By Vasiliki Scurfield
‘Are you dissing me? Are you saying I’m a coward?’
‘Hey, try ‘n’ chill out man.’ Chunk inserted himself deftly into the potential conflict. ‘No-one’s calling you anything.’
‘I ain’t said nofink,’ Jek answered ‘cept, ah bet ya couldn’t spend all night in’t cemet’ry next to Mad Mary’s grave wiv out soilin’ yasen. Could ya?’
‘Hell, yeh I could,’ Deza said his anger having subsided a little. ‘But you ’n’ Chunk gotta do it too. You an’ all Bucky. One of us each night, all night.’
‘Fine, so who’s starting tonight?’
‘I will.’ Chunk volunteered. ‘I need to get it over with ‘coz I’ve got a test next week. I need to revise.’
‘Loser,’ Jek said scornfully.
‘Ef off,’ Chunk answered back. ‘Just ‘coz I don’t want results that can spell FUDGE don’t make me a loser.’
‘Sick.’ Bucky’s admiration shone through. ‘FUDGE? How d’ya manage that?’
Jek just grinned. ‘What can I say? ‘T ain’t everyone ‘oo can do that. I’m special.’
‘So, it’s Chunk first then who’s on tomoz?’
‘I’ll do it.’
‘OK, so it’s Chunk, then Bucky, then me, then you Deza.’
‘Fine, we go down together, leave when it gets dark, come back the next morning ‘n’ check yer still all of a piece.’
‘Right, well I’m for home. See ya later.’
‘What the heck’s all that?’ Jek demanded later when they all sat in a semi circle round the foot of Mad Mary’s grave.
‘This?’ Chunk opened a carrier. ‘Cider, chocolate. Have some.’ He tossed them each a can.
He looked up from where he was rooting in the bag.
‘It’s a washing machine! That’s my sleeping bag and a pillow. What the ‘eck does it look like?’
His sarcasm was lost on them. ‘Yer meant to be roughin’ it, not camping, you soft git. Pass us another cider then.’
They guzzled in companionable silence then took off leaving Chunk stretched out comfortably in his sleeping bag.
‘Remember you gotta spend all night there.’ Jek’s parting shot reached him on the breeze.
Did they really think it would be hard to doss here for a night? Not for a scientific mind like his. ‘Whatever!’ Chunk’s answer was muffled as he snuggled down and was soon asleep.
How to say that he slept like a log all through the night? They were expecting something more so Chunk drew on all his amateur dramatics experience, particularly from his part as Scrooge in the school production and produced his best ‘I’m terrified’ expression for them.
‘God,’ he grabbed Deza’s arm, ‘Get me out of here. I swear there’s something after me.’
Deza started to look a bit stressed. ‘Whadya mean?’
‘It was awful. I could feel fingers sliding over my skin, cold, damp fingers, moist rotting fingers!’ he said demonstrating an ability for adjectives that had him predicted an ‘A’. ‘I heard clicking and clacking, like bones coming out for me.’ He managed a shudder for effect. ‘I’m never stopping here again.’
Bucky looked concerned. ‘If it were that bad, I’m bringing me dad’s gun wi’ me.’
‘Stoopid, what’re ya gonna do? Shoot the ghosts? They’re already dead, aren’t they?’
There were hoots of laughter at this witty rejoinder and Bucky, embarrassed, shoved Deza who was closest. ‘Gi’ up.’
Bucky was scared.
As the others had said, bringing the gun was stupid. It wasn’t any good if you couldn’t see what to shoot at and one shot would have the whole world and his brother come running. Never mind the coppers- his dad was likely to kill him with the belt.
He huddled, shivering, behind Mary’s headstone, curling up as tight as he could. The warm September breeze ruffled over his arms like the brush of spirit fingers. Clouds covered the moon and he strained to see in the sudden black. A dog howled and the hairs on the back of his neck rippled to attention. His breathing grew shallow and rapid, his heart thundering in his ears. Something rustled to his left and he held his breath and strained to hear. What was it? Nothing- silence. He expelled his breath in a whoosh and took a deep gulp of air.
A tickle on his ankle and he froze. Oh, God, oh God. How had Chunk stood it? What if it was worse tonight because Chunk had woken them all up last night? He slid his finger through the trigger of the 6 bore. Sweat dripped into his eyes and he was too scared to move his hand and wipe them. Then the most unearthly sounds started. There was a series of ratchet calls, then a cross between a yell and a whine. Bucky knew that he couldn’t stay where he was any longer without disgracing himself. He had to escape. Raising his gun with slippery, shaking hands he pointed randomly and fired. In the sudden silence he leapt to his feet and bolted for the exit. Scaling the gate one-handed he took off up the road and didn’t stop until he reached the safety of his home.
‘He’s not here.’
‘We can all see that.’
‘Well, where is he?’
‘How the ‘eck should I know? For all I know he’s been swallowed up by Mary’s grave.’
Jek paled. ‘Don’t say things like that.’
‘Over here!’ Deza pointed to a tree full of shot. ‘Looks like he used the gun after all. Managed to hit the only tree in the whole bloomin’ place, ‘n’ all.’
‘Probably in the nick then.’ Chunk put in his tuppence worth.
‘D’you think he’s spragged on us?’
‘Na. But let’s go round his ‘ouse and ask ‘im. Just to mek sure.’ Jek man of action as usual.
‘Not a good idea.’
‘Why not?’ Jek didn’t like it when he was contradicted. It didn’t go with his hard image.
‘Because, you prat, if he’s in trouble and we all walk up we’re likely to get a bit of it too. D’you fancy facing his old man?’
Even Jek wasn’t hard enough for that. ‘What do we do then?’
‘Nowt. You go to college, we go to school and you doss tonight like we planned.’
They were buzzing that night when they dropped into place around Mad Mary’s grave.
‘Anyone heard from him then?’
‘Yeh, he text me.’ If Jek seemed a little pale no-one commented on it. ‘He said lots of stuff, rubbish most of it. He went on about ghosts and things out to get him but whatever; he didn’t stop the night so he’s not got the balls. If the rest of us do it he’s out of our gang.’
That seemed a little extreme since this was the first any of them had heard about being in a gang, but no-one bothered contradicting him. It wasn’t worth the hassle. Not right now at any rate. They’d rather tuck into Carling and chips.
They all fell silent when they saw what Jek pulled out of his bag.
‘Jeez, that’s sick. Where d’you get it from?’
‘Twas me granpa’s from the war.’
They looked at the lethal blade with awe.
‘Did he ever kill anyone with it?’
‘Course he did. He were in a bloody war, weren’t he?’
‘Let me hold it,’ Deza demanded. He practiced sliding it in and out of the leather sheath, loving the sigh it made.
They spent a good few minutes enthralled by the knife before they asked to see what else he brought.
‘Od on a minute. Close yer eyes and dun’t look.’
There was a lot of scuffling and the rustling of the bag then he said, ‘Ya can look na.’
There was a moment of stunned silence. Then where before there had been awe now there was hilarity.
‘Whad ya wearin’. You look like a fag.’ More gales of laughter.
‘You don’ know nofink. Ah’ve watched Van Helsing ev’n if you ‘an’t. It’s what all the ghostbusters ‘n’ vampire ‘unters wear. An’ Neo on the Matrix too.’
They eyed the long black leather duster dubiously. ‘Yeh? Where’d yer get it? The local Goth convention?’
‘Ah lent it off me cousin. An’ it’ll keep me warm and ah’ll not be taking any more shit off you lot either.’
‘I bet you just wanna hide better in it. Good camouflage.’ Deza showed unusual astuteness. As Jek turned to give him some attention he stood up quickly. ‘Best be off, eh? See yas tomoz then.’ They left Jek alone in the deepening night, an inky silhouette against a starless horizon.
For long moments Jek tracked his friends until they’d passed out of sight through the cemetery gates. Now what to do? There was no way he was chickening out like Bucky- he was better than that. He amused himself trying to make out the shape of the tree that Bucky had hit then the vague shapes of the headstones. It wasn’t too bad. Nothing scary so far.
But as the sounds of people making their way home from the pub faded away and lights blinked out in windows anxiety wound tighter in his chest. Glad he’d brought a torch he flicked it on, but all it achieved was to illuminate a very small, close space while killing his night vision and making the darkness beyond the small circle of light several degrees thicker. After a few minutes the light died anyway. With a curse of disgust he over-armed it at Mad Mary’s headstone.
In the distance something shrieked and he stilled. For long moments there was nothing but the sound of his breathing then he heard it again. It sounded unearthly. He imagined someone was being killed and froze listening. There it was again. This time it ended in a long drawn out moan. Was it someone trying to frighten him? If it was, it was working. His stomach clenched and his whole body tensed ready to run but he fought to stay right where he was.
A dog began to howl, setting others off in a chain reaction. Close to him an animal squeak was abruptly cut off and then a black shadow flew past his head.
Christ, this i’n’t funny, he thought, instinct making him crouch abruptly, the edges of his duster swirling out and settling like a crinoline on either side of him. The weight of the knife bumped his thigh and he grabbed it with a small sound of relief. The soft, reluctant sough it made as it came out of its sheath sounded loud in the silence and he stabbed it as hard as he could into the earth next to him. There, that gave him some confidence. Now it was ready and near his hand.
Something skittered past him, touching yet not touching, ghostly fingers trailing over a hand. A tap, tap, tap came from somewhere close by, blind bones feeling their way towards him. His courage broke. He didn’t care if everyone called him a chicken for the rest of his life- he wanted out. Forcing cold, cramped muscles to work he tried to get to his feet.
Something held him down.
A moan of terror escaped his lips as he tried again and whatever it was tugged at his duster keeping him pinned.
Breathing was suddenly difficult. A stake of pain driven through his heart brought gray creeping into the edge of his vision…pressure built.
His mates found him the next morning, cold and lifeless, still in a frozen crouch, his granpa’s knife pinning him to the ground through his duster.