City of Secrets
Previously: Natasha Jameson has left her home in Denver to live with her aunt in Caribou Canyon. Natasha thinks Caribou Canyon is strange, and has vowed to uncover its secrets. But as someone who abandoned her friends and boyfriend just before the start of her senior year and is using manipulation tactics to make friends at her new school, Natasha may be just as mysterious as Caribou Canyon.
The breeze blew at Natasha’s back, making her skirt hug her legs and the ends of her hair tickle her cheeks. After a week in Caribou Canyon, she’d learned that the wind was relentless, and for once she didn’t mind. It made climbing the steep hill easier, as if it were as eager as she was for her to reach her destination.
Goose bumps covered her legs and her ears stung from the cold. She should’ve changed into warmer clothes, but she’d feared that if she’d gone home, she might’ve just stayed there. She’d been putting this off since she’d arrived in town. Her aunt Claudia had offered to go with her, but this was something Natasha had to do alone—she just hadn’t known if she could do it. How could she visit her parents’ graves when she’d spent the past seventeen years in blissful ignorance, thinking her parents were alive and well?
At the top of the hill, Natasha froze. “Wow,” she muttered. She’d known the Caribou Canyon Cemetery was large—she’d gotten a map from the visitor’s center a few days ago—but she hadn’t imagined anything like this. It was almost as big as some of the cemeteries in Denver. Why did a town with a population of three thousand need a cemetery this large?
The place would’ve been beautiful if one could forget what it was, but Natasha couldn’t; it was too eerie. The wind had died, leaving the cemetery in absolute stillness, which added to the unnatural feeling in the air. Natasha blinked and shook her head, telling herself she was being silly. She’d let Maggie, the clerk at the visitor’s center, prattle on about ghosts for too long.
Natasha pushed Maggie’s ghost stories out of her head and looked around. The cemetery was built on several small hills, making it look like a town all its own—a town for the dead. Trees were scattered in between the graves, creating a canopy from the sun, which Natasha thought was fitting. To her, death was a dark subject; why cast it in the light?
The layout had been designed with great care. No memorial blocked the view of another. The taller headstones were placed on the highest hills, and the smaller, wider ones on the lower elevations. The effect was so breathtaking it sent chills down Natasha’s spine.
She pulled the map out of her backpack and glanced at it, though she had some idea of where she was going: up, and to the back. Her parents were buried in the older part of the cemetery. She started walking, and it wasn’t long before she realized why the cemetery was so large: it wasn’t the number of plots, but the size of them. Nearly every grave had more than just a headstone marking it. There were statues, benches, memorial trees, and even swings. She thought it was too much. There was nothing wrong with honoring the dead, but this reminded her of what wealthy neighborhoods looked like in December, where each household went to great lengths to have the best light display. That sort of thing was okay to do for the holidays, but not when it came to memorializing loved ones; it seemed wrong.
She didn’t need the map to know she’d reach the path that would take her to the old section of the cemetery, though “section” seemed like the wrong word. It looked like the path would lead her to a different cemetery entirely. Located at the top of a hill and lined with pine trees, it was wide enough to drive a car through, though one probably wouldn’t want to, what with all the branches and pinecones on it.
Natasha hesitated, Maggie’s ghost stories running through her head. If those tales had any basis in reality (not that Natasha thought they did) this would be the place for that basis. The path looked like something out of a horror movie. The trees were closer together here than anywhere else, making it look like dusk, though that was still several hours away.
Don’t be ridiculous, she thought, stepping onto the path and taking care to avoid the fallen branches. If her friends back home in the land of reality knew what she was thinking, they would never let her hear the end of it. But maybe they wouldn’t think it was so funny if they felt the twenty degree temperature drop between Denver and Caribou Canyon, saw the cemetery, experienced the suffocating air, endured the stares the residents gave her, or discovered that Caribou Canyon had almost three times as many accidents and murders as most towns its size. They wouldn’t think it was so funny at all.
When she stepped off the path and into what was known as the old section of the Caribou Canyon Cemetery, she was relieved by how normal it looked. This was how she’d pictured the entire cemetery. It was a clearing about the size of a large convenience store parking lot, with a scattering of graves. Each plot was marked with a standard-looking headstone that was about two or three feet tall. No extravagant statues. No over-the-top memorials that seemed to be in competition with one another. The hairs on the back of Natasha’s neck flattened. Her breathing returned to normal.
That was, until she saw the names on the nearest headstones: Ainsworth. Her ancestors. How could she have forgotten? The old cemetery was where the Ainsworths were buried. Twenty years ago, it had been in ruins. Claudia and her brother Bart had worked to restore it. Natasha’s stomach churned. Bart had restored the cemetery just in time to be buried in it. My father, she thought. But it wasn’t easy to think of him that way.
Natasha swallowed hard, steeling herself to do what she’d come to do. She stepped forward; her feet felt like there were lead weights attached to them. The breeze picked up again as she moved between the graves, which were set closer together than the ones in the main cemetery.
When she found the names she was looking for, she knelt on the ground and read the epitaphs over and over again.
Bartholomew Daniel Ainsworth
9/17/1970 – 1/31/1999
Naomi Marie Jameson-Ainsworth
10/09/1972 – 1/31/1999
Beloved Daughter, Sister, Friend, and Mother
Her parents. Beloved Father. Beloved Mother. Natasha wondered if that were true. Did she love them? She’d only been a year old when they died. She didn’t know how it was possible to love people she couldn’t remember. She hoped she had loved them. That was the best she could do, not having any memory, or even any concept of them. Claudia had told Natasha stories about them, but it wasn’t the same; it didn’t feel real. Steven had tried to talk to her about Naomi, but Natasha could hardly stand to look at him anymore, let alone hear his voice.
Slowly, she placed a hand on top of each stone, ignoring the wind as it whistled in her ears and blew dust into her face. For a second, she was afraid she felt nothing as she touched her parents’ memorials, but then she felt a growing heat in her chest and she realized she was angry. Angry with God or whoever or whatever had decided to take away the parents of a one-year-old child. She was angry with Steven and Ellen Jameson for lying to her. She was angry with the people of Caribou Canyon, angry with the town of Caribou Canyon, for having so many secrets. She wanted answers, and she was going to get them. She was going to find out why so many cars went offLumber Baron's Road. The accident that had killed her parents sixteen years ago was just one of many. The one four months ago that killed Deputy John Edward Cameron and Richie Harper was just the latest.
Natasha stood, just as the first drops of rain landed on her head. Seconds later pellets of water were striking her in the face. She struggled to weave her way out of the cluster of headstones, but between the wind pushing at her chest and the rain hitting her in the face, it wasn’t easy. Once she was in the clearing that surrounded the graves she picked up speed, but a second later she jumped back, gasping in surprise.
A man blocked the path. It was his stillness combined with the brown of his dated suit that made him blend with the trees. Maybe that was why she hadn’t noticed him at first. He didn’t look much older than Natasha, in his twenties maybe. His eyes—the same muddied color of the path he stood on—looked sad. “You should go home.” His voice was so soft that it should’ve been swallowed by the wind, but instead the gust seemed to carry it to Natasha’s ears and place it inside, as if she alone were meant to hear it.
“I—I know. I am. You should t—” She was cut off by a roar of thunder. The sky lit up with several bolts of lightning. Natasha screamed, squeezing her eyes shut.
When she opened them, the man was gone. She spun around, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Hey!” she shouted.
The only answer was another blast of thunder. The trees swayed in the wind, sending leaves falling to the ground. There’s a man. He wanders around the cemetery. No one knows who he is, but we’ve all seen him, Maggie at the visitor’s center had said. Natasha jolted, almost as though she herself had been struck by lightning. Without another second’s hesitation, she turned and sprinted down the path.
Rain poured down on her, and the wind pushed against her face and chest as if it were trying to force her back. She jumped over a log, but when she landed, her foot slipped in the mud. She grabbed for the nearest branch, but it was too slick to get a hold on. She fell, the heavy books in her bag smacking her on the back. Mud splattered in her face. She tried to wipe it from her eyes, but her hands and arms were soaked, and she only smeared the mud around.
A hand grabbed her arm. Natasha screamed.