The Green Children and other Tales
The storyteller hid his smile as the children tried to hide their terror. He glanced out the window at the approaching twilight. 'Enough stories. As it is darkening outside, I must warn you of the...'
'There is a saying,' the old man continued as night closed in, 'that all crossroads are weak spots where things from the supernatural world can come into our own.' He leant forward from his chair and spoke softly. 'And at midnight, the lost souls of the dead make their way out of the grave and along the roads, trying to find a way to the next life.' He pushed his old body back into his chair and looked out the window. He paused, then said,
'It is time you are going. Be wary on the short trip home.'
The two small forms at his feet got up slowly, not wanting to leave the comfort and warmth of the house. The storyteller had unwittingly scared them. They paused waiting for a final goodbye, but by now they were used to the storytellers moods. They knew he wouldn't get up to see them to the door. They knew he seemed asleep, his tired eyes now closed, his breathing heavy. However, he could just be resting. So they left him with his open fire and his old musty books, and closed the heavy front door behind them.
'Do you think he's telling the truth?' asked the boy. His eyes were wide underneath his short black hair.
'Don't be stupid Jeremy, he's a storyteller, he tells stories.'
The elder girl brushed her long red hair from her face. Some of the strands had been blown into her eyes by the wind, and it stung.
'Anyway, everyone knows there's no such thing as ghosts.'
'But Anna, he looked really sure about it.'
'Look, we've got to be home before dinner, so let's just go, okay. Stop your sulking.'
She set off down the street. Jeremy looked about, unsure whether to seek refuge back in the old man's house, or to follow his sister. He glanced once more over his shoulder, then ran to catch up.
'It's getting dark, Ann.'
'Do you think I don't know that. If you'd quit dragging your feet maybe we'd be home sooner.'
'But he said once it was dark all the weird things come out.'
Jeremy continued to look over his shoulder, making sure nothing was following. Anna stopped. She grabbed Jeremy's arm.
'Look. He said that at midnight the dead come out. That's all. Now,' she checked her watch and it read about half past five, 'it's not midnight for over six hours, okay.'
She tried to hide the hint of fear in her voice. She didn't like the approaching night either, but one of them had to act the leader.
Jeremy took her hand. 'Can we walk fast, Ann?'
She said nothing, but began to pull her brother down the street. Not forcefully, but so that he had to jog a couple of steps to match her strides. Now both of them were a little scared. Anna wondered, What of? It's midnight at the crossroads we have to worry about. The sun hasn't even gone down.
The streetlights had begun to turn on, casting a strange glow along the street. There was still the grey of dusk, but it was mixing with the orange lamps. Anna expected there to be some traffic too, but everywhere was silent. So quiet she thought she could hear not only her own heart beating, but her brothers too.
'Ann?' Jeremy broke the uncomfortable nothingness.
'Can we go a different way home? I don't want to walk by the crossroads.'
Anna looked down at her brother. He was frightened. She had to admit she was too.
'I don't know Jez. It's quicker if we do. But I know what you mean. I'm not real keen on going that way.'
They were about five blocks from home. If they walked the long way around, as Anna sometimes did on her way home from school, it would add another twenty minutes onto the trip. They were going to be late for dinner as it was. She put her free hand into her pocket and pulled out the money she had. A bit over two dollars lay in her hand. Not enough for a taxi.
'I'm sorry, Jez, but we'll have to go that way. There's nothing to be scared of though.'
She gripped his tiny hand as tight as she could and gave him a smile. He stared up at her and returned it, half-heartedly. The darkness wrapped itself around them.
'Ann, why aren't we home yet?'
With a start Anna realised that she had taken the longer way home, rather than go over the crossroads.
'We're going the long way, Jez. We'll be there in about fifteen minutes.'
She glanced at her watch and wondered at it. It read 11:50 in pale yellow numbers. The numbers flashed and the watch changed to 11:54. She held Jeremy's hand tighter.
'Ann, I'm scared. Why is it so dark now? The sun only went down before.'
'I know, Jez. We may have to run home, or Mum will be cross.'
She failed to tell him that her watch seemed to be in a world of its own. She risked looking at it again. Now it blinked 11:55. Only a minute had passed, but before four minutes had gone as she looked at the clock on her wrist. Something wasn't right. She could feel it. For no reason she shivered. Then came the sounds. The footsteps along the road. Not on the pavement where her and Jeremy walked, but on the road. Heavy feet, dragging feet. The words of the storyteller came to her.
'And at midnight, the lost souls of the dead make their way out of the grave and along the roads, trying to find a way to the next life.'
Jeremy pulled on her hand.
'Someone's there, Ann.'
She peered out into the dark. A shape lurched out into the stark white light of the street-lamp. A man, in rags and - only one arm. As her and Jeremy stared, more of the strangers came forward into the light. Woman and children. Some had various limbs missing. Some lost limbs as they walked towards the children.
Anna screamed in her head, They're the dead!
And her watch read 12:01. More shapes pulled themselves from the blackness. Jeremy screeched as a ghastly hand reached for him. The face the hand belonged to was rotting, skin falling from it. Just a skeleton. Anna forced her own scream back down her throat and pulled Jeremy closer. She whispered in his ear,
'When I say run, we're going to run.'
But before they had a chance, Jeremy was taken by one of the dead. She stared after him, unable to do anything. Then her own arm was grabbed. The hand wasn't cold and bony though, as she expected. Anna forced herself to look at what had her in such a tight grip. The face of the storyteller loomed above her,
'Here ends the tale.'