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A Ghost Story

by Slawomir Rapala

Going to the cemetery was an idea that my brilliant friend had, an attempt to scare me senseless, a stupid idea that could dawn on him only because we had shared a joint an hour before. The night was dark and windy, and though there was hardly anything supernatural about it, I admit to wishing I was comfortably settled in a chair and mindlessly punching the buttons of a remote control.

As it was, I wasn’t comfortable at all, I was petrified. I half-expected a demon of sorts to spring up from behind the graves, grab me and drag me to my horrible death. Nothing like that happened, of course. I laugh at the prospect now, comfortable in the belief that the supernatural is nothing more than a figment of our over-stimulated imaginations.

Back then, of course, I was scared for my life, although I remember trying to faintly invoke my empiricist beliefs in an attempt to control my fear. My brain was telling me that nothing could harm me, that demons and ghosts did not exist, but I sweated profoundly nevertheless and my panic-stricken eyes darted in all directions, trying to penetrate the darkness.

My friend Damian was scared as well, and the entire experience became quite real for him. Though he tried to sound reassuring, I could see fear leering its ugly head from the depths of his soul as he spoke and looked about at the same time. His eyes pleaded for reassurance. He wasn’t fooling me, and he sure wasn’t fooling those headless zombies lurking around with their heavy rusted chains, the weight of which signified their endless torment and refusal to repent. They could see it in his eyes too, and they laughed ghoulishly, knowing that in face of actual fear all of our culturally inscribed rationality was powerless. Even though we fought it with our half-baked brains, the fear came back wave after wave, with each sound, rustle and distant howl, it came back and grew, feeding the creatures and fleshing them.

Part of the joke Damian played on me and, in the end on himself, was telling me of a local cult that gathered at the cemetery. Cultists were real enough, they were tangible, and in the warped state I was in, I had little trouble believing in them. So, in addition to the zombies, ghost, ghouls, vampires, and all other sorts of creatures, I added to the list bloodthirsty cultists whose monotonous chanting I now heard in the background along with the dismal howling of the wind.

Once I could distinguish the moaning of the damned, the entire experience became even less enjoyable and I hurried to leave the cemetery before they would take note of us and race after us with their lips curled backwards, snarling and frothing at their mouths, their gleaming fangs exposed. I wheeled around to flee and was surprised to see that my reasonable and reassuring friend was already ten steps ahead of me. Gone was his poise and his confidence

It’s funny to think back to the moment of our flight and to recall my belief that if I glanced behind, I would see things that my culturally shaped perception would not normally see. I was quite sure that chasing us was a herd of unclean demons and if we turned our heads we would lock eyes with their hateful and hungry gazes, their gruesomely deformed bodies, their talon-shaped paws and hound-like limbs on which they swiftly ran, their gaping snouts filled with rows of crooked teeth, instruments of our impending doom.

Needless to say, we ran like the wind and left the cemetery and its horrible inhabitants far behind. They gave chase as far as the gates, but as soon as we crossed the heavy iron doors, the beasts stopped. Their world ended here, the boundaries were dictated by powers higher than themselves. They were to stay within the world of the undead because there was no place for them in the world of the living, constructed by the people and offering us, the people, shelter from unearthly things, the despicable and the abominable.

The demons halted at the gateway and they howled in terrible despair because we had escaped back into a culturally scripted world that they themselves could never enter. The longing in their inarticulate shrieks spoke volumes of the fact that they ached to be free of the world in which they were forced to dwell. They too wanted to enjoy the properties and the benefits of our reality. Gripping the iron gates with their burly arms endowed with a primordial strength that could tear apart nearly anything save the boundaries of our world, they glared after us in anger as we stumbled to the car and peeled away.

Today I can’t blame the demons for trying to slay us on that night. They weren’t at fault. It was we who crossed the boundaries as defined by the cosmic balance. We brought the worlds together in that one instant. We brought the demons to life and they were in justice to seek revenge for bringing them into a world that they could never enjoy. It was a terrible tease on our part to let them wander into the marginalized fields of our carefully constructed reality only to have them banished again.

Had we died in that lonely cemetery, the demons would have had their vengeance, the vampires our blood, the zombies our flesh, the ghosts our struggling souls, and the cultists their ritual. Our corpses would embody the truth of all the stories that were told of all cemeteries, the truth of all urban legends and word-of-mouth tales.

As it was, they remained nothing more than stories. The truth was not fleshed. We fled with our lives and the demons were banished to their nether world where they would wait until someone else stupid enough to smoke a joint and scare themselves senseless would venture into a cemetery again.

Copyright © 2005 by Slawomir Rapala

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