The day I left the hospital, I was late for my family’s funeral. Losing my family was bad enough, I didn’t want to be late to say goodbye too. Everything had been ripped away from me the day of the accident. My parents, my sisters…my whole world turned upside down. How could I live without them?
It was a miracle that I had no broken bones given the car crash I had survived. I was sore and banged up, but otherwise okay. As far as everyone outside the hospital knew, I was still recovering in my hospital bed. It had only been a week since the accident that claimed my family and injured me so severely. The nurses had kept everyone away so I could heal.
Everyone was under the impression that I was barely hanging on. Truth was, I had recovered faster than the medical staff expected. Physically that is. My desire to go to the memorial service had been strong enough that I was sure my determination had helped me to heal more quickly. Emotionally, however, I was a wreck. I’d need more time to heal, and there was nothing the hospital could do to help with that pain.
As a legal adult, barely eighteen, they couldn’t hold me against my will, so when no one was looking, I left to pay my final respects to my family. The walk from the hospital to the church was the hardest thing I had ever had to do. It was the longest of my life even though it was only a few blocks. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that it was my final chance to say goodbye.
Forcing myself to continue walking, I made myself focus on the good memories. I wasn’t going to fall apart. Not yet. I couldn’t allow myself to think about them being gone until this was over and I was in my own room.
I slowly approached the huge stone church, dread filling me as I stared at the old wooden doors, one propped open. I glanced inside, hoping everyone would be so busy giving my grandmother their condolences that they wouldn’t even notice me slipping in. I heard music playing, the service was already in progress. I knew this was the perfect time to sneak in.
When I got inside the church, I sat down quietly in the back row, the only empty pew. I didn’t want to interrupt the service by walking to the front where my extended family was seated. Nobody was expecting me anyway, since I’d left the hospital early.
From the looks of it, most of the small town was there. Everyone except for the majority of my classmates. While my family and I had been on our way to an overseas adventure, my senior class was taking a hiking trip through the mountains. Most of my sisters’ friends were there, but none of mine.
The church had been decorated extensively with flowers and pictures of my family. Someone had enlarged several of our pictures to the size of posters. I choked back tears at the sight of my family who I would never see again.
Seeing the pictures brought the reality of their deaths to me in a way that being in the nondescript hospital room hadn’t allowed. Even the hospital staff had tried to keep my mind off of their deaths. Several times, I had overheard the nurses telling each other not to talk to me about my family.
It wasn’t like they could have hidden the truth from me. I’d seen the body bags at the scene of the accident.
The images of the crash were engraved into my mind. I had known they weren’t taken to our one-story, small town hospital. They had been delivered to the county morgue.
Bringing myself back to what was in front of me, I looked around the Sanctuary. I tried unsuccessfully to blink back tears as I looked at all of the pictures. The hot tears poured down my face anyway as I thought about what life would be like without my family. All that I would have of them now would be pictures. What was I going to do without them?
I tried to focus on what the pastor was saying, but it sounded like a foreign language to me. I couldn’t make any sense of it.
Something caught my eye at the edge of my line of sight. I turned my head slightly and looked to the side as far as I could. My eyes widened when I saw a guy standing by a wall with a black hoodie pulled up over his head. I couldn’t see his face because the hood covered it almost completely. He was wearing black skinny jeans and black shoes as well—were those Converse?
Even though he was in all black, he obviously didn’t fit in at the funeral. Nobody else acted as if they even saw him. Yet I felt as though he were staring directly at me. I couldn’t see his eyes, so I didn’t know for sure, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was watching me.
I looked back up toward the service and tried to listen again. One of my uncles was sharing some stories with tear-filled laughter. I recognized the story that he was sharing at that moment and smiled at the memory. My heart ached at the loss.
My feeling of being watched remained. I looked out of the corner of my eye again and saw that the guy was still standing by the wall, this time facing me directly. Couldn’t anyone else see him?
Snap out of it, I scolded myself. Why would I think no one else could see him? They were all focused on the service, as I should have been. What was my problem?
Still unable to shake the feeling, I glanced at him again. Chills ran through me from my head to my toes. All the creepy guy needed was a sickle, and he could be the Grim Reaper. My heart stopped at the thought.
Could he actually be a spirit coming after me?
Shut up! I told myself. Was I losing my mind right along with losing my family? Ghosts weren’t real. The Grim Reaper wasn’t real. He was probably just some emo kid who had a crush on one of my sisters.
Or was actually after me—mad that I’d escaped, living through the accident? My heart sped up, and soon it was the only thing I could hear.
I couldn’t take it any longer. I turned my head to face him. I still couldn’t see his face, but he nodded his hooded head at me. I definitely hadn’t imagined that.
The blood drained from my face and I immediately turned toward the front again. He was staring at me. There was no question about it now. Keeping my head forward, I looked at him from out of the corner of my eye again.
Now he was standing at the opposite side of the pew, staring right at me. He was practically touching the woman sitting at the other end of the pew, but she didn’t appear to notice. He was so close that if she had seen him, she definitely would have moved away. Nobody else paid him any attention either.
My heart raced even faster as I tried to ignore him. Why couldn’t anyone else see him? Why was he fixated on me? I was beginning to feel suffocated; it was hard to breathe.
He walked over the pew in front of me, and still nobody noticed. I narrowed my eyes, focusing even more on him. He wasn’t walking over it—he was walking through it! He was actually walking through the people in front of me. He was heading for me!
Trying to keep my mind clear, I considered my options. I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my blood pumping rapidly through my body. Focus, I told myself.
I didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to myself. If I told anyone that I was seeing a ghost, I’d end up in a different kind of hospital than the one I’d just left. I didn’t believe it myself, but nothing else made any sense.
He was as real to me as anyone else in the church, so there was no way I could just ignore him. I had to do something, and I saw only two options. I could either make a scene by walking up to the front rows where my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma were all sitting, or I could leave.
Nobody knew that I was there and I didn’t want to disrupt the service, so leaving seemed to be my best option. I knew that my family would understand. After all, my mother had been the one to instill the value of not interrupting into my sisters and me.
I looked back and forth with my eyes, keeping my head still. Everyone was praying, so this would be my opportunity to sneak out just as I’d managed to sneak in.
Except that the dude in the hoodie would notice. I assumed that he would chase me, so I quickly planned my route home. I was grateful to live in a small town, because I knew every inch like the back of my hand. I could sneak down the alleys and get away from him.
I hoped. I had no idea if I could outrun a ghost, but I had no other option except to try.
If movies were any indicator of reality, and that was the only thing I had to go on, he might be able to move a lot faster than I could. I didn’t know anything about what ghosts could really do, but I had to try to get away from him anyway. He was too creepy, and I couldn’t take it sitting there anymore.
It sounded as though the prayer was coming to a close, so I took a deep, silent breath and stood up as fast I could. Not looking at the creepy guy, I walked to the door and burst into a run as soon as I was out in the daylight.
My stomach and shoulders ached as I ran, but I had to ignore them. I would take some pain medication when I got home. My grandma had a cabinet full of meds in her bathroom. I knew I could find something to help me when I got home.
I had survived an accident that had killed my entire family; I could handle running several miles to my house. I had planned on riding home with family after the service, but that wasn’t going to happen now.
When I made it about a mile from the church, the curiosity was too much for me. I turned to look behind me to see if he was following me.
He was about a hundred feet behind me. Why was he after me? Why wouldn’t he leave me alone?
I turned to look forward again, then ducked down an alley, and turned into a passageway between a couple of buildings. It was our town’s little industrial area, and I could easily navigate my way through it. I hoped that the ghost, or whatever he was, didn’t know the streets as well as I did.
I couldn’t see him behind me anymore, but I wasn’t going to assume he’d given up. He could still be chasing me and I wasn’t about to take any chances. I ran down a few more streets, hoping to lose him.
When I made it out of the industrial area, I ran to a nearby park and sat on a bench that was nestled between some trees and bushes. It was a popular spot where teens always liked to go to make out or to smoke because it was so well hidden. I hoped that it was enough to keep me hidden from a ghost.
I gasped for air as quietly as I could. I’d been in the hospital for about a week, and it showed. I was one of the top runners on our track team, so I wouldn’t normally be this wiped out from a run through town. We often ran through town while training, which was how I knew nearly every street, even in the industrial area.
The church bells rang in the distance, which meant that the service was over. Soon, everyone would pile into their cars for the short ride to the cemetery. It wasn’t too far away from where I was. If Creepy didn’t show up, I planned to attend the burial too.
Once I had fully caught my breath, and my stomach wasn’t aching so much, I stood up and walked next to a tree and looked all around the park, still hiding. I couldn’t see Creepy anywhere, so I tip-toed from my hiding spot and made my way through the park, keeping an eye out for him.
I heard the bells again and picked up my pace. I would probably regret missing as much of the memorial service as I had; I didn’t want to miss the burials too.
Keeping my eyes open for a guy in a black hoodie and skinny jeans, I jogged toward the cemetery. When I got close, I could see a line of cars parking along the street and people walking toward the green coverings that marked the location of my family’s final resting place.
I was about to walk up and join the group, but then I saw him. Right next to one of the green coverings, Creepy was pacing back and forth. He went through the poles of the covering several times. He was watching everyone closely.
He was looking for me.
My heart sank. I didn’t want to go near him, and I didn’t want him to see me. What would he do to me? What could he do to me? Why was I so scared of this guy when at least half the town was right there? Surely he wouldn’t grab me and drag me to death’s door in front of so many witnesses. Would he?
I almost joined the procession to prove to myself that I wasn’t afraid of him. The truth was that I was terrified of him. My chills had turned into fear. I knew without a doubt that he was after me. I would stay out of sight, but watch the burial despite that bully. How dare he try to keep me from my family’s memorial and burial?
Bagpipes began to play Amazing Grace. My throat nearly closed up, and tears began streaming down my face as soon as I heard the first few notes. It was as if the song somehow made everything final. I looked toward the coverings and saw two men in kilts playing the bagpipes.
My dad’s side of the family was from Scotland, so I was sure that was why the pipers were there. He had always wanted to go to Scotland to see the beautiful land of his, and our, heritage. We had actually been in our car on our way to the airport to Scotland when we were hit. It broke my heart that he would never see his homeland. At least we’d been on our way, so he had been excited about the prospect of going there before dying.
The crowd of people continued to gather around the green coverings above the graves. A new song began to play, and it irritated me that I didn’t know the name of it, because my dad had spent so many hours listening to bagpipe music. Why hadn’t I taken more time to learn about it from him? I could probably still ask my grandma, his mother, who lived with us, but she didn’t share his enthusiasm for the Scottish culture. Plus, she was nearly deaf, and I had always had a hard time talking to her.
When the music stopped, I could hear the pastor begin to speak. I strained to hear what he was saying, but I was too far away. I wanted to get closer, but Creepy was looking around, waiting for me. He started pacing through the crowd as the pastor spoke. Even though I was beginning to accept the reality of him being a ghost, I still couldn’t believe that no one else saw him.
I tried to ignore him, straining to hear what was being said. Even though I couldn’t hear the words, I stayed and watched until the four caskets were lowered into the ground. I didn’t want to hear any more music, so I sneaked away as soon as the last one had been placed in it’s grave. I made sure that Creepy didn’t see me as I walked away, and when I was out of his line of sight, I began to run.
Chasing Mercy is available on the Kindle. Soon to other retailers.
Thank you for reading the excerpt! It will be available on the other online retailers about 8/17. You will want to start reading near the middle of the first chapter, as what you just read was a partial excerpt of the first chapter. (You can finish the chapter here.)
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