Calliope Njo: Old Cedar Road

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Old Cedar Road

Calliope Njo

Well, with it being fall, I had to go up to Grammy’s house to help her decorate for the holidays. Festivities would start in the middle of October and not finish until about the middle of January.

It would take a series of trips between her house and my apartment in the middle of the city. She was Grandma, so it never came to mind how many times it would take before my car collapsed. After all, it had been several years since Grammy and I spent any time together.

I bought the car dirt cheap, knowing a new car would replace the hunk of junk. Except I got too used to it, so the thought of replacing it never came up. I even named him Oliver. It seemed like a proper old-fashioned name. Something needed to get fixed every other month, but I didn’t care—at least until he clunked out on me the weekend before Halloween.

I was on my way to Grammy’s when that happened. We were supposed to go to a pumpkin patch to pick pumpkins to set up for decorations. I heard somewhere that if the car doesn’t start the first time, don’t try to force it. Accept the situation and move on, so that’s what I did. However, the next problem was how to get to where I was supposed to go. I got out my cell phone, turned it on, and tried to dial for help. Nothing happened—no signal.

Purse in hand, I exited Oliver and got on my way. Where, though, I didn’t know. I looked around and laughed at the Old Cedar Road sign. An all-too-familiar street sign from all of those scary movies I watched. I wondered if it was an omen. The sun was still out, so that helped a little. However, with the way the branches formed a ceiling on top, the only light that shone came from straight ahead.

These things could’ve been a product of my imagination. Mom always told me it would get the best of me, but the trees came alive. Not as in they had green leaves, and their trunk looked healthy. As in, they seemed to move towards me. The branches wiggled as if they were trying to reach for me. Somewhere, something whispered with the wind to keep going.

I ran to the end of the road. At least I assumed it was. The street stopped at that point, and dirt was on the ground the rest of the way. Dad always told me to bring along a flashlight. I resisted because I didn’t see why, so he got me a small flashlight instead of having a go-around argument.

I took it out in case I needed it. The wind died down, and the only noise was me walking on the dirt. There was something in the air, a sort of indescribable smell. It wasn’t a stench. It hung there to let anybody know something wasn’t right.

Scarecrows lined the street. The heads looked almost human even though they were carved pumpkins. Crows sometimes rested on them as a sort of teaser. I thought they weren’t even there. The farther along I progressed, the more things went from bizarre to scary. I should’ve turned around at that point, but I didn’t. Oliver couldn’t even run.

I kept going until I found a long line of people moving slowly along the road. Old and young were there, and I stepped behind them. We kept going. I tapped the shoulder of someone in front of me, but they didn’t respond. “Hey. Hey.” That didn’t work either.

At last, we stopped. The ground rumbled as a void opened up. Out came a giant scarecrow, about as tall as the barn behind it.

“Greetings,” it said. “All have gathered here to pay homage to our prominent leader. When the moon has risen to its highest, we shall see Kukamaroo.” It laughed.

I ran out of there when it had its back turned. I had forgotten the exact route we took. We turned here, there, and everywhere, so it was whatever route was open. I ended up at a house with a pumpkin patch out front. I shone my flashlight on them and saw there were slits on the front. About to poke them, the slits became eyes and a mouth. I ran up to the house and banged on the door.

A woman in a tall, pointy hat opened the door. “Yes, my dear?”

I pointed towards the pumpkin patch. “Your pumpkins. They… they—”

“Oh good, they’re ready then.” She laughed. “Would you mind picking them for me? There’s a potion I must finish.” She reached into her sleeve and pulled out a knife. “There you are, dear.”

My eyes opened wide. “You want me to pick one? Oh, no. I’m not doing that. Not even if you could give me a million dollars. Nuh-uh.” I ran out of there.

As odd as it sounded, she cackled like the ones in the old movies used to do. The pumpkins tried to chomp me to pieces as I ran by them. I stopped when I didn’t hear them anymore. Street lanterns came from somewhere and lit the road. I must’ve dropped my flashlight somewhere because I didn’t have it on me. My purse was gone too. I didn’t notice them until that moment. I took a deep breath in and let it all out as I tried to control how scared I became.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Dad always told me to put markers along the route I took or make a mental note of landmarks so I could find my way back. Of course, I didn’t listen because Dad told me, but I thought I came to the same road that I was on before. The scarecrows looked familiar.

The streetlights helped keep me from tripping over the dividing line between the asphalt and the dirt. There was no way to tell which way to go or even how far without a light. I turned around and wondered if anyone back the other way would be willing to give me a flashlight. They weren’t that expensive, and if they wanted it, I could give them my contact info to get the money or flashlight back.

There wasn’t a choice, was there? There was, but I wanted to get to Grammy’s, and I couldn’t do that. So, on I went.

Streetlights stayed lit even before you moved under them. These, though, they only lit when I walked by them. A weird sort of blue light shone around a cemetery. I didn’t dare go in there with bats the size of cats and full-size pumpkins hanging from the trees. Would’ve been interesting though. Maybe.

An old two-story house stood at the end of the road. Didn’t I think that before when all of this started? I shook my head and kept going. Maybe they had a working phone, and I could call Grammy.

A ghost, vampire, and a witch stood at the door with their backs to me. They held up something and stood in front of it. I got behind them, and all of them turned towards me. They didn’t have eyes—as in none. As in, they were pits.

I ran out of there, down the hill, and I somehow ended where Oliver was parked. Once inside, I slammed the door shut, but without my purse, I didn’t have a key.

“Oh, Oliver, I wish you had a push-button or something to get you started. I wanna get outta here.”

Oliver started on his own and drove me to Grammy’s house. I thought I screamed, but I didn’t know. I never did that before. Once at Grammy’s, I ran into the house. “Grammy!”

“Oh. There you are.” She hugged me, then held me at arm’s length. “You were on Old Cedar Road, weren’t you?”

“Uhm. Yeah.”

“You get yourself cleaned up, then come into the kitchen, and I’ll tell you the story of Old Cedar Road. Don’t worry. Strange things only happen once a year, and you’re here now.” She patted my shoulder and walked into the kitchen.

I looked at my feet to sort of will them to move, but they were stuck. A deep breath in and out, and I made myself do as she said.

Grammy set two cups with steam coming from them onto the table. “It’s hot cocoa. Anyway, you remember what it was like. It never smelled good, even without the wind, but we did have some good people. They raised Holsteins, Angus, Half-bloods, Morgans, etc., along with the pumpkin patches.”

I nodded. “Yeah. I remember. After high school, I went away to college so that I couldn’t visit. What happened?”

“In a word, trouble. The market didn’t dry up, but people weren’t as interested in animals with things changing. The ranchers sold everything and moved to the big city or out of state. That was when trouble came but never left.”

“You keep saying trouble. What kind? Gangs?”

“Gangs of a sort. These were people who practiced dirty magic and believed in evil things. They scared most of the population out of here, but those of us who are still here… well… anyway, they didn’t take everything along with them.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’ve seen it. What more needs to be said?”

I took a sip of my cocoa and watched as Grammy’s eyes flashed. She never did that before. I wondered what was up with that but didn’t ask.

A ring of brown stuff clung to the bottom of my cup. I looked up at Grammy again, and she held her cup and looked at me. I smiled back.

“You didn’t name your car, did you?” Grammy asked.

“Yeah. Oliver. I had a professor named Oliver.”

“Then I suggest you find another way home.”

I couldn’t leave him here, but I started second guessing that thought with the way I got here. “I’ll just take a Bible along with me.”

Grammy nodded and left the table. She came back a minute later with a Bible. “That was Gramps’.”

I nodded and held it. Out of curiosity, I opened the front page and stopped at the writing, To Oliver from Father Richards. All this time, I thought his name was Olly. I never thought about it being a nickname.

Could he—no. TV uses that for entertainment. It couldn’t be real. Yet, I experienced it firsthand.

Grammy had gone to her room, so I went outside to test my theory. I stood in front of my car. “OK. I have here a book. The Bible. King James Version Bible. In it, it mentions the name Oliver. Now, if that’s you, do something to tell me you’re here.” I waited. Of course, I didn’t consider the fact that I talked to and expected a reply from a car.

My car flashed its headlights. So then, now what? I couldn’t do anything other than go in and go home. What about Grammy?

I got to my car and pulled the handle. It wouldn’t open. Maybe I forgot to unlock the car, but no key. Now what? I couldn’t believe the thought had even entered my brain. “Do you expect me to stay?”

The headlights flashed once. I laughed. Granted, I could’ve stood there and asked twenty questions, but what would be the point.

Not knowing what else to do, I went back inside. Grammy’s room door was locked. I knocked, but she didn’t answer. She could have fallen asleep. It was six-thirty at night, which was a little early. On the other hand, Grammy never slept regular hours after Gramps died.

Well, that left going back up to Old Cedar Road, on foot if I had to. I started walking in that direction when I heard a car behind me. I turned around, and sure enough. Since Oliver opened his door, I accepted the offer and got in.

Back where everything started, I went up the same road I came back from. No more streetlights, but I didn’t need any light. Something bright shone from the top, and the closer I got, the more I got a good look at it. The biggest Jack O’Lantern I ever did see. About the size of a two-story house. Its eyes and mouth were wide open. Not sure if that was an invitation or not. I didn’t go in.

“Oh, come now. You know you want to.”

There was nobody else here. At least nobody is stupid enough to follow along with me. That left the pumpkin.

“Yeah, but I’ve got a job and a grandmother to take care of. Why would I go in?” Of all the stupid questions.

“Yeah, but. I’ve got a job and a grandmother to take care of. Why would I go in?” Of all the stupid questions.

“Tisk. Tisk. Tonight of all nights, you are supposed to let yourself have fun and enjoy the day. You don’t believe in the old stories, do you? Hmm? Besides, they were thought up years ago. They’re not real.”

Strange noises came from around me. I turned my head to see an army of skeletons marching off the property. How?

If it’s not real, then why did I hear your voice? “I’ll just go.” I started walking until I stopped. My whole body wouldn’t move.

“I’m just a little ol’ government employee. Why would you need me?” 

It laughed and I moved backward. It didn’t matter how hard I tried nothing worked. Why didn’t I bring that Bible along with me?

About the only thing that came to mind was Amazing Grace. I knew that by heart because we sang it every Christmas. About the third go around, I stopped. I turned around and watched as it popped here and there. The once army of skeletons shattered and clanked to the ground. I ran for the closest bush I could find and hid behind it. 

Pop, pop, pop, pop everywhere until it exploded. When that happened, I ran all the way down the road and heard screams, explosions, and saw light emanating where it didn’t before. 

All the way to Oliver and got inside. I didn’t expect him to start up so I stayed inside and hoped I wouldn’t get sucked in. He started on his own though and made it to Grammy’s house before it puttered out on the driveway. It fell apart at that point.

I ran inside. Salvation and safety at last. It had to be the end. Grammy came out, and as if things couldn’t get any weirder, she floated up off the floor. Wings sprouted and she laughed.

“Grammy!”

She said a bunch of stuff I couldn’t repeat and didn’t understand. A bright yellow glow emanated from her. 

“What the hell is going on? All I want is for everything to get back to normal. Whatever that means.”

Grammy fell to the floor and all was silent. I went to her and held her. “I love you. A little late. I’m sorry. Leave it to me to bring trouble.”

“Oh. Tell me it worked?” Grammy asked.

“Did what work?”

“Oh. OK.” She stood up and walked to the door.

I followed her curious as to what she was talking about. Oliver was a car again. I kept following Grammy back up to Old Cedar Road. I was never so happy to smell stockyard animals. 

“There now you see.” She put her hands on my shoulders. “That’ll last a little while until they get enough energy to do the same thing all over again. Halloween brings out the best of them. Now, come morning we need to get some pumpkins.”

Did I miss something? “Huh?”

“You remember. That big orange thing we cut up and decorate every year. Either that or turn it into pie.”

“Yeah. But…” I pointed down the road.

“Oh him? I’ll just fight him again when the time is right. Leave it up to visitors to get into something they don’t understand.”

It felt like I missed an entire movie. The plot escaped me for some reason. All of those unexplainable things and she said that visitors did it? 

I followed Grammy back to the house and got ready for bed. Of course, I didn’t sleep. How could anyone sleep after that? 

That was the longest night of my life. If I told anyone about this, they would throw me into an insane asylum and throw away the key. 

I made a mental note of all the phone calls I had to make. The only thing scarier would be going to the DMV to get my driver’s license and explaining what happened.

Happy Halloween!

Please visit Calliope on her blog: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/