I could barely make out the words from the dim light filtering through the leaves of the trees lining the wall from the streetlight over the wall. Something about stolen soul in trade for a broken heart…things went wrong…rescue that never came…the face not the same.
"What does any of this mean, Ashley?"
She moved back a few steps, her eyes scanning the cemetery. The voices we heard had drifted to the other side. A few playful screams screeched, followed by wicked laughter. I waited to see if anyone moved our direction…someone familiar…Jamie…Jason.
The hairs on the back of my neck twisted tight to my skin, a nervous chill skittering up my spine. As if reading my mind, Ashley spoke, her tone threatening.
"No one's coming, Samantha. All the clues are in the newer section. We're alone."
I remained behind Kevin's grave marker, using it as a shield. "Did you do that on purpose?"
She shifted sideways, her gaze trained on me. "What do you think? Of course I did."
"I don't get it."
"That's the beauty of it…you never 'get it,' Sam. You're oblivious or naïve. Maybe just stupid."
I recognized the simmering rage slowly reaching the boiling point. "I'm not stupid, Ashley. I know you want Jason back and using your body to lure him is cheap…but then, that's what you are—a 'user.' But he sees through your tricks. I also don't believe he slept with you."
Ashley tossed her golden mane back, her laugh unnatural…evil.
"Believe what you want. It only matters what everyone else thinks, anyway, and after tonight, they'll embrace my version. I'll have their sympathy and you, their hatred." She reached out and clawed my hand, drawing blood.
"Ouch! Why did you do that? Jason's right. You're crazy!"
I shook my hand, letting the cold air temper the burn. Something was off. A whispered warning kissed the shell of my ear, the voice familiar—Kevin. Get away from her, Sam. I whipped around expecting to find him standing next to me, but all I saw was Ashley matching my movements. I stepped back…she stepped forward. Suddenly she yanked on the sleeve of her pink shirt, shredding the shoulder seam.
"Look what Jason did when I refused his advances. We were here alone for so long…what were we doing? Jason didn't want to go with Buck. He wanted me alone…all to himself."
"No one is going to believe that lie. Jamie was here. Your shirt wasn't torn and Jason left with her."
Ashley picked up a rock, tapped her cheek with the stone. "True. Jamie will defend her counterpart to the death. That's what sister's do for their brother's, right Sam? Or not."
Tears welled in my eyes, and I stumbled over my foot when I moved again. I hadn't been there for Kevin. He'd come home from some girl's house a wreck. I couldn't tell if he'd been drinking or was high. He sounded angry.
"Watch your back, Samantha Barnes," he'd slurred at me, shaking his finger dangerously close to my eyes. "Stay away from that Jason kid." He twirled his hands in the air as if recreating a tornado. "Trouble surrounds him, trust me."
I wouldn't listen to anyone talk bad about Jason, least of all my messed up brother. When Jason called and asked me to go for a midnight drive along the ocean, I said yes, hoping we'd find someplace to make-out until dawn. Mom had gone with Dad on a short business trip and wouldn't return until the next day, so I decided to bend the rules and break curfew.
Kevin morphed into his surrogate parent role, warning me of the dangers of being out with a boy this time of night, then taking it further by forbidding me to leave. No way could he stop me. I'd be forced to tattle on his present physical condition while tending his impressionable "baby sister."
The headlights from Jason's car bounced across the ceiling of the living room. I picked up my purse and Kevin grabbed my elbow. "Sam, please don't go. Not tonight. There's weird stuff about Jason you don't know," he warned again. "Someone else."
"Jason's seeing another girl?" I'd asked, actually stopping to take stock in what Kevin had just said.
"No, not exactly. His ex. She's obsessed with him."
"Ashley? How do you know Ashley?"
At this point, Kevin slid down the wall, his long legs stretching out across the entry hall. His head lulled to the side, an idiotic grin slicing one side of his cheek. "I just do." The grin disappeared and he rolled onto his side…and puked.
"That's it. I'm out of here. Clean up your own mess."
Ashley drew a long gash along her cheek with the sharp edge of the rock, zapping me from my flashback into my own haunted story presently playing out. In the muted grays of the dark world surrounding the two of us, the fresh blood glowed brilliant red against her white skin.
I moved into a patch of light on the gravel path separating the family plots. Ashley followed like a reflection in a mirror.
"Or was it you, Sam? Jealous girlfriend attacks boyfriend's ex. Your skin is under my fingernails, after all." She dragged another, smaller scrape across her bare arm. "Yes, that's more believable. I mean everyone knows you vanished the night your brother died."
My legs felt like strings blowing in the wind, my mouth dry and unable to utter a word.
"I didn't vanish."
Ashley danced away a few feet and I followed as if caught in a weird spell.
Stop Samantha. Don't move.
"He was looking for you, you know."
"Who? Jason? I was with Jason."
"I know! But you weren't supposed to be! Don't you get it? Didn't you read the dumb ass clue?"
She moved a little further. I took a baby step the same direction."
"Remember that night, Sam? There was a full moon? Jason loves full moons—the way the landscape seems to glow, the sky inky black."
"Yeah, I know. Tell me who was looking for me."
I wished I had my cell phone. I needed to call someone or at least be able to shine some light. I hated the cemetery—the empty eerie quiet—the feeling of being watched. I also wanted to read the clue crumpled in my hand.
Ashley jumped out from behind a headstone. "Boo!" she laughed. "Did I scare you?"
My stomach dropped to my toes. "Fine, you scared me. I'm leaving now." I turned around, confused, having no idea what direction I faced. I couldn't see Kevin's grave.
I told you not to follow! "Shut up!" I screamed inside my head.
I started walking, not knowing where, just that I had to get away. Why hadn't anyone come back looking for us? How much time had passed?
"We were supposed to meet up that night," Ashley called out, stopping my escape. "I wanted to play one of Jason's dare games, have him rescue me at the last minute. You remember playing those silly games, don't you?" She twisted a long piece of her hair around her finger, slowly walking toward me. She let go one of her famous falsetto laughs. "Oh that's right. You were too chicken to play. Half the fun was making you scream. I'll bet you peed your pants a dozen times."
My hatred for Ashley grew each second, the anger building with her hurtful walk down 'memory lane.' I did remember those dangerous games we played—or she with Jamie and Jason, the summers of our preteen years.
Playing Ashley's favorite game, we lay on the hot asphalt of Main Street and waited for cars. Maybe it was fear, or plain common sense, but I always chickened out at the first hint of headlights and ran for the curb. Jamie would be next, but Jason would stay beside Ashley. If he moved, she challenged him to stay a couple seconds longer, locking hands. When the horn honked, Jason would jump up and pull Ashley with him. They'd laugh the rest of the night, and I'd lag behind, scared out of my wits and feeling like I had to throw up. If I headed for home when we rounded the block, Ashley would tease me. No, I never did wet my pants, but the humiliation of the accusation in front of Jason was torture enough.
I didn't realize we'd crossed to a side of the cemetery I'd only seen once, in daylight. The streetlights were too far away and couldn't penetrate through the thick branches, still holding enough leaves to form a screen. In the corner sat a maintenance shed or garage. The light on the corner of the building looked like it had been shot at or someone like Ashley who had a rock fixation, had smashed it. Either option left me in a dark, unfamiliar area.
Sam, get out of the cemetery! Think of something…just get the hell out of here before it's too late.
"Too late?" I answered Kevin as if he stood beside me, urging me back the direction I came.
"Late for what?"
"The food," I answered quickly. "There won't be anything left and I'm hungry. Come on, let's go. Everyone will be back at the school by now and wondering where you are."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? To run and tell everyone what a lunatic I am."
"I don't know what's going on with you, but I swear I won't say anything. Between us, I promise."
Ashley twirled in a circle, arms stretched out. I worried she'd fall on the uneven ground and get hurt, sealing my fate. "You're so full of crap, Sam. You'll run straight to Jason, all teary-eyed and vulnerable. Jamie will swear an oath to have me removed as class president. Hell, they'll probably put you on the throne."
I reached for her when she tripped and she latched onto my arm."Jason never showed up. He chose you instead. If only he'd done what I'd asked…"
Help me, I pleaded in my mind. This time, no answer came.
"Ashley, this isn't funny. Let go. You're hurting me."
"As you wish."
She let go and I fell back, losing my footing and dropping into a large hole…an open grave.