For some reason, I always thought that I was safe from ghosts in the daytime.
At least, I would never see one outside on a sunny day. This was the backbone of what gave me the courage to accept Joey’s “triple-dog-dare.”
I’m sure trying to impress the new girl in our neighborhood who joined our group that day also had something to do with it.
Her name was Lila, and she smelled of lavender, and her eyes were electric. I cared more about impressing her than winning the baseball card. I licked my lips, tasting the sweet strawberry chapstick she let me borrow earlier that morning.
Dried autumn leaves crunched underfoot as I made my way through the hilly graveyard toward the back plot of land. “The Nameless Section,” as we all referred to it.
It was filled with neglected, unmarked headstones of cheap shale, most of which had been long since toppled over by time.
I approached the fence which bordered the “Nameless Section”—knee-high thick black iron which curved to fierce points to surround the plot. There was no gate.
Past the fenced plot of worn and toppled gravestones was the forest edge, which surrounded and absorbed the old crematorium within its depths. Its rust-red brick walls battled upwards through encroaching ivy vines attempting to strangle its tall chimney. There was no visible door on the crematorium front nor windows to peer in.
All of us knew the door was in back—out of sight from the rest of the graveyard. It faced the old forest, along with the back half of the old brick building, long since out of use.
Earlier that day, Joey went over the rules of the deal with me while the others crowded around with serious looks on their faces.
“You only get my Mickey Mantle card if you bring back a bag of ashes from inside.” Joey held an unfiltered Pall Mall cigarette in his hand as he said this. He pointed the cig at my face with one hand while the other shoved a brown paper bag into my chest.
We were all only about twelve years old that summer, and while he was the oldest by a year, we all knew Joey wasn’t held back a year because he was the smartest.
But he seemed to have a great many ideas passed down to him from his older brother, and nobody denied that. Joey hadn’t seen John for years, but he still got letters from prison time to time.
“And you have to walk through the Nameless Section too!” Another boy in our neighborhood ‘gang’ chimed in. I rolled my eyes and shrugged as if it were nothing added to a pile of other “no-big-deals.”
I was terrified, though. I hid my fear and distracted the others from spotting it with a question.
“How do I know you even still have the Mantle card? I don’t believe in stupid ghosts—I’m not a baby—but I don’t wanna’ disrespect some old graves for nothin’.”
More lies. Ghosts are real. I hoped I wouldn’t meet one today. You won’t. It’s the daytime. I consoled myself as Joey procured his Mantle card, and we all ogled at it.
Joey lit his cigarette and tried to look cool for the others.
I looked back one more time to see Lila’s pursed lips and nervous eyes. I smiled and shrugged at her before turning to face the Nameless Section.
Joey never mentioned to anyone that not even his wild brother was ever stupid enough to do this. To ignore our parents’ warnings about this place. After what happened to the others.
I stepped over the fence and held my breath. Then, realizing nothing happened, I continued through the plot in ten more steps. I was careful not to piss any spirits off by stomping on their unmarked graves.
I stepped over the backside of the dark iron fence and stood, looking up at the brick building towering above me.
I looked back toward the others, but they were all gone. Prank or not, I wasn’t returning without having tried to get those ashes. I turned back to face the building, and hairs rose on the back of my neck.
The others must have been hiding, still watching from the bushes outside the cemetery fence. I wouldn’t turn around again and give Joey any more satisfaction with this added element; now, I was alone.
I took a deep breath and slowly edged around toward the back of the crematorium. From the forest edge of thick trees to the old oak door of the building, there was just enough space to stand. So I grabbed the rusty old doorknob, braced myself, and pushed in with all my might.
It was locked and held fast. I pulled and pushed, giving an honest effort—partly upset I wouldn’t get the Mantle card while relieved I wouldn’t have to go inside. Finally, letting go of the doorknob, I let out a sigh and turned to face the forest.
She stood there staring at me, peeking out from behind a tree a few feet away.
Her smile was unearthly wide, stretching her face to reveal rows of pointed teeth.
Her dark, hollow eyes were brimmed with blood, and her black dress swayed, though there was no wind.
She giggled and she shook her hand at me side to side–in it, a blood-splattered baseball card.