The kids sat in the basement, watching Sponge Bob, drinking Kool-Aid and eating Doritos. Every now and then, Max, their dog, would get up from his spot on the floor, move to another spot, sniff the ground, turn around 3 times and lay down again.
A commercial came on the TV. “The Spook Spectacular is coming to a town near you,” it said. “Will you be dared or scared? Call 1-800-SPOOKY2. Tickets on sale now.” The faces of grotesque clowns, monsters and Jason masks scrolled across the screen.
“Yuck! I would NEVER go see that,” Gloria said, covering her eyes.
“Why? Because you’re chicken? Afraid of some fake blood and people with masks jumping out of the bushes?” her brother Dan mocked. “It’s all fake you know.”
“Well, I still wouldn’t go. I would get nightmares.” She reached for another handful of chips.
“Well I’d go,” Brad said, standing up to pull the chain on the lightbulb. The room went dark and he jumped up and down trying touch the ceiling. He jumped again pretending to throw a basketball into the net. “I’d go right now if I had money. I love scary stuff. We should ask dad if we can go.” He grabbed the remote from Gloria and threw it to Dan.
“See if you can find one of those shows where they look for ghosts in old buildings. I’m sick of SpongeBob.”
“No!” Gloria yelled. “Give that back! I don’t want to watch ghosts!” She stood with her hands on her hips. “I’m gonna tell mom!”
Both boys laughed. “What a little scaredy cat. Poor baby, are you going to have nightmares? Go run to mommy!” Brad and Dan circled around Gloria waving their arms over her head making sounds of ghosts while she folded herself into a ball with her hands over her ears.
“Stop it!” she whined.
The basement door opened and the lights came back on. From the top of the stairs their mother’s voice boomed.
“What’s going on down there? Why is Gloria cryin’? You boys quit picking on her RIGHT NOW!”
The boys rolled their eyes and gave each other a quiet high five.
“Mo-oo-om,” Gloria yelled back. “They’re trying to scare me.”
“You boys are headed for trouble if you don’t knock it off,” then the door slammed shut.
Gloria waited with her eyes shut for whatever would come next from her brothers but the room was quiet. She opened her eyes to see Brad and Dan watching the TV. Three guys were walking slowly through a dark cemetery, one of them was carrying a large camera. The music on the show got louder until one of the men yelled, “LOOK! Right there. Did you see that?”
“You guys! No fair! I want to watch SpongeBob,” and she stomped loudly up the stairs.
“Good riddance,” the boys said and sat back to watch the rest of the TV show.
Later that night, Brad leaned over the top bunk. “Pssst. Hey! Dan! Let’s go to the cemetery.”
He got no response.
“Dan, do you hear me?”
Dan took the sheet from his face and looked up. “What? A cemetery? Why do you want to go there?”
“To see ghosts, stupid? What do you think? We’ll take my camera and maybe something will show up on it like on that show we watched.”
“That dumb camera you have? That ain’t gonna work.”
“You don’t know anything. It could work. I say we try it.”
“Right now. Tonight. Come on.”
“How are we going to get out of the house? Or get to the cemetery?”
“We just need to be quiet. We’ll walk to the cemetery. It isn’t that far. Plus mom and dad went to bed early tonight.” He giggled. “So they’re probably doing you know what right now.” He covered his mouth and giggled.
“EEEUUU! Shut up! Quit saying that.”
Brad laughed louder and threw his pillow down at his brother who picked it up and threw it right back at him.
Brad jumped off the bunk. “Come on, get dressed. Put on all black stuff, nothing white, like on TV.”
“I don’t know about this, Brad.” He looked towards the clock. “It’s almost midnight.”
“Just hurry up and get dressed will ya?”
The house was dark as the boys slipped down the hallway in their stocking feet. They had left Max behind chewing on a large dog bone.
“Come on, Dan, hurry up,” Brad hissed as he waved him on.
As they passed the kitchen, Dan stopped. He thought he saw something move near the back door. He pulled on the back of Brad’s shirt.
“What was that?” Both boys crouched down.
“I don’t know. Did you close the bedroom door? Maybe Max followed us.
“No. I shut it tight. It’s not Max.” They kept very still. As their eyes grew accustomed to the dark, a small figure came towards them.
“Gloria!” Brad whispered loudly. “What are you doing out here? Get back to bed.”
“Where are you guys going?” she asked them, her bright pink Cinderella pajamas almost glowed in the dark kitchen.
“Sshhhh…” the boys said together.
Brad moved towards his sister. “Never mind where we’re going. Just go back to bed… And be quiet!”
Gloria went to stand next to Dan. She looked up at him pleading with her big brown eyes.
“Where are you going, Danny? Can I come, too?”
“No,” Brad said before Dan could answer.
“I’m going to tell mom you guys are sneaking out.” She headed for the hallway.
Brad grabbed the back of her pink pajamas and pulled her around back into the kitchen with his hand over her mouth.
“No you’re not!” He put his face close to hers. Her lips started to quiver. “And keep your voice down. We need to be quiet.”
Gloria tried wiggling away.
“If you don’t let me come with, I’m going to tell mom and dad. You’ll be in BIG trouble.”
Brad and Dan looked at each other. Dan shook his head.
“Maybe we should just forget it for tonight.”
“Forget what, Danny?” Gloria asked.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you, you baby. I should’ve just gone by myself.” Brad let go of Gloria and headed toward the door.
“Hey, wait!” Dan went after him. “Dang it, Brad. I’ll go. But what about Gloria?”
Brad took Gloria’s hand and gently pulled her down the hallway towards his room. He leaned down and spoke quietly into her ear.
“I’ll give you $5 and all the candy in my sock drawer if you stay here and keep Max quiet until we get back. Will you do that for me? We’ll let you watch whatever you want on TV tomorrow.”
Gloria sat on the bottom bunk and petted Max as he chewed away on his bone. At the door, Brad looked back and put his finger to his lips. “Shhhh,” and then he closed the door.
Out on the steps, the boys put on their shoes and covered their heads with black stocking caps. Brad had grabbed a flashlight on the way out of the house but the moon shown so bright they could easily see where they were going without it. They walked quickly down Maple Street towards the cemetery keeping close to the trees on the boulevard. When a car came towards them, they hid their thin bodies behind the tree trunks.
“What exactly are we going to do when we get there, Brad?”
“Look for ghosts, you idiot. I told you that already?”
“What if we really see one? What then?”
“We’ll try to talk to it.”
“What if it doesn’t want to talk to us? What if it wants to hurt us?” Dan stopped and looked all around him, considering going back home. Brad came up behind him and flashed the light into his eyes.
“Then we’ll aim the flashlight right in its eyes and scare it away,” he laughed and started running.
Once they reached the long driveway that wound around and through the headstones, they heard a dog bark from far away. The large trees of the cemetery cast strange slanted shadows across the grass. As clouds moved in front of the moon, their surroundings went from black to pitch dark, then lightened up again. A cool wind rustled up the dry leaves that skipped across the ground. Dan shivered and pulled his cap down farther on his head. He didn’t like being in the cemetery. He wasn’t sure he even believed in ghosts but he was sure that he didn’t want to see one. The wind got stronger and he moved behind a big headstone to block the cold. Brad got his camera out of his pocket and hung the strap around his neck. He put it up to his eyes and looked through the lens. Something pink flashed by in front of the lens and the camera fell from his hands.
“What the h…” Dan and Brad watched in disbelief as Gloria walked slowly towards them, still in her pink pajamas, carrying a blanket and pulling Max on a leash. Brad ran over to her.
“What are you doing here? You said you would stay with Max! I swear, Glor, if we get in trouble because of you…” he stepped towards her to grab her and she shrunk away.
“Stop it,” Dan said. “You’re scaring her.”
Gloria stared at the ground as Max laid down on the grass beside her.
“This is just great,” Dan sighed. “Now what are we going to do? Maybe we should just go back home.”
“Go on then,” Brad pointed towards their house. “Take off you chicken. I don’t care. I’m staying here to look around.” He started to walk away from them.
Dan went to stand in front of Gloria, “Why do you have to always screw things up? Now he’s mad.”
“I’ll be quiet, Danny. I promise.” She pushes the toes of her slippers into the long wet grass. “I just wanted to see where you were going. But why did you guys come HERE? It’s really spooky.”
“We’re here to see ghosts.” Dan looked around for Brad.
“Ghosts? Are there really ghosts here?” Gloria pulled her blanket tight around her shoulders. She sat down very close to Max and put her arm around him. “I’ll just wait here with him.”
Dan could see Brad weaving around the rows of headstones in the distance. He did not want to lose him in the darkness.
“No, you can’t stay here by yourself. You and Max need to come with me. Come on. We need to catch up to Brad.”
Brad heard them coming.
“Well, look who showed up. The chickens, Bwak, Bwak, Bwaaak.”
“Are you really looking for ghosts, Brad?” Gloria said, eyes wide.
“Yeah, that’s why you shouldn’t be here. Who knows what we’ll…
Gloria stopped abruptly. She drew in a big breath. “Who is that?” She pointed to a tall, dark figure standing under a large willow tree about 10 feet away.
The boys stood close beside her and looked in the direction of her finger.
A deep voice called out, “Who goes there? What are you kids doing out here?” He man dropped something heavy to the ground and started coming towards them.
Dan turned to run but Brad caught his arm.
“Hold on. Let’s see what he wants.”
“Are you crazy? He probably wants to kill us!”
Gloria started to cry and clung to Dan’s sleeve. Max started to growl, his hair stood up on his back as he crouched low to the ground.”
“Max,” Brad commanded, “Stay, boy,” and he took the leash from Gloria.
As the man kept coming closer, Brad tried to reassure his siblings. “Come on you guys. It’s okay. Maybe he’s just the gravedigger.
“And maybe he’s digging our graves!” Dan choked out.
“Danny, I’m scared,” Gloria clawed at his sleeve trying to find his hand to hold.
Max started pulling on his leash, growling and barking at the stranger. The man stopped about 3 feet away. His white beady eyes stared at them from below his hat. His face was dirty and his gray beard hung down to the top of his overalls. His boots were caked with mud. He leaned in towards the kids and folded is huge hands across his chest.
“What are you kids doing here? What do you want?” he asked them.
Brad stepped forward, “We’re looking for our grandpa.”
The man laughed loudly, “Well, I sure hope he’s dead.”
“That’s not funny, mister,” Dan said stepping up behind Brad.
Gloria stepped out in front of her brothers. Max continued barking.
“We’re here to see ghosts,” she said, “Have you seen any?”
The man chuckled and moved closer to Gloria. “Well, little missy, as a matter of fact, I have.”
“Really?” they all said at once.
“Well, sure I have. I’m a gravedigger. I’m out here at night all the time. There are lots of ghosts out here.”
Brad looked at Dan and gave him a thumbs up. Dan frowned. He wasn’t excited about their adventure through the cemetery so far.
“Can we see one?” Gloria stepped closer to the man.
“Well now, you’d have to be really quiet. Spirits don’t like to come around if they know you’re watching them. Why don’t you kids sit down next to that big tombstone over there?” He pointed to a tall marble structure with the name “MARTIN carved on the front. “I’ll bet if you sit there quietly enough and keep your dog from barking, you’ll see something tonight.”
As the man walked back towards the willow, Gloria asked, “Are they nice ghosts?”
The man laughed again. “You never know.”
“My name is Gloria, what’s your name?”
He turned and looked at her. “My name? My name is Bud. Bud Downing.”
“You go on now and sit over there but don’t stay too long. You should get back home, it’s pretty late.
“We snuck out of our house,” Gloria shared. “Our parents don’t know where we are.”
“Shut up, Gloria,” Dan said and swatted her upper arm.
Brad grabbed their arms, “Come on guys. Over here.”
The three of them sat in the dark beside the gravestone watching and waiting. They all jumped when a squirrel came up behind them and when a white piece of paper passed in front of them carried away by a mouse. As the night grew cooler, they huddled together to keep warm.
“I’m cold, Danny. Let’s go home.” Gloria shivered under her thin blanket.
“Yeah, come on Brad. Let’s go. We’re not going to see anything. It’s not even dark out because the moon is so bright.”
Brad stood up and brushed the dirt off the back of his pants. He looked around for the tall man but couldn’t see him.
“Alright. Let’s go.”
Back at home, they removed their shoes before going in the side door. Max went straight to his water bowl and drank until it was gone. Dan made sure Gloria got into her bed and covered her with her blankets.
“Remember, this is our secret,” he told her as she drifted quickly to sleep.
In their room, Brad was already in the upper cot and snoring. Dan slipped out of his clothes and fell into bed.
At breakfast the next morning, their mom filled their plates with fresh pancakes. Dan kept yawning while Gloria rubbed at her eyes.
“Why are you guys so sleepy this morning?” she asked. Nobody answered. Brad and Dan stared at Gloria hoping she would keep her mouth shut. Their dad peaked at the three of them from behind his paper.
“Can I get more coffee, hon?” He put down the paper and held out his cup.
“I just saw the obituary for Bud in today’s paper,” he said while their mom refiled his cup.
“Oh, I heard about that, too. It was so sad to hear about his passing.” She put the coffee pot back on the stove. “I wonder what he died from.”
Curious, Brad asked, “Whose Bud, mom?”
“He was our neighbor years ago. Bud Downing was his name.”
Brad and Dan lay down their forks just as Gloria said, “he’s not dead, momma. We just saw him last night at the cemetery.”