By Stephanie Smith
“Come on. Let’s go!”
Corey didn’t wait for his friend, Rick. He hopped on his bike without hesitation and started down the dirt path behind his house, behind the crowd of his mom’s cherished zucchinis and squash, away from the din of the adult world. The path branched out into three trails leading into a thin wood. In a child’s mind this was where reality ended and imagination began.
“Wait up!” Rick threw back his kickstand and raced after him. He was slightly heavier than most of the boys at school, way heavier than Corey’s scrawny physique. He was heaving and huffing by the time he reached the middle trail, sucking in the smell of burnt leaves from the neighborhood.
They came upon a long forgotten graveyard. Although small, it seemed to stretch out forever. The area was a conglomeration of trees and tombstones. A murky pond hid behind a stone wall towards the back.
They no sooner began throwing pebbles in the pond when they heard it:
Rick’s muscles tensed.
“Ah, it’s probably just a squirrel,” Corey assured him, although it probably didn’t do much good, for Rick was the type of kid who flinched at the sound of someone sneezing, who would piss his pants if he heard a car backfire.
The two of them walked along the other side of the pond. Barren branches creaked around them, wavering in the rust-colored air. On the ground a twig snapped, producing a sound like a broken bone.
Rick began to sweat, even in the cold autumn air.
“It sounds like someone’s following us.”
“Don’t wet yourself.”
Corey decided to investigate, leaving Rick cowering on his bike like a dog caught with his tail between his legs -- if only for a few minutes, for panic flight took hold. He ran looking for his friend. The sound of footsteps on the leaves crept up on him but there was never anyone around when he looked back.
“Corey! Where are --”
Rick tripped over a branch hidden beneath the leaves, He had his arms stretched out in diving stance, preparing for a harsh landing, but something broke his fall:
The fresh carcass of an animal, possibly a small dog. The thing in the soil bared little resemblance to the animal it once was. Its insides were a splattered abstraction spread out on a tombstone marker.
Rick gagged and could no longer hold in his stomach contents, quickly regurgitating the grilled cheese sandwich he ate for lunch.
His nose plugged up with mucus, his eyes with tears. He wiped his mouth with his jacket sleeve then his nose then his eyes. But tears continued to trickle down his puffy cheeks.
Meanwhile Corey wandered around, oblivious to Rick’s cries. He, too, was hearing the footsteps, yet seeing squat.
Dark clouds covered up the sun and it began to drizzle. Corey felt a slight wind coming up from behind making his hair stand on end. Voices whispered to him from inside that wind. The leaves began to blow in a cyclone of fury. Something was watching him, lurking from behind any rational explanation.
Fear held Rick in a stranglehold. His insides churned. His jacket was painted with pukestains and animal blood.
“Corey, where are you?” He barely managed to utter a sound. He picked up his feet and found himself staggering through endless rows of gravestones, tumbling through fearful images in his head. He collided with Corey in the middle of it all.
Corey’s eyes were agog. “What happened to you?”
“Someone’s following us,” he whimpered in between wheezing and blowing his nose, “…or something. I swear to God. There’s a dead animal over there and…”
Corey interrupted Rick’s babbling. “Okay…let’s…let’s just go home.”
They proceeded in the direction of their bikes, remaining silent, scared to say anything at all.
But the cyclone of leaves returned. Dead leaves swirled and danced around them. The wind threw Corey harshly to the ground, rendering him immobile. The ominous sky seemed to stare down at him with a satanic grin.
It was then that a hole opened up in the air five feet from the ground, vomiting out a fetid flora like rotting garbage left out in the summer sun. It grabbed a hold of Rick. Like a vacuum it began to suck him in.
“Corey, help!” Rick emanated a thin shriek and then he was gone.
“Rick?” Corey struggled to get up, but it was too late.
The ground began to rumble below him. He heard whispers coming from all around. The hole gaped open once again. Blood showered the tombstones. Was it Rick’s? He’ll never know.
He ran back to his bike with the speed of an Olympian. The voices followed him all the way home.
Corey never told what really happened. Not because he feared no one would believe him, but he had a hard time believing it himself. Only that Rick disappeared that day and was never found. He never found that rip in the atmosphere. There was no evidence of any odd occurrences in the graveyard. The search party ceased after a time. Fall became winter which soon became fall once more like a vicious circle.
Corey listened intently every day for those graveyard footsteps, determined to one day see his friend again.
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I am a poet and writer living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My work has appeared in such publications as DARK FIRE FICTION, THE HORROR ZINE, NOT ONE OF US, and PAPER CROW.
Labels: Stephanie Smith