A/N:This story is for my graduation project, which is a project I do so I can graduate (no duh!).I'd like you to read, review, and tell me what you think. I'd also like your opinion on the ending.

Happy reading.

Aithril


The Burning


I shivered in the late October air and pulled my jacket more securely around me against the chill. Autumn's confetti crunched like bones under my sneakers, making us all jump.

My cousin, Mel, shot me a sharp glare. "Quiet down!" she hissed, raking her long blond hair back from her eyes with two fingers.

"Sorry!" I whispered quietly, and was careful to take ginger steps on the patches of sidewalk still bare of leaves. Mel heaved an exasperated sigh at my willingness to obey and her best friend, Tiffany, snickered.

"So, are you going to do it, baby? You aren't going to chicken out like last time, are you?"

The red-headed girl had always reminded me of a rat. The resemblance was uncanny now as she grinned uneasily at me, her beady eyes flashing in the glare of the streetlight.

"I can do it." I said quietly, though my voice wavered.

Tiffany bared her pointed teeth in another false smile and beckoned me through the gap in the cemetery fence. I clambered past the iron stakes, ignoring the 'Closes at Sundown' signs, and followed Mel on the uneven path. The land was so hilly and rocky that steps had been built to assist the walker in navigating their way down the hillside. My feet echoed loudly on the slate-plated steps. They contrasted sharply with the modern headstones that continued to gleam year after year despite the weather.

The surface leveled noticeably as we entered the older section, which housed graves dating back to the 1800's. Simple gravestones were becoming more and more rare in comparison to the ornate collection of tombs, crypts, and even a few mausoleums. One such building had been recently broken into by the herd of local teenagers and the caretaker had only just managed to restore it.

"Quick now." Mel gestured to the very same mausoleum. "Let's get you in before the old man spots us." She glanced in the direction of the caretaker's little house; it was silent, dark, and looked remarkably snug when compared to the place I'd be spending the night.

"Jordan, you're going to have to help us." Tiffany's nasal voice, laced with impatience, snapped me out of my thoughts and I hurried to lend a hand.

Together, the three of us dragged the door to the side and propped it against a weathered tree stump.

The two older girls bounded eagerly through the doorway, excited to peek around. I remained outside and felt frozen in place. This was the exact spot where I had given in to my incredibly manly urge to run away yammering last time... and it could happen again...

"Come on..." Mel's voice echoed from within and I edged nervously closer to the mausoleum's entrance. "There's no one here but me, you, Tiff, and a seriously dead body."

I poked my head further inside and was surprised to note it was more roomy than I'd previously imagined.

(It would be wise to note that my imaginings occurred after seeing "The Mummy Returns" in theaters and that the enclosed space was often part of a pyramid complex, usually with sand piling in as a corpse in bandages staggered after me.)

The gray stone walls, dimly lit by the waning twilight of the night sky, seemed to be covered in engraved inscriptions that gleamed when you tilted your head a certain way and were lost when you did not. Some of the writing was so faint that it appeared to be inked onto the surface (and very faintly inked at that) and I might have been able to read some of it given time and light.

At last, I turned my attention to the primary object of my fear- the 'grave' itself. A large sarcophagus-type coffin sat on a stone slab in the middle of the chamber. I peered closer and noted more carvings set into the lid with more firmly detailed writing: "In the Lord we trust" and "Jesus Christ is our Savior." Though I had never paid much attention to my faith (as is common in young people today) and was not entirely sure that my religion even included a Jesus Christ, I felt slightly better and took a hesitant step inside.

"Relax!" Mel ordered, evidently finished investigating. She pulled a cigarette and lighter out of her back pocket and slumped lazily to the floor. Tiffany yawned and crouched next to her.

"We'll stay here for a little longer and start your night off on the right foot." my cousin explained as she lit her smoke.

That was certainly fine with me. I said nothing though, and tiptoed awkwardly over to sit by the pair. Automatically checking the floor before I relaxed, I was startled to see a sort of stain. I chose to perch cautiously with my heels against the cold wall rather than take the chance of sitting in it.

A couple minutes dragged by comfortably this way. I wished that Mel and Tiffany might stay all night with me, though certainly not for company. Idiots they may have been, but there was definitely safety in numbers.

Mel's cigarette was going like a firecracker now and I wrinkled my nose, turning away as the smoke filtered past.

"Don't be so uptight," she teased me, flicking the ash off onto the stone floor. "Only a couple more years and you'll be smoking like-"

I never did discover exactly what I'd be smoking like because, much to Mel's dismay, the cigarette stopped glowing and the end fell off onto her lap. She jumped up, cursing, then stomped out the smoldering butt.

"Damn cheap drugstore things..." she grumbled, rooting around the floor of the mausoleum for her lighter. Tiffany managed to rediscover the flashlight (for it was now quite dark and rounding nine' o'clock) and the hunt was quickly remedied.

No sooner had the blond had fired up another cigarette than it, too, extinguished with a soft hiss.

"This is ridiculous," Mel complained to no one in particular, dropping the cigarette with a careless flourish. "Tiff, hand me back the lighter and I'll try this again."

"I don't know..." Tiffany whined, her narrow-set eyes darting back and forth. She picked up the lighter from where it had been dropped, but hesitated. "Don't you think this is, like, a sign or something?"

"That's what Jordan's going to find out." the blond told her, swiping the lighter from her friend. "Why'd you think we brought that old tape recorder anyway?... Tiff!"

The red-haired girl cowered. "Whaaat?"

Mel was furiously flicking the lighter, growing more and more livid each time it failed to respond. "You broke my favorite lighter, you stupid bi-"

The still fizzling cigarette rose abruptly from its resting place on the floor between Mel and I like it had a mind of its own. It floated to the middle of the room at eye-level and hovered directly above the stone coffin. Then it paused, considering us.

The tension and silence built into a crescendo until I could hear the blood pounding through my ears. I stole a glance at the two teens and found them transfixed by the floating smoke. Their artificial tans couldn't compete with the white-sheet look they were sporting now.

My trembling hands seized the first thing they fell upon- the tape recorder. I was very fond of this particular device; it had been my sole entertainment until I was six and Mom landed a new job. It even came with a mini external microphone that was perfect for singing into. I had always gotten a kick out of recording my favorite song of the week and then listening with awe as it played back.

Now I ran my fingers over the row of buttons and felt for that special function that allowed me to hold onto a moment.

I found it.

Suddenly the cigarette burst into flames, earning shrieks from us all. I watched in fascination as the kindled little cylinder was torn into two halves by unseen hands, then hurled by some force out the mausoleum door.

Mel gave a sharp gasp. "The caretaker!"She dashed to the entrance with Tiffany on her heels. I could see her forehead furrow as she made fast calculations as to where it might have landed. "Jordan, help me!" she ordered, totally forgetting what we had just witnessed and more concerned about avoiding arrest.

Together, we searched the doorway to the mausoleum and behind every gravestone near it. The burning cigarette was no where to be found, and I thought it was odd that we hadn't seen the faintest wisp of smoke, but figured the gusts of wind had dispelled it.

"Find anything?" Mel asked me and I shook my head. "Tiff? See it?"

The redhead scanned the ground futilely. "Maybe it burnt out?"

"No way, it was burning like a bonfire." Mel frowned. "Besides, this wind is crazy. Any little flame would have roared up and spread into something, right?"

Tiffany shivered and began rubbing her arms, which had broken out into goose bumps. "Let's go home- this place is creeping me out."

"I'm with you there," Mel said immediately. "Jordan, are you going to stay?"

I snorted in disbelief. "No way, José," I said firmly. "You couldn't pay me to be here another minute."

"Chicken," Tiffany said, but it was without feeling. "Get the backpack so we can leave."

I ducked back inside the mausoleum and spied the backpack over by the wall. I made sure to grab the infamous lighter and stuff it in a side pocket. Who knew, maybe it'd start working again as soon as we left.

Heaving the backpack over my shoulder, I turned and waved the unknown body adieu. I hesitated, suddenly compelled to apologize. "Sorry Mel was smoking," I said timidly. "And I feel real bad about those teens messing up your grave last week. You deserve a peaceful final resting place." I patted the stone slab gingerly. "Have a good afterlife and-"

"Jordan!" Mel's hiss could barely be made out over the echo of the wind. I ran to the entry way and appeared in the night for only a moment before I dove back inside. By craning my neck around the corner of the stone, I could see the caretaker's flashlight beam shining directly into the faces of two guilty teens... I gave a silent groan.

"What are you kids up to?" the caretaker inquired angrily. "The cemetery's closed after dusk and-hey!" he exclaimed, seeing the door to the mausoleum cast aside. "This is thesecond time in a week that that poor wretch's grave has been broken into."

"I'm so sorry-"

"It'll never happen again-"

"Of course it won't!" the caretaker screeched. "Let's go, both of you. I'm calling your parents." He turned in the direction of his bungalow, then swiveled back. "First, help me put that door back in its rightful place."

I saw Tiffany and Mel exchange glances even as I backed further into the tomb. "Ok," they chirped in unison. I scrambled for the corner most hidden from the door and shoved my back against the wall, praying that this was all a dream and I would wake up- or at least someone might stop them.

But it was too late, and with jerky, shrinking movements, the teens helped shift the stone slab back in front of the doorway. It scraped across the ground and slowly blocked out inch by inch of the precious little moonlight. Finally, the door slid into place with a boom that made the entire mausoleum reverberate and outside sounds close to inaudible.

Very faintly, I could hear the caretaker and his two 'burglars' trudging away toward his cozy house, presumably to call their parents.

"Damn it all," I whispered in the inky blackness. My voice seemed at least ten times louder than normal, my breathing raspy, and my heartbeat deafening. After stilling my trembling fingers, I unhooked the backpack from around my shoulders and felt around for the flashlight. I sighed with relief when my fingers came in contact with it, pushing the button to shed some welcome light on my unhappy situation.

The bright beam caused me to blink furiously for a few seconds, blinded. I sat there unmoving and simply thanked whatever god might have been listening. Light was good. Light would help me hang onto reality.

I shined the beacon into every corner of the mausoleum, convincing my fears that they were illogical. No one here but me and a dead body.

A dead body whose spirit didn't seem to like fire... I shuddered.

I leaned back and immediately sat up as something jabbed me in the ribs- the tape recorder.

It was still recording.

Had it maybe picked up something like Mel and Tiffany had originally planned?

I pushed the stop button, then rewound the tape to the beginning. I steeled myself, took a deep breath, and pushed play.

All I could hear was a lot of static that sometimes echoed with the sounds of the two teens and I. The full tape played but there didn't seem to be any ghostly voices or anything as far as I could hear.

A scene in the Sixth Sense suddenly came back to me. It was a moment that had made the movie famous, where the psychologist listens to an old tape that's only white noise... until he turns the volume up. Then he hears voices, voices calling for help and pleading with anyone who will listen to save them-

I inhaled sharply and tried to calm my pounding heart. My hands, with a mind of their own, pushed 'Rewind' on the tape recorder, waited patiently until it was ready, and hit 'Play'. A sneaky finger slipped over to the volume wheel and cranked it up as high as it would go.

The external microphone had really helped. I could hear my own frantic breathing as the cigarette had risen over the stone coffin... and then I heard something else.

"Burn...? No, no, no burning here. We don't like the flames, they sear us. Rip off our skin, turn our bones to powder, melt the screams from our mouths-"

I froze, open-mouthed myself in a silent scream. The words were there, faint, but clear as day. Whimpering, I pushed 'Stop' to compose myself a little. Of course Mel had said we might hear something, but this was unbelievable.

EVP wasn't real- it was for the crackpots, the nut jobs, the loonies who haunted the city's streets and tried to sell you their toothbrush- not for real real. It just couldn't be. Me accepting the fact that there was a ghost, a real one, here in the mausoleum with me, watching me, would send me over the edge-

I felt my mind numb as I realized that fact. There is a ghost in this room with me.

My flashlight dimmed and went dark.

I'm not sure how long I sat there with my thoughts reeling and tried not to panic, but the moment came when it appeared I should do something. I wasn't insane yet and I wanted to keep it that way. By fiddling with the tape recorder, I fast-forwarded past what I had already recorded and into new tape.

I can do this... I thought, my teeth chattering nonetheless.

I pushed 'Record'.

"H-hello?" I squeaked pitifully. I waited a couple seconds, catching my breath as quietly as I could so it wouldn't interfere with the recording. "If you can hear me, tell me your name. Please." I added on as an afterthought. It certainly couldn't hurt to be polite.

I paused for about thirty seconds, then stopped the tape, rewound it, and played.

"H-Hello?" I heard my voice and winced internally. There was nothing but static despite the loud volume.

"If you can hear me, tell me your name. Please."

"Hope Bennet."

I gasped and paused the tape before instantly pushing play again. I wasn't going to chicken out this time. There was a pause, and then:

"Girl... get out of my grave."

I stopped the tape, my fingers fumbling over the buttons before I found the right one. God, she did not sound happy. I pushed record again and, in a wavering squeak, said "Please, I don't want to be in here. I can't get out- the door is too heavy."

I delayed for a couple seconds and pressed 'Stop'. I rewound the tape quickly and pushed play again.

"-my grave."

"Please, I don't want to be in here. I can't get out- the door is too heavy."

"... there. Leave and don't come back."

I blinked, hitting 'Stop'. What did she mean? I'd just told her I couldn't get out... What was she playing at?

A sudden groaning noise behind me had me on my feet like a shot and I spun around, nearly overbalancing.

The door was opening!

Slowly but surely, the stone slab ground it's way to the side of the entrance until it stilled with a shuddering thud.

"Thank you," I said, gathering up the backpack and tape recorder. I slipped joyfully out the door and ran a few steps away, happy to be alive. Glancing back, I caught sight of a murky figure sitting on the edge of the tomb and dangling its feet in the gloom. The door to the side lurched into motion again, complaining bitterly as it began to seal the opening.

"Wait!" I suddenly cried, an idea popping into my head. I struggled with the tape recorder and hurried to the closing door. "Wait! Can I help you? Is there anything I could possibly do-"

The figure looked up, its eyes staring straight into my own. An intense feeling of terror rushed over me, alien to my own, yet too similar to be anything but human. My palms were suddenly sweaty, my mouth dry, and my fingers sore from pounding against some unyielding surface. It was a door, and it was always unlocked, but someone had turned the key and run away. I tried to gasp, to say something, anything, but the smoke was too thick- smoke? Where had smoke come from? My head spun crazily and I staggered, coughing like I was going to expel a lung.

The blackness was closing in on all sides and I could no longer see, but I heard the crackling roar approaching. Suddenly, it had engulfed me; pain licked at the sides of my sanity. I screamed, but the vocal cords had been destroyed and nothing came out. I could literally feel my face becoming soft, mushy, running in sheets down the rest of my body-


San Marcus Times

8th October 1893

Local constables are grief-stricken to report that Mrs. Judith Bennet and her daughter, Miss Hope Bennet, were caught in the flames that burned their Victorian-style home to the ground last night.

Mr. Arthur Bennet was out of town on business when the house caught fire, supposedly from an overturned candle. The eldest daughter, Miss Sarah Bennet, managed to escape through the kitchen window, but succumbed to smoke inhalation and passed away earlier this morning.

Now a widow, Arthur Bennet refused comment and is planning to leave town next week.

Funeral services will be held for the mother and her two daughters Wednesday, October 10th in San Marcus Cemetery. Please attend to offer your condolences to Mr. Bennet and say good-bye to three of our society's most respected members.