Written in response to the following from Reedsy’s story prompts: “Start your story with two characters deciding to spend the night in a graveyard.”
The rust-chewed chainlink fence glowed neon in the moonlight. There were no streetlights on Hearthstone Drive. At least, not on this block. There was no reason for trick-or-treaters to come this way, where there were no houses. The sight of the LED lamps was starting to fade in Russell’s memory. As he stared along the fence, the chainlinks on the top looked more like barbed-wire than anything, an endless set of teeth. This was a prison they could never—should never—break into.
Ahead, Gary looked back. “C’mon, dude. Just up here.”
I should turn back, thought Russell. Swing myself around and head back downhill. Gary’d be none the wiser—
“Dude!” said Gary again, waiting. The eagerness on his face became a ghastly mask beneath his straw-colored mop of hair.
Sighing, Russell caught up, averting his eyes from the fence, and the army of ghostly shapes waiting behind it.
Past a gnarly cluster of maples, Gary stopped. Ecstasy illuminated his face, his teeth. He spread his arms like a TV personality presenting a prize. “See! Look at it, man! No one—”
“Keep your voice down!”
Gary lowered his volume by one decibel. “No one’s gonna suspect—I mean, expect—us to be in there.”
A giant stone gateway broke the fence, iron bars climbing up like a jail cell. The words in the overhead arch spelled OAKHILL CEMETERY.
Russ looked at the vacant trees behind them across the street, the empty shadows swimming.
“What if someone sees us?”
Gary gave him his gimme a break look, and without further ado he approached the gate. The chainlink was like the ones around construction zones, twelve feet high, nasty to climb. The gate’s iron bars were close and there was no getting through them … but the gap underneath, between the metal and the road, was a different story. It was narrow, but Gary and Russell were skinny guys.
Gary stopped, dropped, and wriggled through. A wave of shadows enveloped him. Russ, staring, could only see the iron bars now.
“You comin, man?”
Gary took a breath, dropped to one knee, and made a show of tying his shoe.
Russell shrugged off his backpack, setting it beside the gate. Then he fell to the ground. As he squirmed through, a vision electrified him—the iron bars descending like a castle’s booby-trap, slicing through flesh and bone, pinning him here—
And then he was through. He pulled his book bag under the gate toward him, straightening up.
Gary was a phantom, already twenty feet ahead.
Side-by-side now, a little farther, they stopped. They let their eyes adjust, taking in the sights.
“Dude,” said Gary in grim respect.
Oakhill didn’t have many oaks—those lying bastards—but the ‘hill’ part was true. An enormous one rose like a mountain, with a family of smaller hills surrounding it. Gray stones of every shape and size spread out, granite pieces from the world’s largest board game, glowing white and black.
A chill crept up Russell’s spine like a spider, and he shivered, telling himself the weather caused it.
Gary marched ahead, and he followed.
“This is pointless, you know,” Russ said. “No one’s gonna be out here.”
Russell didn’t have to see Gary’s face to imagine the skepticism painted there.
“Okay … maybe. But how long’re we gonna wait? Even if someone does come, what if we never see ’em?”
Gary spun to him. “Look, man—we’re already here. If you’re feelin chickenshit now, then, well … tough titty.”
Russell would never admit that. It wasn’t that the graveyard terrified him exactly; there were just a million other places he could think to spend his night.
Plus, even though it was impossible, being among the tombs gave voice to a sinister thought: what if they weren’t alone? What if they saw something not … of this mortal realm?
Russell shook the idea away. They climbed the path, nearing the largest hill and the moonlight’s brushstrokes. What Gary’s plan was, Russ didn’t really know, but if it was anything like his other schemes, it was probably stupid as hell.
“Come here,” came Gary’s voice.
The suddenness of the sound creeped him out more than Russell could say.
“What is it?” He approached Gary, who stood looking down at someone’s grave.
Russell focused, but the shadows swam, and he couldn’t make out what he was supposed to see. Then a flash of light invaded the scene, and he blinked.
“Put that away!” he hissed.
Gary, holding his phone’s flashlight, made a performance of looking all around the cemetery. “Don’t see anyone, man. Keep your pants on.”
Russell’s jaw tightened, but his curiosity welled; he leaned closer, looking at the stone plaque.
DEATH IS NOT FOREVER, it read.
“Spooky, right?” said Gary with a grin. “What kinda weirdo would put that on a grave?”
Gary punched his arm, and as usual, the punch was harder than it needed to be. “C’mon. You gotta lighten up. Where’s the Russell who’s always cracking jokes? Don’t look so serious, man.”
“I’m just cold,” said Russell. Gary stared. “What? You know these clothes aren’t exactly insulating me.”
Russell turned back to the epitaph. A tomb-style stone coffin stretched eight feet behind it.
“Whoa!” Gary had just seen it too, and he climbed the grass, inspecting it. “Dude, this …”
“Get away from there.” Russ’s heart thumped like a fist knocking against rock.
Gary ignored him, balancing his phone on the edge of the tomb’s lid. In the beam of the flashlight, he ran his fingers along the corner. Then he gripped, straining as he tried to lift the lid.
Gary stepped back, defeated. “Man. That thing is heavy. Too bad, woulda been perfect.”
“Come back down here.”
Gary rejoined him and they walked on. Bare maple branches reached to grab them, but they ducked.
Then, bold shadows climbed, fleeing across the tombstones ahead.
Russell stopped and looked over his shoulder, where headlights bright as pale suns blinded him.
He grabbed Gary by the jacket and pulled him behind a large cross-shaped monument.
“What’s the deal?” Gary shrugged free of Russ’s grasp. “This is what we’re waiting for! Company has arrived.” A fiendish smile spread across his face, and he peered around the cross.
“They’ll see you!”
Finally, the headlights tumbled over gravestones, and the shadows settled again.
“Where’d they go?” Russ asked.
“Turned down a side road. I dunno, lost sight of ’em behind that tree. It was a truck ….”
“How’d they get in here, Gary? It’s closed.”
Gary was unperturbed. “Dunno. Could’ve finagled the back entrance. Find some imagination, Russ.”
Russell slapped Gary’s shoulder with the backside of his hand. “C’mon, let’s get outta here. We’ve seen the sights.”
“Yeah, right.” And Gary pulled back, away from his quarry, returning to Russell’s side.
But as he did, he caught sight of something and froze.
Russell’s heart stopped, but when blood flow resumed, he followed Gary’s gaze. It was a moment before something materialized out of the darkness.
“No,” he said firmly.
Gary stared like Russell had a deadly and contagious affliction. “C’mon. It’s perfect. Just what we need.”
“How are we even gonna …?” He couldn’t finish the question.
Gary didn’t respond, but clambered downhill, approaching the object of his desire: a small mausoleum, spiderwebbed with moonlight.
Russell had no choice but to follow.
It was almost Greek in its design. Ten feet high, the size of a gazebo, but square. Russ threw an uneasy glance up the hill, but saw no sign of the truck or the visitors … only more moonlight, more headstones, more nighttime. Somewhere, voices screamed. Faraway trick-or-treaters.
Gary was already at the mausoleum’s entrance. A small window nestled inside the narrow double doorway. A padlock as large as a human heart barred the way.
“Forget it,” Russ said.
Gary, who had never forgotten anything in his life, was inspecting the door and the lock. “What’s this?” He read the bold-lettered inscription above the doors: “Resurgemus.”
A cool wind scurried up Russell’s spine. “Latin.” He was taking the class this semester, lucky him. “It means ‘We will rise.’”
“Damn,” said Gary in awe. Then he leaned toward the lock. “It’s all rusted.”
“Makes sense. Says they died in 1890 and 1899. Probably not a lot of visitors.”
“So? Maybe we can bust it.”
Russell looked at Gary like he had suggested assassinating the President of the United States. “Dude, isn’t that, like . . . illegal?”
Gary, for whom the word “illegal” was only an exotic spice to flavor life, shrugged. “They won’t notice. Like you said, no one visits anymore.”
And he knelt in the grass, searching.
“Don’t.” But Russell knew it was futile.
Gary rose, wielding a misshapen rock as though it were a nugget of gold. Before Russell could blink, let alone cry out, he had smashed it into the padlock. The lock looked the same, not even a dent, but with the second strike, it collapsed and clattered to the steps below.
Russell’s friend shot him a look of pure triumph before pulling the door. The groan of the hinges and the growl of the moving stone were loud as a movie theater soundtrack, and Russ jumped.
Doors open, the mausoleum yawned. Inside, Russell glimpsed a tomb to the left and right, a fragmented stained-glass window to the rear wall. The space inside reminded him of an elevator.
“Perfect,” said Gary. “Now, we wait. Soon as they come this way …”
“And if they don’t?”
“Shut up. Better get ready. Open your bag.”
“Why don’t you do it?” Russell said, in a half-heartedly convincing tone. “Isn’t this the most fun part?”
“Dude. We’ve been over this. You’re taller, it’ll be way scarier if you do it. C’mon, get ready.”
Sighing, Russell knelt to his bag. His outfit was almost complete: his jeans and shirt ripped to near tatters, feet peeking out of his oldest pair of sneakers. Gary’s sister had artfully applied makeup, and Russell’s skin shone paler than usual, his lips bloodless.
Gary adjusted the mausoleum’s doors, closing the right one and cracking the left by a couple feet. “We’ll leave it like this.” He looked to Russell. “Rub some more dirt on.”
Russell knelt to the ground and gathered soil, cool to the touch, adding some to his neck, his hands, his face. Then he took a plastic tub from his bag and opened it, pulling out the white strands.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Gary excitedly.
Russell, feeling stupider by the second, stretched the fake cobwebs into his hair, his shoulders, and anywhere else it would stay.
“And the finishing touch …,” said Gary.
From the smallest pocket, Russell fished out a tiny clamshell container, flicking it open. Carefully, with only the moonlight to guide him, he used his fingertip to bring each of the pair of contacts to his eyes, blinking until they were secure.
He looked at Gary, who jumped back.
“Whoa, man! You look scary as fuck.” He enacted a fake shiver, laughing. “That’s so awesome, I bet—
“Oh shit, here they come.”
Gary ushered a spookefied Russell toward the mausoleum’s doors. As the cloaks of darkness within reached toward him, Russ found his feet gripping the concrete, trying to slam on the brakes. Gary pushed him onward with ease.
“You know what to do. You’ll be great,” he whispered as Russell slipped through the doors and into shadows.
He didn’t like this. No, he didn’t like this one bit. Russell turned around, his back to the stained glass. The door might as well have been closed. The slivers of moonlight from outside didn’t reach him, and the darkness felt complete. To each side, the tombs lay quiet, sleepy … but not dead. Not dead, no. Russell thought there was a quiet thrumming quality to them, a restlessness. A feeling of waiting.
He was supposed to be waiting himself, and listening. But his pounding heart echoed off the stone insides, loud and drumlike. A primal fear filled him, and he was sure his heart would clang on the stone tombs, reverberate within, into the coffins, shaking up dead bones and waiting spirits.
Now that he was alone, Gary was having less fun. The crowds of gravestones rose and fell, making him feel like a castaway on a sea of death. Moonlight glimmered like a dying bulb in the sky. Crows flew like ghouls.
He had heard the people coming, but now he didn’t. Their voices had swelled, then faded. But he didn’t let himself believe they were leaving. No way he would go back to the mausoleum and tell Russell never mind, come out.
They would come.
He’d hidden behind a large headstone, but now he crept back out, looking around. He cast a glance back to Russell’s hiding place, but of course nothing had changed. Climbing the stone path, he walked twenty feet ahead, keeping his eyes peeled in the darkness.
There—he saw the people moving behind that monument—
But no. It was only branches waving at him. Waving and then stilling. His heart thundered, but Gary wouldn’t admit that he was afraid. Excited, yes, but not scared.
Finally, he realized that the visitors—whoever they were—had left. He hadn’t seen the truck, but they had exited some other way. And as excited as he was, it wasn’t fair to keep Russ waiting so long.
Besides, he was done being alone.
He went back—first walking, then speedwalking—to the mausoleum. The doors were just as he had left them.
“Russ?” he whispered. Why was he whispering? He didn’t know.
Gary whipped his head behind him. An undeniable feeling assured him that headstones and graves were shifting and moving in the darkness. He turned back to the mausoleum.
“Russell?” he said, in a more normal voice. He stepped forward, putting a hand to the open door. “Dude, c’mon out.”
Gary peered into the shadows. No one was there, not even the glowing contacts in Russell’s eyes
He stepped inside, his eyes scanning the unfathomable interior, the stained glass, the stone walls, the tombs …. And was that Gary’s imagination, or was the opening of the left tomb cracked, slightly ajar—
The door thundered shut behind him.
Gary ran instantly, leaning his weight into it, fists pounding almost as much as his heart.
“RUSSELL! RUSSELL, HELP!”
Over his shoulder, Gary sensed shadows slithering, tombs opening like long-shut eyes, the fragrant incense of the dead climbing out to greet him ….
“RUSSELL MAN YOU GOTTA HELP ME YOU GOTTA—”
The door rolled open like a tumbling boulder and Gary fell out, almost face-down. He recovered, standing on wavering feet, before cackles filled his ears, the bloodthirsty, earsplitting chittering of a monster, a heinous demon—
Russell stood, doubled over, laughing his ass off.
Gary lunged to punch him, but Russell jumped back, wiping his eyes. The glowing contacts were gone.
“Man, did you hear yourself?”
“Shut up,” Gary muttered.
“‘Help me Russell help me!’”
Gary got him, once, in the stomach, and Russ’s laughter stopped.
“Whatsamatter, man? Was that too real? Hey, it was basically your idea.”
“Fuck you. Let’s just get outta here.”
Russell got his backpack and they trudged uphill. Clouds swam, cloaking the moon, and the graves jittered and jived like ghoulish illusions. Russ was still high from his prank, but the elation was leaving like helium from a balloon, and the old fear was settling back in with a cool familiarity. He wanted to get the hell out of here too.
They crested the hill and there, far below, he glimpsed the chainlink fence, the bars of iron. The sight renewed him like a mirage in the desert; he quickened, Gary struggling to keep up, onward to—
To their right, stone growled against stone.
Gary let out a cry and took off running downhill.
“What the fuck?” Russell’s legs disobeyed, stopping. His eyes searched for the sound.
The lid of a tomb was sliding, making dust and cobwebs dance and shiver.
It was opening.
Russell, now carved of stone like the monuments and mausoleums, could only stand and watch in pure terror. Somewhere below, Gary, a peripheral shadow, charged toward the entrance.
This couldn’t be real.
The tomb’s cover tipped and fell. The darkness within was frozen. A smell worse than raw sewage slipped out toward him.
Then—nothing. Russell tried to unfreeze his legs, slow his heart, make himself move.
Something lifted from the shadows. Pale in the moonlight, stringy and sinewy, with the slimy remains of a dress clinging to it, a skeleton sat upright. Its grinning skull gleamed like neon.
For a moment, Russell could only watch in disbelief.
Then, the skeleton pushed against the side of the tomb, and started climbing out.
Russ’s body thawed and his legs took orders again. Turning from the nightmare, Russell ran disjointedly down the hill. The distance between him and the gate had doubled, tripled. Gary had vanished, was probably halfway home. As the darkness swarmed and the hill grew steeper, he wondered wildly how fast a skeleton could run. How far could it leap, how high could it jump?
Russell ran on, and on, shoving the fear aside, as wild animal sounds erupted somewhere behind.
The skeleton sat frozen in the tomb, staring sightlessly. Nearby, laughter roared, echoing off the stones and the trees. Two men rolled on the path, hardly containing themselves. One clutched a remote control.
At last, they sat up. They found each other’s faces, and the gales of laughter resumed. When it stopped, the older one, Walter, wiped his streaming eyes.
“Man, that don’t get old. How many’s that?”
“Hmm … ten, I think?” said Eric. “Pretty good night. Better’n last year.”
“We done good.” Walter stood. He flicked a switch on the remote, and, with a jerk, the skeleton sank into a robotic slumber. “Now, we better clean this shit up, ’fore the boss finds it tomorrow.”