Shaun Hutson is a bestselling author of horror fiction and has written novels under eight different pseudonyms. He was one of eight bestselling authors taking part in the BBC's End of Story competition and has appeared in his first film. He lives and writes in Buckinghamshire with his wife and daughter and two pairs of Michelle Pfeiffer's shoes.
For more details on Shaun Hutson and his books, visit www.shaunhutson.com
There were two entrances to the Copsley Fields cemetery. The newest, on the northern side of the vast necropolis, comprised redbrick walls with wrought-iron gates set into solid posts. It led on to a paved driveway that snaked across the cemetery, past the small contemporary chapel. Behind the chapel, marble and metal markers on the carefully tended turf commemorated those who had been cremated.
Across the driveway, headstones of white or black marble indicated the final resting places of those below them. Trees that had been planted barely ten years earlier, when the cemetery was enlarged, grew among the gravestones.
A large expanse of land reserved for future occupants stretched away towards the high and immaculately trimmed privet hedge that formed the perimeter.
The southern side of the cemetery was completely different. It seemed to belong to another time.
One single large wooden gate, its timbers split and knotted, guarded a rutted walkway barely the width of a coffin. Above the gate there was a tall wooden construction that resembled a porch.
Huge oak trees, some hundreds of years old, towered above the low stone wall that formed the perimeter in this older sector. The same trees cast thick shadows across the overgrown grass that seemed intent on strangling the grave markers. Many of these monuments were so old and weathered it was impossible to make out the inscriptions upon them.
Tombs had collapsed in upon themselves. A number of stone crosses had fallen over and many of the graves were completely unmarked.
As Nick Pearson pushed his way past the wooden gate he couldn’t help thinking that those who had once come to tend these old graves must themselves have been dead for some time now.
He could remember coming to such places as a child and collecting chestnuts by the dozen. The spiky husks of many recently fallen now lay rotting in the grass and on the pathway. He saw insects crawling over them. A bee buzzed lazily past him, landed on an old headstone, then took off again in its hunt for pollen.
Pearson saw a crane fly struggling in a large web spun between one of the oak trees and a battered and timeworn Celtic cross. He watched as a bloated spider advanced slowly upon the stricken insect.
Despite the early hour, the cool breeze that he had felt when he clambered out of his car seemed not to reach him here. The air was heavy, almost oppressive, among the tall trees and overgrown grass.
The journalist stooped and picked up a fallen chestnut, pulling away the shell to reveal the shiny brown conker within. He slipped it into the pocket of his jacket and walked on. He passed a wooden hut that, he presumed, had once provided shelter for whoever had cared for this older part of the graveyard. Its windows were either broken or so filthy as to be opaque.
This side of Copsley Fields, he thought to himself, was as forgotten and neglected as those who rested in its earth.
Pearson walked slowly along the narrow path, glancing to his left and right. Up ahead he could see the tarmac driveway that seemed to act like a line of demarcation between the old and new sections of the cemetery. The massive oak trees were replaced by poplars as he approached the new side of Copsley Fields. The more recent graves were not shaded like the old ones, but instead bathed in daylight. The eastern side looked almost welcoming compared to the dank and overgrown part through which Pearson had come. He quickened his pace as he drew nearer to the tarmac driveway.
But it was something closer at hand that caught his attention.
Off to his left, among the older graves.
For a moment, Pearson thought it was some kind of bizarre monument. A grave marker that belonged to a bygone age.
As he moved off the path towards it, he saw that it was not.
The long, dew-soaked grass seemed to clutch at his feet as he walked between the older graves. He tripped over one of them, dislodging the rusted metal vase and almost losing his footing.
Only a few feet in front of him now was the object that had drawn his gaze.
‘Jesus Christ,’ he murmured, the words catching in his throat.
(C) Shaun Hutson 2007
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