Jess is a spirited young woman looking for love in all the wrong places, namely college. She falls in with the wrong guy in the form of Rob, a heavy drinker who likes his parties and easy women. Their problems come to a head at an early Halloween party when Rob shows his ugly side, leading Jess into the arms of a man she never expected.
Three days until Halloween. That's when all of this started. I had no idea so much would change for me over those few days, but they did.
It started out simply enough. I was in college and it was the fall semester. I wasn't too open a person, but I'd managed to make a few friends and even meet a guy. Rob wasn't exactly the perfect match for me, or maybe for anybody. He was, well, pushy. A girl likes a man that knows what he wants, but he sometimes got it by being pushy. That night he was especially pushy about getting me to have sex with him.
"Come on, Jess, after the party we go back to my place and have some fun," he suggested to me as he drove along the back road. We were on our way to an early Halloween party at a mutual friend's parents' house. They were local to the university town, so it was being held on their family farm.
I folded my arms across my chest and glared at him for the umpteenth time. "I told you no. I'm just not ready for that jump."
"It's not a jump, it's a baby step. Everybody else does it," Rob argued.
"And if everybody else jumped off a cliff for the kicks, would you?" I countered. It was a lame argument, but I had other problems. They all centered around my damn costume.
I'd been invited to this party at the last minute and foolishly decided to go as a twisted Alice from Alice in Wonderland. That meant I was wearing a long, white skirt flecked with fake blood with a low-cut, blood-splattered blouse. There was a red bow in my long brown hair and I'd smeared my face with red paint. To add to the costume, I'd taken a small knife I kept in my room to carve up food. The problem with this dress, however, was that the edges of the dress were a little too long and kept getting caught in the straps holding my stockings up because those didn't quite fit. It was fine when I stood up, but sitting down in the car meant the bottom of the dress kept doing its catching trick. I swore it was trying to kill me.
"That's a pretty lame argument," Rob pointed out.
"Yeah, well, I guess I'm just that lame." I flipped my head away and looked out the window. The farm was in the woods a few miles outside the small university town, and there weren't too many houses around there. The car bounced over the rough dirt road, one of those lonely ones were there was plenty of deep shadows. I rolled down the window and found out it was really quiet out there, too. Nothing but a few crickets and the crunch of the car tires on the dead leaves. Sometimes I heard the rattle of branches when a wind blew through them. I pulled the window back up, at least to keep the cool breeze from getting into the car. It was enough to make anyone believe in ghosts and monsters.
We passed by a lot of trees, but for a second I thought I saw an old road that led to a large metal gate with an arch over the top. There was something unusual about the way the twisted metal bent to create the arch. The edges bent outward like it was inviting someone to come up and open the gate. The road up to it was overgrown with this year's weeds and there weren't any lights beyond the gate. I decided to defuse the situation between us by asking Rob about it. "Is there some sort of old house or something around here?"
"How should I know? It's not like I live here," he replied. I rolled my eyes. The least he could do was try to find out something about the town in which he was going to school.
The rest of the drive to the old farmhouse was thankfully short. By the time we arrived it was well underway and the place was packed. We parked the car and he handed me the keys. I was the designated driver, so I put the keys in my purse. They were too big for my pocket because of a stupid mini-flashlight attached to the chain.
We went inside just in time for the lights to go out. I screamed, and so did a bunch of other people.
"It's okay, folks, somebody's just fooling with the lights," I heard my friend speak up in the dark. In a few seconds the lights were switched on right beside us and I turned to find Rob beside Ashley Stefan, my friend. He was conveniently close to the light switch, and we both glared at him. He gave a sheepish smile and shrugged his shoulders.
"Just practicing for Halloween," he joked. "It's not much fun if nobody gets scared." The party got back on its way with everyone drinking from the spiked punch and making out in the shadows.
"It's scary enough out here without you shutting off the lights," Ashley protested.
That confused me. "Why should it be scary? You've lived here all your life, haven't you?" I asked my friend.
Ashley nodded her head in the direction of the road. "Yeah, but it's hard to forget that I live down the road from a cemetery. There's just some things you never get used to."
"Cemetery…" I slowly repeated. Then the memory snapped in my mind. "You mean that's what that gate was for? That metal one on that short road?"
"Yep. It's one of the oldest cemeteries in the state and even in the day it's creepy as hell," she told me. "Nobody's been buried in there for a good fifty years but everyone around here goes in there once a year to clean the place up. Other than that I don't think anyone dares go in there, at least not alone."
"Or on a night so close to Halloween?" Rob teased. He'd heard the whole story and laughed it off.
"I wouldn't be laughing it off if I were you," a voice spoke up. All three of us turned to find Brent, a dorky history major who was also a local. I'd met him in my Mythologies class. "That place is haunted."
"Not to sound too cliched, but you're seriously not going to tell that old story, are you?" Ashley asked him.
Brent scowled at her. "It's a good story, and who's to say it isn't true?"
"Anybody with some sense, for one," she shot back.
Even if my friend wasn't interested, he had my attention. "What story?"
Brent smiled, then hunched over and glanced around. His voice dropped to a whisper that I could barely hear above the noise of the party. "It's the story of the phantom of the graveyard."
"Phantom?" Rob repeated in a loud voice. He was a tall guy, and his voice booming over the crowd got most everyone's attention, even the ones necking in the corner. "Isn't it supposed to be a ghost in a cemetery?"
"We've got a special cemetery," Ashley piped up with a laugh. "This old one's supposed to have some sort of a phantom who haunts this particular one."
Brent folded his arms across his chest and scowled at her. "You're not telling the story right. It's supposed to be told with the lights off and everybody sitting around the speaker."
"Why don't we try that here?" Rob spoke up. There was a general murmur of agreement from our fellow partiers, but Ashley visibly shrank at the suggestion.
"I don't think that's such a good idea," she told us.
"Come on, what's the problem?" Rob countered.
He took the initiative by grabbing the closest chairs and putting them in a circle around the center of the room. Everyone rushed to help him and soon we had a mismatched, uneven circle of seats. While everyone was having fun playing musical chairs and trying to grab a seat, I saw that Ashley had moved away from the circle. I came over and set my hands on her shoulders.
"What's wrong?" I whispered to her. She shook her head, but I countered by giving her a shake. "Oh come on, anybody can see that something's wrong."
"It's just, well, I don't really like that story. It hits too close to home, especially since I've, well, I've seen some things out there that I'd rather not remember," she whispered to me.
I frowned, but didn't have a chance to ask her more about it before Rob came over to us. "Are you two coming or are we starting without you?"
"You can start the show without us," I snapped back.
Rob rolled his eyes and went over to the lights. Ashley slipped her hands around one of mine as the lights went out. The only light was from a flashlight somebody had found for Brent. He stood in the center of the circle of chairs looking quite happy with all the attention. "Now most of you don't know this story, but those who do don't spoil it for anyone."
"Get telling it and they won't have time," Rob called out. There was a roar of laughter and Brent scowled.
"I wouldn't be laughing if I were you, not when we're this close to the cemetery." His voice had dropped to a low, eerie whisper, deep and echoing in the large, dark room. The laughter died as he looked from one face to the other. The flashlight in his hand was pointed up and on the ceiling his shadow loomed over everyone. "They say the phantom travels far from the cemetery in search of his victims, and I wouldn't want anyone to go out alone to their car."
"Hey Jess, can you go get my coat in the car?" Rob yelled at me.
He had a smirk on his face when everyone burst out into a nervous laughter. It died quickly when they noticed the tenseness in Brent's stance.
"You think this is funny, huh Rob?" Brent slid over to Rob and his shadow seemed to grow larger with each step. "Do you want to go out and get your own coat?"
"Well, no, I was just-"
"You were just too scared to go get it yourself," Brent interrupted him.
"What the hell? I just told her to get it to scare her," Rob argued.
Brent frowned and pulled back to the center of the room. "Maybe you shouldn't wish to scare anyone until you learn the consequences. You see, this phantom isn't like the ones you watch at the theater or in the movies. This one's real, and he's definitely dead. He died over two hundred years ago, and his soul has been wandering these woods ever since."
"How'd he die?" someone spoke up from the dark.
"They say it was an accident, but nobody really knows. You see, nobody was there when he died. They just found him lying out there in the woods. He was on his back with his eyes staring up at the trees." Brent lifted his arm and glided it up in the direction of the cemetery. "They buried him there in a giant mausoleum he'd built for himself hoping that would keep him at rest. He couldn't have been any more wrong."
"So what he'd do? Get up for a stroll and meet some of his old buddies?" Rob spoke up. He tried a laugh, but nobody joined in.
Brent slowly turned his shadowed eyes on my stupid boyfriend. "That's exactly what happened. A few nights after the burial a wagon rode by with two of the local farmers who had known him in life. When they saw a figure in the middle of the road, they knew him in his death. They only survived the encounter because the horse bolted from the cemetery road, but others haven't been so lucky. Over the years they found, shall we say, traces of people who wandered through."
"Like what?" somebody whispered from the group.
"Like footprints, bags, and even a car. All of them had been waylaid by the phantom, and they were never seen again."
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt my hands squeezed. My head snapped back to my friend, and even in the weak light I could see her eyes were wide. "Please make him stop," Ashley whispered to me. "I don't want to hear any of this."
I nodded my head and gave her hands a squeeze. Then I turned back to the crowd. "Could we turn on the lights now? After that story I'd like a drink." I gave a nervous laugh and a few others joined in.
"Fine. That story wasn't very interesting anyway," Rob chimed in. He got up and turned on the lights, and I swear Ashley breathed a sigh of relief. As everyone got up from their seats Rob glanced around the room. "Now where's all the beer at?"