His life, or what passed for it had encompassed three tree covered acres of gravestones and monuments. He was the Watchman of the Night, the Guardian of the Dead. He hadn’t chosen the job, but it was his. They were good neighbors, the resting souls. Quiet, and didn’t ask questions.
How did he get there? He hadn’t been sure. According to any law written by God, or man, he should be in Hell. But he wasn’t. He was here at Redemption Park Cemetery. A restless spirit surrounded by hundreds resting in peace. It hadn’t always been this way, once there’d been Becky.
Was it a cruel trick of fate, or divine intervention, he wasn’t sure of which. Somehow he’d been interred in the same consecrated ground as she. The killer, and his victim, together forever. It was a sacrilege the ground couldn’t abide and it squeezed him from his grave like pus from a boil. Dooming him to wander the stone walled enclosure, unwelcome but unable to leave.
Redemption Park was old. It was surrounded by a city. Most of its plots taken, most of its inhabitants forgotten. But not Becky, her grave was tended. It was the girl who did it. The girl who wore black. She would sit next to Becky’s ornate stone and write in her notebook, or draw on her sketch pad and smoke. She spoke to Becky like she was alive. Always leaving one perfect red rose. Maybe that’s why Becky’s spirit was free when all the others were encumbered. Maybe it was the girl who made her real?
He was nothing but a shadow. A thin gray outline of what was once a human being. While Becky, well Becky was as she’d been in life. Brown haired and fair. A perfect little girl of seven. He’d watch her play with the animals that emerged at sunset. Deer, rabbits and even the fox were her playmates. The cemetery their sanctuary, their protectors the dead. Unafraid and comfortable with her inhuman touch.
He was jealous of her. Jealous of her laughter. Jealous of how real she was. But tormented too. She was the reminder of what he’d done, and he the reason she was there. It had taken years before he could watch her. More years until he asked why. Why was she here? He was a killer, he deserved Hell. But she, she was an innocent child. Surely, she could move on.
It was the girl in black who settled the question. Not that she tried to, or even knew that there was one. It was her actions, her desperation that provided the answer, and Becky’s crying that held the key. He’d only heard it once before, the night he’d raped her. The night he strangled her to death.
He raced to the sound and found Becky kneeling over her. She lying still upon the young girl’s grave. The girl in black. The girl who spoke to her. The girl who kept Becky real. He was just a shadow. A shadow of a man. But there was enough, just barely enough of a man to recognize the writing on the girl’s notebook, and the label on the pills.
He rushed to the girls side and felt the closeness of death. Becky screamed, recoiling in terror at his ghostly appearance. His world suddenly went silent. He couldn’t bare it. The girl in black was Becky’s only hope for staying real. Once she was gone Becky would fade. It would be as if he’d condemned her to the grave for a second time.
“No,” he screamed to the silent stones and mute trees. “No,” to the stars and the moon and the sky. “No,” to the only being that was listening. It wasn’t a prayer, just a word. But somewhere in the vastness of space, and the infinity of time, Someone had been expecting it.
He was a shadow. Then he was a man. He picked up the silent girl from Becky’s grave. Outside the cemetery walls a city lived. Outside there was help. Outside there was hope. The ornate gate that had barred his escape opened before him, and the world of the living surrounded him. It wasn’t chance. He knew that now. It couldn’t have been. Help was too close. A hospital just across the street. He placed the girl by the Emergency Room door.
He was just a shadow, the shadow of a man perched on a vine covered stone on a neglected grave. A forgotten grave in a little visited section of Redemption Park Cemetery. Her appearance took him by surprise. She’d never come this way before. Becky had always stayed away. Now she was here.
“I can never forget what you did,” she said, in a voice much older than her years. “But that girl in black was my family. My great niece. The only one who visited me.” Becky looked at the man who’d saved her. The man made of shadow. “I can never forget what you did, but I can forgive you.”
I looked at the girl I’d killed, and fell to my knees. Unable to weep. Unworthy of her gift. Becky transfigured into a bright light. “The gate is open,” her last words…and was gone.
I am the Watchman of the Night, the Guardian of the Dead. I am the Shadow Man. I have been redeemed. I have been freed from my Hell. I have been forgiven of my sin.