Ghost in the Graveyard

“One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock rock!”

My siblings and I yelled into the dusky summer air with hoarse voices as the sun sunk slowly into the horizon, perhaps with the intention of escaping our childlike chants, which somehow the neighbors never seemed to mind. And if they did, they never said anything. Maybe they liked to hear children playing outside; to hear the joyful shrieks and occasional arguments of little voices coming from kids who had separated their energetic bodies form their couches and peeled their wide eyes from television and computer screens.

“Four o’clock, five o’clock, six o’clock rock!”

Joe and Catherine and Leah and Stephen and sometimes little Lauren (if she escaped the clutches of bedtime) would race from their houses, screen doors swinging as they darted down decks and sprinted across patios to the creaky wooden fence embracing the perimeter of our yard. Fumbling with the temperamental gate, or hopping it when they got too impatient.

“Seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock rock!”

Crackling orange fires began to set in the surrounding yards; families and college kids roasting cheap hot dogs or browning marshmallows that tempted our noses and unknowingly built foundations for future nostalgia of sweet, smoky summer nights. Loud laughter and the satisfying snaps of beer can tabs popped open as others fished through icy igloo coolers. If they were too loud, my mom would roll her eyes at “those college kids,” and whisper with the neighbors about how they were “one step away from calling the police and crashing that party.” We sat smugly, relishing the neighborhood antithesis of “those college kids,” and how nobody called on our noise.

“Ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock! LUUUUUUUUNCH TIME!”

We always loved the half-way point in our counting, the satisfaction we gained through drawing out the single vowel in a yodel, enthused by its sound under the effect of our strained, hoarse voices. The one time in the counting we’d all briefly excuse a quick peek at each other, because we couldn’t conceal our excitement, and the bubbling anticipation was something we all wanted to share.

“One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock rock!”

Julie would blink her wide green eyes through her soft, pudgy fingers, scanning the yard for the ghost. Lauren would cling to Julie’s hand, their messy pink self-manicured nails bright against white fingers and knuckles going pale from their squeezing hands and dwindling circulation.

“Four o’clock, five o’clock, six o’clock rock!”

My mom would flick on the porch light, and a pulse of excitement beat across the group, as an adult unknowingly confirmed that it was, indeed, night time. When the world was slowing down, we were just catching our second wind; a thought that never failed to fuel and delight us.

“Seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock rock!”

Our voices grew shrill, escalating in volume as we approached our final count. Excitement barely contained, like a pop all shaken up, built in our sound and movement. Stephen stood on his tiptoes, pacing in disoriented circles, while Catherine tightened her thick, blonde ponytail. We prepped for our takeoff, nerves and zeal off the charts.

“Ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock…MIDNIGHT! APPLES, PEACHES, PUMPKIN PIE, IF NOT READY, HOLLER ‘I’!”

But of course we never waited for the potential holler of an unready ghost—the ghost knew better than to take more than the allotted hiding time would ironically be faced with a chorus of boos. The pent up fizz of excitement exploded like the Diet Coke & Mentos video we often pleaded our mothers to recreate, and we took off in all directions around the yard. Sprinting across the side of the house, then slowing to a careful, cautious pace as we wrapped around the corner.

“Shhhhhhhh!”

A nervous shush escaped Leah’s lips as we tuned our ears to the silent, muggy air. Our bare feet sunk deep into the soft, grassy earth as we crept like the Scooby Doo gang searching for their monster-masked culprit. Moonflower petals unfolded slowly in the dark as the starts became our tiny night-lights.

Silence.

Flickering fireflies fought for our attention as we paused, frozen near the rustling rhododendrons. The magenta flowers couldn’t conceal the white-blonde head moving slowly in the dark, charting its path of attack. Voices caught in our throats, Joe stepped closer to confirm what we both hoped and feared. Adjusting his Detroit Tigers baseball cap over his wild mop of curls, he crouched near the leaves.

“GHOST IN THE GRAVEYARD!”

Joe sprung to his feet, sprinting to the deck as we screamed with a blend of tangled glee and dismay. Tommy hauled from the bushes, blue eyes crazed with that terrifyingly determined drive caught in photos years later on the football field. His kindergarten legs propelled him toward Joe, who applied his famous Joe-juke. We cheered wildly as Joe dodged Tommy and victoriously leapt to the safety of the base.

“RUN!”

Euphoric shrieks sliced the night sky while Tommy locked in on my tracks. The large child’s hand tagged my protruding shoulder blade as I stumbled with exhaustion in a sprint that could have only been fueled by adrenaline. Like a muscular lion pouncing on a lanky gazelle, we went down, rolling across freshly mowed green grass.

“Yes!”

Tommy celebrated and the neighbor kids held their breath, anxiously anticipating what would prove to be an unexpected response. It’s always a given that siblings may lash out at each other during a game, especially when they are competitive Doles children.

“Refreshments! Getcha refreshments!”

As if just on cue, our mom paraded outside with a tray of treats, hot dog vendor style, and all at once, a mess of sweaty, panting blonde kids followed her like baby ducklings to the picnic table. Strawberry-lemonade Kool-Aid and rice crispy treats were the popular guests at the table. Tommy and Joe dug grubby palms into a bag of Doritos and chomped with content.

Summer Okemos nights started with “Ghost in the Graveyard,” followed by snacks, sparklers, and concluded with sleepovers and Spongebob marathons. The noise never bothered the neighbors, and I think now I know why: when I sit around the fire with my siblings and our friends, we tell stories–stories of our summer nights. And sometimes our tales are pierced by giddy screams that flood us with nostalgia, and we pause for a moment, smiling while we listen:

“One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock rock!”

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