Fred turned the wheel of his Volkswagen around slowly; making a small circular run around the entrance to the Chinese Graveyard, a small plot of land that man of the locals had claimed to be a source of haunting for more than sixty years. Liz smiled from the passenger seat, loading a blank disc into the digital camcorder and holding it up to take in the scenery.
Rough Texas shrubbery and curved, gnarled Willow trees overlooked the entrance to the cemetery, an entrance that was largely a formality due to the dilapidated state of the iron gate surrounding the few acres the cemetery covered. Killing the engine, Fred opened his door and got out, stretching the kinks in his back as he moved. The tall Latino was skeptical of anything paranormal, from ghosts to gods and everything in between; but he wasn’t here for himself.
No, he was here for science!
Two other small cars sat parked beneath a particularly large Willow tree, one of them belonging to Fred’s good friend and fellow Atheist, Andrew Jackson. Looking around, Fred couldn’t see any signs of his friends anywhere in the shadowy precipice of the graveyard, though he did catch sight of the gates hanging partially open, a loose set of chains obviously having been cut to allow admittance. Fred sighed, knowing Andrew was probably the culprit behind this activity.
“Liz, be sure to grab a backup battery for your camcorder,” Fred reminded the ditzy brunette, earning a wide smile of thanks. He moved to the back of his bug, popping open the trunk to allow Liz access to her bags, while he pulled a backpack of snacks and drinks.
“Is that all you brought?” Liz asked, worried. Fred laughed before moving one of her bags aside to reveal the ice chest, which he casually popped open to reveal a variety of green and brown bottles of beer.
Liz sighed in relief, patting Fred on the shoulder. “Oh thank you! I don’t know if I could spend the whole night in the graveyard sober. It’s just too creepy!”
“Nothing in there but a bunch of dead guys Liz, and not one of them has the urge to bite you. All they do is serve as fertilizer.” Fred grunted as he took hold of both sides of the ice chest, backpack slung over his shoulder. “Do me a favor and close the trunk, would you?”
“Oh, sure.” Liz said, pulling down the hatchback and pushing it closed until it clicked. Fred smiled and jerked his head to the side.
“Come on, let’s go find the others!” Fred grunted, hefting up the ice chest with one knee. “Damn this thing is heavy!”
Walking through the tall grass to the gate, Liz pushed on the verdigris covered entrance, wincing at the loud grinding noise it made as it creaked open wide enough to allow them through. Fred laughed, causing Liz to flinch and look back at him. Following his gaze, she blanched at the sight of a large wooden sign nailed to one of the trees overlooking the graveyard.
“No Witchcraft! Keep out!” It read in great, red bold letters. The wood was old and worn, though the message seemed to have lived on proud and strong despite the ravages of the humid weather.
“They must have had a problem,” Fred said off-handedly, staring at the sign.
“A problem with what?” Liz asked, transfixed by the strange marker.
Fred looked over at her with a slight smile on his face, obviously amused. “With people doing exactly what we’re doing; breaking in and trying to provoke spirits.”
“Are you sure this is a wise idea Fred?” Liz asked, now worried from the sign.
“Of course I am, they probably just put that up to keep tourists from coming in and messing up the place, y’know?” Fred replied, pushing her idly with the ice chest. “No move girl, it’s hot out and this thing is heavy.”
Passing through the gate, the graveyard wasn’t as impressive as Liz originally thought it would be. No great monoliths of angelic statues, or above ground tombs. A simple scattering of worn headstones framed a walkway leading deeper into the cemetery, which seemed to have become partially overrun by Mother Nature. Bushes and small Willows grew haphazardly around the graveyard, small trinkets hanging from the low branches of the Willows, strands of beads or colorful paper with Asian markings on them.
“Wonder what all of those are for?” Liz said aloud, pulling out her camcorder to begin recording the various sights around her.
“They’re for the recently departed,” A young voice replied, causing Liz to jump in terror. Spinning to her left, she caught sight of a young Asian boy, no older than eight, standing amidst the bushes. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Neither should you kid,” Fred simply replied, setting the ice chest down and rubbing his back. Pulling out his wallet, Fred flashed a little cash towards the child. “How much to have you buzz off?”
The boy looked pensive. “Mama said never to take anything from strangers.” The boy said, turning to run back into the underbrush without another word.
“Weird…” Fred said, tucking his wallet back into his jeans. “Hope he doesn’t rat us out to anyone.”
“Who’d believe a kid?” Liz smiled, her smile not really reaching the rest of her face. Something had seemed off about the boy. Flipping open the side view of her camcorder, she played back the recording of the boy only to gasp when she saw the twisted visage staring back from the screen.
Still a short figure, though instead of the demure Asian features the boy had possessed, the film had distorted his face, forcing his jaw down to his mid-chest, his slanted eyes as black as coal.
“Freaky… probably just something wrong with the camcorder,” Fred said, hoisting the cooler back up. “You need to realize there’s nothing out here Liz, and the sooner you do that the better.”
“Then why are we here?” Liz demanded, moving to walk behind Fred as his long legs forged a path through the underbrush. “What’s the point of all of this if you don’t believe?”
Fred sighed. “Look, the story goes that there were two lovers that used to use this graveyard as a place to meet. Both of their families were against the two’s obvious love for each other, but they kept seeing each other anyway.”
“And so one day, the man came out to meet the girl and instead found the girl’s father, as well as her corpse swinging high from the branches of a willow tree, blood pooling beneath her from between her legs.” Fred continued, causing Liz to gasp. “The woman had been pregnant, and the father… well, the father didn’t take it so well. The father tried to kill the girl’s lover with the bloody wire coat hanger he still had, but he was able to run away and alert the police.”
“So the girl’s father was arrested?” Liz asked, enthralled by the story.
Fred nodded. “He was tried and sentenced to life in prison, with a pardon to go to his daughters grave to apologize. He was left shackled, hands and feet, and when the guard wandered off to have a smoke, he heard a scream.”
“So the story goes, the father was found dead, with bruises around his neck, and a wire coat hanger extended and slide down his crushed throat.” Fred finished, shaking his head. “My great-uncle tells that story every chance he can.”
“Why?” Liz asked, focusing the camera on Fred’s face.
“Because he was the young girl’s lover.” Fred said, adjusting the strap of his backpack over his shoulder with a twist of his arm. “Come on, let’s find the others.”
They didn’t have to look far, thankfully. Fred first caught sight of Andrew and his girlfriend, Claire, both sitting on the edge of a dry fountain, smoking cigarettes and making laughing about something. Andrew was tall and blonde, with an athletic build and a tattoo of the calligraphy for “Warrior” in his right bicep. Claire was a waifish girl, with platinum blonde hair tied back in a loose plait, wearing a sleeveless white sundress with Andrew’s oversized jacket over her shoulders, protecting her from the cold.
“Hey,” Andrew called out, catching sight of Fred and the cooler, hopping from his seat to go help his friend. “Bout time you showed up, we’ve been here for like two hours!”
“Seen anything spooky?” Liz asked, filming Claire who smiled for the camera.
“Just a big flat tombstone with a bunch of names engraved on it.” Claire said around a mouthful of smoke, blowing it out into the cold October air. “The whole place is overgrown with shrubs and tall grass, so kind of hard to check out the tombstones.”