The game was up and so was his number. Johnny sprinted through the church gate and headed to the large graveyard. He’s swinging arm scrapped against the rough, cold stone wall and he pulled back. Nearly toppling over the raised corner of a moss covered flag stone, he rounded the corner.
Breathing hard, he wondered, Can I stash my leather jacket and pretend I’m an early morning jogger? These black PJ bottoms would just pass as jog pants from a distance…his thoughts trailed as he spotted the small wooden back door of the church.
He hurried over and tried the worn ring handle. The door didn’t move. He shouldered it, thinking it was only stuck, but it turned out to be locked. Grunting, he looked around, mapping a clear run though the graveyard.
Sirens wailed in the distance, echoing through the streets and making it impossible to tell where they were or how close they were. A dog began barking and voices shouted out.
Panic filled, Johnny ran, dodging around the dilapidate headstones. Long, wet grass whipped against his legs and his eyes filled with the sight of a depressed weeping willow tree in the far corner.
If I could climb it… Johnny thought.
His foot caught on something, his toes soaking up all the pain from the hard stone before he tumbled. He hit the ground hard and spread eagle, breathing in grass and dirt. Johnny scrambled up, not wasting time on seeing what he had fallen over nor the throbbing of his foot. He weaved onto what once might have been a path and rushed on.
He reached the tree and began climbing. Fortunately, there were enough branches and leaves to hide him. Stopping on the last thick branch, he spit the foam that gathered in his mouth out. Calming his breathing, he listened and watched, but couldn’t see any movement or hearing anything else other than the police sirens.
Believing he was safe for the time being, his thoughts flashed back to less than half an hour ago. The realization of how luckily he had been sunk in. His insomnia had actually worked in his favour for once. Johnny had been in the kitchen, back door open, holding a mug of almost finished coffee and watching the microwave clock ticking the minutes to five am.
The crashing sound of his front door and the yelling of police had been surreal. Then mug had dropped, smashing to the floor and splatting coffee droplets like blood. Flight had shot through him and Johnny had raced out of the door, over the low brick wall at the back of the garden and into the alleyway.
Running on, he’d stayed in the back streets, not sure where he was going and unable to get his mind to think. He had seen the church bell tower rising above the terrace house roofs like a lighthouse at sea. Guided, he had followed it and found the front gate by chance.
Rubbing his face, Johnny started to mull things over and wondered how he had been rumbled. His small time drug gang hadn’t been working that hard lately, though he knew that the police could have been watching for months.
What about that new guy? He thought, pigs, are great at working themselves in now…
A dog barking distracted him. Johnny looked out of the tree and saw a German Shepard sniffing the nearest headstone. A cop rounded the corner, black lead dangling from his hand. He spoke to the dog then to someone behind him, but Johnny couldn’t hear what was said. He held his breath and though he wasn’t religious, he prayed they wouldn’t find him.
The dog moved into the graveyard, nose stuck to the ground and the long grass zinging around. There was a sharp bark and a brown flicker of movement to the left. The dog shot off and as Johnny watched, he saw a rabbit bouncing away. He held his breath and bit his tongue as he saw the cops running and yelling after the dog. It didn’t seem like they had seen the rabbit.
The German Shepard darted out of a side gate and out of view. The cops followed with their voices just loud enough for Johnny to hear a few snatched words of ‘dog, scent, got him, West Church Lane.’ The police disappeared and Johnny breathed a sigh of relief. He got more comfy and decided that for as long as he could he would stay in the tree.
Johnny guessed it was around mid-morning, going off the bright blue, but cloud hazy sky. He could smell cooking meat from somewhere and it was making him hungry. He stretched feeling the stiffness in his back and limbs. He glanced down and saw the ground looking quite far away. Now, that he had time to think though he knew where to go.
Double checking there was no one around, he slowly climbed down the willow. His grip felt numb and his body ached with the movement. He almost lost his footing. Reaching the floor, he rubbed his hands on his pants and looked around for another way to leave the graveyard. Spotting a large black gate, he walked over and through, not noticing the white ball of light that seemed to be following him.
He walked casually down the streets, trying to look normal. There was no way he could go home. And even if they hadn’t taken his girlfriend in for questioning, someone would be staking out the place. Maybe, they were watching the streets too? He almost picked up his pace, but decided it’d look odd. Anyway, his friend’s wasn’t that far from here and he could hide in the cellar’s priest hole again.
When he arrived it didn’t take things long to get sorted. Heading down into the cellar, on the wobbly wooden steps, Johnny wondered how long the all clear would take this time. He helped his friend remove somethings that were up against a small boarded up hole in the wall. Then they ripped it open. Dust motes rose in the torch light and the faint smell of damp tickled their noses.
‘Home Sweet Home,’ Johnny muttered and chuckled.
He took the torch and crawled into the tight space. His friend put the board back then Johnny heard him moving some of the stuff back into place.
Pressing his head against the icy cold wall, Johnny shut his eyes. He dozed, just like he’d done in the tree. Black patterns swirled before his eyelids then a white figure started to form. It was tiny at first, but grew and grew until it took the shape of a young woman in a white floaty dress. Johnny didn’t recognise her.
She reached out her arms as if to hug him, but a loud knocking vanished her away. Johnny opened his eyes and listened, but the sounds were very muffled. He rubbed his head and tried to remember where that girl was from. Nothing came to him. He put his head back again and let himself doze off.
She haunted him for days. Every time he shut his eyes, she came to him in that white float dress, arms out reached, a begging look on her face. Countless times he had asked her what she wanted, but she didn’t reply. He didn’t believe in ghosts, but what else could she be?
‘I think it might be a ghost…’ he announced to his friend one afternoon.
The heat had almost died off and they were sat in the living room together drinking beer. In the background the TV was showing a football match whilst the sound of children playing outside could be heard.
His friend eyed him.
‘I don’t know…but what else can it be?’ Johnny added.
‘You know, my old gran use to tell me this thing…’ his friend trailed off.
Johnny nodded and took a drink off his beer.
‘If you don’t leave a graveyard the way you came in spirits can attached themselves to you when you leave.’
Johnny scratched his cheek and thought.
His friend shook his head. ‘She way lost it in the end though…thought birds were spying on her.’
‘What she say about getting rid of it?’
‘You had to go back in the way you went out and then go out the way you came in the first time. Sounds crazy don’t it?’
‘Yeah, crazy! Totally!’
Johnny laughed and finished his beer, but his mind was already planning.
A few days later he left and headed home. Almost a month had past and there was no way the cops were still watching his place. They had better things to do, he was sure. Walking home, he headed straight for the church. The woman in white had even been coming to him during the day now out, he had seen her out of the corner of his eye.
Spotting the graveyard gates, he hurried in. The place looked just the same though it was now under a darkening evening sky. He went to the willow tree and stared up at where he had sat for most of a morning. Then he looked around at the silent graves and wondered if his friend’s gran had been right. Slowly, he walked on and up towards the church. The dry grass crunched under him and the birds sing in the background.
He walked passed the church, along the path and to the gates he had entered by. As he got closer he wondered what was going to happen, but when he walked through them he felt nothing. Letting go of the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, Johnny went home.
His girlfriend was gone. A note on the table told him so. He shrugged it off and took a shower. Then went to bed and for the first time in years, he fell fast asleep.