Monday, January 29, 2018
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu original scenario â€œWhat Rough Beast â€¦â€ Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Ben Abbott, Austin Davie, John Leppard, Ambralyn Tucker, and Yorie Latimer.)
The youngsters of Sanguis all got together a little before dinnertime on Wednesday, June 19, 1929. They shared the information they had learned from Doc Underwood and Jill Spearman about the ghosts of the plantation and the lost coffin handle.
Jebidiah suggested anyone who had a good view of the plantation from their house might keep a lookout to see if a light came one. Unfortunately, no one did. Richard suggested there might be a good view from the tree house but Michael didnâ€™t think theyâ€™d be able to see from there. Jebidiah also questioned the comfort of staying out in the tree house at night.
â€œI would catch another cold,â€ he said.
â€œWell, we donâ€™t want that,â€ Teddy said.
â€œNo, I donâ€™t.â€
â€œThe last one was so bad!â€
â€œOkay, if weâ€™re all going to meet at Tommyâ€™s grave later tonight, may I suggest we all go to the store and buy some garlic?â€ Michael said.
â€œThat sounds â€¦ sounds fine to me,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œSounds good,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWeâ€™re all going to meet out there?â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, we donâ€™t all have to, but â€¦â€ Michael said.
â€œIs it going to rain again?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œIâ€™m - Iâ€™m not sure,â€ Michael said.
They all looked up. It was a beautiful and sunny day.
â€œShall I get my helmet?â€ Richard asked.
â€œThat is â€¦ up to you, Richard,â€ Michael said.
â€œWould you be taking head injuries?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI dunno whatâ€™s gonna come out of that grave!â€ Richard said.
â€œA helmet would be very good for head injuries,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIt has a spike on it,â€ Richard said.
â€œOkay fine!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œIf you wanna wear that thing!â€
Richard ran off to his house.
â€œWhen are we meeting?â€ Teddy said. â€œWeâ€™re meeting where?â€
â€œLetâ€™s meet back up at the graveyard after dinner,â€ Michael said.
â€œI thought sundown would be a good time,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œSo, around eight?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
â€œSo, eight at the tree house,â€ she said. â€œHave your garlic. Have your stakes.â€
They all split up and went to supper.
* * *
Michael went to the Sanguis Grocery but they didnâ€™t carry garlic. At that time, there wasnâ€™t much call for it in cooking. He looked in the kitchen after dinner and found a dried-up clove in the back of a cupboard. Both he and Ella-Marie set to work making some makeshift crosses. Ella-Marie got some straight branches behind the house and used string to make a couple of crude, makeshift crosses. She sharpened the ends of them. Michael pulled a couple of frames from under his bed, taking them to the shed behind the house, and found a saw to cut it in half. He made two rough crosses from them and sharpened one of them.
* * *
Billy searched his house after dinner for some time, looking for a cross. He didnâ€™t find one but he did find a small Bible with a cross on it. He put it in his room.
Then he decided to look for crosses elsewhere in town. He remembered seeing a cross or a crucifix in Mrs. Pinesâ€™ living room, across the road from his grandfatherâ€™s soda shop and pharmacy. He went over to her house.
Gertrude Pines was a little old lady who had lived in Sanguis forever. As far as Billy knew, she had never been married. She was probably in her 90s and was tiny but feisty. She was very nice to the children of the village and Billyâ€™s grandfather was friends with her. She brought pies or cookies or even casseroles to his grandfatherâ€™s house quite often. She had started doing that right after Billyâ€™s parents disappeared and just kept it up.
He looked in the windows and spotted Mrs. Pines in the living room. She was knitting and listening to a radio drama. It sounded like some kind of scary mystery show. Billy knocked on the front door.
â€œOh!â€ she said, delighted to see him. â€œWhy hello, Billy. Câ€™mon in! Howâ€™s your grandpa?â€
â€œHeâ€™s doinâ€™ pretty good,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œIs he sleeping?â€
â€œHe sleeps a lot.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you come in? I got some cookies in the kitchen.â€
â€œOh, thank you, maâ€™am.â€
â€œYou want some lemonade?â€
She scurried to the kitchen.
â€œHowâ€™s that friend, Teddy, of yours?â€ she called. â€œIs he any better?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œI hope he gets out of that wheelchair someday.â€
â€œI bet Jesus, the power of Jesus, could heal him.â€
She returned with a little plate of cookies and some iced tea. She chatted with Billy about how he was doing in school and how he was enjoying his summer. Billy eventually steered the conversation to how heâ€™d been feeling troubled due to Tommy Hillâ€™s death. He said he was reading through the bible and seeking salvation. He showed her the Bible heâ€™d found.
â€œI was wondering if I could borrow your crucifix so that Jesus can watch me through my journey,â€ he said.
She put her hand to her chest.
â€œYouâ€™ll find him,â€ she said. â€œYouâ€™ll find your way.â€
She got up and, taking very tiny steps, went to the crucifix and took some time getting it down off the wall. She handed it over to the boy.
â€œYou just take that and you hang onto that for as long as you want,â€ she said.
â€œOkay,â€ he said. â€œI thank you.â€
â€œYouâ€™re a good boy!â€ she said.
He ate a couple more cookies and finished his iced tea before he left.
He put everything in a book bag and put in the Colt .45 revolver that had been his dadâ€™s and probably his dadâ€™s before that in as well. He had an additional six bullets that he pocketed.
* * *
After supper, Richard approached his father who was smoking his after-supper cigarette and reading last weekâ€™s newspaper.
â€œPop?â€ Richard said.
â€œYep?â€ his dad said.
â€œLet me â€¦ uh â€¦ now donâ€™t say no, initially, but â€¦ I was wondering if I could take the gun and go hunting tonight alone.â€
â€œWhat? No! What?â€
â€œIâ€™m almost an adult, dad. I should be learning to shoot on my own.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think you should be taking the gun out at night, especially on a weekday. Weâ€™ll go out this Saturday night? How about that? Weâ€™ll go out shooting this Saturday.â€
â€œI saw a deer in the woods.â€
â€œWell, youâ€™re supposed to have a license to hunt deer, you know.â€
â€œDo you â€¦ do you have a license?â€
â€œThat doesnâ€™t make no mind!â€
The two looked at each other.
â€œAnd â€¦ right now, we donâ€™t need no deer,â€ he said. â€œNo venison. And where did you see a deer?â€
â€œIn the woods, across the trail,â€ Richard said.
â€œAcross the track?â€
â€œWhere, exactly? By the tree house?â€
â€œBy the â€¦ by the river near the tree house.â€
â€œDown by the river, huh? You saw â€¦ when was that?â€
â€œThat was â€¦ this morning.â€
â€œAw, heâ€™s not going to be there anymore. Not if it was this morning.â€
â€œBut it was a big buck!â€
â€œYeah, thatâ€™s fine. But heâ€™s not going to be where you saw him this morning.â€
â€œThink about the antlers!â€
â€œYouâ€™re never going to find him.â€
â€œI donâ€™t - what? Youâ€™re never going to find him. Next time you see a deer, you come right to me, if Iâ€™m here. And you tell me, and weâ€™ll see what we can do.â€
â€œYouâ€™re a good boy.â€
Richard went to the kitchen and got the big carving knife, tucking it into his pants and slipping to his room, hiding it there.
* * *
Jebidiah also looked around his house in search of a crucifix. He didnâ€™t find one but he did find a fancy cross made of varnished wood adorned with a golden-colored metal. He thought it was his grandmotherâ€™s. He put it into his room.
* * *
Before Michael and Ella-Marie left their house, Michael crept back to his parentsâ€™ room and got the .22 rifle his father kept there. They headed for the tree house.
* * *
Jebidiah went to Teddyâ€™s house.
â€œWe canâ€™t let my dad know Iâ€™m going,â€ Teddy said. â€œWhat-whatâ€™re we gonna do. Are we just going to leave and say weâ€™re out playing? What do we do? And do we bring our turtles?â€
A thought went through Jebidiahâ€™s head that he could wear a big coat and Jebidiah could just carry him out. He instantly realized the problem with that. Instead, he manhandled the wheelchair out the window. Then he helped get Teddy out of the window as well. He went back through the house and out the front door after closing Teddyâ€™s door. Teddyâ€™s mother waved him goodbye. Teddyâ€™s dad didnâ€™t pay him any attention. He was drinking something clear out of a mason jar and just grunted. He thought he heard him say something to Mrs. Sanderson after he left but couldnâ€™t make out what the man said. He was glad of that.
He found Teddy around the side of the house and they headed south in the twilight. They saw Richard.
â€œOh, itâ€™s Richard,â€ Teddy said. â€œHey Richard.â€
â€œHey,â€ Richard said. â€œSo â€¦ I have a crazy idea. How about we try and steal Teddyâ€™s fatherâ€™s gun.â€
â€œThat sounds more like a suicidal idea to me,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHave you met Teddyâ€™s father?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œEvery time I see him, I have heart palpitations.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know if you know my father. Heâ€™s not a friendly person.â€
â€œSometimes I fear the breath from his mouth will sicken me.â€
Teddy nodded at him.
â€œWell, do you know when he goes to bed?â€ Richard said.
â€œTeddy, do guns â€¦ do guns kill vampires?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, theyâ€™re not wooden stakes,â€ Teddy said. â€œAnd theyâ€™re not â€¦ no.â€
â€œNo,â€ Richard said. â€œWouldnâ€™t it be useful to have it anyway. I mean, what if we run into a wolf or something?â€
â€œWell, in Dracula, there was this little â€¦ crazy fellow named Renfield who wasnâ€™t a vampire, but worked for â€˜em,â€ Teddy said.
â€œSee, we need a gun,â€ Richard said.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m-Iâ€™m not going to Teddyâ€™s father,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œIf you want to go, thatâ€™s on you, but if you come out in a coffin as well â€¦â€
â€œIs there anything that your dadâ€™s going to leave the living room for?â€ Richard asked.
â€œWhen he passes out,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWhen does he pass out?â€
â€œWell, that could be any time. It could be late. It could be early. It depends on his mood.â€
â€œI think weâ€™re barking up the wrong tree with Teddyâ€™s dad,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, I canâ€™t get it from my own father,â€ Richard said.
â€œSo, you want my daddy to come and kill you?â€ Teddy said.
â€œNo,â€ Richard said. â€œYou go on ahead. Iâ€™ll catch up to in a minute.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œAll right,â€ Teddy said. â€œWhatâ€™re you gonna do?â€
â€œIâ€™m gonna see what he does,â€ Richard said.
â€œDonâ€™t let him see you peeking in the windows,â€ Teddy said.
â€œOh, I wonâ€™t,â€ Richard said.
â€œDear God, donâ€™t,â€ Jebidiah said.
The two boys continued on and Richard went back to Teddyâ€™s house. They soon met with the others, Billy on his bike with a book bag on his shoulder. Michael was carrying his fatherâ€™s hunting rifle.
â€œIâ€™m slowing you down again, Jebidiah,â€ Teddy said as they walked to the tree house.
â€œI donâ€™t want to go fast,â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy thought on that a moment.
â€œI can take it,â€ he finally said, bracing himself in the chair.
* * *
Richard peeked into the windows of Teddyâ€™s house and saw his father sitting in a chair in the living room, drinking from a mason jar. He watched a few minutes and could hear Teddyâ€™s mother puttering around in the kitchen. He headed off to the tree house.
* * *
They finally all met at the tree house together, Richard arriving last. He was wearing the pickelhelm and had a kitchen knife in his hand. Everyone else was also apparently prepared. Jebidiah held his fancy cross but it shook in his hand.
â€œWell, I found this,â€ Teddy said.
He pulled out a compact from his pocket with a little mirror in it.
â€œWe can use this to tell if theyâ€™re vampires,â€ he said, looking at them in the mirror. â€œBecause, you see how I can see you in the mirror and you can see me?â€
â€œYes, of course!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œItâ€™s a mirror!â€
â€œYeah,â€ he said. â€œBut if I couldnâ€™t see you â€¦ wait.â€
He looked at each of their reflections in the mirror.
â€œIf I couldnâ€™t see you, then you were a vampire,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWe shouldâ€™ve brought a mirror to the funeral,â€ Richard said.
Teddy just hung his head.
â€œWell, we didnâ€™t think of that, now, did we?â€ Ella-Marie said to Richard.
â€œWell â€¦ no,â€ Richard said. â€œBut it wouldâ€™ve been nice.â€
â€œWe got some sharp crosses!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œDonâ€™t worry Teddy,â€ Michael said.
â€œAll I brought was stupid water,â€ Teddy said.
â€œDonâ€™t worry about it.â€
â€œIt didnâ€™t even do anything.â€
Michael took out the unsharpened cross and offered it, eventually giving it to Teddy. Ella-Marie fussed at Jebidiah for his shaking hands.
â€œWe got crosses, we got guns, we got garlicâ”€â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œStakes,â€ Teddy said. â€œWho brought the stakes?â€
â€œI have the one stake,â€ Michael said.
â€œOkay, hopefully thereâ€™s only one vampire,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWhy do we need meat for this?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œNo, stakes like you stick in things,â€ Teddy said. â€œYou know how you put a stake in the ground?â€
â€œOh,â€ Jebidiah said.
Ella-Marie smacked the boy in the side of the head.
â€œYou gotta have a wooden stake made outta â€¦ wood,â€ Teddy said.
Michael held up the cross that was sharpened at one end.
â€œAnyone bring a hammer to hammer it in?â€ Teddy asked.
Richard picked up a large rock.
â€œWe can use this, I guess,â€ he said.
Billy climbed up into the tree house and pulled off a piece of one by four that was not structurally necessary. He used his knife to sharpen the end of it. It took him about 15 minutes.
They headed to the cemetery.
The sounds of the crickets, frogs from the nearby river, and the occasional night bird seemed very loud.
The Tallapoosa Cemetery was a small graveyard with a few markers and stones. A picket fence about three feet high ran around the place. It was falling over in some places as it wasnâ€™t kept up very well. They knew Tommyâ€™s grave was towards the back of the place on the river side.
Overhead, clouds started to roll in. Flashes of lightning came from the distance. It looked like another thunderstorm was approaching. They figured they might have as long as an hour before the rain started.
â€œShould I wear this helmet?â€ Richard asked.
â€œItâ€™s entirely made of metal,â€ Teddy pointed out. â€œIt might attract lightning. But the trees are higher.â€
â€œYou can take your chances,â€ Ella-Marie said sweetly.
Richard left it on. Billy was looking up at the trees, wanting to climb up into one but worried about the lightning in the distance.
They made their way back to Tommyâ€™s grave, easy to distinguish from the pile of dirt still upon it. Billy spotted a large gravestone off to the left and so crept over and hid in its shadow. The other five walked to the grave as the moon rose in the east.
Richard asked Teddy how they would know if the vampire had left the grave but the boy admitted he wasnâ€™t sure. He noted the stories he read about were mostly of people thinking there was a vampire and so exhuming the dead body. When they opened the coffin, they would find the body bloated with blood on its lips and long fingernails and hair. Richard kicked the mound of dirt.
â€œI donâ€™t know how they get out,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, we canâ€™t just sit here all night,â€ Richard said. â€œWith a storm coming.â€
â€œIf yâ€™all are going to be pansyâ€™s about it, Iâ€™ll go check,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe just donâ€™t have a shovel,â€ Richard said.
â€œAre â€¦ are we gonna dig up his grave?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œWell, if we canâ€™t tell if heâ€™s there or not â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œWhat do you think weâ€™re here for!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI thought we were gonna see if he came out,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, the stormâ€™s accelerating our time,â€ Richard said. â€œWe canâ€™t stay out here all night.â€
â€œWhat do you think, Jebidiah?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œWe gotta get going!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI donâ€™t â€¦ I donâ€™t really want to see either way, to be quite honest,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œItâ€™ll take hours to dig up a grave with our bare hands,â€ Teddy said. â€œIâ€™ll help as much as I can.â€
â€œThe rainâ€™ll make it harder,â€ Billy squeaked from his hiding place nearby.
â€œOh my God, I forgot he was over there,â€ Teddy said, startled.
Jebidiah looked in the direction he thought the plantation stood but couldnâ€™t see any lights.
â€œI-I donâ€™t - I donâ€™t - I reckon we shouldâ€™ve brought shovels if we were gonna dig him up,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI didnâ€™t think we were gonna dig him up,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI wasnâ€™t planning on digging him up but â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œIâ€™m no grave robber,â€ Billy called from his tombstone.
Teddy pointed at Ella-Marie.
â€œYou wanna dig him up?â€ he said.
â€œWell, how else?â€ she said. â€œHow else are we supposed to find out.â€
He looked at her.
â€œExactly!â€ she said.
â€œShe has a good point,â€ Teddy said.
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
Richard volunteered to go back home and get his shovel. He asked to borrow Billyâ€™s bike.
â€œThatâ€™d be fine,â€ Billy squeaked from the darkness.
â€œGod, how could we not bring a shovel!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhere is he?â€ Teddy said, squinting as he looked at that part of the cemetery. â€œI cannot see him at all.â€
â€œBilly is the night,â€ Billy squeaked.
Teddy was startled every time he said something.
Richard took Billyâ€™s bicycle and rode hard for town. Not long after he left, the noises of the insects stopped nearby. The boys soon noticed what looked like a dog or a coyote sitting near a tree just outside the graveyard. It was little more than a shadow.
Michael tucked his garlic and stake away and took the hunting rifle off his shoulder. He worked the action.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ Ella-Marie said to him. â€œWhatâ€™re you doing.â€
He shushed her.
â€œIs that a dog over there?â€ Teddy asked Jebidiah. â€œThereâ€™s a dog over there.â€
Jebidiah made some strange noises.
â€œGod, how can you see that far?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWait!â€ Billy called.
Michael fired. There was a flash from the rifle and he was pretty much blinded. The other children saw the animal didnâ€™t move at all. They heard the bullet crash through the underbrush.
â€œWhatâ€™re you doing!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œSaw a dog,â€ Michael said. â€œCoyote. Wolf. I dunno.â€
His vision slowly came back.
Teddy was wide eyed and Ella-Marie looked into the woods. When Teddy pointed, she thought she could see an animal of some kind sitting next to a tree.
â€œHeâ€™s awfully still,â€ she whispered.
Billy, hiding in the shadows of the gravestone, drew his revolver from his pants.
â€œThat was very loud,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIt didnâ€™t move,â€ Michael said. â€œI was hoping that would at least scare it away, but â€¦â€
â€œDid anybody bring a flashlight?â€ Ella-Marie asked. â€œGet a better look?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t bring a flashlight,â€ Teddy said. â€œI didnâ€™t think about it.â€
â€œOf course you didnâ€™t.â€
She had also not brought a flashlight as she had not thought about it.
â€œBilly!â€ Michael said. â€œDid you bring a light source?â€
â€œBillyâ€™s gone,â€ Teddy said. â€œBilly, are you still over there?â€
There was no reply. Teddy gasped.
â€œBilly!â€ Michael said.
â€œUh-oh,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe took Billy!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œOh no!â€ Teddy said.
Jebidiah looked back at the dog or animal. It looked like a really big dog. It made him think of a German shepherd or a coyote.
â€œHey, Teddy,â€ Michael said. â€œDo you know if vampires have anything to do with dogs of some sort?â€
â€œWell, um â€¦ in Dracula, he could turn into a bat and he could turn into mist and he could climb up a wall like a spider and â€¦ um â€¦ I think he could turn into a wolf and he could control wolves,â€ Teddy said. â€œIs that a wolf?â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t look like a wolf,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIâ€™m not going over there,â€ Teddy muttered.
Michael groaned. Jebidiah held up his crucifix but the animal didnâ€™t move.
Michael walked to the spot where Billy had disappeared. He spotted the boy hiding by one of the large tombstones.
â€œBilly, why werenâ€™t you answering us?â€ Michael said.
In the darkness of the shadows, Billy just put his fingers to his lips. Michael could not see it.
â€œBilly, whatâ€™s going on?â€ Michael said.
He heard Billy moving and then his hand came out of the shadows holding a flashlight.
Michael took the flashlight. Billy changed his position quietly by another tombstone, slinking over and finding another shadow to hide in. A bush grew up the side of that one, making it an even better hiding place.
â€œDid he give you a flashlight?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYes,â€ Michael said.
Jebidiah turned to Teddy.
â€œCan you see that wolf in your mirror?â€ he said.
â€œOh, thatâ€™s a good idea!â€ Teddy said.
He struggled to get the mirror out.
â€œIâ€™m gonna get the mirror,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m gonna get the mirror.â€
When Jebidiah looked back where the animal had been, it was gone. Michael turned on the flashlight but there was nothing there. Jebidiah let out a high-pitched shriek and Teddy, startled, dropped the mirror. Both he and Jebidiah reached down to the ground.
â€œShine it down here!â€ Teddy said. â€œI got it.â€
He picked the mirror back up as Jebidiah looked all around for the animal.
â€œThat thing was there!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhere is it?â€ Teddy said. â€œWhereâ€™d it go?â€
â€œMaybe we should get outta here,â€ Michael said.
â€œIt just disappeared like those bite marks,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Teddy looked scared.
â€œSo, I donâ€™t need the mirror anymore?â€ he asked. â€œAre we leaving?â€
â€œKeep it out!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œAll right,â€ he said. â€œYes maâ€™am.â€
â€œGimme the flashlight! Gimme the flashlight!â€
She shined the flashlight around but they couldnâ€™t see anything in the woods.
â€œListen!â€ Ella-Marie said, noticing it for the first time. â€œThereâ€™s nothing. No crickets. No rustling. No nothing.â€
â€œNo frogs,â€ Michael said.
Jebidiah stood there, holding the crucifix, his hands shaking like he had palsy.
â€œYou need to calm down!â€ she said to him.
â€œIt-itâ€™ll be okay, Jebidiah,â€ Teddy said. â€œTheyâ€™ll protect us. Theyâ€™re our friends.â€
â€œI say we go back to our houses tonight and then go back to the plantation tomorrow,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhy?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWeâ€™re here now.â€
â€œThere ainâ€™t much we can do right now,â€ Michael said.
â€œRichard will be back in a minute,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œMaybe,â€ Michael said.
The night noises started to sound around them again.
* * *
Richard had retrieved the shovel and was getting back on the bike when he heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the cemetery. He went back to his own house and peeked into his parentâ€™s room. It was dark so he crept into their room, opened up the wardrobe, and found the Springfield rifle his father had brought back from the War. He rooted around as quietly as he could until he found a loaded magazine for the rifle. He pocketed the magazine and slung the rifle over his shoulder, closing the wardrobe and the door again.
He biked back, the shovel along the handlebars, trying to ride as quickly as possible. He made it down the road without trouble, but when he turned onto the lesser-used dirt road that led to the cemetery, he took it too fast. The tires slid out from under him and he crashed to the ground, the shovel sliding away. He felt a hot, red pain running down his left leg and realized heâ€™d skinned it from ankle to hip. He slammed his hand down on the ground and started to get to his feet when he saw a man standing in the shadows.
â€œAre you all right, boy?â€ the man said in a strange accent.
Richard scrambled to bring the rifle to bear.
â€œWho are you!â€ he cried out.
He pointed the rifle at the man.
â€œYou have bloodied yourself,â€ the man said. â€œIf you wish, I can help you with your wounds.â€
â€œIâ€™m quite fine,â€ Richard said, backing up towards the road.
The man walked slowly forward and then Richardâ€™s foot came down on a rock that rolled out from under him. He stumbled back, pulling the trigger on the rifle and being rewarded with only a click. He crashed to his back and realized he had never put the magazine in the rifle. He pulled the knife out of his belt.
When he looked around, the man was gone. He leapt to the feet and ran towards town.
It felt like someone was following him, running directly behind him without making a noise, almost like they were flying. He glanced back but didnâ€™t see anyone, though the feeling that someone was there was still very strong and disturbing. He sprinted back to his own house, climbing into his window.
He had enough presence of mind to return the rifle and magazine. He quietly returned to his room and climbed into the bed, watching out the window.
At one point, he blinked. The silhouette of a man was right outside his window. He flung a book from his desk at the shape. It struck the dark form but it didnâ€™t react. He grabbed the helmet and pointed the spiked top at him. When he blinked again, the man was gone. He leapt up, ran over and slammed the window shut, latching it, and leapt back into his bed, laying in the fetal position and watching and listening to the sounds in the night.
* * *
The other youngsters waited for what felt like too long for Richard before Michael finally spoke.
â€œHeâ€™s not back,â€ he said.
â€œI believe that Richardâ€™s probably dead,â€ Teddy said.
â€œDonâ€™t say that!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIâ€™m scared,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAt the very least, heâ€™s not coming back,â€ Michael said.
â€œHe shouldnâ€™t have taken that long,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe shouldnâ€™t have let him go by himself,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, he just left, didnâ€™t he?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œDid he have anything to protect himself, like â€¦?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œHe had a knife,â€ Michael said. â€œI think he had a cross.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think that kraut helmet was going to help him,â€ Teddy said.
â€œShall we make our way back and check at his house?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œProbably,â€ Michael said.
â€œWell, I guess we gotta go find him now,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhat about â€¦ Billy, I know youâ€™re out there somewhere,â€ Teddy said. â€œAre you coming with us? Just â€¦ cough once if you are.â€
There was silence.
â€œI think Billyâ€™s gonna stay here,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIs Billy dead too?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œBilly, if youâ€™re dead â€¦ if youâ€™re dead cough twice.â€
It remained quiet.
â€œI donâ€™t think heâ€™s dead,â€ Teddy said.
â€œGo show me where you found him,â€ Ella-Marie said to Michael.
â€œFound who?â€ Michael said.
â€œBilly!â€ she said.
â€œAll right,â€ he said.
He walked over to the gravestone but Billy wasnâ€™t there. He looked around and saw a shape behind another nearby gravestone with a bush growing up against it. A sliver of moonlight revealed part of the boyâ€™s shoulder. Ella-Marie saw him as well. Michael walked over.
In the darkness, unseen by them, Billy put his finger to his lips once again.
â€œWhyâ€™d you move?â€ Michael hissed.
Billy didnâ€™t answer.
â€œAll right Billy, Richardâ€™s not back yet, so weâ€™re going to go back to town,â€ Michael said. â€œSee if we can find him.â€
â€œWe gotta get outta these woods,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Billy put his hand up into the moonlight and gave them a thumbs up.
â€œYou okay?â€ Ella-Marie said.
The thumb stayed up.
â€œAre you coming with us or â€¦â€ Michael said.
The thumb turned down.
â€œAll right,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œYou canâ€™t just stay here! He canâ€™t just stay here! Michael, talk some sense into him!â€
â€œBilly â€¦â€ he said.
â€œWe canâ€™t leave him!â€ she said. â€œOut here all alone! This is just idiocy!â€
Michael leaned forward and slapped Billy in the face.
â€œMike!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œBilly!â€ Michael said. â€œBilly! You are not staying out here by your God-damned self!â€
* * *
Jebidiah gasped when he heard the slap.
â€œThat sounds way too familiar,â€ Teddy said. â€œI believe thereâ€™s a fight going on.â€
* * *