I should’ve said no.
It was my second week in a new town, at a new high school full of kids who had all grown up together and known each other since kindergarten. I was definitely the weird new kid, completely out of place. My parents finalized their divorce over the summer, and my mom and I finally found a place over here on the opposite side of the country as my dad, which was completely fine with me.
The eastern coast had a far more historic and calmer vibe than California. Maine was especially beautiful this time of year, with the way the sunlight cast a spell on the leaves in the morning, illuminating their hypnotic shades of crimson, orange, and burgundy among the greens. There was definitely something magical about this place, especially the way that it made mom smile.
I had almost forgotten what that looked like.
Over the last few years, dad’s drinking had gotten out of control. He was never a great person, but when he picked up the bottle again after his father died, everything went downhill from there. He always had a temper, but he was never a violent man. At least, not until last Christmas.
My mother had accidentally knocked over a glass of his “special” eggnog that he had sitting on the coffee table when she reached over to hand me the first present that morning. On instinct, my dad swung a fist at her and broke her nose. He apologized profusely as I carried her out to the car to drive her to the emergency room, but my mother had (thankfully) decided that was the last straw. I spent that morning telling stories to a few kids in the emergency waiting room about how Mom got a little too close to one of Santa’s reindeer that morning and caught them off guard. Mom didn’t exactly smile that morning, but I know she was entertained.
So, here we were, almost a year later in a new town somewhere in southern Maine. It was my second week at a new school, surrounded by a bunch of closely-knit teenagers. I felt like a damn alien with the way the kids glanced at me whenever I entered a room.
On that Tuesday morning in math class, the kid sitting next to me shifted his weight in his chair, and his phone slipped out of his pocket. Thinking back, it was really strange how his phone appeared to fall in slow motion. I quickly slid my backpack next to him with my foot, cushioning his phone’s fall before it could hit the floor.
“Oh shit!” he whispered, grabbing his phone.
“Sorry man, hope I didn’t bump your leg too hard with my bag. It’s pretty heavy with all my books in there. This school doesn’t mess around when it comes to homework.”
The kid smiled at me as he slid his phone back into his pocket, “Nah man, you’re good. Thanks for saving my phone! I just got it last month, replacing the other one I had dropped. In this same damn classroom. Can you believe that?”
I glanced at the shallow pockets of his jeans, where his phone was already sticking half way out again. “Nah. Not at all.”
He followed my gaze, his auburn hair catching the morning sunlight streaming in through the front classroom window as he moved his head to look down.
“Alright, alright. So maybe my pants are a little tight. Don’t judge me by my wardrobe malfunctions.” He laughed, the corners of his murky emerald eyes crinkling up in the warmest, most genuine way.
“No judgment here,” I said, raising my arm to expose the horrid bleach stain that ran down the entire left side of my shirt.
“Yes, Zeke?” The Teacher, whose name I still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of, called from the front of the classroom.
“Oh, no, I’m sorry. I was just stretching.”
Everyone’s head turned back to look at me, as the room erupted in whispers and snickers.
“Zeke, you’re the new kid, right? From California?” Whispered the klutz next to me.
“Yup. That’s me. Only took ya two weeks to notice,” I joked.
He held out his hand, inviting me to shake it, “I’m Jake. I don’t know if you noticed, but Mandy, the cutest girl in the classroom, happens to sit to my left. So, I’m sorry it took me a minute to notice you over here to my right.” He laughed, then caught himself, “Oh, don’t get me wrong. You’re pretty good looking too, with those big brown eyes you got going on, but she has tattoos and she’s only 15.”
I laughed. “Oh yeah? Well, I have a couple of piercings. But you’re gonna have to buy me dinner first if you wanna see those.” I batted my eyelashes at him sarcastically.
Jake laughed harder than anticipated, causing the kids around us to turn and glare. How dare he socialize with the weird new kid?
“I dunno. I might get judged for dating someone taller than me. How old are you, Zeke?”
“Actually, I’ll be 17 in a few days. My birthday is this weekend.”
Jake gasped dramatically, “Your birthday? What do you have planned?”
“Um, nothing, actually. I don’t really know anyone yet, and I haven’t really had a chance to check out the town, but-“
“Wanna hang out with me and my older brother? I’m old enough to grab some smokes, and he can probably grab us some beers.”
Neither smoking nor drinking sounded appealing to me at all but making an actual friend did.
“Absolutely!” I said.
I should have said no.
That evening, my phone rang. I found it odd that Jake would be calling me instead of texting, like any civilized, anxiety-riddled teenager from this day and age.
“Hey….” I said, in an awkward tone. I hated talking on the phone.
“Yo! I know what you’re thinking, but, don’t you know texting is for losers, Zeke?”
I laughed and understood instantly. “You dropped your phone again, didn’t you?”
“I mean, maybe. Okay, yeah I did. I shattered the hell out of this screen too, and I can’t text anyone without getting weird slivers of glass in at least two of my fingers.”
“You need to stop wearing those pants.”
“Don’t tell me how to live my life!”
“Alright Jake, what’s up?” I asked, partially out of desperation to speed the conversation along so I could get off of the damn phone.
“Oh, I was wondering about this weekend. Your birthday is Friday, right? With it being so close to Halloween, I was thinking it might be cool to show you the creepier side of town.”
“Oh god. I don’t believe in all that stuff.”
“Oh come on Zeke. Let us make a believer out of you!”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the desperation in his voice.
“Alright, fine. What did you guys have in mind?”
“The local cemetery. I think you might like it. Even if you don’t get off on creepy shit, you might really dig some of the old headstones there. They are really cool, from all different eras.”
“My brother said he would drive us, and he would even get us some beer, to welcome you to the neighborhood. Come on Zeke, it’ll be fun! Then we can hang out and grab you some birthday food and watch some shit on Netflix, or check out some of my brother’s weird video games.”
“Alright,” I couldn’t turn down an offer for free food. “A creepy cemetery could be interesting. I mean, I’m not completely close-minded to paranormal shit. I think I may have owned a haunted Furby at one point.”
The rest of that week flew by. The morning of my birthday, I was actually surprised to see that my locker had a helium balloon tied to the handle. It was just a small, simple gesture from Jake, but it felt really nice to be acknowledged. It was so nice to have made a friend.
To make the day even better, we got out of school early because of parent/teacher conferences. My mother wasn’t going to attend them because I had only been there for less than a month, and she knew that I was doing well in my classes. Jake had asked if I wanted to just hang out with them right after school, but I knew my mom wanted to spend some time with me on my birthday. So, I told Jake to just pick me up when it got dark, and we could head straight to the cemetery and get it over with.
When I got home, my mom had an amazing homemade cake and a bouquet of balloons sitting on the counter waiting for me. I was so excited to see the chocolate cake, I almost cried. Mom walked around the corner to catch me right before I was about to steal a finger full of frosting.
“Hey, hey! I know it’s your birthday but that doesn’t mean you can destroy my masterpiece before I get a chance to take a picture of it and post it on Instagram!”
This made me laugh, seeing as the woman only had half a dozen followers. I put my hands up and backed away from the cake slowly, so she could take her picture. When she was done, she turned and hugged me.
“Oh, it’s so hard to believe you’re only 17 years old! You are so grown up, sometimes I forget you’re still just a kid. I love you so much-“
“Easy now, no Momma tears on my fancy second-hand T-shirt.”
She laughed, “Oh, shut up you brat. Eat your cake. I’ll be right back with your present.”
I kissed her forehead, grabbed the biggest fork I could find, and stuck it in the cake.
“Use a plate, Zeke! Come on!” She threw her hands up in surrender and walked out of the room.
When she returned, I still didn’t have a plate, but a good quarter of the cake was missing. She stopped in the doorway and put her free hand, the one that wasn’t holding my present, on her hip and stared at me with a mixture of love, amusement, and irritation on her face.
“What are you looking at? I was hungry! And I had to even out this side of the cake!”
She laughed. “You mean you had to even out the side of the crater you created in the cake when you were busy inhaling it during the 2 minutes that I was out of the room.”
“Well, yeah. Hey! Is that for me?” I asked, reaching for the pretty little gift in her hand, wrapped in blue paper. “What is it?”
“Insulin,” she joked, wiping a chunk of chocolate frosting off of the side of my face, “At this rate, you’ll probably need it.” She handed me the gift, and I got butterflies in my stomach as I started unwrapping it.
It was an awesome necklace. A pretty tiger’s eye stone on a black chord. It was perfect. Mom knew I had a weird obsession with collecting stones and studying what significance other cultures associated with them. Tiger’s eye stones were my absolute favorite, and this was a really nice one. It looked like a tiny, rustic amber galaxy encapsulated behind a smooth glass surface. It was the best quality Tiger’s eye I had ever seen.
“Mom! This is amazing! I don’t even know what to say, it’s perfect!”
“I hoped you would like it. I remember you kept talking about how cool they were last month, and how some people believe in their protective powers, as well as how they can keep you balanced and strengthen your courage and willpower. I think we could both use some help in those areas.” She reached into her shirt and pulled out a matching necklace of her own. “I got us both one. And with the move, I thought maybe it would help both of us ease into these drastic changes and maybe make some new friends.”
“Oh! I forgot to tell you, I actually have made a friend. A few days ago, this funny kid who sits next to me in Math class invited me to go hang out with him and his brother for my birthday.”
“Oh! Zeke that’s great! What time are you planning to go over there?”
“I told him to pick me up when it gets dark. He wants to show me around. He also thought it would be fun to check out the local cemetery, with Halloween coming up, and-“
“Hartsworth Cemetery?” she interrupted, her face turned serious.
“Well, yeah I guess… Why?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” She started fumbling with her necklace and looked away. “It’s just, that place gives me the creeps. Our office building is right next to the cemetery, and my coworkers swear the building is haunted because of it. I’ve had some weird experiences, myself.”
I laughed. “Oh come on, Ma! You don’t really believe in all of that stuff, do you? To that extent?”
“Well, I didn’t think I did. But after these last couple weeks of being there, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more openminded than I used to be.”
“Well, do you not want me to go there?”
She sighed. “No, go. Be a teenager. I’m just being silly. Besides, your cool new necklace should protect you, right?” She had a faraway look in her eyes when she said this.
I should have stayed home. I should have called Jake and told him I wasn’t going to go to the cemetery with them that night. I should have respected my mother’s discomfort on the topic and dropped the whole thing. I shouldn’t have listened to what she said, rather the tone in which she said it. Sure, she told me to go ahead, but I knew, even then, that she didn’t mean it.
I just wish I had known then what I know now, but you know what they say. Hindsight is 20/20, right?
Jake’s brother, Ryan, looked like a young version of Keifer Southerland. He had the same green eyes as Jake, but they didn’t crinkle at the corners when the rest of his face smiled. He had this kind of coldness about him; A darkness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Don’t get me wrong, he was a cool guy, as nice as they come. He and Jake came to pick me up at around 6 o’clock that night. When I got in the car, Jake tossed me a pack of cigarettes and pointed to the hoodie on the floor by my feet. Under it was the six-pack of beer that he had promised. Jake was far more excited about these two “gifts” than I was.
“So,” Ryan started, glancing at me through the rearview mirror, a cigarette hanging crookedly from his mouth. “I heard it’s your birthday. How old are you, Zeke?”
“I am the ripe old age of 17 today. You?”
Ryan snickered, “Take care of your joints, arthritis should be kicking in any day now. I’m 21, as of August.”
“I really appreciate you doing all this for me. The beer and the ride. It’s nice to meet good people. Most of the other people in this town just look at me funny like I accidentally crashed my spaceship in their backyard, or like-“
“Like you pissed in their cheerios?” Jake finished my sentence for me, laughing.
“Yeah, man. Kids here are a tough crowd.”
“Hey man, it’s no problem,” Ryan said, stopping at a red light. “Jake really liked you. That means a lot because I swear the kid hates everyone.”
Jake turned around in the passenger seat and nodded at me. “It’s true.”
“Alright, here’s the plan,” Ryan flicked his cigarette out the window, and reached for another one. “No drinking until we get in the cemetery. Keep the rest of the bottles covered in the back seat at all times. Keep the empties in the car as well, don’t fling them out the window. That’s disrespectful. Also,” He adjusted the rearview mirror to look at me, “If either of you pukes in my car, I’m beating the shit out of you.”
After a few minutes, we turned on to Hartsworth Road and headed left toward the front gate of the cemetery. My stomach suddenly felt tight, and I grabbed the necklace my mother gave me earlier that afternoon, for reassurance. I held my breath without meaning to as we entered the gate and followed the main road through.
After a minute or so, I began to relax. Jake asked me to hand him a beer. I pulled out two, offering one to Ryan.
“Nah,” he said, “I’m really not a fan of drinking. I got those for you guys.”
“I’m not a drinker either. Beer makes me kinda nauseous.” I didn’t explain that it wasn’t the taste or the smell that bothered me, but the memories of my father that were associated with it.
Jake twisted open his bottle and took a few long swigs. “It’s really not that bad. It’s angry orchard and has a nice apple taste to it that makes it more tolerable. Try it.”
“Maybe when we get back to the house.”
“Oh come on you guys,” Jake wined, “I don’t wanna be the only one drinking here. Ryan, I know this is one of the only beers you tolerate. Please?”
“Dude, I’m driving.”
“Yeah, like 15 miles an hour. And you don’t even have to worry about killing anyone because everyone here is already dead!”
Ryan laughed. “Okay fine. ONE beer, if it means you’ll shut up.”
I handed Ryan the beer.
“Oh man, check out these headstones! Aren’t they awesome, Zeke?” Jake gestured to the window.
I had to admit, even though the environment was a bit creepy, the craftsmanship that went into some of the headstones was fascinating. The place was filled with various styles, all different sizes. It was eerie but peaceful. Beautiful even, in a dark way. Five minutes must have passed, without any of us having spoken a word.
“Man, I don’t know why I let you guys talk me into this,” Ryan said, finishing his beer. “This place is so creepy.”
“Awe what’s wrong? Are you scared?” Jake mocked, reaching for two more beers, then handing one to Ryan.
“Hell yeah, I’m scared!” Ryan opened his second beer and set the empty one on the floor at his brother’s feet in the passenger seat. “You are too, and you know it!”
Jake laughed, “Yeah. I guess I am a little creeped out but wasn’t that the whole point of us coming here?”
Still looking out the window at this point, I noticed a headstone that stood out from the others in the section that we were driving through. Among the rows of older, intricately-designed headstones, there was one modern-looking plain one. It looked so out of place.
“Hey, Ryan. Stop the car for a minute?”
Ryan stepped on the breaks. “What’s up, dude? What do you see?”
“I dunno. I’m gonna go check it out.” I opened the back door and stepped out of the car, heading toward the grave at the end of the row to my left.
“No man, don’t get out of the car!” Jake yelled behind me. I ignored him, assuming he was just buzzed.
I walked over to the grave and read the name and dates on its surface.
“Bryan Rogers,” I whispered to myself. He had died the spring before last, and he was only 19. “That’s so sad.” I looked down at the various items placed on the ground, against his headstone. “Why are you buried here, though? Next to these old graves?” I took my phone out of my pocket and used its light to examine the items more closely.
There was a mason jar, with little folded up pieces of paper in it. I picked it up and read the words painted on the front: Notes From Loved Ones. Awe, what a cool idea. Next to the jar were some other things, but I couldn’t make them out because they were covered in old, dried-up leaves. At the base of his headstone, along the edge, I found a smooth, straight stick. I grabbed it and started using it to scrape away some of the dirt and the dried-up leaves that had collected over the last year or so.
It wasn’t until right before the stick snapped in half, as I was trying to scrape some weeds out of one of the crevices between the objects on his grave, that I realized it wasn’t just a stick. It was a drumstick, that had been placed on his grave purposely. I turned it in my hands and saw his initials carved at one end.
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry man! I didn’t mean to break your drumstick!” I put the two pieces of the drumstick next to each other, back where I had found it. I looked at the objects I had uncovered from the leaves and smiled. “You liked collecting cool stones and stuff too, huh?” I picked up a small blue crystal and scraped away some of the dirt with my fingernail. “My mom actually just gave me this necklace, for my birthday. It’s Tiger’s eye. I bet you would have really liked it.”
“Come on man, what are you doing?” Jake called from inside of the car.
“I’ll be there in a second!” I called back.
I turned back to Bryan’s grave and replaced his crystal. I noticed some military dog tags with his name on them sticking up from the dirt. I tried to wipe them off on my shirt but couldn’t make out exactly what they said. I sighed. “Hey man, I’m really sorry for whatever happened to you. I hope you’re happy, and at peace, wherever you are. Again, I’m so sorry for breaking your drumstick. I hope I didn’t disturb you.” I replaced the dog tags back on to his grave.
“Come on! Let’s keep going!” Jake again. “It’s starting to rain! You’re gonna get sick!”
“Rest in peace, Bryan. I bet we woulda gotten along really well if you were still here.” I got up, patted the dirt off of my knees and got back into the car.
I reached for a beer, having decided to give one a try, only to discover that they were all gone.
“Damn guys, how many beers did you drink?” I asked.
“You snooze, you lose,” Jake answered, cracking open his third bottle. “Ryan already finished his third one. I’m just catching up. You didn’t seem to be into drinking tonight, anyway.”
“True, but neither did Ryan and look at him!” I laughed but stopped as soon as I caught his gaze in the rear-view mirror.
His eyes looked so scary. He was staring with such intensity, it sent chills through my whole body. Jake noticed, too.
“Hey, man. You okay?” Jake asked, reaching for his older brother.
“Ryan, I’m sorry, I was just kidding. I don’t care if you drink or whatever. Just be careful on the drive home.” I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “We should probably put these bottle in the trunk or something before we go back out on the main road. I would offer to drive us, but I don’t have my-“
“Get out of the car,” Ryan said calmly, but firmly. He turned off the car engine.
“What?” I wasn’t sure I understood him.
“You cannot ride with us. Get out of my car.”
“Look, man, I’m sorry.” I apologized.
“Ryan, chill dude. Zeke didn’t mean anything by it. He-“
“GET OUT OF THE CAR!” Ryan yelled.
“I-I’m sorry if I pissed you off! I don’t know my way home from here. I don’t even know my way out of the cemetery, man! Please just drop me back off at home, and I won’t bother you again.” I turned my phone on to check the time, but it wouldn’t come on. “That’s weird. I think my battery is drained. I just charged it before you guys came to get me. It was at 80 percent. I don’t know what happened. I-“
“GET OUT OF THE CAR! GET OUT OF THE CAR! GET OUT OF THE CAR!” Ryan screamed.
“Alright! I’m going!” I reached for the door handle.
“Not you, Zeke!” Ryan said, still staring through the rearview mirror.
My heart stopped as I realized, he wasn’t looking at me.
I looked down in horror as I felt the stone of my necklace begin to lift up off of my chest as if someone were tugging on it. I followed it with my eyes as it floated to the right. My jaw dropped as I stared at the imprint on the back seat next to me as if someone were sitting there.
“GET OUT OF MY FUCKING CAR!” Ryan screamed again, “YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE! GET OUT!”
He pushed the button on the driver’s side door to roll down the back right window. As soon as he did, my necklace dropped back on to my chest, and I watched the imprint on the seat next to me slowly fade away, as if the weight of whatever was causing it had left. The air in the car felt instantly lighter too as if it were suddenly easier to breathe.
“He’s gone,” Ryan said, rolling the window back up, and locking the doors. “I fucking told you guys I didn’t like to drink! I always see them when I’m drunk!”
“See who?” I whispered, still struggling to find my voice. “Dead people?”
“What did he look like?” Jake asked from the passenger seat, in a small voice.
“He was a s-soldier. A young kid. M-Maybe our age. I don’t know.” Ryan said, in a shaky voice. “H-He was staring at Zeke. He looked so angry.”
I got another set of chills all over my body. “Hey guys, I don’t wanna do this anymore. Can we please get out of here?”
“Absolutely,” Ryan said, turning the key in the ignition. He turned on the windshield wipers to fight back against the rain, and we all screamed as one of them stopped and twisted at an unnatural angle, bending in on itself before snapping in half.
Just like the drumstick.
“Go! Go! Go!” I screamed from the back seat.
Ryan made a giant U-turn, missing hitting some of the surrounding gravestones with his car by mere inches, as we headed back out the way that we came. As we tore out of the cemetery, back through the gates, and made a right back on to Heartsworth road, I felt something small bounce off of my leg. I am not ashamed to admit that I peed my pants that night, as I recognized the culprit that had landed on the seat next to me:
A small, dirty blue crystal.