SYLVIA HENDERSON yawned as she walked up Main Street in Newark. Her long brunette hair was pulled back and covered with a maroon knit headband. The sun was just beginning to rise as she clutched the leash in her gloved hand. The light snow that had fallen during the night sparsely covered the ground and was already melting away with the dawn. Sylvia wasn’t keen on getting up this early to walk her Yorkshire terrier. On most Saturdays, she, and her dog, would be asleep for a few more hours, but her old college roommate’s wedding was enough to temporarily alter Sylvia’s weekend routine. The wedding was going to be held in a small church in south Philadelphia at noon, but, as the Maid of Honor, Sylvia was expected at her roommate’s apartment early that morning. This would be the second time that Sylvia would serve as Maid of Honor for her roommate; she hoped that this marriage would last at least a few months more than the last.
Her little dog, with its reddish brown fur and pale blue collar, stopped to sniff a lamp post, then, lifting his leg, began to urinate on the base of the post, just as he had for the last three posts that they had passed. Sylvia gave a little tug on the leash. “Come on, Buster.”
Main Street was still deserted at this hour. The traffic lights blinked their red, yellow, and green hues, signaling stop and go to no one in particular. Sylvia shivered as a chilly November breeze drifted down the street. With Thanksgiving coming up at the end of the following week, the Newark Downtown Partnership had begun the annual task of decorating the street for the upcoming holiday season. Some of the lampposts along Main Street were already adorned with Christmas wreaths, while the windows in some of the shops and restaurants were already decorated with Christmas lights and cardboard decorations of Santa Claus and Christmas trees to mark the upcoming holiday season. To add to the following week's holiday celebration, the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend was the thirty-year reunion for Newark High School’s class of 1982. The reunion committee, culminating in the reunion itself, taking place in the high school gymnasium on the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, planned a huge weeklong celebration with various activities, happy hours, and other celebratory events. A banner, hanging across Main Street, flapped in the breeze and read “Welcome NHS Class of 1982”.
Buster stopped to sniff a tall decorative bundle of old cornhusks, left from the Halloween seasonal decorations, which was tied to another lamppost. Sylvia tugged again on the leash, trying to encourage her dog to move along. Pausing long enough to urinate on the husks, Buster trotted along behind Sylvia. They were passing the Bike Line bicycle shop; its windows not yet decorated for the holiday season. It was the same route that she would always take each morning with Buster. It started at her house on the corner of New Street and North Chapel Street. Sylvia would walk Buster through the parking lot of the Newark Shopping Plaza, and then out onto Main Street. Ahead of them was the iron wrought fence surrounding the small cemetery at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church. Past that, she would turn right and head down Chapel Street to her house. Each morning she would walk her dog on the same route. On a good morning, it was a twenty-minute walk for them. But, Sylvia was finding this morning to be particularly challenging as her little dog felt the need to stop repeatedly to smell almost every object that they passed.
* * *
The young boy sat on his bed, pen in hand and a leather-bound notebook open before him. The bedroom had all the hallmarks of a teenage boy's room. The back of the door, which was only visible when it was closed, held a poster of a scantily clad model provocatively posed. Atop the dresser on the far wall was a Sony boom box double cassette player; a dozen cassette tapes stacked neatly next to it. Concert posters from Steely Dan, The Who, and the Rolling Stones hung on the wall above the bed. The ceiling fan slowly spun overhead, providing a gentle breeze throughout the room. A single dim lamp on the bedside table provided the only illumination for the room.
The sixteen-year-old boy was tall and thin, almost too thin for an adolescent of his age. His pale skin, combined with his overt thinness made him look sickly. His face was long and narrow, complete with a weak chin, and round hazel eyes that were closely spaced above a long thin nose. He placed the pen on the open page and began to record his thoughts.
"December 16, 1979: It wasn’t the best of days. Steve and Randy wrote the word DORK on my locker door in black marker. It won’t come off. I really wish the guys from the football team would just leave me alone. It seems like I am just a target for their juvenile pranks. They act so immature. They think they’re so funny, but they just don’t realize how much it hurts. I’m so tired of their games. I feel so humiliated sometimes. And I don’t even want to think about what would happen if they ever found out about the way I’ve been feeling lately."
* * *
Brian Wilder was up early; unable to sleep due to the fact that he had drank too many cups of coffee the night before. He had been out at the Delaware Journalists Association’s Awards dinner down in Dover, Delaware. DJA decided to have their annual event at the Dover Downs casino, instead of at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, as was the custom in the past. It was not an event he had been particularly interested in attending, but an acquaintance from the local AM news radio station, WDEL, persuaded him to go. It had been a late night and an hour drive home for Brian. Most of the journalists who attended were staying the night at the casino; something that Brian had no intention of doing. He preferred to sleep in his own bed. Even though the drinks had flowed heavily throughout the evening, Brian, knowing that he had a long drive, stuck to coffee. He had been home for a few hours, but couldn’t sleep. With disheveled bronze hair from his brief attempt to sleep and clothed only in a pair of grey Hanes boxer briefs, Brian stood by the living room windows of his apartment, which was above the office of his newspaper, the Newark Observer, and looked down upon the empty Main Street below. The lights in his apartment were off, providing an unimpeded view of all that was outside. The sidewalks and pavement were still wet from the melted snow and glistened in the light of the street lamps. Behind him, music played softly, drifting through the room with the sound of the Beatles; Lovely Rita from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; not his favorite song from the album, but certainly not his least favorite by any means. Brian touched the scar on his left shoulder; the flesh was still pink from the freshly healed wound. With the arrival of colder weather came an ache, one that his doctor had told him was normal, and would eventually subside over time. Brian suspected that it would ache for the rest of his life, as a reminder of how fragile that life was, and how close he had come to losing it.
As they approached St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Buster pulled on the leash, straining towards the cemetery fence. Sylvia was becoming increasing frustrated with her little dog this morning. His constant stopping was pushing her to her limits of patience. She simply wanted to get home and get started on her busy day. Sylvia gave a quick yank on the leash, hoping to dissuade the dog from his efforts.
“Buster! No!” Sylvia firmly said.
The little dog paid her no heed as he continued to pull. Sylvia yank again with no affect. Frustrated, she moved towards the dog to scoop him up. If he wouldn’t behave, she would just carry him home. As she leaned over, the dog stopped pulling; having reached what he had been striving towards. As she bent forward, Sylvia saw that Buster was sniffing at a dark puddle on the sidewalk. In the semi-darkness of morning, the puddle seemed to be draining out from under the cemetery fence. Although the sidewalk was damp, Sylvia thought it was strange that this puddle seemed far more pronounced in the dim light, as if it was not simply water from the melted snow. She touched the puddle with her finger. It was thick and sticky. In the half-light of the morning, Sylvia couldn't quite make out the color, perhaps black, or maybe dark red. When she stood up, it was the source of the puddle that made her scream. The loud, horror-filled sound echoed up and down Main Street.
The terrifying scream, although faint, still pierced the windows of Brian Wilder’s apartment. When Brian heard the scream, he flung open the window and peered up and down Main Street. The cold autumn air nipped at his bare chest as it rushed into his apartment, instantly dropping the temperature of the room by ten degrees. There was only one person visible on the street, three blocks down. In the dim light, he could just make out someone standing in front of St. Matthew’s Church. Another scream quickly followed the first, so Brian pulled the window shut, grabbed a pair of pants, sneakers, and a sweatshirt from his bed, and dashed down his apartment stairs.
In the still deserted street, he jogged up Main Street towards the church. The woman had screamed a third time and lights from a few apartments along the street were beginning to come on. A small Yorkshire terrier started barking as Brian approached the church. As he drew closer, he recognized the dog, and its owner.
“Sylvia. What’s wrong?” said Brian as he approached the screaming woman.
She had been staring over the iron wrought fence into the cemetery beyond. When she heard Brian’s voice, Sylvia turned and threw herself against his chest. Tears were streaming down from her eyes as she began to sob violently.
“Brian! It’s horrible!”
Brian, putting his arms around her, gently patted her on the back. “It’s ok. Just relax. What’s wrong?”
Sylvia gestured with her hand without turning around, and then sobbed loudly. “In the cemetery.”
Brian lifted his eyes in the direction that she had gestured. Built in 1883, St. Matthew’s Catholic Church was a single story rectangular brick building, with a central tower extending high above Main Street, and three bays on the south front facade. The large one-ton bell, which was over one hundred and twenty-five years old, sat at the top of the central tower and still rang out across Newark every day, in spite of its age. The front double doors were centered below the central tower, with large stained glass windows adorning the wall on either side of the door. The small cemetery, which was to the right of the church, was not used any longer for the internment of the dead. The church had stopped allowing new graves in the small fenced plot of land some time in the early 1980s.
Knowing this fact, Brian was surprised to find a new occupant among the headstones. Propped up against a headstone just beyond the fence sat an old man. His full head of white hair was disheveled, looking as if he had just gotten out of bed. The wrinkles and sagging skin, common to someone of his age, were abundant around his face. His eyes were wide open, empty of all life, and staring into nothingness. His arms lay outstretched by his sides; the exposed wrists were dark red with coagulating blood. Brian could see that a large vertical slit had been cut into each wrist, causing profuse bleeding, which had soaked the ground and flowed out onto the sidewalk. The dark puddle shimmered in the dim light from the nearby street lamp. Sylvia sobbed into Brian’s shoulder as her little dog sniffed around Brian’s leg. As the dog raised its hind leg to urinate, Brian slipped his iPhone out of his pocket to call the police.