The Wandering Woman

The best place to live is beside a cemetery. The neighbors don’t make any noise, people mostly stay away, and those that do show up tend to be somber and respectful. Sure, buying the old caretaker’s house set off in the far back corner fed into the creepy loner image I’d managed to cultivate around myself, but that worked for me.

It was all part of The Brand.

I had never meant for anyone to take me or my “work” seriously. It had all just been a joke that started after a couple of friends said I had the perfect voice for creepy narration. In response, I’d recorded myself reading a true crime article with some sinister background music, it got around, and things just kind of went from there.

I fell in with a podcasting crowd and they developed an idea for me to host a show that covered all things horror. One week I’d be discussing obscure and awful serial killers, the next I’d be weighing the validity of the latest Bigfoot sighting. When the fan base started to grow, I didn’t really understand why. When we started making money, I was even more confused. When offers for me to do other voice work and guest appearances started to come in, I was sure that it was all some kind of cosmic joke.

During it all, though, I maintained the persona of Pewter, a morbidly upbeat, slightly eccentric, gothic host. It was a fun character to play and, somehow, it was making me money. Enough that I could quit my day job and buy an old colonial built beside a graveyard.

According to Pewter, the spirits had summoned him hence to make his home amongst their bones. In reality, the house was affordable, in good condition, and the backdrop of the woods was picturesque. I had enjoyed my apartment in the city well enough, but I’d always wanted to live somewhere a little off the beaten path.

I made the room overlooking the cemetery my studio. It was the smallest one, easiest to soundproof, and I liked watching the sunset over the headstones. The first night there, I posted the obligatory “spooky” pictures of my new abode to the podcast website and promised regular updates about the goings on of my new neighbors.

As Pewter, I really played up the whole “living beside the dead” thing and my fans ate it up.

Really, though, it didn’t seem any different than anywhere else I’d lived. Just quieter.

The last Thursday of every month were streaming days. I’d livestream myself (as Pewter, obviously) doing something mundane like cooking and just chat with viewers. I kept the tradition going in the new house. I’d already settled in for the most part by the appointed time and saw no point in putting it off.

That night, I decided I’d organize the bookshelf in my studio while I talked to people. It was the last real thing I needed to do and that was as good an excuse as any to get it done. I set up the camera, pancaked myself in white makeup, and pulled on my long black wig before going live.

“Welcome back, my dark brethren, to another hour of Pewter Prattles. Tonight, as we do every night, we’re going to mull over the meaninglessness of life, wonder at the curiosities of death, and finally get the bookshelf arranged so you stop leaving comments about what a mess it is whenever I post pictures of my lair.”

Over five hundred people were watching as soon as I started. The number would continue to grow over the course of the stream, often topping off with a couple thousand by the end. As I’d predicted, most questions right off the bat were about living next to the graveyard.

Seen anything spoopy yet? someone typed.

I put on an exaggerated frown and wagged my finger at the screen. “Have some respect for the dearly departed,” I said. “Come, let’s say hello to the neighbors. I’ll show you you have nothing to be afraid of.”

I plucked the camera off the top of the monitor and brought it with me to the window. I panned it around, long and slow, to give them a good view of the grounds. I paused only when I realized that there was a woman in the shot. She was far across the cemetery, barely visible in the fading evening sunlight, really, but I quickly pointed the camera away from her. I didn’t want to put some poor, mourning woman on the internet for people to gawk at.

If anyone else had seen her, no one commented, and I moved the camera back to the monitor and resumed straightening up my bookshelf.

The next evening, while I was editing a video to upload it to my site, I leaned back in my chair to stretch. My gaze drifted to my open window and I let my tired eyes wander a bit to give them a break from the glare of the computer screen. It was just shy of nightfall and the crickets were chirping loudly from the bushes.

In the distance, a woman was moving between headstones. Her gait was awkward, a slow limp, and each step looked pained. Her face was washed out in shadow. I watched her for a moment, but it felt voyeuristic and wrong to stare, so I rubbed my eyes and got back to work.

Apparently I’d discovered the downside of my new home: feeling like a creep just for looking out my window.

I took the next night off and went out with a few friends for beers and a movie. On the way home, driving past the cemetery at twilight, a flash of color caught my eye. The white dress of a woman standing in front of a grave, partially obscured by a tree. By then, there was a familiar quality to her. The dark hair, all piled in a mess of tangled curls, the stooped posture. I was sure it was the same woman I’d seen the previous two nights.

Only now, she was closer to my house.

Maybe she has family and friends spread around, I thought to myself.

Or maybe she was just someone who just liked evening walks. There were half a dozen perfectly reasonable explanations for her being there and I didn’t think much of her, except that she might give Pewter an embellished tale to tell.

When I recorded the following morning, I started with a home update and included a little quip about the cemetery’s wandering woman. I named her Betsy and said we were becoming fast friends. It didn’t take long for fan art of Betsy to start popping up. She was often portrayed as young and beautiful, always in white. A stark contrast to the dark character of Pewter.

Along with the art came the suggestions.

Research your house!

You should look into her. Maybe she’s like La Llorona!

If this is real, you need to do an episode about it.

I admit, it did get me thinking. And when I saw the woman I’d dubbed Betsy again that night, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea at all. She was in the middle of the cemetery then, closer than I’d ever seen her, still creeping along in her slow, teetering manner. I thought I might have heard the faintest note of humming carried on the breeze. She came to an unsteady halt and started to lift her head from its bowed position. Before we could make eye contact, I shut the window and let the curtain fall over it.

It was bad enough I was going to use her as episode fodder. I didn’t want her to catch me watching her.

I shot an email to Guy, who handled a lot of the research for the show, and asked him to look up anything interesting related to my house and the cemetery beside it before going to the living room to watch TV. A tiny feeling of guilt was nibbling at the back of my mind. I knew I hadn’t violated “Betsy’s” privacy or revealed anything about her, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I was still exploiting her in a way.

I shook the sensation away. Betsy would likely never hear my podcast and, if she did, she wouldn’t know that she was the inspiration for my property’s history episode. It was harmless.

As I tried to fall asleep that might, I was certain that, every so often, I’d catch just a second’s worth of a woman humming somewhere outside.

Guy got back to me quickly. I had an email from him by dinner time the next day.

You must live next to the most boring cemetery ever. He’d written. Only interesting thing I could find was that there was some brief scandal where the groundskeeper ran off with a widow after his wife disappeared like forty years ago. Other than that, house was owned by the church that used to own the cemetery, and then the city bought them out. They fixed up the house, now you’re in it. Gonna need more than that if you want to make an ep out of it.

He wasn’t wrong, but I also didn’t think he was totally right. The little bit he’d mentioned about the groundskeeper caught my attention and I decided to look into it more myself.

Not, as it turned out, that there was much to look into.

What Guy had told me turned out to be almost the entirety of the story. The cemetery’s groundskeeper, one Clive Montcliff, and his wife, Charlotte, had lived in the house for almost a decade when rumors started that Clive had started an affair with a widow he’d met while tending her late husband’s grave. It was suspected that the rumors drove Charlotte from the small town, back to her parents’, and no one saw her again. Shortly after, Clive and the widow also left. While it was gossip column worthy, little else of substance was said on the matter.

It was disappointing. I had half hoped there’d have been some kind of…something surrounding the cemetery. Grave robbers or ghouls, something I could have used on the podcast. Instead, all I had was Betsy, a disabled woman who enjoyed peaceful walks through a quiet area at sundown.

Out of what was becoming habit, I leaned back in my chair and looked out the window.

Betsy was there again, in the same white dress. She was just on the other side of the iron fence that separated my yard from the cemetery. One of her hands loosely gripped one of the posts.

And she was staring up at me.

Usually I would have looked away immediately, embarrassed that I’d been caught peering out my window at her, but I froze in place. There was something off about Betsy, and the longer I stared at her, the more aware of it I became.

It started with her hand, the one holding the fence. Her fingertips. Even in the deepening dark, they stood out against her pale skin. They were bloody and raw. Her nails were jagged in some places, completely torn away in others.

Now that she was closer, I could see the streaks and stains of dirt that lined her dress. The tears in her skirt and bodice. The flecks of red that dotted the white.

She had started to pace, limping along the fence line in that stooped, unsteady way. The source of it was clear now. With every step she took, her skirt raised slightly, and I could see her bare feet, one of which was twisted entirely around.

I yelped in surprise and in fright and she stopped, again turning to look up at me. This time, I met her gaze.

Two black holes where her eyes should have been fixed on me.

She started to open her mouth, but I slammed the window shut and yanked the curtains over it. My heart hammered in my chest and I could barely remember to breathe. Had I just seen a woman in desperate need of help…or something else? I didn’t know, I couldn’t make sense of it! With my own breathing roaring in my ears, I dug around on my desk for my cell phone. I wasn’t sure if I was going to call Guy or another friend or the cops; I just knew I needed to call someone!

After an anxious, frantic moment, I remembered I’d left it charging down in the kitchen.

I tore down the steps, two or three at a time, and launched myself from the final one into the hall. I stumbled, almost tripped, and righted myself against the wall before scrambling into the kitchen. My phone was sitting on the counter, plugged into a cord beside my keys.

As I reached for it, a floorboard on the back porch groaned.

“Clive.”

A rasping, dry woman’s voice followed it.

“After all this time. You came back.”

The handle on the door turned sharply and it was pushed inward.

“Clive.”

She was dragging herself in through the door, one hand with its bloodied, ruin fingertips stretched out towards me. Her skin was thin, papery.

Her empty sockets stared endlessly at me.

“I’ve missed you. I forgive you. I forgive you.”

She kept saying it even as I screamed and grabbed my keys. My phone was forgotten. I spun on my heel and ran through my house, to the front door.

“Clive!”

Her voice had raised to a screech. I could hear her thumping down the hallway after me, her footsteps heavy and uneven.

“Not again!” She howled. “Don’t leave again! Not after what you did to me!”

But I was already halfway across the front lawn. I jumped into my car and slammed the door shut. She was in the entryway of the house, her hands clenching the doorframe on either side. I threw the car in reverse and pressed hard on the gas.

Her shriek followed me down the drive.

Selling a house beside a cemetery isn’t easy, even after I’d pointed out all the good qualities that come with it. My friends teased me relentlessly over it, convinced I’d let the creepiness of the setting drive me away. I tried to explain what had happened, just once. As I’d expected, it didn’t help matters. At least they still helped me pack my things and move to new place in the suburbs.

I took a couple weeks off from the podcast. I was shaken, stressed, and needed time to put whatever that had been behind me. I visited my parents to help clear my head in a place where I could escape my friends’ jokes for a while.

It was a welcome break. When I got back, I felt like my head was back on right. Whatever had happened, as scary as it had been at the time, it was behind me and I was fine. If anything, it had proved all the stuff I’d thought of as being dumb and fake might not have been either, which gave me a new passion for the show.

“So, about Betsy, or should I call her Charlotte…” Guy started to say with a telling grin when we met to discuss the next episode for the podcast.

“Fuck off,” I said cheerfully, and he let that be the end of it.

We had settled, naturally, on the topic of ghosts.

I recorded the episode, which covered ghost folklore from around the world, and immediately opened up the software to edit it.

As soon as the recording started, there was a soft hiss in the background, and then, whispers so faint that I would have missed them if I hadn’t had my volume so loud.

My breath caught in my chest. My stomach dropped. I hesitated for a long moment, and then turned the sound up even more before restarting the recording.

“Now we’re together again,” a rasping, dry woman’s voice whispered through my headset. “You can never leave me again.”

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One thought on “The Wandering Woman

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  1. Fantastic as always, I’ve just finished binge-reading all your stories on your site, I am obsessed! Keep up the fantastic work and I can’t wait to read your next posted story.

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