Monday, October 31, 2005


An October Moment...

Last Week of October, 1981:

I was a freshman in high school, working on a community history project: the restoration of an 18th century Methodist cemetery, which a farmer had recently rediscovered in an overgrown patch in a distant field on his property. The cemetery wasn't far from the small town where we lived so it was easy for my brother and me to spend our weekends there, working to remove the fallen trees and cut away the decades of vines and bushes that had grown up.

The overgrown area--about 300 yards square--had been the site of one of the earliest Methodist churches in the area. Through research at the historical society, we had found a church registry and had begun matching up registry names with the graves we were slowly uncovering from the vines and myrtle that had overtaken the site. The church and the cemetery had last been used in the 1870s, before the main Methodist church was built in the next town over. The original site was left to fall into disrepair and was eventually forgotten.

You'd think it would be creepy for my brother and me to spend our fall afternoons in a grove of vine-entangled trees, surrounded by pale white stones poking up from the underbrush like massive teeth from some unseen giant skull, but given where we had lived for the past year, this was nothing. After all, there were no walls from which emanated mysterious knocking, no fleeting glimpses of women in blue, no objects hurtling across the dining room. My family had experienced all of this and more since the previous summer. At first it had been shocking, to say the least. But the human animal is ridiculously adaptable to change, and by the fall of 1981, my brother and I took it in stride.

I had started to take something else in stride too: odd things that began to happen to me outside our house. My uncle, no stranger to the paranormal, had a theory that the longer you were exposed to forces unseen, the more sensitive you became to them wherever you went. Driving home late one night, my family's car passed a local historic landmark--an old inn dating to the 1740s--and I clearly saw something rolling around in the pitch-black yard. It bounced across my field of vision, looking like a glow-in-the-dark tumbleweed. Then it vanished. Once, visiting a family friend at an old firehouse, I had heard scuffing noises from a room that turned out to be empty. And cold spots! I could take you the town where lived then and point to three buildings all right next to each other on the main street--the bank, an old Woolworth's, and the town movie theater--and show you the cold spots in each one of them.

The cemetery, though, was peaceful. It was quiet and serene and we enjoyed doing something productive with our time. And so it was that my brother and I were up early one Saturday morning, preparing for another day of clean-up. My father was already working out of state at this time and my mother was off at a craft show with some friends so my brother and I were on our own to gather the tools we needed and await our ride to the cemetery. As the project's official reporter, it fell to me to record the day's progress and the names on whatever stones we uncovered, so I also brought along a notebook and some pens. I remembered our teacher had wanted some photos, so that day I also retrieved my old 110-film camera from my room. I checked the cartridge--the camera held about 10 pictures--so I put it in my jacket pocket and took it with me.

I knew as soon as I got to the cemetery that something was different. To this day, I can't guess at what might have caused the change, but the moment I set foot in that quiet field, an odd chill hung with me. Any other time, I'd have thought I was coming down with a flu. But I had had a year of odd experiences and this chill felt familiar somehow. Like a cold spot, but not quite. Almost like a cold spot was nearby but I kept missing it. I tried to shrug it off and joined my classmates in our work, carefully clearing vines and weeds from around any new gravestones that we discovered, hauling brush down to the dirt road where a volunteer had offered to truck it to the dump. But as the day wore on I felt increasingly spacey, not really focused on the work. Whenever we took a break to rest or eat, I wandered among the ivy-covered branches, always careful not to trip over some unseen log or headstone, still hidden in the deeper overgrown recesses of the site.

At length, I stood at the boundary between the uncleared, overgrown area of the site and the cleared area where my classmates were, brushing dirt and moss out of stone engravings.

And without really knowing why, I took the camera out of my pocket and began to take pictures.

I snapped pictures until the film ran out, then put the camera in my pocket and forgot about it. I took my usual notes about stones we'd uncovered and the area we'd cleared. Eventually the sun settled low over the sky and we all clambered into our various cars for the ride home.

A few weeks later, getting off the bus from school, my mom met me at the door with a stern but strange look on her face. She wasn't mad, exactly.

"What were you kids doing at the cemetery the other week?" she demanded. Usually, she or our teacher or another parent came along to supervise, but that one weekend we'd been on our own.

"Why?" I asked.

"Did you start a fire without permission?" she asked. Her tone sounded almost hopeful, not accusatory as I would have expected. Early in the project, there had been some discussion of lighting a controlled brush fire at the site to clear away the overgrowth and dead wood. But in the end we had abandoned the idea because we were afraid the fire might damage any stones underneath. And anyway, it turned out the local fire department wouldn't grant us a brush permit anyway.

"We didn't have a fire," I assured her. "What is it?"

"Somebody was smoking, maybe?" she asked.

My brother and I shook our heads. None of our group smoked.

Exhaling in a resigned way, my mom reached into her purse and produced a packet of photos she'd retrieved from Fotomat that day.

"Take a look," was all she'd say.

Of the 10 photos I'd taken, nearly all of them were blurry or hazy. But not this one.


Or this one.


"Holy shit!" my brother exclaimed. "It's like that one from last year." He peered closer at this last picture. By the way, that's him in the background, in the blue sweatshirt and white painter's pants. My brother wasn't looking at himself in the picture, though. He was peering into the mysterious white.

Here's a closer look.


"Is that somebody? Do you see that?" he asked.

"What could cause this?" my mom wondered, more bewildered than afraid.

We had no idea.

But if it makes you feel better, tell yourself what so many have before you: that the smoke is some kind of fog. That I lied about starting a fire. That we kids were smoking giant cigars (or something more potent) and didn't want to admit it.

Go ahead. You won't offend me. Do what it takes to fight the chill you're feeling on the back of your neck.

I wish I could.

You see, I thought the strange chill that hit me that day at the old cemetery eventually faded to nothing.

But I realize now that it never truly left me.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

I'm going to try for National Novel Writing Month this year (last year I gave up early), and your October Moments have inspired me to attempt to include something supernatural in my plot. I'm not attuned to the paranormal whatsoever, so it should be quite a challenge. At least I'll have posts like this for reference! :)

You got me again, MM.

Damn you! :shakes fist:
Damn! I was really hoping for a good night sleep tonight. *shiver* I have a picture like that...somewhere. Might have to go dig it up. Or, maybe I'll wait until the chills from this post have died down a bit. Great story as usual MM!
Gives tangible meaning to the words "Waking the Dead".
Those are some great pictures. Alot of the pictures you see on ghost hunting websites are not very believable orb-type pictures, but those are great!
GREAT story. and perfect for this Halloween morning. :)
interesting... I didn't see the shape you were talking about until I looked at again...
Spooky stuff, MM. I can't imagine how one would ever "get used to" the cold spots, peripheral figures, raps and taps and countless other strange occurences. Like those damn pictures. Man.

AGAIN with the night-light.

Happy Halloween!
I'm nervous even thinking about you seeing what you saw - apparently it's a damn good thing I'm not a magnet - or I'd probably require Xanax all the time. Which would mean that I'd be permanently dazed...hmm.
Great stories MM, and I believe you.
There's an even clearer ghostly image about an inch and a half to the right of your brother -- a male, wearing a striped shirt.
There's a skull in the last photo.
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