It was 1974, and I was living in a small mill town north of Spokane. If you ever found yourself in the mountains on the few days of year when the grey skies dissipated, you could peer right over into the Canadian border, although most of my neighbors preferred to stay unaware of the outside world. Nearly everyone counted on the steel mill for work, except for a lucky few of us single gals. We worked at the other town monopoly – the Stop N Save grocery outlet, where we would roll up the sleeves of our mustard yellow polyester button downs and tap our acrylics on the keys of the register. In fact, we were royalty among the mill boys, who would come in on their lunch break for a soda and a smile. 11:30-1:00 was always show time. My best friend, Janet, would carefully pull out her compact to primp at 11:25 like clockwork. Time might as well have been abolished in a town so dictated by routine.
Janet and I not only shared adjoining checkout stations, but also adjoining bedrooms. We were thought to be wild ones for having a place of our own. I know it’s the norm now for all of you girls to be roommates straight out of high school, but this was still the era of living with your parents until they handed you over at the altar. But we didn’t have much to lose. My mother skipped town to be with her third husband, and Janet’s folks had disowned her after she was expelled the last week of senior year for getting high with the hunky guidance counselor under one of the side stairwells. Together, we were always looking to get into some kind of trouble somewhere as we enjoyed our final years of glory before the mill closed and the town turned into a wasteland.
It was Halloween, and we were staying in, splitting a thirty pack, and watching a bootlegged copy of It’s Alive that Janet managed to get from one of her older admirers at the store. We had a good laugh that he had thought a skipping tape was the key to her affection. The trick-or-treaters trickled off as things got later…and blurrier. We got the bright idea to ring our marijuana girl (and town witch!) Andrea. We figured she was probably busy mixing raven claw into a caldron somewhere, but to our surprise, she picked up and agreed to come over later and help us out. In the meantime, we were out of cigarettes and pizza, so in our brilliance, we decided to hoof it over to the next town to the 24 hour convenience store. Even in our stupor, we knew better than to take the truck out. Janet’s boyfriend, Robert, had passed in a car accident when she was 16, so driving was no joke to her.
So, us gals went out into the night, holding each other up we swayed down the road lined by evergreens. I can still close my eyes and picture how bright the moon was that night. It was freezing, we could see our breath as we laughed, but I was of no mind to be troubled by my thin flannel shirt being my only kind of outerwear. I’d guess we had made it about a mile when we saw a cat casually trotting across the road. Janet screamed with delight. We both loved the little fellows, but could never take one in because of my allergies. She grabbed me by the hand and we both chased it as it scampered off into the trees. It ran faster and so did we, and as to be expected, we struggled to keep up. We finally came to a halt when Janet tripped over what we thought was rock and we both fell to the ground, cackling at our clumsiness. I rolled over on my hands to find a small headstone staring back at me. It appeared we led been led straight into one of the old graveyards across the Northwest that seemed to pop out of nothingness, usually holding the bodies of unlucky frontier settlers.
Janet insisted it was some kind of Halloween miracle. I closed my eyes and spun around with my arms out, hollering out to the moon like I would hear Andrea sometimes do. I remember Janet calling out “here kitty, kitty…” as she ventured off further down the row of graves. I eventually fell to my feet and laid there for God knows how long. That’s when I heard a scream followed by a deafening silence. I immediately got up and saw Janet slowly emerging from a deep part of the trees where the headstones had begun to taper off. When she was close enough that I could spot the tears running down her face, I sprinted towards her and snatched her by her arm, demanding to know what had happened. “I saw Robby,” she said. “I saw him.” She was trembling relentlessly. “He was just standing there, looking at me, so I walked towards him, but then he disappeared.” I pulled her in for a hug, thinking she was having a bad acid trip or maybe hallucinating from the cold. Her body did feel like ice.
I tried my best to stay calm and told her it was time to go home. I hung my arm around her and we re-traced our steps back out to the road. I was happy to be greeted again by the bright moonlight, but Janet turned and stood at the entrance of the trees. “Robby, why don’t you walk with us,” she called out. I was heartbroken by this point. I knew how much she had loved him. I sometimes wondered if the attention she got at the store was her way of filling in the hole he had left in her heart, although I knew better than to ever ask her. “Now, now. Let’s go,” I said. We walked back in silence.
When we were back into the safety of our living room, I laid Janet down on the couch and covered with her blanket and she immediately curled up and closed her eyes. I turned the TV back on so she would have some company in case she woke up in the night and couldn’t sleep. I was pretty well broken out of my buzz at this point. I picked up as many empty beer cans as I could manage and took them into the kitchen. After washing a few dishes and clearing our empty pizza boxes, I decided to call it a night myself. I went back out into the living room to make my way to the narrow hallway that led to our bedrooms. I glanced over to see fuzz playing on the TV, and I grew agitated that the signal seemed to be going out yet again. But when I went over to adjust the dial, I saw the blanket I had draped over Janet strewn on the floor, and Janet, nowhere to be found. Thinking, she must have stirred and silently made her way to her room, I turned off the TV, and made my way back to the hallway. What I saw surely had to be a glimpse of hell.
It was Janet, standing stiffly at the very end of the corridor, her long, dark hair hanging in her face. I tried calling out to her a few times, but I got no response. When I started to approach her, she began to slowly lift her head, exposing a smile that made me stop dead in my tracks. She ran at me instantly, knocking me down with her force. Her legs pinned me down and her fingers dug into my neck. I began to realize through my shock that Jshe was trying to kill me. Through Janet’s wailing I could hear something in the background. It was the familiar sound of the front door squeaking open.
“What the hell is going on?” I heard Andrea scream. With all of the other excitement, I had completely forgotten we had even invited her over. She lifted Janet off of me and she rolled right into her bedroom. Andrea raced to close the door and struggled to hold it shut as Janet scratched at it from the inside. I got up and grabbed a fold-up chair from the living room to jam underneath Janet’s door knob. In one nonsensical breath I told Andrea the events of the proceeding hours. Fortunately, she got the gist, but her face sank. I asked her what was wrong. “I don’t think that was Robby she encountered,” she said. Janet’s wailing intensified through the door. “Don’t you know how these things like to play tricks?” Andrea attempted to scream the noise. I admitted that I didn’t know what she meant. She told me that she didn’t have time to explain and yelled at me to go hide out in the truck. “I’ll take care of this,” she insisted.
I spend what felt like an eternity in the passenger’s seat, watching as Andrea greeted various figures in all black at the door. They would come and go, some pacing endlessly across the yard. Somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to drift off and receive a break from the horror that was being carried out right in front of me. I eventually awoke to a knock at the window. It was Andrea. A million questions flooded from me at once, but she just responded by holding her finger to her lips. She took me by the hand, her rings cold against my palm, and led me into the living room where Janet was sitting on the couch on her usual frog-legged position, casually sipping from her favorite mug.
“She doesn’t remember anything,” Andrea whispered into my ear.
Janet turned to me and smiled, asking me if I had remembered to pick up more cigarettes while I was out. “Um yeah…,” I lied. Andrea motioned for me to sit down. We spent the afternoon drifting into the usual haze, and gradually the events of the previous night seemed like nothing more than a bad dream.