This late fall afternoon was quickly embracing darkness. A chilling air set in with a dampness that ebbed through my skin, clinging to bones begging for cover. I had not bothered to grab a sweater as I hastily made my exit from the house, mom calling out for me not to get home too late.
My feet were peddling faster now, my bike tires whirring along the gravel lane spitting stones up between the spokes and skittering sideways to the damp tallgrasses in the ditch alongside the road. Tree toads chirruped in a discordant blend of angered undertones as I flew past them anxious to reach our driveway before total blackness of night engulfed me.
The eerie distant cry of a lone coyote jarred my nerves and I peddled even faster now. Sweat trickled down my back and my shirt was now cold with the dampness of my exertions. My breath fell short, winded by the pace and my heart raced in a hurried rythmic beat, an escalation of nervous tension as my eyes darted from side to side. Seeing nothing of menace I felt a sense of assurance that I was alone yet a tingling sensation mounted on the back of my kneck…creepy like someone or something was watching.
Damn, why didn’t I fix the bike light, a five minute job that could have made this run so much easier. May have to get off and walk the last mile or so. Too damn slow to walk. Don’t like this gnawing feeling in my gut that tells me I shouldn’t be out here so late. Mom will kill me, damn it all to hell. A car rambled past way too close for comfort. My front tire hit the shoulder and I fought the handle bars for control. Swerving back onto the lane proper I kicked hard on the peddles again.
On the last turn now onto our street. Being out in the country there were few streetlights, mostly at intersections. For a few seconds that spillage of light down through a building fog was momentary comfort, then fade to black. My hands were getting numb with cold and I gripped the handle bars tighter than ever. Every few minutes I’d blow warm air into my palms to ease the pain of night’s chill.
Coming up on the Forest Lawn cemetary. God, I hate those places. Why the hell can’t people all just get cremated like Uncle George and grandpa did? Went to a funeral a year or so back for a neighbor’s boy who got hit by a car. God, how messed up his family and friends were. I remember the cars lined up for miles, sitting silent with engines off while the police worked the scene. Yellow tape had been stretched across the road, wrapped unceremoniously around a couple of trees to halt passers by until the body was removed and evidence of the deadly mishap had been photographed and reports taken from shaken witnesses. I could still picture that dark patch of dried blood stain marking his last moments. He was only ten…shit.
As I approached the cemetary I wanted to peddle even faster though something made me slow up. I could hear something, no, someone…calling, calling faintly. I couldn’t make out the words. Clutched the brakes hard now and skidded to a halt, my breath exhaling nearly as fast as my pounding heartbeat. Sweat running down my brow, streaking down burning cheeks, I sat dead still on the seat of the bike.
For a few moments nothing but silence save the mournful cry of that damn coyote still lurking somewhere out in the darkness high upon the rock-strewn hill of Sawyer’s Valley. Rustling, I hear something rustling out of sight in the cemetary. What the hell? “Who’s there” I called out. No response. “Who’s there” I repeated even louder. My heart was pounding so hard I thought I’d pass out.
Again the voice. Still too damn faint to hear clearly. It was a boy, a young boy I think. A frail, soft, scared voice. Was he calling for help? “Are you ok” I responded. Still no reply. I gently lowered the bike onto the grassy driveway leading into the burial grounds before me. Too quiet. God, I should just go. Half turning to hightail out of there, again, the boyish cry…for help, this time I clearly heard his begging cry for help. I can’t leave, can’t ignore a child in trouble.
Something skittered across the top of my shoe. Jeezuz, can’t stand this. Heart racing like a 350 four-barrel. Breath came heavy again as I inched closer to the boy’s face. Can’t see a damn thing except the silhouettes of leaning headstones and a half-moon partially shrouded by darkened clouds drifting by. Again that goddamn coyote howling. My skin crawled. I could taste the salty sweat now lingering on my upper lip. Soaked, frigid cold and now shaking I moved back towards the boy’s voice…”don’t leave, please don’t leave, help me, please help me.” “Are you ok, what’s the matter?” I called out. Still now response. Why doesn’t he answer me?
The breeze picked up now, dry leaves carried across my feet, some swatting my knees and thighs as they whipped past in a whirling frenzy. Now laughter, a faint but definite laughter…cold, chilling, sick bastard laughing. I should go, shit. “Who’s there?” I called out, so scared now my voice was raspy. Nothing. “Who the hell’s there” I shrieked in a now petrified stammer. My pace quickened. “Where are you kid, tell me where you are.” “Over here, came that pathetic little voice, still a dozen yards ahead, still out of sight.
I could smell burning now, something, something…not wood, not leaves, not anything I’d ever smelled before. Stumbling over tree roots humped up above the ground like gnarly fingers, I tripped and fell. I glanced back to see the roots moving, rising as a hand pulled from dense brush. Red ooze dripped from the roots, now turning my way. The boy, he’s screaming now, sounds terrified and in terrible pain like he’s being tortured. “I’m coming” I wailed as I scrambled back to my feet. Cursing the darkness and increasing movement that surrounded, I plunged forward.
Screaming, horrible, terrified screaming. My hands extended forward to guard against unseen tree limbs or other hazards that might bring me to harm’s way. Over a knoll I nearly fell face first to the ground. Staggering to keep my balance I looked up toward a bright glaring light ahead. A fire, it was a raging fire. There was the boy, screaming again. He saw me, a pleading look in his face. “Make him stop it, make him stop” he sobbed.
My gaze moved next to the boy. There stood what I think was a man, his face cloaked in a hooded jacket, a hand fixed on the little boy’s shoulder to hold him down. The hand was bloodied and bony, flesh seemingly falling from his limb as a rotting timber shrinking down into red hot ambers of a fire. He threw his head back to expose a skeleton-like face, eyes the only remaining semblance of flesh, staring back at me in a scarified frenzy, a crazed and demented look. Laughter escaped his chattering teeth and blood spewed from his mouth in projectile froth. A tooth or two flew out of with the vomit that followed.
The boy screamed helplessly again as I stood frozen in the panic of the moment, terrified myself and grappling for what I should do next. The ghoulish puke then shoved the boy closer to the flames, his little leg sliding, uncontrolled, onto the buring hot ambers. The boy’s shrill screeching was bone chilling. Petrified, I felt my own bile rising in my throat. It seeped out of my mouth as I slumped forward to gag all that remained in my stomach to the damp leaves about my feet. More horrific screaming.
My mind raced. What the hell should I do? A shovel, I can see a shovel. If I go for it then what? I’ll be dead as the boy being laid upon the flames as a sacrificial lamb, burning alive. I could smell that smell again, so sickening. It was the boy’s flesh, charred and peeling as his screams became unbearably sad and shrill. The ground moved beneath my feet. My eyes darted every which way. Bony hands, bony hands coming up through the ground. What the hell? Again I threw up bile, the taste in my mouth wretched.
I lunged forward, my hand grabbing the shovel, slick from the night dew. In a single action I leaped at the monster that was roasting this helpless little child to death, laughter ebbing from his near-toothless pie hole. His eyes seared with madness as he tried to avoid the sharp shovel veering toward his skinless face. He screamed a gutteral drawl as the fore-edge of the shovel slashed against his skeletal face. What few fragments of teeth remained in that lifeless skull flew out along with chunks of bone. The child rolled sideways out of harm’s way as I slashed in frantic abandon. Again I struck, this time the blunt back end of the shovel pounding hard again a crumbling skull.
Muffled cries of agony emitted from the ghoul’s fractured skull as his knees buckled and he fell backwards, hands flailing to maintain balance, desparate clawing attempts to ward off his overpowering assailant. Blood sprayed from his body like it was spewing from a pressure hose. Any eyeball dropped to the ground and rolled near my feet, seemingly peering at me in futile anger. Through the chill of the night steam rose from the corpse-like body. I froze, my eyes darting between the now lifeless body and the wimpering little boy hovering near the fire for wamth.
Bloodied hands and arms were now lowering in cowered retreat back into the earth as worms slithering back down into the darkness. I edged closer to see if the wretched ghoul was breathing. His bloodied torso lay motionless, no breath emanating from his skinless mouth. I nudged him with my foot. Nothing. I moved between him and the boy, just to be sure. SCREAAAAAAAAAAM cackled the ghoul as he lurched upward to a sitting position, his clawed digits again reaching to grab me. I lunged back, so startled my heart nearly stopped while once again the little boy shreaked in terror. With the shovel I dug a heaping pile of burning ambers from the fire and flung them vicariously all over the ghoul. Screaming and flailing he swattered burning chips from his lap and chest. Again I flung another heavy pile of molten ambers, this time directly at his upper chest and skeletal face. His body ignited in a hideous glow of flickering flames licking at his near fleshless body. The stench, oh my God the stench.
More blood and bile spewed from the ghoul’s tortured frame as he slowly slumped back down motionless on the ground. I plunged the shovel hard into his chest, ribcage crushing and snapping, seemingly dry and void of life. Another muffled shrill escaped his bile-spattered chin. The sharp end of the shovel came out the far side, through a back that was aflame as kindling charging a newly stoked fire. Nothing but stench now. His hands lay in twisted failure of awkward broken angles, testament to his hideous demise.
My attentions now on the boy. Tears streamed down his face as I lowered my body to him, drained of all energy. Careful glances assured me his captor had expired. A drifting wind shifted, bring the stench back in our direction. We both seemed to hold our breath till the sickening odour passed us by. The boy sobbed, a relieved sob that echoed through the wood of the surrounding pathways that lead about the head stones in a pleasant labyrinth where etched remembrances told of centuries of precious life now laid to rest.
I wiped the tears from the little boy’s cheeks. He calmed now, looking up at me with reassured eyes, his breath rested, the fear now dissipated. His looked down at my arms and pant-legs, bloodied from the thrashing I took coming to his aid. “You’re cut bad” he said, now more afraid for me. “Naw” I retorted. “Only a few scratches. Come on, let’s get outta here and get you home. What’s your name bud?” “Billy” he replied with a faint smile. “He awakened” Billy said as he glanced back at the steaming pile of gruesome ghoul that had met his fate this dark and chilling night.
“He sleeps now, Billy. He sleeps. Won’t wake up either” I said with exhausted abandon. My breath now returning to normal as the fire ambers dimmed. “Let’s get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”
copyright Don MacIver; All Rights Reserved