What Rough Beast ... Session Two Part 3 - Exhuming Tommy Hill
CoC 7e Jazz Age
* * *
Doc Underwood got back around 3 p.m. The children all saw him ride into town on his horse and buggy and up the hill to his house. Billy had been napping but heard the sound of hoof beats.
All of the children headed up the hill and by the time they arrived, they found Doc entering his house. He invited them all in for iced tea. He had butterscotch for all of them and they went into the house. They all sat in the parlor where they had been the day before.
Doc Underwood told them he checked at the courthouse and found the Bennett Plantation had been purchased by a Christopher St. Jordan II, who bought it about a week before. Jebidiah said the man sounded rich. Doc said it did and pointed out that if someone was out at the house, they must belong there. Richard asked him if he found any other records of the man but Doc pointed out he had only gone to see who had bought the property. Jebidiah asked if there was any way to find out more about the man but Doc wasn’t sure. He did say he’d asked the clerk and learned the man was not from Alabama.
“A Yankee!” Jebidiah said.
“That’s kind of the impression I got,” Doc Underwood said.
“I don’t think he’s a Yankee,” Richard said.
“You said he talked like a Yankee,” Jebidiah said.
“I did not say he talked like a Yankee,” Richard said.
“He really didn’t,” Ella-Marie said.
“He just said he talked funny,” Michael said.
“He said he talked like someone who talked like this,” Teddy said. “And then he just said the same thing.”
“I think all Yankees talk funny,” Jebidiah said.
“Well, I do too,” Teddy said.
“He talked like … I don’t know,” Richard said. “I forget how he said it.”
“He’s trying,” Teddy said. “He’s trying. That’s a good thing, Richard. It’s good that you’re trying.”
“Well, he’s not from … anywhere … from here,” Richard said. “It’s very distinctive. It’s not anything I’ve heard before.”
“That could anyplace else besides … within 10 miles,” Teddy said. “Couldn’t it?”
“No,” Richard said. “I don’t think so. It’s not any voices you hear on the radio.”
Teddy asked if it sounded like Billy, who was looking out the window as he sat and drank his iced tea. Richard said it wasn’t and it had been unlike anything he’d heard before. Teddy talked a little bit about dialects. Richard was insistent it was not how they talked around there. Jebidiah was of the opinion people who didn’t live in Sanguis wouldn’t want to live there.
“There isn’t much here, is there?” Teddy said.
“It’s not much of a vacation spot,” Billy squeaked.
“How often are houses bought around here?” Ella-Marie said.
“That plantation’s been abandoned for … how many years?” Jebidiah said. “Hundreds of years?”
“Yeah,” Michael said.
“About a hundred years,” Doc Underwood said.
They asked Doc Underwood if he’d heard stories about a shadowy man or a tall man. He had heard the same rumors they had, of some tall man and hobos around. He’d also heard about the dead cattle and the wolves that were supposedly in the area.
He told them the place was owned by someone and advised them to stay away from it unless they wanted to go out and meet the owner. He warned them to be careful of trespassing.
* * *
They met at the tree house an hour later.
“Well, this means we have a lead on who our mystery man is,” Jebidiah said.
“I feel like that name’s fake,” Richard said.
“I’ve never heard a name like it,” Jebidiah said.
“It’s very fancy,” Teddy said.
“It sounds like it’s very Christian,” Richard said. “They have Christopher and Saint.”
Michael and Ella-Marie grunted.
“It sounds like they’re trying too hard, to be honest,” Richard said.
Billy pointed out that there was a River Jordan in the Bible. Richard noted the entire name was religious and, when Teddy asked what that meant, Ella-Marie guessed the man had religious parents. Jebidiah pointed out there was another one as the man was the second. Michael asked if a Christian could become a vampire and Teddy told him anyone could once they were bit.
“The only way we’re going to make progress is by going back to that plantation,” Michael said.
“Or Tommy’s grave but his mother’s out there right now,” Richard said.
“Or we could try to figure out more about this person but Doc said there wasn’t much … so …” Jebidiah said.
Teddy didn’t know where they would look for word on the man, especially if he was from out of town.
“Well, we had two options, a while back,” Ella-Marie said. “We’ve already done one.”
“We only have one left,” Michael said.
“Let’s try the other,” Ella-Marie said.
“Well, that’s trespassing now,” Teddy pointed out. “I’m just saying. I’m just saying. I’ll go along with whatever you want.”
“Who’s gonna know we’re out there?” Michael said. “Besides us?”
“I’m saying if somebody’s home,” Teddy said.
“Well, to be honest, Teddy, we were trespassing last time,” Richard said.
Teddy shushed him.
“C’mon!” Ella-Marie said.
“Well, if he’s home, couldn’t we talk to him then?” Jebidiah said. “And if he was that man you saw, we’d know?”
“If he’s home …” Michael said.
“That might be even better,” Ella-Marie said.
“We could go talk to him,” Teddy conceded. “I’m just saying, we were trespassing. Don’t tell anybody about that.”
“I wasn’t, but …”
“I know but … Richard, you talk a lot sometimes about … stuff.”
“Don’t tell your dad about that.”
“Well, if he asks, I feel like I should.”
“No no! No! No!”
All of the children were against that.
“And don’t tell my dad!” Teddy said.
“I won’t tell your dad,” Richard said.
“I don’t wanna get whipped,” Teddy said. “I’m not saying we can’t go. I’m just making sure everybody knows we could get in trouble if we just wander around in somebody’s house without ‘em.”
“Yes, we know,” Michael said.
“So I’m not saying not to go,” Teddy said.
They took account of what they were carrying, including crosses, a clove of garlic, and mirrors. Michael ran back to town for a hammer and a saw. They felt they were pretty thoroughly outfitted.
* * *
It was after 4 p.m. when they returned to the Bennett Farm. Jebidiah carried Teddy again. The plantation house looked exactly as it had when they were there before. The front door was closed and they had left it open when they had been there a few days before. Michael knocked but there was no answer once again.
He pushed the door open. Nothing looked different in the foyer. It was dirty and dusty and awful. They crossed the foyer when they heard a creak of someone on the steps above. Richard darted to the room to the left.
“Hello?” Michael said.
“Teddy and I can be the face!” Jebidiah said.
Teddy looked confused but nodded.
“What?” Ella-Marie said.
“The person to talk to,” Jebidiah said.
The footsteps came down the steps and a man stepped into view in the stair hall beyond the foyer. He wore a floppy hat and ragged clothing. He was as old as their parents and hadn’t shaved in days, at least. They thought he looked like a hobo. He blinked at the youths in the foyer and frowned in confusion.
“What are you children doing here?” he asked.
His accent was not local.
“Are-are you Christopher?” Michael said.
“Who?” the man said.
“Christopher,” Ella-Marie said.
“He’s the owner of the home,” Michael said. “And since─”
“Oh,” the man said. “No. No, I’m not him. I work - I work for him.”
“Well, we just wanted to welcome our new neighbor,” Michael said. “Is he here?”
“No. No, he’s not here right now. He’s … he’s somewhere else. He left me to watch out. He said … he thought someone had been in the house. Have you been in the house?”
“No,” Ella-Marie said. “No.”
“This is all new to me,” Jebidiah said.
“We just - we just wanted to come say hello to our new neighbor,” Michael said.
“You said you work for him?” Ella-Marie said.
“Yes,” the man said. “Yes, I’m his - I’m his servant. I work for him. Keeping up the place. For him.”
“Oh, is he rich?”
“Yes. He’s very rich. He … has very much. Someone was here, just the other day. Someone had come to the house. And … fiddled. They fiddled. Were you fiddling?”
“I’ve never fiddled,” Jebidiah said.
“Define fiddling,” Ella-Marie said.
“I’ve never played any instruments,” Jebidiah said.
The man stared at him for a moment, his mouth agape.
“I used to play,” he finally said. “No. No, I didn’t. I’m watching the place. I’m here to watch. The master’s not here right now.”
“When do you think he’ll be back?” Michael said.
“He might be back tonight,” the man said. “Sometimes he comes in. He’s a very busy man … he … he’s a mortician! He works with coffins … and … dead bodies. He … puts them in the ground. That’s what morticians do, you see.”
Jebidiah thought the man sounded like a Yankee. Michael looked to Teddy, hoping he was checking the man with his mirror but Teddy was staring at the man in terror, obviously fearing getting in some kind of trouble.
“How long have you been working for him?” Michael said.
“Some time,” the man replied. “He … he hired me … to … he wanted me to watch his house and to perform errands for him. He has errands that need performing. And so I’ve been … I’ve been working for him. I have been working for him. Yes. He’s my employer.”
“How much does he pay you?” Jebidiah asked.
The man looked confused.
“Uh … he’s very generous,” the man said.
“If he’s very generous, you don’t look like you have much nice clothes on, sir,” Jebidiah said.
“No,” the man said. “No, I … I … uh …”
“What is your name?” Ella-Marie.
“Uh … Match,” the man said. “I’m Harry Match. Yes. Yes. Harry Match.”
Billy thought something was seriously wrong with the man though he might just have been very drunk.
“If … if you’d like to …” Harry Match said.
Michael walked forward and got into the man’s face.
“Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the master?” he growled at the man.
Harry Match cowered, backing away from the boy. Michael followed him while the others looked on, horrified.
“The master’s the master,” Match said. “You … you don’t … you …”
As they reached the base of the stairs, Match grabbed the boy by his shirt with both hands.
“Get away!” he muttered into the boy’s face. “Get away get away get away get away get away get away! Get away!”
The last was shriek and he shoved Michael away and the bounded up the stairs in panic, screaming. Michael noticed he skipped one of the steps and realized there was no a broken step on the stairwell anymore. The man disappeared above and they all heard his footsteps run to one of the front rooms and a door slam.
“Michael!” Ella-Marie said. “You have got to know when to - when to hold back.”
“What made him do that?” Billy said.
“Well, you see, without him here, we can now continue checking the house,” Michael said.
“Well that’s trespass,” Teddy said.
“He didn’t seem to mind us being in the house,” Michael said.
“He didn’t tell us to leave,” Billy said.
“Billy’s right,” Michael said.
“This man doesn’t seem like he’s in his right mind,” Jebidiah said. “He yelled at you to get out.”
“He did yell for you to get out,” Teddy said.
“I didn’t see him tell anyone to get out,” Billy said.
Teddy looked nervous.
“What did we come here to do?” Ella-Marie said.
Michael headed for the north wing of the house. Ella-Marie followed him.
“Teddy, did you think to bring your mirror?” Jebidiah asked.
“Oh yeah,” Teddy said.
“If we see that man again, we should check him.”
“I hate to suggest this but maybe we could check him right now. He seems quite disturbed.”
“You want to follow him?”
“No. But Billy’s here. If it was just the two of us, I’d say we should leave right now. But we can’t leave our friends and Billy might, if that man gets violent, he got violent with Michael, didn’t he? If he gets violent again, maybe Billy could help us because Billy’s tough. Or we maybe should get with our friends so Ella-Marie doesn’t get mad for us splitting up.”
“Billy, what do you want to do?”
“I’m with you,” Billy squeaked. “I mean, we should probably go after the other two.”
“Okay, that sounds like a good idea,” Teddy quickly said.
“All right,” Jebidiah said. “Let’s do that.”
* * *
Michael found Richard in the room with the first coffin. Ella-Marie and then the others joined them shortly. Teddy looked nervously at Ella-Marie, a little worried she would be upset they split up briefly.
The room looked exactly the same as the day before. Michael took out the hammer he’d brought from home.
“And that’s going to be vandalism,” Teddy muttered.
“Are you sure you wanna do this with that man in the house?” Jebidiah said. “He can hear!”
“He doesn’t seem like he’ll remember anything by tomorrow,” Michael said.
“I’m pretty nervous about this though,” Jebidiah said.
Michael started beating on the coffin with the hammer. It took him about 10 minutes to break a hole about a foot across. It was very dark in the coffin and he used the other end of the hammerhead to rip back some cloth inside. Billy took out a flashlight.
“It’s weird that that hole just appeared there,” he said. “I guess I’ll look in it.”
Michael covered the hole with his hands as Billy approached.
“There’s nothing in there,” Billy said.
“Billy,” Michael said.
“C’mon y’all,” Ella-Marie said.
“You gotta get over this now,” Michael said.
“You’re blocking the hole,” Teddy said.
He turned to Jebidiah.
“This seems aggressive,” he said. “Does this seem aggressive to you?”
“We know you’ve got a grudge,” Richard said to Michael.
“He’s the one with a grudge!” Michael said.
“You’re the one that put your hand over it!” Richard said.
“I don’t want to settle this right here,” Jebidiah said.
“I don’t want to either,” Teddy muttered.
“Look, pull your hands back,” Richard said. “We can solve this later.”
“Looks pretty empty,” Billy said again.
Michael moved his hands away and Billy peeked into the coffin.
“It’s empty,” Billy said. “There’s some dirt in there. Don’t the vampires need to be in their graves?”
“They need grave dirt, yes,” Teddy said.
“Let’s go to another room and check another coffin,” Michael said.
“I’m kind of nervous about this y’all,” Jebidiah said. “Especially if there’s nothing in there. If there’s just dirt. Teddy, what do you think?”
“Well, I think … I think … I don’t wanna go to jail,” Teddy said.
“What if we find dirt in all of these coffins?” Ella-Marie asked. “What does that leave us?”
“If we open up all of these coffins that man is gonna know and they’ll know exactly who showed up here,” Jebidiah said.
“He can identify us,” Teddy said.
“Except me,” Richard said.
Teddy glared at him.
“Yeah, except for Richard,” Teddy said. “‘Cause Richard was smart and ran away. That’s what I always do.”
“But what good police officer’s going to trust a crazy man?” Michael said.
“The crazy man that’s the help at the house that it happened?” Jebidiah said.
“Have you been hanging out with Billy’s friends?” Teddy asked.
“No,” Michael said.
“Hm,” Teddy said.
“Teddy, do you want to wait outside and … well, I guess that wouldn’t really help,” Jebidiah said.,
“How about this?” Michael said. “If he tells the police, I’ll take the blame.”
They all looked at him.
“Don’t do that Michael,” Ella-Marie said. “You’ve been in enough trouble.”
“What’s some more?” Michael said.
“He has?” Teddy said.
“Quiet, Teddy,” Ella-Marie said.
“I mean, you got a gonad kicked just the other night and that looked pretty brutal,” Jebidiah said.
They looked at each other in silence.
“Can’t we all just get along?” Teddy said.
“I mean, the thing I’m most worried about is not that we get in trouble, but that we get in trouble and we get nothing out of it if they’re all just empty coffins full of dirt,” Jebidiah said.
“One of ‘em’s gotta have him,” Michael said.
“I think we should get the dirt,” Billy squeaked.
“We can’t go through all of ‘em without encountering that man again,” Jebidiah said.
Teddy wondered if Tommy’s coffin might have been in the house but Jebidiah was worried about checking through the whole house if someone was there. When he admitted to being a coward, Teddy told him he was very brave, pointing out he was carrying him.
“A stiff wind could put me into the grave,” Jebidiah said. “That’s what my mother always said.”
“I say we look around, see if there’s a child’s coffin in the house,” Michael said.
“I say we look around, see if there’s a child’s coffin in the house,” Billy squeaked.
“Okay, fine,” Ella-Marie said.
They looked through the north wing but didn’t see any sign of a child’s coffin. The south wing was likewise unchanged. They went up to the second floor, Richard noting which step was dangerous so they could all avoid it. They found the two front bedroom doors closed there.
“Now, watch out for the man,” Jebidiah said. “Make sure he doesn’t spook us.”
Ella-Marie went to the closed door on the right. Richard borrowed Teddy’s compact. Billy looked in the back bedrooms to check the coffins there. Michael followed his sister.
Harry Match was in the room. He looked startled when the door opened and he looked at Michael, terrified. Richard peeked at the man in the compact and could see his reflection.
“Uh … you’re not supposed to be here,” Match said. “I thought I asked you to leave. You’re not supposed to be here. The master will not be pleased.”
“We know something’s going on here,” Ella-Marie said.
Match picked up a clay jug from the floor, uncorked it, drank from it, and closed it back up.
“Can we help you at all?” Richard said.
“No,” Match said. “You have to go. I said to go and you should go. It’s not safe here for children.”
“You don’t seem to─”
“You need to go. Children. You should go. You should go. Just go. It’ll be the … he already knows about you. You should go before he … don’t anger him.”
“Christopher?” Ella-Marie said.
“If you anger him, then - then …” Match said.
“What’s your master’s name?” Jebidiah said.
“Uh … um … it’s … it’s … no … don’t make me say it …” Match said. “He … he … he’s a mortician. And that’s why he has the coffins─”
“But what’s his name?”
“St. Jordan! He is St. Jordan. St. Jordan. Christopher St. Jordan II. And he owns this house and he said you would come back. He said they always come back. You can’t stay here.”
He looked towards the window.
“It’s going to be dark soon,” he said. “And he’s gonna come back and you don’t want to be here when he comes … he doesn’t like trespassers. He doesn’t like visitors.”
“Where does he go during the day?” Michael growled.
“I don’t know!” Match said. “Not here! He’s hidden away. He’s hidden himself away. And he took the keys. And he buried them so that no one could get in. And so, he’s hidden─”
“Where’d he bury them?” Billy squeaked.
“I don’t know,” Match said.
“If you know what happened to Tommy, you have to tell us!” Ella-Marie said.
“I don’t know who Tommy is,” Match said.
“Did he bring anyone back last night?” Michael growled.
“No!” Match said. “He wasn’t here long enough─”
“Did he come from the train?” Billy squeaked.
Match looked terrified when he said that and gasped.
“There’s … he … he found me and he gave me a job,” he said. “And I’m working for him and you have to get out! You have to get out!”
“So, he came from the train?” Billy squeaked.
“Stop saying that!”
Match put his head in his hands and covered his eyes. Michael pulled out the handle he’d found on the tracks.
“You have to go,” Match said through his hands. “You have to go before it’s dark. You have to go before it’s dark.”
“Do you recognize this?” Michael said.
The man looked up and then looked away.
“That was on the table,” he said. “I don’t know why he saved it.”
“This one was from the train tracks,” Michael said.
“He told me he was very angry,” Match said. “When it was gone, he said that it … it … ‘it was gone’ he said. ‘Who was here?’ And I said ‘I was doing your bidding.’ And he was very angry. You don’t want to see him when he’s angry. You don’t want to. He gets very angry. You should all go. Go home and just … just go home. There’s nothing for you here. There’s nothing you can do. It’s too late.”
“Mind if we see what’s in that jug?” Michael said.
Match’s eyes opened wide.
“No, this is mine!” he said. “No. This is mine. It’s mine.”
“Yeah, what is it?” Billy squeaked.
“What is it?”
“You can’t have it.”
“What is it?”
“You can’t have it. What’s wrong with your voice?”
Michael went to the man and ripped the jug from his hands.
“Nooooo!” Match screamed. “It’s all I have!”
Michael popped the cork and sniffed. The stink of corn whiskey almost knocked him over. He almost choked on the smell.
“You can have that back,” he said.
Match grabbed the jug with both hands, scuttling to the corner and crouching there, glaring at the boy.
Ella-Marie described Tommy to Match, asking if he’d seen the boy.
“I ain’t seen any children except for you,” Match said. “And you shouldn’t be here. He’ll be here soon.
“Does the master have any other servants?” Billy squeaked.
“I don’t know,” Match said. “Not that I know of.”
Richard looked at his watch. It was nearly suppertime.
“We need to get going,” Billy squeaked. “We only got two hours.”
“Let’s head back home,” Michael said.
“Yeah, we do need to make it to dinner before people are worried,” Jebidiah said.
“Don’t come back!” Match said. “Don’t come back! He’ll know! He’ll know you by your smell! He knows. He knows. He knows you! He knows you!”
Ella-Marie turned and pushed the others out of the room. She closed the door behind her, looking back only long enough to see the man still in the corner, sobbing.
“This might have been controlled,” Jebidiah said.
“Something’s wrong with him,” Teddy said.
“He seems like that Renfield person you talked about,” Michael said.
“That Renfield, he was crazy too,” Teddy said.
He had told them a little about Renfield and his flies and spiders earlier that day.
“I didn’t see any flies,” he said.
“I think we should watch out of our windows at night and make sure nothing comes for us,” Jebidiah said. “If he said, he’ll know by our smell …”
“I say we go back to the graveyard tonight,” Michael said.
Teddy went pale.
“I don’t think digging it up at night will be helpful,” Jebidiah said.
“It’s the only time we can,” Michael said.
“Let’s go to supper first and talk about it later,” Jebidiah said.
They returned to their homes
* * *
Richard went by the Hills before he met with the others after supper.
“How was your visit, Mrs. Hill?” he asked her.
“Very lonely,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’ll get better.”
“You’re a good boy, Richard,” she said. “Don’t go near the tracks.”
* * *
When they got together after supper, Ella-Marie asked Teddy if there was any coming back from being a vampire. He told her that, according to Dracula, once a person was turned into a vampire, they were just a dead body walking around. Jebidiah asked about Dracula controlling people and Teddy told him Renfield was controlled by the vampire and was crazy. He pointed out that there was a girl who hadn’t died yet in the book they kept giving transfusions. He said Dracula had left a note saying he was going back to Transylvania but when she did eventually die, he could raise her back up as a vampire, having bit her and having fed her some of his blood, tainting her. However, he never read about anyone coming back.
Richard asked if vampires lost their personality and he pointed out Lucy seemed to turn into someone else. She didn’t act like a person: drinking blood and attacking children.
Richard noted Mrs. Hill was home and Michael suggested they go and see if something showed up.
“No, we’re not going to wait to see if something shows up,” Richard said. “We’re going to dig up that coffin and we’re going to see if he’s still in there. Before the sun goes down.”
He was concerned if there was dirt in the coffins, the vampires might have moved their bodies between locations. Teddy told him that Dracula had gone from Europe to England so he guessed vampires could move. Michael mentioned Jebidiah seeing mist around the grave. He also wondered if Tommy went to Jill’s house instead of his mom.
Richard went to check on Jill.
* * *
The Spearmans were sitting on their front porch, enjoying what little breeze there was.
“Do you still have those handles?” Richard asked Jill Spearman.
“Yes, I still have those handles!” Jill said. “You can’t have them back.”
“I don’t want ‘em,”
“You gave them to me!”
“I don’t want ‘em. Okay. That’s all I wanted to know.”
“You are so weird Richard!”
“Don’t you come around here no more!”
“I gave you those two handles! You should be thankful!”
“Oh my God! That’s just like a man! Just like a man!”
She stomped into the house.
* * *
Richard returned to the others. He still thought they should go to the grave. Michael was in agreement. Jebidiah asked Billy what he thought they should do and the boy squeaked that he was going to go scout himself. They discussed Teddy going with them and how to move him quickly if the rest of them had their bicycles. Teddy was willing to do whatever they needed. He didn’t want to get in the way.
“If you don’t want me with you, I understand,” Teddy said. “It’s just like my dad. He doesn’t want me around either.”
“I don’t feel that way about you, Teddy,” Richard said.
“It’s all right,” Teddy said.
“Maybe there’s something me and Teddy can do to help without being part of it,” Jebidiah said. “Because I’ll get winded, digging this grave.”
He suggested they be the ones that keep watch to make sure no one came around.
They all headed to the graveyard after leaving Teddy to watch the road where the graveyard path met it. The others went on to the cemetery and Jebidiah continued on into the forest about a hundred feet further on from the cemetery where he could see the road. Both boys planned on hollering if they saw someone come down the road.
The other four children dug up the grave with the shovels they had brought. They didn’t make as fast a progress as they hoped as they had trouble all working in the small space together. The sun was setting before they heard the scrape of a shovel against the hollow-sounding pine box of Tommy Hill’s coffin. They threw their shovels up and out of the grave and shoved the remaining dirt aside, Billy getting his cross in his hand as they did so.
The last rays of the setting sun glinted across the treetops above. Michael pulled the coffin lid open as they all scrambled to find their footing. Billy looked at the corpse in the mirror.
Tommy Hill lay in his small coffin, his eyes open. Michael found himself looking directly into Tommy’s eyes. For a moment, the blue of the child’s eyes seem to engulf him and he felt like he was falling.
Tommy Hill smiled, opening his mouth. There was blood on his lips. Billy saw only an empty coffin in the mirror in his hand. He was horrified to see Tommy in the coffin when he looked.
“You’re here to save me!” he said. “Thank you for saving me!”
Ella-Marie was shocked and hesitated, unable to even react. Tommy jumped up and looked at Billy, who held a mirror in one hand and a crucifix in the other. Tommy squinted at the crucifix and then leapt up, out of the hole, and landed lightly on the rim near the temporary wooden tombstone. He backed away, not looking at Billy or his crucifix.
“Y’all!” he whined. “Put that away! That hurts! No! That’s not right!”
Ella-Marie lunged forward and tried to stab Tommy in the foot with one of her sharpened crosses but fell short, the little makeshift wooden cross digging into the ground. Richard, behind her, struggled to get out of the deep grave.
“Billy …” Michael said.
He squatted slightly and held his hands together, offering a leg up. Billy ignored him, tucking the cross into the back of his pants.
“Hey Tommy,” he said. “How are you?”
“I would be better if y’all weren’t being so mean to me,” Tommy said.
“I put it away,” Billy said.
Tommy backed away and out of sight of the children stuck in the open grave. Ella-Marie looked back and saw Michael, still waiting to give someone a leg up. She put her foot in his hands and he helped heave her out of the grave. Tommy was out there, kicking stones in the graveyard and looking bored.
“Tommy!” she said.
He turned to her.
“Hey Ella-Marie,” he said in a low voice.
Richard next took advantage of Michael offering a leg up and pulled himself out of the hole. He saw Tommy, who was looking at Ella-Marie.
“Tommy?” he said.
The boy ignored him, looking at Ella-Marie with a sly smile.
Michael climbed out of the grave, kicking down a good deal of dirt. He turned and offered Billy his hand to help him out. Billy ignored him and climbed out of the hole on his own.
“Hey Tommy, we found your treasure,” he said.
Ella-Marie felt herself falling into the little boys eyes as they seemed to engulf the entire world. She felt like she was falling into a void. Then she shook her head and felt in control of herself again.
“Tommy?” she said again. “What happened to you?”
“I always liked you Ella-Marie,” Tommy said quietly, looking down at his hands.
Richard and Michael slow approached Tommy, who was still staring at Ella-Marie. Both of them were empty-handed.
“Hey Tommy, did you find them treasures I gave you?” Billy squeaked. “In your coffin?”
Tommy held out his hand. There were two flattened pennies there.
“I’ll bring ‘em back to you soon, Billy,” Tommy said.
“You can keep ‘em,” Billy said, suddenly uneasy.
“I’ll talk to all y’all very soon,” Tommy said. “Watch this.”
Tommy’s body seemed to become compact, the arms and legs drawing in unnaturally, as he turned into a bat and flew up into the purple sky. They saw him head towards town.
“Wait, who would he have drunk from?” Michael asked. “Because he had blood on his lips.”
“Tommy is alive and on the run!” Billy yelled as loud as he could.
“Guys!” Ella-Marie yelled.
Jebidiah awkwardly ran into the cemetery, breathing heavily. He stopped to lean on a gravestone.
* * *
Teddy, who was still watching, was getting nervous.
“It’s awful dark out here,” he muttered to himself. “Is that a bat? That’s a bat. Wait a minute …”
The bat flew over his head in the general direction of town.
* * *
“Does destroying his coffin do anything?” Richard asked.
“The expert’s not here,” Michael said.
Billy ran towards town, as Jebidiah caught his breath. The others got their bicycles.
“Gotta go!” Ella-Marie said.
“Tommy’s back,” Michael said.
“Heading to town,” Richard said.
“I … heard,” Jebidiah gasped.
“Take Billy’s bike!” Michael said.
“Hold on,” Jebidiah said. “What about Teddy?”
Ella-Marie tried to push Jebidiah onto her bike.
“Teddy!” Jebidiah gasped.
“C’mon, let’s go!” Ella-Marie said.
* * *
“It’s dark,” Teddy said when he saw Billy running up. “Did you kill it?”
“Tommy’s back!” Billy said. “He’s a bat!”
Teddy went pale and pointed up at the sky.
“You might’ve seen him,” Billy said. “Let’s get going.”
He pushed Teddy back toward the cemetery as fast as he could, handing off his mirror to the boy. They arrived as the others were getting their bicycles around. Jebidiah went to Teddy and offered to push the wheelchair. Billy ran to his bike. While Michael, Ella-Marie, and Richard rode ahead, Billy hung back with the other two boys.
* * *
When Michael, Ella-Marie, and Richard got to town, it looked normal. Richard peeled off and headed for the Spearman’s house, going straight up the road, while Michael turned right at the train station, heading down the road there with Ella-Marie close behind.
They stopped in front of the Hill’s house.
“Mike!” Ella-Marie said. “Mike! What are you thinking!?! We can’t say anything to her!”
“I was just seeing if maybe he would show up here,” Michael said.
“What do we do? We didn’t really see where he went.”
“He sorta just flew off.”
* * *
“Did you see anything?” Teddy asked as Jebidiah pushed him pushed him up the road. “Did you see him? I saw a bat.”
“No, I didn’t see anything!” Jebidiah gasped.
“Billy says the bat was him!”
“I didn’t see anything!”
Billy rode in silence.
* * *