A walk in a graveyard

This little story happened during my third year in college.  It was the first year after I moved from the small commuter college to the main campus.  I was a standing Junior.  My grades weren’t great but I was passing.  I was a major in both Physics and Chemistry.  Right now to this very day that last statement sounds crazy especially since this university wasn’t particularly strong in either discipline.  It was true none the less.

I had quickly developed what was for me a large circle of friends.  We gathered a couple or three times a week for parties which were largely conversations.  Once though that first semester there had been strong drink.  That last alcohol ridden event happened later than this story.  Those conversations on occasion would turn to things spiritual.  There was a religious/new age flare to this group.  I was the only hard science or math major in the group.  One of the steady members of the group, a girl named Lisa, had a pressing interest in the world of the spirit.  She had a strong personality.  She was also an attractive woman.  My mother once described her as striking.

Almost everyday that year I walked passed the cemetery that was located near the center north side of campus.  The campus had built up around it over the years so that the cemetery was surrounded on three sides.  While it was still warm I would some times walk through following the road that entered and exited through the main drag that ran through campus.  During the warm time of year that road would be packed with traffic but by the time I left that campus through traffic had been stopped.  The problem was too, many drunken college students I think.

That cemetery had a few remarkable stones that dated back to the 1860s.  One in particular whose inscription was still clear to the eye laid flat.  I understood that this style of stone dated back to old Europe.  The stone had been laid that way so as to trap the dead within after all, we didn’t want mom or dad crawling out and wandering around.  Part of the inscription read:  She did not dieth, but only sleepth.  I though it was cool and showed it first to two of my male friends, John and William.  I think they were only mildly impressed, I mean it was just an old stone after all.  But as Halloween approached we got it into our heads that it might be cool to take the girls there, sort of as a freaky spooky Halloween walk.

I guess now that sounds a little rapey but that wasn’t our intention.  Of the six of us only two were dating.  That was John and Debra.  Calling it dating was a stretch though as she was born again and engaged.  The whole relationship would turn out to be a figment of John’s imagination, I think or a hoax maybe.

It was that dark holiday after sunset when we decided to take that nighttime graveyard walk.  It was a small party when the idea was suggested.  The event was alcohol and drug free.  It was festive.  I remember laughter.  I think I was the one who first brought up the idea saying something like “This would be a proper night for a cemetery walk.  It would soon be too cold for out door type activities.”   Someone else, William I think said something like “It is Halloween after all.”  He had this shy self deprecating smile that simply melted most girls hearts.  No one wanted to appear superstitious as we were college students after all.  Right at this second, as I write this, I believe that there were six of us but there might have been seven.  I believe I know that Donna or Laura were there but both might have been actually.

It was a warm late October night and that end of the campus was well lit so the footing was sure.  The graveyard was pretty close to the Quad were we all roomed.  It took about ten or fifteen minutes at a casual pace once we got outside to get to the east gate.  The conversation had slowed to quiet as we approached.  I don’t think there was a leader instead the course was chosen in some way that was quiet and almost organic.  In the beginning we stayed on the paved road that made a safe path through the oldest part.  This is were John had an attack of apoplexy over what he thought was a set of satanic symbols.  I can still here his hushed voice ridden with fear uttering the phrase “Satanic sigil!”  It is comical now but at the time I remember the icy chill that jumped up my spine when he spoke.  It took me about three minutes to cypher, in the dark, that the symbol was an eastern star.  I come from a family with a few masons as members and have a great aunt that was at the time in some sort of a weird dispute with the eastern stars so I felt reassured.  I remember the sound of my voice, the ridicule and sarcasm as I said, “Geez John, that’s an eastern star.”  I regret that tone today.

We didn’t have a path planned.  It was really more of a wandering that an established expedition.  John was at the front with Debra on his right and Laura, I think, on his left when he stepped into the graveyard proper walking in between the plots.  William, Lisa and I followed with Donna I believe.  I have a superstition.  I have had it since my first funeral at the age of 6.  I don’t like stepping on people.  Yes I know they’re dead and can’t feel it but I still don’t like to do it.  I might have said something to the effect, “I hate stepping on people” or something like that.  Being that this was the case I moved a bit slower.  It took time to pick your way through a graveyard with this type of a mind set.  William, Lisa and Donna stayed closer to me as the distance between us and the first three grew slowly.  Come to think about it now, the clusters of three up front and four in the back must have been for security or reassurance.  I think that graveyard walk was a lot more tense that it appeared to me at the time.

The Rec center some 20 or 30 yards to the east was well lighted and the main drag through campus was also well lighted.  This meant that the little road that traveled through the campus end of the cemetery was well lighted through there were areas of dark.  When John decided to walk between the graves and deeper into the cemetery to the north the light became patchy at best.  I mean that if you were walking you could find safe footing but there were lots of shadows.  The two groups, John, Debra and Laura up at the front and the rest of us some 20 feet back were having our own individual quiet conversations.  This created a quiet comfortable human murmur but I wasn’t really paying attention.   I was concerned with the people that lay under ground and not stepping in them.

It was nothing more than dumb luck really with the light like it was and my superstitious distraction.  The light had to be just right and the timing of when I looked up.  It was freaky really even when I think about it now.  What are the odds?  For as I looked up I saw two things almost simultaneously.  The first thing was Debra and Laura.  They said nothing.  They didn’t scream.  They simply turned around and took off at a full sprint.  I have never seen anything like that before or since until the moment of this writing.  There was no gaining speed they started at top speed.  The second thing I saw was John looking over his shoulder with a puzzled expression.  He was in mid stride his left foot heading for the ground.  The light must have been just right for there was no ground where John’s foot intended to land.  Instead there was an open grave.  William and I each caught one of the girls.  It was like being struck by a medicine ball.  If either of us would have been a shade smaller the impact would have winded us.  At the same moment I yelled at John, “OPEN GRAVE!” 

The warning shout was enough and John avoided stepping into the open grave.  He could have seriously injured himself.  He quickly joined the rest of us.  Honestly, at that moment, I don’t think any single member of the group wanted to be very far away from the rest.  That put a chill over the party I must say.  I remember some one saying over and over something close to “Please be empty please be empty.”   This phrase seemed to affect everyone.  She, who I believe was Debra, was pretty upset.  So was Laura but she simply huddled close to William like a soaked little bird seeking shelter from the rain against the bowl of a tree.  A that moment I determined to check the hole out and quickly walked up to it and crouched down and looked inside.  If the image of skeletal hands reaching out, grabbing me by the head and pulling me in just flashed through your mind’s eye that’s okay because it flashed through mind both then and now.

“Its empty,” yelled over my shoulder to the others.

I stood up quickly and walked back to the others before any had the opportunity to examine the grave themselves.  I carefully and quickly informed them again that the grave was empty.  They or We were all shook up pretty good.  Debra and Laura had become obviously quite uncomfortable.  John also had taken a pale hue and seemed suddenly less excited about the whole idea.  I didn’t wait and suggested that we head back to the dorm.  I don’t recall if  that night was ever mentioned again by any of us.  Well except me, right now for I have kept it secret over these last 33 or 34 years and that secret is, the grave wasn’t empty.  Only Meta had heard this story -previously and now you know it too.

Happy Halloween

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