The summer of 1963 promised to be a magical time for Eve Paplin; her parents began trusting her with more responsibilities, she was preparing for her senior year of high school and looking into going away to college, and her crush of two years was finally taking notice of her. After the endless years that comprised her “awkward stage,” she felt like she was, at long last, coming into her own.
When her mother and father decided to go on their annual summer holiday and Eve wanted to stay home, for the first time, they relented and didn’t force family time on her. Giving her permission to have a few friends over in repayment for a week of house sitting, Mr. and Mrs. Paplin kissed their daughter good-bye and left for their cabin in the Rockies.
Excited to have a full week of summertime freedom, Eve hurried to the grocery store the moment her parents had disappeared from the driveway. If she was going to have her friends over, she wanted to be a proper hostess and, if there was anything she had learned from her mother, that meant always having something delicious on hand when people came by. Beaming as she paid for the trove of snack foods, she had never felt more mature.
Eager to get home as she was, the walk around the West Ridge Cemetery felt endless, so she decided to cut through, instead. Halfway through the graveyard, the jagged tip of a tombstone snagged on one of her plastic bags, ripping a giant hole in the sack and spilling the contents every which way. Eve scurried about as she reclaimed her fallen goods and, in her flustered state of mind, allowed herself to become careless. She didn’t look before stepping through a mass of brambles and tumbled into a concealed gully. Eve was beaten and battered during the course of her fall, and, though she wanted to cry for help, the pain inflicted by her injuries guided her into the realm of unconsciousness.
Eve spent her remaining days in an agonizing limbo between life and death, blacked out and blearily awake, wishing someone would find her and praying she would die. Her location at the base of the fissure was close to civilization, but dishearteningly beyond earshot of passersby. For her remaining days, all she could do was lay broken and wait for death and wildlife alike to claim her.Eve Paplin’s body was found the soon after her parents returned from their trip, but it took days to properly identify the mangled corpse. When they discovered the battered frame, it was bloody, maimed, and missing eyes--which, according to the coroner’s report, had likely been plucked out by birds while the girl was alive.
It is said that the ghost of Eve Paplin still wanders the cemetery to this day, forever looking for her eyes so that she can find her way home.
“D’you even listen to the ghost stories you read before you decide to share that garbage? She’s looking for her eyes?” Art stared at Amber and snorted contemptuously. “That’s not just stupid--that’s impossible.” He was pissed that Delton had called in sick to work that day; he’d been hoping to bum a ride home. While Art wasn’t the biggest fan of cars, he had a sinking suspicion that an autumn walk across town with the girl would yield in more of her otherworldly prattle. His hunch didn’t disappoint. “Remember? No eyes.”
Amber huffed back, “’Looking’ can mean the same thing as ‘searching,’ you know. You don’t need to see for that. I thought it was interesting.”
“It’s stupid.”“You’re stupid,” she snapped. She stuffed her hands deep inside her pockets and quickened her pace. Even if he didn’t share her enthusiasm, she wasn’t going to let that get her down. When their path branched, she promptly headed down the offshoot.
“No,” she flashed a cocky smirk over her shoulder, “but it’s the way to the West Ridge Cemetery.”
“No. No, no, no,” he moaned repeatedly. “No chance in hell we’re going to go poking around a damn graveyard. I’m drawing the line here. No.”
“Really, Ander? A cemetery? This’s what you were jumpin’ yourself over? A gawdamn cemetery?” Constance groaned, pulling up the rear as the group exited the short bus.
“Not just any cemetery,” he beamed unabashedly. “This is the one the famed ‘Eyeless Specter of Eve Paplin’’s in. Really, we should consider ourselves lucky that Emma needed to be dropped off here for a hunt in the vicinity. It gives us an excuse to check the place out.”
"If ya think that’s good luck, I better get a freakin’ rabbit’s foot, ‘cause I sure as hell don’ wanna know what bad is,” she muttered, rolling her neck to loosen the muscles.
“At least you’ll be happy to know that sightings of Eve Paplin are fairly uncommon,” Ein chimed in what he hoped to be reassurance as he sealed his laptop inside his backpack with a final zip before swinging it on. “We can try running tests to glean some more information, but there’s a good chance that we won’t even find anything.”
Giving the youngest Suppressor a tired smile, she rustled his hair, “Really wish I could take some consolation in that.”“I’m with Constance on this one,” Stoak frowned, locking the Racer behind them before easily hoisting a cardboard box brimming with supplies into his muscular arms. The Suppressors generally liked to be well-prepared with their equipment, but, part hoping for the best, part unsure of how they’d set everything up at a graveyard, they decided to be a little more conservative in their baggage for once.
“Seriously?" Ander didn’t even fight to hide his amusement. “You’re the last two people I’d think would be scared.”
“It’s not fear; it’s common sense, ya moron. I know you just had a concussion, but I’d think you still had some left,” the blond added sourly, pulling her leather jacket closer to stave off the chill. “Listen to your meat shields for once.”
“What about if we wait until the sun’s up?” Jemi tried mediating. “That way, it’ll be bright enough to see where we’re going. Will that work?”
Outnumbered, Ander exhaled, ready to admit defeat. He knew he was apt to letting his paranormal passion carry him away--that was what started their group in the first place-- and he couldn’t exactly deny that they had a point. They were irresistibly close to the graveyard, but at least they hadn’t gotten terribly far from the bus, either. As his tongue was on the threshold of administering the call for retreat, he spotted something that made him change his mind. “Hang on a second. I think I see someone in there.”
Jemi studied the movement beyond the gates. “Two someones, I think.”
“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!” Constance pursed her lips, then snapped, “Dammit. Alright, we’re goin’ in--to make sure they don' get hurt, if nothin' else.” She shot Ander a glower as she put her head down and got ready to increase her pace, “But if you trip on a tombstone and crack your skull open, don’ freakin’ count on me for help; I’ll be too busy laughin’ my ass off.”
“Com’on, Amber, aren’t we done yet?” Art asked, beady eyes darting from grave to grave--or, at least, the vague forms of the stones that he could make out in the darkness.
“Hardly! We just got here!” she snorted, letting her satchel fall heavily against the soil before rifling through the contents. “We haven’t even seen anything yet.”
“All the better reason to leave.”“Oh, live a little.”
“’Live a little?’ We’re standing in a fucking cemetery, Amber! A fucking cemetery.”
“Get real. What are you so scared of, anyway? Do you think something’s going to pop out of the ground and grab you?” she snickered, shoving a camera into his hands and taking one for herself.
“That we’re gonna get caught and charged for trespassing, that’s what!”
“Hey! What the hell’re you doin’ out here?” a female bellowed from behind them.
“Told you!” Art snipped as the pair of them turned around to see the shadowy group clambering among the headstones towards them.
Amber popped open the screen on her own handheld camcorder and used the night vision to properly scan their company. “You don’t look like groundskeepers.”
“Neither do you two,” Stoak flipped, admiring the majesty of Art’s gauges as he set down the overstuffed carton of supplies. The cool atmosphere contrasted with the ground--still warm from the heat of a sun long set--and crafted a blanket of swirling mist that swam in eddies with each disturbance.
“Look,” Constance’s lips turned downward, “you guys should pry just go home. I dunno what you think you’re gonna find here--“
Amber didn’t skip a beat, “The Eyeless Specter of Eve Paplin.”
“Gawddammit, how does everyone know about this shit?” she fumed, kicking at a weedy outcropping that dared to inch over the crest of the fog.
Ander half-smirked in triumph, “See? I’m not the only one.”
“We’re paranormal investigators,” the young woman insisted, feet planted firmly in assertion. If these newcomers didn’t have the authority to make them leave, then there was no way in hell she’d budge until she was good and ready.
Her friend cast a dirty glance in her direction, “Speak for yourself.”
“Really?” Jemi beamed brightly. “How cool! We’re the Suppressors; we’re ghost hunters.”
“Paranormal investigators? I’d say that negates your ‘no civilian’ rule,” Ein peered up at Constance through his thick lenses as he finished setting up his laptop.“And look at this,” Stoak whistled, craning his neck to glance at the camera Amber wielded--an act that was wholly unnecessary considering the fact that he already towered over her by nearly a foot and a half. “They’ve got hella better equipment than we do.”
Art slumped over by her and watched as the strangers chatted with his friend and showed her the various equipment they had brought. Despite each device appearing to be a mutt creation of hand-me-down technology, he could see Amber’s eyes grow wide with excitement as they explained what everything did. He went to lean up against the stray Suppressor’s makeshift seat, but decided against it at the last minute. Too creepy.
“So. You don’t wanna be here, either, huh?” he muttered to her once she paused for breath.
“Don’ want anyone to be here,” she grumbled, irritated. “This stuff can get sketchy, and to be doin’ it when we can’ freakin’ see anythin’?” She shook her head to fill in any notes of displeasure.
“At least the cameras have night vision.”“Yeah, that helps, but there’s never any guarantees when you’re dealin’ with ghosts.” She looked down her nose at him for a beat before unfurling her arms and offering her hand, “Constance.”
She jerked her head in the direction of her fellows, “The guy dressed like every damn day’s casual Friday at the office? That’s Ander. The kid with the glasses? That’s his brother, Ein. The other chick’s Jemi. And that guy with spikes an’ piercin's an’ shit? That’s Stoak.”
“Full house,” he muttered.
“Hey, Art! Lookit this!” Amber waved him down until she was sure she had his attention. “They can exorcise ghosts with thes--“
“Holy shit!” the stout male yelped, ducking behind the grave marker the moment he saw the girl brandish a sawed-off shotgun. "The fuck’re you doing?”
“Chill out, they don’t fire bullets,” she rolled her eyes widely. “Like I was saying, Ander says they’ve been modded to exorcise ghosts, instead.”
“Sure. I mean, we’ll probably just set a few scanners up around the perimeter and see what happens, but you’re more than welcome to help,” Ander promptly offered. He rather liked the new acquaintance’s zest for the paranormal and was happy to accommodate a curiosity he knew all too well.
“That’d be awesome!” she trilled in excitement.
“You guys go on ahead. Art and I’ll stay here and keep an eye out.”
“You sure?” Ander quizzed Constance. “Some of us can hang back with--“
“Thanks, Boss, but we’ve got it covered,” she drawled, imparting him with the special, solitary-fingered salute she saved exclusively for her oldest friend.
Taking the cue to keep moving, he herded Amber and the remaining Suppressors away, leaving the less-than-enthused pair to wish they had brought a deck of cards or something to keep themselves entertained.
“Be careful,” Ein’s soft voice warned, “the fog seems to be getting thicker.”
“As if we didn’t have to worry about the dark being enough of a disadvantage,” his brother muttered.
“You’re the one who wanted to come out here this late, Boss,” Stoak reminded, earning himself a barely-visible glare.
“Are you doing alright there, Amber?” Jemi asked tenderly.“Oh, definitely!” she chimed from where she lingered ever so slightly. Sticking to the back of the group allotted her the chance to take her time capturing the surroundings and her inquisitive nature hungrily lapped it up. She continued to rotate her camcorder back and forth as they proceeded through the cemetery, “A graveyard in the middle of the night’s bound to have something turn up in the footage, right?”
Ein nodded, “It sounds like a classic formula, so we can hope, that’s for certain.”
As the head Suppressor paused to balance a recorder in the crook of a dead tree branch, he admitted, “There’s something so cool about being so close to ghosts--especially the ones you hear about in campfire legends. It’s something I know I’ll never get tired of.”
“And how can you? The paranormal’s fascinating!” their guest agreed fervently. “I don’t know what bug’s up Art’s ass, but he’s missing out.” She adored investigating the otherworldly, and getting the chance to do it with other like-minded individuals only increased her enjoyment. Tack on the fact that they were letting her tote around an exorcism shotgun and there was no way she wasn’t going to have a field day rubbing it in Delton’s face that he picked the wrong night to be sick!“Trust me, I’m sure he’s getting plenty more than he bargained for hanging back with Constance,” Stoak snickered lowly.
The nighttime air had begun to pick up and Amber had to squint slightly against the gust in order to keep her focus clear. Slowly, she edged a step backwards until she butted up against a bushel of dried foliage. With the increased gusts, any weak branches swayed to its will, but she set her concentration on one particular limb on a nearby, gnarled tree. It was one of the stronger ones, and, unlike its twiggy brethren that glided back and forth, it sagged, as if a weight were placed upon it. Her delicate lips opened in question to ask the others if they had seen the peculiarity, but, the moment the stray wisps of mist gathered to form a hollow, deformed face inches from her own, the inquiry turned to screams and a backwards step in retreat sent her falling through the endless void the ground gave way to.
“No--no freakin’ way!” Constance snorted. “The game’s called, ‘Sudden Death: Mount, Marry, or Kill.’ You already used up your kill and marry slots. By default, you’re screwin’ her.”
“If I wanna pass, I’m passing! I’m not fuckin’ my mom!” Art snapped back, his stubby fingers gripping the edge of the headstone in fervor, all concerns of the creepy factor gone from his mind.
“Your own damn fault for killin’ your first grade teacher and not waitin’ to hear all the contestants, Sicko.”
“Dude, that cow was, like, eighty! An’ that was twenty years ago!”
“So?” she flipped back relentlessly.
“So, she’s probably already dead by now! How else could I justify killing her?”
“What, now you wanna swap her for mount? So, you’re tellin’ me you’re necro?”
“Fuck no! The hell kinda game is this?” he retorted, the annoyance biting in each utterance. Before the other could counter, a shriek pierced the night. He jolted to attention, “That sounded like Amber.”
“Shit,” Constance growled, springing from her perch. Once her sneakers met dirt, she took off, extracting her Blaster from where it was poked out of her jacket as she wove between tombstones.
“What’s going on?” he gawped, trotting behind as fast as he could.
“Toldya you can’ predict ghosts,” she grumbled. “An’ here I thought it’d pop up back by us. Gawdammit.”
“But…maybe it was just a spider or somethin’…right?” he huffed. When she only gave her head a sharp shake, he dared to ask, “But she’s prolly okay…isn’t she?”
The Suppressor didn’t respond as she pushed on. She knew her friends wouldn’t have purposely done anything dangerous, but she never trusted anyone’s safety in the face of the paranormal without personally being there to do everything she could to ensure it.
The group had put a decent chunk of distance in between them and the lone pair, so Art couldn’t figure out how the irate blond knew exactly where to go when it was difficult to see anything more than a few feet away, but, as he struggled to keep up, he wasn’t sure he particularly wanted the details. Perspiration blossomed across his forehead, but only partially from physical activity; he and Amber may have had a teasing, prodding relationship, but he didn’t want to entertain the idea of her being hurt. With decaying brush becoming more prevalent, he steeled himself up to hazard a question of how much further they were, but Constance came to an abrupt halt. He slammed into her back, toppling the pair over, and the words transformed into a shout of terror as they fell from his tongue. Looking up from where he was sprawled in the soil and dead weeds, he had his answer.
The pale, hazy glow of a form shown though the inky gloom. The figure was of a teenaged girl or, at least, what once could be construed as a girl. Her countenance was sunken in to show off every bone and sinew, and, much like her dress, her translucent flesh was tattered and hung off in chunks at sporadic intervals. What was left of her stringy, ethereal hair was matted and gnarled against her puckered skull. Her eye sockets were hollow cavities and, as the ghost jerked to face the source of the noise, the dark silver of spectral blood sloshed out of the holes to spill down her front.
Constance only glanced at the spirit for a moment and gave a low, wordless grunt before scrambling about, trying to feel out her fallen weapon amid the murky undergrowth in spots where sight failed her. “Didn’ grab a Blaster before we split, didja?”
“Y-you mean one of those guns?” Art choked, eyes wide and fearful as he struggled to comprehend speech. “N-no.”
“Then you might wanna clear out, ‘cause she ain’ lookin’ to play nice,” she hissed over her shoulder, spying the way the ghost’s sightless vision had honed in on him. She raised and arm and snapped her fingers sharply at Eve Paplin’s figure in a manner reminiscent of one trying to grab the attention of an angry dog, “Hey! No, ya don’! Over here!” When she noticed that he hadn’t budged, she seethed, “Move!”
Spurred by the authority in her command, he scrambled backwards until he smacked into a grave marker and used it to heave himself back onto shaky legs. He spun around, desperate to find anything resembling safety when a voice met his ears.
“Constance? Art?” Jemi’s tones called out.
“Y-yeah,” he wheezed back, hurrying to follow the sound. “Where’re--a ghost--where’s Amber?” came spilling from his mouth, offering very little by way of breathing space between the bursts of thought that exploded in fearful simultaneity. The relief he felt when he found them was fleeting; the remaining Suppressors were there, but Amber was nowhere to be seen. Their primary focus was through a tangle of dry brambles and Stoak was on all fours, digging through the brush. “Where’s Amber?” he repeated hoarsely once he was close enough for them to hear clearly.
“Owwww. Art?” her low moan drifted through the growth.
Holding his phone through the depths of the foliage as a dim flashlight, Ander’s brow was creased in worry. “She tripped and fell. There’s a ravine, but she was lucky enough to catch on a ledge. If she hadn’t…” frowning, he shook his head and let his words trail off.
Art joined the queue. “D’you think we’ll be able to get her out? Is she--?”
“I can hear you, Art,” Amber’s tones clipped through the brambles.
“Do we have a rope or somethin’?”
Ein shook his head, “The ledge isn’t too far down. Well, not too far for some people.”
Stoak paused from shifting the dried vines to smirk in acknowledgement. “I should be able to make it--maybe just barely. I’m trying to find a good spot.”
Jemi shifted nervously. “Maybe we should call the fire department. What if the ground crumbles? I don’t know how safe this is--“
“Like that’s ever been priority,” he arched a studded eyebrow sardonically. Without further discussion, he settled on a handhold and lowered himself down. There was a soft thump that signified a successful landing.
There was a moment of hushed conversation between the pair before Amber’s head appeared in the gap of broken greenery. When Art and Ander reached for her, she simply shoved her satchel into their awaiting hands.
“Is this really the time?” Art grumbled, tossing it aside.
As nine fingers enclosed on the brink of the ledge, it became obvious that Stoak had the spritely girl piggybacked. With a brief grunt of exertion, the punk heaved the pair of them topside.
Once she was set down, Amber reached for her bag and started digging through it for her camera. Extracting the device and turning it on, she rolled her eyes, “Uh, yeah; I got some wicked footage of Eve Paplin--“
“Oh. Fuck.” With everything happening at once, on the scale of importance, getting Amber out of the ditch had ranked top, but, now that she was safe, the deranged spirit jumped back to the forefront of Art’s anxiety.
“What? Owww,” she winced and crumpled the moment she tried standing. The pressure sent sharp pangs shooting through her and she couldn’t remain upright. “My leg’s killing me,” she grimaced, clutching at the point of contact.
Ein promptly swooped over to examine her injury. “You probably sprained it. Until you can--“
“Uh, guys?” Art interrupted. “The ghost’s--“
Gasps and shouts erupted as ethereal figure of Eve Paplin materialized several short yards from the group.
“--Here,” he finished lamely.
For as excited as she was to be in such close proximity to the ghost, Amber’s enthusiasm didn’t cloud how obviously unsavory the spirit was. Making a snap decision, she thrust her camcorder into Art’s stubby fingers and dove back into her sack and pulled out the Blaster the Suppressors had let her borrow for their excursion. Unhesitatingly, she lifted the weapon, fired…and missed. The blast of light expelled from the modified gun ran well-clear of the specter.
The ghost’s gaping maw opened in a silent hiss of rage as numerous, unnaturally petrified roots shot up from the ground--some within inches of impaling them. The wind cut around them in a cyclone and howled through the dead trees, as if providing sound to the deceased girl’s inaudible shrieks. As the enraged spirit lunged towards them, Amber bit down on her lower lip and took aim again. Her eyes dilated in desperation when she missed a second time. With the specter’s contorted features almost nose to nose with her, a shot fired from off in the distance.
Unlike her own, this blast struck true. Agony ripping through her ethereal visage, Eve Paplin’s features stretched out impossibly wide until her translucent flesh ripped clear of her body and the remnants of her image disintegrated into the void of night. Without the unearthly commander, the violent gusts dissipated, leaving the graveyard cloaked once again in death’s solitude.
The danger now abated, Amber glanced upwards to see Constance trudging through the dark towards them, her reclaimed Blaster in tow. The Suppressor’s gait had a slight limp to it and, the closer she got, the more apparent it became that her free hand was swatting her upper thigh where her jeans had been singed across. The flesh left visible through the gash bubbled in angry, red burn marks. Clearly, Amber’s shots may have missed the ghost, but they certainly hit something.
“Freakin’ thing barely grazed me.” Wearing a pained half-smirk, Constance snorted, “Told ya it’d hurt like hell.”
Even if it weren’t for Amber’s injured ankle, the Suppressors were more than happy to give the duo a ride home.“Thanks for the lift,” Art grunted awkwardly as the Racer pulled up to their residency.
Ein grinned slyly, chin resting against his hands as he leaned over the top of a bench, “That means she likes you guys.”“Uh…thanks?” Art’s face screwed up, trying to figure out how to take the backhanded half-compliment as the pair exited the vehicle.
“Oh, he will,” she replied smugly. In front of the building, she jostled her satchel in his face. “Remember? I have footage.”
Glancing at how she glowed with pride, a migraine teased the inside of his skull. After this, there was no chance that her love for the parapsychological would be dampened, and, with his luck, she’d find a way to drag him along.