"Shyla!" he called gruffly. "Weren't you heading into town?"
No answer came from below, but the sounds of pots clanging told him his daughter toyed about down there. Perhaps she'd decided not to leave him after all and taken it into her head to now re-organize the house, since he'd so clearly wanted her to stay out of the cemetery. With a low groan, Conall rolled out of bed and stepped out into the hall.
"Shyla!" he called again, coming to the head of the stairs. If she had stayed home, she could at least do it without making a lot of noise.
He staggered then, as the hallway dimmed. Afternoon light flickered strangely, lightning cracking a dismal sky outside, and in the space of time afterward everything else darkened. Conall darted a glance around him as the house fell into shadow.
From the top of the stairwell, he saw the first whispering tendrils of white fog.
The heat of adrenaline shot through his limbs. Conall stumbled back into his bedroom, even as the fog pursued. His gaze shot to the window as the last gray light of day faded away and eerie darkness replaced it, like an eclipse sliding over the sun.
More cold mists veiled the glass, dancing and floating. Trembling overtook him as he spun to find another escape.
He froze, finding himself face-to-face with the broken mask of the cemetery doll.
"You—" he gasped. His breath came out white as the fog enveloped them both, leaving a space of mere inches between them, so he could still see her expressionless face. Gray ribbons wound and curled through the air around him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
The doll stared up at him. He sensed her searching, looking into his eyes even though hers remained covered. She held him there with her unseen gaze, until her cool, cold hand came up to touch his bare chest.
Conall let out a low breath. He closed his eyes, and a shudder of strange ease rippled through his body. The cool pads of her fingers ran down his sternum, to his navel. The silky ribbons brushed along his side.
Then he noticed her other hand. She lifted it up, to her own chest, and she held something tightly in her fingers: Shyla's stuffed dog.
"I made that...for my daughter," he whispered. The woman with the broken mask tilted her head down toward the small toy, studying it. For a fraction of a second, her fingers appeared to tighten around it. She returned her gaze to him, then, and the toy fell from her grip into the fog, forgotten.
"Wait—" he said, but she brought her other hand up to his chest to join the first, and he recognized eagerness in the way she pressed her icy skin against his. Her face tilted to him, and then came her lips again, ivory and flawless.
"I—" Conall breathed. "I...don't understand..."
Her fingers slid up, around his neck, but he pulled away.
"No, this...this can't real. I'm asleep. I must be."
Gray ribbons danced, pulling him back to her, and she stroked his face. He sucked in a breath at her touch and found his own hand coming up to brush hers.
"You're so cold," he said. "Like stone...but..."
Her cool touch thrilled him; it made his skin tingle and the heat of his own body sing. Her perfect flesh did, in fact, prove soft under his hands, as if the contact with his worn calluses infused cold ivory with yearning. She caressed his cheek, and Conall leaned into it. Before he could stop himself, he bowed his head to her and kissed her frozen lips.
Conall MackayJoe Manganiello
Character Name: Conall Mackay
Character Bio: Conall, once a proud member of the British Special Air Service, now tends the graveyard in the small village of Whitetail Knoll. He’s never been superstitious, and has little patience for whispers of ghost stories or hauntings on the ground. He couldn’t be more different from his young daughter Shyla, who delights in making up fantastical stories about the residents of their cemetery. The one imaginative and artistic endeavor Conall has ever embarked upon is the Angel Maya: a statue carved from the stones of the grounds themselves, who now stands sentinel over the graves.
When Shyla wakes Conall up one night to tell him a strange woman waits outside in the graveyard, of course his first thought is that his daughter’s had a nightmare. But as her visions become more frequent—and Con’s own mind starts playing tricks on him—he starts to think the lady in the graveyard may be real after all…and she may need him.
Perhaps as much as he needs her.
Describe yourself. What is your worst and best quality?
I’m not a very patient man and I can get riled up quite easily. One thing about this, though, I don’t put up with bullying or threats, especially to my daughter.
As for my best quality? Fierce loyalty to my family. I would die to protect my girl.
What is the one thing you wish other people knew about you?
I’m an injured soldier and I don’t care for religion. I’d like others to know I’m perfectly happy as I am, and I don’t need “well-intentioned” neighbors trying to fix me.
What is your biggest secret something no one knows about?
I’ve told everyone Shyla is my sister’s daughter, and came to me when my sister passed away. The truth is, I found Shyla abandoned in my cemetery. Somehow, though, I couldn’t bring myself to give her up. She belongs here.
What are you most afraid of?
Until just recently, I’d have told you there’s no point in being afraid of the things of this world. But my world is turning upside down. There’s some strange creature haunting us…and I have no idea what it wants with me.
What do you want more than anything?
I want things to go back to the way they were before this doll came to us. I want peace in my house, no more strange creatures wandering my graveyard. I want her—this impossible apparition of a woman—to tell me what she wants from me, or simply leave me and my daughter be.
What is your relationship status?
I haven’t had much of a mind for relationships, since I came home from the war. I was happy with my work, and being a father filled my heart perhaps more than any woman ever could. But since she came…
How much of a rebel are you?
I wouldn’t call myself much of a rebel. I’m a soldier, and served my country loyally. As I don’t ascribe to any faith, though, some of the folks around me consider me something of a godless heretic.
What do you considered to be your greatest achievement?
Being a father.
What is your idea of happiness?
Quietude. A warm afternoon by the river, undisturbed.
What is your current state of mind?
I’m at a loss! I’ve never believed in ghosts or spirits, but now I’m faced with a creature I can’t explain and can barely even describe! She fascinates me…and she terrifies me.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Most people would say I’m a grump.
What is it that you most dislike?
In general? Nosiness, busy-bodies, and folks thinking they know what’s best for me and my household.
Which living person do you most despise?
I may be a grump but despising others is a bit harsh. I might not get along with most folks but I don’t despise them…
What is your greatest regret?
I regret not knowing who it was that left Shyla in my graveyard, and that I couldn’t help them, because I’m sure they needed help. Perhaps this ghost is my punishment for that…
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
I like a proud woman, and a daring one. In Whitetail Knoll they’re all manners and pretty etiquette and happy housewives letting their husbands tell them what to do. I find them utterly boring and frankly, dull. I met a great many brilliant and bold girls during the war, and that’s the sort of lady for me.
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I sometimes think if I hadn’t been injured , I might be…well, at least less cynical than I am now. Who knows what sort of life I’d have without this bad leg?
What is your motto?
Who dares wins. (Motto of the British Special Air Service)
The story of His Cemetery Doll has been waiting to be told since Brantwijn Serrah first began jotting things down in her school notebooks instead of doing her homework. Conall Mackay and his lady ghost have existed for Brantwijn, in some form or another, longer than almost any other characters she's collected. This tale of a haunted graveyard and imprisoned beauty is, in Brantwijn's opinion, a wonderful way to finally bring them to life.
When she isn't visiting the worlds of immortals, demons, dragons and goblins, Brantwijn fills her time with artistic endeavors: sketching, painting, customizing My Little Ponies and sewing plushies for friends. She can't handle coffee unless there's enough cream and sugar to make it a milkshake, but try and sweeten her tea and she will never forgive you. She moonlights as a futon for four lazy cats, loves tabletop role-play games, and can spend hours watching Futurama, Claymore or Buffy the Vampire Slayer while she writes or draws.
In addition to her novels, Brantwijn has had several stories published in anthologies by Breathless Press, including the 2013 Crimson Anthology and 2014 Ravaged Anthology. She's also had a short story published in the Cleiss Press Big Book of Orgasm and the anthology Coming Together Through The Storm. She hopes to have several more tales to tell as time goes on. She has author pages on GoodReads and Amazon, and loves to see reader comments on her work. Her short stories occasionally pop up at Foreplay and Fangs, her blog at http://brantwijn.blogspot.com.