He calmly said, “I am innocent. I did not kill the children. See your proof, Terri Brandon.”
Terri watched wide-eyed and in awed silence as the back of Jeremiah’s shirt ripped down to the hem and two large white wings unfolded. The Heavens opened up and a ray of golden light shown down on Jeremiah. His eyes, his face and body radiated with light. Then, as quickly as it had opened, the sky suddenly closed. Jeremiah folded his wings and turned to face Terri again.
“Angels don’t lie.” He said with a smile.
Terri sat in silence for a moment and then she asked, “What became of Marcus Jessup? Is he even buried in this cemetery?”
“After my death, Marcus’s family found out that he actually was the killer, but they kept it quiet and no one knew. When he died mysteriously, they buried him in an unmarked grave here in the cemetery where no one would ever find him. His family felt remorse for the evil that he did. The guilt has been passed from generation to generation. They are the ones who still put flowers on the graves of the children that Marcus murdered.” Jeremiah answered solemnly.
“He was the one in my picture of the children’s graves, wasn’t he?” She asked.
“Yes, he stood over them just as he did when he killed them, but no more. I have come to take Marcus to his judgment and I’ve come to take the children home.”
Sadly, Terri shook her head. “I guess some people never learn even in death.”
Terri heard the sound of the car pulling up to the cemetery gate. Sarah was here. She could see the crab apple green Volkswagen and heard when Sarah honked the horn signaling her arrival.
She turned back to Jeremiah as he prepared to leave.
“I will be watching over you, Terri. Once you’ve crossed the line, you will always see angels.” He smiled at her as he vanished.
Sarah walked the path toward her. Just as Terri stood to greet her, a white feather drifted down from the sky. She opened her hand and let it float into her palm. She closed her fingers over it and faced Sarah with a smile.
“Sarah, I have the most incredible story to tell you. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in angels.”
Arm in arm, they walked to the cars.