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I shivered as a line of thick grey clouds streaked across the sky, hiding most of the full moon and casting eerie shadows across the old graveyard. Perfect! A brewing storm to usher in my solitary slumber party in Colonial Park Cemetery.


My editor couldn’t have asked for a better atmosphere if he’d planned it himself; and knowing Clayton Moore, he’d tried. I snorted. I still couldn’t believe I’d let myself be talked into such a ridiculous assignment. 


Paige Stewart, Investigative Reports had appeared as a byline in newspapers across the country. I’d built a reputation for hardnosed journalism only to now cheapen that achievement by tracking reputed paranormal activity for a niche online magazine.


But that was another life, before … I swallowed past a lump in my throat as my mind carried me back to the island.


Choking, thick, acrid smoke blends with the sickly-sweet scent of jasmine. A hum, rising high and then low in a steady rhythm, blends with a cacophony of night sounds; frogs, insects, animals. Heart pounding, hands shaking, desperate to find her. Hysterical screams, headlong flight through the undergrowth. Stumbling into the clearing- the fire, the stone…, Janie!


My breaths were coming in staccato bursts and my chest was tight as the memories threatened to swamp me. I closed my eyes, concentrated on breathing in and then out. 


Orient Paige, you’re safe, breath … I opened my eyes to reality and had to laugh; sitting alone in a dark and creepy cemetery was barely an improvement but anything was better than reliving that night.


I shivered and spread a blanket over the grass to settle in. A file had been awaiting my arrival at the inn, so I scooped it out of my backpack and immersed myself in the story. Bold, two-inch-high letters spelled out ‘Confidential’ across the top of the email cover sheet.  I shook my head. What must the hotel staff be thinking? 


The Seventeen Hundred and Ninety Inn was the oldest in Savannah and promoted itself as having several resident ghosts and a haunted guest room. With people waiting months to stay in the room, it was safe to assume they were used to seeing odd characters in their establishment. 


I snorted. I was staying the night in a cemetery with the hopes of catching a glimpse of reputed paranormal activity so what did that make me?


I glanced at the thickening clouds, resigned myself to getting wet at some point during the night, and then clicked on my pen light.  I flipped open the folder and skimmed the history of Colonial Park Cemetery. 


                                                                       My own research had revealed basic facts                                                                              like the cemetery was Savannah’s oldest,                                                                                established in 1750, and that Union                                                                                        soldiers had used the graveyard as their                                                                                camp when Sherman occupied the city. I’d                                                                            also read how the Yankees had opened the                                                                            strange bed shaped crypts, thrown out the                                                                            bodies, and used them for makeshift tents                                                                            and that they’d defiled the headstones to                                                                              alleviate boredom.  According to the file, I’d find a row of broken headstones hanging along the cemetery’s back wall and all of them had altered engravings, courtesy of the Yankees. 


Nothing paranormal to report and not many options

for pictures; how scary could a picture of a headstone

claiming a man lived for seventeen hundred years be? 
I lowered the file and peered into the growing darkness.

Nestled beneath a stand of cedar trees dripping with

Spanish moss, I could just make out a group of crypts.

That’d make a decent shot if it weren’t so dark. 


I pursed my lips and debated. With so little light I’d need to set up the tripod and keep the shutter open longer, but … I sighed. The effort would have to be made because it was highly doubtful any ghosts would volunteer to pose, for posterity or the Paranormal Post’s article. 


I assembled the tripod, set the shutter speed, and then gave the dossier one last look. Please let there be something paranormal worth writing about.  Seven hundred people were interred during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1820, several duels were fought on the grounds … 


Oh yeah, that’d make a great article. I continued reading, desperate for something, anything, remotely ‘ghostly’ to write about. I rolled my eyes at the story of frugal colonial Savannahians disinterring their relatives to avoid the cost of another grave. Great!  The custom of stacking bodies like cord wood inside a single crypt was old news.  


I continued reading and then frowned. Now this was new. Citizens had opened coffins and found deep gouge marks. They assumed someone had been buried alive, or come back …. Perhaps I could ‘spin’ the facts. Hmmm, Zombies walk in old Savannah or Colonial Savannah inhabited by Vampires.


It was well known that the practice of attaching a bell to a string, tying it to the dead body’s big toe, and then employing a person to listen for the bell all through the night had brought about the terms dead ringer and working the graveyard shift. 
Shoot, no story there! Well, if that was all the place had to offer I’d have to make do and employ some of those literary skills my English degree said I had.


I tossed the file onto the blanket and reached for my camera. I glanced down at the stack of papers and then stopped as my eyes focused on the words ‘Ape-Like man, seven feet tall, hanged for murder’.  Now, that might be interesting.


I sat back, engrossed in the story. Renee Asche Rondolier, born in 1777.  Reported to be over seven feet tall and covered in thick, animal like hair. Hmmm, wonder if he had that disease Abe Lincoln was supposed to have had? 


A flash of lightening lit the sky, followed by a rumble of thunder. The trees overhead began to creek and bend with the strengthening wind, but absorbed in the story, I dismissed it.  


The people of Savannah were afraid of Renee and slaves called him a demon. From the underworld or no, he did have a penchant for torturing small animals. People demanded the family confine him to their property, which bordered Colonial Park Cemetery. 


An eight-foot wall was constructed. Not comforted, the townspeople added broken bottles along the wall’s top to assure themselves Renee could not escape; However, two months after the wall’s completion the mutilated bodies of two young girls were found in the cemetery. 


The town assumed Renee was the perpetrator. They dragged him from his home and hanged him in a nearby swamp. He was buried on the Rondolier property, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief; until three more bodies were found.  
A Live Oak branch crashed to the ground making me jump. This was not good.

                                                      Wind howled through the treetops and lightening                                                              flashed, followed by ground shaking thunder. A                                                                  downpour was imminent, and I’d walked from the                                                              inn. I needed shelter, fast. The door of a crypt                                                                      dancing in the gusting winds caught my eye.  

                                                      Oh, no way in -- a crack of lightening propelled me to                                                        my feet. I grabbed the blanket and camera, shoved                                                            the file into my backpack, and ran. 


Within feet of the crypt, the wind died. An eerie hush settled over the graveyard and a thick fog began to roll in. What the…?  I drew a deep breath and tried to calm my racing heart. The storm had blown over and the fog was the result of the sudden change in temperature.


I laughed, and ignored how weak it sounded.

Don’t be stupid, Paige, it’s all easily

explainable. Just get on with the job, and

get the heck outta dodge! I set the blanket

down and fished out my camera. Hands

shaking, I assembled the tripod and

snapped several pictures of the crypts.

 The defamed headstones would have to do

but they stood about sixty feet away, which

meant walking through the thickest area of fog. 


                                             Nope, not going there. I looked around.                                                                                 There had to be something else of interest,                                                                           something not requiring a walk through the                                                                         mists of Hell! I turned the camera and                                                                                   focused on a path lined with old fashioned                                                                           street lamps. A cluster of Live Oaks                                                                                         dripping with Spanish moss formed a                                                                                     canopy overhead. Shrouded in mist, the path made a fairly spooky picture. It’d have to do. 


I decided to program the camera to snap ten pictures; surely one of them would be usable. With the camera on auto, I removed my backpack and settled down to wait. The papers crunched, reminding me that I hadn’t finished the story. 


Leaning against the old bricks of the crypt, I read the rest of Renee’s tale.  No person was ever convicted of the deaths in the cemetery, so the townspeople laid the blame upon Rene’s ghost. He’d played in the cemetery as a child, so Colonial Park became known as “Rene’s Playground” and many people reported they’d caught a glimpse of a massive man amongst the headstones on foggy nights. 


The whirl of the camera ended. I laid the file aside and started to pack my equipment. From the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of movement. I stiffened. Rustling that had nothing to do with leaves reached my ears. 
I gulped and turned toward the path.  Something large darted through the fog. The shape had filled the narrow pathway, the top level with the lamppost … My mouth went dry and my heart began to pound.  Someone was out there!  I finished packing in record time and ran for the gates.


Back at the inn, I managed to laugh at my mad dash; after I’d locked the hotel room door. A quick shower and I was ready for bed; but sleep wouldn’t come.  I pulled out the file and read the last paragraph of Renee’s story.


In 1900, workers on the Rondolier property unearthed Renee’s grave and found it empty.  It was assumed his mother had the body moved to an unmarked grave on their Hutchison Island property.  Years later, when the Westin Hotel and Convention center was under construction on Hutchison Island, workers unearthed the skeletal remains of a man at least seven feet tall.  

 

The developers chose not to disturb it and what is thought to be Renee, was now part of the Westin’s foundation. I closed the file and tossed it toward the end of the bed.  I looked around the cozy little room filled with antiques. The panic during my frantic two block flight from creepy Colonial Park Cemetery was fading, lulled by the homey comfort of the Seventeen Hundred and Ninety’s lovely room. Even the name, Anna’s room, was serene. 


I glanced at the bundle of papers lying by my feet. The towering silhouette I’d glimpsed in the fog flashed before my eyes.  I shivered and pulled the covers closer.  Glad I wasn’t staying at the Westin!

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