The Apparition

C.J. Carter-Stephenson

Mary folded her arms and stared at the desecrated grave – the chalk face on the headstone, the broken angel ornament, the overturned vase, and scattered flowers. Flaming kids – always hanging around the churchyard making a nuisance of themselves. The problem with young people nowadays was they had no respect.

She raised her head, studying the other graves rising from the stinging nettles and unmown grass around her – Celtic crosses draped with tangled strands of ivy, sculpted cherubs with outstretched wings and benevolent expressions, imposing box crypts adorned with urns and skulls. With any luck, the culprits were still here and she could give them a piece of her mind.

The sun had almost set and a few tendrils of fog were spreading across the churchyard, but visibility was still good. She saw another headstone with a picture drawn on it – this time, a ring of dancing stick figures – and then another. Then she heard a rustle of leaves in the distance.

Her eyes shifted and she spotted a girl of about eight or nine climbing a gnarled yew tree. She was too far away to see her clearly, but her skin looked unusually pale and she was dressed in old-fashioned clothes – pastel blue dress with ruffled shoulders, white pinafore, black lace-up boots. She had blonde hair tied back from her face with a blue ribbon and there was a leather shoulder bag dangling at her hip, no doubt full of sticks of chalk and other instruments of vandalism.

Mary pushed up her sleeves and hurried towards her. She tried to move quietly, hoping to catch her unawares, but the girl seemed to have superhuman hearing, immediately turning her head. A moment later, she had scrambled back down the tree and was sprinting away along the meandering path.

Mary hitched up her skirt and set off in pursuit. She shook her fist. “Get back here, you little brat! I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

The girl peered back at her, laughing, and disappeared from sight behind a tall blackberry bush. Mary continued to shake her fist. She’d be laughing on the other side of her face in a minute.

Mary reached the bush and blinked in surprise. In the space of a few seconds, the distance between herself and the girl had doubled. Either she was an incredibly fast runner or she had some kind of magic power. Mary ran onwards along the path, legs pumping furiously, trying desperately to catch up.

They reached a fork in the path and suddenly the girl was engulfed in a cloud of mist. Mary paused, trying to see which way she had gone, but the mist was too thick. She picked a direction at random and moved cautiously forwards, holding out her hands in case she bumped into anything.

The mist started to clear and she saw the churchyard wall up ahead. Then she heard the roar of an engine from the road outside and a pair of headlights appeared out of the gloom. It was a number sixty-six bus on its way to the city. She stopped again, eyebrows rising as it trundled past. The girl in the blue dress was sitting on the back seat.

The girl turned to look at her, smiling and waving. In the bright light of the bus, her face didn’t look as pale and it was apparent that what had appeared to be old-fashioned clothes was actually a cheap fancy dress outfit – Alice in Wonderland perhaps.

Mary snarled as the bus dwindled into the distance. Then she seeped down into the ground, seeking out the decaying remains of her body. The girl had got away this time, but she had a feeling there would be a next time, and when it happened, she would be waiting. This churchyard was her home and she didn’t take kindly to people messing it up.

C.J. Carter-Stephenson is a UK writer, who was born in the county of Essex and currently lives on the Isle of Wight. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Southampton, has been a Writers of the Future finalist, and has had three books published. Other publication credits include stories and/or poems in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction ReviewAesthetica, Youth ImaginationDark Horizons, Murky Depths, The Willows, Illumen, and Möbius. He is also the narrator of Back of the Bookshelf, a monthly podcast of classic genre fiction. See his website or this Wikipedia page for further details.