(18) Evil Descending
THE WORST PART WAS NOT knowing what to do. As the ghosts converged on Bethanie before him, Dylan ran, weaving between the gravestones. The world flashed dark, then light, dark, then light as the dead with their ethereal light span around him.
“Bethanie!” he shouted. She had slipped underneath the arms of a gory figure and was running – but not towards him, away, deeper into the graveyard. “Bethanie!”
The lights of the Volvo behind him flickered and sputtered out. Dylan’s grip on the stone tightened until his knuckles were pale and white.
There was a whisper, deep and eerie, “Dylan,” and then something cold hit him in the side of his head. At once, everything blurred. He lost his footing and fell, ramming into the hard earth. There was a sharp spike of pain as he landed on his shoulder, and then a throbbing ache. All he could smell was dirt.
It was then that Dylan realised how foolish he had been, charging in here without a plan, without so much as a way to defend himself. He knew nothing of these ghosts. Could he kill them? Could they kill him?
The air was freezing. He felt an icy hand on his shoulder and jerked away, slamming his back into a tombstone. Pain shivered through his bones as thoughts moved shakily through his mind. He couldn’t stay down here, helpless and cornered. Bethanie was out there somewhere, running, running, running through the dark as the night threw up spectral enemies.
And he held the stone. There was no denying it’s importance.
Dylan felt more hands wrapping around his ankles. He kicked back, but soon there was ice around his neck, under his shoulders, dragging him to his feet. He felt his skin burning under the intense cold and looked up to the jaw-less face of something long dead.
“Dylan,” it’s mouth spluttered, blood fountaining down it’s grey chest, only the sound was crystal clear and very ancient. This was the Hallow talking. “Hand me what I want,” it continued in a chiding tone, “lest things get messy.”
The stone. Dylan wasn’t having any of this. His reply came in the form of a punch to the face of the gory creature before him. The dead thing tripped and fell back like a sack of potatoes, its limbs breaking apart upon hitting the earth and rolling across the grass. A moment later, they faded and vanished as if they were never there.
Messy it is, Dylan thought.
He reared back, stabbing his elbows into the ghost holding his neck. The grip loosened and he was able to spin around and shove it away. The thing – a round old woman with blood seeping from her clothes – wobbled backwards into a tree where she exploded in a shower of scarlet mist.
For the first time since arriving, Dylan truly believed he could do this. He gathered himself and started running, dodging the dead in his way. They moved awkwardly in the clearing, with sluggish reflexes and mindless pursuit. Dylan couldn’t imagine them as anything other than dead; it was impossible to believe they had once been alive.
When he broke through the tree line, something changed. The temperature dropped. The trees went still. The ghosts who had once been everywhere seemed to have vanished. He felt the hairs on his arms stand on end as he looked around, the darkness thicker than before, more tangible. It seemed the night had changed forms; the ghosts had just been foolery – an act. The real event was on it’s way.
Dylan proceeded forward cautiously despite his every bone and muscle demanding he turn and run. He thought he saw movement up ahead – a flicker of blonde hair through the trees – but when he called out for Bethanie there was no response. The stone was heating up in his palm and had started burning his skin. He fumbled and hastily shoved it into his pocket. Staring down at his red palm, a sense of foreboding came over him. It started spreading through his veins, reaching down into his gut which churned with fear. Something terrible was on it’s way.
Dylan moved deeper into the woods until the dark outline of the largest tombstone rose up before him. It was the one from this morning. The one he had never seen before today. The one whose missing stone was now red-hot and neatly tucked into his pocket. He realised finally that this had been his destination all along. The weirdness had started here; it only made sense that it should end here as well.
He was approaching the tombstone from behind, so it wasn’t until he had edged up beside it that he saw her – Bethanie, her face lit by an ethereal glow. He opened his mouth to call out to her, then stopped. Her eyes were unresponsive and unblinking; her gaze was transfixed. She was staring at the front of the grave like it was the only thing she could see.
Dylan moved closer until he was right beside her. Then he turned his eyes on the tombstone. His mouth fell open.
The stone in his pocket burned, burned, burned.