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The Long Way Home
I step out of the warm bus and into the bitter cold of the winter evening, shivering as I begin walking home. It’s already getting dark even though it’s not past five, and I know that by the time I walk all the way around the cemetery to the street before where I live, it will be pitch-black. And if there is one thing I hate, it is the dark, and so I will do anything to avoid it. I hesitate momentarily, and then, steeling myself, I step into the cemetery and begin my shortcut.
The second thing that I despise most in the world is the cemetery. I hate the way that some of the really old graves are unmarked, so you step on these little mounds of dirt, and it feels like you’re stepping on someone’s dead body that’s barely buried. I know that in reality the corpses are six feet under, but it doesn’t make me feel any less nervous about stepping on one and finding out that there’s a lifeless hand or foot sticking out. I don’t think it helps that I watch zombie movies in my spare time.
I’ve weaved through most of the old graves, hopefully avoiding the small lumps of dirt that hide death, and it’s just about fully dark by the time I start stepping into the new section. My shortcut really hasn’t made much of a difference, and I scowl, knowing that now I will be even later home because I’ll have to go slowly through the cemetery, so as not to snap any headstones. My mother will be worrying again because I was meant to be home from work an hour ago, but I’d had to wait because I’d missed my usual bus. And now I would be even later. I sigh loudly and dramatically, almost trip over a very solid marble cross, and jerk myself back into reality to focus on my surroundings, only to find that something very odd is going on.
I haven’t been paying any attention to what’s ahead, and it’s only now that I’ve almost fallen over and joined someone in their grave that I look ahead. It’s then that I notice the lights in the distance, almost at the very edge of the cemetery. There’s a large, white glaring one, like a spotlight, and then smaller ones scattered throughout the graves in between me and the end of the cemetery. I realise with some embarrassment that I must be completely oblivious when I’m thinking, because now I can also hear the sounds of voices.
Voices? Voices mean other people. Suddenly, I feel a trickle of hot, paralysing fear. Why would anyone be in the cemetery at night? More importantly, if they’d come to cry over their dead relative, why had they brought a massive spotlight and an entourage of friends? The only thing that I could imagine that they might be doing was having a funeral. But no respectable group of people would be having a funeral in the dark of the night. They had to be up to something.
I clutch my shoulder bag closer to my side and crouch down behind a conveniently large gravestone with a wooden angel on top. With a shudder, I realise that I am quite probably standing on top of someone’s dead, decaying body, which could drag itself out of the ground and attack me at any moment. But I force myself to stay still, because I don’t want to be found by whoever these people are- especially not while I’m alone in the cemetery at night.
I hear deep male voices coming closer and closer and I shiver with more than just cold. “You think there’s anyone here?” I hear one ask, his voice heavily accented. I cringe with horror, and realise fearfully that these people, whatever they are doing, probably don’t want any witnesses around. I hope desperately that they don’t come around this far, but I know that if they do, I’ll have to make a run for it. I don’t know where I will run, but I consider frantically where the nearest house is. To the left? No, I’d have to run directly backwards, and then jump the fence out to get to the houses on the main road, then from there I could just sprint-
Suddenly, two very dark, very intimidating figures step out next to me and I leap up with a loud shriek. Once again my thoughts had rendered me oblivious- but I still had time to run! I whirled around and began sprinting away from them, only to have one, who must be a star athlete, chase me down and grab my arms roughly, pinning them behind me. I swallow a very solid lump of terror and instead attempt to kick and struggle out of their grasp.
The second figure has by now caught up and now there’s a bright, blinding light being shone into my face. “It is a girl,” the accented voice, which I can now place as Mexican, says with surprise, pointing the torch away from me. “Who are you?”
The torch light is now illuminating the figures that have captured me well enough so that I can see that they are both wearing navy blue uniforms branded with an all-too familiar insignia. I feel my face flush a burning, hot red at my fresh realisation and I stare at the ground, mortified. “My name is Kayla,” I mutter, humiliated. “I live on the other side of the cemetery.”
The second policeman, the one without the accent, stares at me with a grim look on his face. “What are you doing here?”
I realise that he’s still got my arms pinned behind my back, and I can’t help but glare, infuriated that he’s treating me like some kind of criminal. “I was just taking a shortcut home,” I say firmly. “I’m late already.”
The hint doesn’t work, because they don’t let me go, the one holding me simply loosens his grip slightly so that he can march me to the end of the cemetery with all the lights. “I’m afraid that you’ll have to come with us,” the one with the accent tells me, quite cheerfully. I really don’t have a choice, so I walk alongside them, reluctant and humiliated. They lead me past all the other police men and women with torches, who turn to look at me with foreboding expressions. This only succeeds to irritate and infuriate me further, and I turn my gaze to look around at the rest of the cemetery. “What’s happening?” I demand, but the glaring second policeman simply shakes his head at me.
We eventually end up next to what is apparently the police car, which I recognise easily as a brown 60 series Landcruiser. My mouth turns up at the corners involuntarily at the sight of it, and the Mexican man, who I can now see has a rather large handlebar moustache, looks at me suspiciously. “What is so funny, miss?”
I open my mouth to attempt to explain, but the sound of an exasperated male voice relieves me of this duty. “Kayla? Really? What are you doing here?”
I turn as much as I can with the policeman holding onto my arm, and try to control the almost hysterically amused grin that is spreading across my face. Instead, I smile at my older cousin. “Hi, Alex.”
Alex is tall and thin, and the navy blue of the police uniform only makes him look, as I see it, like some kind of ridiculous horse wearing a jumpsuit. His face is one of those faces that just gets the most hilarious expressions on it, and he’s pulling one now, a kind of sour lemon grimace smile. I hold back a giggle, while he nods stiffly at the two policemen who found me. “You can let her go now. She’s my cousin, not a criminal.”
“Your cousin, sir?” The mad manic moustached Mexican asks incredulously. “Surely not? She cannot be the one doing the Von Schnitzel graffiti then?”
My cousin sighs heavily and glances across at me, shaking his head in apparent disgust. “No, she isn’t. Where did you manage to find her?”
I smile, satisfied, as the other policeman grudgingly lets me go, but my grin drops abruptly as the other policeman kindly explains to my cousin that I was hiding behind a gravestone when they found me. Luckily, Alex knows me all too well, and he only rolls his eyes, which I know means that I will get a full teasing later.
“Well,” he says, turning to look at me after the other two men have gone back to whatever duty they’re performing. “You’ve certainly shoved yourself right into the middle of our investigation. However am I going to clear your name?”
“What investigation?” I demand innocently. “I didn’t do this on purpose, you know.”
Alex raises his eyebrows disbelievingly and shakes his head. “Classified. I can only tell you that it involves graveyard graffiti.”
“And Von Schnitzel,” I add smartly, remembering the moustached Mexican’s words. “Whoever that is.”
Shrugging mysteriously, Alex jingles his car keys up in his pocket. “I suppose I’d better drive you home then.”
I glance around at the night, which is by now fully pitch black, and regret that I didn’t just walk around the cemetery. Why didn’t I just take the long, simple way home? “Sure.”