Ghost in the Graveyard
Evans City, PA
“I can’t believe you haven’t ever played Ghost in the Graveyard,” Henry said. “What planet are you from?”
“What planet am I from?” his cousin Noah repeated with emphasis. “What planet are you from? You’re the one trying to climb into a cemetery at night.”
“I’m not trying,” Henry disagreed. “I’m succeeding.”
Henry was in an oak tree, straddling a thick branch that extended over an eight-foot high brick wall. The wall completely surrounded Evans City Cemetery. His plan was to hang a rope over the wall so that he and his friends—Noah included—could climb in and out of the cemetery. The only other access was a gate, and that was locked.
On the ground below him, Noah stood with two of Henry’s neighborhood friends, Carter and Emily. The three clutched flashlights and shone them up on Henry as he worked.
“Are you almost done?” Noah asked.
“Try not to sound so scared,” Carter said, nudging Noah with an elbow.
Noah wasn’t scared exactly, but he would’ve preferred to be elsewhere. Like inside watching TV or playing videos game. Or reading a book in bed. Anywhere but a dark cemetery at night. Not that he would admit that out loud.
“I’m cool,” he said.
“I don’t know,” Emily remarked slowly, shining her flashlight on his face. “You look awfully pale to me.”
“You sure do,” Carter nodded. “You’re as pale as a ghost. Maybe you should be it first.” By it, he meant be the ghost in their game.
“Get that out of my face,” Noah snapped, swinging his flashlight around like a lightsaber. He pointed it in
Emily’s eyes until she lowered her light. “So I’ve never played Ghost in the Graveyard before,” he continued.
“Big deal. Why do we have to play in a real graveyard anyway?”
“It’s the name of the game, cuz,” Henry said from overhead. “And we like to live dangerously.”
Noah grunted, unamused. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. How can a graveyard be dangerous?”
Carter and Emily answered at the same time like creepy twins in a horror movie. “Mr. Romero,” they chanted.
“Mr. Who?” Noah shrugged. The name didn’t sound particularly frightening to him.
“He’s the cemetery’s caretaker,” Carter clarified. “His name is Mr. Romero.”
“If he finds us in here at night, it’ll be trouble,” Emily said.
Still in the tree, Henry laughed. “Just like last time!” he hooted.
Noah shot his cousin a troubled look. “What do you mean? What happened last time?”
“Mr. Romero caught me trying to climb the gate,” Henry explained. “He started yelling, waving his arms, and chasing after me.”
“He was coming to get you, Henry!” Emily snickered.
“Yeah he was,” Henry agreed, laughing again. “I ran like crazy. Good thing the old guy moved as slow as a zombie.”
The three neighborhood friends laughed, but Noah didn’t join them. He scowled in the dark. Ghosts, graveyards, zombies, and creepy old caretakers. He was already tired of cheap scares and Halloween wasn’t for another month!
Henry finished knotting the rope and tossed it over the far side of the cemetery wall. “Here I go,” he announced. “Wish me luck!” Then he dropped from the branch, slid down the rope, and disappeared from view.
Everyone else held their breath, waiting and wondering. Did Henry land safely? Was he OK? Had Mr. Romero spotted him? The chirping of crickets filled the air, seeming unnaturally loud, and Noah wanted to scream. Hurry up!
Finally the rope fluttered as it flew over the wall and slapped softly against the bricks. Henry was safe and had tossed the rope across for the next climber.
“Girls first,” Emily called, snatching the rope and starting to ascend. She was up and over the wall in seconds, a satisfied smile on her face the whole way.
Carter followed her and Noah went last. He wasn’t eager to play in the graveyard, and seeing it up close didn’t change his mind. It bewildered him. When his feet touched solid ground and he let go of the rope, he frowned in confusion.
Evans City Cemetery was covered in plastic. Big gray tarps were draped over every headstone, grave marker, and memento. Except for the lumps beneath the tarps, the graveyard looked like a baseball field during a rain delay.
“Why’s everything covered up?” Noah wondered out loud. He had heard of grave blankets, but the tarps were extreme.
“I don’t know,” Henry admitted.
“Maybe Mr. Romero is conducting experiments,” Emily suggested in a spooky voice. “He could be Dr. Frankenstein in disguise.” She stuck out her arms and lumbered around like Frankenstein’s famous green monster, bumping into her friends.
Noah shook his head but grinned. Emily was fearless and her courage was reassuring. She was like a hero from a Knightscares book.
“Let’s see what’s under these tarps,” Henry proposed, and his friends were eager to oblige.
“What about Ghost in the Graveyard?” Noah said quickly. He hadn’t wanted to play the game before, but peeking under the plastic seemed like a worse idea. The tarps had to be there for a reason. And in a graveyard he dreaded what that reason would be.
“You’re not scared again, are you?” Carter teased him.
Noah responded with a jibe of his own. “Haven’t you ever seen a scary movie? You’re not supposed to disturb stuff in a graveyard. Everyone knows that.”
“Aw, chill out, guys,” Henry told them. “It’s not like we’re digging up a coffin.”
Everyone but Noah began pulling up one of the tarps. It wasn’t easy. The tarp was heavy and thick like a boat cover. It was also as wide as a garage door and twice as long.
“You could help,” Carter grumbled, “instead of just standing there.”
“No thanks,” Noah replied bluntly.
“Will you be our lookout then?” Emily asked. “We don’t want any ghosts sneaking up on us.”
“Or Mr. Romero,” Henry amended.
“Sure, I’ll watch for him,” Noah said.
He wandered away from the others and shut off his flashlight, afraid its beam would give him away in the dark. Noah didn’t want Mr. Romero to see him before he saw Mr. Romero.
Fortunately a big round moon filled the night with silvery light. Was it the Harvest Moon? Noah thought so. That was the full moon that occurred during the fall equinox. It was named the Harvest Moon because farmers could harvest their crops late into the evening in the unusually bright moonlight.
“Noah, come here,” Henry called. His voice was a whisper but it carried easily across the empty cemetery.
He and Emily had shoved one of the tarps back about twenty feet to the right. Carter had singlehandedly pushed a second tarp just as far to the left. Yet to Noah’s relief, neither tarp revealed anything unusual. Just rows of typical headstones set among neatly trimmed grass.
That suited Noah. No ghosts and no Mr. Romero. He considered it a win.
“I guess there’s nothing to see,” he said hopefully. “We should probably go.”
Kneeling on the grass, Carter let his hands fall to his thighs in defeat. “Yeah, I give up. The Mystery of the Plastic Cemetery remains unsolved.”
Emily nodded. “It’s getting late.”
Henry, though, refused to leave. “Why would someone cover an entire graveyard in plastic? There has to be a reason.” He spread his arms and rotated slowly. “Why, why, why?”
He stopped when Noah pointed behind him.
“Maybe because of that,” Noah said quietly, and everyone turned.
The ground that had been covered by the tarp was smoking in the moonlight. Chalky white vapors rose from it like steam from a kettle.
“Is it burning?” Carter wondered.
Henry shook his head and took several steps backward. “That can’t be good.”
Understatement, Noah thought. “We should go before—”
“Look out!” Emily exclaimed, whirling with a terrified look on her face.
More vapors were rising all around them. They steamed from quarter-sized holes in the ground above every uncovered grave. Noah peered into the nearest hole and saw something wriggle inside it.
A dirty finger.
He didn’t wait to see what it was attached to.
“G-guys …?” he hissed, but the impossible happened. An entire hand thrust up out of the dirt. It was gray and filthy and had long, cracked yellow fingernails.
“Run!” Henry cried. “Go! Get out of here!”
The kids bolted as dozens of hands erupted from the ground. Some of them were avocado green; others were the sickly color of drowned worms. All of them clawed toward the sky as if trying to grasp the huge Harvest Moon.
Noah tried not to look at them. He knew what the hands belonged to. He knew but didn’t want to believe.
“Ahh, zombies!” he wailed. It was an undead uprising!
“Get to the rope!” Henry shouted.
“Girls first!” Emily repeated from earlier. This time, though, she wasn’t smiling.
The four jetted across the graveyard like bandits on the run. Everywhere they looked, zombies were digging up out of their graves. An awful moaning filled the air, hungry and relentless.
Noah and the others weaved in and out of tombstones, avoiding the ghastly hands that sought to clutch their ankles. The scene was like a real game of Ghost in the Graveyard. Only now the ghosts were ghouls.
“There’s too many!” Emily shouted, dodging a zombie that had pulled itself waist-deep out of the grave. It wore a tattered suit coat covered in worms. Noah gagged at the sight.
“Keep running!” Carter hollered. “I can see the tree! We’re almost there!”
“No!” Henry’s shriek was so bloodcurdling that everyone stopped. “Someone cut the rope.”
He stood panting at the base of the oak tree. All eyes followed his to the branch to which he had tied the rope. The knot remained. So did a short strip of rope.
Nine feet above the ground.
“We’re trapped!” Emily howled. “How are we going to get out of here?”
“The gate,” Noah said, turning and starting to run again. The others followed just as fast. They slowed quickly.
Zombies were everywhere now—dozens of them, maybe hundreds. They shambled throughout the graveyard, snapping the air and moaning. Always moaning. The constant hungry noise made Henry want to scream. Still in the lead, Henry dodged a small zombie. It clutched a dirty baby doll in one hand while clawing after him with the other.
“Nasty!” he shouted, twisting to evade the zombie’s grasp.
Carter didn’t try to avoid it. He lowered his shoulder like a football player trying to break a tackle and crashed into the monster, knocking it down. The baby doll flew from its gray hand.
“Zombies beware!” Carter howled, throwing back his head. He juked in a little dance, paying no attention to his feet.
So when the zombie clutched his shoe, he fell.
Emily screamed and desperately reached for him, but the zombies arrived first. Dozens of dirty hands grasped the boy—his shirt, his hair, his legs. They caught him wherever they could and dragged him into the dark.
“Carter, no!” Emily wailed.
Henry snatched her arm and pulled. “We’ll get help and come back for him!”
The little group ran on, now only three.
A gravel road appeared and they veered left onto it. There were no zombies ahead of them. Tarps still covered this part of the cemetery. The kids had a straight shot to the gate.
“We’re almost there!” Henry shouted.
“I can’t believe we’re going to get out of this crazy place,” Emily said.
Noah couldn’t believe it either, especially when he saw the scarecrow-thin figure teetering on the other side of the gate. Was it a zombie? Had one escaped ahead of them? Was anywhere still safe?
Henry skidded to a halt and threw his arms wide to stop his friends.
“Mr. Romero!” he gasped.
The figure outside the gate wasn’t a zombie. It was the cemetery’s caretaker.
Mr. Romero was old enough to be a great grandfather. His ragged white beard was sparse, which matched the wispy hair on his wrinkled, balding head. A pair of huge black-rimmed glasses was perched on his long nose, but he barely glanced at the kids when they arrived. He was too busy looping a thick chain around the gate.
“What are you doing?” Noah demanded. “Stop! Don’t lock us in. We have to get out of here.”
“There are zombies everywhere!” Henry exclaimed.
The elderly caretaker threaded the shackle of a heavy padlock through the chain.
“Tonight’s the Harvest Moon,” he said in a surprisingly strong voice.
“Good for the moon,” Emily snapped. “Now let us out of here!”
Mr. Romero continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “I must cover the graves every Harvest Moon. If I don’t, the dead will rise and seek a harvest. Only afterward will they sleep again.”
“What does that have to do with us?” Noah asked. He cast a glance over his shoulder and saw zombies approaching.
Mr. Romero looked into Noah’s frightened eyes and smiled sadly. Then he snapped the padlock shut, locking it.
“You’re tonight’s harvest,” he said.
Thanks for reading!
Copyright © 2014 Sigil Publishing, Inc.
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