I participated in HalloweenPalooza and wrote this guest post for the October 17th article. It’s a spooky story and it was a fun event.
“In the end you have to ask yourself one question…,” the Charge Nurse said in a joking, Twilight Zone voice. Her plan was to interrupt our discussion and drive us back to work, but the event had already hooked me.
Nurses and other staff were arguing if the patient we’d just cardioverted out of a flat line saw the other side or, not. People immediately search for scientific explanations or religious ones. For them, there is no other choice…there can be no third option. The patient’s story galloped through the hospital grapevine and, well, the night shift loved to gossip.
A fact of life in every hospital is that you don’t get drawn into paranormal discussions if you want pay raises and promotions. No doubt the same is true in other corporations. I know the patient had many regrets. He got a psych consult ordered because of his “visions.”
My regret came later after sharing his story with two friends. Both were moving away, and we’d been looking for a unique way to end our get-togethers. For the record, we did normal things like shopping excursions, historic home tours, or having lunch. When we felt adventuresome, we tried séances, psychic tests, and having our palms read in New Orleans. We’d decided to try ghost hunting for our last event.
Sara, a tall brunette suggested, “Camp overnight in a graveyard?”
Joanie, the meditation expert said, “Bugs and bathroom issues. Meditate at a murder site?”
We laughed and then the idea intrigued us.
I added, “At twilight as it gets dark.”
A few years ago, a coed’s murder at our alma mater hadn’t been solved, and everyone knew the general location of the murder site. Joanie knew the exact spot. We settled on a date. After our field test, we’d go to a local bar and have our farewell party. It seemed like a fun idea at the time and, not creepy like sleeping in a graveyard.
The weather was warm as we parked on the campus and rode bikes to the site. The body had been discovered at an ROTC exercise area in the woods away from the main buildings. Here’s what we knew. The victim ate breakfast, showered, and washed her hair. She had on fresh make-up and clean clothes when found with a gunshot to the back of her head. No leads, no arrests. We didn’t look up old news articles because we felt a field test should be a cold start.
Joanie located the place. Overhead, a canopy of pine and oak trees set the mood as the sun dipped out of sight. A breeze made the branches sway and squirrels on the ground ran up the trees as we approached. We sat near the coed’s death spot.
Joanie said, “Why don’t we focus on her first name and how it happened?”
We agreed. She led us through deep breathing and relaxation techniques.
The surroundings were peaceful and cemetery quiet. I heard an owl hoot, the odd car in the distance, and my friend’s breaths. Then, nothing.
I concentrated on the dead girl, willing her to reveal her fate. I don’t remember doing anything special, but it felt like my mind shifted a step downward. My breaths slowed to half normal rate and my body temperature chilled. I felt out of faze—half in and half out of normal. I knew if I opened my eyes or moved; I’d lose the sensation. Even after goosebumps clawed up my back like field ants, I didn’t respond.
I honestly don’t know how long I’d meditated, but I had a growing urge to open my eyes. They felt crossed and the lids were glued down, like when I’ve had a bad cold. I had to rub them to get them open. I saw Sara, but not Joanie. My limbs creaked as I moved and stood.
Where is she?
Looking around in the dark, I couldn’t see her. I stretched and then noticed the white First Aid kit Joanie brought along on trips due to a bee sting allergy. I picked the kit up and opened it. Nothing had been used.
“Joanie!” I shouted.
Sara stretched and asked, “Did I snore?”
“Joanie’s missing,” I said, showing her the kit.
“She’s probably taking a whizz,” Sara mumbled, pulling her flashlight out of her backpack. “I can’t believe I zoned out.”
“You two didn’t plan this? It’s not funny,” I said.
“Her backpack’s gone,” Sara answered. “Give her time to pull her pants up.”
“How did we not hear her, moving around?” I asked. “Joanie!”
Darkness shadowed Sara’s face, and I still wasn’t sure if I was being punked.
“It shouldn’t be this dark. I fell asleep. You?” she asked.
“I fell into ‘meditation nirvana’ that Joanie’s always talking about. My breathing slowed.”
Sara yelled, “Joanie!”
“Why didn’t she wake us?” I asked, as Sara began sweeping the flashlight beam on the ground. Without speaking, we walked in the direction we came. The light highlighted the trail and the trunks of nearby trees.
Sara said, “I’ll leave without saying goodbye if y’all are playing a trick on me.”
We saw Joanie lying on her back in the grass at the same time.
Her eyes stared upward as if watching a movie on the air above the trees. Her face was so pale, the nurse in me jumped into action.
“Her eyes aren’t moving,” Sara said, sounding horrified as I dropped to the ground beside her. I checked the pulse at her neck. “It’s faint.”
I yanked Joanie’s shirt up and Sara held the light. I found a swollen hot area on her side and her torso displayed inch-sized welts. “She’s in anaphylactic shock.”
“There aren’t any bees,” Sara said, as I opened the First Aid kit and filled the syringe.
“She always said if there was one bee it would find her.”
“Are you sure?” Sara asked. “What if it’s something else?”
I injected the contents into Joanie and said, “Get help!”
Sara took off running with the flashlight. My own pulse raced as darkness settled over us again. It’s dark in the woods away from street lights. I’ll admit I was scared for Joanie, and my heart pounded because she felt so cold.
From the treetops, squirrels shrieked in one long, discordant sound. I’d never heard anything like it, and I’m not lying when I say the urge to run nearly overwhelmed me. I couldn’t take a breath as I stared up, seeing nothing but tree branches, darkness, and the occasional star flicker. I thought…devil’s chorus.
Terror slipped into my veins because the squirrels never stopped, never slacked, and the noise didn’t wax and wane like grasshoppers or crickets do. I turned back to Joanie and we were face to face. I flinched. I didn’t sense her, sitting up.
Her skin looked pearly translucent, and she said, “Her girlfriend killed her here.”
Joanie fell back, but I caught her by the shirt and steadied her in my arms. I reached for her wrist pulse, and I felt cool wisps like someone’s hair sweep over my arm. I gasped, jerking my arm back. A wave of nonstop shivers swirled around my scalp and down my back. The howling squirrels never wavered.
“Joanie wake up.”
The squirrels kept screaming, and she shivered like breaking a fever. She spoke slow and in gaps. “Smiling…no warning.”
My heart thundered and skipped, pounded and waned, until my chest ached. “It’s okay, don’t speak, it’s okay, Joanie.”
She made hacking throat sounds and said, “Twice.”
The squirrels stopped all at once, and I heard my own breathing. Joanie’s voice sounded different from her normal one, but not like a sick person’s weak voice. I took her pulse at her wrist and realized it was stronger. She clawed at her neck and I stopped her.
“I went to pee,” Joanie said.
“She asked her friend ‘why.’”
As Sara and I sat in the ED, we never came to terms with why we didn’t hear Joanie moving around after the bee stung her. Sara felt like Joanie had hallucinated as her body began shock symptoms. Joanie didn’t remember saying anything to me. But I never forgot.
Now, you have to ask yourself a question…But before you do, know this.
Years later when the real killer was caught and I read her testimony, I found out there were two shots. The second shot had been withheld from the public by the police. Now, go ahead and answer the question.
What happened with my friends that evening has never left me. The coed’s murder wasn’t solved for over twenty years, and I’ve never forgotten her name. You could say the twilight excursion made an impression. In DoubleBlind, my medical thriller, one of the characters asks a high school football coach and disgraced detective to solve a cold-case coed murder before her parents die. While this mystery isn’t the main storyline it ties into the book’s ending. I didn’t put the spooky into Double-Blind, but I ramped up the chills in Swarmers. Give Swarmers a read if you dare…under a cozy light this Halloween.
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