A midnight prank in a cemetery turns nasty
| I will show you fear in a handful of dust.|
- T. S. Eliot
Tortured shadows writhed across the broken ground, wind-tormented branches whipping the weak cloud-filtered moonlight into fantastic shapes that seemed to crawl in and out of the open grave.
Bile filled ten-year-old Torben's throat with the bitter tang of fear. He gulped hard against the banging of his heart to keep from heaving his guts. He leaned against a nearby tombstone for support and almost yelped when it shifted under his hand.
"You're not scared, are you, Torben?" taunted Jubal, who was eleven and considered himself tough. "You're jumpy as a little bunny rabbit. Little hoppy bunny, boo!"
"Nah, just lost my balance for a bit." The cold wind mourning through bare branches overhead was like fingernails on slate, sending shivers up his spine.
"Yeah, sure. Chicken. You're sweating. You're scared. I can smell your fear."
"Smell my farts, ratbag." It was a brave front; he'd accepted Jubal's dare to climb into the newly dug grave at midnight, but he'd long ago changed his mind. Yet he couldn't back down. A boy simply did not do that in the year of our Lord 1891 in Labette County, Kansas. Jubal would spread the tale far and wide and Torben would be reviled and shunned by kids and adults alike as a pigeon-livered coward.
The boys crept up to the edge of the grave. The rising wind whipped loose soil from the mound and sent it eddying down into the hidden darkness of the freshly dug hole. Dirt pelted Torben's face like a hundred tiny knives flensing his skin. He hunched his shoulders and ducked his head against the wind.
A surge of terror-laden memory burst into his mind: the time his step-father had locked him into a trunk overnight without supper. He'd panicked and wet himself. He'd emerged the next morning white and shivering with fear, starving and stinking, to his step-dad's scorn and his own shame.
"No," he protested. The grave was a dark gaping mouth, aching to suck him down, swallow him, smother him in darkness and fear and shame. He tensed his arms to resist the pull, and crouched to hide from its hideous hunger, frozen on the edge of the hole. "No, no."
"Yes, yes, pussycat," hissed Jubal. "No backing out. The dare was to go down into the hole and count to sixty. Then you're the victor and get supreme bragging rights!"
A firm push forced him into the hole. He fell forever, landing hard on his right wrist with a snap, then thumping onto his chest, the air driven from his lungs so he couldn't even shriek at the pain.
"So long, sucker." Jubal's laughter rose against the howl of the wind. "Have a good night. See you in the morning. Maybe."
The moon had hidden itself, and the cloud-scudded sky was a lighter black against the rectangular top of the grave three feet above Corben's head. He jumped but couldn't reach the edge no matter how hard he tried. He yelled Jubal's name until he was hoarse. It was just a joke. Jubal would come back. But he didn't.
Torben curled into a corner at the bottom of the hole, nursing his broken wrist. The grave swallowed his screams, and the cold spurned his tears, and the wind whipped dust into the hole to cover him like a shroud, alone with his pain and fear.
About 500 words