Curse of John Trafford's Grave"
by David M. Fitzpatrick
I remember every detail of that
terrible night in 1981 like it happened yesterday. Thirty years
later, I still don’t go anywhere near that cemetery—not even during
the day, when the sun makes the grass appear the happiest green, and
the gravestones seem like bright and cheerful monuments. That is,
except for one day out of the year: my birthday. Every year, when I
should be celebrating making it through another trip around the sun
alive, I steel my nerves and I go there long after the sun has gone
down, when it’s dark and foreboding and utterly haunting, and try to
find peace with what happened that night so long ago.
We were in high school, too old to be
kids and too young to be adults. Jimmy Ellerby was my best friend,
as he had been since kindergarten. And we were friends with Darcie
Keegan, although we both wanted more than friendship with her. While
Darcie wasn’t one of those popular preppies, she was definitely
above our social status; we’d always been the kids nobody liked
much. But she hung out with us anyway. She was that kind of friend.
And she was beautiful. I can still see
her face that way when I close my eyes. Hers was a soft beauty
framed by quiet elegance, innocent and overpowering, and so pure it
made my heart ache. I first met her when her family came to town
while I was in the third grade, in 1974. They’d moved in right
across the street from me, in the old Fenton place. I remember the
whispered rumors about that house, because Old Man Fenton had
supposedly smothered his wife with a pillow. Years later I found out
she’d actually died of a heart attack in bed, and he’d gone crazy
with grief. But kids keep crazy rumors alive, so of course we
believed the Keegans were moving into an evil-ghost house, and that
something in there would eventually drive them all mad and smother
each other with pillows.
Those silly stories flew right out of my mind the moment I saw
Darcie, pretty as a princess in her green-and-red plaid dress, with
yellow ribbons in her auburn-colored pigtails. We grew to be great
pals over the years, but eventually puberty grabbed hold of me and I
started thinking of her in other ways. Her mane of silky auburn
hair, her widening hips, and the bulging lumps we’d been teasing her
about that had become full-fledged breasts suddenly seemed
attractive. And she smelled nice, too—of melon-scented shampoo, of
coconut lotion, and sometimes of flowery perfume. It was
Jimmy had it
for her, too, but he was just horny. It was far more than that to
me. On my twelfth birthday, I told her I loved her; she just laughed
and called me silly and gave me a quick birthday kiss on the cheek.
I told her again on my thirteenth birthday; once again, she laughed
and called me silly, but this time the quick kiss was on my lips.
When I told her on my fourteenth
birthday, there was no laughing. She locked her lips to mine for
many long seconds, and it was exciting and wonderful and neither of
us had any clue what to do. But when it was over, she wished me a
happy birthday and called me a good friend, and headed home. We
didn’t talk about it again.
Since my birthday kiss had been getting more special every year, on
my fifteenth I got myself alone with her and we actually made out.
She let me touch her in places I thought I’d never get to touch a
girl, but when it was over she breathlessly told me that we couldn’t
do this again, because we’d end up ruining our friendship. I agreed,
because I thought I was supposed to agree and didn’t want to make
things difficult by going against her. But secretly, I was willing
to wait another year. I was sure we weren’t just being careless
friends; I loved her, and I knew she loved me.
The day before I turned sixteen, Jimmy
came up with the idea to scare the pants off Darcie’s little
brother, Lenny. He was ten and quite naïve, so when Jimmy told
Darcie and me about his plan, we knew we could pull it off. It would
involve the grave of the long-dead Captain John Trafford.
Like the Old Man Fenton story of Darcie’s house, there had been
tales told about Longview Cemetery—but people had told them as far
back as anyone could remember. Nobody had been buried in its back
half of Longview since the mid-1800s, and the headstones dated to
the 1770s. It was spooky even in broad daylight; kids never went
there even close to sunset. Even our parents and grandparents had
told the stories of the faint, but unearthly, wailing that had
occasionally been heard over the centuries. We’d never heard it—not
one single wailing note—but we all told the story as if we had, and
we stayed away from the place at night.
On the sunny afternoon the day before
my birthday, the four of us had cut through the cemetery after
throwing around a yellow Skyro flying ring in the park. We walked
four abreast, Jimmy and Lenny to my left and Darcie to my right. I
was already thinking of what my birthday might bring this year—heck,
I’d been thinking of it every day for the past year. And I knew she
was thinking about it, too, the way she’d turn her eyes away and
blush a little when I caught her looking at me.
As Darcie and I bounced looks back and
forth, Jimmy was telling Lenny he’d been out near the graveyard the
night before and had heard the wailing.
“I wonder what it is,” Lenny said. He
was a little slow, but an innocent, nice kid. Darcie always looked
out for him, but had a weakness when it came to Jimmy messing with
him. Jimmy did it a lot, and it was always funny.
“It’s the ghost of a man who can’t
rest in peace,” Jimmy said, reciting his prepared script as he spun
the Skyro on his wrist. “He wails because his lover abandoned him
for another man.”
eyes were wide. “Why’d she do that?”
“I dunno—guess she didn’t love him
anymore,” Jimmy said. “He died of sadness, so he haunts the
cemetery. Here, check it out.”
He led us to the farthest corner of
the cemetery, where the giant headstone stood. It began as a
massive, octagonal block of granite in the middle of the plot. Atop
that was a towering obelisk standing fifteen feet high. The giant
monument was tilted slightly, the result of centuries of the ground
beneath it settling. Beneath it all, we knew, was a dead man who had
slumbered for two centuries. In big letters on the facing side of
the octagon base, mostly obscured by countless decades of dead
lichen never scraped off, was the name TRAFFORD.
But the cool thing wasn’t the octagon
and obelisk. The massive headstone was surrounded by a strange
circle of blue granite stones. They were big, and they butted
against each other like some crowded Stonehenge. The blocks were a
foot high, containing a circular plot of land a foot higher than the
surrounding landscape. At a dozen points around the stone wheel were
blocks twice as wide as the others, jutting out like the handles on
a ship’s wheel. It was unlike anything in the graveyard—or in any
breathed. “Why are those rocks blue?”
“They say he had the granite quarried
in another country and brought here,” I said, and this was true. The
rocks were predominantly very dark, but were filled with shiny blue
crystals that made it look as if it were burning with blue fire in a
bright, noontime sun. “He built it himself, before he died.”
“Who was he?” Lenny asked.
“Captain John Trafford, one of the
oldest residents of this graveyard,” Jimmy said, he voice as solemn
as a minister delivering a eulogy. “He was a sea captain who
traveled all over the world, exporting granite out of Maine and
importing it from other countries. He built the ring in honor of his
ship’s wheel. He was buried here in 1781.”
Lenny squinted at the hard-to-read
engraving. “He died on June seventeenth,” he announced, and then he
spun to us, eyes big. “That’s two hundred years ago tomorrow!”
“Hey—that’s Marty’s birthday,” Darcie
said, feigning surprise as part of our plan. Our eyes met again, and
she looked away with a slight smile, her freckles climbing her high
cheekbones. She was so absolutely beautiful.
Of course, Jimmy and I knew all about
Captain Trafford’s grave and its coincidental death date. We’d
discovered it several summers before, and it had been a source of
minor amusement for us. But with Lenny unaware, Jimmy’s tale would
hook him. “You’ve heard about the wailing here, right?” he pressed
“Yeah.” Lenny was
visibly nervous. “Everyone says it’s really faint, and nobody can
hear where it comes from.”
“Oh, they know where it comes from, all right,” Jimmy said with a
grave expression befitting of a cemetery. “They say that every year,
as the anniversary of his death approaches, Captain Trafford wails
because he misses his beloved. The wailing comes from right
here—from right inside this ring of stones. It comes from his grave,
“No way,” Lenny said,
and his bright eyes were big blue wheels as well.
“Yes way. But on that night, he can be
put to proper rest—if someone dares.”
“How?” Lenny said, incredulous.
“Supposedly, he needs only to see his
love again, but she’s dead. If only she could appear to him at
midnight and tell him she loves him, he’ll move on to the next
world. Otherwise, he’ll haunt the graveyard forever.”
“Wow,” Lenny said.
“Come to think of it,” Jimmy said,
scrunching his brow like a master scam artist and tapping his chin
with a finger, “Darcie looks a lot like her.”
“Yeah—I saw a painting of her in an
old book at the library. She was pretty, with auburn hair and green
eyes and freckles. Just like your sister.”
She was pretty, all right, in all her
Irish glory, pursing her lips as she tried to stop a smile from
spreading across her face in the wake of Jimmy’s ridiculous story.
She and those beautiful lips were all I could think about. I’d be
kissing them the following night, and maybe more, and I could barely
contain myself enough to stick with the joke.
“Hey, you know what?” Jimmy said, eyes
brightening. “We should do it.”
“Do what?” Lenny said.
“We come here tomorrow at midnight,
with Darcie dressed up to look like John Trafford’s beloved. She
tells him she loves him, and the poor guy can finally rest in
I could tell from the
look Darcie shot at me that she felt the same way I did. There was
no way we were coming to this graveyard at midnight. Lenny didn’t
seem to like the idea, either, turning pale and stammering more than
usual. Jimmy kept messing with Lenny’s head during the walk home,
until Lenny met up with some of his friends and parted company,
giving us a chance to hear Jimmy’s plan. It involved a white dress
for Darcie and me hiding in the woods in the dark behind Trafford’s
grave, dressed in old clothes and fake blood and white makeup. When
we realized he was serious, Darcie put a stop to it.
“I’m all for messing with my little
brother, but there’s no way I’m coming here at midnight,” she told
Jimmy. “And anyway, I’ve never heard about putting his spirit to