Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Halloween Short: Graveyard Guardians
(This is one of a series of Halloween Short fictional pieces I’ve written just for the blog and for this wonderfully spooky month, hoping to capture the magic of the season of autumn and the mystery of Halloween. These are meant to be only a glimpse into the supernatural, enough to tantalize for a brief escape.)
The dog skipped past a line of white crosses. His owner, Nate Milton, cringed when his Jack Russell terrier lifted his leg and peed on the unmarked grave.
“Jesus, Butch!” He growled. “Get over here!”
The little white and brown patched dog panted hard as he rushed off to chase a squirrel from atop of an above ground crypt.
Nate stopped and looked around the abandoned cemetery on the edge of town. He wouldn’t have come here at all except the car ride had been so long, he knew Butch needed a walk and a bathroom break. Admittedly, he’d needed to stretch his legs.
This part of the Pennsylvania farmland was unknown to him. He’d barely been this far north before. The autumn colors in late October were at their peak and admittedly it was a blazing sight of blood red and sunshine yellow up against the stark granite headstones. In fact, the trees were planted to line the gravel pathway within like neat and tidy sentinels. A few dead crumbling leaves swirled around his boots and Nate shivered against the wet cold breeze. The clouds were thick and the sunlight was almost gone now. He could see the entire 2-acre cemetery, but it was fast becoming harder to focus on.
In fact, as he narrowed his eyes, Butch was rushing back up to him, digging at his pants leg excitedly and looking at him with that expression that said, “I’m done.”
“Okay, okay.” He smiled. “Let’s go you fur head.”
As he made his way past a tall stone mausoleum, Nate stopped and turned. The distinct crunch of footsteps on the gravel driveway alerted him. Beside him, Butch barked urgently and then sat on his haunches and growled lowly. That was a new sound for his dog.
“Who is it, boy?” He asked nervously and then tried to focus on the deepening shadows. The trees lining the gravel driveway were slapping wildly and their neon colors were nearly blinding in an otherwise bloodless scene.
Butch ducked behind Nate.
“Big baby. It’s probably a squirrel and you’re missing out on chasing it.” He snickered and turned to continue on to his car.
A strong whoosh like a purposeful wind knocked Nate forward. He stumbled slightly and looked over his shoulder, certain something just brushed past him, knocking him off balance.
“What the hell was that?” He searched the trees and darkening sky. “Go get it!” He told Butch and waved his hand.
The dog just stared out into the darkening recesses of the cemetery, his head moving from the left to the right slowly as if he were tracking something. Nate focused his eyes in the direction of a line of trees. From behind one something black and tall moved. It vanished behind another tree. Then, it continued on past the next tree and the next.
Nate instinctively took a step back realizing he didn’t know a lot about cemeteries and avoided them most his life, but he knew enough that someone in a graveyard at night was up to no good.
“Come on.” He whispered to his dog.
Butch remained still.
Nate looked up again to see what progress the man was making.
“Holy shit!” He spat. The dark figure was suddenly 20 feet away, leaned against a tree trunk, ankles crossed, studying him. Oh, he didn’t know if the son-of-a-bitch was looking right at him, but he couldn’t imagine him striking that pose for no one.
Nate cleared his throat and spoke out to the dark silhouette. “Hey, how’s it going?” He decided to take the nonthreatening guy next door attitude that might put the man at ease.
The figure straightened up from the tree. It was then that Nate realized the guy was huge. He had to lean back to try and study a face that was nothing more than shadow. Looking at him in proportion to headstone beside him, he had to be unbelievably huge. That was the very headstone Nate had sat atop of while Butch did his business. It was 3’ off the ground. The stone was just below the man’s knee.
That would make him over 9-fucking-feet tall!
Cautiously, his heart beat hastening, Nate patted his leg and backed up, hoping Butch wouldn’t decide to greet the man like he did every person in the dog park. He bumped straight into a tree and gasped. Turning away and realizing he should just walk briskly and confidently to his car, he took off, breath puffing cold in front of him as he passed the beautiful trees without any appreciation for their glory. His mind was focused on the hood of his car. He could see it barely in the distance.
He looked down to see Butch wasn’t following.
“Butch?” He called out. “Come on boy.”
His eyes focused on the white of his dog’s coat as he sat on his haunches before the tall man. The giant bent at the waist to hold out a hand. Nate tried to hold back his desperate need to scream bloody murder to get his dog away from him when Butch came over and licked the stranger’s palm. Nate took a breath finally, realizing this man was no threat and the dying light must have made him seem taller than he actually was. Still, as he approached his dog hurriedly, Nate could see his dog looked like a flea next to this…freak.
“Come on, Butch.” He called out.
Just then, the man stood back up again, backed into the tree. Nate stepped closer and for a split second the details of the giant could be viewed. Its face was rugged and strangely bumpy and brown, his eyes dark and opaque, and his hair was wildly colorful and floating in the wind in a strange rhythmic dance. His height was enormous. More than 9 feet easily. Nate craned his neck to see the face just as the giant stepped back and melted into the tree’s bark, the hair dancing in the bright leaves overhead, the bulges of muscles becoming sinewy knots in the trunk of the tree.
“You s-saw that, right?” He stammered to his dog who barked at the tree wildly. Butch came over and started scratching at the bumpy bark. Nate lifted a trembling hand and followed the deep ridges. The more he focused his vision on it, the more it appeared to be an arm, a part of a leg, a bump of a shoulder, the bulge of a nose, and the dancing colorful leaves above just like the thing’s hair.
Nate gathered up his dog into his arms. The little terrier was shaking wildly. Just as he turned to leave, a golden leaf fell from the tree and danced down between him and his dog. He lifted it and studied the leaf, turning back to the tree with a shiver of revulsion. He dropped it to the ground. Yet another leaf fell and landed in the same place. Nate dropped it quickly. When a third leaf fell, he turned back to the tree and stuffed the leaf into his pocket. The tree stopped dancing in the wind. The air became thick and wet. The first drops of rain fell as Nate literally ran to his car.
Inside the Mustang, he locked the doors and squinted at the dark graveyard. When he turned on the headlights to leave, he pulled the golden leaf from his pocket. Afraid to get rid of it now, he placed it on the dashboard. Butch barked and the hairs tingled on his neck and Nate looked up.
The headlights shone into the cemetery in a hazy mist as the rain began to pour in earnest. A tall dark shadow moved between headstones. Then another one joined it. Then another one.
Nate put his foot on the break, put the car into reverse, and slowly backed up as Butch barked wildly from the passenger seat.
“I know, I know, boy.” He told him, more to comfort himself than the dog. It appeared as if a dance of dark tall shadows were claiming the cemetery for the nighttime in some wild and chilling pagan dance in the icy rain.
His car squealed as he entered the paved roadway. Nate didn’t look back. But, he did glance nervously at the dashboard to find the yellow leaf was gone. He felt along the dashboard with his icy trembling fingers and gave up with a half sob of relief that he no longer had the strange token of madness. Butch rushed to the back seat and barked as he looked out the rear windshield.
Nate turned his rear view mirror upwards. He didn’t want to know what Butch was seeing.
at 6:11 PM