The next morning I’m preoccupied as I slip out of my house. My mind is on the science paper I still haven't started, when the call of a crow catches my attention. I spot him sitting on a low branch in the tree next to my car. While crows are plentiful in many places, it’s rare to see one in Scottsdale. I stop to look at him. He is big and so dark that his black feathers shine iridescently in the sun and he is so close I can see the gleam in his black eye as he fixes it on me and lets loose with another low, resonant Craaaak.
I fish my sandwich out of my backpack and toss him a corner but he just sits on the branch watching as I unlock my car. I drop my backpack in and then slip into the driver's seat but the position seems wrong so I fiddle with the adjuster until it’s comfortable. My mind is still miles away when I turn on the engine and head off to school. It isn't until I reach the parking lot and I'm collecting my things that I find the discarded bottle tops.
I pick one up and frown as I study the Newcastle logo. My eyes go to the bottle rings that now stain my armrest and my skin prickles as I realize that someone's been sitting in my car drinking beer. My mind begins to whirl as I consider the magazine I'd found the day before. Someone's obviously been hanging out in my car, but why? And how did they get in? Because I am pretty sure I locked it.
This time, when I gather my things, I make sure the doors are locked before I hurry off to class.
Later that afternoon I'm in my car following Patrick who's following Ian. We are all waiting to turn left. Several cars fly through the intersection long after the light turns yellow, forcing Ian to make the turn late. Patrick surges through right after him anyway, running the light and I shake my head and wait, knowing they will wait up ahead pulled over on the right. It is always like this. No matter where we are going, they both always insist on driving so we end up taking three cars, one tagging along behind the other even though this has led to some interesting incidents and near collisions.
As I wait for the light to change, my thoughts move to our destination, a small cemetery Ian read about and thought might be a perfect site for our next Ghost Hunter’s meeting. According to Ian, the barren lot we'd always thought was a pet cemetery is actually a historic landmark with a history dating back to 1915.
I've seen the site before and have a vague idea where it is. Still when I coast through the light and find the boys waiting, I fall into formation and follow along until Ian pulls into an elementary school parking lot. Sure enough the cemetery is right across the street which in itself is kind of creepy. I totally understand how the whole ‘pet’ rumor got started. I mean you wouldn't want to tell your kindergartener there were people buried across the street from his playground, would you?
We park, get out our gear, and cross the street, eyes on the dusty lot where small stark-white wooden crosses stand crookedly in rows. There is no grass, only desert. Gopher holes line the chain-link fence. There are no signs to mark the place and no sentry but for a lone towering saguaro. The entrance gate is locked with a chain, but just to the right of it, the fence opens with a kissing gate to allow single entry through.
I follow Ian, winding my way around the fence. Behind us Patrick asks, “So why are we here?”
Ian replies, “I read about this place in ‘Haunted Phoenix’.”
“I thought this was a pet cemetery.”
“The story goes that this was once a 160 acre ranch owned by Hans and Mary Weaver. In 1915 their only daughter married a handsome young farmer named Adolph Frank Poenicke. Unfortunately just three weeks after the ceremony, he died and the daughter was devastated. Hans dedicated a portion of the ranch to be a cemetery so his daughter, now a young widow, could visit the grave of her love whenever she wanted.”
Ian turns to us and his lips twist. “Then two years later, the deadly influenza of 1917 hits and wham! The place becomes a full-fledge cemetery. There are almost a thousand graves here, most of them children and ranch workers.”
“Cool!” Patrick grins. “And it’s right across from an elementary school.”
“Creepy!” I slide my eyes over the barren lot. Except for the wooden white crosses there aren’t many markers. “A thousand, huh? How can anyone tell who is who?”
Ian slides one brow up high. “That's the beauty of it. No one knows. That's the one reason this place is still here. This is prime real estate. Developers have been trying to get their hands on it for years, but since most of the graves are unknown, there is no way to contact next-of-kin's making it legally impossible to move the bodies.”
We cross the dirt lot with its sparse landscaping. In the back under an old twisted mesquite tree, we find a gravel path set with granite headstones and mounds of soil. One stands out among the others and I read it aloud, “‘Joe Cheyenne Kiser, dubbed World Champion Cowboy in 1923-24, died 1961 in his 64th year’. That’s weird this one is pretty recent.”
“Look at this one,” says Patrick pointing to a gravestone. “Katherine Kierland Herberger. She died in 2003. Herberger. Think she was one of the Herbergers?”
Ian nods. “She was.”
I wrinkle my brow. “I don't get it. Why are people still being buried in this place?”
“Sentiment, and because history matters. This place beat all the odds to stay untouched.” Ian points the marker. “Kax and her husband are ‘the Herbergers’ as in the Herberger Theater Herbergers.” He points to another marker. “And Jean there was this place's last manager.”
“Wow, Kax could have probably bought her own cemetery but she chose to be here,” Patrick remarks. “What I don't understand is why we are.”
Ian takes a moment to frown at him before explaining, “According to Haunted Phoenix, a woman in white has been repeatedly spotted sitting next to the first grave.”
Suddenly he has Patrick's undivided attention. “Oh, the grieving widow?”
Ian nods. “That'd be my guess.”
We come to a marble marker and find it is the young husband's. Patrick breaks out our night vision camera, voice recorders and EMF detector and we spend the evening walking around recording the peaceful night. After an hour of nothing happing, we sit on a marble bench and exchange stories. The evening is lovely with a brilliant sunset in shades of purples, reds and oranges. A soft breeze carries the fresh scent of desert sage. It’s very peaceful. I find myself truly enjoying the evening.
We stay well after sunset sitting back on the bench as we gaze up at the stars picking out the constellations. Hours pass and still nothing remarkable happens. We end with a visit to Dairy Queen where we meet to review our data over a sundae and a couple of chocolate shakes.
There are a few exciting moments in the data that turn out to be a couple quail and few rabbits and it seems that this night is going to end just like the others. It isn't until we get to the end of the recording, where Patrick takes a final sweep of the lot, that we see it and we all gasp in unison as our eyes fall on the image. For peering from behind a bush is a pair of glowing, watching eyes.
“Stop,” Ian commands and Patrick freezes the image. “Go back a couple of frames.” Patrick works the recorder. “Now bring it forward slow.” The image stares at us from the screen, clearly watching from its cover.
“That looks like a face to me.” Patrick says.
“Who do you think it is?” I whisper.
We huddle over the camera studying shadowy form with its glowing eyes. “Well, it’s not a cat,” Ian says. “It is way too big to be a cat or a rabbit. It could be a coyote.”
The three of us are silent as we watch Patrick roll back the recording and set it to play again. “It could be a coyote,” Ian reiterates, “or maybe a big dog?”
“Look at the outline, I don’t see any ears and look right there.” Patrick touches his finger to the screen. “That looks a shoulder to me. Oh, I wish we had a better angle.”
Ian turns to him and challenges, “Well, what do you think it is?”
“I think it looks like a person. Maybe the woman in white?”
Ian frowns hard. “Dude, she doesn't squat behind a bush.”
Patrick gives an exasperated sigh. “Ian, it’s just that we go out on these missions to find evidence of ghosts, and whenever we get anything interesting, you always have to debunk it.”
Ian blinks at him a couple of times. “That's because we've never really gotten anything I couldn't rationally explain.”
“Rational to you maybe, but what about the beep we recorded on our last hunt?”
“Patrick that was one bleep. It could have been from anything.”
My mind is spinning. “Patrick,” I say quietly, “remember that magazine?” I add the bottle caps I found in my car and now the eyes watching us and as I look at the image frozen on the screen, I begin to wonder if I might have a stalker …
Patrick ignores me. “Then what about those sounds on the voice recorder the other night?”
“I'm still doing research,” Ian replies.
“Ian, they are the growls of an entity. Just because you can explain it doesn't mean you are always right,” Patrick retorts.
My chest goes icy with fear as I listen to them. “What sounds, guys?” They keep bickering and I have to ask again louder this time, “Guys, what sounds?” They turn to look at me. “Sounds on the voice recorder?” I prompt. “Growls of an entity? What sounds?”
Ian and Patrick lock eyes for a moment before Ian turns to his pack and pulls out his recorder. He sets in on the table. “We weren't going to mention this until we could do some more research.”
They lock eyes again and apprehension fills my belly. “Guys, what aren't you telling me?”
Ian looks at Patrick. I watch as Patrick nods his head. “Go on. Play it for her.”
Ian starts his machine and Patrick's voice floats up from the recording. “I'm pretty sure I know where the flashlight is. It would be nice to have if the candles go out again.”
Instantly I identify it as being the recording of our last Ghost Hunter's Go meeting.
“Roll it forward,” Patrick commands.
Ian fiddles with the recorder and the next thing that plays is a female voice I don't recognize saying, “Listen!”
The boys in unison say, “What?”
There is a soft hissing and a couple of sounds that I think are gasps. Then I hear a soft scuttling-scratching sound like a rake scrapping over the floor.
“It’s circling us!” says a voice I think is Patrick's.
Then a voice I recognize as my own pleads, “Anna, think. What should we do?”
Anna says, “We banish it!”
She begins to lead us through a guided meditation and as we continue to chant drawing the light of the Universe around us, she says, “Of the Goddess, I ask so bold, to grant us power, the strength to banish—”
I catch my breath as I hear a low growl begins under Anna's chant.
“—this cursed ones presence from our fold—”
The soft growl rises to form a word, “Raaaachellllll.” The word sounds remarkably like my name and my skin prickles as I hear it say again, “Raaaachellllll.” Horror fills me as I listen to the awful voice growl, “Raaaachellllll.”
“—cast away, never to return, as we are kept safe in your light to grow and learn. Together we form the light, to keep us strong, too strong to fight—”
I can't move. I can only listen to the awful thing as it says, “Lovely.” A strangled choking sound rises into a low laugh. “Lovely Rachellllll.”
“—so return, you must to the dark where shadows dwell and be vanquished now by this empowered spell! Be gone. By the Goddess be gone. By the power of three times three, so mote it be!”
Ian stops the recording and we sit there a second, both of them blinking at me as I look back at them stunned. “Play it again,” I whisper.
When we get to the place where the growling thing begins to hiss my name, and it is clearly, unmistakably saying my name, I leap to my feet, knocking over my chair behind me as I yelp, “Turn it off!”
Ian fumbles with the recording until it switches off while Patrick skirts the table to pull me into his arms because now I am trembling. “Rachel, whatever that thing was, it’s gone now,” he coos. “We banished it. It cannot hurt you.”
I pull back from him blinking tears from my eyes as I lock them on his. “What was that?”
He shrugs. “I don't know, but whatever it was. It’s gone. You are safe now.”
“Safe? Patrick, then tell me whose eyes did you record tonight? Am I really safe? Cause it sure looked like someone was hiding there watching us to me.”
“I still think it was a coyote,” Ian says.
I turn and toss him a disbelieving glance before I shake my head and press my hand to my forehead willing my emotions to calm.
“Well, I still say a ghost wouldn't hide behind a bush…” he mutters.
I turn to shoot him a look. “Does it make it better or worse if I respond that it must be a living, breathing person then?” I glance at Patrick. An expression of concern is set upon his face as he watches me. “You should be elated, Patrick. You always wanted to make contact with an entity.”
“Not that kind. That thing sounded awful,” he says. “I want to communicate with a nice spirit, like the little girl at the bookstore.”
I snort. “Well, it seems she's not so nice.” I tell them about how she followed Anna home to beleaguer and attack her. They are both stunned by my description of how little-girl Sara morphed into the creature with fangs and teeth. “Anna has been staying with me ever since.”
Ian slides his eyes to me. “How well do you know Anna?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.”
“Maybe it’s just me, but I thought you just met her.”
I shrug. “Anna's okay. Well, she's a practicing witch but she like a white witch, or whatever.” My thoughts turn from the conversation and I'm brooding on the possibility that I might actually have a problem and might even be in a bit of danger. I almost missed the look that passes between the boys.