“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. This figure is invisible; however, the vapor moves around this figure revealing its form with an outstretched hand. It is tall with long thin extremities; its fingers narrow to sharp points. The head is bold with what appears to be two long braids or perhaps even horns. Brayden begins to turn the deadbolt as his father looks back at the house, appearing to scared to move.
“NOOOOOOOO!” Brayden yells as he turns the deadbolt the rest of the way, he watches his dad turn to ash with an ominous glow before their eyes.
His mother screams as she jolts away from the window and moves towards the door flipping the deadbolt back to the lock position. Her eyes are filled with tears as she wraps her arms around her son, covering his mouth from screaming. She begins to drag Brayden towards the bathroom.
“Come on sweetie let’s get you cleaned up before you get an infection.” She says in a bawling voice as she attempts to find somewhere safer for them.
Brayden looks up at his mother, her eyes swollen with tears, he knows she is attempting to stay strong for him. He too sobs more as the shock resides inside him. The families cat stands hissing towards the front door. He struggles to get free from his mother’s firm grasp. He wriggles and squirms. His mother wraps her arms around him, desperate to hold on as he breaks free. He runs back towards the front door.
“BRAYDEN STOP! HE’S GONE WE BOTH SAW IT!”
He looks back at his mom with tearful eyes, “I’m getting Hugo.”
He stands back up with the cat wrapped in his arms. This time, it is the cat that fights to get free. Brayden tightens his hold on the cat and then freezes. Something begins to scratch vigorously at the front door.
His mother lets out a horrifying scream. She stands there still screaming, but without a sound. He turns back to the sound of the scratching and of the door handle jiggling. Dashing for where his mother stands, he grabs the woman frozen with fear and begins to tug at her arm. Startled, she turns towards the bathroom. The two along with the cat run for the bathroom. The sound of the thin glass from the lightbulbs crunches beneath their feet. Brayden and the cat are the first inside. Anne slams the door behind her. Hastily she begins to pull towels from a cupboard and stuffs them in the void beneath the door. She fumbles through the rest if the cupboard searching for the emergency candles and matches. She sets the candles on the cabinet and lights them, illuminating the room.
She grabs Brayden and sits him down on top of the toilet lid. She takes out a washcloth from beneath the sink and turns on the faucet getting it wet.
“Sweetie, this will sting a little.”
He grits his teeth and she begins to wipe the blood from his elbows and forearms. The washcloth turns from a soft purple to a dark red as she wipes. They struggle to divert their attention from the scratching at the door, however the god awful sound coming from the cat reminds them. His mother then pulls some antiseptic cream out and gently applies it to the scrapes on his body.
The sound at the door subsides as time goes on, Brayden’s mother begins to cry again.
“They must have moved on.” Anne states.
She reaches for the door knob; Brayden’s heart begins to race.
“Mom…. just stay in here… please. We have to stay in here until the sun comes out.”
She looks at him confused, “How… why do you know so much about what is going on?…… What have you done?” She asks as she angrily grabs him by the shoulders.
“I didn’t do anything….”
He takes a deep breath and sighs, “I’ve been going through the cemetery with no names on my way home.”
Her face furrows with displeasure as he speaks, curious she sits down with her back against the door. He begins to recount how he had been taking a short cut through the overgrown graveyard. The look of disappointment and concern overpowers her curiosity. He continues as he reminisces the conversation with “Old Man Wheeler.
“You know better than to talk to strangers.” She reminds him as she puts her hands on his knees.
“But mom, he told me to run home when he seen the cloud coming down from the mountain.
She puts her head between her knees and begins to cry, “I wish your father was here.”
Brayden gets up off the toilet lid and plops down next to his mother. He then leans into her resting his head on her shoulder. The two begin to recall how their loved one they had been taken from them right in front of their eyes. The conversation goes on for several hours reminiscing of the past. The cat who has calmed down, rubs up against Anne’s leg and finds his way onto her lap.
With the cat now calm, she sets it on the towels piled on the floor and stands up, startling the boy. She reaches for the door handle.
She points to the cat who is peacefully at rests on the floor, “I’ll go out first to make sure everything is safe.”
He violently shakes his head and pushes his back harder against the door in an effort to keep the door closed.
“Please stop, it’ll be fine.” She reassures him.
Reluctantly, he moves away from the door. The turning of the locking mechanism seems so loud as she unlocks the door. Opening it only a crack, she peeks out. Brayden now on his feet, stands poised to slam it closed again at the faintest sign of fear from her.
“It’s so quiet.” She says as she pushes the door open more.
The cat bolts from the tiny room. In a failed attempt, Brayden reaches to catch him. Slowly, his mother opens the door wide enough to leave the room. She creeps out into the darkness that has settled throughout the house. Brayden sees her motioning for him to follow. The two walk out into the living room, still within the reach of the light of the candle. Once again the shards of glass crunch under their shoes. Brayden’s mother jumps as the white cat rubs up against her leg.
“Stupid, damn cat.” She mutters as she bends down to pick Hugo up.
“THUD……. THUD…………. THUD …. THUD, THUD… THUD, THUD, THUD”
“Mom what was that?” Brayden mutters as they look towards the ceiling to the paralyzing sound.
What sounds like claws clicking on the roof begins to move above them. The same sounds begin in different areas of the roof. Now, with all the movement, it sounds as if hail is hitting the tin roof. Brayden grabs two handfuls of his mother’s shirt and begins to move backwards towards the bathroom. The two freeze in their tracks as the cat begins to hiss in the direction of the front door, once again.
The clawing at the front door resumes. This time, strips of wood can be heard cracking from the door.
“Run.” His mother orders him in a whisper as she turns to face the bathroom.
The sound of the wood being peeled from the front door, along with the claws scratching at the roof sends chills down their spine. Both of them look over their shoulder as they crest the door frame to the bathroom. Remembering his beloved cat, he runs to where he stands with his back arched. He freezes as he scoops him up.
“Brayden…. Brayden what are you doing? Come on!” She forcefully whispers.
Brayden is drawn out of his trance, and turns with the same look that his father had when he was turned to ash. He then looks at the door where the crisp sound of the wood being peeled away can be heard. Brayden begins to run for the bathroom door. His mother slams it closed. He crashes into the wall on the opposite side of the small room. He turns, letting his back hit the wall first, so that to protect his cat. The sound of the air being knocked out of him echoes in the tiled room.
His mom kicks the towels back under the door, takes her child up in her arms and slides down the opposite wall until reaching the floor. Brayden lays his head in his mother’s lap. She begins to stroke his hair. He feels her chilled tears fall near his ear.
“Mom, we aren’t going to make it, are we?” He turns to look up at his mother.
She begins to weep burying her head in his back. Feeling the sorrow from her, he begins to tear up soaking his mother’s pants. The cat grows silent; Brayden perks his head up to see why. The cat stands with its back still arched and tail fluffed out in anger. It looks back and forth in the direction of the back and the front door. The sound on the roof dissipates to silence. Then the scratching at the back door starts.
“Mom… they are trying to get in the back door.” He anxiously states.
Through the candle light he looks up to see his mother nod. The scratching at the back door quickly turns to the sound of wood being peeled off. The cat then looks back towards the front door. The cat continues to look back and forth between the doors. The clicking sound on the tin roof resumes, this time getting louder and more prominent above their heads.
The two sit painfully listening to the sound. The sound at both doors suddenly stops. Brayden and his mother look back and forth from the door and then back at each other. Brayden sits up, he feels his mother begin to shake.
“I love you, always know that I love you with all of my heart!” She says as she wraps her arms around him.
He begins to tear up, “I love you too!” He answers as he wraps his arms around her.
The doors at opposite ends of the house explodes with the sound of wood breaking. Their embrace becomes tighter as they listen to the same sound they had heard on the roof now echoes off of the hard wood floors in the house. A low growl is heard every so often. The sound of the creatures can be heard roaming the house. They both shake as they silently await their demise. The silent clank of something brushing the door handle rattles the two. They cling to each other shaking immensely.
“What are they waiting for? Just get it over with.” Anne mumbles.
They sit huddled in silence for what seems like an eternity, listening to the demons roam their home.
“Clank” the door handle is bumped again, and then again. It then begins to wiggle as if someone was trying to turn it.
Brayden holds his mother so tight that his hands begin to grow numb. The sound of scraping the door then fills the air. Then the sound of chunks of wood being peeled from it makes the two shutter. This continues for about an hour when the inside core begins to bulge and crack. Through the candle light they watch as the wood mysteriously is pulled, piece by piece. Still the creature remains unseen. Brayden and his mother wait to be turned to ash.
The sound of what can only be perceived as the creature’s claws on the wood floor are heard running towards the exterior doors. The two sit in each other’s arms, the cat begins to brush up against them. Slowly they release their grip. Both stop to listen, it is quiet. His mother stands up and Brayden grasp her by the ankle. She looks down at him, still on the floor and presses her finger against her lips to quiet him. She leans over, he watches as the candles flicker sharply and go out. The room is in total darkness now.
The sound of something running back to the bathroom door fills the house. A finale scratch pierces their ears. Whatever it is dashes towards the front door in a rush. She returns to the floor where she sits holding her son. They sob, until they are interrupted by the cat scratching at the door. To Brayden’s surprise, there is light flooding the room through the hole the creature had made in the door.
“Mom, look the suns up…… we can leave.” He says as he stands up.
Anne grabs his leg; he flinches in pain from being hit by the car.
He looks down at her, “Mom… its ok, old man Wheeler said to stay put until the sun came up.”
He then pulls away from her to unlock the door. He opens it to momentarily blinding them. The two walk out to find the living room in shambles. The curtains have been torn from the walls, pieces of the door are strewn about the room.
Brayden moves to the rear of the house to find the same scene in the kitchen. He then walks back into the living room; having more faith in their safety then his mother. They both watch as Hugo runs out into the yard as if nothing had happened. The two pause to listen, the only sound that can be heard is the birds up above.
His mother goes to the front door. He watches as she peeks around what is left of the door frame and pauses. She begins to vocally cry; he walks up to join her when he sees what she had been looking at. Where his father had last been seen is a pile of what appears to be ash. His briefcase lays in the grass aside the walk.
“We made it, Mom.” Brayden says with tears in his eyes.
She puts her arm around him and sniffles, then wipes her nose, “Not all of us, but your right we did.”
She walks back to the kitchen and rummages around under the sink. He watches as she reappears with a flower vase. She takes his hand and leads him out to the walk. She collapses to her knees and begins to cry. With the vase laying on its side next to the ash on walk and begins to scrape the ash into the container. She stops and then gently pulls out two cylindrical items out of the middle. It had been his father’s cuff links. She hands them to him and continues to scrape the remainder of the ash into the makeshift urn.
With his father’s remains safely in the glass container, the two begin to walk into town in the same direction that Brayden had come from the day before. The two note the small piles of ash on the sidewalk. Brayden points out the two boy band backpacks next to two of the piles. He then shows his mom the car that had hit them and right outside the still open door is the small pile that must have been the driver.
“Mom, I need to check on Mr. Wheeler.”
She nods and they begin to walk towards the old man’s house on the edge of the cemetery. Slowly a handful of people emerge stumbling around the city that appears to have frozen in time. The mother and son make it to the old man’s house and climb the stairs.
“Look…… Mom,” Brayden points to the pile of ash on the chair and what had spilled over the front of it. “He didn’t put up a fight, that is where he was when I left him.”
She covers her mouth with her hands and gasps sorrowfully. She pulls them away and looks deeply in her son’s eyes.
“Brayden, come on… let’s get home and pack our things…… We are going to get out of here.”
Story Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/island-surrounded-by-white-clouds-132806/