In a Cemetery on Halloween Night ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This short story was published in Creaky Door Magazine and is a re-post on my website.)
When we were younger, the three of us were fascinated by the subject of death. We had lengthy discussions about the possibility of a continued existence after life has ended. We all wanted to believe in such an existence. Since Halloween is the one day in the year that the veil between the living and the dead is supposed to be at its most transparent, we decided to put all talk aside and conduct a little experiment.
There were no fewer than eighteen cemeteries in our county, some of them tucked away in forgotten corners. Each of the three of us would select a cemetery to spend the night in—the night of October thirty-first. We believed it was important for each of us to be alone, as spirits were more likely to make themselves known to an individual rather than to a pair or a group. We would meet the next evening and discuss our experiences. We hoped that at least one of us would have the proof we longed for.
I chose the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost because I remembered my grandmother telling me when I was a child that some of her family were buried there, and I also had a vague recollection of being there a time or two with my grandparents when I was in grade school.
It was a once-fine cemetery that had fallen out of vogue about a hundred years ago. It contained many interesting mausoleums, above-ground crypts, stones and monuments. Some of the illustrious (but now forgotten) inhabitants of the cemetery included governors of the state and their “consorts,” a United States senator or two, a celebrated writer (all of his books out of print for fifty years), several war heroes, an actress who appeared on the stage in both New York and London, and a notorious multiple murderer. In checking the records, I discovered that the cemetery had not received a newly deceased person in almost fifty years.
In the early evening of October thirty-first, I drove my car out into the country. I made sure I knew the way before I started and found the cemetery without any trouble. I parked the car in a low spot where it couldn’t be seen from the road (if anybody happened to be passing by, which was unlikely), and went in. There was an iron fence all the way around the cemetery that had fallen down in places. Nobody who wanted in was going to be kept out. I walked around for a while, taking in the sights as much as I could before it was too dark to see.
I found a good place under a big maple tree to sit down where the ground was covered with fragrant, dry leaves. The spot had the advantage of making me feel safe from anything or anybody that might approach me in the dark, so I planned on staying there most of the night until daylight when I would get back into my car and go home again. I took the things out of my backpack that I had brought—a flashlight, some drinking water and snacks, a lightweight blanket, a paperback book in case I became bored with the whole scene—and as I made myself comfortable on the ground under the tree, I realized just how peaceful and lonely an abandoned country cemetery is on a beautiful autumn evening.
I sat with my back against the tree as night came on. I wasn’t especially afraid of the dark but I had to admit that every sound I heard made my heart beat a little faster. Was the snap of a twig or the crunch of leaves someone—or something—coming toward me? What if I really did have an encounter with a spirit of some kind? Would my nerve fail me? Whatever happened, I promised myself that I would leave and go home if the situation became too unpleasant.
Once when I heard a sudden rustling sound right above my head, I jumped up with a little yell, ready to defend myself. When I realized that it had only been an owl—in fact, a pair of owls—I felt a little foolish and was glad nobody was there to see how skittish I was.
I sat underneath the tree for what seemed several hours. I had to get up several times to get the circulation going in my legs and to keep warm. The balmy evening had turned into a chilly night. I was a little disappointed—but not altogether surprised—to see that a country cemetery on Halloween night is the same as on any other night. The dead are sleeping peacefully and there is nothing to be seen or felt. The only thing I was sure of was that it was without a doubt the loneliest place I had ever spent a night in.
When I looked at my watch and saw it was only a few minutes before midnight, I longed to go home and go to bed, but I didn’t. I just didn’t want the night to end that way, with my leaving long before I was supposed to because I wasn’t having any fun. Instead I wrapped myself in my blanket like a cocoon and laid down on the bed of leaves with my head a couple feet from the tree. If I could spend a few hours sleeping, it would be dawn when I woke up and I could go home and have a good breakfast and sleep until noon.
I was more tired than I thought and lying on the ground was more comfortable than I expected it to be. In a very short time I was lost in sleep.
I woke up long before dawn to what sounded like the strings being plucked on a musical instrument. I gasped, believing for a moment I was choking, and sat up.
“That’s Edith playing her ukulele,” a male voice said.
Since it was too dark for me to see anything, I reached for the flashlight but wasn’t able to find it. “Who’s there?” I asked.
“I’m right here,” the voice said.
I squinted into the darkness but couldn’t see anything. Then, as my eyes seemed to adjust a little bit, I could see what seemed to be the blurry outline of a person. After a few seconds I could see the features of a face—nose, eyes, a mouth—but they were very faint. I seemed to be looking at a person who was there and not there at the same time. Lit from within, he seemed to be, as when you put a small lighted candle inside a large paper sack.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I belong here,” he said. “You don’t.”
“She’s my daughter. Ukulele player extraordinaire.”
As soon as her name was mentioned, a small girl “lit up” beside the man. Apparently they were able to turn the light on and off at will.
“Is there anybody else here?” I asked stupidly, running my hand across my eyes.
“My son Tom is here and several others who are just now hearing about you.”
A boy of about fifteen made himself known to me the way Edith had done. Then several others behind him did the same thing. As I looked out at them over the man’s shoulder, I saw that they were not quite touching the ground but “floating” above it.
“What are you doing here?” the man asked. I could hear the amusement in his voice.
“Do you know what day it is?” I asked.
“Time doesn’t mean anything here,” he said.
“Well, it’s Halloween,” I said.
“Oh, that,” he said, as if disappointed.
“So you understand the significance of the holiday?”
“Yes. And you are one of those who believe that Halloween is the one day in the year you will be able to see for yourself that we exist.”
“It sounds rather silly when you put it that way.”
“Are there others here also?”
“No. I’m by myself.”
“Are you some kind of medium between the world of the living and the world of those who have passed over?”
“No! Oh, no!”
“Then why are you seeing us right now?”
“This isn’t really happening. It’s just a dream. I’m afraid I’ve fallen under the spell, the romance, of being in an old country cemetery on Halloween.”
There was a murmur among the spirits behind the man. He listened to them for a moment and then turned back to me.
“They’re saying we can’t let you go like this,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“They think, and I agree, that you’ll go back and spread the word that you’ve seen proof of life after death and then this place will never be the same. There’ll be people coming out here in droves—curiosity seekers like yourself and newspaper men and the like. I haven’t been dead so long that I don’t remember what people are like!”
“I won’t tell a soul.”
“No, indeed, you will not!”
I couldn’t help noticing that the spirits had increased in number. Before there were just a few but now there were dozens and behind them dozens and maybe hundreds more. I began to feel a little afraid at what they were going to do to me.
“Why are there so many of you here?” I asked.
“They all want to get a look at you,” he said.
“That’s not what I mean. Why haven’t you moved on in the spirit world? Do you have to stay here because this is where your bodies are interred?”
I heard faint laughter but couldn’t see who was doing the laughing.
“Of course not,” he said. “We’re everywhere. We can go wherever we want. There are no restrictions. That’s what being a spirit is. Some choose to stay here because their loved ones are here; others don’t want to leave because they’ve been here so long they don’t remember any other place.”
“You don’t like living people like me coming around bothering you, do you?”
“Most spirits choose to remain solitary or with other spirits. We would prefer that you left us alone. Nothing good comes out of it for us when you try to prove that we exist.”
“So, are you going to scare me to death so I won’t go back and tell people that I’ve seen you?”
“No, I have to tell you that a spirit can’t kill a living person unless it’s by suggestion. I’ve also heard of spirits causing heavy objects to fall on living people, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
“Well, I think I’ll get into my car now and drive home, then, if it’s all the same to you. And I promise you I’ll forget I was ever here.”
“You’ll go back to sleep. You’ve never really woken up. At dawn you’ll wake up and leave this place. You’ll forget any of this ever happened. You’ll have nothing to report to your friends.”
“I won’t remember any of this,” I said, “because it’s a dream and I never remember dreams after I wake up.”
Just as the sun was coming up I awoke to the enthusiastic singing of birds. As I stood up from my bed of leaves and folded my blanket, I was relieved that morning had arrived, I had survived the night intact and it was time to go home. I had done what I said I would do, which was spend Halloween night alone in a country cemetery. I wondered if my friends had fared as well as I had.
I walked to my car, started the engine, and turned on the heater. By the time I got out to the highway, morning was well on its way and the sky a brilliant autumnal blue.
I didn’t see the deer that came rushing out of the brush toward me like the angel of death. All I saw of it was its back legs as it sailed over the hood of my car. I suppose I had been thinking too much about bacon and pancakes and wasn’t paying as much attention to my driving as I should have. I swerved the car sharply to avoid colliding with the deer. Since I was going about sixty miles an hour, I lost control and ran the car off into a deep culvert that, lucky for me, had no water in it. I hit my head and was knocked out cold.
Somebody passing by on the highway saw my car in the ditch and called for help. An ambulance came and took me, still unconscious, to the hospital. The police had my car towed into town.
While I was still unconscious, I could hear a song being played on the ukulele. I didn’t know what the song was, but it was the same song over and over. A ukulele is not an instrument I’m used to hearing or would expect to hear. It forced me to recall in vivid detail the dream I was supposed to forget. When I regained consciousness, I asked for a pencil and some paper. I knew I had to write it down while I remembered it or risk losing it forever.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp