At lunch on Friday, Wendell and Clint insisted that Tim, Alan and I spend the night at Wendell’s. They ignored all of our questions about the evening except one, by far the most important question, one that would sway even the fiercest fence-sitter: yes, Wendell’s mom would be ordering pizza.
That night, we found Clint and Wendell in the garage busy at work with assorted tools and what looked to be leftover slats from a picket fence. As Wendell sawed down every other slat, Clint joined them to longer pieces with nails of varying length with equally varying accuracy.
“Yeah!” Alan yelled out, taking up one of the finished pieces. “Swords!”
Wendell grabbed the wooden sword, flipped it and handed it it back. “It’s a cross.”
“Whatta we need crosses for?” Tim asked.
“For tonight,” Wendell answered, trying on the smile villains deliver when they’ve finally captured the hero. When villains did it, it was sinister and ominous, but Wendell looked like he was in need of a gallon of bicarbonate. “You’ll see.”
Despite the night chill bordering on painful, Wendell insisted that we sleep outside. So, under a blanket of gray clouds and the tiniest glow from a peeping Tom moon, we laid our sleeping bags beneath a towering pine, one that pelted Alan twice with softball-sized pinecones. We weren’t sure what we were waiting for, but we waited, biding our time with a discussion on whether or not Darth Vader was telling the truth about being Luke Skywalker’s father. When the lights inside the house finally went out, Wendell interrupted with, “Let’s go.”
He led us back to the garage where we were each given a flashlight. Then, as he and Clint handed out the crosses, Wendell finally let the rest of us in one the plan. “We’re goin’ to Steilacoom cemetery.”
“We got robbed at that restaurant,” Clint added, “so we’re gonna go get our own ghost.”
Alan was the only one of us to verbalize his concern. “What happens after we catch one, though? I don’t wanna have to keep it at my house. My mom’d get really mad. She won’t even lemme have a cat.”
“We’re just gonna look at one,” Wendell answered.
“Its more like bird watching, ya know?” Clint assured Alan with a smile.
“Just come on,” Wendell said, a bit impatiently, leading the way back outside.
Four flashlights (mine had gone dead before we hit the end of the block) lead the way to the Elwood Dr. side of the park where we gained entrance through a hole in the chain link fence. Without a single clothing snag, we followed Wendell toward Steilacoom cemetery, but what was technically the Western State Memorial Hospital cemetery, which held the remains of former patients of the mental hospital. As we began tramping across the wet and occasionally mushy grounds, Tim said, “I still don’t get what the crosses are for.”
“Just in case, ya know?” was Wendell’s answer. And, no, we didn’t know, but had to be content with Wendell’s explanation.
“Avast, ye swabs!” Alan called out from behind, having reverted his cross into a sword. “Yo-ho, yo-ho!”
Accepting the call to action, I flung myself round and held out my cross/sword as an invitation to duel. Three seconds into swashbuckling, a whining command from Wendell ended it as abruptly as it had started. Alan muttered under his breath, “Scurvy dog.”
So, on we walked. Clint told us to keep our flashlights aimed low so as not to attract attention of rangers or, worse, stoners.
“Here we are,” Wendell whispered, turning off his light. About 50 feet before us, lay the first headstone.
“Now what?” I wondered.
“Now…” Wendell began, but stopped as though he’d been given a phone number, but failed to write it down and was now being asked to repeat it.
“Now,” Clint chimed in, “we find a spot and wait for a ghost to show up.”
Proceeding to a spot we determined to be as good as any for the viewing of local apparitions, we turned off the flashlights and kneeled behind beloved son and brother ‘Anthony Burgerness’ and another headstone that Alan guessed to be the remains of a cherished family pet. “I bet Rip was a cat ‘cause they got claws.”
From then on, the smallest utterance was met with a stern ‘shhh’ or disapproving stare.
“What time is it?” Clint asked him.
“I dunno. Did anyone bring a watch?” Wendell asked of everyone.
“I have some gum,” Alan offered, but no watch.
And so, we waited for seemed like hours, but, then again, so did one page reading assignments. We couldn’t talk, we couldn’t get up, we couldn’t scout around. If it hadn’t been for the sounds of bubbling lava from Wendell’s stomach, there would have been nothing breaking the monotonous silence.
Then came a noise from a nearby bush. Wendell perked up. “What was that?”
“What was what?” Tim asked.
“It was…” The noise came again. “There! Did you hear it?”
“I didn’t near nothin’,” I answered.
“You didn’t? It came…” As Wendell turned around to direct my eyes, he saw Tim getting ready to lob another stone into the bushes. “You’re an ass.”
“Oh, come on,” I argued in Tim’s defense. “It’s the only thing we’ve heard, all night.”
Wendell didn’t respond. How could he? Even he knew we were right. “I was just really sure we’d see somethin’, ya know?”
“Its not your fault, Wendell,” Clint said.
“Yeah,” Tim popped in, “maybe they only come out on certain days or somethin’.”
“We shoulda brought a dead cat,” Alan decided. When asked what for, he said, “For food. Kinda like throwing someone into a volcano.”
This made me wonder. “What happens to a ghost if it doesn’t eat?”
“He starves to life,” Tim said, cracking himself up.
“I don’t think ghosts eat, Alan,” Clint said, patting him on the shoulder. “It’s a good idea, though.”
Our plans thwarted by the sheer laziness of the underworld, our bodies cold and damp, we picked up our crosses and started back to the Penny’s. “Ya know,” I could hear Wendell saying to Clint, “maybe the crosses kept ‘em away. Maybe we’re supposed to keep ‘em hidden.”
Wanting to spice up our non-demonic exit, Wendell and Clint decided we should take an alternate route past the ruins of the Western State mental hospital (the old hospital was left to the elements when a new one had been built across the street from the park). The idea was to see the spirits that urban legend assured us still inhabited the abandoned wards where they once suffered as rats to a mad doctor’s lobotomies, implants and radioactive injections.
There passed an unspoken moment where we all shared the idea that seeing a ghost was one thing, but coming into contact with a mentally unstable ghost could be dangerous. As if following a silent vote, Clint said, “We should just go throw rocks in the lake.”
At Waughop Lake, the water was calm and still, not a single ripple dared disturb it. “The lake looks neat at night,” Alan said. “Like a big bowl of pudding. Chocolate.”
Wendell turned to face the rest of us as he walked. “If you could drain the lake and fill it with anything you wanted, what would you put in it? I’d fill it with pizza. Pepperoni an’ sausage.”
“Pudding!” Alan repeated. “I’d swim an’ eat at the same time. You guys could swim in it, too, if you want.” Clint thanked Alan.
Wendell posed the question again to Clint. “I dunno,” he said. “Boobs?”
Clint pretended to swim amid the lake of breasts, each stroke accompanied by a honking sound. Wendell watched him with a bit of awe. “That’d be such a cool way to drown.”
Before Tim and I could fill our lakes, Wendell froze in his tracks, miming the rest of us to shut up. He paused, then waved us to follow him toward some nearby trees. Stooped in the leaves and dirt, the knees of our pants immediately soaked through, we knelt there no more than four seconds before we all heard a whimper and the muffled sound of a woman’s gasp. Exchanging glances, Tim’s eyes betrayed the same immediate alarm that had found its way to mine. “Is it a ghost?” Alan asked.
“I don’t know,” Clint answered honestly, which did nothing to pacify our fears. “Let’s go see.”
“What if its a murderer?” Tim asked, his whisper plagued with anxiety.
“Murderers only kill ladies,” Clint reassured us.
We followed Clint until we reached a four-foot hollowed pine stump that overlooked a tiny clearing. Looking past our freezing breath, we could just make out the shape of a woman lying on a blanket on the ground, the gasps were stronger and louder, her legs wrapped around someone on top of her. The second figure, wearing a Lakes HS letterman jacket, began grunting with Cro-magnon clarity. Clint was the first to realize, “They’re doin’ it.”
We bit our lips and buried our faces into the bends of our arms to muffle our laughs.
The sight of the letterman’s bare butt rising and falling with such rapid-fire intensity was a sight to behold. Gesturing his flashlight toward the clearing, Clint counted off with his fingers. On three, the bright white backside of the letterman was illuminated by four flashlights (I banged mine against the tree stump three times to force a charge from the battery, but no luck). As startled screams rose from the two teens, our laughter erupted in full force.
Realizing that the flashlights were the products of kids and not law enforcement, the teenager rolled about trying to hike his jeans up from around his ankles, all the while screaming, “You sons of bitches! I’m gonna f*ckin’ kill you! You f*ckin’ bastards! You’re all f*ckin’ dead!”
“Go away!” the love of his evening screamed at us, burying her face into the ground in an attempt at anonymity. “Get outta here!”
Even with his forearm up as a visor, the teenage Lothario couldn’t look toward us without immediately averting his eyes. “Turn off the f*ckin’ lights!” he yelled.
“Nice butt!” Tim called back.
“You guys are dead!” the teenager yelled, as the girl began to openly weep. “I’m gonna beat the sh*t outta all o’you!”
“Go away!” she sobbed. “Leave us alone, you little brats!”
Then, in a fit of unrewarded passion mixed with the chivalry that can only come from a half-emptied six pack, the teen got to his feet and rushed toward us with the violent intentions he’d already made known.
Switching the flashlights off (temporarily blinding him a second time), we rushed back toward the lake as threats and obscenities trailed behind us. We kept on through the cemetery, back through the chain link fence and onto the road. When it was apparent we were in the clear, we relaxed.
“I can’t believe that girl started cryin’,” I said, unsure if I was amused or felt sorry for her.
“I saw one her ta-ta’s,” Wendell said, his hands held out like the cups of a DDD bra.
The mixture of running and laughter forced us to sit on a nearby lawn to catch our breaths. As we sat, Alan held up his cross and asked, “What are we s’posed to do with these? I’m not takin’ mine home.”
I gestured to the house upon whose lawn we were loitering and said, “Just leave ‘em.”
And so, sometime that following morning, the residents of 2434 woke to find that crucifixes had been staked on their front lawn. Upon one, a muddy finger had scrawled the word ‘You’.
As for our seeing a ghost, it never happened that or any other night. Our interest in the whole thing diminished within a few days of itself.
We would never be sure what sort of scary things existed in the pitch dark nights, but we did know that two teenagers would forever find a dark clearing in the woods completely unsettling.