By Matthew Wallenstein
Katie is photographer. She also owns a business processing people’s film. It is primarily just her but on occasion, she hires friends to help. She made a social media post saying that she would process any film people had of the recent Black Lives Matter protests and blur out the faces of protestors free of charge. It was reposted over 4,000 times. She was a bit overwhelmed to say the least. But as orders came in she was able to elicit help and seemed to be handling it well.
A couple weeks ago she invited me over for lunch. She was worried she burnt the rice but I thought it tasted good. I asked her to tell me a story of hers she had told me a couple of years back. It was the one about the graveyards.
She was a teenager, 16 or 17. The night of a meteor shower she snuck out to meet up with some friends. She climbed out of her brother’s window headed towards Egypt Valley, a wildlife preserve. The first two cemeteries in her county were out that way. Circle Cemetery was the older and the smaller of the two. It had a large tree in it. The side of the tree facing the graveyard was knotted and rotten, infested with bees, the side facing the outside was thriving. Local lore had that it was cursed.
Salem Cemetery sat across from it. It was larger and newer. The body of a 13-year-old girl was buried there, she was reported to be the first murder victim in the county. An older man had followed her into the woods and killed her. There were always trinkets and candles left on her stone.
The plan was Katie would meet some friends in Circle Cemetery to watch the meteors. She made her way through two miles of woods and came out on a back road. She didn’t think to bring a flashlight and her phone was dead. She had heard an animal growl in the woods and ran the last stretch so she was out of breath. It was a small dirt road and there was no reason for anyone to be on it so when she saw headlights approaching she assumed it was her friend James driving his jeep up to meet her. She stood in the road waving her arms trying to flag him down. As it got closer and she could hear it more clearly she realized it was much too loud to be a jeep. The lights were too high up. It was a semi. Why the fuck is there a semi here, are they even allowed to be on this road, she thought. It was pulling up, she felt terrified. She jumped into a ditch on the side of the road and hid herself. She just lay there breathing, scared, confused, still tired from running through the woods. The truck came to a stop. She heard the driver’s feet hit the ground and shuffle through the gravel towards her. He stopped very close to where she was hiding. She did her best not to breathe, not to make a sound. After a little while, he went back to the truck and drove away.
She tried to think of it from his perspective. He probably just saw someone looking lost and wanted to help them, maybe give them a ride. But she saw him turn up towards the cemeteries which didn’t make sense. He should have been driving back to the highway. There was nothing up there.
A little while later James finally pulled up in his jeep. It was packed full of people, eight or so. She climbed in and sandwiched herself between two of them. They got a little lost and all argued about which way to go and got more lost. Finally, though, they made it to Salem Cemetery.
They all piled out. It was dark. There was loud laughter echoing through the graveyard. It wasn’t coming from any of them. James shrieked, loud and high pitched. He began to cry. He was shaking. They were right next to the grave of the murdered little girl. He sobbed saying that he saw it move. The rest of them dismissed it, poked fun at him, started getting back into the jeep. Then they drove over to Circle Cemetery to meet up with a few others and watch the meteor shower. The laughter continued to echo off the trees and they assumed it was the rest of the people they were meeting but there was no one there. It would be another 20 minutes before they showed up.
One of the late arrivals was a kid Katie dated back in eighth grade. He had a girl with him none of them knew. Without warning, he and the girl started having sex on a grave right there in front of everyone. They finished up and acted like nothing had happened like they weren’t just doing what they were doing. Some of the kids started setting off bottle rockets, running around, yelling. Someone was kicking over a tombstone. Katie wasn’t really interested in any of that, she just wanted to be up there in the middle of nowhere watching the meteors. She moved away from the group, past the cursed tree and towards the woods. She wanted to just sit on a log alone and watch the sky.
She walked a little ways into the woods, the sounds of the teenagers died out behind her. She kept going. In the distance, through the trees, she could see some lights. She thought it was strange but also thought it was possible they were coming from a far off-road. As she got closer she saw more lights. Finally, she was close enough to see that they were fires. There was one huge fire in the middle of all the smaller ones. The semi-truck, the same one she had seen on the dirt road earlier, was parked there. The light from the fires reflected off of it. It was the only vehicle in sight. As she stood there and her eyes adjusted she realized what she was looking at. Many figures were standing, draped in white like so many ghosts among the flames. It was the Ku Klux Klan. She had walked right up to a rally. She hoped there were enough trees in front of her to keep her from being seen.
She turned and ran back in the direction of the graveyard. One of her friends drove her home. She climbed back into her brother’s window. Spent the night thinking about that truck. The way she figured it the Klan must have met up somewhere and loaded into the back of it to drive out to Egypt Valley. That’s when she saw it on the road and hid. She didn’t remember seeing any meteors.