Completely immobilized, Katie watched the beast cover the distance between them in seconds, but it was so intent on her that it never saw the staff swing out and around. It was expertly maneuvered, inches from Katie’s face, and it smacked with deadly force into the muzzle of the approaching animal. With a blast of air that was filled with sharp pellets of pure ice, the creature disintegrated around them.
“Focus!” the man shouted, “You have to block them. Do not let them use your fear against you!”
“Ok! Ok!” Katie said, tears still running down her face, “I’m trying but, what are they?! Why are you here? I don’t understa… Watch out!” she screamed, as another of the beasts dove in from behind Mr. Lars.
He brought the staff up high as he spun around, and with a double-handed maneuver, swiftly brought the weapon down and clubbed another of the beasts into oblivion.
There were three of the monsters left. Yowling as they dashed in and out of the gathered dark fog, they were undeterred in their quest for violence. They were wary though, now realizing that they weren’t the only danger in these woods. They pulled back further, but they weren’t going very far. They used this distance strategically - a couple of the beasts would thrash about in the brush while the other would run in and out of the clearing, testing their reflexes and defenses. At every move, the fiend-like animals were met with a staff at the ready.
With devilish intelligence, they changed their tactics. All three took spent a moment, rushing about the perimeter, when suddenly, two wolves dashed forward at once. Katie and Mr. Lars were nearly back to back, and one wolf attacked each of them simultaneously. The staff was already in motion in one direction when Katie realized that the other wolf was in mid-leap towards her and Jaxon. She could hear the deadly thud as sturdy staff met wolf skull behind her, but knew that there was no way it could be swung back around to her side in time. She threw up her arms and with all her will, imagined a mighty shield of force between her and the wolf.
With a pained yelp, the creature bounced up and over her head. Katie went down hard from the impact and Jaxon fell down on top of her. As she hit the ground, she saw the stunned beast fall into the chaotic path of Mr. Lars’ second and less graceful swing. The connection was messy, but effective, and this beast too dissolved into a shower of ice shards. The impact knocked the very slender man off balance, and as he fell, the staff flew from his hand and bounced away out of reach, then, before either could regain their feet, the last wolf leapt into the clearing, diving straight at Katie’s throat.
Moving faster than she’d ever seen him move, little Jaxon rocked off of her from where he’d fallen, and up onto his knees. Locking eyes with the shadow nightmare, he screamed “NO!” and held his arms out straight in front of him. Surrounding his tiny fists, a brilliant ball of the whitest light exploded forth and blasted out into the approaching terror. When the light hit it, the creature was instantly and soundlessly bathed in pure light, and momentarily expanding, it exploded in a great burst of blinding sparks and glares.
The trio was left blind in the dark as the glare faded, night vision, what little they’d had temporarily wrecked. There was no howling now, only the more natural sounds of wind through trees. As they gradually re-gained their ability to see in the scant light, Katie sat up and gathered the little boy into her arms again. When she noticed that he was still shivering, she was pleasantly surprised to discover it was chills and goose bumps from the cold that afflicted the little guy. His fear seemed to be completely under control. She let him go long enough to slip out of her rain jacket and wrap it around him, then she held on to him once more.
Off to the side. The dark shape of their companion rose from long grasses. He stooped to retrieve his staff.
“What happened?” Katie asked him. “What were those things? Is this what killed those children all those years ago. Is this what you were trying to warn me about?”
“I … I don’t really know,” sighed his voice, no longer sounding as familiar as it had before. “I don’t know what they are, but yes. This is part of the evil that comes through when we stop guarding against it. The ancient people had it right when they talked about the veils between the worlds thinning at certain times of the year. We are particularly in danger in the fall, at this time of year. Fear of those monsters, of what we just experienced, used to be passed on from generation to generation. Our power to resist them comes from our accepting that the danger is real, that monsters are real. We CAN stop them… when we know to watch out. When we remember to guard and to shield. When we remember to be afraid. Our very instincts protect us. Like when you threw up your arms and blocked that one that leapt at you.”
“And when Jaxon took down that other one!” Katie exclaimed.
“I told him “NO!””, Jaxon said wondrously, looking down at his hands. “I told him “No!” and he went away.”
“You sure did sweetie!” she said, holding him closer. “Why is that?” she asked the other.
“Younger children are more in touch with their instincts,” the shadowy man said. “Their thoughts and dreams are more pure, focused and real. Their fear is probably stronger as a result. It probably makes them the greatest enemies of these beasts. Perhaps that is why it is the children who are stolen, the ones who can believe in monsters… ” His voice trailed off with a deep sadness.
“And so when we stop passing on spooky stories and scary traditions,” said Katie, the truth dawning, “then our strongest defenders are left weakest! That’s why they attacked the children. To get rid of them before they could gain this power of fear… although, by doing so… the whole community was driven to terror, which also closed the walls between the worlds. Oh no! We NEED spooky stories! We need scary hayrides! We need to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve!”
“Yes.” said Lars, the silvery blonde of his hair becoming more apparent as clouds drifted away. “I think that you may be right. Now, you two need to get out of here! I have no doubt that you are being looked for. And Katie…?”
“Don’t mention seeing me here tonight. Nobody will believe the truth. Just… remember…”
“You’re right.” She said. “I won’t. I understand.”
As the pale moon beams slowly peeked out from behind the clouds and penetrated the dark grove, tendrils of fog could be again be seen drifting higher amongst the branches. They paused to watch the mystical tentacles weave through the branches. And then, without looking back, Katie picked up little Jaxon and, surprisingly confident in her sense of direction, headed back towards the cemetery gate.
As she carried him off, Jaxon looked back into the shadows toward their savior. The face looking back was familiar, but seemed much younger, and much paler, than before. As he watched, the figure slowly faded into the fog. He was not alarmed though. He was only tired, and so giving a four finger wave at the vanishing figure, he snuggled his face into Katie’s neck and held on tight as she carried him through the trees.
They reached the rickety gate, and Katie had to put Jaxon down for a moment. He was a little boy, but she wasn’t all that big herself. Being a very active girl gave her the muscle to carry him, but she needed to catch her breath. She yanked the gate to open it a bit more and then helped Jaxon through before squeezing through the gap herself. When they both were through, he turned to her and lifted his arms to her again. She was tired, but she didn’t hesitate to pick him up and carry him on.
She’d made it past they scruffy underbrush of the outer areas of the cemetery, and back onto the more manicured grass of the main gardens, when it finally dawned on her that the lights that she had begun to see around them were not those of the front gates, rather they were headlights and flashlights of searchers inside the graveyard itself. That one set of lights must be the blue and red of a police cruiser also finally penetrated the fog that her brain was floating in and she so stopped, looked around, and realized that, while still un-noticed, they were no longer alone.
The bobbing of lights off to the right indicated the presence of searchers poking around in that back corner. More lights near the road was a tip-off that they’d found Ms. Granger’s bike. She hoped that they appreciated how well she had taken care of it. She’d apologize to Ms. Granger tomorrow.
Remembering to call out for help did not even occur to her until Jaxon mentioned the police car, and finally, she thought to yell to the nearest searchers.
Immediately, like a synchronized squadron of coordinated fireflies, all of the flashlights popped up and started bouncing across the fields in their direction. Many voices were calling her name.
The first searcher came near, a man wearing overalls and a long sleeved tee-shirt - not at all familiar to her. He stopped and stared, as did the next two civilians and one of the policemen. It was the guy in overalls who yelled out first. “She’s got the boy! She found the little boy!!! We got ‘em both!!!” Shouts of disbelief, followed by whoops of joy and relief, soon filled the quiet graveyard. The spirits were not resting in peace tonight.
What followed was chaos. Katie’s parents were among the searchers, having found her note after Ms. Granger, also present, had returned home to find her bike missing and garage door open. Ms. Granger had run over to Katie’s house to report the theft, and after a quick search of yards, garages, and house they’d gone upstairs to find Katie missing. When she saw the fear and worry in their eyes, Katie was very glad that she’d left the note for them. They had called the police and rushed immediately to the cemetery, but had no luck tracking which way she’d gone after parking the bike by the tree. And yes, her dad was proud of her responsible handling of the borrowed 10-speed.
Everyone piled into cars. Katie and her mom and Jaxon rode in the squad car; her dad followed in his car. Jaxon was almost too tired to be excited by this mode of transport. Phone calls were made from the graveyard, and after a siren-led convoy across town, Jaxon’s family joined them at the local medical clinic, escorted by the rest of the local law enforcement team and most of the volunteers who had been out searching for him. The doctor on duty at the small urgent care clinic had to put his foot down and chase out all but the parents, police, and a limited number of supporters as they place was simply too small to hold everyone who wanted to be there.
Katie did her best to downplay what had happened. She admitted to reading the history book, learning about the hidden area outside the cemetery, and being filled with the need to go check it out. She did not mention Mr. Lars.
Jaxon however, answered many questions. He talked about the wolves that had chased him away from home, he talked about how he’d been lost in the trees, but managed to get out to the place where Katie had found him, and about being scared of bad shadows in the wind. He also had plenty to say about howling monsters and ninjas with capes.
It was eventually decided that he must have been chased by a dog, run off, and got lost. Or perhaps he’d seen something on TV and had wandered off to re-create an adventure he’d seen in a show. After a full check up by the doctor and pronounced perfectly fit and fine, if a bit dirty, Jaxon was released to his parents. He ran over and gave Katie a huge yawn-filled hug. She gave him a big squeeze in return. Then the tired boy was picked up carried out by his parents, who had also already hugged Katie as many times as they could, when they could get her away from her own parents.
As they walked out the door, Jaxon was already half asleep across his daddy’s shoulder and he never noticed the flashbulbs and news cameras. His parents told anyone who would listen that they would be much more careful about what shows the boys were exposed to, but it didn’t matter. After this adventure, Jaxon was no longer interested in the TV. Instead, he would take to wearing a black cape, carrying a kindergartner-sized staff, and ninja-fighting pretend shadow wolves.
Katie didn’t know how to explain to her parents what had happened. She didn’t know how to tell them why she ran off, but she didn’t have to. They had been so scared that they didn’t care about the why. They had the note, they had the story about the graveyard that set her off, and that was all they needed. They were just happy to have her back safe and sound. Even Ms. Granger was in tears! She told Katie that if she ever felt the need to run off against her parents’ will ever again, that she should come get her and, no questions asked, she’d run off with her. Just to keep her safe!
Katie felt somewhat guilty. As if she were lying to all present, but at one point, during all the confusion and talk in the clinic, as she listened to Jaxon tell his momma about the wolves and about the ‘ninja’ with the flying hair and deadly staff, her eyes met those of the old sheriff, and she knew that there was something there. And the doctor. He looked over at her, and for a moment, there was a connection. She knew that he knew. But then he turned away, put his happy Dr. Johnson face with the sparkle-y eyes back on, and continued his paperwork. The old guy from the cemetery in overalls, who Katie had learned was the groundskeeper, also came over to her at one point and gently held her hands. He didn’t ask. He didn’t say anything, but Katie knew that he knew. It was a secret that had to remain quiet, and although she was just a kid herself, she knew what her responsibility was.
Katie too had to wade through the local media and news crews, but these were polite and friendly local folk, and with the help of the sheriff, statements were made and the Lincolns were soon able to gather their daughter into their car and drive home for a much needed hot shower and sleep.