A Halloween Story
Jon D. Ayres
In a past life I used to be a conservation officer with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, game warden for those who do not know what a conservation officer is. It was a job I enjoyed since it allowed me to be in the outdoors and work alone most of the time. Sure, the job had its ups and downs, but I’m a pretty laid back type of person, if I thought a hunter or fisherman made a mistake, I wouldn’t write them, for example if I checked a fisherman at the local damn, I would just hold their driver’s license and make them run to the local bait shop down the road and buy a fishing license, I kind of picked what I would give somebody a break on and what I would not. Night hunters I caught got no breaks along with vandals. Part of my duties was enforcing laws which dealt with the protection of historic sites. A historic site in my state was considered to be anything 100 years or older, this included many old country cemeteries. I usually would look over any cemetery and if I came across signs of kids partying, getting drunk and vandalizing the graves or signs of night hunters, I knew I would be staking out the cemetery and spending the night in a spooky old lonely graveyard soon. Night hunters love to use old country graveyards as night hunting targets because deer and rabbits would come out in the open to grave on the grass at night and they can be damn right mean sometimes, I mean killing mean. Kids partying were no trouble, but night hunters sometimes were know for shooting not only deer and rabbits, but also game wardens. When you’re going to lose what ever your hunting in, I’m talking about vehicle, your guns, pay a stiff fine and do some jail time, some night hunters would just as soon kill a game warden. It might not be so bad if the county sheriff’s would back us up, but I have worked in counties where the sheriff ordered his deputies not to help conservation officers, we were pretty much on our own.
Well the day before Halloween, I found signs in an old country graveyard that night hunting was going on there. The cemetery was located in the middle of the woods next to a plantation in Southwest Georgia, a dirt road lead to the church which still held services. I notice car tracks in the field next to the church and cemetery and a few shell casings, so it was not hard to see that something was going on here, could be legal hunting during the day, but unless I spent a night or two there, I would never know. So I looked over everything carefully, ways into the area and ways out of the area, the best place to park my patrol truck and best location to look over everything and offer some cover. I decided that it would be best to park my truck behind the church so it would not be seen and watch things from the graveyard since the vehicle tracks I had seen pasted close by the graveyard. This was because the night hunters would scan both the graveyard and the field next to the church looking for something to shoot.
As I looked over the cemetery for the best place to station myself, I always take not of the various graves, names dates and what not to see if there has been any vandalism caused my kids coming there at night, getting drunk and spray painting or stealing tombstones. I actually caught somebody one night trying to steal a large tombstone because he wanted to make a coffee table out of it. Out of habit, I usually would notice one or two graves to look un-kept and forgotten about, so I would usually pickup a few flowers when I go into town to place on the graves. Just out of respect I guess, not that I believe in ghosts, I have spent many a night in old out of the way country cemeteries and I yet to see a ghost, but because I haven’t seen one, sure as heck dose not mean there are not any. Maybe I did this as insurance, I mean why not get on the spirits good side, after all, part of my job is to protect there burial place. I did it I guess as insurance, why press my luck. It is now 10:00 am, I’ll head to the office, advised my commander what was up and what I’ll be doing to night, stop by the flower store and pickup a few flowers, then go home and get some rest because it was going to be a long night.
I arrived at the church and cemetery about 30 minutes before nightfall. I parked my truck behind the church, between the church and woods, then walked over to the graveyard to place flowers on the three graves I chosen, the grave of a young lady in her twenties who dies in 1923, the grave of a little girl who died in 1906 and the grave of a veteran of WWI who was KIA.. Then I walked over to the spot I had chosen to watch things from, a small crypt, most likely a family was buried in it. I choose this spot because it offered a good view of everything, plus if the need were to arise, I hope good cover if there was going to be a firefight. If anybody is going to come here tonight, I hope they come pretty early so I’m not going to have to spend all night here. It really was not that bad spending all night in a graveyard; I’ve done it many times before. Just part of the job, but you can not help but think of ghosts when you’re looking at tombstones in the moonlight. It only really bothered me when I thought of the movie, “Night of the Living Dead.” That movie always came on TV on Halloween night when I was a teenager and even though it scared the hell out of me, I always watched it, even though it always frightens me. When I was a child, the TV show, “The Outer Limits,” for some reason that theme song scared me, when ever it would come on, I would run out of the room. The TV show was never scary, just that theme song. Sitting in the middle of a cemetery in the middle of the night is the last place you want to think about “Night of the Living Dead or The Outer Limits theme song.” Take my word for it, even though I carried a Colt .45 and AR-15, I did not think these are not too effective against the supernatural things like mean ghosts and ghouls. When ever I started thinking about these things, I usually would think about the ones buried in the graves I bought flowers for, what did they look like, what kind of lives did they have, every so often I would hold one sided conversations with them just to get my mind off of ghouls, all those darn horror movies I used to watch on TV every Friday night and what not. I sure hope that if Barnabas Collins is lurking about here tonight, he remembers that I’m his buddy and used to watch “Dark Shadows” on TV when I would get home from school.
You have no idea how boring it can be sitting in the middle of a graveyard in the middle of the night. About the only thing to do is to watch and listen to everything going on around you. It’s really not that spooky at all when the weather is nice, but when there is a thick fog hanging close to the ground, that can be somewhat spooky I must admit. Fog reflects light and you can think you’re seeing something from the reflected moonlight that really isn’t there. If I were lucky, I could sit in my patrol truck and wait for something to happen, but a lot of times, I could not because the truck you be out in the open and if seen by night hunters or vandals, it would spook them away, so many a night I would have to hide in a cemetery itself or field waiting for “Where The Action Is” to start. At about 1:30 am, after waiting in this cemetery for over six hours, I finally saw my quarry, headlights coming down the farm road and starting to circle around he field. Bang——-Bang, Bang and the truck stopped at the far edge of the cemetery. That’s all I needed, I radioed GSP (Georgia State Patrol) Albany and told them my location and that I was fixing to make a stop of a truck which just fired three shots. Looking through my binoculars, I gave them the tag number of the F100 pickup, Baker, Tom, Cindy, 582. I then cocked my .45 and placed it on safe and said a prayer as I rush out toward the Ford pickup, keeping cover with the tombstones, but trying not to step on the graves. I had made it about halfway to the pickup moving quickly and carefully through the graveyard when I suddenly said out loud to myself, “What the &^&!”
I was laying flat on my back, not only was I flat on my back; I was lying in a big hole, hell I was in a grave. I jumped up and tried to get out, but the Georgia Red Clay was slick as ice, I ended up on my butt more than I wanted to by slipping on the red clay. I finally clamed down enough to get my senses back and think this situation I now found myself in. Apparently I had stepped into a grave that had been dug during the day after I had scouted out the graveyard that morning. I could not believe just what I had done. Darn it, I would have to let those night hunters get away. I stopped to think things over while I smoked a cigarette. I did not want to call GSP Albany, let alone anybody else; I would never live this down. As I smoked my cigarette, I finally thought, why not take your knife out and dig out a couple of steps to get out of this hole? Good, I thought, so I felt my belt where I kept my Tanto, “Where is my Tanto?” I always carry my Tanto with me, it was my service blade. “I can not believe this, what else is going to go wrong tonight, I guess I will have a wreck on my way home, maybe this grave is the safest place after all?” I looked at my watch; it was now 4:00am. “How am I going to get out of this grave?”
I just finished another cigarette when a voice said, “Need a hand friend?” I replied, I sure do! Thank you!” “Papa, is he one of us?” Than a ladies voice said, “No Mary Sue, he’s not Quaker.” A firm hand griped my hand and it felt as if I were flying through the air and landed on solid ground beside the grave. “Thank you, you sure saved me some trouble and embarrassment.” “Think nothing of it Friend.” I stopped and lit a cigarette and almost fell back into the grave by what I saw. From the reflection of my lighter, I saw a man dressed in a WWII uniform, a little blond girl about four years old dressed in a bonnet, and fancy dress and shawl and a lovely young lady in her 20’s dressed also in a white bonnet, dress to her ankles and shawl. I started shaking so bad I could not lit my cigarette and my lighter went out. I was trembling like I never trembled before; I could not speak, but finally was able to say thank you and all three replied, “Thank You!” I finally got my lighter lit and lit another cigarette and nobody was there, I switched on my Maglite, nothing, not a single person anywhere. As I walked back to my truck, all I could think about was, “Am I getting too old for this job?” Some night, tonight was, this is one job where anything can happen, one day I’m wrestling alligators in people’s swimming pools, the next day wading around barefoot in ponds looking for drowned people, and spending the next night in some forgotten cemetery. That’s the life of a Georgia Conservation Officer, I guess next I’ll be looking for Big Foot when somebody calls and says they’ve seen something strange in the woods.