Growing Up In Satan's Backyard (Part 3)
"Lock the doors and don’t let anyone in the car, okay?"
If you like what you see, consider becoming a free subscriber and leaving a comment below.
We drove around the perimeter of the shopping plaza three times before my mother found the right spot. We were the only car in that part of the parking lot, but she put her turning signal anyway and nosed the family minivan into one of the stalls facing the massive cemetery on the other side of Fairfield Road.
She pulled the handbrake but left the engine running. The only sound in the van was the clicking of the turn signal until my mother finally swiped it off. My sister Shannon—who had claimed the front seat because she was the oldest—began worrying the end of her ponytail with her fingertips. When it became clear that our mother wasn’t going to take off her seat belt, Shannon looked back at me and mouthed: What is she doing?
Stuck in the middle row of the minivan, I had to contort myself around the driver’s seat to look out the windshield. The challenge was how to do this without jostling my youngest sister Lindsay, who was asleep in a booster seat to my right. If I woke her, there would screaming and crying, and whatever debate my mother was having in her head would be over before it started.
Ross Bay Cemetery looked much larger than our neighbour Gigi had described it, way bigger than anything I could have imagined. There were trees everywhere. Crypt roofs and the tops of statues stuck up over the thick laurel hedge that ran parallel to the road, but the only clear view of the cemetery itself was down a pathway covered in fallen leaves. I could see the yellow top of a maple tree where the graveyard sloped down towards the open ocean, and much further in the distance, a massive fog bank lurked offshore in the narrow strait that separated Vancouver Island from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
In that moment of silence, before my mother decided to get out of the van, it was still possible that she didn’t believe a word of what Gigi had told her three weeks earlier. Satanic cults. Stolen children. Secret ceremonies in the cemetery she was now staring at through the windshield. At the time, she had brushed it off with a joke and a laugh then, but now it was almost Halloween. The weather had turned and entire trees were now bare, their trunks surrounded by skirts of colourful leaves. With me and my two older sisters at school, she would’ve had a lot of time to think about Gigi’s warning. Maybe too much time.
A car horn in the parking lot behind us jolted my mother back to life. She killed the engine and dropped the keys into her purse. "I have to check something across the street," she said. Shannon clicked open her seat belt and gathered her coat from the van floor, but my mother put a hand on my sister's shoulder and shook her head no. "Lock the doors and don't let anyone in the car, okay?”
“Why can’t we come?” Shannon asked.
“I’ll be right back. I promise.”
Outside the van, she buttoned up her jacket. A strong gust of wind whipped through her hair. She'd had it cut like Princess Diana’s into a short multi-layered bob with a deep side part that fell into her eyes. She tried to fix the flyaways in the van window, but another gust blew it back into her face and she gave up. She tapped on the glass to get Shannon's attention, miming to locking the doors. “I’m serious, Shannon,” she said. Shannon ignored her and kept her eyes locked on the dashboard. But as soon as my mother walked away from the van, my sister reached over and hit the lock button.
We didn’t need to be told to lock the doors anymore by that point. There were ‘Stranger Danger’ PSAs running on all the American TV stations. Earlier that year, we had all been fingerprinted and photographed by police officers for a child abduction safety program. I knew what to do if a stranger asked me to get into their car but here was a whole new worry. What were we going to do if someone came up to the van while my mother was gone?
"Where's she going?" I asked Shannon.
Shannon looked at me and rolled her eyes. "The cemetery, stupid."
I unfastened my seat belt and climbed into the empty driver’s seat, maneuvering carefully around Lindsay. I had to stand up to see over the steering wheel. My mother was waiting on the sidewalk for a line of cars to turn into the shopping complex. After the traffic had passed, she crossed the road in that weird shuffle-run she did when she was anxious, holding her purse tight against her body the entire way. Shannon and I held our breath until she made it safely to the other sidewalk and set down the main pathway to the cemetery at a brisk pace.
Tombstones and stone crosses poked up out of the ground in all directions and some were so old that they were tilted over or broken in half. My mother stopped in a pool of daylight and stood up on her toes, looking up over the graves for something. I could feel the leaves crunching under her feet, the wind on her face.
"Why is she stopping by that woman?" I asked my sister.
“That’s not a woman.” Shannon let go of the end of her ponytail and squinted out over the dashboard. “It's an angel. What is she doing?”
I hadn’t told anyone about what Gigi had said about the Satan woman and the stolen children. Part of me wanted to confess everything to Shannon right there in the van, but I was too scared—as if saying it out loud would somehow make it more real than it already was in my mind. I wasn’t able to fall asleep anymore without checking my bedroom closet, sometimes three or four times in a row. Going to the bathroom at night was out of the question and in the mornings I would rush into Lindsay’s room to make sure she was still in her crib.
I knew deep down inside that even if my mother had wanted us to go with her into the graveyard, she would’ve had to drag me kicking and screaming out of the van. I couldn’t even watch the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller without plugging my ears and closing my eyes. Hands thrusting out of the dirt, dead bodies lurching out of crypt doors, ghosts and zombies following people home late at night. I was convinced that something terrible was about to happen to my mother and I was ready with my hands hovering over the car horn in case something did.
She came to a complete stop halfway down the path in front of an old mausoleum. The dark, weather-worn stone seemed to absorb the light and it looked like it hadn’t been opened for decades. She reached out her hand but stopped just short of touching the wall. Backlit by the setting sun, she was little more than a dark silhouette. The wind had shifted, blowing the fog inland, and it was as if the air itself had come alive with secrets and hidden terrors. My sense of unease and dread was growing and when my mother slowly turned to face the van again, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Is she looking at us?” I asked.
“What else would she be looking at?” I could see that Shannon was scared too now, but she tried to hide it and said, "Don't be such a baby.” She punched me in the arm.
“I’m not a baby.” Distracted, we glared at each other, and this is when it happened. When we looked back to the cemetery, our mother had vanished. We scanned around the mausoleum but there was no trace of her. The shock of it made me press down on the center of the steering wheel with my full body weight and everything else—the rush of traffic, a shopping cart rattling across uneven pavement, Lindsay breathing in the backseat—fell away until there was only one sound left: a car horn ringing out into the late afternoon, in one long, clear note like a trumpet. Shannon’s jaw dropped open in surprise. She waited for me to stop and when I didn’t, she elbowed me hard in the ribs.
“What are you doing?” she yelled. She shoved me off the steering wheel, but it was too late. Lindsay’s screams filled the car, her legs kicking in the booster seat. Shannon turned around to comfort her, but I couldn't take my eyes off the spot where my mother had just disappeared.
That was when an older woman knocked on the driver’s side window to get my attention. She shouted, “Are you kids alright in there?” And if she hadn’t tried to open the car door, maybe this is where this story would’ve ended. But something about the door handle rattling set something loose in me and Shannon. The PSAs were right: this woman was here to steal us. We screamed until sounds became words. “Stranger danger! stranger danger!” The faces of the missing children on the back of the milk cartons in our fridge flashed through my mind and I pounded at the window glass like a wild animal. The woman’s face was twisted in concern as she peered into the car, trying to make sense of our panicked cries. I must have closed my eyes because the next thing I remember is my mother standing in front of the van: out of breath, her face flushed, her nostrils flaring.
“Are my kids okay?” she demanded of the stranger. Then to me and Shannon: “Are you okay?”
“She tried to open the door!” Shannon yelled.
The older woman immediately stepped back from the van. “Your son wouldn’t stop honking the horn,” she said. “They were unsupervised, screaming in the car. I was only trying to help.”
“I think you should leave,” she told the woman coldly, then walked right up to the passenger window and locked eyes with my sister. “Unlock the doors,” she commanded. This time Shannon did as she was told. My mother opened the sliding door to the back of the van and climbed in to unfasten Lindsay from the booster seat. She lifted her up in one motion and began pacing with her outside the car, rubbing Lindsay’s back to get her to stop crying.
“Wait until I tell your father about this,” she said.
Shannon and I looked at each other. We were in big trouble now. I opened my mouth to object but Shannon held a finger to her lips. She was right of course. There was no point arguing with my mother when she was as angry as this, so we both turned to look out the front windshield again and watched a solitary deer emerge from the thick fog concealing the lower part of the cemetery. Grazing on the grass between graves, it wandered closer and closer to the mausoleum until its head suddenly shot up. Both its ears rotated back and forth for several moments before the deer took a cautious step backward and sprinted out of sight.
This is the third story in a series about the Satanic Panic that will jump back and forth between the 1980s and the present day. Thanks for reading and you can check out the other posts in the series here:
Thanks for reading Ghost From The Past! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.