And here’s a Halloween story I wrote some years back while living in Davis . . .
A Hallowe’en Story
Alex C. Telander
It’s been said that dead men tell no tales, but on the night of Hallowe’en in the year 2006, I was presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Let me set the scene a little.
The night of October 31st— a Tuesday – was a little cooler than usual for that time of year in Davis. With the usual Indian summer extending to the end of October, temperatures had been pretty average: some days quite hot, others just warm – with cool nights and cold mornings. But the day of the 31st began icy and stayed cold all day, along an incessant gusting cold wind from the Sierra mountains, it was a day best spent indoors by a warm fire with hot apple cider. Sadly I spent it researching my next novel at the Yolo county library, where the heater had decided to break down for the day: I spent it in a jacket and scarf, huddled over old dusty books and trying not to fog up my glasses with my own breath.
At six o’clock the library closed, and I was ushered into the dark and freezing cold, my only transportation being my bike. The ten minute ride home was agony, my hands numb blocks when I locked the bike up at my home.
It was then that I heard a strange whistling in the air, a whistling I could only describe as eerie on this night of all nights. Anyone else would’ve passed it off as something trivial, the sound of the wind blowing through a bench or crushed plastic cup. I wasn’t so sure, feeling the whistle whine in my ears. I looked across the street at the cemetery where a fog had already begun forming. It acted like an animal, alive and moving, undulating over the grave stones and around the trunks of the trees, through the bushes like they didn’t exist. As I stood watching, it actually grew in size and thickness, rendering itself further opaque.
I looked to the edges of the cemetery, at the streets bordering the hallowed grounds, and gasped at how there wasn’t fog anywhere else: it was solely confined within the borders of the place of the dead. I shivered uncontrollably. Part of my mind – the scientific one – told me it was just a combination of the vegetation and the sinking depth of the graveyard, the moisture in the soil; a number of factors all contributing to the perfectly plausible, logical, and scientifically explainable existence of this fog. But another part of my mind – a deeper, ancient part, harking back to the days of humanity’s ancestry – said it was something else entirely, something unnatural and best left alone.
As I quickly turned away from the cemetery and fumbled to unlock the door and get inside my warm abode, I knew then this night was to hold up to its name: the night when people hide inside their homes, because uncommon things are about.
After a quick microwave dinner and feeding my mangy cat, I returned to the books with a mighty mug of cider by my side. I was currently entrenched in the intricacies of the Knights Templar when the whistling picked up again, louder this time.
My cat left her food suddenly for the bedroom where she disappeared beneath my bed – her usual haunt, but I was made of stronger stuff. Taking a strong draught of my cider, I walked over to the window and looked out to the cemetery once more – the street now a noticeable and comforting barrier between me and this land of rotting corpses. That’s all there was out there, I told myself: the dead in different stages of decay, some young, some old, but all irrevocably dead.
The fog now lay upon the entire graveyard like a blanket of gray clouds, much like a sea in some ways, for it undulated writhed with movement and life. A sight to behold, I thought to myself, from my safe confines. Then I saw a light appear amidst the dense fog, increasing in luminosity and flickering, indicating it was a natural flame – a candle or torch.
I felt my mug of cider sliding between my fingers and gripped it harder, using my other hand to support it. I noticed that both hands were shaking. This did not bode well. I put the mug down on my coffee table and looked to the cemetery again.
The light was still, brighter and bigger now, waving in a sensual dance, hypnotizing and paralyzing. I couldn’t break away, feeling a spell cast over me at this, this . . . well apparition, for wont of a better word.
Its vibrancy began to weaken, as the flame shrank in size, and in my conscious mind I felt a beckoning command, not specifically spoken, but more a primeval command that was hard to ignore. It was a feeling I’ve never had before nor since. But I’d read enough literature about this infamous night to know better. I forced my mind clear, grasping my trusty mug and taking another long draught. I returned to fourteenth century Europe and those great protectors of Christianity, seeking solace in this religion I had no faith in.
The flame and whistling gone, I was appeased and occupied, for a while.
A few hours later I was in bed, surrounded by blankets, warmth and comfort. The cat was in a similar position below: I could hear her purring in a pleasured sleep and felt myself imitating her. Within ten minutes I was deep in slumber.
Some time later, I’m still not sure how much, I found myself in my pajamas in the cold cold night, the wind passing through the thin material and raising goose bumps on ever inch of my body. I opened my eyes to find myself just feet away from the east wall of the cemetery. I turned and looked behind me at my home, all dark and empty looking. The front door was wide open, my cat standing in the doorway meowing at me. I couldn’t hear her over the roar of the wind and the familiar whistling now at a deafening level. The protective barrier of the street was no longer doing its job.
I felt paralyzed like before, my legs locked in place. When I tried to move I felt nothing down there. I reached and gripped my thighs, digging my nails in (I would find semicircular groves carved into my flesh the following day), but still had no feeling. I turned back and through the iron fence saw the sinuous flame, now larger than ever, the beckoning tone in my head almost a physical tugging.
Feeling miraculously returned to my legs, but I knew if I tried to cross the street, I would lose all feeling again. There was only one direction I could go, so I headed for the open gateway, reading the inscription on the one of the stone fence posts:
I knew the oldest grave was dated at 1855; I also knew whatever I was going to find within the fog, the origin of that live flame, was going to be much older; words like ancient, primordial, and Neolithic came to mind.
As I entered the boundaries of the cemetery I heard voices, three or four of them, mumbling and unclear in the fog. Having gained full control of my body, I immediately strayed from the path and made my way behind trees and tall gravestones, crouching down and even crawling in some cases. Along with my uncontrollable fear, undeniably, my interest had been piqued. I wanted to know from what supernatural causality these voices were coming from.
The fog grew thicker the closer I got, until I could barely make out the next gravestone in front of me. I reached out for the cold granite or the rough trunk, using them as crutches, no longer crawling, but blindly walking into I didn’t know what.
The fog can play tricks on you, not just with light, but also with sound, and I was certainly a victim of this on that night.
One moment the voices were beside me, in reaching distance; then far away and distant; then somehow either side of me. All I could do was plough ahead to where I originally thought the sounds had come from and hope I would find what I was looking for.
Then I found it: the edge of the fog, possibly the boundary from this world to another? The voices were now louder and clear, guttural and croaky. There was little to distinguish one from the other except for slight cadences in the sounds. I could distinctly make out four voices, all men.
I found the nearest gravestone and fell to my knees, bringing my head close the ground: I could smell the moist grass, the fresh soil – I didn’t want to know how recently this grave had been filled. I crawled inch by inch under the cover of the voices, until my head penetrated the edge of the fog and I found myself looking on a most peculiar and frightful scene.
Relatively well hidden by the side of the headstone, I peered up at this strange tableau: four people arranged around a bright and tall yellow flame. From this angle I could see each of their faces, and held back an audible gasp: they were all dead, long dead, in a severe state of decay: one had a black socket for an eye; the other a hanging flap of gray skin on one cheek; another with the side of his jaw exposed, black gums and dirty teeth fully visible; the last seemed quite human except for the absence of a nose, there was just a dark opening with hanging bits of tissue. What made the scene bizarre and almost laughable was that they were engaged in conversation, as if this were a regular weekly meeting, nothing out of the ordinary to it. It was when I began listening to what they were talking about that my blood turned cold and my body seized up.
“There I was, driving 90 miles an hour, in the pouring rain, and out of the dark comes this big rig in my lane going along at the same speed, probably, and wham, I smashed through the windshield and found myself crushed and dead against the rig’s radiator,” said one dead man. “It’s the way I wanted to end it.”
“And how did you end up here?” asked another dead man.
“Don’t really know. Kind of blacked out after that and found myself in that grave over there,” the first dead man said, pointing into the fog.
“Mine was a little more flamboyant. I wanted to go out with a bang, and did! Threw myself off a ten-story building and did a belly-flop on the street below. There were a lot of screams and crying people – great audience,” said the second dead man. “Been here ever since, but it was well worth it.”
“I went for a more traditional ending,” said the third dead man who held his hands out to the flame, not feeling anything. “Took all the pills I could find in the house, every last one and washed it down with Drano. Hurt like the dickens for a long time, and then it all went black. Found myself six feet under in this place.”
The third dead man turned to the fourth who had yet to speak. “Last, but not least,” the dead man said.
The fourth dead man nodded, took an inexistent breath, and began the tale of his death.
“From a young age I’d had a fascination with knives, sharp objects, things that could cut. My favorite was the razor: so small, yet so deadly, so final. I used to tape ‘em to my fingers, kinda like a real life Freddy Krueger deal. I tried it on trees first, then went to small animals, and then bigger and bigger animals. It was then people started finding out, so I had to be more discreet. The day I gave five slashes to my neighbors throat and watched her slowly die, I knew I didn’t have much time.
“I made a boiling hot bath and got in. I could feel my body dying with the heat, my insides giving up. I still had the razors on both hands. First I made lots of deep cuts into my wrists, and then I just started cutting all over me, relishing the pain and the heat, until it all mixed together. It was pretty amazing. Then I died. Now, here I am.”
I put my hand over my mouth, trying to hold back a roar of terror, as well as a gurgitation of revulsion. I knew if I made a sound I wouldn’t last long. I drew back a little, staring at the look on the faces of the dead men: the three that had just heard the story were shocked, the fourth wore a smile on his face. It made me shiver.
Each dead man looked at the other and said “See you next year” in turn. Then they looked at the flame and all blew in unison. From their mouths came the dense fog, encapsulating the flame, shrinking it, then extinguishing it.
I felt the heat now gone, the cold falling on me like an invisible wave. I pulled back still further as they all stood up. They each turned away and began walking into the fog. Soon I was alone, but still I did not move, not knowing if they might be somewhere out there, waiting for me.
What seemed like half an hour later, as I’d been watching the fog begin to thin and slowly dissipate, I finally stood up and made my way back to the edge of the cemetery. My feet no longer felt part of my body, as I crossed the dark and empty street. I knew not what hour it was, but there was no a single soul about.
As I reached the open doorway of my house, I turned and looked back at the cemetery to discover the fog completely gone. It looked quite ordinary and harmless now, for a cemetery.
I turned and almost tripped over my cat as I walked into my house. I picked her up and held her closed, feeling her hot body begin to warm mine. I closed and engaged all three locks on the door. I set the cat down on the floor, expecting her to disappear beneath the bed, but she immediately hopped up onto it. I got in beneath the blankets and she came over and sat on my chest, purring reassuringly. It was uncanny, but I felt comforted by my cat, and she helped me get to sleep with the warm vibrations on my chest. I only hoped I wouldn’t be making any more visits to the graveyard this night. I looked at the bedside clock and saw it was past midnight.
The following morning I was awoken by the cat getting off my chest. I pulled the blankets back and stared at my muddy feet. What I hoped had been a horrible dream came to reality.
I decided to get to the bottom of it, put on warm clothes and headed across the street. It was overcast, with a light mist hanging in the air, but nothing like the heavy fog of the night before; by noon it would burn off and be a warm fall day.
It took me some time to trace my steps to the spot. I could make out four distinct indentations in the ground where four dead men might have sat. I walked over to the familiar gravestone and was able to make out the disturbed earth from my crawling about.
I began searching every grave in the cemetery. I was alone and knew I wouldn’t be disturbed at this hour. It was in the older part of the cemetery that I found them. They were next to each other, four of them, in a row. Each bore a small headstone with R.I.P. carved into each, but no name or inscription. In these graves lay four unknown men. I stared at the freshly turned earth in each of the graves, and wondered if the groundskeeper would notice. Maybe this was one day of the year when he chose not to come to the cemetery.
I walked away from the unknown graves with thoughts of where I’d be next Hallowe’en. I knew one thing: it wouldn’t be here.