Saturday’s Writer’s Corner

Hello everyone and welcome to the Writer’s Corner. Today, I would like to introduce an original short story to the blog. It’s about 3600 words long, and it is horror themed. I hope you all enjoy, and thank you for reading.

SCAVENGER HUNT

By

J.E. Kaster

            “Just do it already,” Allie said.  She looked around the graveyard, her brown hair blowing back in the strengthening wind.  She hadn’t even wanted to come to this party, but she didn’t want to waste her time now that she was here.  Her hands on her hips, she tapped her foot impatiently.  It was, in a word, annoying.

            “Easy,” Luke said, and went back to looking at the clue sheet.  “Gotta make sure it’s the right grave.  Otherwise it doesn’t count.”  He went back to looking, glad he didn’t have to pull his cell phone out.  The moon was high and bright that night.  They could also see the grave they were in front of had the most amount of knives in it.  There were a few other graves that had one or two, but this one seemed to be the consensus.  

            Marcus looked up at them both, and let out a sigh.  He wasn’t completely convinced this was the grave.  The thing about it was, though, that he wasn’t convinced he wanted the treasure anymore.  Desecrating graves wasn’t a good idea.  He firmly believed the dead could come back.  He wondered, not for the first time, why he had agreed to come.  Money wasn’t everything.

            Max looked at them, then at the clues.  He and Marcus had been holding them, and it was at his urging that the other three had stuck with it.  The promise was just too good, especially for a kid like him.  It was a one in a million chance, but he wanted it anyway.

            Every year on Halloween, Sherman Morgan threw the most elaborate themed parties.  The scavenger hunt portion of it became the most talked about event.  The winner would take home a check for one million dollars.  Year after year, people would show up and partake in the event.  It was kind of like a tradition.  So was the winner.  Morgan had won every year.  So it was more than likely rigged.  People usually got tripped up with the wording of a clue and wound up getting a crucial detail wrong.  Morgan would be able to keep his money, and then go away for another year.  But, people still had fun.  For the kids, it was something to do on Halloween that they wouldn’t get harassed for.  For adults, it was a fun adventure that let them remember what it was like to be a kid.  Just for a little bit, anyway.  

            While Max could respect all that, he also knew that those weren’t the reasons the four of them were standing here.  With a quarter of a million dollars, these teens would like to make their dreams into a reality.  Allie would use her money to put towards college.  She would get a head start on life, and not have to worry about paying back a loan.  Luke would use it to further his own career.  He planned on being an investor in the stock market, and 250 g’s made that a distinct possibility.  Money talked.  Marcus planned on using his money to get an RV and travel around the country for the year after graduation.  He wanted to just take the time and think about what to do instead of being bombarded by the questions.  He never seemed to have the right answers for them.  

            For Max, though, this was his last chance.  His parents were on the verge of losing the house.  It had been in the family for years, and his grandfather had built it with his hands.  It caused an enormous amount of pride to swell in him, and that was why he wasn’t rushing.  No amount of Allie tapping her foot and making funny faces at him could change that.  If he got that money, he could be the hero.  But more importantly, his mother and father would still feel like they hadn’t let the family crumble.  That was worth more than anything to him.  

            He looked down at the clues, focused again on the task.  They had made their way through town, and he was completely convinced that they had gotten everything.  Until now.  The graveyard was both the spookiest part and the hardest.  The clues had been given in different order for everyone, and they were the only ones left that had it.  For that, Max was happy.  When people got into big groups, they stopped thinking and just followed the first person to get the answer.  They needed to be faster, after all.  So they would stab the graves and run away, tracking down the next clue.

            The problem was, of course, that they were wrong.  Max knew they were wrong.  Looking at the grave, listening to Allie tap away, they had been wrong.  He read the clue out loud, and felt the words chill him to the bone.  He saw that everyone else had shivered as well.

“I lay under the dirt, waiting for light. I’ve been down here so long, I have forgotten my plight. My flesh fades and my bones rot. To rise again is to ask a lot. But you have the weapon, you call it the knife. Find my resting place, and give me life. I don’t kneel to cry, and I don’t kneel to pray. I kneel because I am waiting to escape on this day. So don’t look for me where you think I am. I can only be found with the eggs and the ham.”

            “So you don’t think this is it?” Marcus asked him.  On top of the grave they stood at, a large statue sat.  It was a little angel, hands clasped together and eyes closed.  There wasn’t another statue of something kneeling in the graveyard, but Max still shook his head no.  This wasn’t it.  Every clue was difficult.  Why would this one be so easy?

            “Well, this is where everyone else did it,” Allie said.  “Just pop the knife in and let’s get out of here.  We’ve probably already lost.  Either way, I’m sick of standing in this graveyard.  Let’s go.”  She crossed her arms and resumed tapping her foot.  Max felt very sorry for whoever made her a wife later on in life.  He had known her since they were young, and patience had never been her strong suit.

            “Because it’s too easy,” Max said.  “It says that it’s not kneeling to pray.  What else would an angel do?”  Luke nodded his head, understanding the train of thought.

            “Then what do we look for?” Marcus asked, beginning to look at other graves.  Even he was getting spooked by being in a graveyard at night, and on Halloween no less.  The longer he sat here, the more uncomfortable he felt.

            “Yeah,” Luke said, shaking his head.  He agreed that it seemed too easy, but what else could there be?  “I mean, we just have eggs and ham.  Not exactly the most forward clue.”  Not too mention, it didn’t make any sense to him.  He looked around, seeing if any other graves had a kneeling statue.  None did.

            “I don’t know,” Max said.  “I just know that this isn’t it.”  He stood up, brushing at his pants.  Allie, who had been tapping her foot nonstop, suddenly ceased.  A line creased her brow, and Max thought it was nice that she was finally in on the game.  Instead, she looked around, fear flooding into her face.  

            “We’re being watched,” she whispered.  No sooner than she had said it had the hair on the boys’ arms stood up.  They took glances around, but didn’t see anyone.  Then, it dawned on Max.  They were indeed being watched.

            “It’s probably Morgan,” Max said, confidence in his voice.  “He’s probably seeing what’s taking us so long.  But we’re gonna get this right.  We need it.  So let’s keep going.”  He, Luke, and Marcus began to walk away, but Allie stood still.  Her arms were crossed, and she suddenly looked very scared.  She shook her head no.

            “I’m not going anywhere but out of here,” she said.  “Something is wrong.  Can’t you feel it?”  The boys looked at each other.  They could all feel something, but couldn’t put their finger on it.  They gave up trying and just assumed it was the graveyard aspect.  Either way, they needed the whole team to win.  If she bailed on them, it would be game over.  They had to diffuse the situation.

            “Look,” Max said, stepping forward.  He had known her the longest, and he supposed the duty to comfort her should fall on him.  “Just come with us.  I think we’re looking for a farmer, or something.  If we don’t find one, we’ll stick the knife in the grave and call it a night.  Sound good?”  His eyebrows raised slightly, and relief washed over him when she nodded her head yes.  He nodded, smiled, then went back to where Luke and Marcus were searching.  Allie stuck close to him, throwing nervous little glances all around.

            They wove in and out of graves, looking at names and inscriptions.  The moon, so bright early in the night, had begun it’s descent.  The longer they stayed in the graveyard, the more pressing the feeling of being watched became.  Suddenly, Max could feel what Allie had felt.  There was something very wrong.  They needed to get out, and fast.  He turned to tell Allie just that, but she was gone.

            Panic set in, and he began to throw wild glances all over the place.  He could feel his heart hammering in his chest.  She had been behind him just a moment ago.  Had someone grabbed her?  Or something?  He was just about to call out to the other two when his eyes saw her.  She was kneeling down, looking at a grave.  Max went over there cautiously.  He threw glances at Luke and Marcus, who were still trying to find the right grave.  Perhaps their searching would be done.  

            “Got something?” Max whispered, then wondered why he had.  It seemed funny that people whispered in graveyards.  It was like they thought their voices could wake the dead.  She looked at him, a thoughtful look on her face, then shrugged.  She stood up, and held a hand out to the grave.

            On the cusp of winning the contest and having enough money to do what he wanted, though, Max suddenly wanted to leave.  He wanted to get out of there.  There was something very wrong, and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it before.  He wanted to grab her hand and scream for the others to get out.  Get out before it was too late.  He understood that for Morgan, it had never been about the money.  For Morgan, it had always been about this.  It had been about someone completing his twisted game and unleashing whatever hell he had in store upon the earth.  He couldn’t believe he was even thinking about it?  Why hadn’t he just stuck the knife in the grave everyone else had and been done with it?

            The answer was that he was just being dramatic, of course.  He was afraid of succeeding, or some psychological bullshit like that.  Once they found the right grave, the contest would end.  Would Morgan bring it back?  Would there ever be another Halloween like this?  He thought no.  This was a right of passage, and they had spent their last night here not even realizing it.  He felt all the fear slip off of him.  He wasn’t afraid.  No one was watching.  It was simply he had been afraid to grow up.  But, it was time to.  He couldn’t be like the kids that went and hunted ghosts.  They would probably chase ghosts for the rest of their lives, refusing to give up on the idea.  He couldn’t be like those kids that had gotten in that car wreck when he was little.  Rob and Ellie, he thought their names had been.  She had died, and Max thought he was married again.  Or getting married.  Or something.  He wasn’t sure, because it was a couple towns over, but he had heard about it, of course.  For them, the party had stopped that night.  He couldn’t be like the National Guardsmen that showed up here and tried to recruit.  Sharpe, Max thought his name had been.  That was a guy who was too serious for his own good.  Maybe he grew up too much.  Max didn’t want any of that.  He could only be himself, and his way to grow up was to finish this hunt.

            He stepped up to the grave, and felt the excitement return.  It was the thrill of the hunt, and he was glad to have it back.  He only pitied the thought that he wouldn’t have this feeling for much longer.  All things came to an end though, not just good things.  Sometimes, the only things you knew did.  You just had to roll with the punches when that happened.  He read the inscription, and felt ice in his veins.  This was it.  Allie had found it.  He looked at her and nodded, then called out for the others to come.  They hurried over, and they read the gravestone side by side.  He could see the excitement on their faces as they stepped back.

            “This is it,” Luke said.

            “A million bucks,” Marcus said, sounding like he was having a dream.  It was no dream, though.  It was reality.

            “Guys, we won,” Max said, still a little stunned.  Before him, the inscription seemed to almost glow.  It read: Remember me on my knees.  You’ll never see it again.  I will rise up.  My vengeance will know no end.  It was eerie as hell, but he was certain this was where the clue had pointed them to.  They were on the edge of the graveyard, and on the other side of the fence was a farm.  Eggs and ham.  It made sense, in a riddling sort of way.

            “Just get it done,” Allie said, rubbing her arms.  She had just wanted to get out of here.

            “Right,” Max said, stepping forward.  He breathed in deeply, then out.  His heart was pounding in his chest, and he had never felt so alive.  He clutched the knife in his hand, and raised it over his head.  He had a brief moment to think about what would change, and then plunged it into the earth.

            At first, nothing happened.  Then, they heard a low rumble begin.  It seemed to be coming from beneath them, and each of them thought of an underground bunker that opened up and let airplanes out.  That this was part of the elaborate scheme Morgan had planned for the winner.  A ride on a private jet, maybe.

            But that feeling soon passed, because the rumbling got louder and louder.  The ground shook, but didn’t open up.  They looked around, and from the top of the hill, where the graveyard was located, they could see every light in the town turning on.  They flicked, the sequence a little dizzying.  They heard animals beginning to bark and howl.  Birds flew overhead.  Or maybe they were bats.  The light of the moon had faded, and they couldn’t tell exactly what anything was.  Max reached out his hands, and Luke grabbed one and Allie the other.  They began to move away, and then a scream pierced the night.  They covered their ears and fell to the ground, paralyzed by the force of it. 

            It was loud, and it was absolute.  They could hear glass shattering in the distance, and the wail of the banshee continued to get louder and louder.  Then, everything stopped and was silent.  Max looked to his left and saw Allie.  On his right, Luke and Marcus lay.  They were all still here.  That was something.  He thought of how he had said he needed to grow up.  How wrong he had been.  He would give almost anything to be young again.  He nodded to them, and they stood up.  Max turned around, and saw the apparition behind them.

            His mouth went dry and began to work.  None of the others had turned around, and his hands began to flail to try and get their attention.  Luke felt his hand, and turned to tell him to knock it off.  His mouth fell open and his eyes went blank.  Marcus followed his gaze, and had the same reaction.  A little drool rolled down his chin and fell to the ground.

            “Stop that,” Allie said briskly.  She was brushing herself off and Max hit her again.  She balled up her fist, more angry than she had ever been, and cocked her arm to punch him.  She even started to swing when she saw the apparition.  Her hand hit Max in the arm weakly, and she felt all of her willpower fade.  She was entranced.  The only one that could still think was Max.

            “Morgan,” the ghost whispered.  “I want Morgan.  I want Morgan dead before the end.  Go forth.  Lead my army.”  She swept a hand out, and Max saw figures begin to stand up.  They were all over the cemetery, and he felt warm urine flowing down his leg.  Some of the figures were bones.  Others had loose flesh and guts hanging out of them.  The guts made a trail, black as night, behind them as they walked.  Luke, Marcus, and Allie had turned around and begun to walk away.  The figures that had stood up followed them, their eyes glowing yellow.  Max wanted to stop his friends, but he couldn’t move.

            “Stop,” he whispered feebly, and then the irony of his earlier thought hit him.  The apparition shushed him, and his mouth closed.  He watched the exodus from the graveyard with wonder.  People lined the streets, clearly visible in the circles of illumination the street lamps made.  He saw some of them joining the ranks of the army, and thought it was a good thing he had run out of piss.  Kids, some of them still dressed in their costumes, began to howl up at the moon.  They ran around fervently, sugar and adrenaline their fuel.  Max turned away from the scene and found himself nose to nose with the apparition.

            She kisssd him, and he tasted the years of death and decay on her throat.  He wanted to spit and throw up, but there was something about it that awakened a powerful sexual urge in him.  She kept her lips pressed there for a moment longer, then stepped back, a small smile on her face.

            “I knew you would find me,” she said, and she transformed right before his eyes.  He felt something inside him surge, and he began to shake.  Gurgling sounds came from his throat, and he thought she had spit something in there.  She watched him with fire in her eyes, and he suddenly knew where he had seen her.  At the ball, when her and Morgan and he had been young.  He had danced with her, and they had felt Morgan’s jealousy.  That she would pick Max over him was an insult.

            But, how did that make sense?  Max wasn’t old.  He had been young.  His head started to spin, and he heard a familiar voice in his head.  Thanks for keeping it warm for me, sonny.  I’ll take it from here.  He knew that voice.  It was the voice of his grandfather.  He felt himself being pushed out of his body.  He felt energy draining from his soul.  He couldn’t explain it, but he knelt down before the ghost, who had transformed into a beautiful woman.  The small smile was on her face, and she stared intently as Max felt the last of his consciousness fade.

Suddenly, Max was in the back of his mind. For the rest of his life, he would watch through his eyes like it was a movie. He would see his body move without his control. He would see his grandfather’s theft, and be reminded every day of his betrayal. He became a prisoner. His grandfather had become the warden of his prison, and the occupant of his body.

            The body of Max stood up, and walked toward the gorgeous woman.  His lips pressed to hers, and he felt all the old desires rising up.  Morgan had taunted them.  Every year, he had wanted people to stab her grave just so he could relive his past crimes.  Morgan had been convinced of the meaning of Halloween and All Saints Day.  Never had the living world been so close to the afterworld.  He wasn’t done hurting her.  Morgan had stabbed her.  Morgan had robbed her of her life.  Money had helped Morgan get away with it.  But that was over now.  Now, she was safe and sound with him.  He had found her.  He wouldn’t let her go this time.

He wrapped his arms around her, and rocked her soothingly. In the distance, in the quiet of the night, they could hear Morgan screaming. They could hear his strangled cries as their army bludgeoned him to death. When it was done, the army would come back and rest again. But not for long. Soon, a great plague would strike this earth. The dead would inherit it. When they rose up, he and his bride would finally have what was theirs. Smiling, they turned and watched the night’s festivities. Halloween had never felt so right.

Copyright- 2020 Jennifer and Eric Kaster All Rights Reserved

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