“HEY BRAYDEN, OLD MAN WHEELER IS GOING TO GET YOU IF TOU DON’T STOP CUTTING THROUGH THAT CREEPY OLD CEMETARY!” A girl yells from outside the gates.
Brayden nervously looks from the group of girls to the dilapidated house at the other edge of the cemetery.
“Brayden is the weirdest kid in eighth grade… well maybe all of junior high.” One of the other girls says loud enough for the boy to hear.
The girls then giggle as they turn away from the over grown graveyard.
“Dumb girls, and their dumb boy band back packs,” Brayden mutters.
He walks down the same row of gravestones that he walks through every day on his way home from school. There are dates on the tombstones, however, there are not any names on any of them. The boy looks at the rows behind and finds the same. Brayden stops at one in particular and looks at a little lamb carved into stone, indicating that it must belong to an infant. He pauses, staring at the lamb through the overgrown grass and fallen leaves.
“HEY BOY, GET OUT OF THERE!”
Brayden looks towards the rickety, front porch of the run down house.
“Crap, its old man Wheeler.” He mumbles, seeing the old man on the porch with his cane.
He looks towards the gates and then back at the porch, “Where’d he go?” Brayden mumbles as the old man has disappeared.
“For a crippled, old man he moves fast,” Brayden thinks to himself as he feels his heart beat faster.
He pans around the cemetery, frantically.
“Boy, do you not understand English?”
“Yes… yes… Sir… I do…” Brayden stutters.
“Then why are you still here?” The old man questions.
Brayden looks towards the gate; he then turns back towards the tombstone with the lamb. He pauses and then looks at the old man as he stands there, glaring at him with his cane in hand.
“Sir…… why don’t any of these gravestones have names?”
“Leave it alone kid!” The man grunts.
“Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about it?”
The old man takes a seat on one of the weathered gravestones and sighs. He looks up towards the trees and focusses on what the boy can guess is the birds fluttering around in the peaceful space above them.
“Mr. Wheeler… Sir, what happened?”
“Call me William. You’re not going to leave me alone until I tell you are you?”
Brayden nods with a smirk.
The old man pushes himself up off of the stone, steading himself with his cane. Brayden watches as the man carefully makes his way around the stones overgrown with weeds and grass. A slight intermittent breeze rustles the leaves high above.
“William… how come nobody takes care of this graveyard?”
The old man reaches for a small iron gate with his cane and pushes it open with it.
“Kid…” He sighs, “You ask way too many questions.”
The old man carefully makes his way across his yard and up the stairs to where the boy finds two dirty, wicker chairs and a small whicker table in between them.
“Wait here.” William orders as he opens the tattered screen door to the house. He appears a few moments later caring two glasses.
“You want some tea?”
Brayden nervously nods in an attempt to act older than he is. He looks towards the glass vessel with the tea bags suspended in the water and rests on the top rail of the porch.
“Sit.” William points to a chair.
Brayden watches as the man pours a glass for him, the tea sloshes over the sides. William shakes as he reaches out towards Brayden with the glass. Brayden grasps the glass and sets it down on the table. William then pours himself one and hobbles backwards towards the other chair and with what appears to be a controlled fall, lands into the seat.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Your Scott and Anne’s boy aren’t you?
“What is your fascination with that cemetery? I watch you cut through there every day.”
“No one ever talks about what happened, why?” The boy answers.
William leans forward in his chair and looks down his nose at the boy.
“Most people don’t know, while others…… well… they don’t believe it, but I was there. I know what happened.”
Brayden’s jaw subtly opens in disbelief to the old man’s words. His mouth opens wider as William begins to speak.
“Demons… demons that came down into town. Everyone that they came into contact with turned to ash. They didn’t have a conscious, old… young… men… woman… children… it didn’t matter. You would hear the agonizing screams and cries coming from all over town. My parents hid me in the basement of this house and when morning came my parents were gone. Almost everyone was gone.”
“Sir, if you were little who took care of you?’ Brayden interrupts.
“The few people left in town sent me to live with my grandparents. I lived with them until they passed away. When I was seventeen, I moved back home, here.”
William takes a drink of his tea. Brayden does the same in an attempt to fit in. The old man chuckles as the boy’s face puckers to the pungent flavor of the drink.
“You’ve never had tea before, have you son?” William states.
Brayden wipes his mouth as he shakes his head embarrassed. William slowly gets out of his chair while leaning on it. He hobbles back to the screen door and reappears shortly with a glass of water.
Brayden takes a drink while the old man returns to his seat.
“How did the….” Brayden pauses.
“Demons, son. Call them what they are.”
“How did the demons get here?” Brayden questions.
“The clouds made a straight line across the top of the mountains, and the demons came in the cover of the cloud as it settled into this valley.”
“What did they look like?” The boy asks eagerly.
The old man shrugs, “No one seen them, some say they were invisible.”
“Where did they come from?”
William raises his hand to point, his mouth drops open in disbelief as he looks towards Paradise canyon. The old man knocks over the drinking glasses on the table as he desperately struggles to get up.
“Boy get home, run and don’t look back. Don’t come out until the sun does.”
Brayden looks at the canyon to see the clouds beginning to funnel down. The top of the cloud rolling like a wave crashing on a reef. He jumps from his chair; utter terror is the only emotion on the boy’s face. He looks towards the mountains and then back towards William. Terrorized, he nods and then runs down the stairs, skipping several in a leap. He runs without looking back.
“RUN… RUN BOY RUN!”
The sound of screeching tires pierces his ears before; a solid shove throws Brayden off balance. He goes down to the asphalt. The pain is sharp as he rolls across the road.
“HEY KID, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?” Several bystanders ask in unison.
He rubs his head where it had slammed onto the road. Dazed, he looks up at the people and then back at the canyon. He jumps to his feet, then grabs his elbows that burn with pain. He feels a warm dampness, along with the chunks of flesh that had been torn from them. He looks at the car bumper and then again at the canyon. He begins running towards home.
“WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU KID?”
Brayden turns to see the driver shaking his fists and yelling at him. He looks back down the street and begins to run even faster. He looks off to his left every few moments at the clouds moving down the canyon walls. He turns down one of the side streets, never losing stride. Cars in the streets honk at the boy and swerve from his path.
His home is directly in front of him. His mother, Anne, is hanging laundry in the front yard to dry. The sun illuminates her golden, blond hair. Brayden now glances over his left shoulder, behind him. His heart pounds in his ears. His muscles burn.
“Come on just a little further.” He mumbles to himself.
His mother turns to hang some wet sheets and obviously sees her son. At first she greats him with a smile and then her face turns to fear.
“BRAYDEN WHATS WRONG?” She screams.
He runs into her arms; she pulls her hands back revealing the blood. He begins to cry.
“Mom, we need to get inside.” He pleads as he tugs on her arm.
With much concern, she wastes little time obliging her son.
“Settle down. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. They climb the front porch steps where both of them pause. What sounds like thousands of horses is heard. The terror resumes in Brayden, his mother gasps when she sees the expression on his face.
“Where’s Dad?” He asks.
“He should be on his way home from work, why?” She answers.
The defining sound of galloping horse subsides, anguished screams follow. Their strides quicken at the disturbing sounds.
They quickly make it through the door; Anne forcefully pushes the door shut. Brayden quickly turns and opens the door and pulls the screen door closed and sets the hook to lock it. The churning wall of dark grey clouds slowly, but steadily approach where the house rests. The agonizing screams are getting closer. Both stand staring through the screen door and listen. Brayden terrified, slams the door and locks both the deadbolt and door handle. The fluttering of the curtains catches his attention.
“MOM, CLOSE THE WINDOWS!” He yells.
One by one, the click of the locks catching is heard in the commotion. Brayden runs to the opposite side of the house to lock the back door. While Anne peers through the curtains towards the darkness that is quickly approaching.
“What the hell is going on?” She asks herself out loud.
“MOM DON’T! GET AWAY FROM THE WINDOW!”
Brayden looks around the room, his glances become more frantic, “WHERES HUGO?”
“He’s out side. Brayden you need to calm down.”
He runs to the back door and swings it open.
“HERE HUGO… HERE KITTY, KITTY!” He frantically yells.
He looks down to see a flash of white fur brush his leg then slams the door shut, forcefully locking it behind him.
The lights grow brighter; the television turns on. The phone on the wall begins to ring, but no one answers when they pick it up. The microwave starts without warning. Every electronic device in the house grows brighter as if the electricity is being forced into them. The volume on the many devices grows louder and louder. The two look around frightened at what is transpiring. The deafening sounds drone out the anguished screams from outside. The lightbulbs begin to pop, sending shards of glass in all directions. The mother and son scream in terror as they duck and cover their heads with their arms. The microwave then explodes, followed by the television and the screen of his mother’s cell phone grows dark. The rest of the electronics cease as well. The only sound that can be heard is Hugo, with his back arched letting out a blood curdling yowl in the direction of the front door.
The two creep, slowly towards the front door. Brayden’s mother turns to him with her finger pressed against her lips, “Shhhhhh,” she signals him.
Brayden goes to the door, stands on his tippy toes and peers through the peep hole. His mother gently pushes back the curtains on the windows. Through the denseness of the cloud they see the headlights of a car. It stops haphazardly in front of the house on the street. It is his fathers. The two watch within the house as the door opens and without haste his father steps out of the car and begins to run towards the house then pauses.
“What is he stopping for?” His mother asks panicked.
Still looking through the peep hole he begins to reach for the dead bolt. Both watch as their loved one’s facial expression turns to sheer terror. The two watch as a figure in the midst of the cloud walks towards the man.