Ashley employed all of her persuasive reasoning techniques to convince Mike to spend the night at the graveyard with her.
“Please spend the night with me at the cemetery, Mike.”
“Why would I spend the night at the cemetery with you?”
“I want to see if the stories people tell around here are true.”
Visibly confused, Mike asked, “You mean to tell me that you think it’s even somewhat plausible that gravestones just magically vanish every Halloween from the cemetery off Honeysuckle?
Rolling her eyes, Ashley said, “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but maybe someone steals gravestones on Halloween every year; I’m not going on a ghost hunt. Besides, we need an interesting story for the school paper.”
“I suppose we do, and a story about two people spending all night with the dead could be intriguing. I’ll come with you.”
Ashley smiled, “Thank you, Mike. We’re going to have so much fun.”
Ashley and Mike write for their college’s newspaper. They began working together in late August, and by this point, Ashley had a huge crush on Mike. She always wanted to write stories with him, and she was especially excited about working with him on this story. The story was prompted by a legend around the town of Mapleton. Supposedly, five years ago on the day after Halloween, an old widower traveled to the cemetery off Honeysuckle where his wife was buried. However, when he approached her plot, the gravestone was absent. Most people assumed that the old man was paranoid or had dementia and forgot where exactly his wife was buried in the cemetery. Surprisingly, various people reported gravestones missing after Halloween for the next four years. There were many speculative ideas about how the gravestones disappeared, but no one has been able to uncover the truth thus far. Even though Mike was reluctant to cover the story, he and Ashley were determined to write a good story and uncover the mystery of the gravestones’ disappearance.
The morning of Halloween was clear, cold, and sunny. Mike and Ashley attended their classes and met up after. They sat together at a coffee shop on campus and discussed their plans for catching the culprit.
“I think we should get there right when the sun goes down and wait,” said Ashley
How long do you think it’s going to take for a gravestone to disappear?” asked Mike.
Ashley thought, “I think around midnight, but I’m not entirely sure.”
“We’re going to be out there forever. I’m going to feel dead after tonight,” joked Mike.
Ashley, seeing an opportunity, said, “I guess tonight at the cemetery will be our second date.”
Mike smiled, “Is that a fact? I wasn’t aware that we are currently on our first date.”
“Of course we are. We’re at a coffee shop, and we’re discussing spending the night together. Sounds like a date to me.”
Mike blushed, “I knew you’re in love with me. I look forward to our second, unconventional date tonight.”
The pair left the shop and went on a walk around the park together. After their walk, Mike went to his apartment to prepare for their night of reconnaissance. As Ashley walked to her car to do the same, she felt as though someone sinister was following her. She noticed two men who seemed to be following her closely. Picking up her pace, Ashley turned onto the sidewalk which leads to the parking lot where her car was parked. Now only one of the men was tailing her. He was particularly tall, middle-aged, and wore a dark, large coat. She quickly entered her car and began to drive away. Looking back, the man was nowhere to be found. Ashley told herself that it was just her nerves imagining things, so she pressed on to her apartment with a clear mind.
Mike arrived at Ashley’s apartment about an hour before the sun set. Even though the sun wasn’t supposed to go down for another hour, clouds had gathered and blocked most of its light. Mike asked Ashley who she thought was stealing the gravestones.
“I have one theory. Since all of the missing gravestones haven’t been connected to one person or a single family, I think someone is indiscriminately stealing them every Halloween, sanding the writing off of them, and selling them to help pay for holiday expenses.”
Though Mike attempted to hold it in, he burst into laughter, “How did you come to that wild conclusion?”
Ashley rolled her eyes, “There’s no rhyme or reason for the stones’ disappearance, and they can be worth quite a bit of money. After Halloween comes Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and there are an unusual number of single parents around here. Maybe one of them needs some extra money to get through the holidays.”
Mike stroked his chin sarcastically, “Interesting analysis. Want to know what I think?”
“Sure, Sherlock Holmes.”
“I think that five years ago some teenage kid was dared to steal a gravestone on Halloween. Then, a younger kid heard about it and became envious of that legendary act. So that kid takes a stone the following Halloween, and the next three following years a daring kid goes to the cemetery to steal a gravestone and seal their legend status.”
Ashley nodded, “That’s actually a pretty solid theory. Let’s go find out who’s right.”
They arrived at the cemetery just before the sun set. Ashley parked her car behind the neighboring church to conceal it. They waited until the sun had set to begin monitoring their target. Crouching behind a tree at the end of the cemetery farthest from the street, Mike and Ashley made small talk for a couple of hours.
“When did you begin crushing on me?” asked Mike playfully.
“Pretty much the first time I saw you. I was so excited when we got to work together on that story about jobs recent graduates had obtained.”
“Oh man. I knew you were flirting with me the whole time we wrote that story. You kept bringing up how smart you thought I was. I could have literally used a semicolon in a sentence and you would have been astonished by my brilliance.”
Ashley laughed, “A lot of cute guys aren’t very sharp in the brains department. You just really impressed me.”
Mike hugged her and said, “I’m glad you were impressed by my endless intelligence.”
They continued conversing as midnight approached. Suddenly, Ashley noticed a figure methodically nearing the far side of the graveyard. Mike and Ashley hugged the tree as the sinister figure drew nearer and nearer to the target location. Mike noticed the apparition had a small shovel in hand and seemed to be searching for particular gravestones. After searching for a few minutes, the burglar began digging out a small stone on the outskirts of the graveyard.
Mike eased to the tree’s side and said, “I’m going to stop this animal.”
Ashley grabbed him, “No. Don’t bother him; he may be dangerous.”
“We can’t just sit here and let him steal another gravestone, Ashley.”
“Let him take it, and we’ll follow him and see where he goes.”
Mike agreed as the thief finished digging out the stone. Struggling a bit, the stone was completely unearthed and began to be dragged out of the cemetery. With help from a gently sloping hill, the thief picked up speed and exited the graveyard into the nearby woods. Mike and Ashley tailed him closely but not close enough to be detected. Though they did not realize it yet, they weren’t the only ones following the ghostly burglar.
Mike and Ashley managed to follow the tombstone abductor deep in the woods. As they were strategically taking cover behind the largest trees the woods afforded them, Ashley heard a ruffle of leaves not caused by anyone known to be present. She signaled to Mike, and he joined her behind a fallen tree. The thief, quickly turning his head, dropped the tombstone and sprinted toward a clearing in the brush, but he was too late. A shadowy figure leapt on the thief after a few paces and began savagely stabbing him. Terrified, Mike and Ashley held each other as they witnessed the gruesome murder. Satisfied that he had drained the thief dry, the knife-wielding avenger collected the tombstone and started toward the graveyard. The killer had somehow failed to detect his two observers, and they followed him back to the graveyard.
Mike and Ashley watched the avenging fiend plant the tombstone back in its original position and fill in the displaced dirt around it. He brushed the dirt off his hands and started out of the cemetery. Suddenly, Mike decided that he and Ashley had to take justice into their own hands. Taking out his phone, he snapped a photo of the killer. Mike was worried that the dim lighting would diminish the quality of the picture, but the flash from his phone took care of this problem. No one seems to remember to turn the flash off at night, and Mike was no exception in this situation. Alarmed, the killer turned and charged Mike and Ashley’s position. They turned and sprinted across the graveyard, away from the attacker. Ashley had no problem outrunning anyone, but Mike, who happened to be a vape connoisseur, quickly lost his breath and fell behind, almost within range of the knife. Stumbling, Mike was thrust to the ground by the menace. The knife was raised for a second killing, but love makes people do amazing, seemingly impossible acts.
Ashley launched herself into the killer, saving Mike. The killer rolled on top of Ashley, but she managed to escape his grasp. Mike dealt the killer a blow in the chest which he quickly recovered from. The three combatants recovered, and the dark figure began slashing at Mike manically. Barely missing him, he grabbed Mike and cocked his hand back. Ashley grabbed his hand, bent his wrist violently, stole the knife out of his hand, strategically spun her body around, slashing at his throat. She saw a line of blood exit his neck. Falling on his back, the killer gargled and struggled for breath. Mike and Ashley saw blood shooting out of his neck; silence followed. Ashley, who looked upon the attacker with Mike, noticed that the man who lied before them was the same man she had seen following her the day before.
The police conducted a full investigation throughout the next week and surmised that Mike and Ashley were innocent, as they acted in self-defense. They identified the tombstone burglar as a stone engraver who lived in a neighboring town. The attacker was discovered to be a man who lived a few miles from the cemetery. Apparently, the attacker was worried that his son’s tombstone would be stolen. He waited that Halloween night to make sure his son’s stone wasn’t bothered. When it was, he took revenge immediately. Mike and Ashley finished writing their story, chronicling what happened that fateful Halloween night.
Mike smiled at Ashley, “Thank you for saving my life that night.”
Ashley hugged him, saying, “You protect the ones you love. You didn’t do that bad.”
“I guess I didn’t. I threw away my vape, and I was wondering if you would like to go for a run this afternoon.”
Ashley smiled, “That sounds like a great idea.”
Mike smiled and turned to look at his computer.
“Don’t forget to turn your flash off.”
Mike shook his head, smiled, and said, “I won’t.”