The boys sat, laid back, their elbows propping the upper half of their bodies up. They each had a chilled glass of homemade root beer in hand that Joey’s mom had made to get them out of the house.
“Take this and go outside to drink it,” she had told the three young teens as she proceeded to clean the house.
“Man, this sure hits the spot Joey,” Matt said as he shifted his weight to one side and lifted his glass to take a swig of the brown liquid.
“Yeah, we should bug your mom more often!” Doug concluded.
Matt and Joey laughed. They sat in silence for a bit, watching the clouds tumble through the sky, bending and shifting and spitting out new wisps of creation each minute. They listened to the wind combing through the leaves in the trees, causing a slight rustle to ripple through their ears. The street was lively, children played jumping games with a rope and chalk. Parents talked with neighbors, knitted immaculate quilts as lively and boisterous as the streets themselves or issued a curt warning to their sons and daughters to stick away from the street. Every house seemed to be dancing with excitement except the house directly in front of the boys.
“It’s funny,” Joey noticed. “There is excitement everywhere ‘cept here and there,” he indicated the two story wooden house across the street.
“That’s silly,” Matt told Joey. “Everyone knows that house is haunted, it’s s’posed to be abandoned and boring. No one ever goes inside else they come out all changed and dead. We ain’t anything like that place.”
“How can anyone know it’s haunted if ain’t no one’s ever been inside?” Joey replied.
There was a moment of silence between the three boys as they considered Joey’s words.
“We know it cause that’s what the grown-ups ‘ave told us, that’s how we know,” Matt
Joey appeared to be satisfied with that answer. He took another sip of the bubbling nectar that lay in his glass.
“Still,” said Joey. “It’s funny that my house is the only other house doin’ nothin’ exciting.”
“Y’all want excitement?” Doug asked, sitting up and setting his glass to his side.
Joey and Matt nodded, copying Doug’s actions themselves.
“Let’s go into that house, just us three,” Doug suggested.
“Don’t be stupid Doug,” Joey said, leaning back again to stare at the clouds.
“Yeah, we a’int doing that,” said Matt. “They say that place is a graveyard.”
“That’s the point!” Doug shouted. “‘Ave you ever been to a graveyard?”
“Well, no…” Matt conceded.
“‘Nd what about you, Joey?”
“No, I s’pose I haven’t,” Joey said.
“Then we gota go! My mum always tells me I ought to try some new things,” Doug explained.
“So does mine!” said Matt.
“Mine too,” Joey concluded.
“It’s settled then,” Doug told them. “We’ll meet here at Joey’s house later tonight, dressed in black with our torches and anything else we can get our hands on!”
“Woah, why at night?” Joey asked.
“Night’s the best sorta time to try something new! All the exciting stuff happens at night,” Doug said.
Joey looked around the street again, breathing in all of the excitement he saw taking place.
“Doug’s right,” Matt said. “Besides, ain’t nobody goes to any graveyard at night.”
It was true, Joey thought.
“Alright,” Joey decided. “We meet here tonight.”
“Great!” Doug said gleefully as he sprung to his feet. “I gotta go home and get ready.”
“Me too!” Matt agreed.
“Right, we’ll see you tonight Joey, don’t chicken out on us!”
“Yeah! Thanks for the root beer!” Matt said as the two boys walked off down the street towards their houses.
Joey snatched each of the empty glasses and finished the last remaining bit of drink in his own glass. He carried the glasses inside and set them on the counter for his mother to clean then climbed the stairs to his room where he would spend the rest of the day searching for the objects he would need later that night.
Joey sneaked out of his bedroom, dressed stealthily in black with a torch secured firmly in his hooded jacket pocket. The hood served to cover a good bit of his white head and as a good carrying compartment for the torch. He tiptoed down the stairs and opened the door to the outside, carefully carefully he walked outdoors to be greeted by the laughter of his friends.
“Ah, well look who showed up after all,” Doug said as Joey approached.
“You ready?” Matt asked.
Joey nodded, “Let’s get this over with.”
The boys snuck across the street and crept onto the front lawn of the graveyard. As they approached the concrete steps that led to the old door of the house, Doug hashed out his plan to the other two.
“Right, we don’t know what’s in there, so I say one of you heads ‘round back and comes in the back way, just in case,” he and Matt looked at Joey.
“Well why has it got to be me?” Joey remarked as he looked back and forth between his friends.
“You’re the neighbor. If there is anyone in there they won’t think as much about you.”
“Like that will make a difference,” he said.
The other two boys continued staring at Joey until he finally relented and shaking his head started back down the steps to walk around the house, mumbling all the way.
“Count to twenty, then go in,” Doug whispered in a high enough pitch that his voice was able to pierce the air and penetrate Joey’s eardrum. Whether Joey had actually heard though Doug did not know as the boy continued on his way mumbling, shaking his head and brandishing the lit torch in his hand.
“Right, you been countin,’” Doug asked Matt.
“Was I s’posed to?” Matt asked.
Doug punched Matt in the shoulder.
“Course you was s’posed to! I told Joey to!”
“Well why couldn’t you have counted?” Matt defended himself whilst rubbing his shoulder.
“Forget it,” Doug said. “Open the door.”
Matt pushed open the door and they heard a piece of glass shatter on the ground.
With both persons safely inside the door, Matt quickly pushed it closed and the two boys yanked out their torches, flipping the power switches to on. A beam of light was cast out from both of their illuminating sticks to display the destruction that lay on the floor next to their compatriot.
“Joey!” Doug scolded.
“It wasn’t my fault! It’s been way past twenty seconds! Where ‘ave you two been? You scared the living daylights out of me!”
“SHHH!” Matt called.
“Oh what are you shhhing?” Joey asked.
“Don’t use the L word in a graveyard! My mum says that’s bad luck.”
Joey twisted his face into confusion. He didn’t even know there was an L word. It took a moment of thought before he discovered what Matt was talking about. Living. Of course! How could he have been so daft? You can’t say the word living in a graveyard, it angers the spirits of the dead.
During their exchange, Doug began to walk up the wooden stairs that occupied nearly the entirety of the room. Creaking, creaking, the boys on the ground floor heard their friend’s footsteps treading heavily on the old and rotten wood.
“Doug! Can’t you walk any lighter?” Matt warned.
Doug simply waved his hand, beckoning the two boys to follow him up the stairs. At the top of the stairs was another wooden door, fit roughly in the polygon that had once been a rectangle. Seeping out from under the door and slithering all along the loose fitting door frame was the unmistakable orange of candlelight.
“There’s someone in here,” Doug whispered.
Matt and Joey crept up the steps behind Doug. They stood at the top the three of them, listening to the dull, deafening, drum of their hearts as they beat out into the graveyard’s air where the sound would hover for seconds, as though the air had become so thick it was capable of suspending the most minute of sounds. Indeed, the air did seem thicker. The boys were gasping, quickly, breathing and breathing, sucking in as much of the precious oxygen that they could take.
“Who’s gonna open it?” Doug whispered.
Matt and Joey, standing on either side of Doug both looked at the man in the middle.
“Ah come on, why’s it gotta be me?” Doug groaned quietly.
“You’re in the middle,” Matt gulped.
Joey nodded agreement.
The boys switched off their torches and stored them back in their respective carrying locations. The only light they had to show them where they were going, where they had come from, was given in the form of the slender splinters of light protruding from the room beyond.
Doug reached forward and took hold of the brass door knob. He twisted and pushed.
The street was on lockdown the next morning as the parents of Joey, Matt and Doug stood crying together, with their neighbors huddled around them. The three boys, it seemed, had disappeared in the night without telling anyone where they had gone. Police patrolled the streets now, flagging down all the neighbors and interrogating them for any sort of information they might have. It was eleven in the morning and no information had been discovered.
“They didn’t say anything about wanting to go somewhere yesterday?” One of the policemen asked.
“No, no! They just played! Like children are supposed to do!” Cried Joey’s mother, lifting her head away from her hands just long enough to answer the man’s question.
“I think it best we all went back inside and let the police do what they need to do,” said Joey’s father, embracing his wife in a hug. “We aren’t doing any good standing out here.”
With that he turned, pulling his wife with him. They went indoors and he sat her down on the sofa then left to fetch her a glass of water. The crowd outside dispersed, going away to their separate houses where they would remain. It wasn’t until nearly three in the afternoon that Joey walked in the front door of his parent’s house.
He was rather surprised when his father nearly tackled him to the ground.
“Oh, Joey!” His mother squealed.
“Where have you been?” Asked his father.
“We’ve been worried sick. There are cops all throughout the town looking for you and your friends.”
“We’ve just been across the street, at the graveyard,” Joey struggled as he squirmed out from under his father only to be embraced by his mother seconds after.
“What were you doing over there? I thought we told you not to go there? Do you want some water or something? Some soup? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine mum, really. It is an incredible place, that graveyard,” Joey said.
“What do you mean?” Asked his father, an arms length away and a stinkeye gracing his countenance.
“Go sit down,” his mother suggested. “I’ll get you some water.”
Joey’s mother went to the phone and snatched it up. Dragging the cord with her she walked to the refrigerator to fetch some water and pour it into a glass for her son.
“Yes, officer. He is back! He just walked in, he appears to be fine!” Joey heard his mother say.
“Yes, yes. That would be fine. See you soon!” She hung up the phone and brought the water to her son.
“The police are coming over, they would like to hear your story and understand what happened so that they may close up their case.”
“Alright,” Joey said calmly, accepting the glass and swallowing some of the water.
The time until the policemen arrived was filled with countless inquiries by Joey’s mother trying to be assured that everything was okay followed by numberless assurances by Joey that he was. At last, two officers knocked on the door and Joey’s father let them in, beckoning to the chairs in the front room for them to sit in.
“Hello Joey, my name is Officer Conrad,” one of the men said. “I’d like to hear your story, just to make sure that there is nothing more that I need to do.”
Joey sat forward and placed his glass on the the dark chestnut colored coffee table that stood between the couch he and his parents were on and the two chairs that accompanied the officers. He sat back again and began his story.
Doug walked in first, Joey and Matt flanking him.
The room was a massive rectangle stretching nearly one hundred feet from end to end but you would never have known it. The walls were lined with shelves and in the shelves lay books books and more books. Books by the tens, books by the fifties, they filled the walls, all different sizes and colors and titles. The floor looked the same: piles and piles, books and books, papers and papers, they all lay strewn on the lightly shaded wooden planks, illuminated only slightly by the light of many dwindling candles. The books cast shadows, throwing their bountiful works into life on the walls, dancing as though they were acting out the stories that lay within them.
The three young teens looked to their right. Nestled away in an alcove was an old fellow seated in a large, red, cushioned chair. He had spectacles on his wrinkled face and was peering over the top of them now to see the boys standing in the light of the candles. His head was filled with a mop of grey hairs and there seemed to be a permanent smile that graced his features. To the side of the man was a small round table and on the table sat a typewriter, trailing yards of paper out the back of it. Piled high behind the man were books, piled to his left more books and scattered lightly out in front of him like fertilizer were more books still.
“Hello,” Doug replied tentatively.
“What brings you up here?” The old man asked.
“Our parents said it was a graveyard and that no one ever comes out alive,” Matt spoke up.
The old man chuckled. He pushed his glasses up his nose and laughed some more.
“So you’re out looking for adventure?” The old man asked at last.
“That’s right,” Joey said. “Is this not a graveyard?”
“Oh it’s a graveyard alright,” the old man chuckled again. “Come, gather round. I’ll take you on a few adventures.”
The teens walked hesitantly forward.
“Move some of those books to the side so you may sit,” the old man directed them.
They did as they were told and sat down, forming a sort of circle between them, the walls of books and the old man in the chair.
“I know just the one to start with,” the old man picked up a small square book from the ground. He opened to the first page and began reading.
“How it began with the children, old Mrs. Bentley never knew. She often saw them, like moths and monkeys, at the grocer’s, among the cabbages and hung bananas, and she smiled at them and they smiled back.”
The man continued reading and when he finished the story the boys stared at him in wonder.
“How did we like that one? It was always a favorite of mine, from the mind of the great Ray Bradbury,” The old man said then appeared to stare blankly at the flickering candle beside his typewriter as if remembering something.
“It was fantastic!” Doug replied.
“Do you have any more?” Matt asked.
“I do indeed,” the old man grinned. “What would you like to hear?”
The old man began to finger through the books within his immediate reach, calling them out by author as he did so.
“We’ve got Poe, Hemingway, Twain, Chaucer, Shaw, Dante, Hawthorne, Doyle, Steinbeck, Cervantes.”
“Who was that?” Joey asked.
“Cervantes?” The old man asked back.
“Let’s hear that one!” Joey replied.
“Very well!” The old man grunted as he heaved himself ever so slowly out of his great red chair. He limped closer to the pile of books that he was looking through and began to lift them, one by one off the top, slowly descending to the book in the middle: Don Quixote.
“Here let us help you!” Joey said, bounding up to his feet.
“Yeah, don’t hurt yourself old man!” Matt said, he too bouncing up.
The old man chuckled. “I cannot imagine a more phenomenal feat than hurting myself whilst trying to read. One can never grow too old to read.”
“Still, you gotta let us help you,” Doug said.
“Oh, very well. Get around this pile and steady it,” the old man told them.
The three boys moved about, positioning themselves on the other three sides of the pile.
“Have you all got your hands on it?” the old man asked.
The boys voiced that they did and the man ripped the book from the pile. The mountain began to sway, back and forth as the boys tried to steady it, then it came down in an avalanche between Matt and Doug, not harming anyone but leaving a mess of books strewn on the little remaining wood.
“Ah gee, sorry old man,” Matt said and the old man chuckled.
“Not a problem!” The old man said gleefully. “The only way you can damage a book is to never let it be of use. To never pick it up and smell its pages and the crisp, dark ink that has been printed upon them. Now come back around and let us begin our adventures with the good knight and his companion, Sancho Panza.”
The boys gathered back around and the old man read from the book. The rest of the night was more of the same, the old man reading and the children listening, seeing, experiencing the lives of the characters in the stories and the authors who had written of them. They felt themselves be lifted and brought to the sea where they sailed, a tiger by their side. They traveled down a massive river, running away from the evils of the world. They fought in wars, they loved, they battled windmills. They lived.
The time passed by unknowingly and soon the old man closed the book he was currently reading, ending on a cliffhanger of course.
“Well what’ve you stopped for?” Matt demanded.
“Yeah, what gives? Keep reading!” Doug agreed.
“No, no. You’ve been here too long,” the old man said. “Look outside, the sun is more than halfway through its journey. Go to your homes and come back later, we will finish the story then, once I have had some time to rest.”
Unwillingly, the boys walked back down the creaking wooden steps and traveled to their respective homes.
As Joey finished his story, the policemen nodded and stood up. They walked to the door with Joey’s father and stopped before leaving.
“We will go and talk to this man he speaks of,” Officer Conrad said. “Thank you for talking with us, Joey.”
The men walked out the door.
Joey hiked up the stairs and into his room, reflecting on the experiences of the night before. When he reached his room he closed his door and jumped on his bed. Kneeling, he looked out his window. Across the street was an ambulance and there appeared to be a body being rolled out to the boxlike car.
“That’s strange,” Joey said aloud.
He laid back on his bed and stared at his ceiling. They were right, he thought. That place is a graveyard, a graveyard for the living, for those who have never truly died.
Joey closed his eyes and drifted quickly to sleep, giving his tired eyes some rest at last. Before he had drifted too far he had one last thought.
No one ever comes out of that place alive, he thought, as he pondered the new life he had discovered.