"THANK YOU for coming here!"
I jumped and looked up. A moment ago, I was the only living person in the whole cemetery. Now, before me stood a man. He was dressed in a black three-piece suit, a black tie, and his skin was about the color of a plum. He wore a white shirt, with a high starched collar and a black derby sat atop his head. Sunglasses hid his eyes.
I didn't know what else to say, so I said, "Thank you. I'm collecting herbs." As far as I'm concerned there's no better place than a cemetery to collect herbs. I heard a rumble in the distance. I turned and looked behind me. An early summer thunderstorm, black and boiling, filled the horizon.
"Be raining in a little while." The gentleman walked carefully among the graves over to the mausoleum. I noticed that he limped. He walked with a cane. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a massive key chain with any number of keys jangling on it. He went through those keys, one by one.
He selected an old skeleton key and inserted it in the mausoleum gate. The lock turned stiffly, slowly. He pushed the grated gate open with his cane. Standing in the dim shadows, he motioned for me to follow. With sounds of thunder motivating me forward, I entered.
Before me were walls of tombs on either side. Most were open and empty. Bone salts stained the marble between the vaults and the flagstones beeath my feet. At the end of the passageway, I could see tombs and something that looked like it might have been a very nice altar once upon a time. Broken stained glass littered the floor around two benches for mourners facing the altar. We sat down on those benches, he on one and myself on the other.
There was a long silence. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. I looked down that long passageway back to the gate where the rain was falling heavily. Slanted sheets of rain matted down the weeds that had sprouted up from the fallen tombstones and the dirt walkways. The live oaks out there on the edge of the cemetery seemed to shake and looked dark and twisted in the heavy downdrafts. I could see daylight turning dark and greenish, like it does just before a hurricane hits.
I said just as much, when the stranger began to ask me if I'd ever seen a hurricane. I told him yes, and I told him about seeing my house destroyed in Hurricane Betsy. He talked about Aubrey, which must have been way before my time because I had never heard of Hurricane Aubrey before. Then we talked about Hurricane Camille, and finally about Katrina. We became quiet for a while, looking out on the storm. Sky grew darker and darker, and those winds whipped and roared ferociously outside our shelter. The rain beat down heavier and heavier.
"Well," he sat up straight and slapped his heavy hands on his broadcloth-covered thighs. "Looks like we'll be here for a while, doesn't it?" He took a silver flask from his pocket and unscrewing the top took a long pull, offered some to me. I told him I didn't drink and refused it. He gave me one of those long suspicious looks. His eyes narrowed and he muttered. "Humph."
He put the flask back in his coat pocket and we watched the rain some more. Finally he turned, and he kind of stiffly turned his upper body. His clothes appeared to be a little too tight and too new for him. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, "I hear you're a storyteller." Before I could answer, he asked another question: "Do you know any ghost stories? Scary ghost stories? Why don't we pass the time telling ghost stories?"
And so we did...
To begin the tale...Enter through the cemetery!