Sam Slaughter

Ghost Dance


Clinton Road was out of the way, but we needed to go. We knew this because our older siblings had told us. They’d gone there, piled into old Toyota Tercels when they’d gotten their real licenses, bringing back stories of lights and sounds. They called the ones who freaked out pussies and then punched them and we took this as gospel. This was what we were going to do on Friday nights when we shed our Cinderella licenses and our parents thought we were each at another’s houses when the clock struck midnight.

And so when the first of us, Jack, got his real license—he was the first real man among us—we got into his shitty little Volkswagen Rabbit and headed out of suburbia. Clinton Road was in the part of Jersey we didn’t go to often, the pretty part. Highway to highway to town road to country road and we were there. There was a biker bar with a neon sign the color of electrified blood and the closest streetlights were fifty yards away.  Jack pulled onto the gravel shoulder and paused, asking if we should pray. Vito smacked him and told him to suck his holy dick. Jack turned his blinker back on, though there was no one around, and pulled back onto the road.

The trees swallowed the starlight. Our headlights were sucked into the ditches. We thought we saw the glint of a lake on one side through the woods, but couldn’t tell. Vito said his brother said that someone he knew had come across the words No Hope spray-painted across the lanes one time. There was a pentagram above the words.

There was no pentagram and there were no mysterious lights and there were no phantoms. We saw nothing but blackness. Our windows were down and we heard crickets. Frankie said that it was all in our head, all in our head. Vito told him to shut up. Neither sounded confident. I sat in the back seat and stared at the reflection of my cheek in the window, tracing invisible lines from one pocked pore to the next. We turned around at the bridge. No one was scared and most of us were just hungry.  We went home.

We went back three more weekends and saw nothing. Once, there was another car, but it was just a mirror version of us, bored teens looking for anything. Their brothers were our brothers. They wanted to find something in the darkness that shouldn’t have been there as much as we did. They wanted to touch the beyond. As we passed on the road, we could see the disappointment through the reflection of two car windows. We were them, they realized as they passed. They already knew us.

Two months passed and Jack said we were going again, one more time. When we got to the biker bar, Jack pulled into the lot and parked. He told us to get out. There were flares and black sweatshirts in a bag in the trunk. A can of spray paint had rolled loose.

Jack said we were going to be the terror. If we couldn’t find it, we would be it. He handed us each a sweatshirt. We walked along the shoulder until we got to the bridge. We’d encountered no one. The houses we passed were dark and I wondered if people actually lived in them. I had a hard time believing it.

At the bridge, Jack climbed down the embankment. Even in daylight, we wouldn’t have been seen from the road. Vito took the bag and pulled out a flare. Jack told him to stop. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right. We sat in silence. The creek next to us offered shimmers of moonlight, but not enough to see beyond two feet in front of you. You could hear the others moving, shifting, the scrape of sand and rock under their feet like tiny bones breaking when they moved. And hour passed, and another. I peed in the creek. Someone clicked a light-up watch at one point. It was Vito, who announced that it was three-thirty.

We heard the car before we saw its lights. The sound of the engine seemed funneled along the road by the trees. Jack snapped a flare and we saw each other again in shades of red and shadow.  He handed us each one. Follow, he said, and climbed up the embankment. We saw his flare move across the road. He told us to stay on our side and dance. Dance, he said. Dance. Move. I can’t see you and you can’t see you. Dance.

Jack’s flare began to move. The car had just come around the corner. The headlights cut cake slices on the road in front of it. Godamnit. Dance, Jack said again. His flare looped and cut across the night in front of us. We did the same. I shook and jumped and through my arms every way I could think of. I thought of the Shakers.  I thought of the Ghost Dance. This was our Ghost Dance. The car was still a little ways off, but Jack told us to throw the flares into the creek. We scrambled after the arcs of light, the hiss and sizzle still fresh in the air as they hit the water. You could smell the sulfur. The car stopped under the bridge. Under it, we heard the struts take the weight. There were no voices, no movements. They were sitting above us. We saw a flashlight beam dance across the water for a minute. The weight pushed down on us and I barely breathed. 

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Sam Slaughter is the author of the chapbook When You Cross That Line, and the forthcoming books God in Neon (Lucky Bastard Press) and Dogs (Double Life Press). He is a spirits writer and is currently at work on his MFA in South Carolina. He can be found at www.samslaughterthewriter.com and on Twitter/Instagram @slaughterwrites.

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