“He fled through the cemetery, stumbling over headstones and exposed roots. When he risked a look back, he saw nothing but wicked trees dark against the night sky.
“But he knew the demon chased him. He could feel the ice in the Halloween air.”
QP spoke in a low, menacing voice. He took his time telling the story, and he glanced around his circle of friends, staring at each one for a prolonged moment.
Savannah sat against a headstone and hugged her knees. She had brown eyes that vanished under the night, and dark hair that curled around her shoulders.
Evan sat cross-legged beside her, his red hair a fiery contrast to all else. His face resembled the gargoyles around the cemetery: stoic, hard, aged.
Tyler rested his head on his hand, his skinny wrist supporting the weight. He wore glasses and had a receding hairline at seventeen. A blunt burned orange from between his lips. Smoke plumed and shrouded his face. He rolled onto his elbows with an outburst of rough coughing.
Evan patted Tyler’s back. “Here,” he said. He lifted a flask near Tyler’s legs and handed the whiskey to him. “Wash it down.”
Robert stood against a tree trunk. He titled back his beer, his Adam’s apple bulging, his unkempt afro bouncing around his forehead. When he finished the drink, he crushed the can and tossed it toward QP. “What happened next?”
QP grinned like a jack-o-lantern: face round and head large. “When the man turned to run again, the demon appeared before him. It wore mask over its face. It was white like fresh snow. The lips of the mask curled into a smile, but they were far from happy. Stitches sewed the mouth shut, pinched the eyes closed.”
“Boo,” Savannah said, cupping a hand over her mouth. “I thought you were going to tell us a scary story.”
QP frowned. “It’s because you’re sober.”
“It’s because you made up a terrible story.”
“I agree,” Evan said. “With Savannah.”
“What a shocker?” QP said. “You agree with Savannah. Just suck her dick already. Is that why you’re not smoking? Because you don’t want to upset her.” He spoke in a babying tone.
“Why’d you drag us out here?” Evan asked. “What’s the big surprise?” He reached behind him and grabbed a beer from a backpack. The aluminum punched open like a gunshot into the empty night.
“I’d rather the story just be done,” Tyler said, readjusting his glasses, taking a small puff from the burning joint. “It’s Halloween. We are out in the cemetery. How far should we push our luck?”
“What’re you talking about?” QP asked. “What does finishing the story have anything to do with it? Is this your first time smoking, man? You might want to slow down,” QP extended a hand. “Here, let me take that off you.”
Tyler leaned forward and passed the weed.
Savannah stretched her hands into the air. Her sweatshirt lifted and a couple inches of skin showed. QP enjoyed the sight a little too long.
“QP,” she said, readjusting her sweatshirt. “You never see a stomach before?”
Evan’s stone face cracked, exploring the rare territories of smiling.
“Remember last year?” QP asked. “Walking around that abandoned apartment. Graffiti all over the walls. Blood stains in that one corner. That was scary. And fun. Or, Tyler, remember the haunted house in eighth grade?”
“You really have to bring that up?” Tyler readjusted so he sat upright. “Remember when you were fat?”
“I’d rather be fat than piss my pants.” QP dropped back his head and guffawed. “Weren’t you dating that chick at the time? And she dumped your skinny ass that night?”
Tyler flipped off QP, then pulled a stream of whiskey from the flask.
“Every year since fourth grade,” QP said, staring at Evan, “we’ve spent Halloween together. And this is it. Our senior year. The last Halloween we’ll have.”
“You don’t know that,” Robert said, stepping away from the tree and into the semicircle.
“I don’t know, Bobby-Boy. I know you live in fairyland and all, but this might be it. Figured we might as go out with a bang. Get drunk and high in a cemetery on Halloween. Tell scary stories. What could go wrong?”
The question died in the vastness of the cemetery. Crickets chirped and distant cars sped down the freeway.
Fog had settled above the damp ground and around the headstones. Massive trees, dark and threatening against the night, rose like monsters from a Lovecraft novel.
“Where’s Jimmy?” Evan asked.
“He’s probably screwing your mom,” QP said.
“I hope he doesn’t show,” Robert said. “I hate that dude.”
“He is a douche,” Tyler said.
“Agreed,” savannah said. “But it is tradition. He’s been with us every year since fourth grade. And, also, who cares. QP’s just as obnoxious and we tolerate him.”
“Hey,” QP said, sounding sarcastic. He sighed. “You’re right.”
“So the getting drunk and high in the cemetery is the big Halloween surprise?” Savannah asked.
QP clucked his tongue, and wagged a finger. “Not so fast, pretty lady. Can I finish my story?”
“We’re still on this story?” she asked. “This will go down as the longest, most boring, least scary story ever told.”
“So listen. Dumah, the demon, right. Dumah appears in front of this guy. It’s Halloween, remember, like tonight. That’s when the worlds are closest together, and supernatural beings can tear through the fabric.”
“So this is like a Bloody Mary thing?” Evan asked, stretching his legs out across the grass. “We spin in a circle, chanting his name three times, and he’ll appear and grant us three wishes.”
“That’s a genie, dumbass,” Savannah said.
“But don’t you sell them your soul in exchange for a wish? I mean, what’s the point of summoning a demon if he doesn’t grant you anything? To get haunted or slaughtered? That doesn’t make sense. That’s why I hate horror movies. Nothing ever makes sense.”
“No,” Robert said, holding up a finger. “That’s not completely true.”
“Shut up, nerd,” QP said. He rubbed his hands over his face. “Listen, Dumah can only be summoned in one particular way.”
“Demons aren’t real,” Tyler said, reaching across the circle and retrieving the joint from QP, then taking a quick hit. “There’s no way to summon them.”
“Is that why you brought us out here?” Evan asked. He tipped his beer can up and drank. Then he burped into a closed fist after finishing. “To summon a demon?”
QP stammered. “I mean, it’s Halloween. We’ve done something every year, and this is it for us. Curtain-fucking-call. I figured we could get a high, then try and scare ourselves with a summoning. Something we can always remember. And think of this. If it works, who knows, maybe we’ll get three fucking wishes.”
Savannah smirked at Evan. “Who knows.”
“I don’t like that idea,” Tyler said.
“Quit being a pussy. You don’t ever like any ideas,” QP said.
“How does the summoning work then?” Evan asked.
“Let me get a hit of that.” After Tyler passed the joint back to QP, and he took a long drag, he fell to a fit of coughing. He punched on his chest until his system settled down. “We all have to hold hands and form a circle.”
Evan turned toward Savannah. “You’re really in on this?”
She jumped to her feet. “Why the hell not? He’s right. It’s our last Halloween together. Let’s make it one to remember.”
Savannah grabbed Evan’s hand with her right, and she reached toward Tyler with her left.
Tyler stared at Savannah’s extended hand.
Orange paint chipped on her gnawed fingernails. He stared at the short nails, at the dead-orange paint, like staring into a mirror that reflected against another mirror. He cocked his head to the side.
Why paint the nail if she’s going to bite them? Is the orange polish toxic to the human body? Was Savannah more susceptible to cancer now?
“Tyler,” she barked after a few seconds.
He shook his head, coming back to the reality of the night. “I don’t think so.” Tyler shoved away Savannah’s hand. Her nails left an orange streak in the air. “There’s no way. I don’t feel good about this.”
“About what?” QP asked. “Holding a girl’s hand?”
Tyler glared at QP, who hulked before him and held a beer in one hand, the joint in the other. The orange tip nearly touched against QP’s thick fingers. Tyler had to squeeze shut his eyes.
Why all the orange against the hands? Did it mean something?
He felt his breathing start to labor. His tongue weighed heavy in his dry mouth.
He glanced over to Robert, who crossed his arms and wore a pout. He looked like a toddler. When Robert didn’t meet his gaze after a few seconds, Tyler stood, wiped the moisture from the back of his jeans. The alcohol and weed pushed against him, and he swayed on his feet and tried to resist the urge to look at his own hands.
Were they orange, too? And if they were, would he scream? Would he cry?
“I need to piss,” he said, slurring, still glancing at Robert so he wouldn’t have to look at his hands.
“Why’re you staring at Bobby-Boy?” QP asked. “Want him to shake your little thing for you?” QP glanced at Robert. “Hey, Robbie, Tyler needs you to hold his dick.”
“Screw you,” Tyler said, spinning around and lurching away from the group, deeper into the cemetery.
Despite the fall chill, his cheeks burned. They burned orange. Like flames. Orange flames that licked the night sky. Orange on orange on orange.
“I’m high,” Tyler said. “High and drunk.”
His scant weight pressed into the damp cemetery grounds. He felt the cold moisture of the well-tended grass seep into his shoes, and for a second, he thought he might sink all the way into the earth. Join the dead.
“Sober up,” he said. “Get under control.” He cycled through breathing techniques and mind-clearing activities, attempting to clear paranoid thoughts.
One attempt to ground himself was to recall last Halloween as they explored the abandoned apartment. The group had split into pairs. QP and Jimmie. Savannah and Evan. Robert and Tyler.
Tyler had heard a noise, and he had involuntarily grabbed Robert’s hand. Before he had the opportunity to correct his mistake, Robert squeezed. Tyler squeezed back.
They navigated around the third floor of the gutted apartment complex holding hands, walking in and out of rooms and areas they had already been, just so they could have an excuse to keep holding hands.
Then QP had boomed up the stairs and to the third floor. Robert had dropped Tyler’s hand like it had burned him.
“What the shit got into you two?” QP asked when he saw them. “See a ghost?”
Neither had mentioned the incident since. Tyler had hoped tonight, he and Robert could revisit that moment. But he had to get his mind under control first.
About fifty yards from his friends, a thick, gnarled live oak grew from the ground like a skeleton, void of all leaves and life. Tyler approached the massive trunk and unzipped his pants.
As he pissed, the hairs on his skin rose. An eerie chill encompassed him, and felt like someone, or something, from the shadows watched him. He glanced over his shoulder.
A dark figure lurked behind him twenty yards, obstructed by the fog. As soon as he noticed the silhouette, it disappeared back into the veil.
He smacked the side of his head twice, and ordered himself to sober up. “There’s no one out there. You know that. You can prove it.” He zipped up his pants. “Prove you’re not a paranoid mess. Prove you can approach Robert tonight and not make a fool of yourself.”
Tyler zipped up his pants, then turned around and stalked toward the spot he had noticed the figure. He muttered to himself that there was nothing there. That the drugs and the alcohol played with his mind and imagination. He was in a cemetery, on Halloween night, after all. A little paranoia was normal.
When he reached the spot he thought he had seen the outline, he took out his phone and turned on the flashlight application. He scanned around a ten yard radius. Nothing but headstones growing from buried corpses.
“Hello,” he said. “Anyone out there?”
Silence responded. Silence of the late night. Silence of the outdoors. Silence of the dead.