The pale young man stretched across the slab of black marble was motionless, a forearm thrown over his eyes to block the slanting rays of the sun. Over him hovered an angel, her wings folded and head bowed in sorrow. Both seemed oblivious to the corpse-like figure which was shambling towards them with a stiff, lumbering gait.

The black suit the creature wore seemed ancient and was liberally streaked with filth, and its gray hair was adorned with twigs, moss and dirt. Loose strips of putrefying skin seemed ready to fall off a face which was a mottled shade of pasty gray and green. Turning a pair of rheumy-looking, unfocused eyeballs on the young man, it stumbled forward with arms outstretched, emitting low and obscene grunting noises. “Brains! Must eat brains!” it groaned.

The figure on the marble tombstone leapt to his feet. “Where the fuck have you been Tyler? I’ve been freezing my ass off out here!”

A grin split the moldering face, displaying a set of healthy white teeth in odd contrast to the apparent decay. “Chill, Kyle. I had to go pick up Zack.” he said, motioning towards a very large young man dressed in ragged jeans, ratty tee-shirt and a hoodie. Zack’s face was an unpleasant shade of lime green which didn’t blend well with his auburn hair.

Tyler’s eyes narrowed as he studied his friend Kyle, who was wearing a white shirt tucked into black jeans. “And just what are you supposed to be? A waiter?”

Kyle picked up a length of dark fabric from the marble slab he’d been resting on and wrapped it around his shoulders. He twirled around, raising the fabric to cover the bottom half of his face. When he turned to face his friends he slowly lowered the material, displaying a set of sharp fangs. “I vant to suck your blood.” he hissed. “I am Count Dracula, risen from the dead!”

Tyler shook his head in disgust. "Dammit! I told both of you we were all supposed to be the undead—as in zombies! You look like you're an extra in that stupid Twilight movie and Zack looks more like the Incredible Hulk."

"That's not fair. We don't have sisters who are minoring in Theater Arts in college. Don't try to tell me Becca didn't do your makeup! I hardly recognized you."

"Well of course she did—look she even did my hands. But it was my idea to dig some of my Grandpa's old clothes from the attic and drag them behind the tractor so it looks like I just clawed my way out of a grave. It's all about fuckin' authenticity, dude!" Tyler smirked.

While his friends were bickering, Zack had been using the sleeve of his hoodie to rub accumulated dirt and lichen from the tombstone. "Precious to the memory of Isaac Gardner .... oh man—my real name's Isaac!"

Tyler rolled his eyes at Kyle. "Yeah Zack, but your last name's not Gardner. Don't worry, this isn't your grave." The three had been friends since grade school. Tyler was the smartest and had always been the leader in their adventures and misadventures. All of them, even Zack himself, acknowledged that he had more brawn than brains.

But Zack was good natured to a fault, just grinning at his friends when they jokingly called him a dim bulb. He continued rubbing at the inscription. "Died August 17, 1893 ... aged 17 years, 2 months, 4 days. Gosh! That's so sad—he was about our age when he died."

Tyler motioned impatiently. "Come on, it's getting close to sundown. Time to get this party started." He and his two cohorts began making their way across the graveyard, wending their way between stone obelisks, crosses and grave markers bedecked with cherubs and lambs. The day had been sunny, but a late afternoon breeze had kicked up and the crisp air of autumn was growing chilly. The dead leaves crunched beneath their feet, but the rising wind covered the sound as they approached a granite mausoleum near the hedge of yews that marked the boundary between the old cemetery and the driveway to Jordan's house.

Tyler's grin was wicked as he whispered "We are gonna scare the ever-living shit out of this twerp! Did you remember your cell phone Kyle? I want to get some video to post online. You won't believe some of the things I've been doing this past week to get him spooked."

"How do you know Jordan's even going to be home, Ty?" Kyle asked at the same time Zack chimed in with "What kinda things have you done to creep him out?"

Neither boy asked "Why?" Their loyalty to their friend remained steadfast, but they knew his twin demons were pride and jealousy. The new kid in school had unknowingly become the focus of both of those emotions when Tyler's girlfriend Kathy had dumped him and started flirting with Jordan. Tyler felt the reasons Kathy had given him for their breakup were totally bogus. So he'd forgotten her birthday. So what? He'd made up for that when he bought her that nice bracelet, hadn't he? And her complaint that he liked his friends better than he liked her, just because she'd heard him say "Bros before hoes" once. Well, that was just silly! It was obvious to Tyler that Jordan had stolen Kathy from him, and he had to pay for that—and pay dearly.

"I know he'll be there 'cause his Mom works the p.m. shift at the Country Market and he has to babysit his little sister because his Dad is dead. Old man Huber was his Dad's uncle, and they inherited this place when the old guy croaked." They hunkered down behind the hedge, peeking through gaps at a small clapboard house and outbuildings a few hundred feet from the cemetery. Tyler spoke in a hushed whisper even though the yard was empty. "And he'll be spooked just because he lives near this creepy old cemetery. Of course it might help that there are a lot of stories going around school about some of the strange things that have happened around this place in the past."

"What kind of things, Tyler?" asked Zack.

"Oh, the usual—strange groaning noises, reports of graves that had been dug up only to find the coffins empty, animals on nearby farms found dead with their throats ripped open."

Zack looked over his shoulder and asked nervously. "I've never heard about any of those things."

"Well, duh! They're made-up stories, Zack. I made them up."

"He knows you don't like him, why would he believe any ghost stories you tell him?" Kyle murmured.

"Give me some credit dude!" whispered Tyler. "I didn't tell him anything directly. I just made sure he was within earshot when I told the stories to other people. And remember what I said about authenticity? Last week my dad finally got that fox that had been killing our chickens, but it had one of 'em in its jaws when he shot it. I dropped it at the end of their driveway next to the cemetery so he'd see it when the school bus picked him up."

Tyler grinned. "I know some of my pranks have paid off, because he was out there at dusk last night shooting some hoops. You should have seen his face when I opened the door of the mausoleum behind us and then clanged it shut again. It's so rusty it made a sound like a screeching banshee! You guys should have seen him. His eyes bugged out and he scampered into the house as fast as he could."

"I thought they kept the mausoleums locked. How'd you open the door?" Zack asked, keeping his voice low.

"Skeleton key. What else? We have a bucket of them at home and I got it on the fourth try. Shhh ... looks like someone's coming out of the house."

Jordan pushed the screen door open with his elbow, keeping a tight grip on the two basketball-sized pumpkins in his arms. He carried them across the yard and into a small barn. He came out of the barn and walked back towards the house just as his mother emerged carrying three smaller pumpkins, which she handed to Jordan before returning to the house.

“Shit! Why is she still here?” whispered Tyler. “Dammit—my whole plan could be fucked.”

A young girl about 7 years old came out of the house wearing a lavender My Little Pony costume. She pranced around the yard, pawing at the air and whinnying. “Look Jordan,” she shouted. “I’m a pony!”

Jordan chuckled. “I guess that makes you Shelby the Shetland.”

Their mother emerged from the house again, wearing a fleece jacket and carrying a plastic jack-o-lantern bucket. “Come on Shelby, get in the car.” She looked at her son. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us to the Halloween Carnival at the Grange Hall?”

“Aw Mom! I’m almost 17—that stuff is just for kids.”

“That’s right. I guess you’re the man of the family now.” Her smile was a little shaky, and she turned away from him towards the car so he wouldn’t see her wipe her eyes. She climbed into the car and started the engine. She rolled down the window and shouted “Be careful carving those pumpkins!” before driving down the gravel drive that bordered the cemetery.

The boys watched as Jordan carried the three small pumpkins towards the barn. Although they were well hidden by the tall hedge and it was doubtful that he could see them in the shadowy twilight, all three instinctively ducked lower when Jordan looked nervously over his shoulder towards the mausoleum.

“Sweet!” breathed Tyler. “This is even better than I planned. He’s outside in the barn and the kid is out of the way. Come on, guys!”

Squeezing between the yews, the trio moved stealthily towards the side of the old barn, skirting the dim light shining from the porch and from the open door of the old barn.

Kyle grabbed Tyler’s arm and pointed to a small shaft of light leaking through a knothole a few feet off the ground. Tyler squatted down and peered through, while his buddies waited their turn. “You can’t see much.” he whispered. “I think the workbench is to the left of this hole. I can see one of the pumpkins, but that’s about it.”

Zack giggled a little nervously. “You want we should all start screaming and run through the door to scare him, Ty?”

“Nah. He’s not going to believe you two are part of any fuckin’ Zombie Apocalypse. Not with those costumes! You guys will have to help with sound effects: groan, wail, claw at the side of the barn, whatever. I’ll go in like I’m the first zombie to arrive, but the sounds you guys make will fool him into believing more are on the way. When you hear him screaming like a little girl, rush inside and if Kyle can get some good video we can post it on the web. That’ll teach that punk to mess with my girl!”

Tyler moved towards the open door of the barn. He gave his friends a ‘thumbs up’ signal, and then began his stiff-legged zombie walk, clawing at the air in front of him and making low wailing and groaning sounds. Kyle and Zack mimicked his groans and started scratching at the side of the barn.

A few seconds after Tyler entered the barn they heard a shout, but it was quickly cut off. Then they heard some muffled thuds and some kind of “splat” sounds like watermelons being dropped off a roof.

"Shit Kyle! I don’t hear any screaming, but it sounds like Tyler’s smashing all those pumpkins.”

They raced into the barn, but came to a dead stop in the doorway, frozen in horror at the gruesome scene before them. The tools in the barn may have been old and rusty, but the pickaxe was still an effective weapon. Under the hollow gaze of a row of grinning pumpkins, a grim-faced Jordan wielded the axe with all his might, smashing it into the head of the zombie lying at his feet.

"gonna get my family!”

For Children of the Night: The 2012 Halloween Horrorquest

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