“Emma Fallon” is a short story in which a young woman uncovers a terrifying discovery in one of New Orleans’ historical cemeteries. “Emma Fallon” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled The Left Palm And Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural.
It bothered her, how misunderstood she felt. How people, loved ones, friends, and yes even fiancés didn’t get it, didn’t get her. She sat in the coffee shop, just across the street from the high-walled cemetery. The day was overcast, cloudy — a perfect day for pictures. Her watch read just after ten. The office had been open for about an hour. She’d phoned in sick at work today. A weary sigh traveled up to somewhere around her throat. It was no secret that she had no business begging off work. She actually held several jobs, and it was the morning work as a receptionist in Dr. Clarence Marchand, pediatrician’s office that she called in sick for. Later in the afternoon would bring her position at the department store at the Mall which stretched into the evening. Then on the weekends, there was the post at the circulation desk of the public library, and of course, there were also her classes. She took night classes several times a week, working toward a business degree — too much on her plate for a single woman of thirty-five with a bad marriage under her belt. Too much particularly since her passion these days was photography.
She’d noted the gates of the Lafayette Cemetery being unchained only moments before by a thin elderly man. She wondered with distraction who worked in a cemetery, and thought to herself cryptically perhaps she should, given her pension for eclectic employment.
“Perhaps you should pick one track and stick with it.”
That would be Peter, Peter Reynolds, and her fiancé of just under two weeks now. He was a doctor that she’d met when he’d come in to fill in for old Dr. Marchand one week. That was the first job, the one she was allegedly sick for today. Peter was younger than she, by nearly four years, and that had kept her from going out with him at first. It was one of those invisible lines she’d established at some indefinable point in her life. But then, he was particularly persistent, and after a while another line was broken.
One of the things she liked most about him was that he was nothing like her first husband, except of course when he made statements like that.
“You sound just like Jack.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to.”
Peter was quick to be sorry. And that was helpful, but she questioned marrying him. And she questioned picking one track for her life, and mostly she questioned the odd restlessness within her that lately seemed to have become a permanent fixture.
Finishing her cup of coffee, she pulled on the very light weight cotton shirt that she’d brought to wear over her sleeveless sweater, just in case it turned out to be chilly this morning. It was late October, almost Halloween in New Orleans, so that made the weather wholly unpredictable.
The streets around the cemetery were largely unoccupied. It was a Thursday morning, and this was not her section of town. This was the Garden District, a lovely section of the city that drew her and more often than she liked to admit. What made it distinctive was its texture, its antiquated feel, and its removed aura that tended to convince one that it belonged in another place — perhaps another time, wholly separate from anything around it. She’d toyed with the idea of asking Peter if they could move into the area once they were married. After all, what he would make as a pediatrician would far eclipse what she was managing to live on now. Of course, that would mean she would have to go through with the marriage. She was many things but not a gold-digger, not a mercenary. Marriage would have to be real, for love, not convenience, if it were to happen at all.
Her black leather boots clicked hard on the cement pavement as she rounded the corner of the old cemetery.
A breeze blew lightly through her thick blonde hair just as she walked beyond the iron gates that led inside. It was as one would expect and yet not. High trees stretching over tall, granite mausoleums, some in perfect condition while others damaged, weather and time worn as would be expected over the long expanse of time. Leaves crackled, and distantly she smelled the dying embers of a fire. Nervously fingering the small camera case that hung round her neck, she attempted to clear her mind and concentrate. Pictures, pictures, she thought if she could sell some to a local magazine then finally, she might be on the right track.
“Perhaps you should pick one track and stick with it.”
“You sound like Jack.”
“Was that his name? I thought you said Thomas.”
She’d laughed, “No, no you must be mistaken. It was Jack.”
Then he looked at her with eyes that said he wasn’t so sure, but still reassured. “Sorry, didn’t mean to.”
Her feet wandered through their own volition. She’d been here before but never inside. Her ten years in the city, she’d never wanted to come inside before, until now — until this morning after the dreams, dreams of smoke, bitterness in her throat, smells that burned her nostrils like acids. And then she’d awoken, knowing that she must see inside, not wanting, but needing.
The long blue jean skirt that she wore was straight, and now felt a bit confining. She should have worn pants, but she hadn’t. The skirt stopped her from taking the long strides that she was driven to. Surrounding her, the crypts were large, large tall, rectangular slabs of stone. So similar in construction but the epithets were different, 1800s, early 1900s, children, families — a child struck down by yellow fever. She took out the camera and began to take shots, shots everywhere, scattered, trees, tombs, broken slabs of stone — just randomly shooting, her fingers quaking as she soaked it all in.
What was it?
What was it?
She looked up from behind the lens. Elusive, but powerful, a pull — it bothered her, worse than that was pushing her, stalking her.
She began to move rapidly but randomly down the uneven pathways, between the tombs, reading the inscriptions, looking, feeling, needing frantically something, something that was here. Her hands reached out, strangely, desperately, her fingertips brushing, brushing lightly across the etched words, forgotten names.
This pointless action stretched on and on, for endless minutes. That was until a feeling of foolishness nearly compelled her to stop. But then lightly brushing across a name delicately engraved on a cold, hard slab of rock, she hesitated, then jolted once it was absorbed.
Impossible, she whispered to herself, looking, staring, dumfounded at what she saw. Again, and again, she brushed her fingers along the letters —again and again in disbelief, until her brain soaked in what she was seeing. It was a coincidence, of course, a name a common name, but hers, her name: “Emma Fallon, Died October 20, 1900.”
“Emma, you just called him Jack. His name was Thomas.”
She nodded, her mind, or rather her memory, hazy. Then she murmured, “Thomas Woolery.”
Peter was looking at her oddly, as though she was making no sense, none whatsoever. “Woolery? But your name—”
“Of course,” the fog was beginning to clear now. It must be those pills that he’d prescribed for her, to help her sleep, to help her sleep dreamless sleep. “I went back to my maiden name. Why would I keep his?”
“Of course,” he cut her off. His flat expression told her that he was satisfied. He did have a pragmatic mind, a physician’s mind. Things had to make sense to him. “And Jack?”
She rubbed her temples, trying desperately to clear out the cobwebs. “It was his middle name, Jackson. Sometimes I called him Jack.” She didn’t know why she’d lied. It probably wasn’t at all necessary. But the truth, the truth, would have been less palatable to her young fiancé. She had to make allowances for him. He was young in so many ways. The world to him was what he could touch, see under a microscope, and could be explained. To her, it was something different, filled with half chances, mists, incomplete tasks, fractures — not so certain, not so tangible, and not at all as controllable as he would have liked to think. She didn’t know who Jack was. It wasn’t her ex-husband’s middle name. It wasn’t a name that she was even particularly comfortable uttering. And she had no idea, why for a few moments she was convinced otherwise.
There was a breeze that brushed by her, and it seemed to whistle, whistle directly into her ears, causing pain.
There was a distinctive tap, the tap of a boot on the partial cement walkway that ran along the front of the tombs. She closed her eyes shut, still feeling the pain in her ears, her head, fingertips still connecting to the tomb, the tomb of a woman who bore her name, yet died so long ago. And the tapping, light tapping, was only getting closer. She willed her hand to move, to leave its position connecting with the cool granite, but it would not. So instead, she willed the tapping to pass her by. No doubt it was close, as it had grown distinctly louder. But again, averse to her wishes, it did not. It simply stopped. Somewhere along the infrequently trodden pathway, it had simply stopped.
She forced her eyes open. Vision was blurry and distinctly out of focus — no doubt the breeze, the chapping wind that felt as though it had dropped in temperature, sometime during the last several moments. She breathed in deeply, extending her other hand and grasping the first, forcing it away from the inscription. There was no point now, no pictures today, she told herself. Something had gone awry and nothing more was possible now. She turned on her heel to leave but then stopped abruptly, jolted. Only a few yards away he stood, a figure, a man quietly watching her.
She didn’t intend it, but the suddenness, unexpected shock, sent her eyes into direct contact. A man, bearded, fair, her age, perhaps older, in a trench coat standing there. There was no mistake, just watching her directly. She pulled her light shirt around her a bit more closely, dropping her eyes and readying for a quick departure, when his voice abruptly caused her to halt. “I must know before you leave here, if you’re all right.”
Against her volition, his voice sent her eyes upward again, meeting the stranger’s. She realized he’d taken another few steps toward her, and her immediate response was to back away. But there was nowhere to go, behind her was the cold hard surface of Emma Fallon’s tomb. “I’m fine.” There was a perceptible tremor in her voice.
And then he stepped closer, with, she believed, an expression of kindness on his face. She noted for the first time that he was wearing a turtleneck sweater and blue jeans beneath the open trench coat. Odd wardrobe, after all, it was only October. October in New Orleans was not especially cold weather by any means. “Are you sure? You look a bit distressed.”
“No,” and then she shrugged, “that’s not unusual. I usually look distressed.” Impulsively, she’d decided to diffuse the awkwardness by taking on a bit of a flip tone
An amused smile spread across his face, and she thought of Peter and how he was much too literal to appreciate such peculiar moments. “Well, if that’s true, it is unfortunate. A lovely lady like yourself should not be so often upset.” She detected no particular accent, but he did have a specific way of phrasing words that suggested intelligence or perhaps culture.
“I didn’t say I was upset, just that I looked so.”
He nodded, “No, you didn’t say. But it is more than clear that you are.” She hadn’t realized when he’d taken that final step, the one that brought him directly in front of her. The one that enabled him to quietly reach up and graze her cheek with his fingertips, “So pale,” he murmured. “Have you had a fright?”
The sound was loud, loud enough so perhaps he should have heard her heart hammering, hammering in fear, or hammering in surprise, of which she wasn’t at all certain. Details seemed to be becoming blurred. “No, why would you say such a thing?”
And then the smile, a slight smile that traveled up into blue-gray colored eyes. “Because it is clearly written all over you, all over your lovely face. That something terrible has brushed by you.”
She deliberately stepped to the side, since clearly there was no place of escape backwards. “I have to be going,” she managed to get out.
But the stranger’s eyes were no longer on her. They were focused on the tomb that now lay exposed. And to her complete bewilderment, he reached out his hand, almost tenderly brushing the inscription as she had done herself moments before. “Emma Fallon,” it came out in a heavy whisper, his deep voice wrapping around the name in an odd way. And then his eyes were on her, not so kind, not so soft, now remarkably piercing. “Have you heard about Emma Fallon?”
She stood there, struck dumb for a moment, staring at him with puzzlement, “Heard?”
And then he nodded, “Oh yes, so many stories about this young woman. As you can see, she died fairly young.”
For a split second, her heart slammed in her chest. She’d been so captivated by the name that she hadn’t really considered the dates. “Really?” was all she said, feeling in the moment a strange, inexplicable paralysis creeping into her flesh.
“Oh yes, young, but a busy life. Some say she was a mystic,” and then his eyes narrowed as he focused in on her again, “but others not. Others say she was a witch.”
She felt his bold stare and suddenly experienced an odd coursing of strength that seemed to gravitate right up her spine. She straightened up and frowned at him explicitly, “Really? A witch? With a long nose and a black cauldron?”
And then the stranger smiled again, appreciating, she was quite sure, her sudden burst of spunk. “Well, perhaps not exactly that kind of witch, because I have heard that she was quite beautiful. No, I think more so the kind of witch that casts spells, charms, perhaps beguilements.”
“Sounds lovely,” her voice was dry. She wondered in this odd moment exactly what was going on here. Was this strange man trying to flirt with her or planning a mugging? At this bizarre instant, either scenario seemed plausible.
He dropped his hand from the tomb. “I see you’re not one for fancifulness.”
She folded her arms in front of her, feeling oddly more vulnerable in the wake of that observation. “Well, life doesn’t always leave you enough time for fancifulness.”
A thoughtfulness crossed his somewhat rugged face. It was odd. She couldn’t truly decide if he were handsome or not. There were sharp planes along his cheek bones that defied that description, but there was also an appeal, something dancing at times in his eyes that could only be interpreted as charming. “Pity,” he offered, “when life denies you such enjoyments.”
Again, she felt taken aback by his words. Truly, if it weren’t for his pleasant manner, she would have sworn he was criticizing her. “Well, as I said before, I have to be going.”
“Going where?” he asked softly, but pointedly.
“Work, I’m late for work,” she lied. After all, she had the morning off. She’d called in sick. But the idea of lingering, continuing this very odd conversation, seemed completely intolerable and out of the question.
“I see,” he responded, again softly. It was odd how the tone of his voice had become so quiet, soothing, almost wrapping around her, when he spoke. “Did I tell you how Emma Fallon died?” Again, a breeze seemed to blow near them, the temperature dropping perceptively, or perhaps it hadn’t. Perhaps, it was simply all in her mind. She was realizing now, recognizing in this moment, in this foreboding little place, that she shouldn’t be here — that all of this was possibly a terrible mistake. She said nothing but took a step backward, feeling her booted leg again brush up against the last resting place of Emma Fallon. “It was an unfortunate end, you see. But many said she deserved her fate. I don’t know if that’s true. What do you think? Does anyone really deserve to die, or to die the way she did?”
“I need to leave now,” she murmured, leaning against the tomb, the cold hard surface of the tomb.
“Yes, I know,” bending in so close to her that she could feel his warm breath. “But first, I’ll tell you how she died.” His eyes widened, and she could feel their glare like a tangible stab holding her in place. “You see, her husband murdered her.” He lifted his hands in the air in front of her, his strong, long, capable hands. And then he continued in a heavy whisper. “He killed her for betraying him with another man. Witch or not, sorceress or not, she couldn’t stop him.”
Her vision began to blur before her, a swirl, as she felt his hands go lightly around her throat. “As you can well imagine Emma, he strangled her, completely, and without hesitation crushed the life out of her.” She didn’t know if he’d tightened his grip, or what caused all reality to spin, and then abruptly disappear into blackness.
“You don’t talk about him much.”
Peter frowned a bit, and again she questioned the reasons that they were together. It was not the first time that she thought perhaps it was convenience, timing, weakness. And as a person she found him, well, to put it nicely, not formidable. Not like, “Your first husband, Thomas Woolery.”
It took a moment for her consciousness to absorb that name. It was there, certainly well-placed in her memory, attached to some face that now seemed to be fading with each passing instant. “It was so long ago.”
Again, confusion, and then suspicion passing across his still youthful features. “How long?”
She shrugged, “I don’t remember exactly, years. I’ve lived here in the city alone for years.”
His brown eyes narrowed, “But you’ve only been working with Dr. Marchand for a few months. What did you do before that?”
She’d smiled, trying to smooth things as was her strength in this relationship. “Peter, why all these questions? If you had doubts about me, shouldn’t you have considered that before we got engaged?”
“Why are you so secretive?” he’d asked.
It bothered her, irritated her, actually, all the probing. She had answers, neat little answers tucked away in a file in her mind somewhere for such occasions, but now it seemed like such an effort to get to them. “Look, I’m just not feeling well, a headache. How about we do this another time?”
And then he nodded, said sorry, and dropped it. Like she knew he would. And a day passed and another with no more inquiries, and then there was this day.
She awoke to dimness, to flickering shadows on a white brick wall, and to a chill so powerful that it felt indeed as though the season had changed. Her head throbbed as she sat up on the short pink satin settee. A heavy knitted, ecru colored afghan was tightly wrapped around her.
She glanced about trying to somehow absorb what she was seeing — another chair, small table, bookshelf all light in color, and the fireplace across from her — the only light in the room.
For a moment, she wondered if she were dead. If, indeed, she had been murdered by the stranger in the cemetery, but then she dismissed the possibility. It was a nice room, but there had to be more substance to heaven than a pleasant room. “What makes you think you’re bound for heaven?”
The voice behind her was startling. She pulled the cover more closely to her, briefly fearing that she’d been kidnapped and that there were more horrors to come. Then, as he rounded the small couch, he commented dryly, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Without giving her a glance, he crossed to the fireplace, squatting down in front of it, stoking the flames. He’d divested himself of the trench coat and pushed up the sleeves of his navy-colored turtleneck. It was a striking shade against his light-colored hair. He turned to her suddenly, shooting her a wry glance. “Are you reading my mind?” she murmured absently.
“Wouldn’t be the first time, love,” he shot back returning his attention to the fireplace. Her head began to throb and her vision to swirl a bit. “Concentrate Emma, you must anchor yourself here.”
He was now standing in front of the fireplace, poker in his hand, staring at her with a palpable intensity. She straightened up with an unexpected burst of extreme irritation. “What the hell are you talking about?”
And then he smiled, dropping the dark silver poker down to the brick surrounding the fireplace. “That’s better. Use your anger. It will help you regain your place.”
She flung the blanket off her, standing up. “Are you out of your mind? What does that mean, my place? Who are you?”
He stood before her quietly, moving no closer, no laughter in his eyes now, charm all dropped away, rather perfectly unvarnished. “That’s a very good question Emma. Who am I, who indeed?”
Again, the swirl in her head, voices, phantoms, images melting away in the dim firelight. “How do you know my name?”
A slight smile, “Emma? Emma Fallon, same as the woman on the tomb, same as the witch, the sorceress.”
She felt shaky again, losing ground, as if the breath had been just knocked out of her. “She died young. Her husband murdered her,” she rambled, grasping, grasping for anything.
He shrugged, issuing a quick laugh, “Yes, well, I’m sure he would have liked to, from time to time. But then again, it wasn’t an untroubled road for either of them. You see, they didn’t make it easy on each other.”
She breathed in deeply, again feeling the swirl in her head, but trying to ignore it. She picked up the woven afghan from the sofa and wrapped it around her shoulders. “It’s cold in here.”
He nodded, “Yes, can’t be helped. But there is the fire.”
There was a trembling going on inside her, in her mind, in her heart, and throughout the layers of memory that were peeling away. “I need to go home.”
“Yes, of course you do Emma. But what you need to decide is where exactly home is.”
She looked up at him with confusion, feeling acutely not for the first time, but for the first acknowledged time, the feeling of familiarity that accompanied this individual. “I have to go home to Peter.”
“Really?” he said with exaggerated emphasis. His face hardened perceptibly at the mention of her young fiancé’s name. “Really Emma? And what exactly sort of life do you think you’ll have with young Peter?”
“Uncomplicated.” The answer slipped out before there was thought.
And he laughed in response, “Yes, well, that’s true enough.” And then he moved closer to her. “It would be uncomplicated, but for a woman like you wouldn’t that be—” and then he brushed her cheek lightly with the back of his fingertips. “Dull?” he whispered.
She looked at him squarely, feeling an odd mix of being compelled and irritated at the same time. “Who are you?” she asked directly and with no hesitation this time.
“Time to remember Emma,” he coaxed softly with that voice, that tone, that compelling, soothing intonation, “remember your first husband.”
“Thomas,” she murmured feeling mesmerized, “Thomas Woolery.”
He sighed with a bit of exasperation. “Thomas Woolery was my tailor.” Then with a steely voice he commanded, “Remember Emma.”
And then, it came with almost an audible crack, although it was all in her mind. There was a deluge, a flood of color, sounds of music, laughter, dresses of satins, and muslins that cascaded across the floor. And him, his eyes, blue-gray colored. “Jack,” she expelled in a gasp.
Then she turned to him with a feeling of genuine anger that exploded like a volcano, “You bastard!”
He smiled broadly, laughing, “Ah huh, remember too much I see.”
She felt the power of who she was course through her body once more and felt more than inclined to slam him with anything she could put her hands on. “How dare you!”
“You said you wanted time apart.”
“I meant I wanted to go to the country, not to another century.”
“How is the future my love? Is it a brave new world? Is it that much better without me around?”
She dropped the blanket on the floor and crossed to the fireplace, resting her hand on its walnut colored mantle. “Simpler Jack, so much simpler.”
He frowned. Evidently, she’d made a direct hit. “And that is so much better?”
She reveled in the freedom that was coursing through her now. How confining it was not to truly be oneself. “Did you miss me at all?” she asked a little kindlier than he deserved.
There was no smile, but the lights had returned, the dancing lights in his eyes. “If I hadn’t, I would have left you there. With your young baby doctor.”
She smiled, now beginning to feel the slightest degree of validation, “He’s a pediatrician, and you’re jealous.”
“I didn’t expect you to take up with the first silly bloke that approached you.”
She looked away, “It’s your own fault. You made me forget everything, planted all those silly, false memories. I should have known. Couldn’t you have made my past a bit more exciting?”
“Then you would have never wanted to come home,” he stated flatly.
And she crossed her arms, truly beginning to absorb the enormity of what her dear, loving, alchemist of a husband had done. “I didn’t say I wanted to.” He moved in front of her, slowly placing his hands on either side of her face. “Trying to strangle me again?” she whispered.
“Wouldn’t dream of it dearest. Come home with me. I’m tired of all of this. I need you.”
“And?” she waited expectantly.
With emphasis he capitulated, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have sent you away. I just wanted or rather hoped it would help you appreciate more what we have.”
She looked away, but he gently tilted her face back to him, “That was a nasty touch, the tombstone Jack,” she murmured.
He nodded, “Trying to jolt your memories. I suppose in hindsight it was a bit extreme. But be honest Emma, do you really prefer the future?”
She shook her head reluctantly, “No, not really. It’s a lot of work. But at least I had the vote there.”
He smiled with genuine appreciation, “Yes, well, give it time.”
Her husband pulled her closely into a warm embrace, and she knew that this time the wild swirl around them would be the one that took them home.
Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert
Just when all seems well and quiet, when all becomes comfortable and predictable then reality bends. Evelyn Klebert takes you to a place where ordinary life fractures into the sphere of the paranormal. The journey begins with one woman’s unstoppable quest for vengeance against a supernatural creature in “Wolves,” and continues in an old historical graveyard where a horrifying discovery is uncovered in “Emma Fallon.” In “The Soul Shredder” a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality, while in “Wildflowers” a woman strikes up a supernatural friendship with impossible implications. And in “The Left Palm” a fortuneteller in the French Quarter receives a most unexpected and terrifying customer.