The Stalker – Part One

Some people are stalkers of celebrities.  Some people are stalkers of politicians.  Some people are stalkers of imagined lovers.

My name is Dennis Johnson and I am a stalker of cemeteries.  In my travels, I have stalked cemeteries where both the famous and the infamous fertilize the soil of their final resting places.  I have wept over many and spat on a few.

I have stalked cemeteries in large cities and I have stalked cemeteries in small cities whose names fail to appear on most maps.  But my fascination has always been with the forgotten ones, the ones off the beaten path and mostly, the ones rumored to be haunted.

I have heard tales of gentle earthbound souls still wandering the grounds looking for lost lovers.  I have also heard tales of sinister souls staying behind to seek revenge for atrocities committed against them.

In my travels, one cemetery was said to be the most haunted…so haunted that even the greatest hardcore ghost hunters dared not enter.  It dated back to the early 1700’s and although the proper name was Resurrection Cemetery, it was widely known among the residents as “Retribution Cemetery.”

Word had it that the famous Jimmy Hoffa’s decapitated head was resting there along with the Servant Girl killer from the 1880’s.  There was a folk story about self-appointed mercenaries hunting down killers, dismembering their bodies and burying the pieces in an unmarked grave.

That of course, piqued my interest and I made it my quest to seek out those departed souls who had found no rest.

Resurrection Cemetery housed 38 graves.  There were no headstones.  On each grave, a bronze vase sat atop a plaque containing meaningful epithets scripted by the decedent or a family member.  Flowers adorned each vase and appeared to be cookie-cutter arrays of unrealistic plastic.

It sat in the middle of a now tree-lined, overgrown pasture said to have been the site of an ancient Civil War battle.

Off to the side, almost hidden by a wall of weeds, I noticed one lone grave with the mandatory vase but no flowers.

In the distance, I could see a small one-room shack of sorts.  I was told that was where I could find the attendant but only on the first Monday of every month.

Fortunately for me, the first Monday was near.  After a few days of deciding where I would lodge, I made my way to the shack.  A bespectacled old man sat in a lone chair, reading the newspaper.  He looked over his glasses but said nothing.

I introduced myself and he stood and shook my hand.  “John Kennedy,” he said.  “No relation.  What can I do for you, young man?”  I explained that I was interested in information about Resurrection Cemetery, especially about the folks supposedly buried there.

“Ah,” he said.  “You’ve listened to the local rumors, like maybe Jimmy Hoffa’s head is buried here?”

I smiled and nodded “yes.”

Mr. Kennedy said “well, I don’t know if that’s rightly true or not but to tell you the truth, I don’t really care one way or the other.  I spend as little time out there as I possibly can.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He went on to tell me that it was his job to replace the flowers once a month and he found walking the grounds to be very disturbing.  “Although I know it’s not likely, I always feel like somebody’s watching me,” he said.

I asked about the lone grave.  He shook his head and said “you don’t want to go anywhere near that one, young feller.”

When I asked why, he said “it’s believed that anybody who disturbs that grave and I mean even moving a leaf, will within a year, be in it.”

I laughed and told him that I didn’t believe in that kind of rubbish.

He looked me in the eye and said “you’d better.”

 

To be continued___________________________

 

 

 

Who Am I?

They say that I was once a great beauty.
Who am I?

I commanded attention and turned heads.  I was bright and shiny and many an envious eye was cast my way.
Who am I?

My arrival was anticipated by most and feared by few.
Who am I?

People smiled and cheered when I arrived.  People wanted to touch me.  People wanted to be seen with me.  Children ran after me and waved.
Who am I?

People held back tears when I left.  Some of them blew soft kisses.  Some of them stood and watched me until I could be seen no longer.
Who am I?

My voice inspired poetry and hauntingly beautiful songs.  Mythical stories have been written about me.
Who am I?

I have seen many great wonders and I have witnessed horrible atrocities.
Who am I?

I have witnessed and hidden illicit affairs.  I have witnessed and hidden crimes of passion.
Who am I?

I have heard hearty laughter and I have seen woeful tears.  I have experienced glorious joy and I have seen pain and sorrow laid bare.
Who am I?

My shine is now faded and worn and I have been scarred.  I have been neglected, discarded and forgotten.  I was slowly replaced by others whose superficial shine will never equal mine.  I shall never return to my former glory.
Who am I? 

Now most people walk by without a single glance.  If I am noticed, I see pity in their eyes.  Some don’t remember that I once existed.  Some know me only in folklore or fairy tales.
Who am I?

They say that I was once a great beauty.
Who am I?

 

The Book Man – Chapter Four

Word quickly spread around the neighborhood about the beloved book mans’ accident.  Old man Barnes had been able to get in touch with Cole and begged him to come to the hospital.  What he wanted to say was “maybe this time you can actually find the time to visit this fine man you have disappointed so many times,” but he didn’t.

Cole said that he and his family would take the first flight out and old man Barnes agreed to meet them at the airport, wondering of course, if they would actually make it.

Old man Barnes had found a bag of books that Luther had just bought and decided to bring one of them to the hospital.  He sat beside Luther and quietly started reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea.”  He was hoping for some reaction from Luther but he saw none.

Later that afternoon, he drove to the airport and was surprised when Cole and his wife actually got off the plane.  They had left their girls at home with their maternal grandparents.  “It was just easier,” Cole said.

Old man Barnes once again held his tongue.  All Luther had dreamed about for the last several years, was getting to see those little girls.  Those little girls he had bought gifts for.  Those little girls he had planned on helping build a snowman.  Those little girls who he said were the spitting image of their grandma.

Old man Barnes drove Cole and his wife to the hospital and when they walked into Luther’s room, there was an audible gasp from Cole.

The doctor was just leaving and Cole asked for an update.  He explained that there had been no change in Luther’s condition and truthfully, he didn’t really think there ever would be.  Due to his advanced age and frail body, the trauma had just been too great for him to ever recover.  At least that was his prognosis.

Cole took Luther’s hand and said “dad, I’m here.”  A smile seemed to come to Luther’s face and then the sound that makes every nurse and doctor scramble to a room.  The straight line scream of the cardiac monitor.

Despite their valiant efforts, Luther passed away.  Cole asked for a few minutes alone with him.  What, if anything he said, no one knew.

When he walked out of the room, old man Barnes knew Luther was gone.  He was surprised when he saw that Cole had tears in his eyes.  He was even more surprised at what he said, not even looking at old man Barnes or his wife.  It was as if he was talking to himself.

He said “you know, you take your parents for granted.  You think they’re always going to be there.  You get busy starting your lives when you’re young and you forget the sacrifices they made for you when they were young.  You don’t think you have time for them and you forget that they always had time for you.  You think there’s always going to be a next time to see them.”

All those feelings and statements were too late as far as old man Barnes was concerned and he said “your dad is gone and he will never hear those words being said.  He is never going to hear the regret in your voice nor is he ever going to see the tears in your eyes.  Your sentiments are a little too late, son.”

He said “death is final and almost always brings sorrow and regret but how easy it would have been for you to say those words while he was still alive.  How much joy you could have given him if you had just once, kept your word.”

What old man Barnes said made Cole feel ashamed and he broke down.  After he gathered his composure, old man Barnes took him and his wife to Luther’s house.  They walked in and saw the stockings still hanging on the mantle.  The ornaments, carefully wrapped, still sat in a box.

Old man Barnes said “Luther was a fine man and he was beloved in the neighborhood.  He smiled and said “did you know that he was called the book man?”

“The book man?” asked a puzzled Cole.

“Yeah,” old man Barnes said.  “He called them his treasures and spent weekends buying them and then building shelves to put them on.  Besides you and your family, his books were his most precious possessions.”

“I don’t understand,” Cole said.

“Come with me,” old man Barnes said as he led Cole down to the basement.  Cole walked from room to room, awestruck at what he was seeing.  All of the rooms were full of shelves and all the shelves were full of books.

Cole sighed, shook his head and said “he didn’t want anybody to know.”

Old man Barnes, himself puzzled, said “he didn’t want anybody to know what?”

Cole smiled and said “he didn’t want anybody to know that he couldn’t read.”

 

I Ka Hopena.

The Book Man – Chapter Three

Luther hadn’t received a visit, but he had received yet another card from Cole with pictures of the little girls.  How they had grown!  He was so looking forward to seeing them as Cole had promised they would be down soon.

He put on a brave face and started the new year.  He tried to soothe his sorrow by thinking of the abundant treasures yet to be found.

In true form, the next week he came home with bags full of books.  Old man Barnes and Rufus came walking down the street and old man Barnes said “how many have you got today?”

Luther smiled and said “I have 26 today so I need to get working on some shelves.  Cole and his family are coming down soon you know and I don’t want to be out in my garage building shelves when I can be playing with those little girls.”

“When are you expecting them this time?” old man Barnes asked.

“Well, Cole promised that they would try to make it down in a couple of weeks.” Luther said.  “I have to tell you, I’m so excited and I think this time they’ll make it.”

Alas, Luther would be left wanting again.  Cole said that things were just too hectic at work but he was taking some time off around Christmas and without a doubt, they would be down.

Soon Christmas was on the way and once again, Luther bought a tree and decorated it with lights and ornaments.  He still had the bracelets he bought for the little girls last year and didn’t think it wrong to put them in their stockings again this year, along with two little porcelain angels he had picked out especially for them.

He ordered a turkey dinner from the local grocery store and had taken the good china out of the hutch.  This was going to be such a wonderful Christmas.

For the front yard, Luther bought a set of reindeer whose heads moved back and forth.  He thought the little girls would like them.  As he was hanging the lights on the house, the neighborhood children rode by and said “Merry Christmas, book man.”

Luther smiled and waved and hoped that maybe they could come play with the little girls.  He was also hoping that it would snow so they could make their very first snowman in grandpa’s yard.  He had an old scarf, an old hat and some of grandma’s buttons.  He had picked out two perfect limbs for arms and he made sure he had a carrot for the nose.

Christmas came and went.  Cole and his family couldn’t make it but there was a promise of trying to make it after the first of the year.

Christmas night, nobody knew that Luther sat in his house next to the tree and cried.

The next day, as he dragged the tree to the curb, Luther’s despondence was clear to old man Barnes, who was finding it more and more difficult to hide his anger toward Cole.  He asked Luther if he was angry.

“No, I’m not,” he said.  “I understand.  You know these young folks have a lot going on in their lives.”  He sounded as if he was apologizing for Cole.

Old man Barnes looked at Luther and said “you’re a good man, book man.”  Luther smiled and said “well, I try to be.”

One of Luther’s hopes had come true.  It had snowed and everything was covered in a white blanket that lent a sense of serenity to the entire neighborhood.  It was beautiful but how much more beautiful it would have been if there had been a snowman in the front yard, next to the nodding reindeer.

Luther carefully packed away the reindeer and then put the ladder against the house to take the lights down.

Just as he reached the top, the ladder suddenly slipped and Luther came crashing down.  Old man Barnes and Rufus had already made it back home but two of the neighborhood children, out with their new sleds, saw him fall.  They ran over to him and called “book man.  Can you hear me?”  One of them told the other to run home and call 911.

When the ambulance arrived, they asked the children if they knew his name.  “Book man,” one of them said.  The paramedic said “Mr. Bookman?”  The child said “no.  Not Mr. Bookman.  He is the book man.

“Is there anybody at home?  Wife?  Children?” asked the paramedic.  “No,” the children said.  He lives by himself and he buys books.”

The medics loaded him up and took him to the hospital.  Shortly after he was taken to a room, Luther slipped into a coma.

To be continued____________________

The Book Man – Chapter Two

Luther was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Cole and his family.  He bought stockings to hang on the fireplace mantle and filled the little ones’ stockings with all sorts of goodies.  There was a special prize tucked away inside.  He had picked out a bracelet just for them.  It was going to be such a special Christmas, he thought.

The next week, braving the chilly air, old man Barnes and Rufus stopped by as Luther was hauling the tree to the curb.  “Did you have a good Christmas, book man?  How were Cole and the family?”

Luther, again trying to hide his disappointment, said “well, they couldn’t make it.  The weather turned bad up there and they were afraid they would get stranded somewhere but Cole said they would try to make it down after the first of the year.  They sent me a nice card with a picture of them on it.” Luther got misty eyed when he said “ah, you should see those little ones. They’re the spitting image of their grandma.”

Old man Barnes, trying to hide his own disappointment, said “I’m sure they’ll make it down soon.  Where are you off to now?  After getting some more books?”

Luther smiled and said “I thought I might run into some good sales seeing as how it’s after the holidays.  You never know what I might find.”

Cole and his family didn’t make it down after the new year as hoped so Luther continued to busy himself making shelves for his treasured books. Old man Barnes had once asked Luther who his favorite author was.  Luther smiled and said “why that would be like asking somebody who their favorite child was.  To me, they’re all my favorite.”

Christmas rolled around again, and again Luther was anticipating a visit from Cole and his family.  This year, Cole had promised that “come Hell or high water,” they would make it down.

Luther once again visited the tree farm and once again, picked out the most beautiful tree he could find.  He brought the lights and ornaments down from the attic and sang to himself as he decorated the tree.  Luther was getting some age on him and it was getting harder and harder to lift heavy things like Christmas trees but oh, the joy of finally getting to see his family made his efforts worth it.

While hanging lights on the outside of the house, the children in the neighborhood, bundled up like ticks about to burst, walked or rode by on their bicycles and yelled “Merry Christmas, book man.”  Luther loved to see them having fun and would sometimes watch as they struggled to build a snowman out of powdery snow.  Unable to get it to stick together, it lent itself to making perfect snow angels.  Luther remembered Cole making snowmen and always obliged when he asked for help.  It was a memory that he would never forget.

Christmas came and went, and again, Cole and his family weren’t able to make it down.  One of the girls had gotten sick and they didn’t want to travel with a sick child.  But Cole promised Luther that they would make it down as soon as she got better.

As Luther was hauling the tree out to the curb, old man Barnes and Rufus were walking by.  Rufus walked up to Luther and when Luther bent down to rub his head, he started licking his hand.  It was as if he could sense the sadness in Luther.  Old man Barnes didn’t ask how his Christmas was or how the visit with Cole and the family went.  He could tell that once again, they had disappointed Luther.

To be continued_________________

The Book Man – Chapter One

His name was Luther Malone but everybody called him the book man.  He was an odd little fellow whose salt and pepper hair was balding in the familiar horseshoe pattern and his favorite attire was an almost wornout pair of paint splattered overalls.

He was a friendly man who never failed to offer a smile and throw up a hand when a neighbor was walking or driving by.  Children, riding their bicycles, waved and said “hey book man.”

Every weekend at the crack of dawn, he would get into his old fire engine red Chevy pick-up and begin the hunt for the books he called his treasures. After he went to all the local garage sales, he headed to the thrift stores.

He was even known to dumpster dive behind the Salvation Arm Family Store when it was closed.  His efforts were always rewarded and he would bring back sacks full of books after every outing.

He wasn’t prejudiced when choosing his books.  He didn’t care if they were soft cover or hardback.  He didn’t care if they were penned by a famous writer or a one-book author.  He didn’t care if they were thick or thin.  He didn’t care about any of those things because they were his treasures.

Old man Barnes lived up the street and had a little Jack Russell terrier, named Rufus.  The neighborhood had dubbed him “the little Jack Russell terror” because he was fiercely protective of his master.  For reasons nobody really understood, the only person Rufus would let come anywhere near old man Barnes, was the book man.

One day, old man Barnes on his daily stroll with Rufus, stopped and looked at the bags in the back of Luther’s truck.  He shook his head and said “well, book man.  How many did you bring home today?”  Luther smiled and said “38.”

“That’s a record, isn’t it?” asked old man Barnes.  Luther said “I think it might be.”  Old man Barnes said “I reckon you’ll be busy making more shelves.”

That’s what Luther spent a lot of his time doing.  He wanted to have the entire basement of his house full of shelves from floor to ceiling but those shelves would have to wait this week.

Luther had been a widower for five years.  He had a son named Cole, who was married and had two little girls.  It had been almost two years since Luther had seen them and he had never even met his youngest granddaughter.

There was notable excitement in his voice when he told old man Barnes that Cole and his family were coming for a visit the next weekend.  “I keep the house right neat” he said, “but I’ve got to get the yard prettied up for them.”

He spent the next week pulling weeds and trimming hedges.  He had already chosen the flowers he would pick to adorn the kitchen table and he had gifts for his granddaughters.

The next week, old man Barnes stopped and asked how the visit went. Luther tried to hide his disappointment when he said “well, something came up and they couldn’t make it but Cole said they’d try to get here in a few weeks.”

Luther continued to be ever vigilant in his quest to add to his vast collection of books and he had become quite the expert at building shelves.

He was not one to settle for plain planks held up by brackets.  His shelves boasted beveled edges and a dark mahogany stain, finished with two coats of wax.

Christmas was coming and the weather was turning cold but it was no deterrent for Luther.  There were fewer garage sales but the thrift stores were always filled to the brim with second-hand items, including an ever-present array of his precious treasures.  Thrift stores generally commanded a higher price than garage sales but to the book man, his treasures were worth it.

Once again, a visit from Cole and his family was promised.  Luther hadn’t had a Christmas tree since his wife Ardene had died.  This year though, he went to a tree farm and picked out the most beautiful one he could find.  He got out the old lights and ornaments that had long ago been relegated to a resting place in the attic.

Ardene had carefully wrapped each ornament as if it was priceless.  Luther smiled as he examined each one and as he hung them on the tree, happy memories of days gone by came flooding back.

He wrapped the presents he had picked out for his granddaughters and put a tag on them that read “Merry Christmas.”

To be continued________________