Sad Horror Friendship

Stones prodding out of the ground like ruins in a legend, the graveyard is solemn and stoic behind a thicket of mist. Sentient wooden soldiers guard the tombstones, armoured in nuclear moss that usurps their contorted bodies. They branch out with swords submerged in fire.

That’s how it looks to Evie Gallagher for a brief but vivid second when she first opens her eyes – trapped in that disorienting state between dreaming and being awake. Then her dream begins to dissipate, vanishes behind heavy lids as she blinks herself to consciousness. The trees become mere trees, the stones become mere stones, and the graveyard…well, that remains as disconcerting.

Her body is buried in a blanket of autumn leaves, and she’s lying beside an old grave – beloved daughter, sister, and friend. Ivy climbs the stone; it’s cracked at the centre. Her head pounds, as if someone is tap dancing a fit against the echoing hall of her skull. She pulls herself into sitting position, dark hair tangled in spots of orange, face smeared with fertile soil. She wipes it away, and then again when it sticks. “Horrific.”

“What is?”

She startles at the sound of a voice in the darkness. When the silhouette beside her morphs into something familiar, she smirks. “Waking up to the sight of you.”

The boy nods his head in slow agreement. “Imagine how I feel? Every morning I have to look into the mirror and see this first thing.” He gestures to his face – handsome, and he knows it enough to self-deprecate shamelessly. “Nothing ruins a day quicker than that.”

 “My goodness, Jeremy, and to think that I only have to face my monsters on Halloween.”

He grins. “And tonight’s the night.” ‘Tonight’ being their annual tradition of ghost stories around a campfire in the most secluded graveyard they could find. A weird tradition, she admits, but a tradition nonetheless. For this year, they had decided upon Lyndhurst Cemetery. “Hope you enjoyed your extremely random nap. I’ve never met anyone so accustomed to just falling asleep wherever they want to.” He lights a tealight candle beside her, and then another, until dozens of flickering flames spring up from the ground around them like daisies. They cast stretched shadows across the scene. Evie’s mind starts racing, ready to make monsters out of her imagination. Jeremy turns to her, notes her still face, her unusual silence, and asks, “Ready to be spooked?” 

“My best friend bringing me to a graveyard alone in the middle of the night is already spooky enough. If you’ve dragged me out here to secretly murder me, at least chase me around like in those Scream movies so I get to die with a wild, memorable story to my name.” She touches the back of her hand to her forehead and collapses dramatically into a cradle of leaves.

His tone is unhappy when he says, “Stop that. I’m not going to murder you.” (She’s slightly concerned that he sounds so disappointed about it).

Evie props herself up onto her elbows. “Damn, because I have that history exam tomorrow that I haven’t studied for. You probably would’ve been doing me a favour.”

“You’re not getting off that easy,” he says. “The only way to truly make you suffer is to force you to live like the rest of us high schoolers.”

She wipes away an imaginary tear. “The scariest remark I’ve heard all night. I’ll go crazy.”

“The perfect state to be in for the ghost story.”

 “Oh, of course. The ghost story.” She wriggles her fingers at his face. “What have you got for me this year? Something better than last year's I hope?”

“I thought you liked last year’s?”

“I did, I guess, but honestly it made me more sad than scared.” She can’t remember the exact plot, or the characters, only the emotions they had emitted from her at the very end. Even now, her heart aches with residue melancholy. “Ghost stories are supposed to be scary.”

“If you look at it realistically, it makes sense that ghost stories are more sad than scary. They’re just people, after all.”

“You haven’t met people if you think they can’t be scary. Anyway, it’s all just made up, so we don’t have to consider realism. Stories are what you want them to be. And I want them to be real scary. Like, ‘run away, limbs flailing, curl up in a ball and rock back and forth’ scary.”

“It is scary.” He glances around slyly, then beckons her forward. She leans in, and he whispers, “Because the ghost is actually with us right now, and oh my GOD IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU AND IT’S TAKEN THE FORM OF OUR YEAR EIGHT MATH TEACHER! RUN! IT’S GOT AN ALGEBRA BOOK AND IT’S TRYING TO TEACH US THINGS!”

Evie’s squeal breaks into laughter. “Finally, something that actually terrifies me.”

“I’m not lying. She’s here with us.” His gaze drills into hers, utmost serious.

“Our year eight math teacher?”

“The ghost.” The wind screeches at that moment, picking up the leaves and dancing them around the two teens, breaking through the trees and rustling the branches. Orange rains around them like embers in the night.

“Ghosts aren’t real,” she says, more to herself than to Jeremy. She catches a stray leaf in her palm and makes a wish. She lets the wind carry it away.



“You might change your mind by the time morning comes.” His tone lingers on joking, but something buried in its depths stops it from sounding like a joke. “You ready?”

“Yes, sir. Make me cry in fear!”

Jeremy flashes her a side glance. “You concern me.” He clears his throat in a theatrical manner and widens his eyes like a manic scientist ready to bring his monster to life. With a gravelly, booming voice, he declares, “If you listen closely to the wind, it calls to her and draws her here to this graveyard tonight. For it is on Halloween that the ghosts are allowed to leave their realm and pass through the veil that separates us - thin as a cobweb yet impenetrable at any other time of the year. And this ghost, haunted and disturbed from her slumber by vengeance, uses her one night of freedom in search of the boy who killed her.”

“Dun, dun, dunnnnn.”

“Reminding him of the mistakes he made, and never letting him forget.”

“And sometimes,” Evie interjects with wicked sarcasm, “During her search, she finds other victims on the way. And eats their souls! And their eyeballs! And their left pinky toes! This murderous, monstrous woman, with red eyes and long nails and -”

“Um, excuse me?”

“Sorry! Sorry! This is your story. Continue.”

“I’m here to tell you how it all started. The origins…of the Ghost of Lyndhurst Lane!”

Evie scoffs. “Coincidence that there just happens to be a ghost in the same area we’re in.”

“Coincidence? Or fate…”

“It’s coincidence.”

“It was a dark and stormy night when it happened…and a dark and stormy night when she was first seen on the anniversary of her death, on the very road she died upon. But to truly understand her wrath, I must take you back to the beginning. The two of them grew up together in a mansion by the forest. Boy and Girl. Best friends since youth. Their childhood was joyous and full of excitement and imagination. They made up games and stories to share with each other. Thick vines that climbed the stone walls of their homes became beanstalks towards giants in the sky, canopies blocking out the sun became towering toadstools they ran beneath in search of fairies. As they grew older, the fairies and giants went away, and instead, they found different sorts of games – the type that features beer and red solo cups.”

“Wait, wait…I thought this was set in, like, the Victorian times? Did they have Beer Pong in the nineteenth century?”

“It’s set in current times.”

 “That’s a plot hole right there. Nobody can afford to own houses in current times, let alone mansions. Have you read about the economy recently? Now there’s the real horror story.”

“And you’re still interrupting…”

She puts an index finger to her lips and shushes herself in-between giggles.

“One fateful Halloween night, there was a party. The boy had been drinking, even though he had promised the girl that he would drive her home. Without letting her know, he drank and drank, not a lot, but enough. When she came to tell him she needed that lift he’d promised, he didn’t inform her that he’d been drinking – scared that he would get into trouble with his parents, and not wanting her to get mad. He decided he felt fine, sober enough to pay attention to the road. So he said okay and bid his friends goodbye.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this story before. It sounds familiar.”

“They got in his car and began the drive home. The drive was through a forest, thick with trees and brimming with ponies and deer. It was a nice, easy drive, and he drove slowly, knowing he had a few beers in his system. He felt fine, and there was no-one around. The police didn’t check the forest. It started to rain heavily, and mist circulated around the roads. Lulled by the pattering on the metal roof, the girl fell asleep in the passenger seat.”

“I’ve definitely heard this story before.” It certainly sounded like he’d recited it multiple times.

“The boy glanced at the sleeping girl for a second – just a quick second – to make sure she was okay. To make sure she was wearing her belt and still breathing. When he looked back to the road, two gleaming eyes were staring at him – petrified – an animal frozen in fright, and without thinking, he swerved. He doesn’t remember what happens after that. Only that when he woke up hours later, he was in hospital, and when he asked the doctors if the girl was okay, they had told him that she would not be waking up at all. But her ghost still lingers here, coming back every year to haunt these forests, waiting for her revenge.”

 Jeremy pauses with his finger in the air, listening out for snapping twigs and scuttling creatures that they could imagine into the sounds of a ghost approaching.

   “So beware,” he continues, “All those driving through these roads at night, and beware, all teenagers alone in the woods, for the Ghost of Lyndhurst Lane might be near - drawn forth by your laughter. Envious of how you get to enjoy your youth and grow up, when she herself is unable to - that chance having been stolen from her. As for the boy? She follows him wherever he may go, to ensure he rests as uneasy as she now does in her lonely grave.”

“So she’s basically a manifestation of his guilt?”

Jeremy gives Evie a pointed look. “Can you not psychologically analyse my ghost stories? This isn’t English class.”

“Again, apologies. Continue.”

“She forever haunts the roads she died upon, trying to find her way back home.” His throat bobs. In the candlelight, he looks older. Face more angled, eyes sharp. “I don’t really want to tell the story anymore.”

“I’ll stop interrupting, I promise.”

“It’s about finished, anyway.”

“Really? That wasn’t scary. That was just sad, like last year's.”

“Well, it’s a sad story.”

“I’m already living a sad story. I need some scary in my life.”

“I told you, ghost stories aren’t always scary. In fact, they’re almost always tragedies.” He plays with blades of grass, entwining them together and ripping them apart. “It’s about death and being trapped between life and the after-life simply because you aren’t ready to let go of the world. As if you still have something to do and you can’t move on until you’ve seen it through. Isn’t that sad? Being stuck. Unable to let go. Sometimes it really is better to just let go.” He looks at her. 

Something about that look unnerves her. “I still wanted a bit of a scare.”

“Well...I guess it’s not exactly over yet.”

“Oh yay, there’s more.”

He nods. “But you’ll have to wait to see how it ends.”

“How very ominous of you.” She smirks. “I knew it, you are here on a foul murder ploy. You’ll have to catch me first.” She scoops up an armful of autumn leaves and throws them at him like celebratory confetti. “Blind attack! Run away!”

His brows go flat, and his expression grows unamused as leaves cascade over him. “I’m starting to consider it.” The words come out as another joke and yet he still bites off at the end, as if regretting having said them.

“It’s okay, I know you’re just joking. I’m, like, eighty per cent sure this isn’t a foul murder ploy.”

“The other twenty per cent?”

“Well, I don’t know you that well, so who’s to tell?”

“You’ve known me for most of your life.”

“Maybe that’s where the other twenty per cent of unsureness comes from.”

“Very funny.”

She crawls over to him, raking in the dirt with her jeans. Her knee squelches as she catches a wet patch in the ground. Evie’s eyes lower automatically to assess the damage. The fabric is crusted over with splashes of red-purple. Not just her knee – all of her. “I’m covered in blood!”

“What?” Jeremy jumps to her side, shining a light down on her clothing. Dark patches cake her legs. “It’s just mud.”

“No, it’s not. It’s blood.”

He scrutinizes her carefully for a second, and then his expression melts into a smile. “It’s definitely mud. If you were covered in that much blood, you’d be dead. You fell into that puddle on the way here, remember? I told you my story would scare you. You’re already on edge.”

Looking closer, she supposes that, in the dark, flaking brown could be mistaken as deep purple. An uneasy laugh flutters out of her. “Oh, yeah. True.” But she doesn’t remember. There is a vague recollection of being drenched in something, but it’s hazy, as if seen behind a fog on a rainy night. She tries to bring light to it, focusing hard on that cusp of a memory. It doesn’t seem to want to hit her. “God, I must have had too much to drink last night. Everything is super blurry even now.”

“Yeah, you definitely did.”

She throws him a hard look. “Don’t act so noble, I’m almost certain you had too much too.”

His lips press into a thin line. “I know.”

 She shrugs, nonchalant.

The chatter of birds breaks through their conversation, soft at first, and then growing as the world wakes. The sky flushes pale at the roots and branches up its fingers, smearing the colours of dusk across the night.

“It’s morning already?” Evie pouts. Disappointment fills her. “Oh.”

Jeremy stands up and dusts the dirt from his trousers. She waits for him to extend his hand and help her up, but he doesn’t, so she pulls herself into a stance. “Are we still on for Monday?” she asks. “The new Spiderman is out and we’re all getting together to see it. Lisa says she’ll give me a fiver for some popcorn.” Her sister could be nice, sometimes.

“I don’t think I’ll make it.”

“Okay, well, I guess I’ll see you when I see you. By the way, Mum says you should come to dinner on my birthday. Bring your parents too.”

He nods. “See you next time, Evie.” He waves at her sadly and heads towards home.

The sun creeps in between the stones, the leaves above gilded gold as dapples of light pierce through. Trees – the graveyard’s protectors, watchers of the dead. As day breaks in, the ghosts of the night wither away into stories for another year.

A harsh splash of sun hits the tombstone beside her. She stops short when she sees the words carved upon it. Her chest tightens with disbelief, as if something has slammed into her.

Something had slammed into her.

Staring at the words, her breath should catch behind the lump that forms in her throat. Her heartbeat should skip. The blood should drain from her face.

 Of course, none of these things happen.

These are symptoms of being alive.

And, as the tombstone reminds her again this year:

   Rest in Peace

   Evie Rose Gallagher

   November 6th 1997 – October 31st 2014

   Beloved daughter, sister, and friend.

   Taken before her time.

And suddenly that memory – the fog in the rain, the headlights glaring, the costume of blood that was not all hers – comes rushing back and crashing into her. So hard her head smashes against it and shatters the glass. So much without warning that the air is knocked from her chest. The dark swallows her and she goes back to sleep.

When she wakes up, she wakes up here, just as she has for the past six years. One night a year only, unable to let go.

With guilt always present to greet her so she won’t be alone.

Evie turns in search of Jeremy, but he is already walking away – not looking back. In truth, he hates this part. When the daylight comes, you can never pretend away the blood as mud.

He had been right in one regard at least. He’d had too much to drink that night at the party.

He should not have driven them home.

She tries to shout out to him - tell him to face her, wait for her (move on and leave the guilt behind) – and finds that she has no voice.

It doesn’t really matter. He won’t. Not this year; maybe not even the next.

And only when he stops coming back to Lyndhurst Lane, will she stop coming back too.

October 28, 2020 18:15

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