I didn't like Clyde Nunley the first time I met him face-to-face in the old cemetery. There was nothing wrong with the exterior of the man: he was dressed like a regular person would dress for the mild winter weather of southern Tennessee, especially considering the task at hand. His old blue jeans, work boots, shapeless hat, flannel shirt, and down vest were reasonable attire. But Dr. Nunley had a smug, smooth, air about him that said that he'd brought me here to be an object of derision, said he'd never believed I was anything but a fraud.
He shook my hand, standing right in front of me. He was having a great time, scanning the faces of my brother and me, as we waited side by side for his directions.
Offered under the aegis of the anthropology department of Bingham College, the course Dr. Clyde Nunley taught was titled 'An Open Mind: Experiences Outside the Box.' I noted the irony.
'Last week we had a medium,' he said.
'For lunch?' I asked, and got a scowl for my reward.
I glanced sideways at Tolliver. His eyes narrowed slightly, letting me know he was amused but warning me to play nice.
If it hadn't been for the presence of that asshole of a professor, I would have been brimming with anticipation. I drew in a deep breath as I glanced past Dr. Nunley at the tombstones, worn and weathered. This was my kind of place.
By American standards, the cemetery was an old one. The trees had had nearly two centuries to mature. Some of these hardwoods could have been saplings when the denizens of St. Margaret's churchyard had been laid to rest. Now they were tall, with thick branches; in the summer, their shade would be a blessing. Right now, in November, the branches were bare, and the grass was bleached and strewn with dead leaves. The sky was that chill, leaden gray that makes the heart sad.
I would have been as subdued as the rest of the people gathered there if I hadn't had a treat in store. The headstones still upright were uneven, both in lodgment and in color. Below them, the dead waited for me.
It hadn't rained in a week or two, so I was wearing Pumas rather than boots. I would have better contact if I took the Pumas off, but the students and the professor would doubtless interpret that as further evidence of my eccentricity. Also, it was a bit too cold for going around barefoot.
Nunley's students were there to watch my 'demonstration.' That was the point. Of the twenty or so in the group, two were older; one, a woman, was in her forties. I was willing to bet she'd arrived in the minivan now sitting frumpily among the other vehicles pulled up to the wire strung between white posts to separate the gravel parking lot from the grass of the churchyard. Her face was open and curious as she evaluated me.
The other 'nontraditional' class member was a man I placed in his early thirties, who was dressed in cords and a heathery sweater. The thirties man was the shining Colorado pickup. Clyde Nunley would be the ancient Toyota. The four other cars, battered and small, would be those of the traditional students who formed the bulk of the little crowd here to watch. Though St. Margaret's was actually on the campus grounds, the old church was tucked far back into the reaches of Bingham College, beyond the little stadium, the tennis courts, the soccer field—so it wasn't surprising that the students who could, had driven, especially in the chilly weather. The kids were in the typical college eighteen-to-twenty-one age bracket, and with an odd jolt I realized that made them only a bit younger than me. They were wearing the usual uniform of blue jeans, sneakers, and padded jackets—more or less what Tolliver and I were wearing.
Tolliver's jacket was from Lands' End, bright red with a blue lining. Red looked good with his black hair, and the jacket was warm enough for most situations in the South. I was wearing my bright blue padded jacket, because it made me feel safe and soft, and because Tolliver had given it to me.
We were spots of color in the overall grayness. The trees that surrounded the old church, its yard, and its cemetery gave us a feeling of privacy, as if we'd been marooned at the back of the Bingham campus.
'Miss Connelly, we're all anxious to see your demonstration,' Dr. Nunley said, practically laughing in my face. He made an elaborate sweeping gesture with his arm that encompassed the gaggle of headstones. The students didn't look anxious. They looked cold, bored, or mildly curious. I wondered who the medium had been. There weren't many with genuine gifts.
I glanced at Tolliver again. Fuck him, his eyes said, and I smiled.
They all had clipboards, all the students. And all the clipboards had diagrams of the old graveyard, with the gravesites neatly drawn in and labeled. Though this information wasn't on their clipboards, I knew there was a detailed record of the burials in this particular graveyard, a record containing the cause of death of most of the bodies buried in it. The parish priest had kept this record for the forty years he'd served St. Margaret's church, keeping up the custom of his predecessor. But Dr. Nunley had informed me that no one had been buried here for fifty years.
The St. Margaret records had been discovered three months ago in a box in the most remote storeroom of the Bingham College library. So there was no way I could have found out the information the registers contained beforehand. Dr. Nunley, who had originated the occult studies class, had heard of me somehow. He wouldn't say exactly how my name had come to his attention, but that didn't surprise me. There are websites that connect to websites that connect to other websites; and in a very subterranean circle, I'm famous.
Clyde Nunley thought he was paying me to be exposed in front of the 'An Open Mind' class. He thought I considered myself some form of psychic, or maybe a Wiccan.
Of course, that made no sense. Nothing I did was occult. I didn't pray to any god before I got in touch with the dead. I do believe in God, but I don't consider my little talent a gift from Him.