“Just… just take it out to your car now so we don’t have to lug it in the morning,” Fred ordered, shaking his head.
“You got it!” The two sang out, marching through the tall grass, carrying the massive rope between them.
“Let’s go set up camp for the night then, shall we Guzman?” Andrew asked, slapping Fred on the shoulder. He shuddered as a chilling wind swept past them, rustling the leaves of the trees and the dry grass for a few seconds before slowing to a standstill.
“Yeah, that’d probably be smart,” Fred said, looking up at the sky. “I doubt it’ll rain, but it should be nice and cold tonight.”
The next few hours were spent in relative peace as the six teenagers all went about the task of preparing a campsite in the middle of a graveyard. Fred and Andrew pitched the tents between worn headstones while Claire and Liz walked about the graveyard exploring. Jesse and James dug up a fire pit and cleared away all of the dry grass within ten feet of it, piling up the yellowed vegetation at the bottom of their pit, which the lightly drizzled with lighter fluid, before lighting it aflame around dusk.
Now, seated around the roaring fire with sticks ending in hot dogs in one hand, and chilled beers in the other, the group sat and talked animatedly about the various ghost stories they’d heard over the years. Claire yelped at the climax of each story, snuggling closer to Andrew, who didn’t seem to mind, while James and Jesse passed between them a pair of joints, their half-lidded eyes eagerly watching as their hot dogs sizzled and popped above the fire.
Liz had resumed her camera work, filming them all as the sun slowly set over the orange-hued horizon. Fred meanwhile sat pensively, smiling at the jokes and passing out beers when asked.
“Are you okay Fred?” Liz whispered to him after a while, once the stars had become visible and the chill of the night began to creep around the edges of the dancing flames.
“Huh?” He said, eyes snapping from the center of the flames to Liz, blinking wearily as he stared at her.
“I asked if you were alright,” Liz repeated, looking at him with concern.
“Yeah, just… just feeling a little weird is all, I dunno. Can’t explain it…” Fred replied, wrapping his long arms around his jean-clad knees and pulling them closer to his chest. “Just hoping we can find something that’ll prove to my uncle that this place isn’t haunted, y’know?”
“Why does that matter to you so much?” Liz asked, the rest of the conversation dying down at her question.
“Uncle Boon’s always been a kooky one Liz,” James said, holding in a lungful of smoke as he passed the joint to his brother. Letting breathing out a cloud of acrid smoke, he looked into the fire. “He believes in all this crazy shit, like ghosts and demons. Kind of runs his whole life based around it.”
“He’s such a smart guy too,” Jesse added, puffing on the joint slowly. “But all he does is collect strange things for his shop, jars of ghost tears and demon nail clippings and whatnot. We just want him to wake up and smell the coffee, y’know? Realize that all of this stuff is bogus so he can go about his life.”
“This place is where it all started, according to grandpa,” Fred said, looking at Liz and the camcorder. “He said that when he was a boy, Uncle Boon came home, white as a ghost, calling the police. After Lychee’s father was arrested he just… started believing in all of this stuff.” “If we can prove to him that nothing is here, then maybe he’ll finally have some closure over this.” Jesse finished, throwing the end of the joint into the fire before taking a long pull from his beer.
“Well,” Andrew said after a few moments of silence, pushing himself to his feet, “I’m gonna take a leak. Claire, watch my hot dog for me, would ya?”
“Sure babe,” She said, rubbing her hand up his leg affectionately before he turned and walked off into the darkness, stretching his sleeveless arms above his head.
“So why are you and Andrew here Claire?” Liz asked, zooming in on her with the camera.
Claire shrugged. “Andrew is in the same Atheist club as Fred, and he wanted to help out a friend. I just wanted to see a haunted graveyard.”
“So you believe in ghosts?” Fred asked face scrunched up.
“Oh for sure! Tons of people see ‘em all the time, what other explanation could there be for all the sightings?” Claire claimed, leaning back on her hands as she spoke.
“Well, just because we can’t explain what it is people are supposedly seeing doesn’t mean its ghosts. It could be any number of things.” Fred began, Jesse and James nodding in agreement.
“Like it could be ghosts!” Claire said with a smile, crossing her arms behind her head and laying back, ending the argument.
The rest of the chatted about school and upcoming exams, pulling the searing hot dogs from their sticks with quick fingers, happily eating while washing down the hot meat with a cold beer. Claire even joined in once she realized that her food might be burning. Looking up, she raised her eyebrow and looked over her shoulder.
“Babe, your foods ready!” She called out to Andrew, taking a bit of her hot dog right off the stick before quickly cooling her scalded tongue with a swig of beer. “Ack! Dammit, that hurts!”
“That’s why we all pulled ours out a minute ago.” Liz teased before turning her camera towards the direction in the darkness that Andrew had walked. “Where is he? Does it take this long for a guy to take a leak?”
“Not normally, though with the right STD’s…” James chuckled before ducking beneath a rock thrown by Claire.
Liz, curious, pressed the button that turned on the night vision filter, allowing her to see out into the darkness with ease. What she saw did anything but ease her mind, however.
Andrew stood in the brambles, his head bent at an awkward angle, eyes glowing a brilliant green in the night vision filter. Standing behind him was a freakishly tall woman, easily seven or eight feet, with elongated arms and swollen forearms, ending in gigantic hands. Her hands were wrapped around Andrews' throat from behind, shaking him slowly back and forth as if he were a doll, which, by the way, his arms dangled in the night air, he might as well have been.
“Oh my god!” Liz shrieked, causing everyone else to jump from the sudden outburst. Ignoring their cries of outrage, Liz grabbed her flashlight and stood up, turning on the fluorescent light and jogging into the darkness. “Guys, somebody has Andrew!”
Fred and James moved just as fast, scooping up flashlights and moving to follow, while Jesse picked up a long piece of burning branch, hefting it out of the fire, before moving to follow. Claire merely screamed, turning on hands and knees to stare off into the darkness at the dancing beams of light skipping about in the darkness.
Liz ran to the spot where she’d seen Andrew but found nothing. Looking around wildly, she scanned the grass and underbrush with her flashlight in a mad attempt to find a small trace of him. Fred and James began calling out his name, shining their flashlights deeper into the woods in search of their lost friend. Jesse came up, the heavy log’s flames petering out as he arrived.
“Where is he?” Fred asked, turning his flashlight on Liz, who merely shook her head, gasping.
“I know I saw him over here, with some woman strangling him!” She cried, waving her own flashlight about madly, before a glimmer of metal amidst the grass caught her eye. Bending down, she pushed the weeds aside, her breath misting up in the air before her as she looked at the sparkling silver metal on the ground.
Picking it up gingerly, she stared at it in confusion. Part of it was silver, but the rest of the jagged item was white and yellow, with slight cracks and bits of red… was it blood? Rolling it around in her palm, she saw the track lines of red dotting along her hand.
“Dude, what are you doing with a bloody tooth?” Jesse asked, pointing at Liz as if she were holding a severed head.
Shrieking, she jumped back, dropping the tooth as if it had suddenly caught fire. A shrill cry echoed through the cold night air, coming from deeper in the graveyard, down the overgrown path the group had walked along earlier.
“That sounded like Claire!” Fred exclaimed, sprinting down the path, James, and Jesse in tow. Liz ran slower behind them, fumbling with her camcorder. The damn flashlight didn’t show enough, so she was going to switch to the night vision mode and look through it that way.
Flipping it back on, she stopped in her tracks and screamed. Three small figures, pale as snow with black hair and purple and green bruising on their throats, were creeping along the path behind the boys, while others lurked at the edges of her vision amidst the undergrowth of the graveyard, eyes flashing silver as she scanned over them with the camera. One such figure, thin and frail, bore a tattoo on his right bicep, familiar Chinese calligraphy standing out against his pale, taut skin.
“Andrew...?” Liz breathed as the figure shuffled closer, almost within reach Liz’s reach.
He held out a boney hand, spindly fingers curling in the air as he made a come hither motion.
“Mama…” he whispered, his voice sibilant and wheezy as if he were struggling to breathe. “Mama wants her children…”
“Go away!” Liz shouted, pushing past the ethereal figure and running down the path towards the boys, shrieking as she felt frail fingers grasp at her arms and legs, murmurs and whispers coming from the darkness surrounding her as more of the sickly creatures closed in around her.
Until they seemed to stop, vanishing like smoke on the wind as she ran into the corner of the graveyard where the black headstones were, as well as the giant Willow.
This was now decorated with a pair of swinging bodies: one Andrew, his face blue and eyes bulged and bloodshot, the other Claire, their hands intertwined despite both of them hanging ten feet from the ground, necks bent at horrid angles by the frayed rope.
Fred and James both stood transfixed at the sight though Jesse seemed to be nowhere in sight. Liz ran up behind Fred, grabbing his hand and pulling on it to go, shouting to get his attention. What she got was a snapping sensation across her back, the feeling of steel slicing through her shirt and into her tender flesh, down to the bone. Dropping the camcorder to the ground, Liz cried out in pain and spun around, only to gasp at the sight before her.
Looming over the three was the woman, elongated arms and huge hands opening and closing, her face the picture of Chinese beauty, despite the brilliant ring of purple around her neck that Liz almost mistook for a piece of jewelry. Her dress, white as her snow-colored skin, was sleeveless and ran down past her knees, where it turned blood red from her groin down, sticky clotted blood painting the inside of her thighs and legs, dribbling down to her bare feet. Bending her head at an odd angle, the specter leaned forward, opening her mouth wider than should be possible.
Delicately, with one gigantic hand, she reached into her mouth and slowly began easing a long strand of bent copper from her throat, bits of torn flesh embedded on the rusted length, until she now held a two and a half foot length of bent wire, ending in a hook. With the coat hanger pulled from her throat, the ghosts head flopped from side to side, lolling about wildly as she moved on unsteady legs closer to Liz.
“He’s mine… all mine…” She croaked, reaching out one massive hand towards Fred while whipping the metal cord once more at Liz, driving her back. “My precious Guzman, finally come back for me…”
“That’s not your lover!” Liz screamed, ducking down to scoop up her camcorder and flashlight. “That’s not him at all!”
“Guzman… come to join our family.” The spirit cooed, wrapping one hand lightly around Fred’s throat, squeezing slowly. “So many children in need of a father… so lonely without you… you ran away when I needed you, but I forgive you… you came back to me…”
Liz could only shudder as she felt the spidery ice cold fingers dance on her back, hands grabbing her arms and holding them out and away from her body, two hands snaking around her throat from behind. Cold breath filled her ear, softly murmuring as Liz struggled to breathe.
“Mama will take care of us, Liz, Mama, and Papa will always take care of us,” Claire whispered, shaking Liz back and forth as she wrung the life from her body. “They always care for their children.”