The first sound to pierce the quiet night air came silently and without warning; an eerie, blunt sifting and crackling churning sound.
What was that?
Jolie's eyes flew open only to be greeted by darkness. Lying on her back, she squinted into the pitch black of her room for a brief moment and waited for her eyes to adjust. But unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried to focus her vision, no matter how ridiculously she scrunched up her face and narrowed her eyes, Jolie found the dark to be unrelenting to her struggle. Her first thought was that the bulb in the table lamp by her bed must be burnt out." But that couldn't be right. There should have been more than enough light from the street lamps outside her window to illuminate her bedroom even without the lamp. So...why was it so dark?
The noise sounded again, still a soft, crunching rustling in the night.
There it is again!
Jolie's breath caught in her throat as she laid there listening to the noise sounding on and off. It was actually a little frightening, in fact, and getting worse by the minute. She wanted more than anything to turn a light on, but the very idea that some unknown thing nearby was making such strange noises kept her from moving; she didn't want to alert whatever it was to her presence. She tried to stay perfectly still and quiet as she listened, as tactic she had used often as a child when the strange creaks and moans of her parents house had her convinced a monster was creeping across the floorboards to her bed, coming to eat her alive. Staying still was her only solace back then in those moments of childish terror, praying that if anything truly lurked in the dark, her lack of movement would convince it that her bed was vacant and not worth searching through for prey or victims.
The noise was growing louder now, the mysterious muffled rustling rising in volume and filling the very cracks of the room with the hanging tension of unease.
Just stay still, lay low and maybe it will go away.
It was unsettling to be unable to place what that sound was. It was almost too unfamiliar to describe. She wanted to say it was a scratching sound, but the noise was far too gentle, too soft to be hitting against a hard surface. Jolie found herself recalling that slasher flick she had watched last week at the Savoy, the one where the killer drove one of his female victims into panicked insanity as she listened to him crawl and creep about in the dark, waiting and dreading for him to strike. Jolie had had nightmares for days.
...was this one of those nightmares?
The noise came back again, slowing down and speeding up in sporadic patterns.
Please, please just go away!
But then, Jolie shouldn't have to cower in her bed like a frightened child. She was older now, twenty-two years of life under her belt. She was far too old to believe in monsters, of things that go bump in the night. There was nothing to be afraid of; it was probably just her cat getting into things she knew she shouldn't. Jolie took a deep breath. "A-Allie?" her voice was little more than a whisper. She cleared her throat and tired again, a bit louder. "Allie? Is that you? Here kitty-kitty."
No response. Not the gentle padding of soft paws across the floor, not the jiggle of the bell on Allie's collar, not even a meow.
The noise became a bit more pronounced. It dragged on in longer, rougher bursts of sound.
That's...that's not Allie...
She couldn't take not knowing anymore. She shot up as fast as she could, intending to reach for her table lamp and switch it on all in one quick motion, just as she used to as a child when the fear of monsters under the bed became too much, believing the illumination would chase all the bad back from whence it came. But this plan was quickly derailed when Jolie found herself lying flat on her back with severe throbbing blossoming across her forehead. Cursing, she reached up to rub at the bump sure to be making itself known on her scalp. It was as she brought her hand up over her face, that her attention was caught by something else. Hovering just a few inches over her head, the top of her hand had grazed a rather low hanging ceiling, the tender flesh of her knuckles catching and scraping across it.
The noise continued. The harsher, crunches of the racket sounding quite abruptly in the quiet every now and then while it seemed the softer sifting sound would linger and blur together into one continuous clamor.
But Jolie had more pressing matter to attend to now. "What in the-" Jolie hesitantly raised her other hand up and spread both palms flat out in front of her. Once again, her fingers were greeted by a barrier. Worry began to set in, her mind was trying to tell her something and in her sleep addled mind she was piecing it together too slowly. She took a moment to take in the situation; the ceiling had lowered itself in the night, an occurrence that Jolie could recognize as unnatural even if she was half asleep. Jolie slowly dragged her hands back and forth in front of her, finding not the bumpy, hilly swirls and whorls of her plastered ceiling, but a rough, flat, dry texture. It felt like wood...and it felt pretty solid.
The sifting, rustling from above had suddenly become a second propriety in light of this new discovery.
Why would there be wood here?
A splinter embedded itself into her finger and she drew her hand back sharply with a hiss. As she did so, her shoulder bumped hard into something. Gulping, she trailed one hand over to her side until it reached a groove in the wood and slanted downward. A corner; she had hit a wall. "No..."
It was safe to say the mysterious noise was the least of Jolie's worries now, no matter how loud it had become.
"No, no, no, no...", that word was quickly becoming her mantra as Jolie reached over to her other side and found yet another wall. She stretched her toes out as far as they would go and was not surprise, but no less concerned to find another barrier where the foot of her bed should have been...if she had actually been in her bed. She winced as the hard unforgiving wood bit into the soft skin of her feet. So she was barefoot, but she could have sworn she had gone to bed the night before with socks on. Where had her socks gone and why the hell wasn't she in bed? She reached over her head and behind her. Yes, there was a wall there as well. She was boxed in. Her fingernails dug into a small clump of something pressed against one of the corners by her head. Pulling her hand back down, she sifted the substances between her fingers in the darkness. Feeling it between the pads of her fingers and fall away, she realized in horror exactly what it was: dirt.
The noise was growing maddeningly louder still, closer even. If one were to hazard a guess, it was coming from directly overhead.
"No, no, no, no!" Jolie began to rock back and forth as much as her small confines would allow. She knocked violently against sides of her wooden prison; thrashing around much like a large fish would at the end of a line when it has that last bit of fight left in it. "No," she lurched to her left, "No," she jerked to the right. The mantra in her head had become a panicked siren wail. She couldn't be trapped here. She just couldn't be.
The sound that woke her up had become no more than background noise to her own frantic cries.
Jolie lay flat on her back again and pressed her hands against the section of wall serving as her ceiling again. Locking her elbows she tried to push on it, but it wouldn't budge. Bending her legs as much as was allowed she braced her knees against the wood to give herself more force as she gave the ceiling another shove. Still, the results where the same. She heaved against it once more; still nothing. With a sob, she began to beat against the splintered surface over and over. She was closed in, surely left to die. A small box could not possibly hold much air in it and with every gasping breath she took she was surely sucking it up that much faster. Jolie's panic turned to dizzying hysteria. 'I can't breathe,' she thought, 'I can't breathe.' She sucked in shallow breaths through clenched teeth and tried to calm herself. If anything, she only served to elevate her rising terror. The darkness surrounding her only served to further exasperate the problem. It played tricks on her eyes, the dark swimming across her vision in blotchy black and dark gray swirls as if things were moving about in the darkness. But Jolie knew the only thing before her eyes was the blasted ceiling and her own two hands. Weeping loudly she continued to beat against the wooden roof hanging over her. All too soon her fists became sore and her breathing grew labored and still, the wood would not give.
She slammed her fists against the wood as hard as she could.
The noise kept getting louder.
She pounded relentlessly against the ceiling as her face became a wet mess from tears and a runny nose.
The noise grew louder still, deafeningly so.
She hit and clawed at the wood until her fingernails chipped and blood seeped from her battered fingertips; a shower of splinters and wood scrapings sprinkling her hair and face.
The noise seemed to echo across every square inch of her small prison.
"No. No. No. No. NO!" Jolie screamed as she pounded one more time against the wooden surface. Sobs wracked her body as she lay back against the floor of her prison and curled in on herself. "Let me out!" she cried. "Please let me out. Somebody, Anybody. Just let me ou-"
Something loud and heavy struck against the ceiling.
Jolie jolted slightly. CLUNK! It struck again, harder this time, followed by a rough scratchy, sweeping sound. This carried on for some time, the heavy fall of loud abrupt clunking and sweeping sounding in rapid succession.
Jolie pressed her ear against the wooden barrier separating her from the signs of life on the other side. Cautiously, hopefully, she tapped against the wood. "H-hello? Is someone out there?"
No answer. The sweeping and clunking continued.
Gulping audibly, Jolie forced back the tears still trying to escape and tried again; raising the volume of her tapping to what she hoped was a loud, quite noticeable knock. "Please, I'm begging you, get me out of here. I'll do anything, just get me out."
Suddenly, the roof flew open to the side. Daylight glared blindly down on her, forcing Jolie to turn away and shield her eyes. Briefly, she registered the feeling of dirt and gravel raining down on her face, gathering in clumps at the crease between her arms and shoulders and speckling her hair. She spit some out of her mouth and gasped heavily, savoring that mouthful of fresh, cool air mixed in with soil. That relief was cut short when she opened her eyes again and saw walls of dirt stretching several feet up all around her. Dread settled in the form of an unpleasant churning in her gut as it dawned on her that she was in a hole. She had been sealed up in a box in the ground. So soon after nearly being scared to death, the implications of what this meant were too horrible and disturbing to consider. The evidence before her would have been horrifying even if she was calm. Curling up into a slight ball, she clutched her knees to her chest and closed her eyes tightly, wanting nothing more than to wake up back in her bed. She would have stayed like that, but she was pulled out of her shocked stupor by a loud cough from somewhere above her.
Looking up, she found a tall man with dirty blonde hair and a worn hat pulled down low over his forehead slowly standing up from a crouch. He carefully pulled a shovel up out of the hole Jolie was in; it appeared that he had used the shovel to pry open the lid to the box. The man stood there staring at her in silence, back-dropped by a milky white and pale sky.
"Aye, Ean." He drawled in a low breathy tone. "I think we found the right one this time."
"What makes you say that, Conor?" A softer voice answered back from somewhere over his shoulder.
"'This one's blinking at me."
There was a shuffling of feet and then a younger man appeared at his shoulder. Ean, as this one seemed to be called, had long, dark chocolate brown hair that fell about his eyes. He too wore a hat low on his head, but his was much nicer than the man Conor's was; newer perhaps and a far nicer fabric. In his hand he also carried a shovel.
Ean crouched down so that he could get a better look into the hole, his black gloved hands rested on his knees. From the looks of it, he was dressed in a dark suit, a uniform of some sort. He made a show of being careful not to wrinkle it too much as he bent over. "Well there you be now, my dear," he said with a smile, though Jolie noted that it didn't seem to reach his eyes, which remained a blank, lifelessly hollow blue. "I bet you're just about ready to get out of here, now aren't you?" He leaned down upon hand and held out the other to her.
"Y-yes. Thank you," Jolie cried, grateful for such a speedy rescue, no matter who it came from. She quickly scrambled to her feet and stretched out her hand to his. The whole she was in was deep and she had to stand on her tiptoes in other to properly reach him. Shakily, she latched onto the proffered hand and held it tightly, afraid that if she let go, her rescuer would disappear and she would wake up once again alone in the box. It seemed to take forever for him to slowly wrap his fingers around her wrist and pull her up. She struggled in her haste to scale the dirt wall and escape the wooden box below her, her legs feeling as inexperience as a newborn fawn's.
Ean effortlessly yanked Jolie from the hole and onto level ground. As he released her hand, she stumbled from the sheer force of his strength and she slipped as her feet made first contact with the moist grass, sending her falling forward to sprawl out across the ground with a grunt.
"Sorry about that, miss," Ean moved to help her back up. "I may have forgotten my own strength for a moment there."
"N-no, it's alright. Really it is." Jolie rose onto her knees and steadied herself against a rock a few inches away from her. As her fingers brushed the surface of the rock, she couldn't help but notice how smooth it was. As she moved to adjust herself, one of her fingers swept across a crevice carved into the stone, then another and another. Slowly she lifted her gaze and found herself looking at the word 'Gavin'. It took her only a second to realize that it was actually a name. Shaking off Ean's hands, she kneeled in front of the rock and stared in shock. It wasn't really a mere rock at all; she was face to face with a headstone. Whipping her head to the side, she saw that there were more stones to the right of the one before her and more to the left of it as well. They stretched on in seemingly endless rows. It was then that Jolie came to the sickening realization that she was standing in the middle of a cemetery. The niggling at the back of her mind, the warning signs going off in her head, all of it had been pointing to this. She could no longer deny the situation she was in; she was in fact in a cemetery. Not just any cemetery, but the Glasnevin cemetery, the largest cemetery in
Jolie gasped and scooted backwards until her back hit the headstone of the aforementioned Gavin plot. With a yelp she jerked away from it and scrambled over a few feet, her eyes transfixed on the hole she came out of. She hugged her knees to her chest, her lip quivering and her shoulders quaking. "I..." she croaked out, "I really was buried alive. I was; it really did happen." Her eyes went glassy and unfocused as she stared at her open grave, astonished and defeated. "I-I was buried alive..."
Someone cleared their throat behind her and Jolie looked up into the empty blue eyes that belonged to Ean.
"I am aware that this must be hard on you," the young man said as he helped Jolie to her feet, "but you must calm down before you work yourself up into a fit. I'm afraid Conor and I are none too adept at comforting the hysterical." He tilted his head to his companion, who let out a wheeze of a committal grunt and nodded his head.
Ean produced a handkerchief from his coat pocket and took one of Jolie's hands within his own. "There now, you see," he chided. "You've already work yourself up into a tizzy once. I take it you managed this while you were still in that coffin, yes?" He was referring to Jolie's scraped and bloodied fingertips from her terrified attempts to claw her way out of her coffin. Ean finished dabbing at one of her hands and moved onto the other one. "That's about all I can do for you for now. We'll get you fixed up as soon as we're able."
"I-it's quite alright," Jolie assured. "Thank you, but don't worry yourself. It doesn't even hurt anymore." That was concerning as well. Judging by the peeled back skin and bountiful smear of blood across her fingers, it should be causing her a lot of pain or at the very least an annoying sting. But she didn't feel much of anything in her hands.
Jolie regarded both men with confusion and fear. Conor stared unperturbed back at her, though the slightest twitch of his eyebrow might not have been her imagination. Jolie took a moment to study the man. He was on the tall side; a little over six feet if one had to hazard a guess, with long, thick arms and legs. He was wearing a large, worn out brown jacket and pants that were frayed at the edges and a patch on one of the knees, covered from head to toe in dirt. As he tilted his head back to regard her, Jolie caught sight of a set of murky grey eyes embedded in a valley of worry and frown lines peeking out at her from under the brim of his old hat. Like Ean, he too wore gloves, though his were more battered and looked to be more of the working glove sort. He stretched his head from side to side, working out the kinks in his neck and flexed his fingers over the handle of his shovel.
Jolie's eyes rested upon the shovel for a moment. "You..." she turned to Ean and noticed that not too far from him he had placed a shovel as well, though there didn't appear to be a speck of dirt on Ean to show for it, not even on his shoes. "You two dug me out." It wasn't a question. There was only one way to save a person buried alive and as much as Jolie hated to think about it; that was the state she had been in before they came along. She shuddered to herself and turned back to the men before her. "You dug me out. I was trapped and you saved me."
Something flashed across Ean eyes for a second, but it was gone as quickly as it came, the foreign flicker of emotion doused before Jolie could name it. "That we did, miss. Though I must admit, it took us a right bit of trouble at first." He gestured with a casual sweep of his arms to the cemetery grounds.
Jolie looked out upon the cemetery again. By the looks of the pinkish hue just barely breaking across the sky, it could have been no more than five in the morning, maybe earlier. The birds where startlingly quiet that morning; not even the annoying caw of a seagull or the persistent coo of a pigeon could be heard overhead. Where did all those flying rats go? Usually even the buses shooting by couldn't scare those things out of the streets. The air was surprisingly crisp and chilly for a summer morning, Jolie resisted the urge to wrap her arms around herself. The ground beneath her feet was soft and damp with morning dew, sparkling between the rows of smooth and polished stones. It was then that she noticed that for rows upon rows in every direction, just about every grave without a headstone had been excavated, mounds of dirt, gravel, and clumps of grass piled high next to craterous human gopher-like holes torn fresh in the earth. Conor was already busying himself with covering the grave nearest them back up.
When Jolie turned to Ean aghast, he had the good graces to at least roll his shoulders in a resemblance of a shrug. "There's been a bit of a few recent burials in this place and with the economy the way it is, you can imagine not everyone can afford a stone. So you can surely understand the trouble we ran into, coming here looking for an unmarked grave and there's been about, oh I'd say seventeen alone in the rows closest to us right here."
Conor 'hmphed' from where he was working on reburying his fifth grave.
Jolie blinked. "W-wait...hold up a second. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around how I got in this situation. A-and now you're talking like you knew that I would be here waiting for someone to come dig me up!"
"That's the general idea, yes," Ean yanked his own shovel from the ground with a wet thump and shouldered it across his back to one side. "Now if you would just come with me, we have a lot to discuss. I trust you can handle the reburials on your own, eh, Conor?" he called out to his companion.
Conor just turned his head to them and gave a curt nod. "S'fine," he grunted, flinging another shovelful of dirt over his shoulder into a grave.
Ean nodded back. "Very good." He clapped his hands. "Now right this way, miss." He headed off towards the main sidewalk leading back to the cemetery entrance.
Jolie simply stood there staring at his retreating back, still weary from the emotional and physical strain of the whole ordeal she had suffered. Her mind was a swirling mess of confusion and questions that seemed to double in number the longer she stayed in the presence of the two men.
Ean paused several rows ahead of her, but he didn't turn around to see if she had followed or not. "You have been through quite a bit in only a few short hours time," he began in a soft voice. "You're exhausted and probably think this is far too much for you to take in right now in your current state." He turned around to face her and his face was grim and business-like. "I want to assure you that it is perfectly understandable for you to feel this way, given how things may appear." He pulled out a pair of sunglasses from his coat pocket and placed them over his eyes before continuing. "However it is important for you to understand that we cannot stay here. The streets of
Jolie jerked back with a start and glanced down at herself. She hadn't noticed before, but she seemed to be clad in only a long off white night gown of some sort, making her skin seem unnaturally pale in the morning light. The outfit almost reminded her of a hospital gown. It certainly wasn't one of her own night gowns and after taking a quick peek down the front, she realized that neither was the bra and underwear she had on under it. Feeling her ears grow hot, Jolie wrapped her arms around herself in a poor attempt at modesty.
Ean kept glancing over his shoulder at the horizon peeking out over the housetops and the walls around the cemetery and brought a cupped hand to his mouth. "Better be quick on finishing that, Conor," he called to his friend just taking care of the last recently unburied grave.
Conor glanced up for a moment and nodded, producing a pair of his own sunglasses and putting them on before digging faster.
Ean turned back to regard Jolie. "Well now you see there, miss. You are in quite a delicate state being dressed as you are. It would be best to come with me and we can give you something with a bit more dignity to wear, what do you say, eh?" he approached Jolie and gently took her by the arm and led her out the entrance.
Jolie, her mind still reeling at the thought of someone undressing her in her sleep, followed on autopilot. She didn't feel the long gray pea-coat being placed about her shoulders or the sunglasses placed over her eyes; she didn't take notice of the black cloche hat being pulled down past her brow. She certainly didn't register being guided into a black limousine at the cemetery gates, Ean closing the door before seating himself in front behind the wheel, Conor, trudging up the sidewalk and climbing in back to join them as the final dawdling rays of sunlight burst forth over the city of
To be continued...