Fred turned the wheel of his Volkswagen around slowly; making a small circular run around the entrance to the Chinese Graveyard, a small plot of land that the locals had claimed to be a source of hauntings for more than sixty years. Liz smiled from the passenger seat, loading a blank disc into the digital camcorder and holding it up to take in the scenery.
Rough Texas shrubbery and curved, gnarled Willow trees overlooked the entrance to the cemetery, an entrance that was largely a formality due to the dilapidated state of the iron gate surrounding the few acres the cemetery covered. Killing the engine, Fred opened his door and got out, stretching the kinks in his back as he moved. The tall Latino was skeptical of anything paranormal, from ghosts to gods and everything in between; but he wasn’t here for himself.
No, he was here for science!
Two other small cars sat parked beneath a particularly large Willow tree, one of them belonging to Fred’s good friend and fellow Atheist, Andrew Jackson. Looking around, Fred couldn’t see any signs of his friends anywhere in the shadowy precipice of the graveyard, though he did catch sight of the gates hanging partially open, a loose set of chains obviously having been cut to allow admittance. Fred sighed, knowing Andrew was probably the culprit behind this activity.
“Liz, be sure to grab a backup battery for your camcorder,” Fred reminded the brunette, earning a wide smile of thanks. He moved to the back of his bug, popping open the trunk to allow Liz access to her bags while he pulled a backpack of snacks and drinks.
“Is that all you brought?” Liz asked, worried. Fred laughed before moving one of her bags aside to reveal the ice chest, which he casually popped open to reveal a variety of green and brown bottles of beer.
Liz sighed in relief, patting Fred on the shoulder. “Oh, thank you! I don’t know if I could spend the whole night in the graveyard sober. It’s just too creepy!”
“Nothing in there but a bunch of dead guys Liz, and not one of them has the urge to bite you. All they do is serving as fertilizer.” Fred grunted as he took hold of both sides of the ice chest, backpack slung over his shoulder. “Do me a favor and close the trunk, would you?”
“Oh, sure,” Liz said pulling down the hatchback and pushing it closed until it clicked. Fred smiled and jerked his head to the side.
“Come on, let’s find the others!” Fred grunted, hefting up the ice chest with one knee. “Damn this thing is heavy!”
Walking through the tall grass to the gate, Liz pushed on the verdigris-covered entrance, wincing at the loud grinding noise it made as it creaked open wide enough to allow them through. Fred laughed, causing Liz to flinch and look back at him. Following his gaze, she blanched at the sight of a large wooden sign nailed to one of the trees overlooking the graveyard.
“No Witchcraft! Keep out!” It read in great, red bold letters. The wood was old and worn thou the message seemed to have lived on proud and strong despite the ravages of the humid weather.
“They must have had a problem,” Fred said off-handedly, staring at the sign.
“A problem with what?” Liz asked, transfixed by the strange marker.
Fred looked over at her with a slight smile on his face, obviously amused. “With people doing exactly what we’re doing; breaking in and trying to provoke spirits.”
“Are you sure this is a wise idea, Fred?” Liz asked, now worried from the sign.
“Of course, I am they probably just put that up to keep tourists from coming in and messing up the place, y’know?” Fred replied, pushing her idly with the ice chest. “No move girl, it’s hot out and this thing is heavy.”
Passing through the gate, the graveyard wasn’t as impressive as Liz originally thought it would be. No great monoliths of angelic statues, or above ground tombs. A simple scattering of worn headstones framed a walkway leading deeper into the cemetery, which seemed to have become partially overrun by Mother Nature. Bushes and small Willows grew haphazardly around the graveyard, small trinkets hanging from the low branches of the Willows, strands of beads or colorful paper with Asian markings on them.
“Wonder what all of those are for?” Liz said, pulling out her camcorder to begin recording the various sights around her.
“They’re for the recently departed,” A young voice replied, causing Liz to jump in terror. Spinning to her left, she caught sight of a young Asian boy, no older than eight, standing amidst the bushes. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Neither should you kid,” Fred replied, setting the ice chest down and rubbing his back. Pulling out his wallet, Fred flashed a little cash towards the child. “How much to have you buzz off?”
The boy looked pensive. “Mama said never to take anything from strangers.” The boy said, turning to run back into the underbrush without another word.
“Weird…” Fred said, tucking his wallet back into his jeans. “Hope he doesn’t rat us out to anyone.”
“Who’d believe a kid?” Liz smiled her smile not really reaching the rest of her face. Something had seemed off about the boy. Flipping open the side view of her camcorder, she played back the recording of the boy only to gasp when she saw the twisted visage staring back from the screen.
Still a short figure, though instead of the demure Asian features the boy had possessed, the film had distorted his face, forcing his jaw down to his mid-chest, his slanted eyes as black as coal.
“Freaky… probably just something wrong with the camcorder,” Fred said, hoisting the cooler back up. “You need to realize there’s nothing out here Liz, and the sooner you do that the better.”
“Then why are we here?” Liz demanded, moving to walk behind Fred as his long legs forged a path through the underbrush. “What’s the point of all of this if you don’t believe?”
Fred sighed. “Look, the story goes that there were two lovers that used to use this graveyard as a place to meet. Both of their families were against the two’s obvious love for each other, but they kept seeing each other anyway.”
“And so, one day, the man came out to meet the girl and instead found the girl’s father, as well as her corpse, swinging high from the branches of a willow tree, blood pooling beneath her from between her legs.” Fred continued, causing Liz to gasp. “The woman had been pregnant, and the father… well, the father didn’t take it so well. The father tried to kill the girl’s lover with the bloody wire coat hanger he still had, but he was able to run away and alert the police.”
“So, the girl’s father was arrested?” Liz asked, enthralled by the story.
Fred nodded. “He was tried and sentenced to life in prison, with a pardon to go to his daughter’s grave to apologize. He was left shackled, hands and feet, and when the guard wandered off to have a smoke, he heard a scream.”
“So, the story goes, the father was found dead, with bruises around his neck, and a wire coat hanger extended and slide down his crushed throat.” Fred finished, shaking his head. “My great-uncle tells that story every chance he can.”
“Why?” Liz asked, focusing the camera on Fred’s face.
“Because he was the young girl’s lover,” Fred said, adjusting the strap of his backpack over his shoulder with a twist of his arm. “Come on, let’s find the others.”
They didn’t have to look far, thankfully. Fred first caught sight of Andrew and his girlfriend, Claire, sitting on the edge of a dry fountain, smoking cigarettes and laughing about something. Andrew was tall and blonde, with an athletic build and a kanji tattoo of the word for “Warrior” on his right bicep. Claire was a waifish girl, with platinum blonde hair tied back in a loose plait, wearing a sleeveless white sundress with Andrew’s oversized jacket over her shoulders, protecting her from the cold.
“Hey,” Andrew called out, catching sight of Fred and the cooler, hopping from his seat to help his friend. “Bout time you showed up, we’ve been here for like two hours!”
“Seen anything spooky?” Liz asked, filming Claire who smiled for the camera.
“Just a big flat tombstone with a bunch of names engraved on it,” Claire said around a mouthful of smoke, blowing it out into the cold October air. “The whole place is overgrown with shrubs and tall grass, so kind of hard to check out the tombstones.”
“Not that we haven’t tried.” Andrew cut in, grunting as he took one side of the cooler. “Jesse and James are out looking for the grave of the woman your uncle dated way back when, but they’re having a bit of trouble, seeing as you don’t have a name for them to look for.”
“Hey, I told them to look for Lychee!” Fred protested, moving to set the cooler down by the fountain before straightening up. “Here, I brought enough snacks to hold us over until morning.”
“And we brought three tents and six bedrolls with us,” Andrew said, motioning to a mound of canvas and fabric sitting on the other side of the fountain. “Jesse brought enough weed to make this night worth having and James brought kindling to make a fire with.”
“Are you sure we won’t get caught?” Liz asked, worried from the encounter earlier.
Andrew waved the concern away. “Nobody comes out here anymore as the graveyard is full up. Between that and the lock I cut, we should be relatively pest free.”
Fred and Liz looked at each other, each wondering if they should bring up the child they’d encountered. Before they could say anything, the underbrush cracked and snapped, causing everyone to turn and lock eyes with Jesse and James.
Twins, the two brothers were distant cousins of Fred, on his mother’s side, and both entirely incorrigible. With a long list of misdemeanors and warnings for their marijuana habit, they were the perfect people to go to when Fred had thought this entire thing up. With the footage, Liz was taking, and the family being involved, Fred would finally be able to shut his great-uncle up about the supposed hauntings that occurred in this forgotten cemetery. Andrew and Claire had been excited when they heard Fred talking to Liz about it, and sort of invited themselves along for the ride, claiming it would be the perfect place to celebrate Halloween night.
“Guys, I think we found it!” Jesse said, breathing heavily. The only way to tell the two apart was their hair; Jesse had his long and unruly while James kept his short and well managed.
“Seriously? With just a first name?” Fred asked, somewhat impressed.
“Well, we found a marker with a date that matched what Uncle Boon told us about,” James said, leaning against his brother, a joint hanging from his mouth. “Took us, like, an hour to find it, but we did.”
“Well let’s see it then!” Andrew said, helping Claire down from her perch on the edge of the fountain. Fred dropped his backpack onto the cooler and motioned for Liz to follow, who’d put the camcorder up to her eye to capture the events as they unfolded.
Tromping through the thick underbrush, thorns tearing at their jeans, the six teens quickly weaved their way along an overgrown stone pathway, leading deeper into the grove of Willow trees, all of which were crooked and tall with age. Andrew, James, and Jesse passed the blunt back and forth between them, along with the cigarette, though Fred and Claire declined. Liz merely said she’d enjoy some later.
“Can’t believe you’re letting someone film you smoke pot, man,” Fred said, motioning to Liz and her camcorder. James merely barked with laughter.
“This thing is going straight to Uncle Boon, right? Who the hell do you think I get my stash from?” James laughed, earning a round of chuckles from the others. “Gotta say, he’s into some crazy shit.”
“All he does is run a curio shop.” Fred pointed out.
“But he collects y’know, things from hauntings and whatever. Who does that?”
“Someone who dated a real ghost!” Jesse laughed, stopping in front of a particularly large Willow tree that stood near the high stone wall surrounding the graveyard. “Here we are!”
Fred looked around and whistled. Seven tall black stone slabs rose from the ground in a half circle, Chinese characters chiseled onto the smooth features. Wrapped around each pillar with thick rope was more of the trinkets that Liz and Fred had seen upon entering the graveyard. Long white strands of parchment hung from the ropes, Chinese writing seemingly fresh upon them.
“Check it out man, over here,” Jesse said from his place by the Willow tree.
Fred turned, walking through the heavy underbrush until he came upon a spot of raw earth; no grass or weeds grew in a large section beneath a long branch, which had a frayed bit of rope tied to it, some fifteen feet off the ground.
“So, this is where Lychee’s dad offed her, huh?” Andrew said, blowing out a cloud of smoke as he flicked the ash from his cigarette. “Bet ya that rope is the same one that held her up.”
Claire pushed Andrew, giving him a sour look. “Be nice! The poor thing, hung from a tree by her father, just for falling in love with the wrong man.”
“What’s with the patch of dead dirt beneath the branch?” James asked, kicking a bit of the dirt away with his heavy combat boots.
“I… I think that’s where she, y’know, lost the baby…” Fred said with a whisper, staring at the ground as if it were going to burst open.
“Oh, sick!” James said, backing away from the uneven bald patch. “That means her old man died somewhere close by, right? Uncle always said she was buried near the tree, and the guard left the old man here to say his goodbyes to his daughter before dying.”
“I don’t know man, I guess so,” Fred said, rubbing the back of his head. Looking around, all he could feel was a sudden sense of sorrow and the undeniable feeling that someone was watching him.
“Come on man, you’re not coming to believe all this bullshit, are you?” Andrew asked, slugging Fred in the arm. “Look, there aren’t any actual death certificates of a man being killed here, or any newspaper clippings, or any sign that it happened at all! It’s all nothing but a story.”
“Yeah man and we’re going to prove it to Uncle,” Jesse said with a wicked smile, pulling out a short, but sharp, hunting knife from his back pocket.
“What are you going to do?” Liz asked, zooming in on Jesse and his knife.
“Nothing actually, seeing as we already did it!” James laughed, moving behind the tree and squatting down to gather something in his arms. Standing up, he revealed a long length of rope that had been sawed through, along with a dozen or so pieces of parchment hanging from the ropes, idly turning in the slight breeze. “This was around the tree when we first found it, and we figured we could sell it to Uncle for a pretty penny, seeing as he likes to collect this stuff.”
“You cut that off the tree? What if those papers actually mean something?” Liz asked, shocked at their behavior.
Fred put a hand on her shoulder, shaking his head free of the sense of doubt creeping into his mind. “No, what they did was petty vandalism, that’s all. The papers are just from the Chinese families that visit here on occasion, probably prayers or something.”
“Still… won’t they notice it’s missing?” Liz asked, unsure about the prospect of stealing the thick corded rope and its various adornments.
“Not until we’re long gone,” Jesse assured her, hoisting the rope up over his shoulder with a grunt. “By then we’ll have this to Uncle Boon and have ourselves a little spending money.”
“Or more weed.” James chimed in, helping to roll up the thick rope up and around his brother’s arm.
“Just… just take it out to your car now so we don’t have to lug it in the morning,” Fred ordered, shaking his head.
“You got it!” The two sang out, marching through the tall grass, carrying the massive rope between them.
“Let’s go set up camp for the night then, shall we Guzman?” Andrew asked, slapping Fred on the shoulder. He shuddered as a chilling wind swept past them, rustling the leaves of the trees and the dry grass for a few seconds before slowing to a standstill.
“Yeah, that’d probably be smart,” Fred said, looking up at the sky. “I doubt it’ll rain, but it should be nice and cold tonight.”
The next few hours were spent in relative peace as the six teenagers all went about the task of preparing a campsite in the middle of a graveyard. Fred and Andrew pitched the tents between worn headstones while Claire and Liz walked about the graveyard exploring. Jesse and James dug up a fire pit and cleared away all the dry grass within ten feet of it, piling up the yellowed vegetation at the bottom of their pit, which the lightly drizzled with lighter fluid, before lighting it aflame around dusk.
Now, seated around the roaring fire with sticks ending in hot dogs in one hand, and chilled beers in the other, the group sat and talked animatedly about the various ghost stories they’d heard over the years. Claire yelped at the climax of each story, snuggling closer to Andrew, who didn’t seem to mind, while James and Jesse passed between them a pair of joints, their half-lidded eyes eagerly watching as their hot dogs sizzled and popped above the fire.
Liz had resumed her camera work, filming them all as the sun slowly set over the orange-hued horizon. Fred meanwhile sat pensively, smiling at the jokes and passing out beers when asked.
“Are you okay Fred?” Liz whispered to him after a while, once the stars had become visible and the chill of the night began to creep around the edges of the dancing flames.
“Huh?” He said, eyes snapping from the center of the flames to Liz, blinking wearily as he stared at her.
“I asked if you were alright,” Liz repeated, looking at him with concern.
“Yeah, just… just feeling a little weird is all, I don’t know. Can’t explain it…” Fred replied, wrapping his long arms around his jean-clad knees and pulling them closer to his chest. “Just hoping we can find something that’ll prove to my uncle that this place isn’t haunted, y’know?”
“Why does that matter to you so much?” Liz asked, the rest of the conversation dying down at her question.
“Uncle Boon’s always been a kooky one, Liz,” James said, holding in a lungful of smoke as he passed the joint to his brother. Letting breathing out a cloud of acrid smoke, he considered the fire. “He believes in all this crazy shit, like ghosts and demons. Kind of runs his whole life based on it.”
“He’s such a smart guy too,” Jesse added, puffing on the joint slowly. “But all he does is collect strange things for his shop, jars of ghost tears and demon nail clippings and whatnot. We just want him to wake up and smell the coffee, y’know? Realize that all of this stuff is bogus, so he can go about his life.”
“This place is where it all started, according to grandpa,” Fred said, looking at Liz and the camcorder. “He said that when he was a boy, Uncle Boon came home, white as a ghost, calling the police. After Lychee’s father was arrested he just… started believing in all of this stuff.” “If we can prove to him that nothing is here, then maybe he’ll finally have some closure over this.” Jesse finished, throwing the end of the joint into the fire before taking a long pull from his beer.
“Well,” Andrew said after a few moments of silence, pushing himself to his feet, “I’m gonna take a leak. Claire, watch my hot dog for me, would ya?”
“Sure babe,” She said, rubbing her hand up his leg affectionately before he turned and walked off into the darkness, stretching his sleeveless arms above his head.
“So why are you and Andrew here Claire?” Liz asked, zooming in on her with the camera.
Claire shrugged. “Andrew is in the same Atheist club as Fred, and he wanted to help out a friend. I just wanted to see a haunted graveyard.”
“So, you believe in ghosts?” Fred asked face scrunched up.
“Oh, for sure! Tons of people see ‘em all the time, what other explanation could there be for all the sightings?” Claire claimed, leaning back on her hands as she spoke.
“Well, just because we can’t explain what it is people are supposedly seeing doesn’t mean its ghosts. It could be any number of things.” Fred began, Jesse and James nodding in agreement.
“Like it could be ghosts!” Claire said with a smile, crossing her arms behind her head and laying back, ending the argument.
The rest of the chatted about school and upcoming exams, pulling the searing hot dogs from their sticks with quick fingers, happily eating while washing down the hot meat with a cold beer. Claire even joined in once she realized that her food might be burning. Looking up, she raised her eyebrow and looked over her shoulder.
“Babe, your foods ready!” She called out to Andrew, taking a bit of her hot dog right off the stick before quickly cooling her scalded tongue with a swig of beer. “Ack! Dammit, that hurts!”
“That’s why we all pulled ours out a minute ago.” Liz teased before turning her camera towards the direction in the darkness that Andrew had walked. “Where is he? Does it take this long for a guy to take a leak?”
“Not normally, though with the right STD’s…” James chuckled before ducking beneath a rock thrown by Claire.
Liz, curious, pressed the button that turned on the night vision filter, allowing her to see out into the darkness with ease. What she saw did anything but ease her mind, however.
Andrew stood in the brambles, his head bent at an awkward angle, eyes glowing a brilliant green in the night vision filter. Standing behind him was a freakishly tall woman, easily seven or eight feet, with elongated arms and swollen forearms, ending in gigantic hands. Her hands were wrapped around Andrews’ throat from behind, shaking him slowly back and forth as if he were a doll, which, by the way, his arms dangled in the night air, he might as well have been.
“Oh my god!” Liz shrieked, causing everyone else to jump at the sudden outburst. Ignoring their cries of outrage, Liz grabbed her flashlight and stood up, turning on the fluorescent light and jogging into the darkness. “Guys, somebody has Andrew!”
Fred and James moved just as fast, scooping up flashlights and moving to follow, while Jesse picked up a long piece of burning branch, hefting it out of the fire, before moving to follow. Claire merely screamed, turning on hands and knees to stare off into the darkness at the dancing beams of light skipping about in the darkness.
Liz ran to the spot where she’d seen Andrew but found nothing. Looking around wildly, she scanned the grass and underbrush with her flashlight in a mad attempt to find a small trace of him. Fred and James began calling out his name, shining their flashlights deeper into the woods in search of their lost friend. Jesse came up, the heavy log’s flames petering out as he arrived.
“Where is he?” Fred asked, turning his flashlight on Liz, who merely shook her head, gasping.
“I know I saw him over here, with some woman strangling him!” She cried waving her own flashlight about madly, before a glimmer of metal amidst the grass caught her eye. Bending down, she pushed the weeds aside, her breath misting up in the air before her as she looked at the sparkling silver metal on the ground.
Picking it up gingerly, she stared at it in confusion. Part of it was silver, but the rest of the jagged item was white and yellow, with slight cracks and bits of red… was it blood? Rolling it around in her palm, she saw the track lines of red dotting on her hand.
“Dude, what are you doing with a bloody tooth?” Jesse asked, pointing at Liz as if she were holding a severed head.
Shrieking, she jumped back, dropping the tooth as if it had suddenly caught fire. A shrill cry echoed through the cold night air, coming from deeper in the graveyard, down the overgrown path the group had walked along earlier.
“That sounded like Claire!” Fred exclaimed, sprinting down the path, James, and Jesse in tow. Liz ran slower behind them, fumbling with her camcorder. The damn flashlight didn’t show enough, so she was going to switch to the night vision mode and look through it that way.
Flipping it back on, she stopped in her tracks and screamed. Three small figures, pale as snow with black hair and purple and green bruising on their throats, were creeping along the path behind the boys, while others lurked at the edges of her vision amidst the undergrowth of the graveyard, eyes flashing silver as she scanned over them with the camera. One such figure, thin and frail, bore a tattoo on his right bicep, familiar Chinese calligraphy standing out against his pale, taut skin.
“Andrew…?” Liz breathed as the figure shuffled closer, almost within reach Liz’s reach.
He held out a feather-light hand, spindly fingers curling in the air as he made a come-hither motion.
“Mama…” he whispered his voice sibilant and wheezy as if he were struggling to breathe. “Mama wants her children…”
“Go away!” Liz shouted, pushing past the ethereal figure and running down the path towards the boys, shrieking as she felt frail fingers grasp at her arms and legs, murmurs and whispers coming from the darkness surrounding her as more of the sickly creatures closed in around her.
Until they seemed to stop, vanishing like smoke on the wind as she ran into the corner of the graveyard where the black headstones were, as well as the giant Willow.
This was now decorated with a pair of swinging bodies: one Andrew, his face blue and eyes bulged and bloodshot, the other Claire, their hands intertwined despite both hanging ten feet from the ground, necks bent at horrid angles by the frayed rope.
Fred and James both stood transfixed at the sight though Jesse seemed to be nowhere in sight. Liz ran up behind Fred, grabbing his hand and pulling on it to go, shouting to get his attention. What she got was a snapping sensation across her back, the feeling of steel slicing through her shirt and into her tender flesh, down to the bone. Dropping the camcorder to the ground, Liz cried out in pain and spun around, only to gasp at the sight before her.
Looming over the three was the woman, elongated arms and huge hands opening and closing, her face the picture of Chinese beauty, despite the brilliant ring of purple around her neck that Liz almost mistook for a piece of jewelry. Her dress, white as her snow-colored skin, was sleeveless and ran down past her knees, where it turned blood red from her groin down, sticky clotted blood painting the inside of her thighs and legs, dribbling down to her bare feet. Bending her head at an odd angle, the specter leaned forward, opening her mouth wider than should be possible.
Delicately, with one gigantic hand, she reached into her mouth and slowly began easing a long strand of bent copper from her throat, bits of torn flesh embedded on the rusted length, until she now held a two-and-a-half-foot length of bent wire, ending in a hook. With the coat hanger pulled from her throat, the ghosts head flopped from side to side, lolling about wildly as she moved on unsteady legs closer to Liz.
“He’s mine… all mine…” She croaked, reaching out one massive hand towards Fred while whipping the metal cord once more at Liz, driving her back. “My precious Guzman, finally come back for me…”
“That’s not your lover!” Liz screamed, ducking down to scoop up her camcorder and flashlight. “That’s not him at all!”
“Guzman… come to join our family.” The spirit cooed, wrapping one hand lightly around Fred’s throat, squeezing slowly. “So many children in need of a father… so lonely without you… you ran away when I needed you, but I forgive you… you came back to me…”
Liz could only shudder as she felt the spidery ice-cold fingers dance along with her back, hands grabbing her arms and holding them out and away from her body, two hands snaking around her throat from behind. Cold breath filled her ear, softly murmuring as Liz struggled to breathe.
“Mama will take care of us, Liz, Mama, and Papa will always take care of us,” Claire whispered, shaking Liz back and forth as she wrung the life from her body. “They always care for their children.”
CREDIT :Nicholas Paschall
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