Nightmares from the GraveyardJohn Clewarth / Young Adult / Horror
Nightmares from the Graveyard
Copyright ©John Clewarth 2013
All rights reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted,
in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author.
All characters and events in this publication are purely fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Written in English (UK)
Nightmares from the Graveyard
Chapter 1 – Circle of Ash
Blacklow Cemetery shimmered in the evening mist of October; Halloween, the night when restless spirits, witches, ghosts and all manner of unearthly things roam abroad. Jake and Danny had been out trick-or-treating and were laden with bags full of sweets and chocolate. They should have been home by now, but for the bet…
‘Still think I’m gonna back out, huh?’ Danny’s tone was full of bravado that barely hid his trepidation.
‘Up to you,’ Jake smirked, ‘But if you don’t do it, you owe me ten quid!’ He rubbed his hands together gleefully, certain in his mind that this would be the easiest cash he’d ever make.
Danny looked out over the vast expanse of headstones, broken plaster angels, tombs and crosses; the land of the dead. It was the blurred silhouette at the top of the hill that chilled his blood most of all. Blacklow had the largest graveyard for miles around and its crowning glory was the Circle of Ash. There in the crest of the highest mound, nestled a circular construction made up of conjoined mausoleums; a kind of terraced housing for the dead of the wealthier families of Blacklow.
‘You’ll give me a leg-up, yeah?’ queried Danny.
‘Sure. I’ll boost you up the wall, then you gotta jump down into the middle and climb the old tree.’ The ‘old tree’ was an ancient Ash that spread, ghost-like, in the centre of the ring of mausoleums.
‘Then when I get to the top of the tree, I hang up this stupid mask, and I’m outta there,’ grumbled Danny, brandishing the rubber skull mask he’d been wearing earlier, before stuffing it back into the plastic carrier bag.
‘Yep, that’s it,’ grinned Jake. ‘Or are you chicken?’ He strutted along in a zigzag, doing a second-rate impression of a domestic fowl, whilst emitting clucking noises.
‘Shut up, donut,’ hissed Danny, ‘and get your ten quid ready!’
The night had become quiet, in stark contrast to the shrieking and giggling of the trick-or-treaters of the earlier evening, as the boys reached the gothic structure at the top of the hill. The imposing, spooky colossus was made up of twenty sunken tombs built around the roots of an ageing and ancient Ash tree, from which the Circle earned its name. Nobody knew how long the Ash had been there, just that it was certain the tree predated the cemetery. Danny couldn’t help but wonder whether the enclosing walls were designed to protect the catacombs from vandals and prying eyes, or whether they were built to protect the outside world from what lurked within.
Each of the family vaults, a dozen in total, was fronted by a large dark door, above which was an ornate ridge of stone which would be ideal for a young boy to grab on to, if his friend were to give him the initial hoist up… Half a metre more of stone, led to the rounded rim of the stone circle of the dead. Danny walked as boldly as he could and put a hand on the cold, pock-marked masonry; he felt like he’d just touched a corpse, and Jake could see, even in the moonlight, that his friend’s face had paled, as if being drained by an unseen power…
‘Hey, you wanna back out, I won’t tell anyone.’ His heart quickened and his stomach lurched without logical reason; something instinctive told him they should not proceed, that they shouldn’t have even come this far. ‘Come on, Danny, forget the tenner. Let’s just head home.’
Danny, his hand still pressed against the stone, turned to look at Jake. Deep down, Danny just wanted to run, to get the Hell out of there and pig out on the candy they’d scrounged earlier… But this was a bet. No – more than that – it was a dare. And no matter how much Jake promised he wouldn’t bring the subject up, Danny knew he’d spread it all round school on Monday and he’d be the butt of endless chicken jokes. ‘Come on, wussie, get me up there,’ Danny laughed, but it did little to hide his nervousness. He lifted his right foot and, once Jake’s cupped hands were in place, the two boys pushed together and Danny scrabbled for a handhold above the nearest shadowy doorway. His heels almost kicked Jake in the head, as they cycled in midair, but Danny had grasped the high ledge with both hands and, arm muscles straining fit to burst, the boy managed to haul himself up. It reminded him of the time he’d fallen into the reservoir fully clothed and had to pull himself out with his arms, his body like a sodden, dead weight. He’d been given both barrels when he got home; ‘Pranking around with Jake again! Don’t you ever learn?’ his father had chided. Nope, Danny didn’t learn – or if he did, it was usually the hard way.
Once up on the very top, Danny shakily stood up and looked down at the now diminutive form of his friend. He felt suddenly very brave – he’d made it! Danny strutted along the circular ridge, posing like a body-builder. ‘Who’s the daddy?!’ he yelled down at Jake, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Never bet against Danny boy!’ he taunted.
‘Just get on with it!’ Jake’s voice gave away the fact that he was seriously hacked off by his friend’s success and the loss of the bet. But secretly, Jake admired the devil-may-care attitude that Danny had to life in general. He knew there was no way that Danny could have persuaded him to take that bet.
‘Okay. Keep your wig on,’ Danny teased, and turned around to face to interior of the circle, and the ancient Ash at its heart. Its tangled old branches sprawled, laced, reached out and thrashed in the suddenly gathering wind, and its grey murkiness seemed mesmerising to Danny. His attention, however, was diverted by something else, as he poised himself to make the jump to the boughs of the Ash. Down there, in the gloom, he thought he saw something moving. Something other than the tree… A ghostly figure?
An owl screeched somewhere off to the right, urgently and unexpectedly – and in a reflexive action, Danny leapt forward. Stretching out his arms, his fingers closed around fresh air, as he plummeted to the mossy earth below, with a thumping, painful impact.