Where is everyone? Not here, that’s for sure.

Leyla had driven for an hour, driving past unfamiliar towns to find this old dirt road, and she had driven on this old dirt road through thick woods to get here. She had shown up at exactly five-thirty, but it was clear no one was here yet.

She chewed on a strand of her own dark-brown hair as she mulled this over, mulling over whether she even wanted to be here at all, but she had committed to it, so here she was, and here she would be until it was over.

She pulled up to the old weathered graveyard, but “old” was not an entirely accurate description for it, as the adjective “ancient” was probably better suited to describe the mound of broken, weatherworn, and faded graves in the distance.

There was a four-foot-tall wrought-iron fence surrounding the place, that fence rusted and bent in a number of places, and the grounds of the graveyard were overgrown with browned and dying weeds, those weeds evenly matched with whole patches of dirt with nothing growing in them. It was clear that whatever caretaker was supposed to be caring for the place had more than likely joined its residents some time ago.

Leyla exited her little dark-blue car and locked the door. She adjusted her dark-blue jacket and shivered a little in the cold as she headed into the abandoned yard.

It was October, so the nights were getting longer and the days shorter, and the temperature had dropped to a mean 59° Fahrenheit.

Why her friend had decided to choose this place for a rave was beyond her, but Ashlynn knew people, and “knowing people” was something Leyla was not good at in general, so she had to rely on Ashlynn for anything socially related.

Leyla knew some of the people coming, but she did not think much of them. She was certain that they talked about her behind her back, and she was not happy about them going to the rave, but Ashlynn was the one coordinating it, so the decision of who would be there was not up to Leyla, nor did she wish to make that decision.

Leyla pulled her cellphone from her left jeans pocket, the big thing a veritable brick of black and numbered buttons, and she punched in her friend’s cell number. It rang on the other end a couple of times before the call was picked up.

“Hello?” came Ashlynn’s voice.

“Hey,” said Leyla. “I’m here early. There’s no one here yet.”

“No problem,” replied Ashlynn. “We’re on our way. We stopped at the Busy All for some more beer, and we should be there in a bit. You know, I actually got almost everyone I know from Kepler’s to come, and of course, everyone from work…”

The call frizzled and crackled with some kind of interference, and Leyla could not make out any more of what her friend was saying.

“Hello?” she asked. “Ashlynn?”

She hung up after a few seconds and shook her head in irritation. New technology like cellphones was nice, but she was out in the middle of nowhere, so it was no surprise that the reception was bad here.

It didn’t matter. She’d just wait for them to arrive.

Leyla stuffed her brick of a phone back into her pocket, turned around, and walked back to her car. If she were going to wait, she was going to do so with light, because the sun was not going to last much longer.

She unlocked the trunk of her little car and pulled out the three electric lanterns she’d brought with her. That was her contribution to this little shindig, as being a “planner” or a “people person” was not her forte, and though she was just barely old enough to buy alcohol, she had no wish to do that, either.

She closed the trunk and held the three lanterns in her slender arms. She turned one on and placed it on the roof of her car…She would need to see where her vehicle was once the sun went down. It was a “just in case” measure if people were late, because not everyone was as timely as she was when it came to…well…anything.

She clutched her remaining two lanterns as she made her way back into the weathered graveyard. She walked through the faded headstones, walking over clumps of dirt and dead grass, and she parked herself on an old, cracked, stone bench at the very north end of the rectangular lot.

She put the lanterns down on the bench and rested herself on cold stone as she kicked up some dirt with her dark-blue tennis shoes. Dark-blue was her color, mainly because it suited her mood most of the time. She was trying to improve, trying to pull herself up by her bootstraps to be a more sociable, happier person, but such things were difficult for her at the best of times.

Her foot touched something solid in the dead clumped grass, and she pushed aside weeds and dirt with her right shoe to discover a long wooden handle on the ground. She wasn’t really one to get dirty, but she reached down and pulled up the handle, pulling hard to discover that it was actually part of an old and worn shovel, a shovel that, though rusted, was still in remarkable condition.

Leyla held the shovel in her small hands and shook her head as she gave a silent grin in amusement. The implications of a shovel in a graveyard were always suspect, and she would have to tell Ashlynn about it as soon as the young woman arrived.

She propped up the shovel against the stone bench, propping it up on her immediate left, nodding once at it for good measure.

She pulled out her cassette player from her interior jacket pocket, plugged in the headphones that had been hanging around her neck, and turned on her music.

Cassettes had gone the way of the dinosaur when they’d been replaced by CDs, but she liked retro stuff, and cassettes were just retro enough to make them cool.

Leyla nodded her head to alt-rock as she patiently waited for anyone else to arrive. There was nothing else to really do anyway, and though she could have waited in the car for the much-anticipated rave to begin, she had decided to brave the cold and just wait in the graveyard. She really didn’t want to look like a baby when it came to first impressions.

She quietly listened to her tape as the temperature continued to drop. The sun lowered behind the distant trees, and the light began to fade as night cloaked the old weathered graveyard.

Leyla turned on her lanterns and pulled her jacket tightly to her. The temperature was continuing to drop, so going back to the car was becoming more and more of a viable option. Even so, no one had shown yet, and this was starting to concern her.

She hit the stop button on her player, took off her headphones, and asked the question that came bubbling to the surface of her mind.

“Where is everyone?” she asked herself in irritation.

The last of the sun’s rays disappeared behind the trees, and night fell.

A hush descended over the graveyard, an absence of sound so pervasive that it spooked her.

“What the…” whispered Leyla.

Her whispering sounded monstrously loud to her own ears, so she didn’t speak again, but even her breathing sounded out of place within such silence.

She stared at the chill crystals forming in the air from her breath and shook her head no.

“Back to the car,” she whispered, and she cringed yet again at the terrible booming effect that whisper had in the void of sound around her.

She headed back toward her little dark-blue car, the grass crunching beneath her feet, but she did not make it very far. A low moaning sounded out around her, and it was impossible to miss due to the very nature of her noiseless environment.

A small patch of dirt burst up from a grave in front of her, and a dead withered hand of skeletal fingers, patches of old leathery flesh still clinging to it, reached upward, animated by what, she did not know.

Leyla was not one to scream, but her dark-brown eyes did go wide with fear as her blood pumped in a furious tidal wave of adrenaline throughout her veins.

She backed up as grave after grave burst forth with the risen dead. Her route to the car was cut off, and the back of the graveyard was fenced off, but she backed up anyway, backing further and further until the backs of her legs hit the stone bench behind her.

She fell to her bottom upon that cold stone.

She reached over and grabbed the old shovel next to her, grabbing it out of sheer instinct. She stood and prepared herself to make a run for it, clutching the shovel as a makeshift weapon.

The dead rose around the graveyard, withered decrepit bodies of bones and leathery dead flesh clinging with time-ravaged rags, long-dead bodies rising from their resting places, and Leyla’s terror reached all new levels of fight-or-flight instinct upon witnessing this horrific insanity.

They came at her in a slow shuffling moaning of B-horror-movie madness.

“Get away!” screeched Leyla. “Get away from me!”

She hated disgusting things, hated touching anything hideous, and these things were the pinnacle of her nightmare, the peak of the repulsive.

A particularly ghastly corpse in the rags of what might have been a red dress raised its skeletal arms and marched steadily through the grass to lunge at her from her peripheral right.

“Don’t touch me!” she screeched again.

She swung the old shovel in her hands, and though a slender and short creature of elven looks and stature, Leyla was not nearly as weak as she appeared to be. She had worked in retail for a few years now, moving heavy boxes filled with merchandise, so swinging the shovel while juiced full of adrenaline exerted as much muscle as she would normally need during her two-o’clock shift.

The blade of the shovel connected with the corpse’s dirt-covered skull with a dull thud, and the abomination before her went down, pitching to its own right to the withered grass below.

More came at her from every direction, save from behind; that direction was safe, as she was backed against the stone bench and the iron fence behind it.

She needed a way out of the shambling mass before her, but she dimly remembered something her father had said years ago to one of his friends. Her dad was a career man in the army, a military nut, one of those people she shook her head at on a daily basis, a brute of a man that belied her own fairy-like appearance, but he was also an expert on hand-to-hand combat, so his advice came to her in a flash of inspiration.

“When a group is coming at you,” he had said, “you hit one of the ends. Always keep that arc from closing in. Don’t wait. Take the fight to the end of that chain. Never let yourself get surrounded, or you’re done.”

Leyla took that to heart and dredged up all of the might and fury she could. Years of dealing with the public in retail had plagued her with a silent rage toward all humanity, so if she were going to die tonight, she was going to go out like a berserker.

She shouted the only battle cry that came to mind as she charged the closest corpse on her immediate right.

“Where is everyone!” she cried.

The old shovel swung in an arc to thunk into the side of the skull of another shambling corpse. This one staggered but did not fall, but a second swing of the shovel to its boney knees took it to the ground without further delay.

How many animated dead were in the graveyard, she did not know. There were too many for her conscious mind to count, not that it would have mattered anyway, as she was running on pure adrenaline at the moment.

She bashed in the skull of another skeletal corpse and hit it again as it fell, the second hit done purely for good measure.

They came at her now in multiples of three and four, but her rational mind was gone, and the only thing she could feel now was rage, rage that no one had come to this rave that was supposed to be happening right now, right here, right freaking now. It was a selfish thing to think, that others could have at least proved useful as bait for the dead while she ran for the car, but her mind was far and away from anything as simple as “morality.”

“Where is everyone!” she screamed. “Where is everyone! WHERE…IS…EVERY…OOOOOOONE!”

She swung the shovel left and right as she shouted, the old rusted blade thwacking and thunking into the dead with each rage-filled swing, an arc of deadliness seen only in movies or in the strangest of life circumstances, and this particular circumstance certainly rested within the category of “strangest.”

“Where is everyone!” she continued to shout and scream. “Where is everyone! Where is everyone!”

She was known for her tantrums at home, and this particular one would have even made her father proud.

Leyla crushed bone and skull as corpses fell around her, but those risen decrepit bodies would not stay down for long. They continued to rise even after being driven to the dirt, but she slowly made her way to the entrance of the graveyard with each furious swing.

Where her energy had come from was a mystery, but the lantern light on the roof of her little dark-blue car was her salvation, her sanctuary, and that was all the motivation she needed to fight her way onward.

She was raked across the back by the bony tips of skeletal fingers, but thankfully, her dark-blue jacket was the only thing rent. No flesh was torn, no muscle split, but even so, this enraged her to an all-new level.

“That’s my jacket!” she screamed.

She turned and smacked the offending assailant across the right-side ribs, smashing in the short bones, staggering the risen corpse, and then she smacked it across the head so hard that its skull went flying clean off.

Leyla turned after that and made a dash toward the exit.

There was only one of the walking nightmares left to block her way, only one to impede her escape from this hellish graveyard. She gave a battle cry of rage and then charged it, intent only on taking it down long enough to make her getaway.

This corpse, this particular risen dead in her way, was a tall thing wearing the rags of what looked like tweed pants and a smoking jacket, though what the clothing’s original color had been, only time knew that.

Leyla swung hard at this last walking corpse, but it reached up with its bony left hand and caught her shovel at the shaft before it could connect. She pulled hard once, then twice, then a third time, but this undead thing would not let go.

Leyla remembered what her father had taught her once, once upon a time when she was little. That lesson had occurred when she had tried to pull a stick away from her father, but he had not just up and let her have it.

“Remember now,” he had grinned. “If it won’t go one way, it can always go another.”

Leyla pulled once more on the shovel to force this thing clutching it to pull back in response. As soon as she felt that resistance, she pushed the blade forward, then spun the haft around and up, the blade down as if sweeping the ground with the heavy metal end.

This risen undead thing was taken off balance, staggering forward past Leyla as she let go of the old shovel and took to running toward the exit post haste.

She ran from the graveyard as she pulled the key to her car from her right jeans pocket. She jimmied the key in the lock, turned over that key, and practically launched herself into the front seat of her car.

She jammed her car key into the ignition and stepped on the gas as soon as the engine rumbled to life. Leyla flipped on the lights as she sped out in reverse and turned the car around. She ignored the falling lantern as it fell from the roof, and she put the car in drive a second later, only to speed back toward the dirt road from which she had come, and she did not stop driving for the hour it took her to get home.

Leyla could not stop shaking even after she had pulled into her parents’ driveway. It would be some time before she came down from her fright, but at least she had gotten away, and that was all that mattered at the moment.

She pulled her cellphone from her jeans pocket and dialed Ashlynn’s number. The phone rang a couple of times on the other end, and then her friend answered a couple of seconds later.

“Leyla?” asked Ashlynn.

“Y…Yes,” stammered Leyla.

“Where were you?” asked Ashlynn. “The rave’s already over.”

“Wh…What?” asked Leyla in shaky reply.

“Yeah,” replied her friend. “The cops showed up and put an end to it. I just barely got away…Where in the heck were you?”

“I was at Sother’s Graveyard,” said Leyla shakily. “Y…You told me to head to Sother’s in your email. I looked up the directions and everything. I went to Sother’s, just like you said.”

“No, no, no,” replied Ashlynn. “I said ‘Smother’s Graveyard.’ ‘Smother’s’…with an ‘M’.”

“What?” asked Leyla in disbelief. “But that’s not what the email said…”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Ashlynn. “It’s a good thing you weren’t there anyway, and that’s in spite of the cops.”

“What?” asked Leyla. “Why?”

“They were talking trash about you,” said Ashlynn. “Polly and Eric and some of the others from work. They were saying you were ‘mean’ or some such crap. For one thing, you’re not nearly as mean as I am.”

“Mean?” asked Leyla. “They’re calling me mean? I don’t even talk to most of these people…”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Ashlynn. “They’re having another rave on Halloween, but they’re looking for a place to hold it, somewhere out of the way where the cops won’t break them up. I’m not going this time, but they want me to coordinate it for some reason. I told them I’d look for somewhere else to hold it, but I’m still not going. If they’re going to talk trash about you, then I’m…Leyla?…Leyla?…Are you there?”

Leyla set the phone in her lap as she wiped fresh tears from her dark eyes.

“They’re talking trash about me?” she whispered in a choked voice. “I haven’t even done anything wrong, and I almost got killed by the walking dead because of this stupid rave, and they’re talking trash about me?…You know what? They can burn. They can all burn!”

She sniffed a couple of times before coming to a decision within her own mind, and that decision was a coldhearted one.

Leyla picked up her phone and tried to steady her voice in order to audibly press some semblance of composure.

“I’m here,” she said quickly.

“Oh,” said Ashlynn. “Did you hear what I said?”

“Yeah,” replied Leyla.

“I said I’m not going,” repeated Ashlynn. “And you know what? Now that I think about it, I’m not even coordinating it. If they want a rave on Halloween, they can find it them…”

“No, wait,” interrupted Leyla. “It’s fine.”

She gave herself a cold grin as she wiped more tears from her eyes and sniffed once.

“They want a rave on Halloween?” she asked. “Somewhere out of the way where no one will ever, ever…ever…find them?…Well…I know just the place.”

Grave Rave Copyright © 2021 Matthew L. Marlott

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