So, as I've been querying The Zer0 Maker, I've been plotting and jotting down ideas for a new story. I wrote this chapter over the weekend, and I would really be thankful for anyone willing to give me their opinion about the premise and first chapter. Since it is a first draft, I'm pretty sure there are grammar blips--but I will more than likely go over that pretty soon.
I am mainly wanting to know if the story is interesting enough and if I should pursue this. I am shooting for 80k or maybe even 70k--it will be dual POV, which is something I've never tried before. (The first chapter isn't dual-POV). Let me know what you think about my weird graveyard-statue story. (I have issues with the opening paragraph and it will probably change). If it sucks, let me know! Thanks!
Some say flowers bloomed best over a dead man’s body—but I wouldn’t be the one to know. In Willow Hills Cemetery, flowers were scarce--unless they were plastic substitutes. The groundskeeper, a man by the name of Charlie Jack, made his early morning rounds every Sunday to pick up the decayed, washed-out flowers scattered about the graves.
And sometimes, like today, he came earlier than I expected.
My footfalls were loud enough to garner attention. I stood, frozen behind a pine tree, cursing myself for not being careful. Dirge growled by my feet, squirming, itching to fetch the stick that I lobbed fifteen feet across the graveyard—the stick that just so happed to land right in front of Charlie Jack, causing him to jump and search for the culprit. I bowed down, peering through a thorn bush.
Dirge was a good boy and didn’t move an inch.
Please don’t notice me, please don’t notice me…
Charlie gave the stick a confused glance, shrugged, and continued to uproot fake flowers from the graves of the dead. His heartbeat was loud—louder than the crows lounging on his beat-up Ford in the distance; louder than the wind shaking the willow trees.
Maybe even louder than my heartbeat if I had one.
“That was too close.”
Dirge wrapped his stone claws around my ankle. His body was made of darker rock that almost looked wet rather than bone-dry like my own. Mother Maria, the lead guardian of Willow Hills, teased that I must have been carved from chalk rather than granite. I took it lightly—until three years ago when a storm hit, causing a branch to break and fall on me. It almost snapped my arm off.
I looked down at Dirge. His nails slid into the crack on my left leg, his gargoyle body quivering with what I assumed to be fear. He gave a half-gurgled whimper and hunkered down to the damp earth. I didn’t blame him; it had been a long time since I made a slip. Last time, I almost didn’t survive.
“It’s okay. He didn’t notice.”
Over the horizon, a purplish band of sunlight ran from one side of the tree line to the other. Birds chirped, alerting me that it was time to return to my charge. If I didn’t make it back in time and the sunlight touched my body, I would become frozen in whatever position I was in. And it was against the rules to be seen from our posts.
“We need to go, Dirge.”
He whimpered and made a run for it, causing two large bushes to quiver from his motion. I chased after him, bursting through the leaves, feet thumping on forest decay. As I approached the clearing, the watchers of Willow Hills Cemetery stood to attention in their places.
Never forget your stance, Mother Maria would say. If you change your position or forget it completely, the living will take notice.
Ghostly trails of glowing white illuminated the darkness—the spirits liked to roam during the night. The large bell hanging over the south mausoleum tolled. By the tenth toll, I would be unmoving until the sun fell.
The thought propelled me forward.
Concrete birds flew over my head, landing on the centerpiece of the cemetery--Mother Maria herself. She held her arms out as they perched, her kindly face looking up at the sky as it had for nearly a hundred years. Her charge, a spirit by the name of Wilbert Jameson, soaked through the earth into his resting place where he would be guarded by her during the day.
At night, we were free to roam and follow them.
But the spirit I guarded never went anywhere.
Her name was Quin Rivera—a new soul who came last summer three days after her burial. She never roamed, but only stayed in her resting place and ignored most of everything. From the feel of her, she was a testy spirit—but I couldn’t be too sure; she never acknowledged my existence or did anything other than simmer with anger.
A sliver of sunlight shot across the graveyard, stopping me in place as it flashed a few inches from my face. I dodged it, running to Quin’s grave, hopping on my post just in time. From across the clearing, Dirge climbed on top of the gate closing off Willow Hills, standing to attention like any gargoyle would. His canine mouth opened in fierce defense, and as the sunlight touched him, he froze into place.
I let my head fall and my arms spread. The last thing I saw before the sunlight touched me was Quin’s furrowed brow as her ghostly face peeped out from her grave. Startled, I almost asked her what the problem was—but the sunlight poured on me like a bucket of buttery gold, locking my body into place.
I closed my eyes.
* * * *
“…I just need a moment alone, please.”
Crunching grass pulled me out of my calm stupor. I’d heard that voice before—it belonged to one of Quin’s family members, but I couldn’t be sure who. Footfalls stopped in front of me. Somebody dug into the grass, shoving something into Quin’s grave. More plastic substitutes, probably.
“We will be back in the car,” another voice huffed with a rough, slightly-annoyed tone. “We have to pick up Emily by noon.”
“f**k Emily. She can wait.”
“I already have and I’m not waiting to do it again.”
The urge to open my eyes was overpowering. Sometimes, if I concentrated hard enough, I could move something as simple as a finger even in the sunlight. But that kind of thing in front of the living was forbidden—and to break the rules would mean to face Death itself and be judged. Contrary to folklore, Death wasn’t a skeleton cloaked in black cloth—but rather a whispering spirit made of fog and ash who oversaw the guardians of the dead and the spirits they governed. Death was capable of shattering us to dust.
In the distance, a car door slammed shut.
I could feel Quin stirring in her resting place. Her ghostly fingers latched onto my legs as she pulled herself up from her grave. In my head, I could see her struggling to remain calm. Sometimes I could grasp an idea of what my charge was feeling—but only rarely. She shuddered against me. I pictured her black-rimmed eyes squinting into the sun.
“Quin, I’m sorry. I miss you so much.”
I wanted to move my arms and comfort Quin—if she would even take it. The more time she spent ignoring me, the more I was positive she hated my non-existent guts.
“You’ve waited almost a year to come see me, asshole,” an irritated voice answered.
Shock vibrated through my stone body at the sound of Quin’s voice—it was higher than I imagined. My eyes flew open on their own accord—I couldn’t have stopped them if I tried. Funny how I didn’t need to focus to budge them; but when they opened, I almost sighed in relief that I wasn’t noticed.
Quin sat on her grave crossed-legged, glaring at the boy kneeling with his head down in front of her. I gazed at the pair, stunned at their similarities. They had the same dark hair, the same dimples, the same almond-shaped eyes. Realization hit me harder than the tree branch from a few years ago.
They were twins.
“We miss you like crazy, Quin. Sometimes I start to believe that they are right. Sometimes I think this is all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” Quin sighed. “It was mine.”
Quin must’ve known the living couldn't hear her--but it didn’t stop her from trying. She tucked her raven locks behind her ear and shook her head.
“Jason, can you even hear me? I’m right here.”
She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She put her wispy lips to his ear and took in a ragged breath. “It sucks being here, Jason. It’s so cold and boring. But it’s worth it. Don’t spend the rest of your life thinking it was your fault. Please.”
Jason shook his head, his face grave. Quin’s fingers found his blouse pocket and fiddled with it—but she wasn’t strong enough to actually influence the fabric. Her eyes snapped open wide and she glowed brighter with anger when she felt around. Her emotions radiated off her like waves on hot pavement. I could almost hear her ghostly teeth snapping together.
“Jason, is that a pill bottle?”
For long moments, Quin watched Jason as he mourned over her grave. For a flash of a second, I saw a white cap on a light orange tube—maybe it was prescribed medication? The anger glowing from Quin said otherwise, confusing me. It took every inch of might not to move my lips and ask myself--but I shouldn't be involved in the living's affairs.
Nevertheless, I found myself angry as well.
Quin peered closer at the tiny black letters printed on the orange pill bottle. Almost self-consciously, Jason snatched it out of his shirt—hiding it from the view of the car behind him and Quin—and shoved it in his pants pocket where it was better hidden.
It seemed he didn’t have the bravery to let it show--even in front of her headstone.
“You idiot!” she spat. “I can feel your energy; you are able-bodied! Why would you do this? There’s no reason for you to take those!”
“I’m sorry,” Jason whispered, almost as if he heard her. “I will make it up to you somehow. I promise.”
“Do so by not being stupid!”
“I will come back. But… it hurts to think about it. It hurts to think about anything, really. But I know I will get better. I have to get better, too. I’m trying.”
“It’s that Thomas Fredrick, isn’t it? Dad’s new stepson. His girlfriend’s son. What a load of crap. Mom wouldn’t allow this and you know it. I’m so disappointed in you, Jason. I don’t even know what to say.”
My stone heart crumbled at the sight in front of me. Almost every day the living came to grieve their loss—this time, however, was different. Curiosity burned, almost causing my limbs to move. I beat back the urge to reach out with as much force as I could muster.
“Come on, Jason, it’s time to go already,” somebody yelled out of the Jeep window a few yards away. Making sure nobody was looking, I narrowed my eyes at the vehicle.
A gangly boy, perhaps a few years older than Jason, stuck his brown head out the car’s window and waved his arms. His eyes were mocking—scathing, even. I could feel Quin bristle beside me. Her aura spiked, heating almost immediately. If I could have, I would have groaned.
I didn’t like him either. I almost blinked, stunned at myself. When did I acquire dislike?
“Thomas,” she breathed. “What is he doing here? That jerk!”
“I have to go, Quin. I’m sorry. I will come back, though. I promise.”
“Don’t leave, Jason!”
She reached out for him, pleading, but her arms went right through him. When Jason gazed up at me, he flinched. My granite throat almost squeezed shut.
I hadn’t realized I was staring right at him.
“I could have sworn…” he whispered.
He studied my face, moving to crouch an inch away from me. With a swift movement, he reached out to touch my cheek with his fingers. Heat gathered inside me, threatening to boil over at his touch. His fingers were so warm. It had been a long time since I felt anything warm other than the sunlight that kept me prisoner here…
The overwhelming urge to reach out and touch him back stunned me.
Jason shuddered, backing away. Quin got up and followed after him, but stopped when he opened the car door, jumped inside, and slammed it shut. The car sped away, throwing gravel, chipping my nose with a peanut-sized rock. Irritation soared. Just my luck.
Quin balled her hands into fists and quivered.
Breaking all the rules now, I spoke quietly.
She turned around slowly, her eyes narrowed into slits.
From my peripheral, the angel statue beside me—Angelica—cocked her head to the side at my voice, causing a bit of dust to float down to earth from her movement. She shushed me under her breath.
Might as well break all the rules while I’m at it.
“What do you want?” Quin asked.
Despite myself, I flinched. I tried to turn my head, but the sunlight wouldn’t let me make such a drastic movement. I could, however, will my lips to move if I concentrated hard enough. So I did. Frowning, I spoke.
“I’ve seen him before. Last year. In August. The day you—”
"Shh!" Angelica hissed.
“The day I was buried. I know.”
“You are angry about him visiting,” I pointed out, ignoring Angelica. The irritation practically shimmered in the air around her. Why isn't she happy he came to see her?
“Of course. He decides to visit today of all days—when he should be celebrating himself instead. I really don’t get it.”
“But today is your birthday.”
I knew the date etched into my base more than my own birthday—only I was carved and not born. September twelfth it was.
“Our birthday,” she corrected. “He chose his own birthday to visit his dead sister. So like him.”
I frowned. I didn’t get it either.
“I was waiting for him to come. But he never did. Then, when he does, I find out he pops pills?”
Her reasoning for staying quiet these past months made sense. She never ventured out of her resting place—and it was my job to watch over her if she did. When she never moved, I began to find things to do—like playing fetch with Dirge or talking with the other guardians. I wasn’t allowed to leave the cemetery or even talk about leaving. But sometimes, despite myself, I would stare at the gates of Willow Hills, wishing for them to stay open forever.
The thought of what was beyond those metal bars saddened me—I would never get to see it.
“I don’t see how you should care, though. You should have let the Reapers eat me for breakfast long ago.”
A sigh escaped my lips. I guess I wasn’t a very good guardian—I was always off doing my own things, getting into trouble as usual. If I were a good guardian, I would’ve sat right beside her until she decided to talk. A feeling of embarrassment made me drop my head a half inch.
You can’t even do your job right.
“I’m sorry,” I breathed. “The Reapers are on the edges of Willow Hills and outside the gates. You never left your place—you were safe anyway.”
She snorted. “I don’t like being babysat.”
“You aren’t being babysat. I promise. The Reapers feed off souls. We are here to protect—”
“I get it, I get it. But is this really worth it? Is that all you want to do for the rest of eternity? Follow me around to make sure I don’t get eaten by demon dogs? Give me a break. I know you want out of here, too—I can tell.”
I winced. If I could’ve moved, I would've taken a step back. “How do you know?”
“I’ve been watching you more than you’ve been watching me. That’s how.”
I shook my head, too stunned to speak. It angered me that she was right. My ogling at the entrance must have been pretty obvious—that, and I was the only one here who walked up and down the cemetery, playing games with Dirge, imagining what life was like outside this place.
How could she know me so well?
“To top it off, you aren’t even my real headstone. They found you in the grass over by the creek a few days before my burial. They glued you on my marker to be my ‘guardian angel’. Don’t you have somebody else to look after?”
I fought the urge to chuckle. I was far from a guardian angel—none of us were even close. We protected the dead—nothing more. Even with the fact, her words stung a bit—she obviously didn’t want my protection. I spoke between my teeth, sure that if they gnashed any harder, they would crumble into dust.
“My previous charge crossed over long ago. I was removed by nature from his casket—which is about a mile away from here now—fifty years ago after a flood. It wasn’t my decision to move to your grave, either. Your family signed the papers.”
She flipped her black hair over her shoulder, folding her arms across her chest. Realization dawned in her eyes. “I understand. But no offense. I would have liked it better without a guardian.”
I tried not to take offense, but I couldn’t help it. It was rare that souls got guardians—but in Willow Hills, we were known for the old statues placed on almost every grave. Reapers loved to stalk the fences, waiting for a soul to cross their path when they weren’t paying attention. Willow Hills had a lot of souls—and a lot of energy. The spirits here were thriving and strong, a perfect treat for a Reaper. Souls should be grateful.
“You shouldn’t say things like that,” I whispered. “Our existence is for your protection.”
She shook her head, floating toward me, her face close to mine. The heat pouring off her was enough unsettle me. Her dark eyes glittered, her lips set into a half smile.
But I wasn’t sure what it meant.
“Whatever. I don’t need your help. Don’t even talk to me, okay? Just leave me alone and let the Reapers do what they want.”
Just as I was about to reach out—if I even could—she sunk back into the earth, curling into a ball in her casket. Her aura retracted and she reverted back to her slumber-like state, growing dormant.
My chest got colder as minutes passed.
For the rest of the day, she did not resurface.