“I fear not the dark itself, but what may lurk within it.”
The school bell rings as children fly through doors. They rush into yellow buses and dash into impatient cars, eager to escape the cold wind nipping at the edges of their coats. Three of them linger near bike racks, whispering conspiratorially about their afternoon plans.
“We can always do homework later,” the tall one chimes, zipping up his coat and unlocking his bike.
“Or never,” the one in the purple hat suggests slyly, inspecting the other stragglers to confirm that his parents did not overhear him.
“Where are we going?” The youngest asks, struggling to manage his overstuffed backpack and his hand-me-down bike that is much too big. The purple hat bobs up and down as its wearer shrugs in feigned nonchalance.
The trio rides away from the school and wanders further from well-explored neighborhoods until they reach the outskirts of their community. The area that has always been deemed “dangerous” for reasons the children are determined to demystify. They find the cemetery first, and they pause at the gated entrance. Gravestones, which condense individual’s lives into tiny scripts and two meager dates, jut out from overgrown grass and weeds. Winter’s barren trees curl over the forgotten land as ivy winds its way up through the gnarled branches and greets the wilted flowers on the ground in vines.
The children peer at each other, waiting in bated breath for the first hint of fear to exploit as an excuse to flee. They end up sitting in stubbornly prideful silence and hope to gain enough courage to suggest something because the longer they stare, the more the vines look like they are inching toward them like outstretched arms. The more the branches seem to sharpen into knives piercing the darkening sky. The more the wind seems to whistle into howls and moans through the weeds. They could have sworn the weeds were being disturbed by limbs pulling themselves out of their graves. The more they know without a doubt that something is creeping behind them waiting to strike.
“Let’s go.” The youngest whimpers, his eyes blown wide in fear as his hands clutch his bicycle handles for safety. He turns to his friends for support when he finds nothing but discarded bikes, unmoving like corpses. He whips around frantically, looking for any sign of an orange hat peeking above bushes or a glimpse of an arm as it attempts to hide behind a tree. He finds nothing but dread coiling in his stomach. He calls for his friends, insisting that they stop their pranks because “it isn’t funny anymore”.
The wind responds to his pleas with a harsher gust, sending vines swinging and iron gates groaning. He reasons that they must have gone into the graveyard to hide and in a surge of foolish courage, decides to follow them, wheeling his bike alongside him. As he enters, a gate swings shut, and a tree branch cracks. A voice rasps, Run. So he does. He races into the cemetery blindly, desperately trying not to scream. He turns behind him and, like any good horror movie cliche, he trips. He plunges face-first into dirt and mud that he knows should not be that wet because it has not rained in ages. Curiosity mixed with panic urges him not to question why the ground is so damp in fear that he might find a red liquid coated across his gloved fingers.
When he does pry his eyes open, he finds a ripped orange hat that has become browner. He clamps his eyes tight again when he considers that the brown might not have been from just dirt and perhaps it could have been- Suddenly, he feels queasy, and before he can think to vomit, something taps him on the shoulder.
He screams and scrambles to his feet, expecting to be confronted by a monster’s reaching claws or yawning jaws full of fangs. Instead, two boys veiling concern and worry with faint chuckles and smiles that are closer in resemblance to frowns greet him. They pester him with questions and worried assurances that “it’s just them”, as he darts towards the exit, leaving his bike, the torn hat, and hopefully his fears, behind. Yet, the children do not see the blinking eyes watching them leave and the rasping breaths echoing among the dead.
“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
- William Shakespeare