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.