Authors: Elizabeth Rose
The Caretaker of Showman’s Hill
Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Rose Krejcik
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarities to actual organizations or persons living or deceased is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever without the author’s written permission.
Cover by Elizabeth Rose Krejcik
Cover image provided by Shutterstock
E-books by Elizabeth Rose:
(Legacy of the Blade Series)
(Daughters of the Dagger Series)
(Madman MacKeefe Series)
Judging Judas (coming soon)
(Tarnished Saints Series)
(Greek Myth Fantasy Series)
The Caretaker of Showman’s Hill
Curse of the Condor
The Caretaker of Showman’s Hill
was inspired by a real life event of a circus train wreck that occurred on June 22, 1918. The circus performers were laid to rest at Showman’s Rest cemetery.
Table Of Contents
Cassie Briggs stood in the shadow of the tall tombstone that loomed before her. The full moon blazed down upon Showman's Hill Cemetery like a spotlight, just waiting for an actor to walk center stage. She pulled her sweater closer around her trying to block the October chill. A cold gust of wind wracked her body sending a shiver up her spine. She now regretted not wearing a hat to cover her short hair that left her neck bare. She wasn't used to the weather in central Illinois and longed for the warmth of California where she'd lived her entire life up until two weeks ago.
The wind howled through the trees and rattled the old iron gate that marked the entrance to the small and ancient burial ground that lay half hidden in the middle of nowhere. It was almost as if the place was warning her not to trespass. Still, she hadn't really broken in, she told herself. After all, the gate only hung from one hinge, and she didn't see any sign that said the place closed at the set of sun. One more rattle of the gate, and Cassie found her nerves rattled as well.
She looked back to her Toyota parked just outside the entrance. Thoughts of retreat taunted her, yet memories of her missing sister forged her ahead deeper into the waist-length grass.
Showman’s Hill cemetery was old and unkempt. The gravestones were all from the 1800’s. She was sure no one but herself had stepped foot in this place in the last hundred years. The loved ones buried on Showman’s Hill were obviously long forgotten.
She fingered the camera hanging from around her neck. She was a reporter. For her sister’s sake, she wouldn’t turn back – not now or ever. She’d find Didi, even if the cops couldn’t. Even if she had to take on jobs like this, hoping, praying to find a clue – any clue that would bring her closer to her sister’s whereabouts.
Stuck in a cemetery at night during a full moon was the last place she wanted to be right now. Damn her boss, Gregg Chandler at the Strange Sightings magazine for giving her the story of the alleged vampire to investigate. Cursed be all of them for treating her like a rookie.
Back home she was lead writer for a respectable business magazine. But in this little half-horse town, gossip and tabloids were the only business at hand. This was all a test, she told herself. It was just a rookie initiation like the last two they put her through. Nothing more.
She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Everything would be all right.
"Vampires," she scoffed at the idea, talking aloud. It was a silly notion, and nothing to fear. Strange Sightings Magazine was nothing more than a tabloid, digging up stories to amuse and amaze. None of them, she was sure, were true.
Still, it was money, she told herself. Money that would help her get back on her feet and find her sister, Didi. Her sister’s last letter was postmarked from the little town of Showman, so Cassie knew this is where she needed to be. She’d find Didi, and tell her of their mother’s recent death. Didi was all she had now. She’d find her even if it meant lowering herself to humiliating jobs and standing in cemeteries all night.
Curious, she strolled forward, surveying the odd grave markers.
Stone elephants, carved lions and horses reared up around her, marking the deceased circus animals of long ago. The breeze picked up again and the shadows came to life, dancing all around her. She may not believe in vampires, but the thought of animals buried alongside humans gave her the creeps. She vaguely remembered Gregg saying something about a circus train that derailed years ago, but he'd been very vague with details.
A dog howled from somewhere inside the cemetery, twisting her stomach into a knot from its hollow, sad cry. She felt the weight of the tragic deaths resting upon her shoulders. A fog simmered up from the ground, giving the bright beams of moonlight an eerie glow. She thought for a second she heard the roar of a lion, but dismissed it as the sound of the wind in the trees.
Cassie fingered the notebook in her back jeans pocket, and toyed with the camera that hung around her neck. Something wasn’t right. She looked over her shoulder quickly, thinking she saw something move behind one of the tombstones. “Who’s there?” she called out, but no one answered.
"That's it," she said aloud. "I'm not going to sit here another minute and catch my death of cold for a story that doesn't even exist." She tried to convince herself this cemetery was story-less, but everything inside the graveyard called out to her, promising her a legendary tale of some sort.
She pulled her collar up closer and headed back toward the car. She hadn’t gotten far when a man stepped out of the shadows right into her path. She stopped abruptly, too startled to scream. The man's eyes blazed in the moonlight, and his teeth glistened amongst his tanned skin. He was dressed in a black cape and held it out in what she knew was a manner meaning to enclose her along with him.
Cassie felt the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. Her blood froze in her veins, and she stood there unable to move. A vampire. No, she told herself, it was just a man dressed like a vampire trying to scare her.
"Who are you?" she asked as he took a step closer and then another. She stood firmly in her spot, having no mind to back away from this jerk. Then he got so close that she started to feel violated. This alarmed her, and she looked up to his face.
She now wanted to move away from him, but his eyes seemed to hold her in a trance making it impossible for her to get away. It was almost like living a nightmare. Trying to run, but frozen to the spot. Trying to scream, but the voice never came. And then he smiled a frightening smile, and she noticed his elongated canine teeth.
As scared as she felt, she couldn’t let this man know it. She’d taken a self-defense class years ago, and the number one rule was never to show your attacker you’re afraid. Fear was the cause of many a demise. She told herself she didn’t fear him. After all, she couldn’t believe any mass murderer would be hanging around an old cemetery hoping a victim might just happen to appear in the middle of the night.
It was a prank, she told herself. Vampires didn’t exist. Gregg and her coworkers were probably trying to scare her and make her the laughing stock of the magazine. After all, hadn't he said a woman wasn't fit to do the vampire story? Interesting, how he sent her anyway. What a mindless, sick trick.
It was obviously someone from the office in a costume. Working with a bunch of men wasn't easy, but she wouldn’t let them have the last laugh.
"Go ahead,” she said in an even tone. “Bite my neck and then I'll take your photo. Then I'll have the last laugh when I expose you and all the Strange Sighting stories to the public as a hoax.”
Cassie bravely, or foolishly, she wasn’t sure which, held her head to the side as the vampire embraced her tightly and the man’s fangs came closer to her neck.
"Let her go!" A deep voice from behind her startled the costumed man. He released her abruptly, sending her body crashing to the ground. He took off at a run. Out of her peripheral vision she saw a tall, dark figure chase him.
She watched as the men's bodies hit the ground in a heated struggle, rolling over the tops of the graves. They came to a stop just at the foot of a small stone building that Cassie realized was a mausoleum.
A strange hissing came from the midst of the fight. One black cape tangled with what looked like jeans and a blue flannel shirt. Cassie watched in horrid fascination, unable to believe this was happening. She managed to get to her knees, her camera banging against her chest. She slowly looked down to it, once again thinking about her sister. Without considering it further, she got to her feet and raised the camera to her eye. She may just have a story to report after all. She clicked away, the flash of the camera lighting up the thick night air.
The stranger who'd come to her rescue stopped and turned his gaze straight toward her. His eyes reflected red as she clicked off another shot. His long black hair was pulled back in a queue, trailing down the back of his neck. His sculpted face was beautiful, his eyes dark, and skin tanned like a foreigner. His craggy brows raised in surprise as she clicked off one more shot.
"Don't!" he warned her.
It was only one word, but his low authoritative voice had her lowering her camera. She couldn't pick it up again if she tried. He'd given her an order and somehow she couldn't disobey it. The stranger in the blue flannel threw a kick and in one fast move had the man in the cape in a headlock.
Cassie could almost feel the man's anger, and half expected him to break her attacker's neck. Instead, he whispered something so inaudible she couldn't make it out. Then he shouted something in what sounded like an ancient dialect and released the vampire-like man. Her attacker disappeared into the night fog, and Cassie was left alone with the stranger who had saved her. In two long strides he was next to her, looking first into her eyes and then to her neck.
"Did he . . . are you alright?" he asked.
"I . . . " Cassie’s eyes closed for a second, trying to understand all this. She took a deep calming breath and released it, then opened her eyes. "I'm fine."
"What are you doing here? Who the hell are you?"
"I . . . I'm a reporter. My name's Cassie Briggs and I . . ."
"Well that explains the camera." He reached out to grab it from around her neck, but stopped his hand in mid-air.
"What's the matter?" she asked, surprised he seemed angry about the camera, even more surprised he didn't rip it from around her neck.
He turned away from her and took a step before he stopped. She had the feeling he was purposely trying to keep his distance.
"Look," she said, feeling relieved he’d come to her rescue, but still not sure she could trust him. "I'd really like to thank you for . . ."
"Get out of here and stay out," he said with his back turned. "You don't belong here."
Surprised, and disgusted with the man’s attitude, Cassie turned to go. There was nowhere she’d rather be right now than home in her nice warm bed. She looked back quickly, noticing the man hadn’t moved. Her hand brushed across her camera. She needed more facts for her story. No reporter worth her salt would just walk away in this situation.
"Who are you?” She called out. “And why did you tell me to stay out?"
"I'm the caretaker." He didn't bother to turn around, and Cassie had to strain her ears to hear his answer.
"I wasn't aware this old cemetery had anyone taking care of it anymore. After all, the gravestones are all from the 1800s. No one cares if I come here."
Cassie took a step toward him, but the man quickly disappeared behind the mausoleum and into the darkness of the night.
"Wait, I don't even know your name."
"You've been warned," were the only words she heard as she followed the man behind the building. The moon broke through the scattered clouds and lit up the cemetery well enough for her to see that the man was nowhere in sight.
Cassie's eyes scanned the surroundings, but she couldn't see through the tall grass. She listened for the sound of footsteps hurrying away, but there was only the sound of crickets chirping their nightly chorus. A flapping sound drew her attention upward to the night sky. Bats. There must have been a dozen, she thought as she watched them fluttering across the face of the full moon. She laughed to herself, thinking how fitting it was.
A sudden chill crept up her spine and she hugged her sweater around her. Suddenly, she had the urge to run. She walked briskly to the front of the mausoleum and noticed two more stone animals in the darkness. These were different than the circus animals that dotted the cemetery. These were some sort of mixture of man and beast.
Sphinxes, she realized. Each lay on its own pedestal. One on each side of the steps leading up to the small building. It was almost as if they were guarding the mausoleum.
She looked up to the door of the mausoleum, intrigued, yet frightened. Something called to her, telling her there was a story waiting to be told inside. She considered pursuing her idea, but then the stranger’s warning echoed in her brain.
A slight stinging sensation bit the bottom of her feet and she jumped away from the spot. Could it be an ancient sacred burial ground? Would she be cursed if she went any closer? Curious to know, a part of her was now more than determined to find out. Then the rational part of her mind talked her out of it, and she wondered when she’d reverted to acting so foolishly, and in such a dangerous situation?
She wanted nothing more to do with this cemetery tonight. She’d go home and think things through. Maybe a good night’s rest would make her come to her senses in the morning.
She brought the camera to her eye and clicked off one last picture of the strange little building and the two sphinxes before turning and heading quickly back to her car.
She pulled open the door to her Toyota and slid onto the seat. Yanking the camera from around her neck, she threw it on the seat next to her, unable to stop thinking of the man who’d just come to her rescue. She felt drawn to him, yet at the same time, frightened by him. She didn’t understand this insane attraction at all.
"This is one weird night," she muttered, putting the key into the ignition and starting the car. The man’s warning to stay away possessed her, making her want to return now more than ever. There was a story at Showman’s Hill, she was sure of it. And being the seasoned reporter she really was, she wasn’t going to let this get away.