I like to convince people that I’m an Atheist, but the truth is, I’m actually agnostic. I say this not as the result of some statement of faith, but because I have seen things that do not fall in line with my otherwise rational view of the world. One such example comes from my freshman year of college. I was infatuated with a young woman by the name of Camille. She was a bit odd. For one thing, she was a Wiccan. I didn’t really mind her religion so much as I found it to be a little bit different from what I was used to. She wore a pentacle pendant on her necklace and wore dark clothing to most places she went. Her dyed black hair and black-painted nails seemed reminiscent of the goth kids I ran into in high school.
One night, Camille invited me to join her friends Sean and Colby on a ghost hunt. I don’t believe in ghosts. I didn’t then and I guess I still don’t. Still, I was barely 20-years-old and it was an excuse to wander around a cemetery with a cute girl at night. When the time came to load into her Camry to head to the graveyard, I called shotgun and sat up front with her. Sean and Colby convinced another girl named Sam to join us. Sam would spout of trivia knowledge and facts about the cemetery while Camille would talk about how she got a weird vibe from the place. I mostly kept quiet — I didn’t want my cynicism to ruin the chance of hooking up with the hot goth girl.
Fairview Cemetery was our destination. It was an old Civil War cemetery that was still in use by the city. In fact, Bowling Green had been the Confederate state capitol during the short time that Kentucky had seceded from the Union. The main gate closes at dusk, but Camille used a service road to get us into an older part of the cemetery. We got out of the car and walked around. Camille clasped her pendant in her hands and muttered under her breath as she walked between the rows of graves. Sean and Colby seemed to be playing tag as they ran around, carelessly stepping on graves. Sam cautiously walked behind me as I followed Camille — it was obvious that Sam was bothered by the quiet darkness.
We eventually made our way to the rear of the cemetery. I found a bench on a marble platform. It seemed to be a shrine to some Catholic saint, though I can’t remember which one. I sat down on it. Directly in front of me, about 50 feet away stood a massive tree. The trunk was nearly as wide as a car and it stood so tall I couldn’t see the top in the darkness. Under the boughs of this particular tree sat several rows of headstones that were smaller than the ones we had seen in other parts of the cemetery.
Camille began shouting at Sean and Colby as they both started urinating on the same headstone. I ran up to check on the commotion and saw the epitaph on the gravestone.
“He was a good negro.”
We were in the slave cemetery and it became painfully obvious that Sean and Colby were racists. Be it coincidence or perhaps by some chance the universe showing a sense of irony for once, a strong wind came out of nowhere and shook the massive tree we stood under. A large stick fell from the branches and hit Colby on the shoulder hard enough to take him to the ground. I laughed as he fell into his own urine and Camille smirked as she said something to the effect of respecting the spirits.
Sean and Colby weren’t having it. They began shouting and hollering as they kicked over gravestones. They dared anything that might go bump in the night to “come out and play.” I really wish they hadn’t. The wind picked up again, this time bring with it a shift in the clouds that allowed the moon to show enough light to illuminate the ground around us so that it almost seemed near morning even though it was barely past midnight. It was at this point I realized I hadn’t seen Sam in a while. In fact, I had been so distracted by the two racist vandals, I didn’t notice Camille went missing either. I did a quick turnabout and caught sight of both of them huddling together on the marble bench over by the shrine to Saint Whatever-Of-Wherever. Their faces were locked in state of terror. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck as I saw what stood about halfway between us: A small black child.
She wore tattered clothes and her skin, emaciated. The way the moonlight shone against her gave her an eerie glow. I focused my flashlight on her, only to find that she wasn’t visible, but when I moved the beam away, I saw her as if she had magically reappeared. I wasn’t afraid so much as I was curious. I slowly walked forward towards the figure.
“What’s your name little girl?” I asked as I tried to get her attention.
No sooner than I tried to place my hand on her shoulder, the girl darted off behind a gravestone and she was gone. The girls were still looking my way in fear, it was only then I realized they were staring past me. At nearly every overturned gravestone stood an individual dressed in rags with an empty look on their faces. As with the little girl, when I swept the light from my flashlight towards them they disappeared and reappeared. They stood, fixated on Sean and Colby who continued knocking over gravestones and shouting racial slurs as they moved through, oblivious to the presence of these specters.
A figure that stood seven foot tall and stood wider than a door frame emerged from the crowd. He moved towards Sean and Colby with a slow determination and stopped directly in front of them. As they went to kick over a gravestone, the figure planted his massive foot against it. Sean’s foot connected with the gravestone. It didn’t budge. Sean wouldn’t be denied — he jumped and planted both feet against it, and again, nothing happened. Finally, he got a running start and jumped. He planted both feet against the headstone, but crashed against the ground, shattering it the process. The tall man, and all the other figures disappeared as Sean crashed onto the ground and landed face-first onto a felled headstone. His face meeting stone sounded like someone hitting a coconut with a baseball bat.
I rushed over to Sean to check on his injury. Colby let out a whimpering shout before backing up. He tripped and fell back on a headstone. The back of his head smacked against it. I looked over to Camille — she was already dialing 9-1-1.
I stood on the the marble slab with Sam and Camille as the EMTs loaded Sean and Colby onto separate gurneys to transport them to the hospital. After giving our statements to the police and being given a lecture on trespassing, we silently made our way back to the car. I never saw Sam again after and Camille was always reluctant to talk about what happened. Sean and Colby lived, but both had suffered severe concussions. Sean ended up with a skull fracture.
To this day, I still question what had actually happened and what details of that night have been obscured by the nightmares I have had since.
Maybe I should have mentioned this before, but it didn’t seem important, until now. By all outward appearance, I look white, but my grandmother was bi-racial. Her father, my great-grandfather had an uncommon last name. The gravestone next to the little girl had the same last name. My family has lived in Kentucky since the Civil War, and my great-great-grandfather was a slave whose first child was a daughter who died young, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.