Drama Fiction Mystery

Luce decided to take the long way home from the party to avoid the inevitable. She knew that when she got to her apartment, if Susan was still awake, she would give Luce the hairy eyeball like she always did when Luce was out late having fun. Luce, at 23, was simply enjoying her young adulthood and didn’t need somebody hovering over her. Susan, who was seven years older than her younger sister Luce, and much more serious, thought that as her new roommate, she should assume the role of Luce’s mother. Luce already had one mother who spent too much time worrying about her, thank you very much. She didn’t need two. Besides, the party had been too much fun for someone to put a damper on it.

It was hosted by Luce’s friend Eva. The homemade Mexican food and fresh margaritas were excellent as was Eva’s playlist of dance-pop music. Aside from having stimulating conversations with various guests, Luce spent much of the evening dancing. One of her dance partners was a guy named Brad who was not only a great dancer and pretty damned hot, but he was also an interesting conversationalist. When they weren’t dancing, they talked. Luce felt a little antisocial because once she and Brad started talking, she didn’t interact much with other people because she was so engrossed in her conversations with Brad. It turned out that they were both avid hikers and bikers, so they discussed their favorite trails and excursions.  Then they went on to chat about their favorite television shows, books, and hobbies. Not only were Luce and Brad athletic and outdoorsy, but they both loved to binge watch series. Their current favorite was Supernatural, but they were also enjoying Bridgerton.  They were also avid readers, but Luce preferred historical novels, and Brad liked thrillers. Another thing they had in common was the love of working with their hands. During Brad’s downtime, when he wasn’t programming and troubleshooting computers, he did woodworking. His latest project was creating cutting boards out of exotic woods. Luce liked to paint and sculpt when she wasn’t teaching her high school students how to do those things. When Luce realized it was 11:45, she decided she’d better get going because she was meeting a couple of her girlfriends at 9:00 am on the Wissahickon bike trail. Brad walked Luce to her car, they kissed passionately, and he asked her out to dinner the following night.

Luce made sure she kept her eyes peered on the dark curvy road. Not only was it difficult to see well on such a windy road, but Luce had drunk two margaritas over the course of the evening, so she had to be extra vigilant. As much as she tried to focus on her driving, her mind kept wandering to her time with Brad that evening. It had been a long while since Luce had met a man with whom she had that kind of chemistry. Luce was startled back to the present when she came upon Eternal Gardens Cemetery on her right and noticed a petite young woman in a gauzy white dress wandering out of it.  The woman looked dazed when she roamed on to the road. The slender dark-haired woman was moving in the direction of Luce’s Subaru but appeared to be looking right through it. Truth be told, the woman looked like a ghost by the way she kept walking towards her, trancelike. Luce supposed if this was a ghost, it would probably walk through her car. To be on the safe side, though, Luce swerved to avoid hitting the woman, then floored the accelerator to escape the cemetery. About a mile down the dark curvy road, Luce pulled to the side shoulder and stopped her car. How can I be such a wuss thinking I saw a ghost and fleeing? Seeing a ghost coming out of a cemetery was too cliché. What I saw was more likely a young woman in trouble trying to get my attention. Someone else might not see her in the road and could hit her. I’ve got to help her. Luce jerked the car in reverse, made a three-point turn and drove back in the direction from where she came.

When she got to the vicinity where she saw the young woman, there was no sign of her. Maybe what she saw was actually a ghost, but Luce didn’t think so. Luce had read books about the paranormal, and she believed they were real, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a human woman in need of help. Luce wouldn't just drive home and chalk this off as a strange encounter. She sat in her car, double checked that her doors were locked, and pondered what to do next. I’m the one who saw the woman.  She’s now my responsibility. Luce considered calling 911, but what could she say? “I was driving past Eternal Gardens Cemetery on Rockway Road, and a young woman with disheveled dark hair wearing a white flowy dress wandered out of there on to the road. I think she needs help.” The 911 operator would ask Luce why she thought the woman needed assistance, and all Luce could tell her was it was her gut feeling. Then, the operator might think she was a nut case and ignore her.  Luce’s best hope was that the operator would think she was a drunk driver. A young woman driving around after midnight on a weekend, making a strange 911 call, would be a red flag. The police would track Luce’s phone and come for her. She was pretty sure she would pass the sobriety test, but she couldn’t be 100% sure. It had been a couple hours since she finished her second margarita, and it wasn’t that strong. Still, she was taking a chance bringing the cops to her. Even if she left an anonymous tip, if the police took her seriously, they could possibly track her. Luce knew she had no other option but to see for herself what was going on.

Luce’s heart drummed so hard that it was probably visible through her pink cotton eyelet shirt. She inhaled and exhaled deeply several times to try to calm down. Ten minutes later, Luce extracted herself from the safety of her car and took a few tentative steps into the cemetery. For a moment Luce wasn’t scared as she marveled at the way the moonlight shimmered upon the headstones that proudly stood above their charges. What a great painting that would make. “Hello, is anyone there?” she shouted. “Miss, I saw you walking out of here a few minutes ago. You looked like you needed assistance.” Luce stood still and listened, but the only sound she heard was her own voice, pounding heart, and the serenade of crickets. She called again for the woman. Nothing. Luce started when she heard a swooshing to her right. “Hello, is anybody there?” Luce froze and listened, then took a few cautious steps towards the sound. When she realized it was probably just the wind swishing through the trees, she wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved. I can’t give up now. I’ve come this far. She faced the rustling trees and called out again. “If you’re there, please come out. I won’t hurt you. I’ve come to help you if that’s what you need.” Still, nobody appeared. What am I doing in a cemetery calling for some woman I never met?  I must be crazy. Luce stood and waited a few more moments. She had done what she could. Either the young woman was no longer around, or she didn’t want Luce’s help. Maybe what she saw had been a ghost, benevolent or malevolent, she didn’t know.  She certainly wasn’t going to stay there and risk coming face to face with it to find out. As she turned around, ready to flee back to the safety of her vehicle, Luce felt something sharp clasp on to her right ankle.  She screamed and toppled over on to the damp grass.

The pain was excruciating as it radiated from her ankle bone up to her knee. She tried to pull free from the jaws that latched onto her, but that effort only made the teeth of the thing dig deeper into her skin. “Help! Somebody please help me. I’m here, about 100 feet from the road. Help!” Once again, the only sounds she heard were her hammering heart and those damned crickets. Luce kept shouting, but her yells were futile. Nobody was coming to her rescue. Luce sat down on the ground to assuage her pain, but if anything, sitting made it worse. Luce struggled to stand again, but the effort intensified her agony and terror, and she fainted.

A few hours later, Luce woke in a panic as the sun emerged over the horizon. She sat up quickly, realized how sore she was from sleeping on the hard ground,  and tried to figure out where she was. An item slipped off her shoulders on to the dewy grass. It was a red and white Afghan.  Where did that come from, and why was I sleeping in a cemetery, she wondered. Then, the sick realization that while she was searching for an elusive young woman through a cemetery, her ankle was caught in a trap. To her astonishment, though, her leg was now free. She rubbed her ankle tentatively. She looked at the dried blood and the hideous purple and blue hues on her inflamed ankle. It was tender, but since nothing felt like it was broken, she made her way to her feet. How did my foot get out of the trap? I remember trying to dislodge it, but my attempt was futile. Undoubtedly, someone rescued me from the trap and covered me while I slept.

As grateful as Luce was, she didn’t want to hang around to find out who helped her. Loitering in a cemetery at dawn was not her idea of a good time. She had to get out of there. Susan was probably beside herself with worry. By now, she had most likely called their parents and maybe even the police. Luce would be surprised if an all-points bulletin wasn’t issued for her return.

Luce staggered towards her car. Her dark blue Subaru Outback never looked so inviting. As she pressed her key fob to open the door, she spotted a sign. “No trespassing at night. Traps are set for offenders. You will be fined $250.00.” How come I didn’t notice that on the way in, Luce wondered. Thankful that it was her left foot that was throbbing, Luce floored the accelerator and hightailed it towards home. At that point, all she wanted was ice on her ankle, a hot shower, and some sleep. After all, I have a date with Brad tonight. Then, she remembered the bike ride she had planned with her girlfriends. She’d have to cancel that.

A half mile down the road, she saw the young woman in the flowy dress walking on the road towards her again. Luce slammed on her brakes, exited her car, and hobbled in the woman’s direction.  When she was within 10 feet of her, Luce realized the flesh and blood woman was wearing a pale-yellow nightgown, not a flowy summer dress, and the “woman” was a teenaged girl who couldn’t have been more than 14.  Luce limped a bit closer. “Honey, are you OK?”, but the girl seemed to look through her and kept walking. She’s sleepwalking. How long does someone sleepwalk? Would they do it from midnight till 6 am? Hardly likely, but here’s living proof. Unless it was someone else. No, that would just be too weird and coincidental. Luce giggled to herself. Like this night wasn’t weird enough already.  Remembering that you shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker, Luce followed closely behind the girl and wondered what she should do next. She couldn’t just leave her to wander aimlessly on the side of this curvy, deserted road.

Luce took her phone out of her pocket and was relieved that she had service out there. She stopped a moment and googled “How to gently wake a sleepwalker.” According to Web MD, one should walk with the sleepwalker and guide them back to bed. Since Luce had no idea where the girl came from, and she had an injured ankle, this certainly wasn’t an option. As Luce read on, she discovered that if it was necessary to wake the sleepwalker, one should do it with a loud noise rather than touch or shake them. Luce uncomfortably caught up with the girl and tried to figure out what kind of loud noise she could make. She went to Spotify and clicked “Loudest Metal Ever”, hit play, turned up the volume as high as it could go, and put her phone within an inch of the girl’s ear. My God, this will wake up the residents of the cemetery, thought Luce. Abruptly, the girl’s large green eyes opened, and a startled expression passed over her face.

“Where am I?” she croaked and backed away from Luce.

“It’s OK, honey. You were sleepwalking,” Luce said soothingly. “What’s your name?

“Patti West,” the girl muttered. "

 “I’m Luce Barlow. Where do you live, Patti? I’ll take you home.” Patti pointed towards the cemetery. “You mean a development on the other side of the cemetery?” The girl nodded.

Patti sat in Luce’s passenger seat still looking a bit dazed and perplexed as Luce covered her with the Afghan and put the car into drive.” You must have been sleepwalking a long time,” said Luce. “I saw you walking near the cemetery around midnight, but you ran off before I could help you. I didn’t realize people sleepwalked that long.”

Patti faced Luce and said matter-of-factly, “It couldn’t have been me. I was in bed reading the new Stephen King novel until 2:00 am.”

“You couldn’t have been. What makes you think you were in your bed at that time?”

Patti sighed audibly. “I know because I heard my parents’ cuckoo clock strike two right before I turned off my bedroom light.”

If Patti was telling the truth, then Luce had seen someone else coming out of the cemetery around midnight. No, that’s impossible, thought Luce but couldn’t think of any logical explanation for what she saw.  

“Turn right at the stop sign,” said Patti. “By the way, why were you limping?”

“I got my foot caught in one of the traps the management set to keep out trespassers at night. It really did a number on my ankle. You’re lucky that didn’t happen to you. It really hurts.”

“That’s a lame thing for them to do. You should get that ankle checked out.”

“I will,” said Luce suddenly aware of her aching ankle. “It was so painful that I fainted, but someone freed me and covered me up with that Afghan I put around your shoulders. Are you sure that wasn’t you?”

Patti was suddenly aware of the Afghan wrapped around her. “Yes, and I’ve never seen this thing before in my life. My house is the white brick one up there on the right.” Patti unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the passenger door. Before she got out, she said,” Thanks so much for taking me home.”

Luce sat in Patti’s driveway trying to figure out an explanation for the night’s strange events. She knew she had seen a girl stumble from the cemetery on to the road, but Patti was adamant that it wasn’t her. Luce was also certain that she fainted when she caught her ankle in the trap, but someone freed her and covered her with an Afghan. Luce’s ankle hurt, and she was too tired at this point to make sense of the strange encounters she experienced in the past few hours. She put her car in reverse, then pointed it towards home.

November 11, 2022 22:39

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