The Shadow and the Rose AnthologyBy: Amanda Dewees
The Shadow and the Rose:Book One of the Ash Grove Chronicles
Joy Sumner stood at the iron gate to the old cemetery at ten to midnight. No flashlight, no cell phone, nothing but her digital camera and her sense of bravado—all thanks to smarmy Sheila Hardesty.
In morning assembly Sheila had been trying to scare a new transfer student, Alissa Pennington, with ghost stories about some of the more unusual features of Ash Grove High School for the Performing Arts.
“I’ve heard so many creepy things about this school I wasn’t sure I wanted to transfer here,” Alissa told Sheila. “My mom didn’t want to let me, but Dad finally talked her into it.”
“You might have been safer if he hadn’t,” said Sheila darkly. She was one of the star dancers at Ash Grove, but you’d have thought she was an actress from all the drama she was creating. “You know that the school was built on a portal to the underworld, don’t you?”
“Swear to god. Every now and then a student will just disappear and never be seen again. The faculty always comes up with some excuse, but everyone knows the truth is that the portal will just open up sometimes and swallow people up.”
Joy and her roommate Maddie Rosenbaum, sitting in the row behind, exchanged a disbelieving look. Sheila was laying it on thick.
“And it gets worse than that,” she said, dropping her voice as if afraid of being overheard. “Josiah Cavanaugh, the founder? Some people say he was, like, the high priest of a pagan cult that used to perform blood rituals during the full moon.”
Joy couldn’t help smiling at such a ridiculous claim. Accounts of Josiah Cavanaugh did portray him as an eccentric, but only townies believed the more outrageous occult stories.
Alissa’s face had gone white, though. She was too easy a target. Sheila pressed her advantage.
“The worst thing,” she said in a dramatic stage whisper, “is that he may not be completely dead.”
“What? Do you mean he’s a—a ghost?”
Maddie rolled her eyes, but Joy was starting to get caught up in the drama despite herself. Sheila was putting on a good show.
“He might be something even worse than a ghost,” Sheila said. “They say that if you go to the old graveyard at midnight and pick a rose off the bush on Cavanaugh’s grave, he’ll stick his bony hands up through the dirt and drag you down into the ground with him.”
Alissa’s eyes were wide with alarm. “That is messed up,” she breathed. “I can’t believe they haven’t closed this place.”
“That’s because it’s all hogwash,” said Joy, unable to sit by silently any longer, and the two girls craned around to stare at her. “Don’t let her scare you, Alissa.”
“I wasn’t scared,” she snapped, instantly defensive. “Just—interested.”
“Sheila’s just making stuff up to mess with you,” Joy reassured her. “No one’s ever claimed all those things.”
“Oh, that’s right, Joy knows everything about Ash Grove and Josiah Cavanaugh,” drawled Sheila. “Her father’s an English teacher here and her mother’s a dead musical genius, so Joy thinks she’s, like, above everyone else. Bet you don’t feel so important now that your dad’s in Oklahoma at the cancer clinic, huh? He isn’t here to protect his widdle girl any more.”
Joy ignored this. “It’s true that Cavanaugh’s will ordered wild roses to be planted by his grave,” she told Alissa. “It was a superstition he got from his mother. She was Scottish, and she believed it kept the dead from rising. But the rest is BS.”
Alissa’s eyes were round. “Did it work? The roses?”
“Well, we haven’t seen a dead body dig its way out of the ground yet,” said Maddie sarcastically. Joy sometimes thought that Maddie had the soul of a jaded thirty-year-old in the body of a teenager. Because her father was a classical pianist and a big Mozart fan, her full name was Elvira Madigan Rosenbaum, but only teachers ever had the bad taste to call her Elvira.
“So you’re saying there’s nothing to fear from taking a rose from Josiah’s grave,” said Sheila.
“Of course. Nothing at all.”
“So you wouldn’t be scared to try it?”
“Why would I be?”
Sheila folded her arms and stared challengingly at Joy. “Well, I dare you. I dare you to go to the graveyard tonight at midnight and find Josiah’s grave, and bring back a rose from it.”
She was surprised, but not afraid. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll do it.”
“She should go alone,” Alissa put in. “And without a phone.”
“Good idea,” said Sheila. “You heard that, Joy? No friends, no lifeline. And no flashlight.”
Maddie balked at that. “How do you expect her to find her way around without a light? Sonar?”
“The moon’s almost full,” said Sheila. “It should be bright enough to see by. Oh, and get a picture of the grave with the rose bush.” She tossed her long red hair over her shoulder. “I don’t want you to think you can get away with bringing me a rose from a florist.”
“No problem,” said Joy. And because Mrs. Minish, the history teacher, was bearing down on them with a fierce expression, she added in a lower voice, “Tomorrow at morning break, I’ll see you in the coffee bar. And I’ll have your rose.”
So now she stood here at the rusted old iron gates. The graveyard hadn’t been in use for decades; the more recent dead were housed in one of the modern “memorial gardens” favored for their ground-level markers that were so easy to mow over. The old cemetery had been left to the elements—and years of neglect. Joy wondered if any of the gravestones even remained, and what condition they were in. She might not even find it possible to identify Josiah’s grave.
“Of course it’s a setup,” Maddie had said, when they’d discussed it earlier. That was in the student center coffee bar, where the three of them—Maddie, Joy, and their mutual best friend William Russell—gathered every morning at break. The earthy fragrance of coffee and the hiss of the cappuccino machine made the prospect of a graveyard vigil seem cozy and quaint. Maddie was stirring the fourth packet of Splenda into her half-caff (“I’ve gotten so used to the stuff my body’s developed an immunity,” she said) and making plans for Joy’s expedition. “You realize that Sheila is going to hide behind one of the gravestones and jump out at you.”
Joy shrugged. “I’m not scared of her.”
“But she might be planning to recruit some muscle for the job.”
“We could always send you in wearing a wire,” suggested William. “That way we could come in as backup if you needed it.” William had a gift for musical instruments that extended into technological gadgetry as well. With untidy brown hair and steel-rimmed glasses, he was cute in what Maddie had once called an accidental hipster way. “The music department has some pretty sophisticated sound equipment,” he added, warming to the idea. “We could get you hooked up with a microphone, and maybe one of those tiny video cameras, and monitor you from the road…”
Joy made a face at him. “That’s way more Mission Impossible than the situation calls for. I’ll be fine.”
Maddie shook her head. “It’s not just Sheila you have to worry about. Someone may be spreading those stories about the graveyard to run people off. Drug dealers, maybe. It’s what I’d do if I wanted to keep the townies away.” Maddie called herself a post-goth, which in practice meant that she still dyed her hair black but had let most of her piercings close up. She was in the theater track and planned to be a stage actress, and sometimes it seemed like she was trying to infuse maximum drama into everyday life.
William laughed. “Seriously, Maddie? I doubt anyone’s running a meth lab out of the cemetery. Maybe a couple of good ol’ boys hang out there to drink their Budweisers, but that’s all.”
“Even so, Joy could be in over her head. I should have stopped her.”
Joy didn’t like the way the conversation was going. She had thought Maddie would respect her for taking the dare, not act like an overprotective parent. “I’m not a baby, Maddie,” she said.
“What I don’t get,” said William, “is why you even care what Sheila and her crowd think of you. You don’t have to prove anything to them.”
That was the thing, though: she wanted to. It wasn’t just that she didn’t come from money, like most of the other students at Ash Grove, and wasn’t beautiful like all of the aspiring actresses and dancers there. Everyone had always assumed she was a goody-goody because her father was a teacher. She had hoped she might finally be able to break out of that pigeonhole now that her father was on medical leave of absence. But all that had happened was that she didn’t know where she fit in anymore.
She pushed the thought away. Thinking about him, undergoing cancer treatment alone and far away, was too painful. “It’s not that big a deal. Anyway, it’ll be fun. I love old graveyards.”