Once, on a cold fall night, while visiting friends, my girlfriend and I decided to take a walk down an old dirt road that winded through the thick, dark woods before coming to a dead end at the old cemetery. The graveyard had been there since colonial days and since we felt adventurous, we decided to take a look. Hand in hand, my girlfriend and I stepped over the two foot stone wall and, without a word, slipped in silently among the tombstones. The hand carved stones leaned every which way and the bright full moon cast vivid shadows that seemed to stretch and grow in an unsettling manner.
I was an avid photographer at the time and knew a picture of the imposing old dead, decaying tree surrounded by awkward headstones in all shapes and and at odd angles would prove to be interesting. The milky white moonlight reflecting off each one would make this unique.
With “existing light photography” no flash is used and the camera’s aperture, or lens opening, has to be open as much as possible to allow whatever light is available to enter the lens freely. Also, the shutter speed has to be slowed so the light will have more time to burn the image into the film. No mortal I ever met could successfully steady the camera long enough during this process, so invariably, the picture would come out blurred. A tripod is normally called in at a time like this only I didn’t have one in my back pocket so I had to improvise. I decided to steady my camera on one of the gravestones. I had many to choose from and judging by the looks of things, these stones would provide a solid, unmovable surface, ideal to set the camera on. These headstones hadn’t moved in many years. In fact, they had been here for centuries.
They were so old that the surfaces had actually worn away or fallen off revealing layers of rock like the fanned out pages of a book that had been left in the rain and then dried by the sun. Nature took its toll, and now, just like the stone mason who had carved these head stones in the 1700’s, the stones too were returning to dust. The hundreds of bitter cold winters and scorching hot summers had stripped and eroded these ancient stones so badly that not even one letter or one number remained on their face- just wrinkles and creases, fractures and cracks covered these forelorn silhouettes. Sadly, no one had visited these graves to mourn or leave flowers. No more tears were shed. These graves were forgotten and unknown for many years now. No one knew, and nobody cared whose bones had rotted down below. No one living, anyway.
A small scattering of stone mausoleums, blacker than night, silently stood guard and they seemed to move closer every time I’d look at them. I couldn’t determine, however, if these sentinels were planning to pounce or block our retreat. Then, without warning, while the clammy moist air gathered at our feet, a feral wind materialized exactly where we stood and came to life as an unseen, unwanted restless spirit made its cold presence felt. The dead leaves rattled like old bones. A shiver ran down my spine. My imagination was getting the better of me.
The thick, crooked wrought iron gates that guarded the dark entrance to each crypt bore the strange likeness of teeth in an open mouth that appeared as if it were screaming or yawning, it was hard to tell. After this disconcerting thought crossed my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder what the true purpose of these rusty old bars must be. Were they meant to lock something out or to keep something in? Things I had never noticed in the sunlight had taken on a new life and meaning at night.
A sudden chill, bigger than before, crept up from behind and I suddenly realized I was covered in sweat. This cold and clammy gust seemed as if it came from nowhere, or perhaps from the ground, and paused a moment before it splintered and raced and danced through head stones in different directions scattering old brittle leaves and producing a low whistle before it died into the sigh of a dying man’s breath. Everything became still. Too still.
The largest monuments stood at least ten feet high and towered over the smaller ones, which were for children I supposed, but each and every stone, large or small, cast its own private shadow that mocked its master with whom it was attached. The lesser tombstones had sunk down into the earth and barely broke through the surface on lumpy ground that was both hard in some places yet squishy in others. The gravestones did share one common trait; although perfectly still, each one offered a visual sense of movement in a slow downward tumble that dragged everything else along the way. The oldest head stones were frail and thin, skeletons of their former self. And still others, which had surrendered to time and had given up hope altogether, were split in two or shattered. Some appeared to have been smashed by the hammers of hell and only small shards of stone that lay on the ground remained.
My eyes adjusted as I became used to the bright moonlight. A ghostly white snow seemed to cover the ground but this soon gave way a lurid, uneven dark grey landscape with things I could barely see but slithered like snakes. The more I saw, the more these features took on the grotesque quality of gargoyles and demons. These nightmarish faces seemed to be searching for something but once they spotted me they ceased moving and the dark sockets which held their eyes were turned towards me. Soon, they would all be watching me. My throat was as dry as bone so a gulp was out of the question.
I set my camera down on the top edge of an old granite gravestone. My hands were shaking and I wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. My girlfriend watched as I opened the lens as far as it would go and adjusted the shutter speed accordingly. Concentrating on this task, I suddenly realized I was actually kneeling on a grave. I tried to gulp but nothing happened.
I aimed the camera towards the twisted old tree and the heavy full moon above this field of death. I brought the view into focus and held my breath. But just as I was about to press the trigger…*Cu-Lick!*…. it went off by itself!
That business about hair rising on the back of the neck is true. Not only did I feel my hair rise, but I felt icy fingers caress my neck and tickle my spine. Something, I have no idea what, was standing with us. I just sensed this. Without a word, I jumped to my feet, grabbed my girlfriend’s wrist and began walking real fast toward the gates that marked the exit. We weaved between the gravestones, and ran through the iron gates. Neither of us could speak. My quick pace said it all. I led and my girlfriend followed. Shortly after we left the graveyard the chill that had enveloped us departed. I had never felt anything like this before or since. It was definitely supernatural.
By the time we got back to the house the air was just calm as it had been when we set out on our midnight adventure. The moon, our only witness, wore a smirk instead of a smile. We shared something now. The remaining crickets chirped slowly as the frosty fall tightened its grip. They knew death was coming.
Years later I saw a paranormal investigation on TV where they would “burn” images into light sensitive paper longer than the usual amount of time and this process could, and sometimes would, produce images never seen before. Sometimes bright lights or specs of light would appear as the negative developed. Other times devilish figures, shadows, and faces, appeared as specters floating through the air. I flew to where I had stored my photos and negatives from that night in Vermont but, sadly, I never did find the negative from that cold fall night. I still wonder, to this day, what it might have shown.
I will always remember our encounter with the ghost in the Halifax grave yard. To me, this proves ghosts really do exist- and so does their sense of humor.