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A fake spider in Halloween webbingJoe Clark and Rich Sanders were looking for trouble. Well, not a lot a trouble. More like the trouble thirteen year old boys look for on Halloween. Too old for trick-or-treating, too restless to stay home, they had the itch to be out and about, and needed a decent reason. Smashing pumpkins seemed to be just the ticket.

They hung out in the park until well after dark, smoking cigarettes Joe had lifted from his older sister’s purse. They had to hide, twice: once when a police car pulled in and made a slow circuit around the parking lot, and once when Mike Mitchel and his boys came through. They weren’t looking for quite that much trouble. They watched from the creek bank as Mike and company overturned trashcans and tried their darnedest to destroy a picnic table. The hooligans finally got bored and left without accomplishing their mission.

“What a bunch of jerks,” Joe observed as they wandered back toward the pavilion. They did not go far before Rich told him to hold up.

“If a cop comes back, he’ll think we did that,” Rich said, pointing to the mess in the shelter. “Come on. Let’s go.”

So they wandered off in search of pumpkins.

It was late enough now that nearly all the actual trick-or-treaters were home reveling in their loot. They only passed two groups of kids in costumes, and they were obviously older. Last year Joe and Rich may well have been among them. But this year, being way too cool for that, they crossed the street to avoid them.

As they walked down Green Trails Drive they spied a pumpkin still feebly flickering on the darkened stoop of a modest ranch home. They started cutting across the lawn for it when Joe came up short, flailing away at something in his face.

Cursing, he pulled the sticky substance off as best he could. “I hate this fake spiderweb crap!”

Rich leaned close and pulled another strand of sticky fiber from Joe’s hair. He examined it closely.

“Uh, I don’t think this is fake…”

Joe looked up at him like he was nuts.

“Oh course it’s fake, nimrod. No spider could spin a web that thick.”

Rich trailed the strand across Joe’s arm. “That’s not fiberglass, dude.”

Movement in the bushes spooked them good.

“Let’s go,” Rich abruptly decided.

“Sure.”

They both started to make tracks toward the road.

A sinister form appeared in the darkened doorway, and gestured for them to come. They walked faster.
Then they saw it – a huge spider, the size of a beagle coming at them from the side of the house. It was spinning a web as thick as a rope as it came. With a shout they ran for their lives.

~

“Did you put that spider costume back on Tippy?” Mrs. Johnston asked her husband as she stepped away from the door.

“Yeah, I think it’s cute,” Carl Johnston answered.

“Well, you just scared the crap out of a couple of kids.”

 

Black and white photo of headstones in the woodsThey spent a lovely afternoon hiking in the Ozarks, the fall foliage everything they had hoped for. Finding the little waterfall as the backdrop for their picnic lunch had been the absolute topper. Mary Beth took dozens of pictures with her cell phone, but was thwarted by the lack of a signal when she tried to post them online. Time enough to do that tonight. Now they just needed to get back to the car before sunset.

Tony assured her that the park rangers would not lock them in for the night, but she was not so certain.

“You worry too much,” he teased her as she set a brisk pace. “And what’s the worst that could happen? We end up sleeping in the car?” He smiled at that thought. He would not mind that at all.

The sun now angled low, cutting through the canopy above with an amber glow. Dust motes and tiny bugs swirled on eddies in the air. The thick leaves underfoot were nearly as vivid as those overhead – a jumble of rich scarlet, orange, and deep yellow, all mixed in with muted russet browns.

Any chance of spotting wildlife was ruined by the pace Mary Beth set. The the rustle and crush of the leaves underfoot could probably be heard for a quarter mile, or more. Still, Tony kept an eye out – dusk being peak activity time for deer.

Something ahead caught his eye – a bright flash of white slightly off the trail on the uphill side. He paused and called out to Mary Beth. “What’s that?”

She stopped and silence descended upon the woods.

“What?” She looked at him, puzzled.

“Up there. Something bright, in the sunlight.”

She followed the line of his point. Shrugged. “I dunno.” She continued on, but slower.

They both watched as they neared the bright spot in the shadows of the trees. There was a little clearing, probably not more than forty feet off the trail, but the lay of the land kept them from seeing the object clearly.

“Looks like a rock,” Tony suggested, a bit disappointed. He had no idea what he hoped for, but certainly not a rock.

But Mary Beth’s pace slowed until he nearly rear-ended her. Then she came to a stop.

“I think it’s a headstone,” she said in a hushed tone.

She took a few steps off the trail. Tony stood pat, unwilling to follow.

“Uh, I thought you were in a hurry to get back?”

“It’s not far,” she said. “Come on. It might be an old graveyard. They’re scattered all over in these woods.”

“I think we should get back.”

She glanced back at him, and smiled. “Scaredy-cat.” She bounded up the hill.

She paused beside an old post oak. The sunlight perfectly framed her upon the ridge line. Smitten, Tony followed.

As he crested the hill he saw it was indeed an old, abandoned graveyard. By the time he reached the post oak Mary Beth had wandered in amongst the tombstones. Roots seemed to anchor Tony’s feet to the ground. Cemeteries gave him the creeps.

She turned toward him and called out, “Come on.” She gestured with a jerk of her head. “We used to find little cemeteries like these all the time when my aunt Ruth was doing her genealogy. They’re sacred ground, but fascinating. Aunt Ruth says you just need to be respectful. So rich in history.” She squatted to read what was carved on one of the headstones, shook her head in frustration, and moved on to the next.

Tony didn’t budge.

She let out a sad moan. “Oh. This little guy was only three months old.” She moved on to another. “This guy’s four.” She moved past several that were but nubs sticking out of the ground, then stooped to read another. “Here’s a six year old. Anna Morrison. How sad.”

“Nineteen months.”

“Twenty-two months!”

“Two years.” She straightened and looked at Tony, tears welling in her eyes. “They’re all babies.” She turned in a broad circle, taking in the headstones. “They’re all dated 1918.” Realization dawned on her. “Oh my God. The Spanish flu. It had to be…”

“Come on, let’s go,” Tony called to her.

She walked deeper into the graveyard. “A boy. Michael. Samuel. Henrietta. Ooh, she was just two weeks old!”

The sun was settling on the horizon.

“The park’s going to close.”

Just as she took a step toward him they both heard it – a baby wailing in abject misery. The hairs stood up on Tony’s neck. Mary Beth turned back, looking for the source of the sound.

“Mary Beth! Come on!”

“There’s a baby!” she snapped back, searching desperately in the gathering gloom.

The cry of another baby rose off to the right. She turned toward it. Then another, behind her. She whirled round. Tony reached out to her, plaintively, beseeching her to come. She ignored him, continuing her frantic search.

She stumbled over the remnants of an old monument, landing on her hands and knees. From where he stood Tony saw her scrambling forward toward something he could not see. Then he heard the screams.

~

They found him locked in the car, mumbling, “The babies took her,” over and over again.

They never found Mary Beth.
~

© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved. Photo by J. M. Strother, © 2014. All rights reserved.

 

A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.It started in middle school, when they were too old for trick-or-treating, but too young to drive. The appeal of wandering the neighborhood, smashing pumpkins or setting a paper bag full of dog poop on fire on Mister Swaney’s front walk, had quickly worn off, lasting no more than a year or two. By Seventh Grade they still wanted to go out and do something on Halloween, but what to do? Greg Lewis finally hit a homer when he came up with the idea of ghost stories in the graveyard. It was great.

Nowadays they were never destructive – oh sure, Greg had pushed over a few headstones in his adolescence – but they were older and wiser now, and gave the dead the respect they deserved.

They began to gather near the gate behind St. Martin’s Catholic Church around sundown. The four guys – Greg, his younger brother Mark, Tony Bishop, and Randy Murray – all showed up at about the same time. They lingered near the gate, glancing around furtively, until there were no passersby, then darted for Section A. It was the oldest, and therefore creepiest, part of the cemetery where the monuments rose in Gothic splendor.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Pegs and Ally?” Mark asked, jogging along side the others.

“They know where to find us,” Randy replied. “Those two are always late.” It was more bitter commentary than a simple statement.

Section A also afforded them the best concealment, with its combination of mature scatterings of trees and shrubs as well as the ornate statuary. The four guys settled near the base of Henrietta McAllister -Smith’s memorial, where an imposing figure of a severe looking angel stood over them holding aloft the hilt of a broken sword.

“I wish I had a smoke,” Tony Bishop said as he settled onto the lawn, propping himself comfortably against Henrietta’s tombstone. “Anyone got a smoke?”

Shrugs and shaken heads were his only replies.

“We could always go down to Kroger, and nab a few,” he suggested.

“Forget it,” Greg said. “You should have thought of that before you came.”

Tony flipped Greg the bird and flicked a small twig at him.

“Shh, someone’s coming,” Mark warned. They all scrambled to hide themselves from whoever approached.

They recognized the voices of Peggy Lane and Alice Spencer as they came down the long serpentine lane. They were chatting without regard of being overheard or attracting attention to themselves. The boys waited until the two girls cleared the shrubs. Without any preplanning on their part all four guys jumped out at the same time yelling some variation of, “Boo!”

“Ha ha.” Alice mocked them. “We’re so scared.”

“You’re late,” Randy snapped. Alice stuck her tongue out at him.

“Give it a rest,” Greg grumbled. As the group meandered about to find good resting places Tony Bishop and Alice Spencer gravitated toward each other, their eyes doting on one another.

“How ya been?” Tony asked her.

“’K,” Alice replied with a slight blush. They settled down as if trying to occupy the same spot of ground. Randy rolled his eyes.

They took turns telling ghost stories, each more outrageous than the last, but most heard before, so there was no real thrill in it. Yet somehow they enjoyed it, not for the stories themselves, more for the camaraderie, the sense of time well spent with good friends. They laughed, they playfully pushed at and teased each other. They shared intimate family secrets never heard before with the assurance not a word of it would ever go beyond their tight little circle.

Once or twice they had to hush, when the sound of voices carried in from the sidewalk on Washington Street, or a car seemed to pass at an unusually slow speed. On one such instance a beam of light suddenly flooded the grave markers, casting harsh shadows across the lawn. They laid flat, scrambling for those shadows, as the light played back and forth. Mark edged up to the crest of the slope and peered over toward the street.

“Cop car,” he whispered. When the light went out he sighed his relief and resumed his place in the circle. “He’s going.”

“I’m cold,” Alice said, giving a shudder.

“You’re always cold,” Randy replied with a sneer.

Tony gave Randy a warning look, and drew Alice into his arms. She settled, but still shivered.

“It’s always cold,” Tony consoled, rubbing his hands up and down Alice’s arms to no effect.

Once again a warning shush went up, and they all fell silent. Some ways down the hill, toward Oak Street, they could hear the sound of someone walking through the fallen leaves, of hushed voices whispering in the dark. All six of them scurried behind the avenging angel and peered through the night for whatever was coming.

“Zombies.” Mark teased.

“Shhh.” This from Tony.

“Is that Becca Townsend?” Peggy hissed as three teens wandered into view. “God, I hate that little bitch.”

Greg leaned forward, squinting to see. He settled back and shook his head, no. “Too young. Looks a lot like her though.”

“I think it’s Ann,” Mark said. “Becca’s daughter. She’d be about that age now.”

Peggy scowled. “Well the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. Let’s scare the bejesus out of ‘em.”

“I don’t think we should…” Mark looked to the others for concurrence.

“Oh, come on,” Peggy urged. “It’s been years since we’ve had any fun.”

The three teens drew closer. Henrietta seemed to be a popular locale.

“OK.” Greg said, and with that the decision was made. As the three teens turned toward the angel the six friends slowly rose up from behind it. Mark must has put the idea in their heads, for they all reached out with stiff arms, miming zombies.

“Brains.” Randy moaned.

The three teenaged girls shirked in terror and ran for the fences, never looking back.

The six friends fell to the ground, laughing out loud.

“Oh, that was great!” Peggy managed to say between guffaws. “Did you see the look on their faces? I bet they peed themselves.”

“Won’t be back here for a while,” Tony said, as he struggled to get up from the ground. “Serves them right for trying to horn in on our spot.” He looked up and saw the clock tower on St. Martin’s and suddenly became somber. “Oh, crap, look at the time.”

They all glanced up. Both hands pointed to twelve.

“Well, it’s been fun,” Greg said.

Randy started to drift away.

“He still hates me, doesn’t he?” Alice asked Tony, glancing toward Randy.

Tony pulled her into a hug. “Don’t worry about Randy, he’ll get over it.”

“If I just hadn’t been late that night–”

He massaged her shoulders and leaned in close. “Don’t blame yourself, Ally. He’s the one that tried to beat the train.”

The clock on St. Martin’s began to chime midnight. As Tony leaned in to give Ally a kiss they all faded into the night.
~
© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.

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