The sun rarely fell upon the sleepy town of Trinity Falls.
Death, and all its unrushed misery, tucked itself inside every crack and filled the holes of the past.
Death was in fog’s arms as it hovered in the pre-dawn hours, and in the reflection of the rain that polished the cobblestone pathways. Gloom painted every face in Gothika Quarter, and stares held for a second past uncomfortable. Trinity Falls, infamous for the three-tiered waterfall, overflowed with secrets and societies. Most of which mingled and whispered behind closed doors.
There was not much to do for children growing up in this historic town adorned with rich cathedral architecture and gas lanterns. But six-year-old Nova Graves still called this place home.
With long sable ringlets and sharp grey eyes, the charming little girl was an old soul unable to hold her tongue nor fight her curiosity. These traits, however, were suffocated by her cruel beauty. Some would even say her haunting eyes would penetrate beyond escape.
Fearless, Nova often wandered alone, finding trouble in places a child would normally be too scared to venture. So no one watched when the small child climbed to the highest peak of the waterfall. And no one bore witness as she tripped on her dress and fell to her death.
Forty-six hours after her foster mother reported her missing, Andrew Squire found Nova’s cold porcelain body washed up on the embankment.
All of Trinity Falls was devastated, including Andrew, who had been alone with no choice but to carry the dead child for miles through sparse woods.
The coroner ruled Nova’s death an accident, and the devastating news rushed to Celeste Graves, her birth mother, who had been chained to Seven Gables Psychiatric Hospital. Upon Celeste’s request, Nova’s body skipped autopsy and was transferred directly to Saint Trinity to await her burial.
For the funeral, Nova was dressed in a black, eighteenth-century silk brocade gown with black lace trim, then laid upon a bed of periwinkle inside an oak casket. Neighbors wept under a cloak of black umbrellas on that rainy day. Yet Celeste stood stone-faced with eyes hidden behind a pair of black shades as Priest Romano blessed the dead child.
The last time Celeste had laid eyes upon her daughter was the day she’d given her a violent life. She’d never believed the last would be owing to a surrendering death.
The casket closed and Nova eternally slept inside Graves Mausoleum with her grandmother, protected by two granite gargoyles. Celeste was transported back to Seven Gables, forced to leave Trinity Falls for the second time since she’d given birth to Nova.
After the funeral, time moved forward.
The people of Trinity Falls nestled back into their sullen routines. Dawn tipped over to day, and day turned to dusk. But when midnight arrived, neighbors began reporting faint sounds coming from the graveyard. Screaming or weeping or giggling. At first, they’d believed it to be partygoers who would gather to get drunk on crimson lager during the night. But when the groundskeeper walked the graveyard, all was in order without a sign of foul-play. There were no disturbed graves, empty bottles, or destruction. Most importantly, every mausoleum was sealed shut.
Nine more days had passed with multiple reports flooding in before the Sheriff had enough. It was on the same night as the Danse Macabre Ball when he joined the groundskeeper and the council at the foot of the graveyard. While the rest of the town danced and danced, the Sheriff, along with the small group, settled in a clearing to camp until dawn.
For hours nothing happened besides the hoot of an owl, the howl of the wind. But the groundskeeper still waited, white-knuckling the lantern’s handle, guiding yellow light to spill out in front of him. The Sheriff still waited, one hand on the trigger of the revolver he’d never shot before. The Council still waited, unmoving behind the two with lanterns and bats, impatience dripping from their scowls.
When the witching hour struck, a skrrrrrrt raked through the cemetery, like knives scraping stone. Despite the intruding uneasiness crawling up their spines, the group rushed to the sound.
The heavy door of the Graves Mausoleum had been pushed open, bronze steel slightly swinging, the hinges groaning with the crawling wind.
Terror distorted their features when Nova Graves slowly stepped out in the black vintage gown, lace torn at the seams.
Under a moonless night, little Nova’s face was pale and marked with tracks of old tears against the glow of their lanterns. Both cheeks were hollowed out, shadows buried in her eye sockets; skin a ghostly white and stretched thin around her bones. And she just stood there, fingertips and nailbeds raw, almost chafed to nothing. Her once long, black ringlets lay lifeless, curtaining two sharp grey eyes.
The same eyes that penetrated beyond escape.
All breaths had perished.
Silence had resurrected like fog.
Six-year-old Nova Graves had been buried alive.