Winner of the short story category, Mensa Canada 2016 Literary Contest
Light from a lone street lamp cast shadows of bare tree-limbs onto the weathered mausoleum on her left. Below, gravestones hid in the shade, worn and tilted like rows of crooked and broken teeth. Sarah wrapped her coat tightly around her against the scudding rain driven by a bitter north wind. It was after all, she reminded herself, only March and winter was far from over. It would perhaps even freeze tonight, turning the rain to ice and the streets into skating rinks.
Most nights would see a few pedestrians strolling along this path. The graveyard lay between a busy shopping and entertainment district – full of bright lights and crowded sidewalks – and a metro station with trains to the suburbs. The cemetery formed a convenient shortcut for many people in spite of the shadows and gloom. Tonight, Sarah had the path to herself.
“It must be the weather.” Sarah thought.
She was perhaps right in this, for the night was still young. Hidden above the clouds, the full moon had not yet reached its zenith. That she knew without referring to the clock on the bank at the corner. She could feel it. And the weather was indeed miserable. Behind her, she heard the wrought iron gate clang; she turned hoping to see someone. But it was only another gust of wind rattling the gate against its latch.
Sarah was nearly to the middle of the cemetery when the gate finally did open and a lone figure passed through. Even in the dim light and through the sheets of rain, she could see the girl approaching her was not dressed for the weather. Water streamed off her bare head, the lights behind her reflecting off her blond hair, lighting it like a halo. The girl’s coat was more stylish than practical, offering little protection from the rain and none from the wind. She hurried head down, in Sarah’s direction.
“Hi!” Sarah’s voice rang out over the howl of the wind. “Do you know what time it is? I’m afraid I’m very late.”
The startled girl looked up, noticing the other for the first time.
“I don’t know. About 9:30. If you’re headed to a bar, the action will be going for hours. It’s Friday night and our team finally made it to the playoffs. Not many will go home early.”
“Why are you leaving, then?”
“I had a major fight with my boyfriend and I couldn’t stand being there any longer. It’s over! I’m done! I found out he was cheating with my best friend and just after I confronted him on that, I caught him flirting with a waitress.”
The two girls were now standing face to face. Sara could see that although the other’s clothes looked stylish, they were cheap knock-offs. The girl looked young – Sarah put her face at maybe twenty tops. She read volumes in that face. She saw confusion. Sadness. And something else: terror. She suddenly felt sorry for this bewildered, broken-hearted kid who couldn’t afford really nice clothes.
“What’s your name?”
“Jess, do you want to grab a coffee and chat for a bit? My treat? There’s a diner less than a block away that’s been there forever and usually isn’t busy.”
Jess agreed, so Sarah led the younger girl down a narrow street. Halfway down the block they came to a doorway – the entrance to a small café. Inside were red laminate tables, vinyl seats, and chrome trim that screamed “mid-century.” Half a dozen booths lined each side; four-seat tables filled the middle. A swinging door led to the kitchen in the rear. As promised, the place was not busy; an older couple sat in a booth; a girl about Jess’ age sat at a table, clicking on her laptop. Otherwise, the place was empty.
The waitress wandering in their direction with a pair of menus visibly brightened when she recognized Sarah.
“Sarah! The usual? How about your friend? I’ll give you a minute to go over the menu. My name’s Katy.”
“This is Jess.”
“Well Jess, you’ve hooked up with the kindest-hearted person I know. She’s goes of her way to find lost souls. She find you in the graveyard?”
Jess nodded, but Sarah laughed.
“Katy, you know that’s my haunt. Where else would I find her – especially on a night like this?”
“Ladies, I got to get to work. Jess, flag me down when you’re ready to order.”
Jess settled on grilled cheese and coffee. Sarah got a plate of fries with tea. They talked of the future; they talked relationships. They talked for hours.
“Girl, don’t waste your time on a guy you can’t trust. You’re worth more than that.”
Finally Jess announced, “Thanks. I needed that. But I need to get going.”
“Let me walk you to the station.”
They continued their conversation on the way. Finally, Jess gave Sarah a long hug before boarding the last outbound train to her home.
A couple of months later Jess found herself with a friend in that part of town.
“Hey, there’s a little café here that’s totally retro, and the food is pretty good. Let’s give it a try.”
But they found the door locked and the windows boarded over. The man behind the counter of a nearby convenience store filled them in on the story.
“You were brought there by a young woman you met in the graveyard? I hear that story a couple of times a year. Truth is, about twenty years ago a robbery there went wrong. Shots were fired; the owner and a customer died. The place closed and never reopened. Rumour is it’s haunted by the two who died. Can’t say for sure that’s so, but on nights the moon is full, the aroma of cooking comes from that place that’s something wonderful. Those nights, people come in hungry and I know I’ll do well.”