A Halloween Story! The Dead Won't Hurt You!

Last week, as I prepared to start my terrorizing novel, The Tempters, I concluded that the best horror stories are those written about ordinary people in ordinary places. To live in a place where the earth smells of damp berries and juniper, a scent sweeter than the most valuable cologne, or where the sky, with its offerings of millions of twinkling lights just out of reach of its inhabitants, isn't ordinary to most people I suppose, but to the people of my home town, Change Islands, NL, the breathtaking beauty of the island, is commonplace.

It is in this speck of heaven on earth that my story takes place.  It happened to someone just like me-or you.  After all, who is to say that if something can be imagined, it can't also be true?  This is a story about ordinary kids who did an ordinary thing  and-you can judge this for yourself-extraordinary ( or maybe even more frightening-ordinary) things happened to them!

Here it is.  Enjoy!

“The Dead won’t hurt you, ‘tis the living you got to watch out for.”  It is what my pop always said. I kept that in my mind that evening as we picked our way along the rocky path leading down to the valley below.  I shifted my load a little.  It wasn’t heavy, just clumsy.  A big pillowcase full of just about everything I needed for a night outside.   

It was October 30th, the day before Halloween.  Not a single breeze tickled the air except perhaps for the occasional one that ran like light fingerprints down my spine at the thought of what we were about to do.  

There is a flat, somewhat grassy area at the bottom of the valley.   That was our destination.  We had decided against plopping our tent in the middle of the white marble stones that were set up like some giant board game.  That had been the original plan.  Spending the night in the actual grave yard, no matter how many times my pop had reassured me that “The dead won’t hurt ya" terrified me so I convinced the others to revise out of "respect for the dead."  They fell for it.

Unfortunately, the lack of wind, worked against us.  Mom had been crazy against the idea and said if there was any chance we could blow off the cliff there was no way we could go.  I know she wanted to stop me anyway and I wish she had but a dare was a dare and with her reluctant permission I trudged slowly in my rubber boots to the spot we thought it best to set up.

Pop pop pop, the boys tent went up, followed by the girls’.  Thud thud thud, Troy hammered the pegs in to the ground, bending several as they hit rock but managing to secure them after a bit.  Sleeping bags were spread inside and the door closed with a zip.  

A tiny sea beat against the rocks but it was half-assed, as though the ocean had given up, decided just not to bother today.  The sky darkened as the sun set and I sighed.  It was clear like July and my hopes of a sudden storm to end this crazy adventure, fizzled out.   I searched for an out, an idea, a way to escape while still saving face but I gave up too, just like the ocean had.

We spread about then, joking, laughing, gathering the wood for our fire.  Driftwood, dry and grey made the biggest part of the pile.  Along with some stallikons the boys had hauled in for several days before.  We would do a small fire, keep it burning as long as we could.  Roast marshmallows, wieners, and just put in time.  John would tell ghost stories.  He was the bravest and I shot him a look.  He was the reason we were here anyway.

The thing is, all this was about a dare.  It started when John dared David and his buddies to walk the top rail of the causeway.  Then as David hopped down, the last of his friends to succeed, he had looked at me, eyes squinting, his face triumphant because he knew what he would dare.  Ever since I had told Miss Power about his cheating off me on that science quiz, he wanted to get me back.  And he also knew what my biggest fear was.  And that’s when he made said it.

“I dare you to spend Halloween night in the cemetery.”

The boys had been excited and even my best friend Melanie seemed totally on board with the idea.  They were relieved that this was all they were asking.  That’s why we were here.  That’s why we were alone, on the side of a cliff,  spending the nightWe did whittle it down to the night before Halloween, and as I said, out of respect(yeah, right, out of absolute terror)  just outside the cemetery though close enough to it to count.

We sat in a “U” around the fire, facing the graveyard.  This may have been accidental on the part of the others but for me it was entirely strategic.  I figured if the zombies rose out of their dirt graves and took to chasing us I would at least have the advantage of seeing them in time to run.  

Flankers popped and cracked into the sky and we were settled on the ground, as the heated flames warmed the front of us and the cool air brushed against our backs.  

It was calm and John was telling us about zombies.  For some odd reason, zombies didn’t frighten me.  

 Perhaps all the zombie games I had played online had desensitized me to them.  And as he talked about worms coming out of their ears and them chasing after us for our brains, I found myself chewing on a blackened weiner and totally forgetting where we were.

 I was anxious for midnight.  We had hours to kill until then.  But we had agreed, had agreed this was the best time to go into our tents and sleep.

 To make a short story long, is easy.  To make this story short, that’s hard.  Perhaps because there aren't words or understanding to quite explain what happened.  But without a lot of words, it becomes less than what it was. 
Perhaps a less spooky night could not have been found to have such an adventure.  I smiled at the thought and looked at the ocean, where a moment or so ago there had  been nothing but a round red moon suspended there, surrounded by a million or ten fractures of light. 

It was already there and I gasped at the oddness of what I was seeing.  The moon and the stars now had company and it was a stranger.  It was fog....like.  You see, it  was square and almost formed, not loose and floaty like the fog.  It moved.  Rather quickly.  Drifting forward, not as a gaseous mist but as a block of pure black.  blacker than lassy,  dark as coal.  Black as...black as death.  It chomped forward swallowing the light of the moon and the stars like some corporeal video game character.  Chomp chomp it came, physical, solid, yet, fog-like too.  I could hear the cricket-like sound of its movements.  Chomp chomp chomp.   I stared at it for a brief moment, dumfounded.  The storm I had hoped for to put an end to our adventure was coming.  And now, I wished, with a strange and familiar intuition, that it would just go away.

Troy saw it first after me and he sat up and pointed, mouth open like a cobra about to strike.  Then he shut it fast so that I heard his teeth clack closed.  Without taking his eyes off the thing, he knocked John on the shoulder with a closed fist.  John was pulling a marshmallow off a stick and burned his finger, stuck it in his mouth and looked at where Troy pointed.  He pulled his finger out, mimicking John's cobra face and dropped the stick back into the fire. 

Melanie jumped seeing it exactly at the same time as John.  She screamed .  We all jumped ready to run as though the scream was the gunfire at the beginning of a race.  But time had stalled where we stood and sped up for that black block of darkness.  It caught up to us, as though the scream had been a call to it, like a whistle is to a runaway dog.
I know now, that if absolute dread were a physical thing, it would feel like someone had tied your arms and legs to your torso and fastened your legs together.  Immobilized,  I watched the fog pull up just short of us and we backed up as one unit, as uniform as the square of black hell that moved over and around us until we were enveloped in its evil cold.   

Then the misery came.  Simultaneously, fear and tears formed.  A fear and a misery that was unbearable.  Then we were all one.  I could feel every emotion of the entire group and I knew also that they could feel mine. We could not read each others thoughts, that wasn't quite it but we knew without doubt the absolute agony each of us was in and it combined with what felt like the fearful misery of all of the souls of humankind.  It was black cold and I knew then that they had gotten it all wrong.  Hell was not a hot inferno of brimstone and flame but a cold deep grave of misery and dread.  And we were, without actually being dead, in its eternal depths.

The black was black and my eyes could see nothing.  But I could sense everything.  Every hair on my body was standing on end and I felt the tiniest rub of some sort of something against my face.  It was like the cold kiss of a demon and I shuddered from top to bottom and struggled to bring thought through the feeling.  Then another and another tapped its demonic lips on any exposed skin, my hands, my legs where the socks had ridden down from the ankles.  I felt I was bleeding from those excruciating touches and I could not only feel my pain but the pain of those who were with me.  Melanie and Troy and John were experiencing the same agony.  But worse than the cold, worse than the black, even more terrifying was the inexplicable feeling that this torture and torment would go on for eternity.

The voices started next.  I felt them too.  Ethereal and white they called and whispered and my heart pounded and I knew I was still alive.  My consciousness could not accept that there was more.  That it was possible for there to be more  pain than what I was feeling combined with all of the pain of the entire earth.  My cheeks stung with tears and they were kissed them away with the freezing lips of my tormentors.    The voices plummeted me even deeper into absolute despair and I knew then, what they wanted.  

I tried not to go.  I couldn't take anymore.  I fought to will myself to stay exactly where I was because I was afraid it would get worse.  And I could feel others here, John, Melanie and Troy.  I could feel their misery and it exacerbated mine but if any comfort could be found in that deep dark abyss of horror, it was at least some solace, that I was not alone.   

But I couldn’t do it.  I could not resist and as though moved by some force so large, so powerful, it could pull me through the very doors of hell, my legs started to move of their own volition.  One up, tromp, the other up, tromp, my rubber boots made noise in the blackness and agitated beyond all human comprehension, I gave up my resistance.  Now, robbed, even of our own will,  completely defeated, our collective minds wondered what we had done that was so horrible, that we had ended up in this icy Hades.

The only thing that gave me any hope, and a glimmer so small as to hardly be worth a mention, was that the sound of my rubber boots marching was echoed by three other pairs.  Misery loves company but attached to each of our relief, so that it became as much of a horror as the black was, clung an overwhelming sense of guilt that we were happier heading to our ultimate terror if we were taking our friends with us.

The voices grew louder, like whistling through tin, they shrilled and called, beckoning us and in the black we stumbled, though none of us fell, single file through the rocks and grass.  I knew where we were headed, though there was no real sense of direction.   And my heart pumped in my ears, a beat like a native drum, and though my eyes couldn’t see yet, our collective consciousness knew without doubt that those voices were bringing us where we had all been afraid to go, into the graveyard.  The ocean would have been my preference.

The stones weren’t the pieces in the game, we were, as we were pulled, tromp, crunch, tread, still tortured by needles of cold and the agony of evil.  My hand banged off something hard and I glanced down at it, surprised that I could see the outline of the stone.  And while I can’t say my fear receded, I was able to think again.  Dark emotion was no longer the overwhelming crux of my existence.

The pain and misery vanished.  Relief washed over me for a mere moment before I realised that now I couldn’t feel the presence of my friends. I looked back, too mesmerized by all that was happening to be grateful for the free will I had suddenly regained that enabled me to think. 

That was when I saw them step, eyes ablaze with horror, one after the other, Troy, Melanie and John, out of the block of black icy hell that stopped exactly at the edge of the moonlit graveyard.

Then the voices started again.  We looked around, looking for the source of them.  And this time, of our own free will, and without speaking(afraid to use our own voices yet) we picked our way through the maze of stones.  I had somehow become the unelected leader, just by virtue of being in the front.  I walked solely from intuition.  

We were still scared but it was not the mind numbing misery that we had felt in the cloud of black, but a normal, human, adrenaline squirting, heart-pumping fear.  

And then, standing in front of us, as clear as day, was a pure white block of light the size of the kitchen in my house.  It too was solid in form but it looked warm and inviting and the fear dissipated as my feet, of my own free will, stepped into it.  I heard the others follow and our minds again gathered as one in a pure gift of emotion.  This time though, the emotion was deepest bliss.  

It’s not fun to wake up in a cemetery.   

But I guess it's better than waking up dead.

It took me a moment to adjust.  The sun was breaking to the east and the wind had picked up overnight.  I shivered a little from the cold and I hurt all over.  My hands had little bruises all over them and when I touched my face it was tender as well.  

Memory swept over me like one of the heavy waves that battered the shore just off to the left.  The wind had picked up.   I sat up and glanced at what I was leaning on.  It was a grave marker and the name it was my mother’s maiden name, perhaps some long ago relative.  I got up quickly.

“What the devil happened last night?” Troy had found his voice and was sitting up.  

"Read the stone"  I told him.   He looked at the grave marker that had been his pillow for the night, it was slightly askew and he tilted his head.

 “Wow, his last name is the same as mine!”  His face had slight purplish marks on it and I imagined I looked much the same. 

“I think this one is kin to me too”! Melanie said, “she has the same name as my grandmother on Dad’s side. She got up slowly, and looked at the marks on her hands, touching one and wincing as she did.  Her eyes lifted and met mine.

 What about you John?” and I wondered at how calmly we were discussing the graves we had slept on, and not talking about how we had come to be on them in the first place.

“Well I slept on a stranger,” he joked, and we all laughed...just a bit.  We-the other three of us-glanced at each other...see there had been rumours that perhaps his father wasn't actually his father so we knew that it was just possible...well I'll leave it at that.  Could just be gossip, you knows how it is in small towns.

“What happened?” I asked and we all looked at each other.  Troy shrugged his shoulders.  "Perhaps we had a dream."   But our bruised faces and hands reminded us that dreams don't dent you like a tin can and leave you to sleep in a cemetery.
“Is it safe to leave?” Melanie was standing, looking towards where the black cloud had been.  There was no sign of it at all, the morning full of juniper-scented sea-salted air. 

“ I think so.” I said as I lead the way towards the camp.  It was surreal to take this walk back, and remember how we had walked in complete abject misery over the path the night before.

The fire was a blackened reminder of the night and we gathered our things careful, furtive glances towards the sea from where our hell had drifted and we were walking back the path, dare completed and a pact to never give or accept another dare made.

And another pact was made as well.  To never ever tell what had happened.  Nobody would believe it and neither of us quite had the words anyway.

As we got to the top of the hill, and started down the other side, our bags heavy, Troy looked at me and asked again, still regarding me it seemed, as some sort of leader.

“What happened?” and two additional pairs of confused eyes joined his and I looked away. 
“I don’t know, I wish I did.” I said with a big sigh.  I looked at the white marble stones, sparkling in the brand new sunrise.

“Guess Pop was right.  The dead won’t hurt you.”

And in a strange déjà vu, our feelings connected one last time and we knew, without doubt, that in our case, it was the dead that had most likely saved us.

 The End.