Michael Raymond Robinson
I knew the moon hovered somewhere above me, its pale light only shown briefly through the thick canopy that crept over the sky. Like bony fingers, the branches seemed intentionally to bow overhead, weaving themselves with their neighbors making a nearly impenetrable ceiling. The night chill sent shivers up my spine, I was unsure if it was due to the nature of the night, or an uncanny sense of the unnatural. My mind of course twisted all sounds and scents that the normally beautiful night air would offer. I jumped here and there, as the slightest breeze would rustle what undergrowth there was. Small animals must have been circling, snapping twigs, only to spark my dangerous imagination.
It was near midnight as I sat in the local cemetery that hidden deep within the forest. No one kept up with it anymore, as being littered with fallen branches, dead leaves, and plenty of undergrowth such as ferns, moss, and some tall grass. The cemetery itself was old and many of the graves were only marked with stones and discerned by sunken plots of earth where the bodies lay. As for now, I sat next to the founders of his small town, or actually, village would be a more apt title. Those who live near the ancestral resting place have been griping about vandals knocking down tombstones. “Sounds and screams,” they say emanate from the long forgotten plot of earth.
How I got wrangled into this, well that in itself is a tale for another time, but it has something to do with the badge and lowest on the proverbial ladder. Therefore, I grabbed the appropriate equipment. A thermos of coffee, three cold ham sandwiches, a baggy of chocolate bars, a bottle of cola, my deputy’s badge, a flashlight large enough to use as a baseball bat, two pair of handcuffs, and my 9 millimeter pistol. The last felt odd, because in the small neighborhood as Sybertown, I never needed to carry it. However, tonight, I might be running into the seedy type so I thought of safety. Well, to be honest, it just made me feel better sitting here in the dark carrying a weapon other than a flashlight.
Sybertown was nestled in the Allegheny River valley, just up the road from the small town of East Brady, and down the road from Brady’s Bend, the later, which was where I hailed from. Sybertown, was a small community to say the least and now more a summer home to vacationers. Thus, currently in October, there were few people, the road along the river bore no street lamps, and most homes were dark. Now, the cemetery itself was several hundreds of yards away from the river road, and at least one hundred yards into the forest. So imagine the darkest environment with out descending into the earth’s bowels and you would find me sitting.
I am not the cowardly type, but as I stated, my mind began to play tricks on me and I was hoping to be the victim of an elaborate hoax, a joke if you will on my behalf. Yet, I remained as brave as brave could be and only held my light, my fingers at the ready to turn it on. I did not want to give myself away too early should the vandals be arriving.
The wind picked up, the leaves above rustled loudly, and then something circled me to my left. I sensed it, the taller grass and ferns fluttered in agreement. I pointed the flashlight, hesitated, but still did not give into the fear. The wind shift, the trees bent the opposite. Something came up behind me; I twisted around, my eyesight doing its best to pierce the darkness. It was not that I heard anything, but I sensed it. The undergrowth was moving, but nothing revealed itself.
“No,” a scream echoed loudly from deep within the graveyard, now behind me.
My light flickered on, I pointed further into the trees, up the hillside, catching nothing. I stood, moved the light left, right, up, and down until I was satisfied. It must have been an owl, which was rational right. Yes, it had to be an owl. The click of the light going off echoed as I again sat, needing coffee.
“Help,” cried a young female. I stood, the thermos dropped to the ground, coffee draining into the earth. I took a few steps deeper into the woods, side stepping a sunken portion of the earth. The light brightened up the deeper forest for me. Once more, the illumination divulged not a thing. Still, could this be an owl? No, that was too clear it was a. . .
“Save me,” echoed the softer scream, as if it came from around me. I spun, the light pushing aside all the darkness around me, still there was nothing there. Now, every horror movie rushed through my mind. I cursed myself for allowing my mind to begin to draw parallels from the fiction world to where I now stood, but it did. I was breathing deeply, my heart was racing, and my sweaty palm clutched the flashlight as if it was a weapon of mass destruction. I was also aware that my right hand hovered only inches from handle of my pistol and in fact, I unsnapped the security strap.
Visions of vampires, werewolves, ghouls and zombies flooded my head. Now I flinched at every noise. Too, tell the truth I could have heard a cricket crawling on a stick at that moment. Rationally, I tried to calm myself as I circled my little picnic area randomly pointing the light at whatever sent me into shivers.
Consistently, nothing was seen, no vandals, no ghouls, nothing. Yet, there was something there, I just new it. The weeds were moving so subtly, as if something crept through them. I could feel it as each of the hairs on the nape of my neck stood literally on end. I began to calm down, blaming my overly active imagination on causing me a coronary at the age of thirty-three. I could see it now, in the headlines. “Cory Hampton scared himself to death on his assignment to ensnare vandals.”
I looked down at my now empty thermos. “Shit,” I cursed to the dead. “Now look at what you made me do damn it.”
I bent down, sliding the flashlight under my arm, picked up a soda and a chocolate bar. I opened the candy bar with my soda-filled left hand, and then stuck the smooth tasting sweet food into my mouth. As I was unscrewing the cap, I heard an unusual sound from deeper into the graveyard. With candy in my mouth, soda in my left hand, I turned on the flashlight that was under my left arm.
A scream echoed.
The odd sound followed once more.
It reminded me of dragging a concrete block across a cement sidewalk. I turned; the beam of light cleared the darkness as if I was sweeping across a dirty floor. I stopped suddenly as the ray struck a tombstone that stood up right, looking like the Washington Monument. The odd thing about it was that it was wobbling back and forth. Then I saw it, no her. She was young, no more than nineteen or twenty. The girl wore a lettermen jacket from a school I failed to recognize. She was nearly translucent, but she seemed so real. Her eyes met mine; there was so much fear there, and at that second, I froze.
The beam of light seemed to narrow as she stared at me. The darkness it once pushed aside began to overpower it. Her hand reached out to me, but what could I do, she was gone was she not? She cried out again, her arm moved straight out away from me and toward what must have been an unseen attacker.
Her face then shredded, gashes opened up in on her left check as her head jerked away from me by a monstrous invisible foe. The monumental grave marker fell to the ground as did the apparition and she fled. I moved the light to follow, candy bar still dangling in my mouth. Ferns and high grass shifted, but I did not see her anymore.
Another scream, my light swung in time to catch another headstone fall to the ground, blood soaked. I grabbed the beacon that was under my arm, dropped the soda and candy, and then followed. What was I thinking? I was scared to death. My heart must have been thundering faster than a stampede of cattle. I focused only on the beam of light. My 9 millimeter was not my lifeline now, my strength or courage. It was this simple flashlight, it cleared the way, revealed the truth.
She cried out again, I shivered as I heard the sound of a body sliding down a steep hillside, then splash into the creek below. I ran faster, not really knowing what I was to do, she was dead already. I stopped at the small rift; she was but not twenty feet below me, trying to climb back up but unable.
Again, the young spirit cried out, she turned away from the mud wall and held her arms out in front of her. Her arm instantly lacerated as something batted it away. Her head bent in an awkward direction as blood shot everywhere, as it seemed that something bit her. I was stunned, shocked to say the least. Should I be afraid, or should I feel sorrow as the young woman let out a scream that shook me to my very spine. Being torn apart here, below me and there was nothing I could do made me feel despair, useless. Was this poor girl living this terror every night in these dark woods? My God, the agony, the torture, it had to stop, but I did not know how.
Something was still coming up behind me. It was silent, but the sound of the brush gave it away. I did not know what it was, nor did I want to. Summing up my courage to fight what I did not know, I jumped. I did not land as predicted though. My foot twisted, badly, the pain shoot up my leg. I feel face first into the shallow stream. I rolled over, crying out in pain myself, bending my knee and grabbing my ankle. As I held it, I realize I lost my light, my safety net and she was gone.
I rolled over to the mucky shore, my hand landed on something that was not part of the earth. I squinted to see as I brushed of mud and leaves only to be amazed to find a female body, shredded to pieces. I sat up, not taking my eyes off her, nearly gagging at the sight. Her mutilated body appeared eaten by something. It could not have been any more than a week or so old, about when the noise started.
Then I froze again as she sat up. Her pale dead eyes locked onto mine, raised her dangling arm up, and pointed past me. I backed way, on my knees, but she sat up higher and let out a shrill nearly burst my eardrums. As it quieted, I heard the noise behind me.
Turning, I saw a large panther only twenty or so feet behind me. It was in a crouching position, stalking me. It must have been stalking me all night, and it more than likely killed her. I slowly moved back toward the dead girl, cautiously reaching for my pistol. I have heard about a few cats being in this area, but never saw one, nor heard of one attacking people.
Nevertheless, it was here now and it was crawling closer to me. I slowly slid my gun out. Now frightened for my life I knew what I needed to do. The animal was sick and now tasted human flesh, I needed to kill it. It backed off slightly as I lifted my pistol up and growled as if it knew I was challenging it. Its gaze seemed to focus behind me, off my left shoulder. I took only a second to shift my sight to my left, seeing her standing there taunting the beast. It stepped forward then back a bit confused, or frightened, I could not ascertain which.
She suddenly lashed out at it, waving both arms, screaming an ear piercing sound. The cat batted at the spirit, then jumped away to the left. It landed, crept closer, then back, hunkering down. As it growled at the vision, it unknowingly left its head exposed as a clean shot. It was paying me no never mind, so I brought my pistol to bear. When confident, I fired. I felt sorry for the beast as my bullet penetrated the skull, but it had to be. It dropped quickly, no pain felt, or so I hoped.
Feeling a presence behind me, I turned. She stood there, next to her body, looking beautiful, clean, no longer tattered. She was pointing to the earth at her feet. I looked down and saw her purse, still strapped under her arm. I knelt down and pulled it open. There were several items hidden within, but I needed only one. I grabbed the wallet and removed it. Upon opening it, I found the name of the Penn State student to be Karen Leight. Funny twist here, she was killed by the schools very mascot.
Karen knelt next to her body, looking at it, and then pointed to the address on her driver’s license. Then I knew how to help her. I had to take her home. She smiled as I stood and touched my shoulder. I shivered; I felt something, more emotion than touch. She then walked into the muddy hillside, gone from my vision evermore.