This is a true ghost story by Michael Stoneburner. You can find more his work here www.michaelstoneburner.com
By Michael Stoneburner
I massaged the steering wheel eagerly. I’d crack a slight smile and look over to the passenger seat. His leg was bobbing up and down in anticipation. I wasn’t sure why we were together, but I’ll admit, I enjoyed the company and his interest in ghost stories matched my own.
The sun had been hidden behind thick gray clouds all day. It set the tone to an already eerie adventure. We were headed to an old cemetery back behind Cranebook, an ever expanding suburb not far from the City of Penrith. I joked around with Blake that one day somebody might demand to know who moved the headstones. He didn’t get the joke and again, I wondered why I was with him. He was so much younger than I and didn’t get any references. Who didn’t know Poltergeist? Especially if they were interested in ghost stories.
I hung my right elbow out the window. The breeze played with my beard and I started to move my hand in the wind up and down. Blake wondered what I was doing. I laughed and rolled down his window and instructed him to do the same. We both laughed as we drove down the dark road. We had just passed the streetlights. This stretch of road was dark and surrounded by the trees.
Blake put his feet up on the dashboard. I eyed him ready to tell him off for it when I took the curve with too much speed.
“Eyes on the road and not your prize,” he said. I was about to correct him he suddenly lurched forward and pointed, “There! You’ll miss it.”
The small driveway was a dirt road. He was right. I almost missed it. We both jerked in our seats as I quickly turned into the driveway. His body practically lifted off of the seat. I apologised. I squeezed the steering wheel again. It wasn’t Blake that was the issue. It was me. I wouldn’t admit it to him but this adventure had me a bit spooked already.
The headlights of my car hit the posted fence that ended the driveway. The light reflected off of the looming gravestones peeking out from the shadows.
“Castlereagh Road was one of the oldest roads in the county. At one point it was the most travelled road apart from the main highway, whose history lay with the original settlers,” Blake informed me. I added that there were the Aboriginal people long before that, but he just waved it off and said, “The point is this place was farmland and trees.”
“It still is,” I said as we stepped over the posted fence. I left the headlights on to give us more light. It was Blake’s idea to come at night. To add to the feel of it all. I told him that the gloomy day we had would have been enough. Besides, the reason we were there was dark enough. “Besides, Sarah was a convict. I think she was caught stealing bread or something.”
“You think the cemetery is used anymore?”
“I don’t know, but I do know it’s a tourist spot now.”
Sarah’s grave was a mystery. It was considered one of the most haunted places in Australia. From what was told to me, a woman by the name of Sarah Simpson was walking home when a group of men attacked her, raped and killed her. Others told me it was her husband, who was physically abusive, though most of the stories claim he was a loving husband who struggled to raise their children without her. I wasn’t sure what to believe, but either way, I was here for Sarah.
“1842 here,” Blake whispered, “So long ago.”
“I know right?” I said but I ignored most of the gravestones. I wanted hers, but we had no idea where her gravestone was as we walked through the place. True, I was amazed at how long ago these people were buried here. Each one having their own story, but I refused to think about them. Coming from a domestically violence household and a victim of rape, there was a big part of me that felt her community let her down. If the stories were true, her anger was righteous. Stories told of her screams that haunted these parts. A ghostly vision of a woman walking through the trees. Men who step foot even remotely near her gravestone feeling ill or negative thoughts of harm. Either way, Sarah died a gruesome death.
“I’m not surprised if she haunts this place,” I muttered.
“What’s that?” Blake asked, walking in front of a few gravestones, using his phone’s flashlight to highlight the names.
“Don’t walk over the graves. Walk around.”
“I’m sure they don’t mind,” Blake said, but moved around them anyway.
I sighed, “I said I wouldn’t be surprised if she haunts this place. Being buried amongst the people who let her husband beat her, literally, to death.”
“A group of men killed her.”
“Even that,” I snapped, “is horrible.”
I hadn’t told Blake why this trip was important to me. He didn’t know much about my past yet. Our relationship was still early, still growing its wings…
“There’s old records of a Sarah Simpson arriving in one of the fleets,” I explained to Blake, as they stepped further into the cemetery of trees and tombstones. The light of the headlights and the flashlights on their phones their only guide. I continued, “Sent here after stealing some bread. Can you believe that? Being sent to a whole other continent. Forget about escaping New York. Escape from Australia.”
“Why would you want to escape from New York?” Blake asked and I sighed.
We both jumped as a cool breeze whipped through the trees. We stood there in silence for a moment before we giggled. The headlights from the car made the gravestones cast eerie shadows. We would have been just fine with our phones, but I also wanted to be careful. The shadows around us stood out like they were their own trees amongst the living ones. I felt a heaviness in my chest. I wasn’t sure if it was just the jump-scare the wind had created, but the feeling wasn’t going away. Blake wandered off a few feet away from me as I twisted the phone’s flashlight around and it hit on her grave. It stood out to me from the rest. I knew it before I even read her name.
“S. S.” I whispered. I went to call out for Blake who was only a few feet away from me, but I felt my throat tighten up. My eyes started to water. My feet planted firmly on the ground. The flashlight to my phone went out. I was left to my thoughts, ‘Sarah, I…”
A twig snapped and I watched Blake’s head jerk towards the sound. It came from beyond us in the trees. Blake didn’t wait and started to run back towards the car screaming back at me to do the same. I heard one, two, three more twigs break. Each one nearing me. I stared at her gravestone and struggled to speak. I could feel the hands around my neck. I could feel the warm breath on the back of my neck. My legs ached. I wanted to scream. I wanted to get away. I wanted to cry out for help but I felt these fists hit at me and fingers claw at my clothes.
I ran but I didn’t scream. I could see Blake run across the headlights. I could see the light from the car as he opened the door and turned back to me. I could hear it in his voice that he was surprised I was still so far away.
“RUN!” he screamed at me.
I skidded to a stop. I could hear footsteps behind me. Running after me. I could feel the anger and the rage build up from my stomach upwards until it rested against the back of my tongue.
“Don’t STOP!” he screamed at me. “What are you doing?!”
I saw him jump into the car. I saw him reach for his seatbelt, but I didn’t make another step.
“No,” I whispered, “I will not run.”
The footsteps came up to me quickly. Every part of my body told me I was in danger.
“She didn’t get to run,” I whispered again before I finally called out, “I’m sorry, Sarah. I’m sorry for coming! I just-I just had things I needed to say!”
The footsteps stopped and there was silence. I took a step forward and then another. I walked slowly to the car as the cool breeze whipped around me and the warm breath beat against the back of my neck. I made it to the car.
Blake’s eyes wide as I climbed into the car, “What were you doing?”
“Apologising for coming,” I said and started the car, not even allowing my eyes to drift beyond the posted fence. I backed up the car and left without saying another word.
The cemetery was between where Blake and I lived. After we drove in silence to his house and he left without another word, I drove back home. The car silently gliding across the pavement of Castlereagh Road. I passed the cemetery without another word.
A truck whizzed passed me, breaking the silence and I peered into the rear-view mirror out of habit. My throat instantly tightened as I saw the shape of a woman sitting in the backseat of my car. I screamed and veered the car off the road and screeched to a stop in tall grass that banked the road. I dared to look in the mirror again. Seeing her shape once again, I looked away. I stared at my hands clutching at the wheel.
“He hit me,” I said, “almost every night for years. I told neighbours. I told teachers. I told everyone. No one saved me.”
I could hear movement in the backseat as if someone was adjusting. The car moved with her movement. I felt a hand clutch at the shoulders of my seat.
“I don’t know why I got to live and you didn’t. I was 14 when I was raped. Records say you were 42. I don’t know what happened to you, Sarah,” I whispered, biting back the tears that refused to stay away. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Will we ever rest in peace?”
There was a knock on my driver’s side window and I screamed until I thought my ears were going to burst. “Hey, mate, you alright?”
I quickly turned to look to an empty backseat. I felt hollow inside. Empty. I hit the switch that brough my window down, “Sorry. I had to pull over for a moment.”
I looked out the window to the man. His car on the other side of the road. I could see his wife looking over to us from the passenger side.
“Sorry to worry you and your wife,” I said quickly.
“My wife? Nah, mate, I’m heading home to my missus. You been hitting the drink? I can get you a cab.”
“No, no,” I said, “Just tired. Thank you.”
I watched him leave and head back to his empty car.