I worked the beat for twenty years and couldn't tell you the number of scary situations I encountered on the job. Whether it was high speed vehicle chases or shootouts with drug dealers, you sometimes lived life on the edge and didn't get a chance to just stop and worry about how dangerous it really was. I'd survive some kind of crazy situation and not even think twice about it until sometime later at night, after I had been home and the adrenaline wore off. The life of a Police Office in a major city was equal parts excitement and fright. Oddly enough, though, the scariest thing that ever happened to me didn't involve fast cars or gangbangers.
Just about every weekend, at the same time, dispatch would get a call that there was someone trespassing at the old cemetery on 59th Street. The description would always be the same: “Tall, dark clothing, hiding behind a tree, headstone, or fence.” And no matter which officer went there to check it out, they could never find anyone. The first few years, we all thought it was just a prank call, but it would be from multiple different lines. As time went on, it grew to be something of an urban legend on the department. We'd make sure the rookies were working on the time that we'd usually get the call and have them go in there on foot. Of course, nobody would ever see or find anyone trespassing, but it sure gave them a scare after hearing all the stories before.
That is, until the last time I ever worked that shift. I was about two weeks away from retiring, and working as a Field Training Officer for some young buck fresh out of the Academy. We were at complete opposites of our careers, and of course he wanted to see all the action. All I wanted to do was make sure I didn't slip up in my last few days. What I hadn't realized was that I had a rookie and happened to be working the area with the cemetery on a Saturday night. So when that familiar call came over the radio, I just had to shake my head and laugh. And off we went, my rookie all excited to look for a prowler at 2 in the morning, while I just wanted to go home.
It wasn't a particularly dark night, and the glow from the lights around the city always helped illuminate the cemetery grounds. We pulled our cruiser to the outside gate, and I turned on the spotlight to pan the area, not expecting to see anything. That's when my rookie said “Shouldn't we get out and look? They could be hiding somewhere in there.” I figured he may as well go through the initiation right, and agreed that he should go have a look. I stayed in the car to use the spotlight some more, and off he went. I wasn't really looking all that hard, and ended up just logging the call into the computer. But after about five minutes, the panicked voice of the new guy came blaring over the radio. He saw someone and needed backup. That's when the “me” from ten years ago sprung into action, and I pulled myself out of the car and headed into the dimness of the cemetery.
I found him crouched down behind a headstone with his sidearm and flashlight out. “What is it?” I said to him, crouching down next to him. “Shhhh, look over there!” he said in a half whisper, half yell. I placed both of my hands on the top of the stone, and pulled myself up just enough to have a peak towards the direction he had pointed. That's when I saw...him.
Skulking towards the side of a tree was what seemed to be a man. He was tall, unusually tall, and had an odd way of standing in a hunch. He was wearing what seemed to be dark black rags, with tears in certain spots, and some kind of old looking head-wrap. I can't even really describe how weird he looked, and this is coming from someone who had to describe all kinds of outlandish people for detailed court reports. There was just something very wrong about him and the way he stood there, swaying slowly back and forth as he looked towards the two of us hidden behind the cloth on his face.
I managed to reach down and pull out whatever bit of civic duty I had left, and stood up and walked towards the figure. I had my flashlight out, and my pistol pointed out in front of me. I issued a command for him to show me his hands in the most commanding voice I could manage. That turned out to be a pretty big mistake, because he turned towards me so that I could finally see his face clearly. He had this sinister smirk that will haunt me. It was the look of a madman, and something far worse too. The look never changed, it was like stone, and he just slowly ducked back behind the other side of the tree. I went far around so that I could see the other side, but there was nobody there. He had simply vanished.
The rookie and I just went back to the car, and called in that it was all clear. We didn't talk much the rest of the shift, and the next morning I asked the Lieutenant if I could take the rest of the time I had working at the front desk. He agreed, and I finished up my career. The strangest thing that ever happened was something that happened my final time out on patrol and I can say that it'll be the one thing that sticks with me forever. I'd rather go through a hundred more shootouts than ever see that smiling face in the dark again.