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 daughter’s 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, sitting on the edge of a dry fountain, smoking cigarettes and laughing about something. Andrew was tall and blonde, with an athletic build and a lettering tattoo of the word for “Warrior” on 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 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.”
“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 smoke 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 was 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.