What Happened Next
Ahead of them, the graveyard slowly came into view. Though it was near midnight, the full moon filtered through the branches of the oak trees, and illuminated the cemetery in silver and gray. As they neared the cemetery, Mimi, who had been walking fast, gradually slowed. Steve slowed too, until they were walking with tiny steps through the menacing iron gate.
Nothing moved. The old oak trees and their bare black branches were eerily still. The only sound was of their sneakers crunching through the leaf litter. In the cold light of the moon, the graveyard looked oddly peaceful. Then, startlingly close, a barn owl hooted. They both jumped.
It was Steve who spoke first. “Come on, Mimi, let’s go. There’s nothing here.” He said. He felt a strange, panicky urge to be far away from here, to be sitting in his cozy room with a cup of cocoa in his hand. The dark sky seemed to have a physical weight, pressing in on him.
Mimi looked at him, face wide and pale like the stark moon above them. “It was your idea to be here. We’re not backing out now.” Her voice was hushed. They were both whispering, though there was no one else there.
Steve was nervous, but he didn’t want to sound scared in front of the girl he liked. “Fine, then.” He had an idea. “Where’s the tombstone they found your grandmother in front of? Let’s go look at it.” He said with false bravado.
“Okay.” Mimi said. She started striding to the other end of the cemetery, and Steve hurried after her.
The back of the cemetery wasn’t so well-tended as the front. Withered tufts of weeds poked up around the gravestones, and dead leaves lay thick on top of them. Mimi stopped in front of a large, crumbling tombstone at the very end, in a hidden corner. “This is it,” she said. Steve reached up a faintly trembling hand, and brushed the oak leaves aside.
“Edna Parker,” he read aloud. “Died in 1888.” He was getting more and more nervous. Knock it off, he told himself. There’s nothing here. All of a sudden, there was a rustling noise behind them. They both jumped, turning around fast. There was nothing there. “Let’s go, Mimi.” Steve said. He could no longer disguise the fear in his voice. Mimi shook her head. She was staring at the ground in front of the tombstone. Steve followed her gaze. The earth was turned up. It looked fresh.
“Something was dug up here,” Mimi said, eyes wide and scared. Steve wanted nothing more than to run. But Mimi reached out her hand, and scrabbled in the freshly turned dirt. Her fingers touched something cold and hard. She unearthed it. “It’s a wedding ring,” she said. They both stared at the plain gold ring, glinting ominously in the moonlight.
Then a hand reached out of the dirt, and grabbed Mimi’s wrist.
They both screamed, shrill and high. Steve stared in horror at the hand. It was dark, scabbed, and seemed damp. He turned to run. Mimi’s voice stopped him.
“Steve!” she cried piercingly. “It’s pulling me in!” Steve stood there, hesitated for a long moment. Mimi’s legs were braced against the gravestone. Her calves were quivering with the strain. “Steve!” She screamed, and her voice was pure terror.
Steve reached out a hand to help the girl he liked. He took hold of her other hand, and yanked hard. The hand was supernaturally strong. He grunted with effort, mind blank with horror, breath coming in little puffs of adrenaline. Finally, Mimi came free. They both stumbled backwards. Dark, rotting fingers were still fastened to Mimi’s wrist. She shrieked and shook them off. Beneath the grave, a fingerless hand was grabbing at the hole, a dark arm snaking out, bracing itself. It was trying to climb out. Without another thought, they ran.
They didn’t stop running until a block away from Mimi’s house, its silhouette looming familiar and comforting against the blue-black sky. They slowed to a walk and then stopped, collapsing to the ground, gasping for air. Mimi’s white porch, glowing faintly in the darkness, was only a few feet away. Neither had looked back-they did so now, watching the horizon nervously. No dark, shambling figure appeared. They both breathed a sigh of relief. There was silence for a few, eternal minutes. Then Mimi spoke. “Steve, about what happened back there-”
Steve cut her off. “It was nothing. Nothing happened.”
Mimi gave him an incredulous look. “You can’t be serious! You’re going to pass that-that thing off as some juvenile prank? Steve, it was real. I felt it.”
“It was some teenagers, playing around. They probably wanted to scare us.”
Mimi stood in outrage. She glared at him, eyes suspiciously bright. “I can’t believe you. After all we’ve seen, after my poor grandmother and this,” she flung out her wrist, exposing bruises already darkening the pale flesh, “you’re just going to pass it off as a prank? Just going to go home and forget about it?”
Steve regarded her silently. His face was grim, and shadowed with fear. When he spoke, his voice was weary. “Yes. I am. And you know what, Mimi? You should too.”
Mimi gazed at him hopelessly. For a moment, she looked as if she was about to cry. Then her face hardened, and she raised her hand, as if to slap him. Steve closed his eyes, waited. And spoke. “Mimi…I’m sorry.”
Something in her broke. Her face crumpled, and then she turned and ran for the door. It slammed shut as lights upstairs went on. Before it closed, Steve thought he heard a single, anguished sob.
Steve stood there, alone, as the night wind blew flurries of dust around him. He stared at the light in the bedroom window and swore in self-disgust. There was an unnamable feeling mounting in him, a sour draught of bile rising in the back of his throat. It choked him. A small, niggling part of him thought it might be shame. He quashed it. Then he turned, and began the long walk home.