Bang! It went. Bang! Bang! Bang! A whole series of bangs, like gunshots at a shooting range, echoes coming atop one another, full of alarm and the awful promise of consequence. Eleven-year old George Pearl, twelve before you’d know it, his birthday but an hour or so away, ducked his head as he walked down the dark center road of Riverside Cemetery. Shadows of stones moved around him, angular blocks of darkness set upon darkness, the ground and the shadows giving up other noises steeped with night and night things. Sounds swelled like thermals, unseen but known, catching up what was loose in the air, broadcasting strange messages that he could identify in a split second … fear, catastrophe, disaster, strange hands reaching to touch his backside, strange sounds at his ears. All around were strange things that boomed or blasted or bellowed in the night.
All for a dare!
At another time he wouldn’t believe it, and he wouldn’t have allowed himself to be caught up in it. He should be tossing eggs from a roof top or soaping up store windows or playing potato knocking at some guy’s front door. He’d be sitting across the street in the bushes with a line of string he could manipulate to make the tenant come to the front door repeated times, the potato bouncing at the door at his touch on the length of string. Driving the guy crazy. Like using a universal TV remote to bug the heck out of the guy. Getting chased. Running like heck. That was the good stuff. That was the real fun! Not this sly move into the heart of the cemetery. Not these sounds all around him. His grandfather had said Halloween was little more than cacophony.
He wasn’t sure what it meant. But he’d give it a good guess. He’d know it on sight … if he could see it.
In the high distance, over Bailey’s Hill and the whole range of pine trees standing like ragged ghosts across the misshapen peak, a sudden storm raged far at sea. It was way out beyond Rumney’s Marsh, his father safe at home with the lobster fleet tied up in port, and the river winding silently through the marsh like a curling snake. The immediate lightning strikes showed the night clouds to be a thick mass of black velvet. The sounds of thunder rolled beneath his feet as though they were coming in from the underground. That part of it was believable. He argued with himself that it was one more mystery adding to the tone of the night. At the same time he admitted he didn’t know what else was in store for him.
There was a muffled laugh, or cry, rising from his left, in amongst stones whose names he had never read, set up for people he had never known. He was not sure of the cry’s nature or its intent. The picture of a young girl with a hand pressed tightly over her mouth presented itself at the back of his head. It’s only a picture, he tried to convince himself, saying it to himself. Only a picture. Nothing real! It couldn’t happen to her. It couldn’t happen to him. But cemeteries are always like this; scary, dark, something loose from the ground, something bony and desecrated and looking for the felon who had committed the awful acts of desecration, someone to blame in the darkness where faces are not seen, and names are not known.
Over there, way over there, past those bushes, slid a movement as sly as a mystery story, silent as midnight can make itself known in another room beyond a closed door, eerie and hollow-sounding. From one bush to another it moved, darkness without a shape, darkness without a form, but darkness enough to be measured, though he was not sure how it would be done. It was darkness with body to it. He wondered if it ate, if it drank, if it smelled, did it make noise when hungry, or cry when it hurt. Did it lisp? Have a memory of other beings? Make noise on its own, without being pushed by some other being he could not picture?
Could he doubt it?
Did it sleep here? Had he woken it from long sleep? He saw, in the dark distance, the Headless Horseman coming pell mell from the Catskills, or was it the Adirondacks or the Poconos or the Pyrenees. For all he knew, it was none of them. All of them had come off a single page of his reading. Yet such a creature came from such a night, the way partners or couples or pairs belong with each other, share the darkness, the night, deviltry itself. Fate, too, comes in pairs; you and it, him and it, us things in the darkness, we sharers. The ring at the back of his neck was cooler than cool; it stiffened him, stood him taller.
The next Bang! was a misfiring revolver pointed at the back of his head, chilled at the bore, circular in its touch, fire and brimstone waiting at the hand of an unknown assassin. Night is a hunter, his grandfather had often said, now and then an adept assassin, now and then a knife wielder, a wide machete, a thin finger-like stiletto he’d seen pictures of, a razor for the throat. Was that a footstep he had heard muffled, coming up behind him, now beside him, Indian-like, sylph-like, ghost-like? Someone was there, he was sure. Something! If he looked left, would he see what it was? Breath, in one great big chunk, left the cavern of his body, heaved into the chilly air, into the Riverside night. At the back of his neck, where a hand might be cold on him in a second, the hair follicles were icy at the roots, penetrating, moving under skin so slow and so fast he was not sure which way they were moving, in or out, up or down, there or not really there.
Was it all in his calling?
Halloween, for all its purposes, grabs you any way it can. He’d known that before daring to come here at this hour of the night, when his parents thought him abed for the night.
“I double-dare you, Georgie-Porgie,” his pal Cliffy had said. “I double-dare you to walk down the cemetery at midnight tonight, right down the middle of the center road to the big Moriarty mausoleum. That’s the pure white marble house where they hold dead men who ain’t got buried yet, like waiting for the second shift or next Monday, or waiting for the real planting season.” Cliffy was broad in the shoulders, the best ball player in the gang, said he knew a few girls already who had whispered tricky words to him, the magic words that separate the men from the boys. In the gang a few guys believed he could make black into white and wrong into right. “It only takes concentration,” he argued, “one problem cured at a time.”
Cliffy carried on, George his dedicated target for the evening, warming him up, getting him ready, setting him up for Halloween night. “Georgie-Porgie, Puddin’n’pie thinks a Boogie’s in his eye.” Cliffy had made faces at the others in the Center, all of them, but was putting George on the spot. Of course, Cliffy would himself do it at the drop of a hat. He was made that way. Nothing seemed to bother him; in the classroom, in the game, with the girls who gathered like clusters of stars at recess or on the way home from school.
Overhead, in the limbs of a tall elm, a black-botched elm that had pushed itself sixty feet in the air, the whir of wings, the voice of an owl he thought, someone questioning why he was here, who was here. It asked “Whoo? Whoo? Whoo? And along his earlobes the sound touched as if a cold wand had limped against his skin, the lobe catching the chilled air, the chilled point of a wand, hearing the shadow behind it almost breathing on him. He lost his breath again, another ball of it giving way to the night.
Then the black mound of the Moriarty mausoleum, the black-doored crypt that hundreds of stories had leaped from, loomed in front of him. Now, for sure, there was body to shadows, a massive clutch of darkness looming like a wall of a fortress. For that one family there had been murders, more than one hanging, a headless corpse found on the front lawn of their old house at Breakheart almost one hundred years ago, the identity never known, and once, half a century earlier, a child had been snatched from the nursery and never seen again. The father killed the nanny with a knife and then shot himself standing in the middle of the child’s room. There were those who said he knew it was going to happen all along, that sworn enemies had wreaked revenge, and where it hurt the most.
Suddenly, freakishly loud, frightening loud, as if it would pass right through his eyeballs and out the back of his head, a scream came. Eeetiyee!! Eeetiyee!! Oh, fear itself on fierce octaves, high rising octaves, out and beyond a human range. It came from the crypt, and banging and metal on metal and more gunshot sounds, as if the echoes were coming out of a long thin pipe. And Georgie-Porgie Pearl, eleven and almost twelve, froze in place, his heart rapping in his chest like drumsticks playing a live tabor. A second scream! A heart-stopping scream! And right from the crypt, from beyond the heavy, black-metal door that hung on iron wrists of hinges thick as the arms of a giant. He swore he would never breathe again. Would never again, in this lovely little town he had taken for granted for so long, take a breath. For a moment he thought he would wet his pants, the scream entering his bladder, finding its way down inside him, below his heart, making itself known for what it was. Fear itself, fear that comes from the unknown.
And footsteps sounded, almost silent at first, in between screams, in between those hellish sounds from beyond the huge black door, and then the voice. At once full of entreaty and terror, “Let me out. I can’t stay here another night. Dear God, let me out. You, out there, let me out. Let me out.” It was a voice directed at him. And the scream anew, “Eeetiyee!! Eeetiyee!! Let me out. I beg you, from the other side of the world, from the region of terror, let me out!” There was horror in the voice, heavy as a curbstone, heavy as anvil, heavy as the black door itself.
Georgie-Porgie Pearl, eleven coming on twelve, or just past it, frozen in place, his mind a jumble, his nerves a mess of messages that rippled along the skin of his body, his feet locked into place, heard the other strange sounds, so familiar, so strange, so remindful of something else that the inquisitive mind overrode his frightened body.
He asked himself what it was, that sound. Almost knowing, almost not knowing, and the breath acting weird again in his chest, and his eyes hurting beyond a known pain, and the sounds again, low and insistent, and fluctuating and zipping into the Riverside air.
Then came recognition! Then came identity! Then came reality!
It was static.
It was radio static. From the other side of the known world? From where? From whom?
Oh, joy of joys!
Georgie-Porgie Pearl, already twelve, aged a bit more, with a vision that came a marvel to him, a vision that came with clarity so pure and so clear it might never be seen again. And over there, beyond the bushes, beyond the shadows with weight and body in them, he could picture his pal Cliffy with the butterfly mike in his hands, could see the small red dots of the radio dials leaping out into the endless and stretching night, the hallow and shallow evening of specters of all sorts.
But none for the keeping.
Banner Image: Pixabay.com