By Lenore Butcher
2014 Honourable Mention: Young Adult
She was facing a long night alone in the house and she didn’t think she could take it anymore. She had to get out. If she stuck around the house, she thought she might end up getting drunk again and she didn’t want to be that pathetic loser who got drunk by herself every night. That was someone else entirely, definitely not Katie Byron.
She put her jacket on and left the house. She had no idea where she was going, just she couldn’t stay home tonight.
It was getting dark as she began to walk up the street. There were very few people out on the street at this hour, and she nodded to everyone that she passed. They all nodded back, giving her those pitying looks she was starting to really hate.
She had no real destination in mind as she wandered the darkening streets of her town. She had left her cell phone back at the house on purpose. She didn’t want to talk to anyone and she didn’t want them to be able to reach her. She wanted to be alone, totally alone. For that same reason, she had left Patches home as well. She felt like being selfish, like focusing on herself and her own misery and not tending to her dog’s needs for the moment. She could let Patches out into the back yard when she got home.
The night folded itself around her, made her welcome as she continued to walk, making turns at random, until she found herself standing in front of the gates of the cemetery. The sign on the wrought iron fence informed her that the gates were closed at dusk. It was well and truly past dusk, so she didn’t figure she would be able to get into the cemetery.
She leaned on the gate for a second, resting her forehead against the smooth cold surface. Some of the black paint was beginning to flake and she ended up with a few flecks of it on her hands as they curled around the bars. She made a mental note to check her forehead as well afterwards to make sure she hadn’t picked anything up that way.
The gate gave, startling her, almost knocking her off her feet, had she not had a grip on the iron rails. The gate wasn’t locked.
She eased it open enough so she could slip into the cemetery, then she pulled it shut behind her. She found the winding road that led to the spot where Todd was buried and she started along it, reaching up to swipe at her face, hoping to catch any black smears that were there. She didn’t know what she was going to do there, but she felt like it was where she wanted to be tonight. Maybe she would just sit and talk to him for a bit, tell him how much she missed him.
She could hear faint strains of music coming ahead on the left and she glanced over as she passed by.
She was not surprised to see it was the Goth queen. It somehow seemed fitting that she was hanging out in the graveyard, listening to dark sinister music. It wasn’t even surprising to see the half-drunk bottle of absinthe sitting on a gravestone with candles grouped in a half circle around it. She was surprised to see the man in the suit sitting on the ground. He had lost the jacket and tie somewhere and his hair was askew. His eyes were glazed over and he was staring dully at one of the nearby gravestones, his hand curled around a tumbler half full of the green liquid.
“Do you mind, prom queen?” the Goth queen snapped at her, “This is a private party.”
“Umm, no. Sorry.” Confused, Katie kept walking. She thought being out at night maybe exposed her to different things than what you saw in daytime. She wasn’t sure if it was good or bad.
The road curved to the left up ahead, and then there was a small hill. She followed it all the way up to the top of the hill, and then it branched off in two directions, snaking around to form a circle. Todd’s grave was at the bottom end of the circle, near a stand of trees. There was an old mausoleum nearby, long abandoned, but covered with climbing vines and surrounded by flowering bushes.
She sank to her knees at the foot of Todd’s grave. His head stone was newly installed. It must have gone in today, she remembered Mister Brewster had said it was going to happen this week. She moved forward, reaching out to trace his name, his birth and death dates, and the words “Never forget-Always in our hearts-Beloved son” carved into the cold marble.
Tears rose up in her eyes. “Todd.” She leaned her cheek against his headstone. “Oh Todd.” A sob escaped her. “I miss you so much.”
She could feel the marble surface of the headstone leaching the warmth out of her face, so she moved to lie down in the grass of his grave. It was cool and a bit damp from the evening dew. She could feel it soaking into her tights and her jacket, but she didn’t mind. Todd had it a lot worse than she did.
“Todd, I miss you,” she sobbed, letting the tears come as they wanted. “I can’t do this without you. I wish you could come back. Please come back. Please.”
She could feel her heart pounding, something welling up inside her, pouring out of her along with her grief and her tears.
The ground started to heave and buckle under her. She scrambled to her knees, moving back, staring as the ground began to break open. She thought for a moment they were having an earthquake.
Then Todd crawled out of his grave.
She couldn’t move, she felt paralyzed, stuck to the ground as she stared up at him from her kneeling position. She’d heard of being frozen in fear before and she’d never really understood how that could happen to someone, but now she got it.
“Todd?” she said hesitantly. He swung around to stare at her. He looked the same as he had when they’d buried him on the weekend. Same clothes, his hair was even hardly out of place from his climb up from his coffin.
He growled, a guttural, wrenching noise, and he started towards her, reaching his hands out to her. He lurched the first few steps, then he seemed to get the hang of walking again and his gait evened out. His eyes were dark and there was an unnatural light burning in them as he reached for her. She raised her hands reflectively to ward him off. Her hands suddenly felt warm and tingly, almost like they had a fever, if specific body parts could get fevers.
“Todd, no!” she cried out, “Don’t!”
He backed up, staring at her, confused. He growled again and this time he moved faster, almost falling towards her as he tripped over his feet trying to get to her.
“No!” She raised her hands again, warding him off and this time she could almost feel a density collect in the air, some kind of buffer keeping them apart. She didn’t know what he wanted but by the murderous expression on his face, it wasn’t good.
He growled at her a third time, and then he turned and shambled away, back down towards the trees at the foot of the tiny hill he had been buried on. She knew she should go after him, but she was afraid. She just wanted to get out of there as quickly as she could before he came back, or before others rose. She looked around at the other graves surrounding Todd’s, but none of them had begun to boil and churn – yet.
She ran back down the road. She didn’t even look to see if the Goth queen and her date were still in the graveyard. What would she do? How would she warn them? And what would she say? Yelling, “Help, zombies!” in a graveyard was too trite… and just plain silly. If anyone did hear her, they would think she was some kind of stupid teenager playing a stupid practical joke. As her feet pounded down the road, she desperately wished she was that teenager and not the one who had just watched her best friend crawl out of his grave.
She made it to the cemetery gates before she dared to look around behind her. She was alone. There was no sign of Todd anywhere.
She braced her back against the gate, her chest heaving, fighting to get her breathing back under control from her headlong rush through the graveyard. She looked from one corner to the other of the property in front of her, squinting to see if there was any movement, anyone lurking behind the headstones.
The only sound she could hear was her shuddering breathing… and the faint strains of music from where the Goth queen was still having her party. She listened for a moment, straining to hear any other sounds other than the music. She was listening for screaming, for growling… and chewing. The music was all she heard and she managed to pick out a few words of the tune. She was pretty sure they were playing Lady GaGa. She downgraded her opinion of the Goth queen from ‘terrifying’ to ‘a bit scary but also kind of pathetic’.
She turned back to face the gates, eased them open and slipped back onto the road outside the cemetery, pulling the gates shut behind her, making sure nothing that was inside the cemetery was going to get out.
She had a very confusing and creepy walk home. Her senses felt like they were on high alert and she kept looking around, peering into the darkness, trying to see if there was anything lurking in bushes, behind trees. There was no moon in the sky, which made it worse somehow, made the night seem ever so much darker. She kept a fairly brisk pace all the way home, nearly a trot, ready to break out into a full run at any moment if needed.
The walk was uneventful. No monsters had appeared, other than the ones she’d imagined. She was sorry she’d left Patches at home, but maybe that was for the best. Maybe Todd would have eaten Patches. What did zombies eat? She thought she remembered something about brains from the scary movie Mike had taken her to on one of their first dates, but she didn’t remember much about it. She’d spent most of her time with her head buried in his jacket. Katie was not a person who appreciated horror of any sort so it was ironic she appeared to be playing the lead role in her very own zombie apocalypse.
She let herself into the house, then shut and locked the door behind her. She ran around the house, locking every single door, making sure all the windows were locked, turning on every light upstairs and on the main level. She opened the basement door, looked down at the thick darkness in the basement and her resolve faltered. She slammed the basement door and instead wedged a kitchen chair under the door knob. She grabbed the largest cooking pot they owned, put the steel colander inside it, and then filled the colander with a handful of silverware grabbed from the drawer. If anything was in the basement and managed to get out of the basement, hopefully it would make a hellish noise when it tipped over the seat full of metal and it would give her time to run out of the house and over to the Brewsters.
The Brewsters. No. She couldn’t go there. They shouldn’t have to see Todd like that. Maybe Todd was already on his way home. Maybe that’s what his first instinct would be. She should tell them.
She got as far as the phone in the kitchen before her common sense took over. Her hand hovered over the phone receiver and she looked into the back yard, over at the lights that were on in the kitchen across the way. How would she tell them? Would they believe her? Would she believe anyone who told her Todd was back from the dead? Of course she wouldn’t. It was absolutely ridiculous. They would think she was losing it. Maybe she was losing it. Maybe she was crazy. She’d often wondered if you were crazy, did you know you were actually crazy? Maybe you thought the problem was with the rest of the world. This wasn’t the rest of the world’s problem. It was her problem and she had to solve it.
Her hand fell away from the phone and she took two steps back.
Patches pawed at the door to the back deck and looked up at Katie with soulful dark eyes, whining.
“Seriously?” Katie said to the dog. “At a time like this?”
Patches wagged her tail tentatively.
“All right, come on then.” Katie went to the back door. The light over the back patio didn’t reach fully into the back yard. There were a lot of dark corners back there. And the Brewsters’ light wasn’t even on and the gate between the two yards was closed and latched, so she couldn’t even see into their back yard. Any kind of danger could be lurking back there.
“Come on, Patches.” Katie took the leash off the hook by the back door and Patches exploded into a frenzy of tail wags and excited yips. “We’re not going far,” she told the dog. “Let’s just pee in the front yard tonight.” It was more open there, cars passed by quite frequently. It would be far safer to be out there than to be in the enclosed back yard. There were also more places to run, if it came down to that.
She clipped the lead to Patches’ collar and let the happy dog to the front door. She paused there, peering carefully out through the window beside the front door. There was nothing stirring in the yard outside.
“Okay, let’s go, but be quick,” she said to the dog, “I hope you just have to pee.”
She led Patches over to a fairly well lit corner of the lawn, one that was quite open so she could see what was coming and so she could run in any of several different directions.
Patches seemed to pick up on her urgency, so she sniffed, squatted and did her business with an expediency rarely shown by canines. She yipped, looked up at Katie and wagged her tail, almost as though she was saying, ‘I’m done, silly human.’
“Good girl. There’s two treats in it for you. Let’s go back in.”
Nothing attacked her on the short trip back to the house and once inside she gave Patches two treats. The dog gulped the first one down almost whole and then settled in for a leisurely gnaw of the other treat.
Katie was suddenly exhausted, which was understandable, given the intensity of the night’s events. She needed to go to bed. She didn’t want to sleep upstairs she thought. If something did get into the house, she would be trapped up there.
“Come on, Patches.” The dog came to her side.
She ran up the stairs to change into her p.j.’s, Patches hard on her heels. Once she got into her room and looked down at her Hello Kitty shortie pyjamas, she wasn’t so sure she wanted to wear those to sleep in downstairs. If she had to flee the house, they were the next to last things she’d want to be wearing. The only thing worse would be to be completely naked.
She picked out a pair of comfy sweat pants and a t-shirt to wear instead and quickly changed into them. She put on fluffy socks to wear as well, even though she didn’t usually wear socks to sleep in. Tonight she was going to make an exception. She was considering sleeping with her shoes on, the better to make a quick exit, but she didn’t know if she would be able to sleep with her shoes on. Although, if she was being brutally honest with herself, there likely wasn’t going to be any sleeping at all going on tonight. She grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste out of the bathroom that adjoined her bedroom. She couldn’t believe she was actually thinking of oral hygiene at a time like this, but she supposed habit was habit.
She and the dog dashed back down the stairs, leaving every light in the house on. Her mother might complain about the hydro bill next month. Katie was just hoping they’d all be here to complain about the hydro bill next month.
She grabbed one end of the living room couch and angled it around so she could see the front door and the front picture window. She dragged her father’s easy chair over so it blocked the back hallway so nothing could come at her from back that way. She thought it over for a second. She might need access to the back hallway. She put her father’s chair back into position.
She brushed her teeth and washed her face in the little powder room in the front hall. She closed the door to it when she was finished, but she left the light on. She didn’t want any darkness in the house anywhere if she could help it.
She was getting spooked by the quiet in the house, kept imagining she heard stealthy little noises around the outside. She turned on the television and kept it on low. She fetched both her cell phone and the house phone and set them within arm’s reach of her planned sleeping spot on the couch, then she hunched down on the couch, the afghan wrapped around her, determined not to sleep, that she would keep a hyper vigilant watch for the rest of the long night ahead.
About this story
This was my first year at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. This is absolutely one of my favourite books I’ve ever written. The deep friendship between Todd and Katie that transcends even the unthinkable was one I very much enjoyed building.