“What’s the matter?” Simon’s friend Robbie asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Simon laughed a little, but it was hollow. He was afraid of revealing how he really felt to his friend, and also of what he saw as they were walking home from school.
It was small, no larger than a briefcase, and was nestled in a thicket of shrubs, barely visible unless someone looked right at it.
Robbie noticed the look on his friend’s face. “Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked.
Simon looked away from the tombstone, acting as if he saw nothing. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he lied. “Just got a headache that’s all.”
Robbie straightened his backpack and looked at his friend. “Okay, if you say so,” he mumbled. Deciding to quickly change the subject he continued, “You wanna see if we can catch a couple of bass in Benders Lake? I got some new bait we can try out. Since it’s your birthday tomorrow maybe you’ll get lucky.”
Simon heard his friend but didn’t answer. His attention was focused on the tombstone in the bushes. It was situated in a way that allowed Simon to see it, but not too clearly; only a few vague inscriptions on its front were readable.
Simon looked at the tombstone long and hard, oblivious to Robbie’s attempts to talk to him. All he could make out on its weathered and pitted surface was a couple of dates.
“Are you all right buddy?” Robbie repeated, noticing that his friend was growing whiter by the minute.
Simon suppressed his fear and looked at his friend. “Ahh, yeah,” he mumbled in his best acting voice. “You said you wanted to go fishing?”
Robbie, delighted that Simon was finally showing interest in what he said, replied, “Yeah, Benders Lake. Let me get my fishing pole and I’ll meet you there in an hour.”
“Okay. Sounds good.”
The fear Simon felt wasn’t like anything he had experienced before. Probably because it was something unnatural, something nobody had to deal with before, on any level. And it wasn’t the first time he’d seen the tombstone either. He noticed it three days earlier as his mom drove him to a dentist appointment.
It was there, right in the middle of the sidewalk, standing defiantly for anyone to see. It was the same stone, Simon was sure of it. It was the same size, had chipped edges, and had the same dark-colored stains.
Simon watched the marker fly by the car window. He was amazed that his mother, nor any of the other people walking by, noticed it.
Robbie stopped walking and looked at Simon. “Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked.
Simon forced another smile. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
The remainder of their walk home was quiet, if not uneasy, and thankfully for Simon, void of anything out of the ordinary. No tombstones manifested themselves in bushes or on sidewalks, and since the sun was beginning to filter through the thinning clouds, Simon’s mind was gradually drifting toward spending the remainder of the day enjoying himself. “I’ll meet you at the lake in an hour,” he said.
Robbie nodded and sprinted toward his house. “See ya there.”
* * * *
The water was perfectly still. Bender Lake was like a painting, serene and silent, forever trapped in a moment. Simon stood on its banks, his fishing pole in one hand, his tackle-box in the other. He still found himself glancing around just to be sure there weren’t any tombstones around.
“Simon!” Robbie called out. He was making his way through the foliage wearing a wide grin. “Sorry I’m late. Had a few chores around the house first.”
Simon smiled back at him and the two friends situated themselves at the edge of the water near a large outcropping of rocks. Robbie sensed the uneasiness in Simon, and despite his reluctance to bring the subject up, asked him if he’d seen anything lately.
Simon looked straight into the calm waters and cast his line out. “No,” he replied sheepishly. “It must have just been my imagin…” His eyes grew large with excitement, as his line was pulled taut.
“Cool. You got something!” Robbie cried. “Quick, pull it in!”
Simon yanked on the line hard and began reeling his catch in. Whatever it was it was big.
The tombstone’s pitted face broke the surface of the water, gleaming in the sunlight. Simon glared at it for a moment in disbelief before releasing his line, allowing the marker to sink back to the lake’s murky depths. “Simon, what’s the matter?”
Simon didn’t answer. His hands were shaking so badly he dropped his pole. It fell to the ground and came to rest at the edge of the water. He stood up, and swinging one quick glance at Robbie, proceeded to run straight for home without looking back.
His father was just getting out of his car in the driveway when Simon sprinted past him. “Hey there big guy. Your mother and I will be leaving in about an hour and…what’s your hurry?”
Simon ignored him and flew through the front door and into the house. His only concern was reaching the safety of his bedroom where he could conceal himself from danger behind a locked door and his bed covers. He would hide, not only from the anomaly which was plaguing him, but from himself as well.
The relief Simon felt when he locked his bedroom door was immense. The familiarity of his room and the items within it greeted him with a sense of security unattainable from any other place. A smile slid across his weary face as he kicked off his shoes and crawled into his bed, exhausted and scared, but comfortable nonetheless, and inevitably sleep overtook him.
When Simon awoke the first thing he noticed was the pale moonlight streaming through his bedroom window. He glanced over at the clock next to the bed and was startled to see that it was well past midnight. Unsure of what to do he sat up in bed and stretched. He was still in his clothes, but the thought of getting out of bed didn’t appeal to him, particularly when he remembered the events of the previous day.
Had it all be a dream? Some unpleasant result of stress or too many candy bars and soda. Or had it really happened? And if so, why? His fear was starting to be replaced by another strong emotion…anger.
He did nothing wrong. He didn’t hurt anyone or damage anything. Why him?
But maybe that was just it. Perhaps there wasn’t any logical explanation at all.
Simon thought for a moment and then crawled out of bed. He walked over to the window and gazed out into the night. It was clear outside, with thousands of stars twinkling in the cool, dark sky. He scanned the yard once, twice, searching for any sense of normalcy to ease his troubled mind.
But as much as he didn’t want to, he saw it.
There, jutting up out of the ground between two small trees was the tombstone.
Simon glared at it for a moment, partly to verify that it was real, and partly to study it in some objective way, marveling at it, despite the horror it caused him, at how just one deviation from the norm could corrupt an otherwise peaceful situation. Stepping back from the window Simon kept his eye on the tombstone, as if watching it would halt its progression.
But it didn’t.
Before his eyes the marker slowly, but steadily, slid across the ground towards the house.
Within one minute it was past his mother’s line of rose bushes.
In two minutes it was at the edge of the patio.
In three minutes it was at the back door of the house.
Simon’s heart was in his throat. He entertained the brave notion of grabbing his baseball bat and confronting the thing head on, but how do you kill something that’s made of stone? All he could do was stand at his window and watch the impossible scenario in his backyard unfold.
The tombstone smacked itself against the back door of the house, inflicting several dents in the metal of the door, but not enough to breach it. After a few minutes it stopped its assault and slid back into the yard. It settled near the middle of the yard, firmly rooting itself into the ground, jiggling back and forth for a few seconds before becoming completely still. Simon watched it, marveling at how it could move by itself, wondering what it really was and why it wanted him.
And then it hit him. The phone! Why hadn’t he thought of it before? He could call for help. The sheriff, Robbie’s house, the National Guard! Anybody. Anyone at all.
He flung his bedroom door open and ran down the hallway, all the while wishing his parents would have gotten him a cell-phone. He stumbled into his parent’s bedroom and pulled the receiver next to the bed off its base.
The line was dead.
But that was only one of many questions he had for God, all of which he knew would go unanswered. He ran back to his bedroom and approached the window. Even though he didn’t want to look, he did, and instantly regretted it.
The ground in front of the tombstone was lifting up, heaving chunks of dirt and sod off to the side. The marker itself was pulsing with some type of alien life, oozing clear slime, which trickled down its face and singed the earth below. Thin plumes of blackened smoke swirled into the air at the base of the tombstone, mixing with the cool night sky. And then the slender, pale fingers punched through the surface and clawed blindly at the night, searching for something to grasp.
Simon watched horrified, too stunned to move, too weak from terror to react. And what he knew was coming next, inevitably did come, bringing with it many new nightmares, many new levels of fear.
The head broke through the ground and shook violently from side to side. Although it was mostly bone, it still retained enough of its rotted flesh to complete its image of evil.
The realization that what he was seeing was really happening gripped his mind tightly. It wasn’t the tombstone that was haunting him it was the person buried beneath it. A person who was apparently born in 1687 and died in 1699. That would have made them 12 years old at the time of their death, the same age Simon had just turned. Maybe the person under the tombstone was waiting for the right person to come along, someone the right age that they could take over, like pulling off an old worn shirt and putting on a new one.
The corpse was dragging itself free from its grave. Moldy earth cascaded down from its corrupt body, sprinkling the upturned ground with its tainted stench. It knew there was a boy of 12 years old nearby, and it shot its horrid gaze up to the bedroom window in the house where Simon stood in place, frozen in fear, unable to move. It smelled a victim nearby, one which it had slid across the land in search of, one it had haunted until this very day, the same day it had died so many years earlier. And now it could complete its life.
Its hollow eye sockets glowed a deep red, so deep they were nearly black, and the spell which emanated from them had Simon firmly ensnared. Magic was a powerful thing back in the 17th century, and Black Magic was the most potent of all. So strong in fact that if performed correctly it could endure the erosion of time itself.
The corpse pulled itself free of its grave and began to crawl toward the house. Toward its prey. Toward the remainder of its life.
Bio of Rick McQuiston:
I'm a forty-two year-old father of two who loves anything horror- related. I've had over 200 publications so far and recently started my first novel. I've written four anthology books and one book of novellas, which are available on Lulu and Amazon. I’m also a guest author each year at Memphis Junior High School.
Mari Mitchell lives in the high deserts of California. She has been married for over ten years, has two sons, two pet rats (who are actively plotting to take over the nearby space port,) and one very round, very loved cat (who is passively-aggressively taking over the couch and computer.)