With the warm, Louisiana September air whipping through his hair and the ferocious roar of the finely-tuned, quad-turbocharged engine rumbling away, Grayson was doing eighty down US71 toward Spring Hill Cemetery as The Cult’s Sweet Soul Sister blasted out of the Dynaudio loudspeakers of his convertible Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse.
Leaving Alexandria International Airport, the drive to Lecompte should take a little over a half-hour, but it took Grayson less than fifteen minutes when he drove the Bugatti, and one could almost sense the car wanted to go faster. In a small town of less than a thousand where at least a fourth of the population was living under the poverty line, his speeding white two-seater was more akin to a ghostly apparition than anything the locals would recognize. Given the facts, one might wonder why anyone would be driving the world’s fastest production car and arguably one of the most unnecessarily expensive land vehicles in such a place. Suffice it to say this was the typical style of multibillionaire, Grayson Montgomery.
Pressing down on the brake pedal just before the Dollar General came into view on the left side of the road, the carbon-ceramic brakes worked in conjunction with the automated rear wing to slow the car down in plenty of time to let him comfortably negotiate the right turn onto Highway 112 and to peer over to see how busy Bea’s Diner was. As he completed the turn, Grayson wondered if there would be any pecan pie left at Bea’s upon his return trip back to the airport.
About a third-mile down the road on the left, Grayson let up his foot off of the accelerator, kicking up a cloud of road dust as he pulled into the dirt entrance to Springhill Cemetery, passing under the old wrought iron archway that spelled out its name and 1892 establishing date. One of the few cemeteries that Grayson could walk into without worry of being accosted by Felix, Springhill was home to his spiritual mentor, Abraham McCray. For some unknown reason to Grayson, Felix never made an appearance in all of the years he had been visiting.
At the time of his death, Abraham Joseph McCray was a retired African-American history professor who had taught at Tulane University of Louisiana, specializing in Ancient and Medieval History. A World War I veteran, McCray built a peaceful post-war life in New Orlean where he found happiness in doing what he enjoyed the most, teaching and mentoring young minds. Never married and without children, McCray outlived his siblings and most of his close relatives, but despite his occasional loneliness, he found solace in his work. A chronic smoker all of his life, it wasn’t surprising to him, if perhaps ironic, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer one year to the day after he retired from teaching. While he battled courageously for many years through the aid of chemotherapy, he ultimately succumbed to the disease on May 5, 1975, the day Grayson Montgomery was born.
At face value, Abraham McCray’s bio was nothing spectacular, unusual, or out of the ordinary from others of his generation. What made it unique; however, was that, like Grayson, Abraham was also a spiritual medium. On the day of his death, his soul walked the halls of the hospital, attracted to the bright aura of the newborn Montgomery. Recognizing the substantial presence of the child’s supernatural gift, one of which he hadn’t seen in anybody prior, the spirit felt duty-bound to watch over him. Over the years, the two became very close, and in the afterlife, Grayson gave Abraham the gift to teach and mentor again.
Surrounded by towering hardwood trees providing occasional cover, the large, lush property was made up of an odd mix of old and new graves that sat above ground and below, as well as some relatively modern crypts built within the last couple of decades. Due to their age, some of the gravestones were so old that the engraved letters were barely legible from years of weather beating that eroded the concrete that marked them. In most cases, this was of no consequence as the stones for these centuries-old markers were partially blanketed by the untended overgrowth that was attempting to overtake the cemetery.
Parking the Bugatti in the empty dirt parking lot, Grayson stepped out of his sports car, grabbed the ornate steel box from Vince Carmichael’s Octagon Room, and looked around, peering over his Mykita Lemas sunglasses. He only came to the property about once every-other-month, and like today, most of the time, he visited mid-day during the week when the place was void of any other people. This allowed him to freely speak with the spirits that roamed the grounds of this centuries-old African-American cemetery.
With the metal box under his arm, he crossed over the threshold where dirt faded to grass and was immediately met by Josephine, a spirit of a feisty and flirty elderly woman who died in her seventies in 1912. She knew Grayson quite well and in fact, fancied him as much, too. She was usually the first person he would see each time he visited the cemetery.
“Hello, handsome,” she called over to him as she usually did, approaching from seemingly nowhere to his left. While he had grown comfortable with his ability to see and communicate with the dead, he often wouldn’t notice the spirits until they suddenly came upon him, as Josephine did whenever he visited Spring Hill, which still occasionally caught him off-guard. “Honey, you glow every time I see your lovely face, but for some reason, today, you’re glowing brighter than a Beaver Moon shining over the bayou!” She was always a charmer.
“Hello, Josephine,” Grayson responded with a smile, trying to disguise the fact that she again startled him, which she took great joy in. “How are you, my dear?” he asked as he continued to walk.
“Oh, you know me, can’t complain. Ain’t nobody but these old, boring spirits here to listen anyways, and they got better things to do than to care about anything I wanna complain about, you know?”
“Well, you certainly are looking fine, Josephine.”
“Why thank you! Yes, eternity suits me well. Say, where’s Jake?” she asked, speaking of his spiritual dog.
“Jake didn’t come with me this time. I left him back on the boat.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. You know how much I love to see old Jake. We don’t get a lot of animals around here except those damn, infernal squirrels. Ain’t good for nothing, those vermin. You know how many good crops I lost to vermin over the years?” She was speaking of her living years when she consistently lost many of her annual crops to vermin and birds. Something that bothered her even in the afterlife.
“I know, you’ve told me plenty of times before. I promise I’ll bring him next time, Josephine.”
“What do you have there under your arm, darlin’?” She noticed Vince’s metal box.
“Oh, this? This is a little something I came across that belongs to a friend of mine.”
“Looks fancy. I remember seeing those metal boxes in my younger years. Pressed metal. Simple enclosure. A little more expensive than the typical wooden boxes, all the girls would put their keepsakes in. Do you carry your love letters in it?” Josephine was nothing, if not the eternal romantic.
“Umm, no, I don’t have any…”
“A gentleman caller such as yourself should always store is love letters away for safe-keeping,” she interrupted as she often did.
“This belongs to a friend, Josephine, and we found it in a…”
“Alright, honey,” she interrupted again, “Please do tell old Abraham I’m thinking about him.” She stopped and turned to walk away. Josephine wasn’t one of those spirits that desired long conversations with the living, even one as dashing as Grayson Montgomery.
“I will, Josephine,” Grayson said with a smile. The visits with her were always expectedly short, but he enjoyed them whenever he visited the cemetery.
“Alright, take care, Handsome.”
Several birds chirped away on the branches of the old oak trees above as he continued to walk, waving and saying hello to several other spirits along the way. The cemetery was especially busy with spiritual activity today for some reason, and it seemed he was attracting an unusual amount of attention. Faces of old, familiar spirits were making it a point to approach him to say hello, whereas, in past visits, they would either ignore him or wave from afar. As odd as it was, he was always happy to stop and say hello.
A few more yards down a dirt path, he came upon a large crypt in a sunny part of the cemetery, built of white stone with the name “McCray” engraved above the door. Pulling out his keys, he inserted one into the lock and opened the heavy mahogany door to the final resting place of his friend and mentor, Abraham McCray, a fellow medium and Soul Bringer. Twenty years earlier, Grayson paid to have McCray’s body exhumed, and the old grave replaced with the modern crypt, complete with marble interior and ornate lighting. These upgrades were to pay homage to his mentor and also to give them a private place to talk whenever he visited the cemetery. Inside, Grayson closed the door and removed his sunglasses so he could see in the dimly-list area. Just as he took a seat on the cold stone bench near the opposite end of the structure, almost immediately, Abraham’s ghostly apparition appeared in the center of the crypt to greet him.
“Hello, my friend,” Abraham spoke with a warm and friendly smile as Grayson rose to greet him. “How have you been?” Embracing a spirit wasn’t like that of a living being. It was more like wrapping your arm around a fragile band of cool energy. There wasn’t so much a physical feeling as there was an emotional one, and it had been something Grayson had grown to accept.
“It’s great to see you again, Abraham.”
“Please relax,” the spirit motioned to the stone bench. “Unlike myself, your mortal bones need to rest. How is the living world treating you?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“Have you been taking time, slowing down to smell the roses, as I suggested the last time we met?”
“I’m doing my best,” Grayson replied with a polite smile. His best at slowing down would still run circles around most.
“And Andreanna, how is she doing?”
“She’s good. Busy. In fact, she’s the one that keeps me from slowing down. It seems we always have something to do and somewhere to be.”
“Well, she’s a good woman, Grayson. She only wants the best for you and your business, no doubt. Still planning on proposing soon?”
Grayson hesitated. It was a sore subject, and he wasn’t necessarily one to share his personal feelings, but like this moment, he had to remind himself that Abraham was one of the safe ones he could share his intimate thoughts. “Yes, of course, Abraham. I love her very much. I’m just waiting for the right time.”
“Very good, very good,” Abraham replied, pausing a moment to ask the real question he wanted to ask Grayson since he entered the crypt. “For what do I owe the privilege of your visit today, my friend?”
One thing Grayson learned over the years was that the spirits lacked the patience for mindless chatter as well as sometimes the manners to ease into changing the subject whenever they were bored with the conversation, such as with Josephine earlier. While Abraham was perhaps more patient than others, he still always got to the point when he had something to say.
“I brought you something to look at,” Grayson began as he opened the metal box to retrieve the paper scroll. “Have you ever seen writing like this before?” He unrolled the scroll to show Abraham the writing.
“Very old. Looks foreign. European, maybe. I have never seen writing like that before. Perhaps an antiquated language. Where did you find this, Grayson?”
“It was locked inside an octagon room in the cellar of an old mansion in Vermont.”
“An octagon room?” Abraham’s eyebrows raised. “Interesting. Well, I don’t know what the scroll reads, but I might be able to find somebody that can. Would you mind leaving it with me for a while?”
“Sure, I can come back next week.”
“I’m more interested in that Illuminati key. I haven’t seen a key like that in a long time.”
“Illuminati?” Grayson inquired. “You mean because it has the eye symbol etched on it? This is just a skeleton key that supposedly opens all the doors to the mansion.”
“And you found this key alongside the scroll with the foreign writing on it?”
“In this metal box, yes.”
“In an octagon room?”
“Very odd. Does that seem odd to you, Grayson?”
“Not particularly. I mean, maybe?”
“That key looks to have been custom forged specially for the owner of that home. Perhaps he was a freemason? Please leave the key with me as well.”
“Sure. I appreciate any information you can provide, Abraham.”
“Now, tell me, Grayson,” he looked directly at the billionaire as he changed the subject again. “You want to tell me about that stone you’re wearing around your neck?”
Grayson was caught off-guard. While he wasn’t hiding it, he didn’t realize Abraham could see the stone hanging from the chain that was buried in his shirt. “You can see that?” he asked, fishing the purple gemstone out.
“Despite my best advice, you’re creating a soul stone, and I sense that it’s nearly attuned to you,” he replied, looking at the necklace. “You should be aware, my friend, that a charged stone shines like a beacon to the dead and you, Grayson, you are shining very bright today. Almost as bright as when I was first drawn to that newborn wing the day you were born, and I’m not the only one that can see it, my friend.” That would explain the unusual amount of spiritual activity around him in the graveyard today. “It would seem you have decided not to heed my warning where I told you that the recipient of your soul stone would forever be at risk of danger and not just from the living,” he continued. “Your gesture of goodwill, while pure, may prove to be your undoing, my friend. Soul stones are potent artifacts that can invite unholy chaos into the living realm and destroy innocent lives. You would do well to smash it into dust and pour it out at sea, far, far away from civilization.”
“What are you talking about, Abraham? I’m not going to destroy it, its a rare, priceless diamond!”
“Very well. Will that fact prove to be a consolation when the recipient encounters evil as a direct result of possessing your soul stone?”
Grayson looked at Abraham in silence. He certainly didn’t want anything bad to happen to Andreanna.
“I would guess that her life is more valuable to you than a supposed priceless diamond, but it’s ultimately your decision.” He paused, searching his thoughts for memories of a time long ago in his life. “I will tell you this, Grayson, I had a soul stone once in my younger years, and it brought ultimate disaster to my life. Nobody intends on bad things happening to them. Just ask any of the souls outside this crypt.”
He stared at the spirit of his mentor as his words were etching a cautionary tale into his brain.
“Do you realize what he would do to Andreanna if she happened upon a graveyard with that soul stone around her neck, Grayson?” Abraham spoke of his protégé’s spiritual adversary, Felix.
While the risks were considered, Grayson hadn’t thought about the evil that was Felix and the what-ifs as it related to his soul stone.
“Complete and absolute consumption of her soul. Thorough possession of her body,” Abraham confirmed. “Even her appearance would be altered as his evil pumped through her veins, transforming the DNA of her physical being into that which used to be his mortal makeup. There would be nothing left of the woman you love, Grayson, and you will have reincarnated one of the evilest spirits we have ever known.”
“The soul stone could allow him re-entry through the body of the wearer?”
“Re-entry and reanimation. Then, with your soul stone in his possession, he would no doubt use his necromancer abilities to raise other evil spirits. Essentially we’re talking about an open door to hell, allowing an unholy army to march on through. I’m certain you have the best of intentions, Grayson, but even with your abilities, you can’t possibly understand all there is to know about the dangers of creating this soul stone and wearing it out in public. I urge you again to reconsider your actions strongly.”
Grayson took a few moments to ponder Abraham’s cautionary tale of the unholy apocalypse. For years he had been spending millions of dollars to prevent a chance encounter with Felix through the use of the latest in state-of-the-art technology, but knowing this, would it be enough? While Springhill Cemetery was safe, mostly due to Abraham’s presence, Grayson knew all too well how easily Felix could find him anytime he approached other cemeteries. Was it true that his soul stone could reanimate this monster?
“Abraham, I guess I didn’t think this thing through. Perhaps I should lock away this stone until such time we are no longer worried about Felix.”
“Destroy it!” his mentor shouted. “As long as it is attuned to you and Felix exists, you will never be safe!”
“Destroy that stone and don’t look back!” Abraham interrupted.
“Alright,” Grayson complied with a sigh. “I’ll get over to my dad’s shop, and we’ll destroy it.”
“Promise me, Grayson. Promise me you’ll destroy that soul stone right way.”
“Well, I don’t think I can get over to…”
“Promise me!” he interrupted again.
“Okay, I’ll fly over to the Hamptons later this week.”
Abraham’s ghostly face grew angry as he stared at his protégé in the eyes, “Until that time, you had better keep that stone around your neck at all times, Grayson.”
“Right. I will.” He hadn’t heard stern warnings from his mentor like this in a very long time.
“And keep away from cemeteries until that stone is destroyed.”