I was a bit of a troublemaker when I was 17. I was about to be a senior in high school, and I didn’t really have a sense of responsibility. In other words, I thought I was invincible.
It was summertime in our small town in the middle of the country. There wasn’t shit to do, so when I wasn’t bussing tables at the local pancake house, I spent most of my time getting drunk and smoking weed with my friends.
It was just my mom and little brother at home. Dad left when I was about two. My mom worked the second shift at another restaurant in a different town, so she was often gone at night. So, it would just be myself, and my brother, who I made promise not to tell our mother about whatever shenanigans I was up to.
Usually it was cracking some beers and smoking a joint in my upstairs bedroom with my closest buddies. Tim and John were my best friends since middle school, and all we really wanted to do was get high, laugh, and sleep in.
See, when you live in a small town and there’s not much to do, kids our age would create things to do. I remember that year, no one would shut up about this tiny little cemetery that was supposedly haunted. It was about 20 miles north in the middle of nowhere. Apparently it had no name, but sat at the top of a hill. The rumor was that when you walked through the cemetery, some sort of presence would come over you. We all thought it was bullshit, since no one at our school that we knew of had the balls to actually go there.
Except for us, of course.
It was a Friday night and we were smoking a joint over some beers in my room as usual. “Dude, we should go,” Tim said.
“Yeah we can film it too, imagine the look on everyone’s faces at school when they find out we actually went,” John chimed in.
Twenty minutes later, we were huddled in my car, ready to have ourselves a little adventure. My friends were freaking each other out, but I honestly wasn’t scared. I was just bored and quite frankly, wanted to show everyone at my school what a brave guy I was.
After some wrong turns, confused looks on dark back roads, and a near run-in with a deer, my headlights lit up a small hill in the distance. Gravestones peppered the hill and the place looked old. We parked at the bottom of the hill in the grass and began our hike up the hill. It was overcast that night, and with no moon, we couldn’t see anything without the lights of our phones.
Despite the fact we were freaking ourselves out, clearly trespassing, my fear eased up a bit as we crept through the weathered graves. Some were unmarked, and some dated back to the 1600’s and 1700’s. It was actually quite fascinating, and I was starting to feel a little more safe.
That all changed a few minutes later.
We were goofing off, my friend filming us going around various gravestones when we heard it. It sounded like footsteps.
“Was that you, Brendon?” Tim asked, his voice filled with fear.
“No. Shut up.” I froze in place, panicked. We killed our flashlights and stood still.
“It was probably an animal or something,” John suggested. “Don’t be such a pussy. Let’s go check it out.”
“Are you insane? I think we need to go,” I started, when John pulled me with him closer to the source of the sounds. It was then that we both hit something big as we walked. We pointed our flashlight on a giant gravestone in front of us. It was bigger than the rest, with a large engraving that read:
Taken too soon by the sickness
Why we didn’t turn around right then and leave is my biggest regret. Suddenly, I felt sick to my stomach. That’s when we heard the voice.
“He’s right. You should go.” The voice was deep, booming. Tim screamed. A man emerged from the darkness behind Jacob’s gravestone.
“This is private property. You don’t want to be messin’ around with this stuff up here.”
“We’re…we’re sorry, we just…” I stammered, not finding the words to explain to a deranged old man in an abandoned cemetery at 2 AM that we were just out looking for an adventure.
“Leave. Before it consumes you.”
We promptly hauled ass out of there. I must have burned a hole in the grass where I hit the gas and high-tailed it back to a main road.
“What the hell just happened?” Tim asked.
“That was messed up,” I agreed.
We agreed it was some old farmer with nothing better to do than scare the shit out of teenagers in the middle of the night.
We were really popular at school for about a month after that whole ordeal. Everyone thought we were so brave and badass. We had video proof that we were there, after all. I even got my crush at the time, Becky, to pay attention to me, if not for more than five minutes.
We brought up the cemetery once in a while but in large part forgot about it. All was well for a while.
And then John got sick.
It was Friday night and the three of us had just agreed after school that we’d spend the night doing our usual – getting high in front of the TV. But John was not answering his phone. The third or fourth time, about two hours after we were supposed to meet, he finally groggily picked up.
“I feel awful, dude” he said. He sounded awful. “Been puking my guts up for the last three hours.”
“Sick, dude. TMI.” I replied.
“I’m going to bed. I’ll see you guys tomorrow or something.”
But we didn’t see John the next day, or the next day, or the next day. He was out sick the entire following week, only responding sporadically to a few texts here and there: “Bad flu.” “Dehydrated.” “Can’t eat.”
It wasn’t until the following week that we saw John again. He had been admitted to the hospital with a 104 degree fever. He wasn’t even conscious when we saw him.
He died a few days later.
His mom and dad were a wreck. Tim was a wreck. I was a wreck. As far as we knew, John contracted a rare virus that destroyed his immune system, but an official cause of death was never released. I’ll never forget watching his mom cry over him at the funeral. It was a horrible, gut-wrenching time in my life. I never thought I could experience something as devastating as losing a friend.
Then I lost another one.
Tim got sick a month later. I visited him in the hospital every day until the end. He had the same sort of stuff happening that John experienced – vomiting, sweating, high fever, coma. It was the scariest thing I’d seen.
Tim didn’t have much family, but I was there when he passed. The doctor ushered me into the hallway and let me know he was gone. I fell to the ground. After a few moments, when I was able to stand up, the only thing I could muster was “Why?”
“It seems he suffered from a very rare virus,” he explained.
“What kind of a virus?”
“We can’t pinpoint where this particular strain came from, but it appears to be the same one that your other friend had.”
I swallowed as I tried to speak.
“We need to get this figured out so it doesn’t spread further. Brendon…have you been experiencing any pain lately?”
“No. Do you think I could get this?” I said, tears still flowing down my face.
“We are going to do the best we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
And that they did. I was given a lot of precautionary medications. I kept my distance at Tim’s funeral. I was even allowed a private showing so I could say my goodbye without the risk of getting other people sick. I felt fine, if not incredibly depressed, after losing two friends to the same strange virus. I never told anyone about the guy in the graveyard, telling myself it was just some crazy old man.
Things were fine, for a long while really, until I went pale in the face and my mom found me slumped over the sink in the bathroom.
I was the last to die.
I sit in the darkness now next to that giant gravestone. Jacob can finally rest in peace. I sit silently under the moonlight until I hear faint whispers in the distance. The small flashlights illuminate a different grave, this one reading my name. It’s time to make my move.
“Get out of here now!” I yell.
The new freshmen stare with wide eyes and open mouths at me.
“Who…who are you,” one of them manages to say.
“You know, it doesn’t matter,” I say. “Just go now. And when you feel it coming on, just try and accept it.”