Halloween, and cemeteries, and nightmares, and zombies! Oh, my!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of all of the above. Well, maybe not always the nightmares, though I can’t deny that they fascinate me and have often played a central role in my storytelling. Until I met others with the same leanings, I suspected (and was told) that my fondness for these things was odd, especially for an African-American girl. The strangeness was irrelevant, and while I’ve long since met multitudes of people from various cultures with the same fascinations, I’m happy to say that it is still strange by most standards, and deliciously so.
But Halloween is the one time of year where everyone indulges in the marvelously weird and wacky world of the dark. Now, I didn’t always go out every Halloween as a kid. Sometimes I would spend the time indoors, watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show on VH1, or something hosted by Elvira, and/or giddily cheering at a B-movie flick on USA Up All Night. Some years I also spent the time going back and forth between goofing off around the house, or writing, watching a movie, and reading a book by one of my favorite authors when I was a kid – likely something by R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike or – yes – even Judy Bloom.
However, one year in particular stands out in my mind. The details are a bit fuzzy, but I’ll recount what I can as memory serves. I was in middle school, and a few other neighborhood kids/friends and I decided to go out on Halloween. We spent hours going from house to house in our neighborhood, sometimes doubling back and getting more candy from the same houses. Most residents didn’t care – they were just happy to be rid of their sugary stashes and were happy that we were safe.
At some point, it was decided that we’d gotten all that we could from that area. We moved on, walking blocks and blocks away from our own homes, and on our way we passed by an old cemetery. I stared at it in awe. Of course, I’d seen it before, been in there before – plenty of times. But never had it looked so luminous, so tempting, so magnificent. There were lights strewn about the gate, and a fog seemed to settle lightly over the grounds, giving it an eerie glow. Instead of stopping in right then and there, we continued on to houses and the candies that awaited us, vowing to go back later.
But as the night progressed we exhausted ourselves on candy and running around. It got late, and most of us had to head back home.
Some day after that – I don’t remember how long – I took another walk to that graveyard. There was a trail that I often liked to hike along that ran behind the cemetery, but there was no entrance that way due to the gate, trees and other vegetation. It was during the day, so I went through the main gate. I brought some flowers, and I spent some time examining the headstones and putting the flowers on the graves, wondering about the lives of the people buried there. I made up stories about them and talked out loud about what things might have been like in their time. As I mentioned before, it was an old cemetery, and many of the headstones were from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was nice, quiet day.
But later that night – and I still remember this pretty clearly – I had a horrible, vivid nightmare. There I was, back in the cemetery. Only, I could see into the cold graves even as I floated above them. And the inhabitants were none too happy. I could see their rotted bodies and tattered, faded clothes; I could literally feel their anger. Some writhed, looked like zombies about to burst forth from the ground. They screamed at me. They wanted me to leave them alone and stop leaving flowers on their graves. They didn’t want them. They just wanted to be left in peace.
I was terrified when I woke up. And confused. I couldn’t understand why doing something that I thought was so nice – leaving flowers on the graves of people that maybe didn’t have any person left to remember them – could lead to such a horrific nightmare.
Did I go back to that cemetery again? Absolutely! Only … it took a while for that to happen. And, yeah, I left off putting flowers on any of the graves. I never had another nightmare about the place, but I do remember that incident as being one of my earliest nightmares about the undead (or similar). It probably wasn’t the first I’d had. (I was no stranger to the Night of the Living Dead movies.) And it certainly – thankfully – wasn’t the last. Because, while I haven’t yet published one of my tales centering on zombies, details from those dreams and nightmares have popped up in my other stories. A character name or plot-point here, a conversation or location there.
And, of course, I still enjoy visiting cemeteries a lot, as much as I enjoy Halloween. And sometimes I still put flowers on graves – but no other nightmares have resulted from that, as far as I can tell.
NANCY O. GREENE started writing at the age of nine. Her short story collection, Portraits in the Dark, received a brief mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. Other works have appeared or will appear in ChiZine; Lovecraft eZine; Cemetery Dance; Tales of Blood and Roses; Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror; Shroud Publishing’s The Terror at Miskatonic Falls; Dark Recesses; Flames Rising; Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!; and others. She has a BA in Cinema (Critical Studies) and a minor in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Southern California, and is a Film Independent: Project Involve Fellow.
Nancy is also raising funds for a pro-paying horror anthology. To find out more about In the Hour of Our Death, or to donate, visit http://www.indiegogo.com/hourofdeathantho
Buy a copy of Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror at http://www.drivethrufiction.com/product/95397/Haunted%3A-11-Tales-of-Ghostly-Horror
Excerpt from “The Vessels” by Nancy O. Greene. Published in Lovecraft eZine, January 201, http://lovecraftzine.com/issues/2012-2/issue-10-january-2012/the-vessels-by-nancy-o-greene/
June 21, 1893
The walls of the old stone house are crumbling, their shells ripped apart by the tentacles of an ivy that reaches in to claim the support beams, the floors, the ceiling. It will all be gone soon.
Since I am the youngest—seventeen—it’s my job to prepare the vessels that will take us away from here. Four coffin-like shapes sitting amongst the debris, their glistening chrome-and-glass exteriors a stark contrast to the house in which they lay.
I tentatively stretch out my gloved hand, afraid that the inanimate object might shrink away from my touch, aware of what’s to come. My fingers land on the body of the first container and the chill of it stings even through the material. Fabric glides unencumbered across the surface, save for the few bumps and ruts of the bolts and seams that keep the vessel together. I lie my head down on it, inhale the waxy fragrance. The mechanisms inside churn, whoosh, and click. Everything in working order.
We each will be in one, all except for her.
“Are they ready?” Uncle Damien startles me as he walks into the room, his pale, lithe figure hidden in a bulky black and white suit, frills peeking out from the blouse collar, every strand of his hair in place.
“Yes,” I say. He carefully finds a path through the debris to where I stand.
“And they’re fit to take us to our destination?” I nod and he returns the gesture with a curt movement of his neck. His stern eyes evaluate my traveling attire, taking in the long traditional dress, the off-white collar up to my neck, the sleeves to my wrists. My clothes are the same color as the splintered walls. Something to remember them by.
Before he gives his opinion, I’m struck to my knees by the sensation of a sharp pressure in the back of my head. I bite my lip to keep from shouting. Damien feels the pain too, I can tell by the way his hand flies to his neck. He resists toppling, a look of disdain etched into his smooth features. Soon it passes and I stand. But still we hear her, feel her.
Colleen, my sister, stuck downstairs, her frustration reaching thinly into our minds in waves of nauseating heat. She doesn’t want us to go. She can’t leave and she doesn’t want to be left alone. But they are all alone in the end, whether it takes them in groups or on a lonely stretch of road turning dark even as the light still shines.
The streets are empty outside of our decaying walls. The sky is as clear as it is after a violent storm, the purity of the sun shining down on what remains. Light comes through broken windows, creating a pattern on fallen stones. We don’t know where the others have gone, if they are gone, or if they have been taken. All manner of human and animal noise has ceased. The only sounds now are the distant moans of the earth as it collapses under the weight of the thing that consumes on land, in water, and through tainted air. I think we may be among the last to leave, but it doesn’t matter. It’s hard to imagine that we may be the only ones remaining, the four—or rather, three—of us.
We don’t know for certain where they’ve all gone, but we do know where to go. I stand on tip-toes and try to see more out of the highest windows, try to pinpoint the exact location. It’s so far away, at night only a star that’s barely a glimmer. As I search, I shut my mind off to Colleen’s amplified cries. Though her body is dissolving, becoming nothing, her mind still works. She makes sure we know that . . .