My Night in Dorcas Fields (free fiction!)

By Dexter A. Prowley

As told to Jason M. Hardy

[Note that Mr. Prowley is the uncle of radio psychic Oliver Prowley. Other tales of Dexter’s discoveries are available, including stories of a possessed portrait and a haunted theater. This story is shared as part of the Infinite Bard project, presenting free fiction every other week!]

As a professional parapsychologist, I have been blessed to have one of the most haunted sites in America virtually on my front patio. Ghost hunters from around the world travel to experience the wide variety of hauntings present at the legendary Dorcas Fields, which for me is reachable by a short walk. Indeed, I most likely have spent more time in Dorcas Fields than any other ghost hunter (or any other living human, for that matter).

However, as the century was coming to an end, it was brought to my attention that I lacked one of the choicest experiences that Dorcas Fields has to offer–I had never spent an entire night within its grim wrought-iron confines. While I had many memorable experiences on my previous visits to the cemetery, I had to believe they would be eclipsed by a full night steeped in its eerie zephyrs.

The person who helped me notice this gap in my learning was Ms. Annabel Lee Gunther, a gifted psychic and devoted mother. As she saw my excitement at the prospect of visiting the cemetery at night, she felt a touch of anticipation as well, and she volunteered to accompany me. We quickly chose a date in the near future that left us barely enough time to prepare for the outing.

We arrived at the imposing gates around 7:30 on an appropriately foggy November evening. Of course, as any dedicated spirit seeker knows, the front gates of the cemetery are firmly locked after 5 PM, and the best nighttime entrance is a quick clamber over the fence near the old groundskeeper’s shed. When we reached the appropriately rusted spot in the aged crosswire fence, I leapt over forthwith, then lent a hand to Ms. Gunther as she flopped over. When we were both safely within the haunted confines of the fence, we paused to take inventory.

We were on a patch of ground that had more dirt than grass, due to the excessive foot traffic in this spot. The immediate area was free of graves, as no one had wanted to be buried near the shed.

We were carrying the following items: a tarpaulin to sit upon; a sleeping bag for each of us (though we did not intend to sleep); a backpack full of technical equipment busy producing readings that I would analyze after the night was over; a journal to record my impressions; sandwiches and crackers to eat; a canteen of water; and an air horn so we could call for trouble in case the thuggish, living individuals who occasionally frequented the cemetery threatened our well-being.

Feeling satisfied that we were well prepared, we set off into the heart of Dorcas Fields. Ms. Gunther grabbed my arm almost immediately.

“The spirits are strong here tonight,” she said. I was pleased, but not surprised, for in my experience the spirits were always strong when Ms. Gunther was present.

We decided to walk to the eastern section of the cemetery, with its imposing crosses and threatening angel-of-death tombstones. The markers closest to us were small and level—utilitarian, but hardly atmospheric.

When we were about halfway to our destination, Ms. Gunther froze in her tracks and stood stock still.

“We are in the presence of a spirit at this moment,” she said.

“Who? Where?” I asked, almost too breathless to speak.

“By the willow tree,” she said. “I can’t make out the form, but I believe it’s a woman.”

The willow stood fifty feet away from us, slightly to our right. It was beautifully shaped, with leafy branches cascading evenly down its entire length, from its perfect dome top all the way down to three feet above the ground. There were no graves within twenty feet of the tree.

We approached carefully, as even spirits in a place as thoroughly haunted as Dorcas Fields can be skittish. My pulse accelerated as the spirit began to physically manifest itself. I caught a glimpse of a pale glow between the leaves of the willow. As soon as I saw it, it was gone, but then I thought I saw it again in other spots around the tree. Ms. Gunther saw it as well, and we stopped in our tracks in reverent appreciation of the being in front of us.

The glow became brighter, and we saw that it was making a circuit around the trunk of the tree. The form of the glow also seemed to increase in definition, though it was difficult to see just what the form was, as we glimpsed it only in breaks between willow branches. However, we were able to get a good look at the bottom of the form, and it showed Ms. Gunther’s impressions to be accurate—the apparition was indeed a woman. She wore a long, flowing dress with ornate lace trim at the bottom. The dress hid her feet from us.

As the manifestation became more clear, a sound accompanied it. It first sounded like the distant call of an owl, but as it increased in volume, it became clear that the tones were human, not animal, in origin. The ghost was making the sounds, and the sounds were moans.

It was a breathtaking sight—the white shape flitting through the tree branches, surrounded by granite monuments so old that pieces of crosses and headstones had fallen to the ground. The moans, low and mournful, perfected the atmosphere. I was in awe of this ghost’s artistry, which meant it could only be one person.

“Mary Kay Hennessee. That’s Mary Kay Hennessee,” I said. She had been making appearances in the cemetery for over twenty years, so she had a considerable amount of time to perfect her technique. She belongs to an old-fashioned strain of ghosts, who realize that eerie atmosphere is far more important than the cheap scares that more modern ghosts seem to favor.

I do not know how long I stared at the hypnotic glow before Ms. Gunther’s voice broke into my thoughts.

“Should we say anything to this lost soul?” she said.

“Yes. Yes, I believe we should.” I assembled some ideas in my head. “If it’s all right with you, I think I will address the spirit directly, since her manifestation is so strong.”

Ms. Gunther nodded. I stepped forward.

“Ms. Hennessee! We are pleased you have chosen to commune with us. If you are willing, we would like to speak with you to help your soul leave this veil of sorrow and find everlasting peace! May we approach and speak of matters of eternal import?”

“Very nicely done,” Ms. Gunther said quietly when I finished. I nodded gratefully toward her.

The glow stopped moving, and I hoped Ms. Hennessee was considering my words. I breathlessly awaited her response, but before she said anything, a booming voice came from our left.

“Dammit, Mary Kay, stop that!” the voice said. I looked for a body to attach to the voice, but none was evident. “You’re just encouraging them.”

I heard heavy footsteps crunching through dry leaves toward the tree, but still did not see anyone. When I finished scanning the darkness and looked back at the tree, Mary Kay Hennessee’s glow was gone.

“What do you suppose that was?” Ms. Gunther asked with a trace of nervousness in her voice. The heavy, invisible footsteps had unnerved her.

“From what I know about Dorcas Fields’ history, it was most likely Cam Mellen, the milkman. Most records say he is the loudest of the local spirits.

“It seems he doesn’t want us here. But why? We’re not harming anything.”

“I’m not sure—but I’m the wrong person to ask. Let’s go to the source.”

Ms. Gunther understood my intent immediately, and her face brightened, since we were about to do the type of work she specializes in.

It was a long walk across the cemetery to Mellen’s grave. I thought I might have caught a glimpse or two of Mary Kay Hennessee in the distance, but in truth I could have been seeing any one of the numerous soul lights known to appear in the cemetery. Whoever they were, they did not approach us.

Finally, we arrived at Mellen’s tombstone, a simple limestone slab with a corner that looked like someone with a very large jaw had taken a bite out of it. There were no spirit lights—no lights of any kind at all—anywhere near the grave.

I glanced over at Ms. Gunther and saw she had already commenced preparations for contacting Mellen. Her tool of choice was a long pole studded with lapis lazuli and blue quartz, and she traced arcane designs in the dirt near the grave with it.

I must note here that, generally, an individual’s grave is a poor place for conducting a séance. Most individuals have spent little to no time at their own grave while they lived, so the burial site holds an insignificant amount of psychic residue. Dorcas Fields is a special case, since the spirits were summoned to the area out of concern for their own mortal remains, which at one point were being disturbed on an almost daily basis. It is the exception to the rule.

Ms. Gunther conducts a very formal, ritualized ceremony. She is most comfortable following a pre-set series of steps and reciting many traditional incantations. The drawback to this approach is that a bystander such as myself is made to wait for a considerable amount of time before contact is made. However, Ms. Gunther’s results more than justify her approach, so I have never felt a need to complain.

Just as she finished her third step, the invocation of the stars, and began step four, the bargain with Hades, the same voice we had heard earlier interrupted her utterances.

“Crap, lady, how much material do you got? Were you gonna talk all night?”

Ms. Gunther fumbled over a few words, but bravely carried on once Mellen’s voice quieted. “Let the barriers of the River Styx be lowered. Send Charon to the shores of the living …”

Mellen’s voice raged again. “Lady, I said shut . . . aw, what’s the use.” I then heard a sound that was clearly that of a large individual plopping down to sit in the grass and dirt. Then the cemetery was silent.

Ms. Gunther looked nervously at me, and I could only shoot a puzzled expression in her direction. I had no explanation for Mellen’s erratic behavior, and I was disconcerted by his silent presence in the grass.

Ms. Gunther opened and closed her mouth once or twice in the manner of a goldfish, but no words came out—Mellen had sufficiently intimidated her.

I had just started to pull my thoughts together when the unmistakable sound of footsteps approached. I peered into the darkness for some hint of who was approaching but saw no one. My heart quickened as I realized this could be another visitor from the realm of the dead.

The footsteps stopped next to Mellen’s tomb, and silence reigned again.

I shuffled my feet nervously, hoping the new spectre would do something to reveal who he or she was, but no noise, vocal or otherwise, was immediately forthcoming.

Just as I opened my mouth to address the new presence, Mellen’s powerful, gravelly voice was heard again.

“I wasn’t yelling.”

There was a moment or two of silence before he spoke again. “She’s too sensitive, and you know it. I spoke to her like I speak.”

I realized that we were listening to one side of a conversation. The other participant, the ghost that had just walked up, was speaking in a way our mortal ears could not discern.

As if to confirm my thoughts, Mellen spoke again. “I know they can hear me. I don’t care. It’s too much work to speak the other way.”

“You are in quite a mood, aren’t you,” a new voice said. I couldn’t believe our good fortune—the second spirit had decided to allow us to hear his part of the conversation! The voice was much calmer then Mellen’s, a gentle tenor with a strong undercurrent of irony.

 “Nothing different than normal,” Mellen said brusquely.

“That won’t work with me,” the new ghost said. “I’ve known you too long. I know the difference between Cam Mellen’s normal orneriness and that special, rare Cam Mellen misanthropy. What happened?”

“Well just look at them.” I could almost hear Mellen sweeping his arm toward Ms. Gunther and myself. “They make you wonder how anyone could not be misanthropic.”

I could remain silent no longer. “I don’t think that is a fair assess—”

The new voice ran right over my comment. “What did they do that’s so wrong?”

“Oh … I don’t know … stuff, I guess.” I could hear Mellen fidgeting in the grass. “Tramping around. Disturbing the peace. Saying stupid things.”

I bristled. “What did I say that you think—”

“That’s not it,” the second voice said calmly. “We get people like this in all the time. Why are these ones bothering you?”

“I don’t know, Paul. I guess it’s not them, really.”

Excitement ran down my spine. The second voice could only belong to Paul Wadinsky, the legendary activist who had organized the ghosts of Dorcas Fields into taking back their land from the riff-raff that used to pollute the grounds. I was listening to a conversation between two legends, which made me feel less offended that they were ignoring everything I said.

By this time, Ms. Gunther had recovered from her shock. She took a step forward, pole in hand. “Spirits, we welcome your presence and thank you for your words to this point. We have much to ask you. I am Annabel Lee Gunther, medium. Some of the spirits you have encountered may have mentioned my name. I am here to facilitate your communication with the living. Could you please give me the names by which you were known in life?”

There was a short silence. Then Wadinsky spoke again, addressing Mellen. “What’s the problem, then?”

Mellen sighed. “I miss the old days, man. Chasing off ghost hunters—it seems so meaningless, you know? Not like the old days, with the punks and the vandals and the muggers and the pickpockets. That meant something. I don’t even know what we’re doing here any more.”

Ms. Gunther was growing angry. “I am privileged that you continue to speak in front of us, but I must ask you to conform to the proper standards of etiquette. Please address yourselves to me.”

Wadinsky and Mellen continued to ignore her. “Maybe you’ve defined your afterlife too narrowly, Cam. You were so dedicated to the cause, you didn’t leave room in your life for anything else. You need to find something to dedicate yourself to besides chasing people away.”

“Like what?” Mellen said bitterly.

I looked at Ms. Gunther, and she threw up her hands in exasperation. I decided I should intervene. “Might I suggest that it is time to free your soul from this veil of sorrow and ascend …”

“There’s a lot of people here you don’t know, Cam,” Wadinsky said without acknowledging me. “You’ve kept to yourself for years, and in the meantime, we’ve formed a nice community. We could use you.”

“I don’t know if I have a lot to offer you guys.” Mellen’s voice was drenched in self-pity.

“Now, now, none of that,” Wadinsky chided. “You have plenty to offer and you know it. Death goes on, Cam. We’ve found a way to adapt, and it’s time you joined us.”

“Imagine what you could offer the vast community of souls that are in the astral plane,” I ventured. “If you were willing, I could—”

“You have several very useful talents,” Wadinsky said. “Don’t underestimate them. Come on, I think the others would be happy to talk with you right now.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” Mellen began emitting a dim ethereal glow, and we could see him sitting in the dirt, looking wary.

“Before you decide anything—” I ventured.

Mellen stood up abruptly, cutting me off. “You’re right about one thing, though, Paul. I still have some things I can do, and I guess it’s time to do ’em.”

I looked toward Ms. Gunther, who looked uncomfortably at me. She was not used to this much spiritual communication occurring without her assistance. I smiled at her reassuringly. I felt confident that Wadinksky and Mellen would soon be done conversing, and we might have some time with one or the other to perform our duties. I gestured for her to re-commence her ceremonies, and she raised her pole again.

That was the last thing I remembered for nearly half an hour. Events turned into a blur of rushing air, pummeling assaults, and a rapidly spinning world. When I regained my senses, I was lying on the curb outside the cemetery gate. I sat up, and saw Ms. Gunther lying dazed next to me. My sides, from my hip to shoulder, were bruised and sore, and my knees felt as if they had been kicked. This was proof, I told myself, that as Wadinsky had said, Mellen had considerable talents to serve the dead of Dorcas Fields in their conflicts with the living.

Ms. Gunther revived soon after me, and together we stumbled home. I had some thoughts of immediately re-entering the cemetery and confronting Mellen, but my knees were too sore to climb over the cemetery wall, and Ms. Gunther clearly was ready to go home. Unfortunately, a wide variety of commitments and conflicts have kept me from making a return trip since that night.

Though I feel there is more work to be done with the ghosts of Dorcas Fields, my night spent there was a considerable breakthrough, as it gave evidence that some ghosts are both aware of their condition as dead people and have moved beyond simply replaying events from their lives. They are trying to build a new existence in our realm rather than ascending to higher planes.

The magnitude of this discovery cannot be undermined by outlandish claims such as the ones made by Terrance Meridien that an investigation of the cemetery after my breakthrough night turned up many microphones and small speakers, particularly in the area of Cam Mellen’s tombstone. Clear-minded readers will note how well the personalities of Mellen and Wadinsky come across in their conversation, and they will see this as proof that the voices belonged to the dead, not some pranksters. After all, the depth of revelation about the condition of the undead supplied in that conversation could only be provided by the dead themselves.

Cover photo by David McLenachan on Unsplash

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