The night was cold and the access road was dark. Andy Rence knew both of these truths first hand: he was sitting in his stalled car watching puffs of his cold breath roll out of his mouth like the dust from a cave entrance that had been sealed up for hundreds of years and was suddenly opened. And it was dark, a darkness that shrouded most of the world around him.
A world he knew he didn’t want to see anyway because the access road ran along the back of West Moore Cemetery. Even though Andy could barely see the cemetery, he knew just the same that the still, silent stone markers of life dotted the hills beyond the darkness behind the ice cold rod iron fencing that looked like rows and rows of medieval spears standing sentry.
There was no moon that night and no clouds either. Just the silver twinkling stars. The only light was a far away faint orange glow rising over the horizon from where this seldom driven road crested a slowly rising hill.
Andy had never been down that road and tonight he had no intention of driving down there either; stupid nonfunctioning car or not. He was on his way home from a cribbage tournament and he was on safely on Maple Street, just like every Thursday. Driving into the town from the vast space of fields and farmland that separated this town from the nearby town where his friends gathered to play cribbage: Maple Street connected the two towns.
If you were coming into this town on Maple the first signs of civilization that you would encounter were the graveyard. If you were to come in from the Interstate, this cemetery would be about the last thing you saw before you realized you were lost unless you were traveling onward to other town to say for example, go play in an amateur cribbage tournament.
Andy was in his mid 30s and was very good at cribbage. In fact, this evening he had beaten all his friends. That victory meant he didn’t have to pay his share of the pizza and whatever else was consumed that evening. But what Andy wasn’t good at was, among many other things, preparing for emergencies, like having his car die out in the middle of nowhere.
He felt very alone and isolated. He didn’t have a first-aid kit, or coat or a flashlight; on top of that his only light source, was his cell phone, only had one bar left on the charge. So it was very cold and very dark on that night in January when Andy’s car died at the intersection of Maple and this unnamed access road behind the cemetery.
He tried his cell phone, of course, the small device filled the dark car with bright light when he flipped it open. Andy glanced up at his eyes in the rear view mirror, admired his dilated pupils and how his facial features looked sunken and heavily shadowed in this odd light. HE went to call his father but the cell phone had no signal bars.
He turned his key again and heard the click and the clank; his car was still dead.
He had to do something. Andy pulled the handle on his door and gave it a soft push. He heard the familiar creek and groan of the heavy door, as if the old car was just tired of letting him in and out. He felt the cold air rush toward him and chill him. Opening the door didn’t even cause the dome light to come on; only darkness. After a moment, he looked up in wonder at the millions of stars filling the night above; the thick band of the Milky Way seemed to follow the same general direction as the access road.
No sounds at all.
Andy stood in the intersection, already shivering, and scanned his world from all directions. Darkness except for and some tiny circle of yellow light far off up the deserted road. The road itself was empty and lifeless; no cars parked along anywhere he could so and certainly no one was out driving. He flipped his phone open again and held it high, searching for hidden signal bars up in space. Nothing.
Andy stood in the intersection, already shivering and didn’t know what to do.
He could wait for help but he was already cold and getting colder quickly. He could continue along his route up Maple on foot. He guessed it was about three miles to the nearest homes. He could scale the rod iron fence and steal across through the cemetery, probably decreasing that three miles by maybe close to half but the graveyard was too dark and creepy. He could walk the access road and investigate the light source- it could be a place to get help. That wouldn’t take long- 30 minutes tops and he might be safe and warm. It might just be a street light. His father would have told him to remain with his vehicle- that’s how you get found; Andy could hear him clearly say.
But Andy kept looking up the road at the distant light and pushed the car door closed behind him. It was a sign of life.
He abandoned his car and trudged off into the wind toward the light. Andy he listened to the thud of his shoes he even recalled the expression that there is light at the end of the tunnel and chuckled a little. His laughs sounded very loud in the quiet night and seem to linger inside his head.
He left the pavement on Maple and stepped onto the crunchy gravel of the access road. Off the main road now, to his left was farmland and fields (it was black darkness now spread across those fields now but he knew from living here all his life) and to his right was the cemetery, neither of which provided any protection from the wind or the frigid cold. He didn’t have a coat, but he did have on a long sleeved shirt and jeans. He walked fast, taking long exaggerated strides.
The access road was like a tunnel with darkness on either side.
Andy kept glancing nervously over toward the cemetery as he walked. It looked almost peaceful in the dark: vast open areas of gently rising hills populated by perfectly place trees: an obvious trick of death. Those sinister trees looked like sentries guarding their dead. It was too dark to see much else. The headstone are mostly flat slabs these days not like the creepy old fashioned head stone you saw in movies. No creepy, leaning crosses or huge rounded headstones that looked like tongues or arms reaching out of the ground. There were no eroding, broken stone markers fallen over out here. In the night, and probably the day too, these burial grounds looked more like a park than anything else.
There was a howl off somewhere in the cemetery. A howl that was soft but wavering. A sound he had not noticed before back when he was still on Maple. He felt his heart sped up and he fought off an urge to run.
Instead he flipped open his cell phone and walked up to the tall iron fence surrounding the cemetery. He stared through the bars but couldn’t see anything. He turned the phone around so the light shone outward and stuck his hand inside between two bars. That provided no assistance in the light department but it did make him think something would reach out and grab his arm.
The howl continued from somewhere in the graveyard. He strained to see anything. A shadow seemed to move, far off. But it could be just blackness on darkness shifting somehow together. A slight movement. Still, it made Andy retracted his arm and step backward. He saw the movement again- high up on the hill. He imagined a twisted, howling, rotting corpse stumbling and fumbling its way down the hill toward him.
He saw it move again. This time he was sure: the stars over the crest of the hill vanished for a moment.
So dark up there.
The soft wail returned and the same patch of stars vanished.
He was scared but he boldly approached the fence and strained his eyes into the darkness. There it was again. The young man watched in terror at the same movement at the same spot. Almost all the way up the hill, toward the horizon. His heart was thudding now. What was up there?
In the darkness he could just make out the outline of a black tree and instantly realized he was only watching a dark branch blowing in the wind; back and forth, hiding and exposing stars as it did. Andy laughed and looked down at his phone.
He realized it was still open and the battery low indicator was flashing, screaming to be charged. He snapped the phone closed and muttered under his cold breath, which dissipated in the chilly night air.
But still, he wondered what made the murderous moan. He tired to ignore those thoughts by walking toward the lone light up the road. The light he hoped might contact with humans and safety once again.
The access road was getting slightly steeper and the light was getting closer. He pressed on.
Andy sensed he was noticeably colder now. He was shivering and his hair felt ice cold to the touch. So did his clothes for the matter. His feet were icy cold as well and his footfalls sounded distant and muffled, which is what alerted him in the first place to his hypothermia.
Did that mean his hears were freezing and he was losing his hearing? He did not know. His frosty breath rolled out from his mouth ahead of him and, in an attempt to warm himself, he imagined he was a fire breathing dragon burning his way through a village.
Still clutching his near-dead cell phone in his hand he continued his desperate march.
He was maybe half the distance from where he thought he would be far enough that he should be able see what the source of the light was when his cell phone rang................
It rang very loudly but only once. In fact, the phone was silent before the startled man realized it was ringing. Maybe it didn’t ring at all. His fingers were so cold and non-functional they were slow to maneuver the phone and flip the cover open. The phone lit up again faithfully in the dark night like a newborn star shining in the vastness of space.
One missed called, the phone read. Andy screamed out in frustration. The phone also had the ‘view now’ message up and his cold, stiff finger moved over to the OK button to click Instead of a phone number flashing up on the scream, the screen went black and for an instant Andy thought the charge finally died but instead a grayish-white figure with hideous yellow eyes and tangled yellowed teeth was staring up at him from inside the cell phone. Andy screamed out. The phone crashed to the ground, the battery cover popped off and the battery fell out.
But the cell phone stayed lit.
Andy blinked, recoiled and leaned toward the phone, hoping his mind was playing a trick on him.
As he leaned over the disassembled phone, he saw that the ghostly white figure was still there. Grinning, the figure swayed in the confines of the cell phone screen. Andy screamed again and watched in horror as tiny ribbons of white smoke started rising up out of the phone, curling up and out of the phone into the night.
Andy bolted. Unfortunately, he was panicked and instead of running down the street he instead charged straight into the iron fence and fell down with a hard thud. He put his hand to his nose and felt warm blood. That hurt but actually made his face feel good. He looked back and saw that the hazy, white smoke was growing out the cell phone like a hot air balloon being inflated.
Andy sat on the cold ground watching the smoke rise out of his cell phone and realized that the smoke was taking shape. The smoke was like genie coming out of its bottle: it was some evil apparition. He heard laughter and from with the smoke he saw form two rotten, unfocused yellows eyes.
Andy picked himself up and ran.He didn’t realize it, but instead of running toward the light or even back to his car, he was running across the barren fields on the other side of the road. It was plowed over and full of ruts. He kept twisting his ankles and jerking from side to side; falling; screaming.
The last time he fell, he looked back and saw the creature fully formed and floating across the air, menacing down over him. Before he limp further through the field, the phantom collapsed on top of Andy. The last thing Andy saw was the innocent twinkle of the millions of on looking stars. He thought the stars looked like eyes.
The specter pressed against him and howled and then everything went quiet.