View Full Version : Journey to Azmerith - Chapter 4

June 1st, 2012, 09:58 PM
Chapter 4
Dragons and Headstones

On Sunday night Karolyn and Michael awaited a call from their father and tried to find a way to keep Aunt Gen from eating all of the cookies and fruit that were supposed to be for their school lunches. She made several trips to the kitchen before Michael hid the cookies in the cupboard with the cleaning supplies.

Aunt Gen noticed the bruises on Michael’s face and told him, “Good for you slugger.” He explained to Karolyn that he had been in a fight but refused to say who with or where. “It’s over now,” he said.

Karolyn climbed to her room, got her drawing pad and the charcoal stick, and sat on her bed. She planned to draw Michael’s bagel with the image of Christ. She would put the drawing in her journal along with the notes for the previous day. Again the charcoal wouldn’t cooperate. It vibrated in her hand and moved around the paper seemingly at random. She tried to force it, gripping it tightly and pressing down harder to prevent slippage but then the stick refused to move at all. Hearing talking in the kitchen she looked up and listened, forgetting for a moment about the drawing. She heard Aunt Gen asking something about cookies and Michael’s voice answering but she wasn’t sure what he said. She listened awhile and thought about going downstairs to join them but decided against it.

When she looked down she realized the charcoal had moved in her hand on the drawing pad. The page was nearly full of dark lines. Thinking she ruined a page she sighed and started to tear it out but then noticed the scribbles looked like something; the sketch of a dragon’s head, a peculiar looking beast to say the least, peered at her from the paper. Karolyn stared at it in amazement, wondering how random movements of her hand could draw something so strikingly beautiful and yet so odd. The head wasn’t like other dragons she had seen but it was definitely of dragon kind. With an elongated snout, a square jaw, wide oval-shaped nostrils, and a mouth resembling the shape of a wolf’s mouth but with a longer upward curbing lip. There were layered plates along the bridge of its snout beneath wide set almond shaped eyes. The scribbles had made the dragon’s neck look like it had a mane and from the forehead, chin and cheeks were long feather-like tufts of hair.

In her journal that night Karolyn wrote the following: “The most amazing thing has happened. I drew a dragon with mother’s charcoal. It’s weird but I don’t think I really drew it. Maybe mother is not in Purgatory after all. Maybe an angel brought the message from her. Tomorrow I will go to the graveyard and pray at mother’s grave, thanking the angels who brought this gift.”

The phone rang and Karolyn hurried downstairs. Their father was calling on his cell phone and said he couldn’t talk for long. Karolyn got on the kitchen phone and Michael on the living-room extension. “I’m researching a story. An old man wrote me about discovering some symbols carved in a cave on Mount Shasta.”

“Indian carvings?” asked Michael. “We read about them in school.”

“Yes, they’re called petroglyphs. The old man says these are very unusual, like none seen before, perhaps from a lost tribe. We’re climbing to the cave tomorrow.”

“See if you can find me an arrowhead,” said Michael.

“How long until you’ll be back?” asked Karolyn.

“I’ll be gone for a few more days. I have to take some photos of the carvings, interview the old man, and write the story. I gave Aunt Genevieve some cash for food.” Karolyn rolled her eyes but said nothing back. She knew Aunt Gen wouldn’t buy any food for them with the money. The rest of the conversation turned to instructions to finish homework, not to stay out late on school nights, to brush their teeth, and to mind Aunt Gen.

“But Dad, she’s totally messing up the house already. I wish you could have left us on our own. We don’t need a babysitter,” whispered Karolyn.

“I know you don’t need a sitter, but it’s better to have an adult in the house if anything goes wrong,” answered Sam.

“Too bad you couldn’t find one,” said Michael.

“She’s your Aunt. You both mind her. That’s final.”

“Okay Dad, we love you. Hurry home,” said Karolyn.

“I will. I’ll be missing you until then.”

After the conversation ended both kids went upstairs to the second floor. Karolyn told Michael about the drawing and then went up to her room and came back down with it to show him. “It looks like a big hairy dog,” laughed Michael. “You need to take an art class.”

“I am in an art class! But I wasn’t even looking at this while I drew. The charcoal did this on its own.”

“That’s nuts, Karolyn. You probably drew it because you heard that Mom drew dragons. You’re always trying to make a connection to her. That’s why you like the nuns so much. They’re your mother replacements.”

“That’s not true!”

“Yeah it is. I know all about those prayers you say. You think mom went to Hell. That’s sick. It’s because you’re mad at her for dying, that’s all.”

“No, I thought she was in Purgatory, but now I don’t. I think this drawing is from her in Heaven.”

Michael snickered. “Well maybe there are dogs in Heaven. Your dragon looks like a dog to me.”

Disappointed that Michael didn’t understand what she knew to be a miracle, Karolyn ascended her ladder and said nothing more of it that night. The next day at school she made an appointment to talk with Sister Jessica. The meeting would be on Wednesday and she hoped to get advice on bringing Michael back to church. After school she arrived home to find Aunt Gen out somewhere. There was a note with a list of chores including washing dishes and cleaning the living room. The kitchen had been perfectly cleaned before she left for school but now it was a mess with globs of jelly and peanut butter on the counter, crumpled paper towels, and assorted crumbs everywhere but on the cutting board. The sink was still clean but then dirty dishes were piled on the coffee table and the arm of the couch in the living room where the television was still on.

“I’m not cleaning up your mess, you vampire from hell,” Karolyn shouted though no one was there to hear. Saying it made her feel better but then she felt a pang of guilt at the same time. She remembered her father telling her that Aunt Gen was just going through a phase and that she needed understanding until it was over. Before leaving the living room she turned off the television and picked up all of the dishes. Depositing the dishes in the kitchen sink she said a prayer to help her Aunt find Christ and for her own tolerance. In her room, she exchanged school uniform for street clothes and wrote a note to Michael:

“Going to Mom’s grave. Back 6-ish. I’ll do the dishes if you finish cleaning the living room.” As he wasn’t due home for an hour she left the note on his bed.

The city bus stop was just three blocks away. On the bus were two Muslim girls wearing burkas, the kind without veils, and Karolyn thought how pretty they looked and how much their manner of dress and lack of make-up was like that of nuns. She guessed the girls were near her age and maybe sisters as their features were somewhat similar.

This was the first time she had journeyed to the gravesite without her father but she well knew the route and was sure she would find her way. The bus ride was long with several stops between Berkeley and the Oakland hills. Many interesting looking people got on and off the bus going to or from work or shopping and most just sat quietly, minding their business, but none sat too near the Muslim girls. One man who boarded saw the burkas and with a look of disgust turned around and exited. Karolyn thought it sad that ever since a few religious fanatics brought down the twin towers in New York, people were fearful of pretty Muslim girls. She wondered how people could be so ignorant and looked to see if the girls noticed the man’s reaction. The older girl had her eyes down reading a book and the other was looking back at her. Karolyn felt nervous and didn’t know what to say, then “Jesus loves you,” seemed to jump out of her mouth.

The girl smiled. “Allah is great,” she said, bowing her head.

“Oh, is that your God?” asked Karolyn, not knowing what else she could say. She felt it wouldn’t be proper to say ‘thank you’ since she wasn’t sure who Allah was or if she should acknowledge what she considered to be a heathen god. “No, wait,” she corrected, “Mohammed is your god, right?”

The girl who had been reading now looked up. “You had it right at first,” she instructed. “Allah is one of the ninety-nine excellent terms for God. Mohammed is his messenger, a prophet, just like Jesus.”

Karolyn felt somewhat insulted that the girl had equated their Mohammed with the Son of God. She felt it her Christian duty to set them straight. “Jesus is Our Savior, the only begotten Son of God and one of the Holy Trinity.”

The older girl sighed and looked back at her book, as she did so she nudged the girl next to her and she too looked away. It was obvious that they no longer wanted to talk to her and Karolyn wondered what she had said that killed the conversation.

It was almost closing time of Saint Mary’s Cemetery as the bus finally arrived at the nearest stop. Karolyn hurried through the neighborhood to the entrance, hoping to get there before it was too late. Approaching the narrow gates she saw they were already shut and locked. This disappointed her greatly as she had spent half of her weekly allowance to get there and would spend the other half to return. She thought about going to the gate and pleading with anyone inside to let her through but decided that probably wouldn’t work; then her spirits lifted as she remembered seeing another way in and devised a plan.

Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery was next to the historical Mountain View Cemetery, which didn’t close until six o’clock. The two cemeteries were separated by a chain link fence and on an earlier visit she had noticed an opening at one side of a cement mausoleum where the fence stopped short of its wall. She would squeeze between the wall and the fence post and no one would know. Her mother’s grave was only a short distance from that opening. She would go in, say her prayers and be out before anyone saw her.

Passing through the broad gates of Mountain View was like visiting a heavenly park. In fact the cemetery was designed by Frederick Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture who had also created the plans for Central Park in New York City. In Oakland he designed a cemetery as lovely and serene as one would imagine in Heaven. Beautiful fountains and trees graced the grounds and even people who had no relatives resting there took leisurely strolls through the peaceful graves. There was a pyramid shaped mausoleum and a pagoda shaped headstone, huge statues of cherubs, angels and archangels, gravestones that were busts of the deceased, headstones with photographs, many stones of little lambs where children slept and some towering entrances built in the side of a hill that led to subterranean burial chambers. The graveyard was huge and magnificent, full of flowers, a place beautiful enough to inspire the living to die just so they could be buried there, thought Karolyn.

Several important people in California history were interred here. Much as in life, rich people, like the Crocker banking family, had huge private mausoleums high on the hill with commanding views of San Francisco and the bay. Karolyn surmised that alive or dead the wealthy always liked to have a view looking over the poorer people, alive or dead.

She scanned the thousands of tilted, crowded headstones and guessed that she wouldn’t be coming there for a leisurely stroll anytime soon. As she walked amongst the Jewish plots, separated from the Protestants and Catholics in an area named Home of Eternity, she thought it strange that even in the afterlife people grouped together according to their religion. She wondered if it was so God could sort them out more easily later on, then she rejected the thought, realizing that God probably need not sort people by their grave location or religion. It was their deeds that would count.

Finding the cement mausoleum where the fence stopped short she squeezed past the post and entered the Catholic cemetery. She remembered the place where her mother’s grave plaque rested, to the left of a beautiful monument with the Archangel Michael on top. She had pointed out to her brother that the monument actually looked like him except of course for the wings and sword. Once at the gravesite, she stared at the empty ground in shock and dismay. The granite plaque with her mother’s name was gone. She searched the adjacent graves just to be sure, remembering some of the names, like Higgins and O’Riley, seen on prior visits with her father. It was the right location, she was sure. The plaque was gone.

Thinking she must immediately report the theft of her mother’s grave marker she hurried along the asphalt road to the cemetery office. She would tell anyone there that she was inside when the gates were locked as she was searching for the missing grave marker. The office itself was on a hill near the entrance with a large parking lot in front. No cars were parked and the building looked closed. She climbed the stairs to the front doors and checked anyway, finding them locked.

“Can I help you?” said a voice.

Karolyn turned and saw a man wearing bib overalls and a straw hat at the bottom of the stairway. “Is anyone here? I need to report the theft of a headstone,” she said.

“They’ve all gone home for the day, but I’m here. I’m the night watchman. A theft you say? That’s serious. Can you show me where?”

“Yes, follow me.” She led him to the location and pointed to the place where now nothing but green grass grew.

The watchman gazed at the spot. “It doesn’t look like anything has been there for some time Miss. Are you sure this is the right spot? You know these monuments and headstones look a lot alike. What plot number were you looking for?”

“Is there another Saint Michael statue with his sword pointed down?” asked Karolyn.

“No, I don’t believe so. Most have their sword pointed up toward heaven.”

“Then this is the place. I’m sure. I’ve been here five times with my father.”

“Okay then, we better get this reported proper. I’m sure the Cemetery Board will replace the stone if it was stolen. It might get me in some trouble but that’s not important. Probably some kids came in on Halloween to pull a prank. They sometimes sneak in through that fence over there.” He pointed at the place where Karolyn had squeezed through. “Sorry about this. Now if you’ll give me your loved one’s name I’ll look up the plot number and make a report. I’ll need your name and telephone number so the Board can contact you.”

“It’s Harmony, Harmony Cole,” answered Karolyn.

The watchman cocked his head a bit to the side. “Now that does sound familiar. I’m not sure where but I must have seen that name before. I don’t recall it being here though. I know I’ll think of it in awhile. It’ll come to me. Now if you’ll follow me.”

Leading Karolyn to the old wooden maintenance shed behind the office he asked her to wait outside while he went in. Coming back out he held a large ledger open in one hand and he flipped through pages until he found the Coles. “There’s fifteen Coles listed but none named Harmony. That’s an unusual name. Was it maybe a nickname?” He ran his finger along the list. “There’s a Beatrice, Martha, Helen, Mary, Alexandria. Could she be any of those?”
Karolyn shook her head and stepping to his side looked at the list with him. “No, the dates of burials aren’t right. She died thirteen years ago. All of those are before that.”

“Well, I can look up the plot by number. Maybe the plot was owned by the church and donated to her. Now let’s see….” He turned to another section of the ledger. “That site was in Dormitory K, bottom row, about six plots over.” He ran his finger along a column of numbers with adjacent names. “Available,” he read. “That’s an empty plot.” He nodded and looked Karolyn straight in the eyes. “What are you at here?” he demanded. “There was never anyone in that plot.”

“I swear, I’m not AT anything,” she said, her voice shaking. “I just came here to visit my mother’s grave.”
The watchman looked kindly at her, realizing the sincerity of her distress. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice softening. “I didn’t know it was your mother. This must be some kind of mistake. Are you sure this is the right cemetery? This is the Catholic Cemetery, Saint Mary’s.”

Karolyn nodded.

“Now wait a minute!” said the watchman raising his eyebrows. “I just remembered something. I knew it would come to me.” He tapped his temple with an outstretched index finger to indicate that he remembered something and then went inside the maintenance shack. Karolyn watched him disappear into the dim interior and could hear him rummaging around, moving boxes and sliding stones at the back of the shack. “It’s usually the day guy’s job to place headstones and I don’t deal with them,” he called, “but I think we might have an answer here. Yep! I knew I saw that name before.”
The man emerged from the doorway carrying a two inch thick granite plaque. On it was the inscription: “Harmony Cole, Beloved Wife, Devoted Mother, Born March 11, 1975, Died November 4, 1999.”

“That’s it! That’s my mother’s plaque. What’s it doing here?” questioned Karolyn.

“I don’t have any idea Miss. Barry, the day caretaker handles the monuments. I just watch the place at night. But here it is anyhow, not stolen. They sometimes bring a stone like this in for repairs if it’s cracked, but let’s see, no, no damage.” He held the stone up for her to get a better look at it. “Oh, what’s this? There’s a note taped on the back. Maybe this’ll explain it.” He set the stone plaque down on its edge and pulled a folded sheet of paper off its back.

Karolyn stood next to him and read the note after he unfolded it:

I’ll call an hour before I’m coming with the kids.
Please put this plaque the place we discussed,
on the plot beside the Archangel monument.
Keep it stored for me. I’ll let you know when
we don’t need it anymore.
Thanks for your help,
Sam Cole”

Karolyn stood stunned and silent. The watchman looked at her with a downcast expression. “Oh, I am so sorry. You must be one of the kids. I’m so so sorry!”

“It’s not your fault,” said Karolyn. “I knew something wasn’t right. Can you show me where the unconsecrated graves are?”

“What? Why would you want to go there?”

“My mother must have commited suicide. That’s why she can’t be buried with regular Catholics. My father was probably trying to hide it.”

“No, Miss, that’s not possible. Your mother isn’t buried in this cemetery. Even the unconsecrated burials are listed in the book. Her name would be here but it isn’t. I’m sorry but you’ll have to talk to your father about this. Maybe she was lost at sea or there’s another reason.”
Karolyn turned and walked to the gate, which the watchman unlocked and opened for her. The bus ride home seemed long and dull as she sat wondering where her mother was buried and why her father had never told her.

June 2nd, 2012, 07:24 AM
The story continues... I like the flow. But a general observation is there are too many ands to conjugate two sentences which made the reading difficult for me. I am not very good in editing and all but a few nits:-

On Sunday night Karolyn and Michael awaited a call from their father and tried to find a way to keep Aunt Gen from eating all of the cookies and fruit that were supposed to be for their school lunches. The line did not seem interesting enough for the beginning of the chapter.

told him, “Good for you slugger,” without further comment. without further comment seem extra.

said a prayer intended to help I believe intended is superfluous here.

“Can I help you,”Question Mark missed.

I know I’ll think of it in awhile; it’ll come to me misplaced semi-colon.

have commit suicide. have committed.

June 3rd, 2012, 04:37 AM
Thanks so much for the careful reading and helpful suggestions. I've incorporated most of your improvements. The right first paragraph will come to me eventually. I agree that it is not a strong or catchy opener and I'm glad you pointed that out. Thanks again for all of the help.

June 5th, 2012, 03:17 PM
I was very excited to see a new chapter of your story on here today. I really enjoyed it and look forward to more.

December 18th, 2012, 03:34 AM
I love the way the story is going! :) The one things I noticed is the sentence after Karolyn draws or probably more accurately the charcoal draws the dragon.

"With an elongated snout, a square jaw, wide oval-shaped nostrils, and a mouth resembling the shape of a wolf’s mouth but with a longer upward curbing lip."

I'm not sure how you want to change that, but that sentence is definitely a fragment.