(16) Town of Chaos
THE NIGHT WAS SILENT AS Dylan made his way back to the car. Here he was: heart thudding, footsteps pounding, mind whirring loud enough to be heard. And everything else was just…still.
It ticked over to midnight. He felt the precise moment. It was a change in the air, a dip in the temperature, an intrinsic sense of danger suddenly more pronounced.
He yanked open the driver’s side door and dug under the car seat for the stone. He didn’t need to see what he was doing; the moment his fingers brushed against it, small and smooth, it sent a charge through his fingertips and up his arm.
Earlier, he had felt its importance. Now he felt it again, amplified. He thought back to the strange, ancient grave he’d found that morning and recalled the inscription.
An seo na laighe an gheata agus an fhreiceadain.
Translation: Here lies the the gate and the guard.
That’s why everything Florence said had sounded so familiar. She guarded the gate to the otherworld. And if she was the guard, then the gate was…
Dylan put the stone on the dash and started the engine. He couldn’t be sure where Bethanie was, but he did know where he had to go to end this.
Dylan was about to press down on the accelerator when he looked up and saw the first ghost, standing in front of his car. He knew it was a ghost because it wasn’t quite there, not in a way that normal living people were. It felt like he was viewing the person through a fog and every time he blinked the fog shifted, revealing a new part of the ghost while blocking another. There was no fog, of course, but for whatever reason, he could never see all of the ghost at once.
And if that hadn’t given it away, the blood surely would have.
The ghost was drenched in it. The blood rolled down it’s skin, not in trails, but in coats. It dripped off the ends of it’s hair. It soaked through the ghost’s clothing and puddled on the floor. Underneath all the scarlet, Dylan could see that it was a young girl, jaw broken, mouth hanging wide.
He put the car in reverse and stomped on the accelerator, kicking up dirt as he got away from the bloody ghost. Then he spun the wheel and sped off down the dirt road.
As he drove, he saw more and more ghosts through the trees, on the side of the road. There was a man who walked with his decapitated head in his hands. A woman dressed in Victorian fashion with a necklace of blood spilling down over her chest. There were more ordinary looking ghosts too; just people, wandering and lost. If they hadn’t been partially unseeable, partially unknowable, Dylan might have thought them living.
At one point in the drive, a ghost materialised in front of the car. He didn’t have time to stop. He drove straight into it. He wasn’t sure what he had expected to happen, but it wasn’t this. The ghost slammed into the window of Bethanie’s Volvo and rolled back over the roof. The glass was shattered. The roof was dented. He looked in the rear-view mirror to see it’s crumpled form in the middle of the road.
So they were corporeal. Great.
Dylan looked again to see if it had gotten up. But to his surprise, the rear-view mirror displayed only a dark and empty patch of road. Shaken, he drove on.
A few minutes later, he realised the cracks in the window were gone. It was in perfect condition, as if nothing had happened. He had to pull over to calm his horror. It wasn’t that he as afraid – which he was – but more the way it all played with his mind. Had he just imagined that ghost smash into the Volvo? Was this all real?
It was possible, he thought gloomily, that he’d hallucinated the whole night – the whole day, even. It would make sense. Spending a day with Bethanie Cousins sounded like something his mind would curate, not his life.
When Dylan drove through town, there was no roar of panic. The ghosts had bled in amongst the trick-or-treaters without anyone noticing. But he could see them. He could pick them out instantly. And they were everywhere.
To everyone but Dylan, the night felt charged and exciting.
But to Dylan, it just felt like chaos.
He stopped at a traffic light. As he did, a young boy dressed in overalls tried to get in through the passenger side door. His face flickered at the window, part shadow, part flesh. Ghost, Dylan decided and quickly reached over to the passenger door to lock it shut.
It was another half-hour before he got to the graveyard. He hadn’t seen anything yet.