One of my jobs, when I worked at the reference desk at my local public library, was to scan the local newspapers for articles about our town to clip and put in the archives before the papers went for recycling. But one day while clipping, it wasn’t news from my town that caught my eye: instead, it was the story of a tombstone in Milford, Connecticut that had gone missing from its graveyard. Since I was clipping news from several newspapers of the same week, I hurried ahead to see if there was any conclusion to the tale – and if anyone had stepped up to claim the $500 reward.
In fact, the cemetery’s superintendent followed some drag marks near the stone’s former location that led into the nearby woods. There was the tombstone, none the poorer, of the infamous Mary (Molly) Fowler, made known not for any deeds during her late eighteenth century life, but for the insulting inscription on her grave marker. It reads:
Molly tho pleasant in her day
Was suddenly seiz’d and sent away
How soon she’s ripe how soon she’s rott’n
Sent to her grave and soon forgott’n.
“There has got to more to the story than this,” I remarked to a coworker, who knew I was a fan of urban fantasy.
“Vampires?” she suggested.
“Oooh, an urban fantasy turf war!” I responded.
Because the article was from a different town and didn’t need to go into our files, I clipped it and kept it for myself, waiting for the right moment for a story to happen.
Fast forward a couple of years to a call out from Flames Rising editor Matt McElroy. Matt and anthology editor Monica Valentinelli were looking for stories of ghost hunters. I had an idea in mind based on the ghosts and magic of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and so I started off on a paranormal mystery featuring a ghost summoner and her bodyguard. Though I liked it, it wasn’t a good fit for the anthology (it’ll turn up somewhere else eventually, I hope!), and with only a few days left, I had to either give up the opportunity to submit something or come up with a new idea.
That’s when I remembered Molly.
I dug through my research (a sum total of those two 2009 newspaper articles) to see if it struck any ideas that would work for the call for submissions. And that’s how I met Angie and Wes, two fans of Arthur Conan Doyle – one who hunts ghosts and one who is haunted by his past. Though the original version was more of a Sherlock Holmes pastiche than the version that appears in the anthology (thanks, with gratitude, to Monica, who saw what parts of the story were working and what parts needed to go), the final incarnation owes its greatest debt to Molly Fowler, whose gravestone went missing and returned within days of its theft.
May she rest in peace.