Good morning, dear Reader! Here is my offering for the Spooky Story Challenge. If you are writing one, yourself, you have until midnight tomorrow to get your story plugged in to the linky list, which can be found HERE along with the rules for the challenge (they’re pretty simple).
I stared at the pale, weathered stones that stood between myself and home. Why had I lingered so long? Why hadn’t I started home as soon as the light began to wane? Now I would have to make my way across the graveyard in the dark. It was an old graveyard, one that had been full for over fifty years. The dead sleeping below the ground here had mostly been entombed for over a century.
The wind whistled an eerie tune as it darted about my head, pulling strands of hair from my ponytail. The air was cold, and I could feel the chill seeping through my jacket like oil seeping up from the ground. I could just go around the graveyard. But then I would have to walk past the abandoned house… and that was just as terrifying. Besides, it wasn’t the graveyard itself that bothered me so much as it was the Dragon.
It wasn’t a real dragon, but an elaborate headstone carved in the shape of a dragon. In the daylight, it was simply a unique and interesting sculpture, weather-beaten and worn, covered here and there with green moss. Sometimes in spring birds would come and build nests behind its wings. The name had since been worn off, only the first initial—J–and the date remained: 1806-1844. It was the oldest gravestone in the cemetery, my brothers and I had scoured the entire length and breadth of the place to be sure.
My older brother, Charles, was convinced that we had found the final resting place of the “Great Western Land Pirate,” John A. Murrell, and we would often sit around making up stories of his famous exploits up and down the Mississippi River. My younger brother, Justin, loved speculating about the exploits of “Captain John” and his crew of miscreants. We even made up stories about how it wasn’t the pirate’s body buried beneath the dragon, but rather, his treasure; in our imaginations the pirate himself had stumbled upon a curse that gave him eternal life, and someday he would come back for his gold.
Stepping over the low-slung chain, I began my hesitant way across the yawning expanse of silent death. The dragon stood at the heart of the necropolis, and could be seen from everywhere within its borders. By day, it was just a statue. But by night, it became something… other. Its size, already larger than any of the other markers, seemed to grow with the shadows, until it loomed menacingly like a jealous gargoyle. At night, when the cracks and moss and nests disappeared into the darkness, it was easier to imagine the statue was alive. At night, it was easier to believe the stories we had made up about the pirates. It was easy to imagine the thumping steps of a peg-leg coming closer… closer… ever closer… returning to claim his treasure.
My heart pounded in my ears like the imagined steps of the pirate and I sped into a nervous jog. My nerves jangled inside my skin. A low fog began to roll across the ground, and my imagination started to run away with me. Was that a ghost, floating near that tree? Were those long, thin things by the headstone next to me the skeletal hands of a corpse clawing its way out of its resting place? My feet sped up as my eyes darting back and forth. My breath came in quick, shallow gasps.
The fog swirled in eerie patterns, rising up… up… up, until it covered everything. The familiar monuments turned into dim, forbidding shapes, and I was no longer sure I was heading in the correct direction. I peered through the mist, but I had become like a ghost, myself, caught up in the folds and layers of an ethereal realm.
Something wet dripped onto my neck and trickled down my back inside my sweatshirt. I screamed and whirled. But nothing was there.
A loud BANG startled me into a headlong run. The next moment, fiery pain lanced through my shin as I stumbled over an unseen headstone. I tumbled to the ground, landing on my shoulder in the wet grass.
A car rumbled down the road and I realized that what I had heard was simply the back-firing of an older vehicle. I chuckled slightly to myself, wincing as I reached down to rub my leg. I had ripped my pants, and I could feel a small trickle of wet, sticky blood on my leg.
Limping, I continued my way across the cemetery. All thoughts of things creepy and ethereal were gone from my mind, chased away by the all-too-real throbbing in my shin.
I reached the dragon and sighed in relief. I was halfway across. I glanced up at the shadowy figure and was so relieved at being nearly home that I almost reached out and patted it. Almost. I couldn’t quite shake the jumpy feeling in the pit of my stomach, however, so I kept my hands firmly shoved in my pockets and continued my limping journey.
Ahead of me, something moved.
I stopped. My heart speeding up once more.
The something came closer… closer… and then materialized into a tall, dark form, with a large hat perched upon his head. There was something strange about his gait. My heart caught in my throat as he drew closer and I realized that one of his legs was nothing more than a thick, wooden peg.
He doffed his hat with an elaborate bow. “Pardon me, Missy.” The voice emanating from that throat was dry and it creaked with the age of a century. “But ye wouldn’t’ve happened to see the marker whar I left me treasure buried, now… would ye?”
My eyes bulged and my throat clogged as panic clawed its way through me. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe. I felt the world spinning…. and then a bright light shone in my face.
“Ellie?” This voice was more familiar. “Ellie? Are you all right?”
A suppressed snicker, and then an outright guffaw. “I’ve never seen someone actually scared stiff before.” Another figure emerged from behind a monument.
Comprehension and rage coursed through me in simultaneous waves. This was no pirate… these were my brothers, out playing a trick on me. I sputtered, trying to come up with an appropriate reprisal, but then my brothers’ queries turned to concern as they saw my injured leg in the wide beam of the flashlight. The wound was still bleeding, and there was a large amount of it dripping down my ankle and into my sneaker.
Suddenly both Justin and Charles were all care and concern, asking what had happened, as they helped me hobble across the remaining rows of headstones.
The boundary-chain was in just a few steps away when we heard a strange sound I had never heard before. It was a rumble like thunder mixed with a creaking like ice-encrusted trees swaying in the wind… one of my brothers looked back and let out an unearthly scream. I grimaced at him, unwilling to play along with another joke. My shin was throbbing and all I wanted was to get home and put some ice on it.
Before I could say anything, however, something enormous swooped over our heads. Hot air blasted down upon us, and both of my brothers shouted, pushing me away, toward the chain.
“Run, Ellie!” they both shouted the words at me, but I stumbled and fell instead, scraping my chin on something hard.
Flames poured through the darkness off to my left and I turned my face to look, still sure this was some new trick.
Then, I saw it.
The dragon had come to life.
Its wings flared to either side as it landed and stared at the three of us. Its eyes glowed a fiery orange. Flames flickered in its mouth, revealing glinting teeth the size of my torso.
I might have screamed.
Then I was being heaved up as my brothers raced over and grabbed my arms, hauling me along as they struggled to run. I found my feet and began to run, faster, faster, sprinting away, towards the boundary… as if it were somehow safer on the other side of the pitifully tiny chain. My brain saw the ridiculousness of our flight and I felt a hysterical laugh bubbling up within me, but by the time it reached my lips it had transformed into a scream.
The creature lunged after us… teeth snapping together…
“CHARLES!” I wailed, sobs choking me as my older brother disappeared. I could hear Justin panting on my other side, his hand still firmly clenched around mine as we ran for our lives.
“Don’t stop, Ellie,” he gasped. Then he surged past me, stopped, and slung me forward with all his strength. I felt his fingers slip from my grasp as I flew forward and hit the chain, toppling over it. I rolled down the little hill and landed near the road. There was a bellowing roar, a scream, and then… nothing.
I looked back, expecting to see the massive beast rising up out of the mist. But nothing emerged. No dragon appeared. No fires flickered. Nothing moved. The sepulchral field behind me was dark and empty once more.
I have to admit… I kind of thought I’d just end the story there.
But… in case that might be slightly too dark… I added an alternate ending…
I don’t know how long I lay on the grass, sobbing in the darkness. But at last… heartsick and sore, I rose and traveled the rest of the way home. The lights gleamed from the windows, and I could feel their welcoming glow washing over me. I entered the house, and heard a collective gasp at my blood-stained and bedraggled appearance.
I raised my tear-filled eyes, about to relate the horrible tale… and stared into the faces of my mother, father, and both brothers. I must have looked a sight, dirty and utterly confused. Within moments I was on the couch, my leg propped up, bandaged, and underneath a large ice pack. My story was tumbling from my bewildered lips as I stared from Charles to Justin and back again, blinking hard to make sure I wasn’t imagining their presence.
“You have some imagination,” Justin quipped.
So… this turned into a sort of “choose your own adventure” because I wasn’t sure I was loving the whole: “It was all just a dream” angle for an ending… so I kept writing…
My parents and Charles exchanged a strange look, but said nothing.
Later that night, as I was heading off to bed, my mother pulled me into a hug. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” she whispered. “But now, at least, you know the truth.”
I pushed away from her and stared, confused. “What?”
“The visions,” she replied. “They are the first sign.”
“The first sign of what?” I demanded.
“That you are growing up,” she said, patting my cheek with a sweet smile. “That you are ready to embrace your heritage.”
“Yes, dear. There is much to tell you… now that the visions have begun. But tonight, just get some rest… we’ll tell you all about it in the morning.” She paused. “But after Justin leaves for school. He’s too young to understand, yet. But his turn will come…” She smiled sweetly and kissed my cheek. “Now… off to bed.”
So, what do you think? Which ending do you prefer? Thanks for reading, I had a blast writing something a bit silly and a bit spooky, trying to roll every aspect of every ghost story I’ve ever heard into one adventure…