Short Fiction ~ Steve Wade
(Honourable mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 2)
The local cemetery, a playground for Luke and his friends all year round, became something different at Halloween. Stories of witches, ghouls and goblins, and the tales they learned in school about All Souls Day and All Hallow’s Eve made it the only place they would go for their Halloween party. Here they would compete to tell each other the scariest stories about flesh eating ghouls, and evil spirits returning from the dead.
At eleven, Luke was the oldest of the four pals. Two of the others were ten, the third almost Luke’s age. The year before, they had only succeeded in climbing over the locked gates, before Luke said he had seen Salem’s red eyes flaming from behind the crooked Celtic cross.
Salem, the reason the boys screamed and shouted that day last Halloween as they clambered back over the gate, was an enormous black dog owned by an old woman who lived alone in a tiny white house outside their country town. Everyone said that the old woman was a witch and that Salem was a hound from hell.
Salem’s reputation came about from his habit of turning up outside the door of a home where inside someone lay dying. There the giant black dog would begin to howl, a long drawn-out wail that would start off as a deep base sound and graduate to a high shift-pitch so mournful it could curdle even the blood of a banshee.
A year older now, the boys decided they were bigger and braver.
Inside the graveyard before his mates, Luke called in a loud whisper for them to follow him. But the three boys were busy tossing a coin to decide who would be the first between them to climb over the gate. Finally, they agreed to scramble over the wrought iron gates together.
Just then, Luke heard behind him the distinctive panting of a dog. Strangely unafraid, he twisted about. There, like some black demon that had absconded from the kennels of hell, stood Salem. With eyes burning as red as infernal embers, and teeth as white as bleached bones, the black hound blinked once. He then shifted about uneasily, before trotting off into the shadows.
Without knowing the reason why he should, Luke felt a compulsion urging him to follow. He did. But as he moved through the graveyard, now lit by the bony light thrown by the moon, Luke saw all about him pale, hazy figures of men, women and children. The figures were eyeless and dressed in ragged clothes. They stretched out their arms towards him before disappearing. And still Luke was unafraid. Not until he reached Salem, who had led him to a small grey headstone with newly turned earth, did Luke remember what it felt like to experience true horror.
Inside his body a phantom hand grasped his stomach and squeezed as he read the inscription in black ink:
Our Beautiful Boy Forever, Forever a Boy
15-08-2007 – 01-05-2018
A prize nominee for the PEN/O’Henry Award, and a prize nominee for the Pushcart Prize, Steve Wade’s fiction has been published widely in print and in digital form. His work has won awards and been placed in writing competitions. His fiction has been published in over forty-five print publications, including Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, Crannog, Boyne Berries, Zenfri Publications, New Fables, Gem Street, Grey Sparrow, Fjords Arts and Literary Review, and Aesthetica Creative Works Annual. He has won the Delvin Garradrimna Annual Short Story Competition four times. www.stephenwade.ie