Let’s cut through the cemetery, Paul said. It’ll be fine, he said.
Well, apparently the Applewood Cemetery was way bigger than either of them thought. If they had just walked around they would have gotten to the party by now. Instead it was full dark and they were still somewhere in the middle of a field of dead people.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Nicole asked. Again.
“Of course, babe, calm down,” Paul said. He certainly was walking like he knew where he was going, a few steps in front of her and practically dragging her along by the hand. Nicole thought, this is all upside down. I’m supposed to be leading him. And it’s supposed to be daytime. And a beach. Not a frigging cemetery. Maybe I’ll put this on Instagram anyway.
Nicole worked her phone out of her back jean pocket. Just as she had it in hand she stumbled over a rock, and the phone dropped and bounced away.
“Hold on, I need…hold on, I dropped my phone.”
Nicole had to yank her hand back from Paul, who turned back to look at her in disgust.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“I just dropped my phone. Frig, I can’t find it in the dark. Can you turn on the flashlight of your phone?”
“Babe, we’re going to be late.”
She stood up to make a face at him. Cutting through the cemetery was his stupid idea and it was his fault this was taking so long.
“I don’t understand why we’re not there by now. It would have been fifteen minutes if we had walked around. How many dead people can one little town produce?”
Paul didn’t answer, only sighed and tapped his foot. Nicole ignored him. He’d been testy for weeks, and Nicole was honestly getting tired of it. When they had started dating it had seemed logical – television had taught her that quarterback + cheerleader = common sense. But besides sports, it was becoming clearer and clearer they didn’t have anything in common. Like, the dumb jock thing had kind of been a turn on at first, but if she had to answer one more question about what was happening in a show they were both watching for the first time she was going to lose it. And now this. Lost in a cemetery.
“There it is,” she said to herself, catching a faint reflection of starlight off the screen.
Something crackled in front of her.
Nicole straightened up.
Something rushed around her in the trees.
She fumbled with her phone, finally getting the flashlight on, and pointed it ahead of her.
Trees. Shrubs. Leaves twisting in the wind. The gravestones.
With a deep breath, she followed after Paul.
“We need to get out of here, I’m starting to scare myself.”
Paul looked back at her with that smile he thought was mischievous but was, in fact, an ugly smirk. “Are you…afraid?” He growled the last word, and Nicole pushed him.
“There’s no need to be afraid, little girl,” he said in the same ugly growl.
“Seriously, stop that.”
“I’ll protect you.”
Paul scooped her up and threw her over his shoulder. It pulled a laugh out of Nicole, a high-pitched thing that was stretched into a screech. She threw her hands over her mouth, hating that she sent that sound over the quiet and dark cemetery.
Something scuttled between graves behind them.
Something pale under the moon, and shaped like a person. Vaguely.
“Paul, something’s following us. Paul!”
Paul dropped her onto her feet in front of him. She craned her neck around him. Nothing. Nothing moved. Nothing pale but the headstones. Nicole forced herself to take another deep breath. She was just freaking herself out. They must be at the end of the cemetery. She would go to the party, find the keg, and-
They were not at the end of the cemetery. Still surrounded by trees and graves in every direction, Paul had brought her to a little grassy area. There was a campfire built, already burning. A cooler. And a sleeping bag.
“What is all this?”
Paul wrapped his arms around her and started kissing her neck. “It’s our three month anniversary.”
“O…kay,” Nicole said. “Wait, did you walk us all around the cemetery for this? Paul…Paul, get off…”
She had to use all her strength to push him away. She may not have been as strong as him, but she was a cheerleader, damn it. If she could hold Bebe Richards over her head she could get away from her stupid boyfriend.
“It’s a surprise, babe!” Paul said, rubbing the ribs she had elbowed. “We’ve been together for three months.”
Nicole looked at him. “You already said that.”
“So, I thought,” Paul said, rolling his eyes, “That it was time.”
There was another sound behind her, something crawling…wait, time?
“Hold up. You brought me out into the middle of a cemetery for sex?”
“It’s creepy! We’re surrounded by dead bodies, Paul! What part of this screams ‘romance’ to you?”
Paul didn’t look ashamed. Or concerned. He looked…he looked mad.
“It’s been three months, Nicole, and you still haven’t put out.”
“And I’m not now, idiot. We’re done.”
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Paul said.
Nicole was already walking away, in the direction she thought Amber’s house might have been. She didn’t expecte Paul to grab her by her hand, and jerk back toward him. Bones crackled in her wrist and she almost fell down.
“Get off…get off…”
“This is supposed to happen.”
“No, get off…Paul…get off…”
Nicole and Paul froze. Standing on the other side of the fire was a pale-skinned…corpse. Yes, corpse. She was going to say man but this man was clearly dead. Fish white skin, red rimmed eyes, pieces of him missing. It didn’t have a nose, but it did have a very concerned look.
“Is everything okay here?” he asked.
Paul’s grip on her wrists got stronger, almost making her scream. “This is a private area. You need to leave.”
He wasn’t looking at the corpse, he was looking at Nicole.
The corpse took a couple steps forward. “I wasn’t asking you. Miss, is everything okay?”
“Look, asshole, I told you-”
Now Paul was looking. Blood drained from his face until he was nearly as pale as the thing talking to him. His grip on Nicole loosened, and she pulled herself free and stumbled away from him. Toward the corpse.
The corpse looked at her, and then at Paul. “Well, if she’s running away from you to me, that’s all I need to know. You need to get out of here.”
To Nicole’s dim surprise, Paul’s shock turned back to anger. “I don’t know who you are-”
“Me? I’m the ghoul that was planning on terrorizing you two once you got started. Make you scream. Maybe kill one or both, I don’t know, I hadn’t planned that far. But it’s not fun like this.”
Paul opened his mouth to say something. He never got the chance. The ghoul went from one side of the fire to directly in front of Paul in a second. Nicole couldn’t see his face. She could only see Paul’s. The anger was finally gone, replaced with something far more pure and naked: fear.
Paul was screaming. He was running through the cemetery, back the way they had come.
Then the corpse was back next to Nicole. He didn’t look scary. Just worried.
“Seriously, are you okay?”
Nicole nodded, surprised to find she was shaking. “Yeah. I guess. Thanks. And thanks for not killing him.”
The ghoul shrugged. “I didn’t. I can’t guarantee his safety out there, though. I’m not the only one here. You going somewhere?”
Nicole nodded again.
“Exit’s over there. Maybe you should get where you’re going, quick. You know. For an alibi.”
Nicole stumbled out of the cemetery a few minutes later. She was rubbing her wrists. Bruises were starting to form there. At least she recognized where she was. She could even see the party, up ahead. She would arrive. People would ask, where’s Paul?
And she would say, I lost him in the cemetery.