By Lisa McCourt Hollar
“Come on, Elizabeth, quit being such a pansy.”
“I’m not being a pansy, dork. I just don’t think going through a graveyard is fun.”
“You’re scared. There’s nothing wrong with that… as long as you can bare the humility of being a chicken.”
“I am not a chicken, you little monster. Take it back!”
Elizabeth took off after her brother, intending to beat the creep if she caught him. Dodging his sister’s arms, David laughed, running around a tree and straight for the Bainbridge Cemetery.
“David, stop! It’s almost six, mom said to be home at six.”
David didn’t stop though, ducking through a hole in the fence and sprinting towards the crypt. Stomping her foot, Elizabeth screamed her fury at the sky, and then moved to go after her brother. He was her responsibility and her mother would never forgive her if something happened to him.
“Although I think I could live with the guilt,” she muttered.
She was almost to the fence, which was supposed to keep people out, except thanks to a hole partially hidden by the weeds and unkempt grass, did nothing to deter the town youth, when Elizabeth heard someone laughing. For one crazy moment she almost believed in ghosts, since she couldn’t see anyone around, but then she realized it was coming from the tree behind her. Looking up, she saw Darren Steman, the biggest geek in school.
“What are you laughing at?”
“What’s so funny?”
“The way you let your brother get to you. I have a sister too and I used to tease her all the time.”
“Why? Did you hate her?”
“No,” Darren said, jumping out of the tree, landing on his feet in front of her. “But making her mad was fun, so I did it. Her face used to get red and she had a vein that would start throbbing in her neck. She lives with her boyfriend now and I don’t get to tease her as much. I kind of miss it.”
“I wish the little creep would move out.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Maybe not,” Elizabeth admitted, “but I wish he’d listen to me when I tell him not to do something.” Looking in the direction David had run, she took a hesitant step towards the fence. Darren reached out and grabbed her hand.
“If you’re scared, I can go in with you.”
“I’m not scared.”
“Okay,” Darren said, turning to leave. This time Elizabeth grabbed his hand.
“I wouldn’t mind the company though.” Smiling, she bit her lower lip. Darren was kind of cute, even if he was a mega shunk. Besides, going into the cemetery with Darren was better than going in by herself. She was going to kill David when she got her hands on him.
“Wow, you must be scared. Your hand is shaking.”
Elizabeth pulled her hand back and glared at him. “I am not; I’m just a little cold. I left my sweater at home and it’s getting chilly out.”
“Whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better.” Darren gestured towards the cemetery, indicating she should go first. When she hesitated, he added, “Unless you want me to go ahead and check for spooks and goblins.”
Wishing she had let him leave when she’d had the chance; Elizabeth grumbled something about loser freaks. Slipping through the hole in the fence, she looked around, wondering if David was watching nearby, waiting to scare her. She hoped so, because she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her.
“I think he went this way,” Darren said, joining her. He pointed in the direction Elizabeth had seen her brother running.
“Yeah, he wanted to check out the crypt.”
“Everyone wants to eventually… well most everyone. I guess you never did?”
“Why would I want to? There’s nothing there but dead bodies locked up in vaults and name plaques. I don’t even know anyone there.”
“You’ve never had anyone die? Grandma, grandpa…?”
Elizabeth shook her head, “No, you?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“I was three. I don’t even remember him. He’s buried on the other side of the cemetery.”
The poor side, Elizabeth thought, but she didn’t say anything. She just walked in silence, wondering why she wasn’t hating him. After a moment she spoke. “Do you think the stories are real?”
Elizabeth bit her lip, embarrassed. She should have kept silent.
“You mean the witch?”
“Yeah… kind of stupid, isn’t it?”
“I think it’s cool. Not every town has their very own witch.”
“Just stories to scare kids so they stay inside at night.”
“Naw, I bet she’s real.” Drawing in his breath, Darren began to chant,
“Upon the town the witch placed a curse,
Vowing she’d return, to do her worst.
Your children will vanish, to never be found,
Their fate unknown beneath the ground.
I’ll drink their blood, and eat their hearts,
Their eyes I’ll bake into juicy tarts.
Dare you to think that I can die,
Your arrogance will be your own demise.
When a century has come and gone,
And Bainbridge nights have grown long,
On All Hallows Eve, from sleep I’ll wake
And on your young, revenge I’ll take.”
Elizabeth tried not to shiver. Darren laughed. “Isn’t that super cool? And you realize, tonight is All Hallows Eve?”
“It’s just a stupid poem and it doesn’t even rhyme very well.”
“She’d been stabbed through the heart with a stake; I think that entitles her a little poetic license.”
“Yeah, whatever. It’s stupid.” Increasing her pace, Elizabeth moved ahead of Darren. “David! Where are you?”
“Over here! Elizabeth, come quick! Look what I found.”
“Where are you? I can’t see you.”
“Over here, behind the crypt.”
The old cemetery had once been taken care of, but as jobs left the town and the town funds began to dwindle, there were some things went by the wayside. One of those was the upkeep of the only burial ground. Weeds and grass grew wild around the tomb, making it the perfect hangout for teens looking for a place to drink. Beer bottles littered the ground, along with cigarette butts, chip bags and a few other things. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“Get up off the ground; you don’t know what kind of disgusting things have been going on here.”
Darren laughed. “I’d wager you don’t even have a clue, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes.”
“He’s got you there,” David said, eyeing the newcomer. “Cool plugs.”
“Like he needs extra holes in his head,” Elizabeth said, sounding grouchy. “Didn’t I tell you not to come in here?”
“But you need to see what I found. Look.” David pulled back on some of the taller weeds, revealing a chip in the tomb’s foundation.
“So it’s falling apart,” Elizabeth said, “everything around here is.”
“No, it’s not falling apart. It’s a trigger stone. It pushes in, see… like this and then it slides like this,” David slid the brick to the side and an opening appeared in the wall of the crypt. “It’s a secret passageway. See Elizabeth! There are stairs going down into the ground.”
“David, get back!”
“Elizabeth, we have to go down there. There might be a treasure!”
“Or the witch,” Darren said, sticking his head in the opening and looking around.
“We’re not going in. David, we’re already late, mom is probably worried sick.”
“She’s probably not even home yet and if she is, she’ll get over it.”
“David, we are not going down there.”
“Well I am,” Darren said. Looking over his shoulder, he winked at Elizabeth and then sprinted down the steps.
“What an idiot.” Elizabeth shook her head at the sheer stupidity. They didn’t even know if it was safe down there. “Come on David, let’s go. We’ll tell mom about this and she’ll know what to do. David, stop!”
Moving to grab David’s arm, Elizabeth stumbled and fell against the monument. Expertly dodging his sister, David dashed down the steps after Darren.
“David, come back here!”
Silence answered her.
“David!” Her stomach knotted. What if the steps were broken and they’d fallen through? She hadn’t heard either of the boys yell, but that didn’t mean they weren’t hurt. Elizabeth knew she should go get someone, but what if something happened to them while she was gone? It wasn’t far to her house, but if her mom called the Sherriff, it could take him an hour to get there, maybe longer. John, her mother’s boyfriend, said it was difficult for the man to drive with such a big belly. The truth though was the town couldn’t afford to hire a sheriff’s deputy, so Frank Marlow was all they had; the man couldn’t be everywhere at once. Deciding there wasn’t anything to do but follow the two dopes; Elizabeth cautiously placed a foot on the first step.
Slowly she moved down into the crypt, testing her footing as she went. Making it to the bottom, she saw shadows down a passageway, silhouetted by the flicker of a flame.
David’s voice answered back, “Decided to join the adventure?”
“It’s not an adventure,” she hissed. “You are no Dread Pirate Roberts and this is not the Pit of Despair.”
“No, it’s cooler,” Darren said the flame from his lighter twisting his grin into a jack-O’Lantern grimace, “it’s the Witch’s lair.”
“There is no witch!”
“There was,” Darren said. “I found a book about her in the basement at the library. Over a hundred years ago, children began to disappear from their beds. One night the preacher’s daughter was taken, but she managed to leave a trail of rose petals behind her. They tracked her to the cabin of Ursula Schmidt. She and her husband had emigrated to Bainbridge a few years before and they weren’t very popular, mainly because Ursula was considered to have a ‘disagreeable personality,’ and everyone that had a run-in with, had a curse befall them.”
“They were superstitious,” Elizabeth said.
“Yes, but with good reason. When they found Sarah, the preacher’s daughter, she was dead. So was Ursula’s husband; he had been for some time. She was cutting the girl up into pieces, so she could boil her in a huge cauldron hanging in her fireplace. Before they killed her, she admitted to taking the other children and eating them.”
Elizabeth sighed, rolling her eyes. “And then they stabbed her though the heart and buried her in Potter’s Field. But before she died she placed a curse on Bainbridge and the descendants of those that lived there.”
“A few months after she was buried,” Darren said, “someone dug up her grave and stole her body, for what purpose no one knew, but she was never found. There are some believe she had followers who practiced her dark magic. They even believed there were hidden passages beneath the town, where they would meet with Satan himself.”
“It’s just a story,” Elizabeth said, her voice shaking.
“Yeah and where are we standing?”
David had been listening to the whole story, his eyes wide with excitement. Tugging on Elizabeth’s arm, he pleaded with her to let him explore the tunnels. “It is just a story,” he said, “but imagine what we might find down here. You heard mom crying the other night. She doesn’t have the money to pay the mortgage. If we find something valuable, it could help!”
Elizabeth shifted her feet, uncomfortable with their financial problems being revealed to Darren. To his credit, Darren pretended not to hear and looked the other way.
“Please,” David said.
“Fine,” Elizabeth said, throwing her arms up in surrender, “but only a little ways in and then we leave and go find someone, so we can let them know about this place.”
An hour later they were completely lost. Darren’s lighter had flickered out and the teen had pulled another from his pocket, lighting it and looking around the new passage they’d found themselves in.
“How many of those do you have?” Elizabeth asked.
“I always keep a few on me; you never know when you might find yourself locked in a dark room.”
“Scared of the dark?”
“Only when my mother’s been drinking.”
Elizabeth didn’t know what to say, so she didn’t say anything. Instead she peered past Darren, towards another passage. “Maybe down there?”
David, who had lost his sense of adventure when he’d seen a pile of bones in one shaft, held tightly to her hand. “I think we’ve been down there,” he said, noticing a similar mound of bones in the opening. “We’re going in circles.”
“Yeah, we are,” Darren said. “Let’s try this way.”
“But that takes us further in. We need to find our way out.”
“We don’t know if it leads further in or out,” Darren said. “We’re all turned around.”
Realizing he was right, Elizabeth nodded her agreement. The new tunnel did seem to take them in a different direction and after a few turns she thought she saw light ahead.
“Look!” Elizabeth pointed ahead, where there was a distinct glow.
“Who’s the man?” Darren said, letting loose with a series of victory whoops.
“You are,” Elizabeth laughed, hugging him.
“Get a room,” David joked, beginning to smile. His sense of adventure beginning to come back, David couldn’t wait to tell his friends about his exploits beneath the town.
“Last one there is a rotten egg,” David shouted, letting go of his sister’s hand and racing ahead. Behind him, Elizabeth and Darren began to run to, anxious for the outside world. Elizabeth knew her mother would probably ground her for a month, maybe longer, but she was okay with that. She didn’t want to go anywhere but home for a long time.
Up ahead, David turned the corner, where the light was brighter. Rounding the corner, followed closely by Darren, Elizabeth nearly stumbled over the boy, who had stopped without any warning.
“David, what’s wrong.”
He didn’t answer, pointing his finger instead. Following his movement, Elizabeth turned her head. They had entered a chamber. There was no way out, but the way they came. The light came from torches hanging on the wall. Beneath the light was a concrete slab containing the mummified remains of Ursula Schmidt, the stake still in her heart.
The three stood there, their mouths hanging open. Until now they had all believed the story of the Bainbridge Witch to be just that, a story and nothing more. It was fun to sit around telling ghost stories about her; safe, harmless fun. This on the other hand was real. Darren broke the spell first, rushing across the small room and reaching out to touch the mummified skin.
“This is way cool,” he said, fingering a ring on Ursula’s bony finger.
“Let me see!” David moved to join the older boy but found himself hindered by his sister, who had grasped the back of his shirt. “Let me go!”
“No, not cool,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere, but out of this place as quickly as we can.”
“What? Don’t tell me you’re afraid?” Darren was examining the stake in the witch’s chest. “I bet this is worth a lot of money.”
“Leave it alone, Darren.”
Darren laughed. “You are scared. Come on, she’s dead. It’s not like she’s going to sit up and eat you.”
“Okay, she’s dead. Been so for, what, the last century or so? Who do you suppose lit those torches?”
Darren and David both looked at the flames. “I dunno,” Darren said, shrugging his shoulder. “Maybe there’s a caretaker.”
“Maybe there’s a caretaker,” Elizabeth repeated, rolling her eyes. “She was buried in the poor section of the cemetery, you dolt. Then someone dug her up and she disappeared. And quite interesting there would be a caretaker for a witch everyone thought was just a rumor, but the town doesn’t have the funds to keep up the cemetery. You really are an idiot. And let go of that stake!”
“I’m the idiot, huh? Well whoever dug her up was probably family. They probably didn’t want her rotting away, so they brought her here. Didn’t you say she had a coven? She’s probably their Queen and they take care of her.”
“Exactly,” Elizabeth said. “And I would like to not be here when whoever they are gets back… What are you doing?”
“I’m not leaving here without a souvenir.” Grunting, Darren pulled up on the stake. The wooden pole moved a bit, but stayed firmly in place.”
“You can’t pull that out!” David’s eyes bulged from his face.
“That’s vampires,” Darren said, examining the base of the stick. “I think it might be stuck in her ribcage or something.”
“Darren, leave it and let’s go.”
“In a minute.” Darren tugged at the stake again. Pulling up, and bending it a bit. He thought he felt a bone snap and then the thing came free.
“Darren, put it back!” Elizabeth looked around, afraid someone would appear at the end of the tunnel.
“No. This is my ticket out of this town.”
“They’ll know someone was here.”
“I don’t care.” Shrugging his backpack off of his shoulders, Darren placed the stake carefully inside.
“It’s called desecrating the dead,” Elizabeth said. “I think it’s against the law.”
“So is stealing a dead body, so I don’t think anyone is going to complain. Let’s go.”
“Uh… she’s not dead.” David’s voice came out a whispery rasp. Staring at the witch, he backed towards the entrance.
“Of course she’s dead,” Darren said, “I don’t know which one of you is the bigger scaredy cat, you or her.”
“Her eyes are open.”
“No they aren’t,” Darren said, turning and looking at the witch. Pale green eyes stared back at him.
“Holy…” Darren never finished speaking. The witch grabbed hold of his arm, pulling him into a surprisingly strong embrace. Darren struggled to free himself, but the now living corpse had her hand on the back of his neck, pulling him closer to her mouth.
“The stake! Get the stake!” David yelled at his sister, terrified.
Wrapping her arms around Darren’s waist, Elizabeth pulled, trying to free him. Falling backwards from the effort, she pushed herself back to her feet and tried again.
“You have to stake her!”
David’s voice came to her from a great distance. Blood was rushing through her ears; Elizabeth struggled to understand what he was saying.
“Stake her, Lizzie, stake her!”
The witch bit into Darren’s neck, tearing off skin and muscle. Wetting himself, David’s knees buckled and he landed on the floor.
Elizabeth tore at the backpack, trying to open it and get to the stake.
The witch let go of Darren. Elizabeth stared, transfixed by the blood gushing from between her lips. The hag smiled, showing stained, jagged teeth and reached for her.
“NOOOO!” David hurled himself at his sister, knocking her out of the way. The witch howled in frustration as her hands closed on empty air. The spell broken, Elizabeth scrambled to her feet, grabbed her brother’s hand and ran.
“This isn’t the way out!” David yanked at his sister’s hand, trying to break free. Behind them, the witch’s laughter carried down the passageway, echoing off the walls and meeting them at every turn. Elizabeth ignored her brother, running blind in the dark.
“Elizabeth, stop!” David bounced off the wall his sister had steered him into, letting loose a string of curse words he’d heard his father once use.
“David, are you okay?”
“I think I broke my nose. Lizzie, we have to find our way out of here.”
“She killed Darren.” Elizabeth’s voice cracked and she almost lost it again.
“We can’t find our way out in the dark.”
“We don’t have a light.”
“We have to go back, Lizzie… get one of the torches.”
“David, I am not going back there!”
“We’ll die if we don’t. If the witch doesn’t eat us, the rodents will… or whatever it was that ate them.”
“David, I’m scared.”
“I know. So am I. I should have listened to you.”
David’s hand slipped into hers. A tear rolled down Elizabeth’s cheek, she wondered how he could sound so brave. She was the oldest, but he was the one always looking for an adventure.
“Okay,” she said, “let’s go.”
Feeling their way by holding onto the walls, the two turned back the way they came. It wasn’t long before they came to the niche containing Ursula’s grave. Elizabeth looked cautiously around the corner.
“We didn’t pass her on the way here… did we?” David looked over his shoulder, expecting to see the witch behind him.
Elizabeth shuddered at the thought. “Maybe she went the other way.”
“Do you think she knows the way out?”
“I don’t know. Maybe… but I don’t want to follow her to find out.”
Looking down the passage to make sure it was still clear; Elizabeth stared down at Darren’s body. The blood around his throat had dried. His eyes, wide open, stared out unseeing. Glazed over, there was no sign he was alive.
“What should we do?” David whispered.
“We can’t take him out of here. He’s not big, but he’s too heavy for me to carry.”
“If we get out of here, we can send help.”
“Yeah.” Elizabeth wiped a tear from her eye and reached for one of the torches. Lifting it from the ornamental casing on the wall, she froze as she heard the sound of something heavy scraping against the wall. “What was that?”
“Another hidden door,” David said, pointing to the wall behind the witch’s tomb. A small section had moved to the side, revealing a door not been visible a moment before. The new opening led into a separate tunnel. It was then Elizabeth noticed one of the other torches was missing.
“I think Ursula went that way too.”
“It probably leads outside,” David said.
“If she went that way…”
“We have to go, Lizzie. We can’t stay here.”
Elizabeth picked at her bottom lip, her finger pulling at the skin until it bled. It was a habit she’d had since she was in third grade and a sign she was nervous. “What if we run into her?”
David knelt next to Darren and reached into his backpack. Pulling out the stake, he turned back to Elizabeth, smiling. “We kill her.”
Stepping into the passage, the pair turned left. There was only one way to go, since right took them straight down. Elizabeth had grabbed her brother’s shirt, yanking him back from the edge when she’d seen it. Now, proceeding cautiously, she kept her eyes open.
“I bet this whole place is booby trapped,” David said.
“You think so?”
Ignoring the sarcasm in his sister’s voice, David went on, “It stands to reason. The witch would be vulnerable to attack, so there would have to be safeguards in place, to keep intruders out.”
“Or to keep her in.”
“I don’t think so. Whoever brought her here made sure her body would be preserved. They wanted to make sure she could leave when it was time to carry out her curse, but keep others from finding her.”
“When a century has come and gone,
And Bainbridge nights have grown long,
On All Hallows Eve, from sleep I’ll wake
And on your young, revenge I’ll take.”
Elizabeth fell silent, contemplating the poem.
“You know it’s All Hallows Eve,” David said.
“I know. We woke her and it’s our fault.”
The two turned the final corner of the passage. It had been simple enough to follow, there were no connecting tunnels and the path only led one way. Now they had reached a dead end.
“There has to be an opening.”
David began feeling the wall, looking for a switch of some kind. Elizabeth looked too, her eyes traveling over the passage. A torch hung on one wall, sitting in an ornamental casing, similar to the one from her tomb. Identical fixtures hung next to it and on the opposite wall, several more.
“Step back.” Elizabeth lifted the torch and placed it in one of the casings. Slowly the wall moved, revealing the backside of the cemetery.
Sheriff Marlow’s patrol car was outside their house when they got home. Their mother, her eyes rimmed with red, was standing on the front porch, gesturing wildly with her hands, while John whispered something in her ear.
“I think we’re in a lot of trouble,” Elizabeth said, stepping into the street and preparing for her mother’s wrath. When Jenny Haskins saw her children heading for her, she let out a scream, running from the porch and grabbing the two into her arms.
“Where were you?” she sobbed. “I thought something had happened. When I say be home by six, I don’t mean get home whenever you feel like it.”
“I’m sorry,” David said. “It was my fault, but I wanted to go by the cemetery.”
“I should have thought of that,” Frank Marlow said, shaking his head. “Halloween always brings the kids to the graveyard. I’ll have to see about getting the fence repaired and a good lock on the gate.”
“No, you need to go there now,” David said. “The witch is back!”
“The witch?” Jenny looked at her son, confused. Behind her, John snorted.
“The Witch of Bainbridge. Remember when we were kids and our parents told us what would happen to us when we went out at night?”
“I’m not in the mood for stories,” Jenny said, snapping at her son. “You two scared me to death! I think a month’s grounding is called for.”
“But mom, I’m telling you the truth…”
“Do I need to make it two months? Get inside! Both of you, now. I’ll talk to you later.” Turning back to Frank, she said, “I’m sorry to have wasted your time like this.”
“That’s okay,” the sheriff said, “at least you care, some mothers don’t. Take Helen Steman for instance, I’m out there several times a week. Neighbors complain she’s abusing her son. Last week Darren had a black eye. He told me he ran into a door… a door for crying out loud. She was drunk and going on about how accident prone he is.”
“You think she hit him?”
“I know she did. He’s got scars on his arm that look like burn marks, I’m pretty sure she’s responsible for that too, but without proof there’s nothing I can do and he won’t say a word against her.”
“Hold on a second…” Jenny turned a sharp eye on her daughter, who was hanging back trying to hear what the sheriff was saying about Darren. “Get into the house young lady. Now!”
Sprinting the rest of the way up the porch, Elizabeth ran into the house, slamming the door behind her.
“She didn’t believe me,” David wailed as soon as the door was closed. Ignoring him, Elizabeth shoved past her brother, heading to her room.
“Lizzie, what should we do?”
“Nothing,” she said as she slammed into her room. “You heard her… she doesn’t want to hear any stories.”
“We have to warn them!”
“They won’t believe us.” Banging her door shut, Elizabeth threw herself on her bed and cried herself to sleep. When she woke up it was dark and she was covered with a blanket. Outside she heard the sound of a police siren. Frank never started it up unless something bad had happened.
“School’s been cancelled,” Jenny said when David and Elizabeth came down the next morning for breakfast.
“Why?” David asked.
“Sit down,” she said, nodding towards the kitchen table. “Something terrible happened last night.”
“Is that why Sheriff Marlow was running his siren?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes. David, you’re friends with Sammy Jenkins… has he been talking about any trouble at home, maybe a fight with one of his parents that might cause him to want to run away?”
Marge Jenkins went to go look in on him after he went to bed. She said he hadn’t been feeling well, anyway his bed was empty and the window was open.”
“They think he ran away?” Elizabeth asked.
“Seems the most logical conclusion.”
“No it’s not,” David said, “I tried to tell you last night, the witch is back! She took Sam!”
“David, enough of this nonsense; there is no witch.”
“Yes there is and she killed Darren and now she’s got Sammy!”
“David, go to your room!”
David turned and ran from the kitchen. Elizabeth stared at her mother, shocked. She had never refused to listen to them before. Sinking back in her chair, Jenny looked tired. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled at him.”
“No, you shouldn’t have.”
“There are just some things… were you two over on the other side of town yesterday? Is that why you were late, you went by Darren’s house?”
“We were at the cemetery. Mom, does Darren’s mom hurt him?”
“Elizabeth…” Jenny sighed, “Eat your breakfast. We’ll talk later.”
In the distance Elizabeth heard the sound of Frank’s siren.
Several hours later their house was filled with neighbors. Bainbridge was a small town and it didn’t take long for bad news to travel. It also didn’t take long for them to pull together. Several of the children had gone missing during the night. Sammy was the first to be missed, since his mother had thought to check on him during the night. The others were discovered when their mothers went to wake them in the morning. Jenny volunteered her living room as one of the check points. John was a council member and organized a search party.
“Why don’t they search the cemetery?” David asked. The two were out on the porch.
“I think they did, they didn’t find anything.”
“Because they don’t know about the tunnels. We have to tell them.”
“No, David. They won’t believe us and even if they do, what will happen? They’ll go down there and the witch will kill them too. We have to be quiet.”
“Elizabeth, if we don’t tell them, she’ll take more kids.”
“No she won’t. The poem said All Hallows Eve. That was last night. Maybe she’ll go back to sleep and tomorrow we can put the stake back in her.”
“Elizabeth, I don’t think that will work.”
“It has too.”
“Maybe if we show them the stake…”
“It’s just a stick. That’s all they’ll see.”
“We can’t wait until tomorrow,” David said, refusing to give up.
Elizabeth watched as her mother came out of the house, greeting another woman in the street. It was Mrs. Redman, her best friend’s mother. Mrs. Redman was crying and Elizabeth heard her say something about Trish. She had gone outside to walk the dog. When they hadn’t come back, she’d gone to look for them. All she found was the leash and a few drops of blood on the pavement.
“They live by the cemetery,” David said.
Elizabeth nodded. “We’ll go tonight.”
Elizabeth wasn’t sure how they were going to sneak out of the house. It was nearly ten and the house was still buzzing with activity. David had gone to his room to pack supplies. He had managed to slip a few flashlights from the box of equipment meant for the search party. He also had chalk, to mark their way. Stopping at the dining room, Elizabeth told her mother she was going to bed. Then she went to get David. If they had to, they could sneak out of his window. It faced the back of the house, so they wouldn’t run the risk of being seen. Opening her brother’s door, Elizabeth stared at the empty room. The backpack was on the floor, chalk scattered every which way. The stake, which David had kept close to him all day, lay under the windowsill, which stood open, despite the chill in the air. Elizabeth’s knees shook. Turning, she ran down the hall, screaming for her mother.
Jenny looked up from the table where she and the others were studying a map. Large X’s covered the chart, showing the areas they had already searched.
“What do you mean he’s gone?” Pushing past her daughter, Jenny ran to her son’s room. David’s bed was empty. Muddy footprints led from the window to the bed and then back again. Trembling, she felt her knees buckle and then John’s strong arms around her.
“We’ll find him,” he said, lowering her to the ground. “We’ll find them all.”
Ina crypt far beneath the town, Ursula shuffled back to her burial chamber, the boy held close to her chest. His body would nourish hers until she was stronger. Already she could feel her strength coming back. A few more days...
Inside her, anger she felt at her interment grew. How dare the fools, thinking she could be killed with a simple stake to the heart, though she had to admit, they’d almost succeeded. For over a century she’d been buried, forgotten, until those kids stumbled across her resting place, waking her.
She’d captured one. She poked at him now. His life was almost gone, his blood nearly exhausted. Darren moaned, curling into a fetal position. He was too weak to do more than that; he didn’t even know why he was still alive. An image of Elizabeth filled his head. He concentrated on her face. He hoped she’d managed to get away.
Elizabeth reached out to comfort her mother, and then pulled back. This was her fault. She should have said something and now her brother would pay for her mistake. Somehow she had to make this right; she had to make them listen.
“I… I know where he is.”
John led the men while the women stayed with the children… except for Jenny and Elizabeth. They needed the girl to show them the entrance to the witch’s cavern. Jenny refused to stay behind.
“Here,” Elizabeth whispered.
They were at the back side of a crypt in the poor section of the cemetery.
“I don’t see anything,” John said.
Jenny felt along the wall, knowing where the lever should be. Pushing on one brick she felt it give. Pushing harder, she sighed with relief as the wall moved. The torch she had left on the wall was gone. They stepped into the lair.
“Be careful when we get to the end,” she said. “There’s a drop off… David thought it was a trap, to keep the witch safe.”
Quietly, the group followed Elizabeth, watching their step and being careful not to touch the walls, in case there were any hidden surprises. When they reached the end, Jenny watched while her daughter looked for the mechanism to open the door. The wall slid open and they entered the chamber. The shrew lay sleeping on a stone slab. On the floor, as though nothing more than discarded trash, lay the missing children. Some of them appeared to be alive, slight tremors in their bodies as they tried to breathe. Jenny gasped, catching sight of her son. She moved to go to him, stopping when John moved to block her. They had to deal with the witch first. Cautiously John approached the slab, raising the stake in the air. Ursala’s eyes opened. Behind them, the door closed, locking them in the chamber.