Donnie pointed out his window and said, “There, in that field. See that bunch of trees?”
Sammy took his foot off of the accelerator while peering through the windshield. “Yeah. What’s a patch of trees like that doing in the middle of a corn field?”
“Who cares?” Donne asked. “It could be just what we’re looking for. Let’s check it out!”
With a simple nod, Sammy cranked up Guns N’ Roses’ “Sympathy For the Devil” and then veered off the country road onto a dirt path leading down the middle of an empty field. He hit the gas and roared with laughter as his 1981 black and gold Firebird fishtailed on the loose dirt.
Donnie screamed over Axle Rose’s shrieks: “Punch it, Chewie!”
Both boys beamed as the spring air whipped through the open T-tops and their hair.
Once Sammy reached the dense circle of trees, he slowed down and found an opening. After easing the Trans Am into the thicket, he cut the engine.
They found themselves within a clearing, an open space the size of a baseball infield.
“Oh, my god, dude!” Donnie cheered while pumping his fist like Arsenio Hall. “This is perfect!”
Both boys opened their car doors before exiting the vehicle. They looked at the canvas of leaves above them. With each gust of wind, small pockets of sunlight peeked through the organic canopy.
Sammy ran over to Donnie and punched him on the arm while bellowing, “This is the place—most definitely!”
“For real,” Donnie continued. “You drive out here at night, cut the lights, and no one will ever know! No houses around to see you—just make sure no one else is on the road before pulling off, right?”
“I can’t believe our luck,” Sammy said before clapping his hands together. “We’ve been looking for a spot like this all day! Finally!”
“And dude,” Donnie added, “once summer’s here, you won’t even have to worry about her getting cold!”
“Yeah,” Sammy said with a smirk as his thoughts became obvious. That devious grin suddenly turned sheepish, though, when he said, “I guess I better find a ‘her’ first, huh?”
“Hey, you’ve got your license and a cool car now—the chicks are going to line up for you!”
Sammy laughed a little, then mumbled, “If you say so.”
Donnie said, “You got the wheels. You got the spot. Now you just need the girl. You got me beat! I don’t get my license until August.”
“Yeah, but you’ve already got a girl,” Sammy said.
Donnie smiled smugly. “Yes. That I do.”
Sammy shook his head while taking in their surroundings. Something near the center of the clearing caught his attention. “What the hell?” he muttered.
“What’s up?” Donnie asked.
Sammy pointed at three tombstones in the middle of the space.
Donnie squinted. He then whispered, “Those look like … Are those graves?”
While craning his neck forward, Sammy asked, “Does that one in the middle say ‘Fido?’”
A thunderous barking suddenly erupted, causing both boys to jump. Moments later, a black dog sprinted into the area with its tail wagging furiously. It leapt up onto Donnie, knocked him over, then dashed toward Sammy. Crouching down, Sammy rubbed the dog between the ears while looking at Donnie. He said, “You should have seen your face, man! You looked like you saw a ghost or something!”
Donnie stood up. He brushed the pine needles and leaves from his jeans. “Ha, ha. Real funny. Ghosts don’t come out in the daytime, dummy.”
“Well, that ain’t entirely true,” something said from beyond.
Sammy shot to his feet while he and Donnie followed the direction of the voice. They saw a man emerging from a dark patch in the trees. His clothing looked decidedly… old. Very old.
The dog began turning in circles while incessantly barking.
“Yep. They can come out whenever the hell they want,” a new voice crooned.
Sammy and Donnie’s eyes darted to the tombstones, and there, atop the one on the right, sat a woman. Her clothing appeared antiquated as well, though, unlike the man, she wore a dress instead of trousers.
The man pointed at Sammy while demanding, “You—what year is it?”
“What?” Sammy replied in a quivering voice.
“He asked you the year,” the woman clarified.
“You guys dope fiends or something?” Donnie asked while feigning bravery. “It’s 1994.”
The man’s eyebrows lifted nearly up to the brim of his cowboy hat. “1994? You don’t say? Let’s see here, then. Whoo-whee. That makes it about thirty years since our last visitor and there about … 140 years since the fire. Ain’t that right, darling?”
The woman rolled her eyes at the man as she said, “Sounds about right.”
Donnie said, “Yo, I don’t think you should sit on that stone, lady. It’s disrespectful.”
The woman burst out laughing. Moments passed before said, “Not if it’s mine, sugar.”
Sammy’s eyes fell upon the tombstone the woman perched upon. “Nettie Norman,” he read.
Donnie looked at the other stone and read, “Guy Silas.”
“That’s us,” Guy said with a sneer. He approached the boys and hissed, “What are your names, fellas?”
As they backed up, Sammy answered, “I’m Sammy—Samuel. This is my friend, Donnie.”
“Dude!” Donnie yelped while slapping at Sammy’s arm. “Don’t tell them our names!”
“Hey, Nettie,” Guy said. “This boy, Donnie, he looks as though he might be black like you. Two black people in Cass County. Who’d have thought?”
Sammy glanced at Donnie and asked, “Are you related to her?”
Donnie shoved his friend away and yelled, “Am I related to a ghost? Did you see her tombstone? She died over a hundred years ago! No, we’re not related!”
“I thought maybe she was like a great-great-grandma or something. And they’re not ghosts.”
Nettie noticed Guy getting agitated. She chuckled as she said, “Sammy, make no mistake, we’re definitely ghosts. Donnie: relax; we’re not related. Guy and I never had any kids, and besides, I wasn’t from around here anyway. This was Guy’s home.”
“Yep. Thought we’d be safe up here,” Guy said. “Brought Nettie back so we could be left alone. But we wasn’t, was we, Nettie?” Guy walked up to Sammy. He leaned down while staring hard with his hazel eyes into the boy’s face. “In fact, you look a lot like the guy under that white hood. Remember when I yanked it clean off, Nettie? They had you all tied up. I was fighting hard.” He then paused a minute before muttering, “Not hard enough, though.”
“We’re still together, Guy,” Nettie said. “That’s all that matters.”
Guy then screamed into Sammy’s face, “Tell me your family’s name, boy, or I’m gonna skin you alive!” At the conclusion of his eruption, the skin upon Guy’s face melted off, first revealing muscle and veins before giving way to patches of smoking, ivory bone.
Both boys screamed in terror, turned, and raced to the Firebird. Donnie dove headfirst through the T-top opening. Sammy had the car started and in reverse before even being fully seated.
As the car sped away, the dog continued to bark without end while prancing from foot to foot.
Nettie slipped off the stone, approached Guy, then wrapped her arms around him. “Why are you so mean to visitors? We don’t get them very often.”
Guy looked down at her, his face fully restored. “Can’t have them coming back,” he replied. “They’ll stay quiet if they’re scared. I don’t want people out here moving us.”
“Even if they did, they’d keep us together,” Nettie said. “Heck, the Klan had the decency to bury us all together. Still can’t believe they gave the dog a stone.”
“Yeah,” Guy seethed. “Real Christian of them after burning us alive … including the dog.”
Both Nettie and Guy looked over at the third tombstone. The dog wedged between their knees as they remained in an embrace.
“Maybe we could move on,” Nettie said quietly after releasing Guy. She bent down, kissed the dog on the nose, then stroked his back. “We could meet in the hereafter or Heaven or … whatever.”
“Maybe,” Guy agreed. He too leaned over and patted the dog’s rump. “But what about Fido here? You think they’d move him, too? You think dogs are allowed past the Pearly Gates?”
Fido began to whine.
Nettie took Fido up in her arms. She sauntered over to the middle tombstone before sitting with her back against it. Fido remained in her arms. Guy followed, took his place next to Nettie, put his arm around her, and then leaned his head against hers.
All three of them remained silent in the copse of trees.
“You know,” Nettie said after thinking for a few moments. “This place isn’t so bad. Plenty of shade. I think we should all just stay right here.”
At the conclusion of her statement, Fido barked in joy.
Copyright © 2021 by Scott William Foley
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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