The historic city of St. Augustine, Florida was quiet at three o’clock in the morning, the night laying heavy and dark over ancient buildings and cobblestone streets. The gifts shops and restaurants along St. George Street had closed their doors hours earlier, and all the bars in the old section of the city had extinguished their neon signs and turned out their drunks. The last of the tourists had made their final rounds for the evening, either on foot or in one of the many horse-drawn carriages, and had gone off to slumber in the pricey bed and breakfasts and inexpensive motels.
All of the streets in the old section of the city were deserted, except for the small white sedan that moved south along San Marco Avenue. The vehicle turned right onto Orange Street, slowly driving past the remains of the archaic city gate. The two towering stone pillars that once served as gate posts looked like giant tombstones in the glow of the car’s headlights, and served as a reminder that St. Augustine was once a walled city.
Driving past the gate, the sedan proceeded west on Orange Street for another two blocks, turning into an empty parking lot behind the Old Drugstore. Bringing the car to a halt, the driver turned off the engine and headlights, but made no move to exit the vehicle. Instead, she rolled down the window and sprinkled a pinch of tobacco on the ground.
Few people knew that the Old Drugstore, and its adjacent parking lot, was built over the top of an Indian burial ground. The desecration of a Native burial place was not something the city leaders wanted to mention in the tourist brochures, despite the fact that the elaborate headstone of Chief Tolomato stood on display inside the drugstore, supposedly standing in a spot directly over the location of his grave.
Satisfied that the pinch of tobacco would ward off any evil spirits, even those unhappy about a Nissan sedan parking over their remains, the driver rolled up her window and exited the car. She was joined a few moments later by two other women, who climbed out the opposite side of the vehicle. Like the driver, the two women were dressed mostly in black, their fingers adorned with an excess of silver rings and gemstones.
The driver’s name was Maria Sanchez and, at forty-five, she was the oldest of the group, but only by a few years. She was also the leader of the ebony clad trio, a teacher. But Ms. Sanchez was not an instructor in the Florida school system. She did not challenge the minds of elementary school children, nor did she lecture at any university or trade school. As a matter of fact, she had never even finished high school. Instead, she had spent over thirty years of her life studying all aspects of the occult and supernatural, rising up through the ranks of Wiccan and various covens, applying what she knew to help others, for a fee.
The occult had been good to Maria Sanchez, and she had earned a considerable fortune by reading tarot cards for elderly, blue-haired ladies, and working love spells for the hopelessly lonely. She had saved up enough money to buy a modest house in Cassadaga, Florida, a town renowned as a Mecca for spiritualists and followers of the occult. There she had hung out her shingle, advertising her special talents.
Two of her most promising students, Jane and Louise Fowler, had been with her for over a year, long enough to learn all of the basics and move up to the next level. The two sisters had come to Maria after years of unsuccessfully trying to study on their own. The occult was simply not something you could master from a book purchased at the local mall. Nor could you learn it on the Internet, despite what many might have you believe. To walk the true path you had to have a devoted teacher, at least that was what Maria Sanchez had told the sisters when they paid a visit to her Cassadaga home. They needed a teacher who, for a moderate price, could guide them along on their journey to all things spiritual.
Shortly after their first meeting, Jane and Louise had moved to Cassadaga so they could study under Maria on a full time basis. The sisters were well off financially, thanks to the generosity of a deceased grandmother, so they didn’t need to hold steady jobs. Instead, they were able to dedicate their time fully to the teachings of their leader. Still, after over a year, they were both mere beginners with powers yet untested. They were also without the aid of a spiritual helper, someone from the other side to watch over the sisters and guide them in their journeys.
Looking around to make sure no one else was in the area, and they weren’t being watched, Maria reached back into the car and removed a small leather shoulder bag off of the back seat. She closed the door and locked the car, turning to favor her students with a nod and a slight smile.
“Are you ready, ladies?” she asked, sensing the eagerness of the sisters. Louise was the oldest of the two, tall, straight as a scarecrow, and somewhat reserved in her demeanor. She rarely spoke, unless spoken to, quite content to remain silent and let others do the talking. Jane, who was three years the junior, was shorter and round, filled with nervous energy, and in the possession of a quick tongue that sometimes got her into trouble.
“I’m ready,” Jane said, anxious to get started. “Is this our last stop?”
Her mentor nodded. “Yes. The last one. At least for tonight.”
“Good,” Jane replied. “I’m starving. I wonder if there’s anyplace around here to get a bite to eat?”
Maria frowned, but did not scold the young woman. Jane had yet to realize that the quest for magic was far more important than food. “You’re always hungry. We will eat later, after we have finished. Now, let’s get started. It will be morning soon, and we want to be finished before daylight.”
“Maybe we can have breakfast at Denny’s when we’re done,” Jane said, never knowing when to quit. “I could go for a grand slam.”
“If you don’t be quiet, I’ll give you a grand slam,” Louise whispered, growing weary of her sister’s chatter.
Maria lead the others past the drugstore to Cordova Street. They turned right at the street, walking slowly by an old two story house. In front of the house was a towering live oak tree, with a palm tree growing out of the center of the oak. The trees were called “the lovers tree”, and was another one of the many oddly interesting sights to be found within the boundaries of the old city. There was a legend that went along with the trees, something about young lovers being united forever, but Maria had forgotten it.
The trees were significant, because they reflected the strangeness of St. Augustine, a city that seemed to be trapped in some kind of time warp, a place where the past still lived. The three women paused to study “the lovers tree” for a moment then continued on, stopping a short distance later when they reached the front of the Tolomato Cemetery.
Mounted on a metal post, next to the front gates of the cemetery, was a sign that read, During the First Spanish Period, prior to 1763, this site was occupied by the Christian Indian village of Tolomato, with its chapel and burying ground served by Franciscan missionaries. The village was abandoned when Great Britain acquired Florida. In 1777, Father Pedro Camps, pastor of the Minorcan colonists, who had come to St. Augustine after the failure of Andrew Turnbull’s settlement at New Smyrna, obtained permission from Governor Patrick Tonyn to establish this cemetery for his parishioners. Father Camps was buried here in 1790; ten years later his remains were re-interred in the “new church”, the present Cathedral. The first bishop of St. Augustine, Augustin Verot (d. 1876), is buried in the mortuary chapel at the rear of the cemetery. The last burial took place in 1892.
In all honesty, not many people were actually “buried” in the Tolomato Cemetery. The Spanish settlers did not consider the new world to be holy ground so their bodies had been placed above it in stone crypts, with the hope that one day their remains would be returned to Spain for a proper burial. As for the heretic Protestants who lived in St. Augustine during the time of Spanish rule, their remains had been buried outside the city walls in the nearby Huguenot Cemetery.
Due to its historical importance as one of the oldest cemeteries in Florida, the Tolomato was no longer open to the public. Two metal gates were kept locked to guard against trespassers and vandals. There was also a low stone wall, and a metal fence topped by three strands of barbed wire, that enclosed the graveyard on all sides. Oddly enough, the top of the wire fence, with its strands of pointy barbed wire, leaned inward as if to keep something inside the cemetery, rather than to keep intruders out.
The fact that the Tolomato Cemetery was kept locked did not bother the women, because they would not have to enter the grounds to accomplish their goals. Maria and her companions were looking for spiritual entities to serve as guides, and there was no better place to look for such things than in a cemetery, especially a cemetery as old as those that existed in St. Augustine. Not even the town of Cassadaga had such graveyards.
Maria looked up and down the street, making sure no one was watching. In a tourist town like St. Augustine, three women standing in front of the Tolomato Cemetery might not look very suspicious. Still, the hour was quite late, and why draw unwanted attention when you didn’t have to? Explaining to a bored policeman what they were doing was something she could live without.
Satisfied they were alone, Maria reached into the leather bag she carried and removed three white candles, along with an equal number of small quartz crystals. Keeping a crystal and candle for herself, she handed the others to Jane and Louise, explaining that they were going to repeat the same ceremony they had already performed that night at two other local cemeteries. Removing a butane lighter from the bag, she lit all three candles. With candles held in their right hands, and crystals held tightly in their left, the women turned to face the graveyard. It was a calm night, so the tiny flames of the candles were in no danger of blowing out.
Maria Sanchez stood silent for a moment, feeling the atmosphere around her. She then recited an ancient incantation, asking the spirits of the Tolomato Cemetery to come out of their graves and join them. The others remained quiet as the words were spoken, though Jane shifted her weight back and forth slightly to ease the discomfort of standing. Maria gave her a harsh glance to still her movement, but it went unnoticed in the darkness.
Another minute passed, then Maria said, “There. That’s it. The incantation is complete. Three times the ceremony. Three times the power.”
Jane looked around, obviously disappointed. “But I don’t see anything. You said we would be able to summon spirits tonight, but nothing happened.”
“Spirits are not puppy dogs,” Maria snapped. “You can’t expect to whistle and have them come running. They will come to you only if you are worthy of their attention, and they will show themselves only if they want to be seen.”
Truthfully, in all her years spent studying the occult, Maria had never seen a spirit, but she did sometimes have feelings. Slight tingles that let her know when a visitor from the other side was near.
Despite her lack of spectral encounters, Maria was confident in the incantation she had just recited. The ceremony had been taken from the personal journal of one of Cassadaga’s most renowned mediums. She had been gifted the journal by the medium’s wife, a few days after he had died of a self inflicted gunshot wound.
“We have performed the ceremony at three different cemeteries tonight,” she continued, “so the triad is now complete. The gates to the spirit world are open, and it is only a matter of time before you get your guides. Be patient, and be alert. The spirits will let you know when they are around.”
The sisters smiled, apparently satisfied with their teacher’s explanation. Maria started to tell them that it was okay to blow out their candles, when a gust of wind sprang up suddenly and blew out all three flames. The sudden gust was followed by a loud metallic ping, all three women jumping back as the chain holding the cemetery gates closed split in half and clattered to the ground.
“Look at that!” Louise said, her voice an awed whisper.
Maria stared at the chain, astonished by what she had just seen. No sooner had the chain hit the ground, than the metal gates of the cemetery swung open.
“Holy crap!” Jane exclaimed, forgetting her manners.
“Shhh...” Maria said, warning her to be quiet. “This is what you wanted. This is why you’re here. The spirits must have heard our words, and are welcoming us into their domain.”
“Forget that shit,” Jane said. “I’m not going in there.”
Maria wheeled on her. “You said you wanted to be a master of the occult. A person with powers. Well, here’s your chance. The spirit’s are calling you. Are you going to just ignore them?”
“You’re damn right I’m going to ignore them,” Jane replied, obviously frightened. “I don’t mind a spirit paying a friendly visit to my home, but I’m not going to go traipsing around in a cemetery at night. You want to answer their call, then you go right ahead. Be my guest.”
Maria was angry, and she was also a little afraid. She didn’t want to go into the cemetery either, especially not by herself. Not at night. She also didn’t want to lose the power she held over the other two women. They had always looked up to her, respected her. She was in danger of losing that respect now, especially if she showed fear about entering the cemetery.
“All right. Be that way. I’ll go by myself. But don’t come crying to me later because you have no spirit guides to help you in life. And don’t ever expect me to waste my time on you again. You just stand there and miss out on everything we’ve worked so hard to accomplish.”
Her words must have sank in, because Jane suddenly looked brow-beat. “I’m sorry,” she said, lowering her gaze. “I’ll go with you.”
She stared at Jane a moment longer, then nodded. “Good. We’ll all go. Three of us. Three, the magic number.”
Maria collected the candles and crystals from the two women, placing the items back in her bag. She left the bag sitting just inside the front gates as they entered the Tolomato Cemetery. Maria Sanchez didn’t know what she was looking for, but her feelings told her that something big was about to happen.
Following the narrow path that lead from the front gates to the rear of the cemetery, the women passed several stone crypts and the bust of Augustin Verot. A strange silence seemed to hang over the area, and Maria found herself straining to listen for sounds. Except for their footfalls, and the sound of Jane’s heavy breathing, the night remained eerily quiet.
They were less than fifty feet from the white mausoleum that stood at the back of the cemetery, when Maria was overcome with a feeling of intense fear. She looked around, startled, but there was nothing to be seen. There were only the graves, and the darkness.
Maria stopped. The sisters also stopped, standing a few feet away. Jane started to say something, but she motioned for her to keep quiet. Standing there among the ancient graves, she listened to the night around her, trying to find a source for her feeling of fear. She willed the little voice inside her head to go quiet and calm, hoping her magical powers would now come to her aid.
The feeling grew stronger, almost choking her. The other women must have felt something too, for they began looking around nervously. Perhaps the feeling was caused by restless spirits who looked upon their presence into the cemetery as an intrusion. Maybe it was nothing more than lingering psychic fingerprints, left behind by those who had suffered terrible hardships in the new world.
She tried telling herself that it was just her imagination, and what she felt was the result of being in a spooky cemetery late at night. But the feeling had a sense of darkness to it, as if evil was touching her heart.
Suddenly, from the rear of the cemetery, there appeared a great blackness, darker than the night around it, rising out of the ground like a billowy cloud of smoke. At first she thought it was only a trick of the eyes, but the others must have seen it too. One of the women gave a startled little gasp, small and squeaky, like the cry of a mouse.
The blackness flowed from the farthest corner of the cemetery, moving past the ancient gravestones and crypts, blocking out the soft glow of a distant streetlight, and gaining speed as it rolled toward the frightened women. Maria could not help but wonder what manner of evil had been awakened with their incantation. What nameless thing had they accidentally summoned from the great void of the spirit world?
Reaching the mausoleum, the blackness moved down the narrow lane toward them. Maria tried to think of a spell she might use to protect them against the approaching darkness, but no such spells came to mind. Crystals and incantations seemed foolish child’s play against the thing that now moved through the Tolomato Cemetery, seeking out those who had summoned it. Against such an evil she would be no match, no matter how many magical words she could recite.
The women watched in horror as the thing they had accidentally summoned changed shapes, transforming from a rolling cloud of blackness to a monster that resembled a maddening cross between an octopus and a giant spider, to the dark figure of a man with tentacle arms, and back again to a shapeless mass of darkness. This was no helpful spirit, coming to serve them as a guide. It was a thing of pure evil, conjured from the very bowels of hell.
Knowing that the three of them were outmatched, and in great danger, Maria could think of only one thing to say to her students, “Run!”
Turning on her heels, Maria sprinted for the front of the cemetery. The other women did not need to be told twice, for they too ran for their lives. Louise moved like a comical stick figure, all elbows and knees, a grimace of fear pulling at the corners of her mouth. Her sister, Jane, held her skirt with both hands as she pumped her short, thick, legs high in the air. The plump woman spoke as she ran, a single word repeated over and over again, keeping time with the heavy sounds of her footfalls, “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh....”
They neared the front gate, and Maria was struck with the sudden maddening thought that the double gates would swing shut in their faces before they could escape the confines of the cemetery. She had seen the chain magically split in half and fall to the ground, had watched in awe as the metal gates swung open by themselves. Surely, if the thing pursuing them could unlock and open the gates to invite them in, then it could easily close the gates to keep them from getting out.
But the gates did not close as they reached the front of the cemetery. The metal bars did not spring shut to block their exit. Louise reached the gates first, not even bothering to look back as she fled from the Tolomato. She ran out into the street, stumbled and nearly fell, but kept her footing as she turned left, racing for the nearby parking lot. Maria did not call after her; Louise knew where the spare key for the Nissan was kept, and was no doubt hurrying to start the car.
Surprisingly, Jane reached the gates second, a full ten feet ahead of Maria. The fear of things far worse than death had empowered the short, portly woman, enabling her body to perform a feat that would have been nearly impossible any other time. She glanced backward as she reached the gates, and the look of terror on her face told Maria that they were still being chased by the thing they had summoned.
Maria was confident they would be safe once they got out of the cemetery; at least she hoped they would be safe. She was praying the evil spirit had it limitations, and could not venture beyond the cemetery walls. Ghosts rarely left the places they haunted, confined by rules mortals did not understand.
She was almost to the front gates, just a few feet away from possible safety, when she tripped over something laying in the darkness and went sprawling. She didn’t have to see the item to know that it was her leather shoulder bag, the bag she had set just inside the front gates for safe keeping when they entered the cemetery.
With a startled cry, and a painful jolt, Maria Sanchez hit the ground. Crawling, nearly mad with fear, she tried to get back to her feet and continue running. She almost made it, but an ebony tentacle grabbed her around the legs and snatched her back inside the cemetery, dragging her toward a thing of darkness.
She screamed in terror, a high pitched cry that was cut short. A fatal silence followed, interrupted briefly by the distant sound of a car engine revving, and the squeal of tires as a small white sedan sped out of a parking lot.
Copyright © 2002 by Owl Goingback
Website Copyright © 2017 by Owl Goingback
Updated Monday, 13-Mar-2017 13:51:53 PDT