Prince of this World Excerpt: “Cemetery”

By the time Michael arrived at the cemetery, his knees were wobbling. He leaned the bike against the gate, fastening it to a wrought-iron post with his padlock, then looked in both directions. Bursts of orange streetlight perforated the otherwise dark road. A car passed quickly, and Michael moved into the shadow of a tree on the other side of the gate. But the car did not slow as it passed, and daring to breathe again, Michael stepped out of the shadow.

Alone, he thought.

He turned to the gate, staring at the row of iron spikes that stabbed the sky, and looked for any stone ledge he could use to lift himself up. The iron was rough and slippery as he grabbed a post, trying to rattle the gate as if it would open. It was as unyielding as a solid wall.

He glanced to the left and did a double take. The gate was hanging ajar.

Was that open before? Hesitating for a moment, he forced himself to scurry through the entrance. He shut the gate behind him, severing his only tie to the real world. There was no light inside; only varying shades of shadow framed in the stark blackness of the gate. The shadows of trees waved to him like witches entwined in a macabre dance. The moist ground made slurping noises as he walked down the central aisle toward a marble fountain in the center: seven angels gazing hopefully the heavens. At night, the angels looked like devils, and they looked up at the sky, not in hope, but in agony. He shuddered as he passed them.

David’s grave was to the left of the small white chapel beyond the fountain—the last tomb in his row, underneath an ancient tree. As Michael turned at the chapel, he looked back at the gate, and thought of Hansel and Gretel. He felt naked without his breadcrumbs.

Michael knelt at his uncle’s grave, staring blankly at the smooth surface that reflected the night like black glass. The gravestone was simple: David’s name, his date of birth, his date of death, and a cross etched into its surface. Instinctively, he made the sign of the cross, kissed his fingertips, and pressed them against the stone.

Now that he was finally here, he felt self-conscious: awkward, stupid, staring at a rock. Again a prickling heat burned his cheeks as a lump rose to his throat. Again he stared at something he was not really seeing and fighting with himself to cry. Again he was not crying.

“I’m supposed to talk to you, but I don’t know what to say. Are you listening?” He trembled as he stared at David’s name. “You were supposed to beat this thing, you know? You spent my whole life telling me I came from survivors—that I am a survivor! But I came from you, too! Why didn’t you survive?”

He wiped at his face out of habit, and cursed himself when there were still no tears to wipe away.

You need to stop, he told himself. This is no one’s fault.

He hadn’t registered until now that as he spoke to David, he was looking directly at the cross on gravestone. It was simple, no engraving of the crucified Christ, and this seemed fitting. Before the funeral, Michael hadn’t been to church in four years. The question of God, no matter the answer—whether he existed or he didn’t—scared him, and he’d rather avoid it altogether. But tonight, Michael felt a yearning like never before to know the answer. He prayed now, for the first time in years, that the answer would be yes.

“I’ve never needed you before,” he said. “But I need you now. I need you to tell me why you did this. I need you to answer for this.”

Michael looked back down at the cross. He wished there was a little golden Jesus hanging from it, head wreathed in his crown of thorns, a face to fill the void.

I swear I’ll believe right now if you prove it to me.

“I was there when they crucified him,” the echo of a voice slithered into his awareness, and in that instant, Michael realized he was not alone.


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