“Not that we haven’t tried.” Andrew cut in, grunting as he took one side of the cooler. “Jesse and James are out looking for the grave of the woman your uncle dated way back when, but they’re having a bit of trouble, seeing as you don’t have a name for them to look for.”
“Hey, I told them to look for Lychee!” Fred protested, moving to set the cooler down by the fountain before straightening up. “Here, I brought enough snacks to hold us over until morning.”
“And we brought three tents and six bedrolls with us,” Andrew said, motioning to a mound of canvas and fabric sitting on the other side of the fountain. “Jesse brought enough weed to make this night worth having and James brought kindling to make a fire with.”
“Are you sure we won’t get caught?” Liz asked, worried from the encounter earlier.
Andrew waved the concern away. “Nobody comes out here anymore as the graveyard is full up. Between that and the lock I cut, we should be relatively pest free.”
Fred and Liz looked at each other, each wondering if they should bring up the child they’d encountered. Before they could say anything, the underbrush cracked and snapped, causing everyone to turn and lock eyes with Jesse and James.
Twins, the two brothers were distant cousins of Fred, on his mother’s side, and both entirely incorrigible. With a long list of misdemeanors and warnings for their marijuana habit, they were the perfect people to go to when Fred had thought this entire thing up. With the footage, Liz was taking and the family being involved, Fred would finally be able to shut his great-uncle up about the supposed hauntings that occurred in this forgotten cemetery. Andrew and Claire had been excited when they heard Fred talking to Liz about it, and sort of invited themselves along for the ride, claiming it would be the perfect place to celebrate Halloween night.
“Guys, I think we found it!” Jesse said, breathing heavily. The only way to tell the two apart was their hair; Jesse had his long and unruly while James kept his short and well managed.
“Seriously? With just a first name?” Fred asked, somewhat impressed.
“Well, we found a marker with a date that matched what Uncle Boon told us about,” James said, leaning against his brother, a joint hanging from his mouth. “Took us, like, an hour to find it, but we did.”
“Well let’s see it then!” Andrew said, helping Claire down from her perch on the edge of the fountain. Fred dropped his backpack onto the cooler and motioned for Liz to follow, who’d put the camcorder up to her eye to capture the events as they unfolded.
Tromping through the thick underbrush, thorns tearing at their jeans, the six teens quickly weaved their way along an overgrown stone pathway, leading deeper into the grove of Willow trees, all of which were crooked and tall with age. Andrew, James, and Jesse passed the blunt back and forth between them, along with the cigarette, though Fred and Claire declined. Liz merely said she’d enjoy some later.
“Can’t believe you’re letting someone film you smoking pot man,” Fred said, motioning to Liz and her camcorder. James merely barked with laughter.
“This thing is going straight to Uncle Boon, right? Who the hell do you think I get my stash from?” James laughed, earning a round of chuckles from the others. “Gotta say, he’s into some crazy shit.”
“All he does is run a curio shop.” Fred pointed out.
“But he collects y’know, things from hauntings and whatever. Who does that?”
“Someone who dated a real ghost!” Jesse laughed, stopping in front of a particularly large Willow tree that stood near the high stone wall surrounding the graveyard. “Here we are!”
Fred looked around and whistled. Seven tall black stone slabs rose from the ground in a half circle, Chinese characters chiseled onto the smooth features. Wrapped around each pillar with thick rope were more of the trinkets that Liz and Fred had seen upon entering the graveyard. Long white strands of parchment hung from the ropes, Chinese writing seemingly fresh upon them.
“Check it out man, over here,” Jesse said from his place by the Willow tree.
Fred turned, walking through the heavy underbrush until he came upon a spot of raw earth; no grass or weeds grew in a large section beneath a long branch, which had a frayed bit of rope tied to it, some fifteen feet off the ground.
“So this is where Lychee’s dad offed her, huh?” Andrew said, blowing out a cloud of smoke as he flicked the ash from his cigarette. “Bet ya that rope is the same one that held her up.”
Claire pushed Andrew, giving him a sour look. “Be nice! The poor thing, hung from a tree by her father, just for falling in love with the wrong man.”
“What’s with the patch of dead dirt beneath the branch?” James asked, kicking a bit of the dirt away with his heavy combat boots.
“I… I think that’s where she, y’know, lost the baby…” Fred said with a whisper, staring at the ground as if it were going to burst open.
“Oh sick!” James said, backing away from the uneven bald patch. “That means her old man died somewhere close by, right? Uncle always said she was buried near the tree, and the guard left the old man here to say his goodbyes to his daughter before dying.”
“I don’t know man, I guess so.” Fred said, rubbing the back of his head. Looking around, all he could feel was a sudden sense of sorrow and the undeniable feeling that someone was watching him.
“Come on man, you’re not coming to believe all this bullshit are you?” Andrew asked, slugging Fred in the arm. “Look, there aren’t any actual death certificates of a man being killed here, or any newspaper clippings, or any sign that it happened at all! It’s all nothing but a story.”
“Yeah man and we’re going to prove it to Uncle,” Jesse said with a wicked smile, pulling out a short, but sharp, hunting knife from his back pocket.
“What are you going to do?” Liz asked, zooming in on Jesse and his knife.
“Nothing actually, seeing as we already did it!” James laughed, moving behind the tree and squatting down to gather something in his arms. Standing up, he revealed a long length of rope that had been sawed through, along with a dozen or so pieces of parchment hanging from the ropes, idly turning in the slight breeze. “This was around the tree when we first found it, and we figured we could sell it to Uncle for a pretty penny, seeing as he likes to collect this stuff.”
“You cut that off the tree? What if those papers actually mean something?” Liz asked, shocked at their behavior.
Fred put a hand on her shoulder, shaking his head free of the sense of doubt creeping into his mind. “No, what they did was petty vandalism, that’s all. The papers are just from the Chinese families that visit here on occasion, probably prayers or something.”
“Still… won’t they notice it’s missing?” Liz asked, unsure about the prospect of stealing the thick corded rope and its various adornments.
“Not until we’re long gone,” Jesse assured her, hoisting the rope up over his shoulder with a grunt. “By then we’ll have this to Uncle Boon and have ourselves a little spending money.”
“Or more weed.” James chimed in, helping to roll up the thick rope up and around his brother’s arm.