On Oct. 30, I got a text from one of my favorite people: Marcy Merrill, who bills herself as “photographer, dog whisperer and beachcomber.” Let’s just say life is never boring with her around.
She was planning a Halloween night hike to the Johns River pioneer cemetery – 3.2 miles round-trip, girls and dogs only, rain or (moon)shine. Evening gowns and a Ouija board might be involved, depending on the weather.
Was I in? You betcha!
So on Halloween morning, I packed my car with a rain jacket, a hat, a flashlight, drinking water and a large towel. Why a towel, you ask? It’s “about the most massively useful thing (you) can have,” according to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” And it’s true: On this trip alone, my towel served as a soft, dry seat (protected by a plastic bag) at our destination; and later, I used it to dry myself and Rose (yes, in that order) upon our return to the parking area.
After work that day, I zipped home to change into my hiking boots and pick up Rose, who was every bit as excited as I was. We met Marcy at 7 p.m. at the trailhead in Markham, just as darkness was becoming complete. I’d driven past it countless times and never knew it was there.
As our dogs happily greeted each other (Rose and Hawkeye are old friends now, too), three more brave women joined us. But one of them never got past the parking area, as her dog Janie voted unequivocally against setting foot on the trail. Rather than taking Janie for a drag instead of a hike, her human opted to take her home.
Lesser women might have taken Janie’s reaction as an omen. We laughed it off and hit the trail.
It was dark. It was damp. It was decidedly not spooky. Our dogs reveled in the wonderful smells. We humans chatted and marveled at the variety of mushrooms growing along the way.
A random large bone lay just off the path outside the cemetery. Did that give us pause? Nope. We were just a few steps from our destination, and ready to rest. (Temporarily, I mean. Above ground.)
As Marcy and our companions explored the area, I read gravestones and greeted each person by name. If things got weird later, I reasoned, at least I had been polite to them up front….
But as far as spiritual experiences go, it was kind of a bust. Ouija boards work poorly in the rain, it turns out. And it wasn’t easy for us four middle-aged broads to sit on the wet ground and keep their fingers on the planchette to begin with!
Still, we had a good time just being social. Even Rose didn’t seem to mind the rain like she usually does.
After about an hour, we packed it in and headed back to our cars. We were tired and soaked, but in good spirits (so to speak). It had been a fun evening.
Only after we said our goodbyes did I get my big scare of the night.
As everyone else pulled out to leave, I went to text my son and let him know all was well before I hit the road. But all was not well. My phone was MIA.
I frantically dug through every pocket of my jacket and jeans, and tore through the day pack I had carried on the hike. It was nowhere to be found. I was suddenly certain it had slipped off my lap in the cemetery and was lying on the ground – 1.6 miles back through the dark and rain. And I was alone with Rose.
I took a deep breath and resolved not to panic. I drove home, making plans to visit the Verizon store the next morning. I would recover my lost device and its contents in daylight that weekend, I reasoned; and in the meantime I’d take advantage of the iPhone upgrade I was due for.
I slept pretty well that night.
In the morning, I got into my car – and lying on the passenger seat, plain as day, was my phone.
I had probably tossed it in there first thing after the hike, and it got buried under all the other stuff I threw in after it.
But it’s a lot more fun to think maybe one of the spirits I had cheerfully greeted the night before took pity on me and returned it.
Kat Bryant is lifestyle editor of The Daily World. She doesn’t believe in ghosts per se, but finds it fun to consider the possibilities. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Kat Bryant-DailyWorld.