(19) To Save A World
THE GRAVESTONE WAS NOT A gravestone anymore. It was something greater, something beyond comprehension. The only thing Dylan could liken it to was a tear in reality. A broken seam in the fabric of nature. What used to by an intricate design etched into stone was now something a whole lot less corporeal. What was once solid wavered like silk. What was once opaque now had a transparency he could barely describe – like he wasn’t just seeing through to what was behind, but to what was beyond.
Only one thing remained as it was – a spherical slot at the head of the tombstone, now burning brightly, emitting light from an undiscernible source. It was where the stone, now in his pocket, had come from. And now he knew – he had to put it back.
“Dylan, what is this?” Bethanie asked beside him, voice quivering.
He took a step forward and dug a hand into his pocket. The stone was burning hot but he gripped it anyway. “I’m not sure,” he replied.
And now, taking out the stone. Stepping up to the tombstone – to the wavering threads of reality blurring with the darkness. Reaching out to the glowing slot. The stone was inches from it. His hand burned like he had stuck it in the sun. He –
Just like that, a ghastly scream splintered the forest. An unseen force – like a gust of wind – knocked him off his feet. The stone flew from his grip. The dark world span – upside down, downside up, down, up, down. He collided with the earth and the dirt and was still.
It could have been seconds later – it could have been hours – but sometime after, Dylan manoeuvred into a sitting position. He felt something hot on his neck and touched a hand to his ear. His fingers came away sticky. In the darkness, he couldn’t tell if it was mud or his own blood. He feared it was the latter.
“Bethanie?” he said. The night was still and silent. He couldn’t see a thing.
“I’m here,” she said, groaning. There was a rustle and when a hand touched his shoulder, he knew it was hers. “Man, my ears are ringing like crazy. What was that?”
Dylan shook his head, forgetting she wouldn’t be able to see it. When he did, it felt as though the blood was knocking against his brain, and his brain against the walls of his skull. He immediately stopped.
“Beth-an-ie,” a sing-song voice whispered. It was coming from the trees, but it wasn’t the wind. It was both high-pitched and deep at the same time; at once quiet and booming.
“Did you hear that?”
“Dy-lan,” the voice sang. Dylan tensed.
“Florence,” Bethanie whispered beside him. “It’s her.”
“She’s a Hallow,” he replied. “A ghost.”
A pause. “What do you want?!” she shouted at the night, voice echoing.
Dylan swore he saw a darker shadow slide between the trees. His heart rate spiked. “Where is the stone?” he said, realising it was no longer in his hands. He patted his pockets and felt the dirt around him but to no avail.
“The one from– Never mind.” He had never told Bethanie he took it from the graveyard this morning. He had never shown it to her. Why hadn’t he shown it to her?
He got onto his hands and knees and furthered his reach, feeling around the base of trees and in bushes.
“Do you need a light? I can turn on the torch on my pho–”
“No, it will only draw the Hallow to us.”
“The Hallow already knows where we are,” she said, and proceeded to turn on her phone’s torch.
He accepted it from her and got to his feet, shining it over the forest floor.
“It’s not here,” he replied. “Dammit, it’s not here.”
“Is it important?”
At that moment, a laugh sprung from the forest around them. They both froze. “Looking for this?”
Dylan spun around. And there was the Hallow, just as ghastly as he remembered it: a rotting skeletal mass of darkness and death. And in it’s hand: the stone.
“What do you want with us?” Bethanie demanded.
In a blurry instant, the Hallow had moved right up to Bethanie, it’s skeletal face hovering inches from hers. “I like to play with my food before I eat.” It evaporated. Dylan spun around just in time to see it materialise by the grave, it’s body mixing with the darkness billowing from the gravestones face. “But I suppose we’ve had our fun.”
Like before a gust of wind hit their backs, throwing them forward. Dylan fell to the dirt, his chin hitting the ground and jarring his teeth. He opened his eyes to see that his hand had landed a mere inch from the base of the giant tombstone. Slowly, a tendril of darkness snaked down and brushed against his skin. The moment it did, Dylan snatched back his hand, jumping to his feet.
It had been ice cold, like living frostbite.
Bethanie was still recovering from the fall. Dylan watched with horror as the oozing dark reached for her arm. She flinched, stumbling quickly away. “What is that?” she asked him. Her voice was shaking.
“The otherworld, my dear. And it wants you to join it.”
Ghost rose up around them, materialising from the blackness. They formed a grotesque ring, lumbering forward, closer, closing the pair in.
“Dylan,” Bethanie said. She was staring right at him, soaked with fear.
Dylan knew what he had to do then. He remembered the town, crawling with the undead; he pictured it now, full of chaos and evil. He knew there was only one way they were ending this. And it had to end.
Dylan ran at the Hallow, snatching for the stone. But his hand went straight through, as though the stone itself had been made ghostly and intangible. The Hallow laughed, a sound that boomed like thunder, and an unseen force sent him stumbling back into Bethanie.
“We need the stone, don’t we?” she said. “We need it to stop her. It. Them.”
She frowned and looked at the tombstone – the gate to the otherworld. Around them the ghosts staggered closer, zombie-like and menacing. “It was never going to be that easy,” she whispered, then swallowed.
“What is it, Beth? Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Suddenly she hugged him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Thank you,” she whispered.
He was so shocked that he barely hugged her back. Then she pulled away, took a step towards the gravestone and disappeared, just like that, into it’s black murky depths.