by Jason Ryan Qualls
(Elkhart, Indiana, USA)
Melissa looked up at the sign on the corner of her new street: Cemetery Road. At the end of the block she could see the cemetery--row after row of tombstones behind a high iron gate.
Melissa knew the view well by now. It was the same view she had from her bedroom window. Just a month ago, she'd lived in a pretty house with a view of a park. Then her father had been transferred to the city. And the only house they could afford was on Cemetery Road. Melissa's friends had laughed when she gave them her new address. They thought she was joking.
"Hey, aren't you the new girl?" a voice called out from behind her. Melissa turned around to see two boys and one girl riding bicycles. She recognized them from school. They were in some of the same classes with her.
Melissa nodded her head in answer to their question and kept walking. "What's it like living on Cemetery Road?" one of the boys asked. "Pretty spooky?"
Melissa felt a flush creep into her cheeks. "Not at all," she said. "I'm not one bit afraid of living here."
The girl and the boys kept riding their bikes beside Melissa as she walked quickly toward her house.
"I guess you haven't heard the stories about that cemetery," the girl said. "It's haunted by a guardian demon!"
"Sure," Melissa said. "Do you expect me to believe that?"
"It's true," the other boy said. "There's a big tomb in the middle of the graveyard--it has a statue of a guardian demon on top of it."
"What's so scary about that?" Melissa asked.
"The demon comes alive at night," the girl said. "And haunts the cemetery!"
"I don't believe in things like ghosts," Melissa said. "I dare you to visit the guardian demon at night," one of the boys said.
Melissa glared at them. "I wouldn't be afraid to do that."
"Dare you to take off its amulet," the girl said. "It has an amulet necklace around its neck, its said to have special powers."
"Bring that amulet to school tomorrow," the other boy said, "and you'll prove how brave you are."
"Dare you," the girl taunted.
"It's a dare," Melissa said.
She ran away from their mocking faces toward her house. She would show them that she wasn't afraid. But the thought of going into the graveyard at night made her shudder. She had to get the Amulet this afternoon, before it got too dark out.
Melissa's house was the second from the end of the road that led into the cemetery. A rickety old house that no one lived in sat right next to the graveyard. Melissa pushed open the door to her house, went inside, and threw her books onto the bench in the hallway.
Before she could run up to her room to change, her mother rushed into the hallway. She told Melissa that they were meeting her father at his office as a surprise, and then going out for dinner. Melissa tried to protest, but it did her no good. Not long after the argument was settled, she was driving downtown with her mother, worrying about when she would go to the cemetery.
They didn't come home until 10:00 that night. Melissa went up to her room, put on her night gown, and nervously stared out the window. The tombstones in the graveyard were bathed in the eerie light of the moon. Melissa wondered how she would find the guardian demon there.
Finally her mother came in to say good night. Melissa lay on her bed, waiting for the house to fall silent. When at last everything was quiet, she looked at the clock. It was 11:38.
Outside her screen window, the September night was still warm. She picked up the flashlight she used for camping trips and quietly stole down the stairs and out of the house.
Melissa crept through the darkness past the rickety old house next to the graveyard and then through the arched entrance to the cemetery. She was afraid to use her flashlight in case someone in a nearby house saw her.
The full moon shed enough light on the white gravel path for her to find her way in the dark. Suddenly the stillness in the cemetery was broken by the weird call of a night animal. Melissa froze in her steps. Until now, she had not been afraid. But the sound reminded her that other things were out there in the night, watching her.
She switched on her flashlight and swung it around a wide circle. The beam lit up the cold, gray marble tombstones around her. Melissa kept walking toward the middle of the cemetery, where the guardian demon was to be found. The gravel path sloped upward at a slight angel, and soon she found herself standing on a small hill. From the streetlights around the edge of the cemetery, she could tell she was near the center. Melissa shone the beam of the flashlight onto the nearby tombstones. The face of an angel stared back out of the darkness, making her catch her breath in fear.
Then she saw it.
The guardian demon was like a dark shadow in the night, crouching on top of a huge, white marble tomb. Melissa made her way on trembling legs over to the statue. The night animal shrieked again, sending a chill through her body. She stood underneath the demon and shone her light on it. The creature was made of smooth black marble, except for its eyes, which were of shining green stones. And around its neck, just as the girl had said, was an amulet necklace.
Melissa climbed onto a step of the white base and read the inscription etched into the marble:
DOMINATIO PER MALUM.
From her Latin studies, she could translate the saying that meant: "POWER THROUGH EVIL." For a second, she wanted to turn and run away, as fast as she could from the tomb and its warning. But there, only inches from her hand, was the collar she had come to get. She set down her flashlight beside the demon and reached both hands around its marble neck to unfasten the amulet necklace.
She whispered grateful thanks as its buckle came easily undone. But at that very moment, the bell on a nearby church began to strike the midnight hour. It frightened Melissa so that she almost dropped the Amulet. On the fourth stroke of the bell, Melissa picked up her flashlight and shone it into the guardian demon's face. To her horror, the green eyes gleamed back at her like it was alive!
On the eighth stroke of the bell, Melissa climbed down from the tombstone and heard a wicked snarl come from the statue. On the twelfth stroke of the bell, Melissa ran down the gravel path of the graveyard, her heart in her throat and her mind in a frenzy of fear. The light from the flashlight wavered on the path in front of her as Melissa ran away from the guardian demon. She tried to tell herself that she had imagined the demon's snarl.
But then, from behind her, she heard the hard thud of creature feet on the gravel path. And a long, angry roar sounded through the night air. Melissa turned around and saw what she feared. Two big green eyes were following her in the darkness.
Finally Melissa reached the entrance to the cemetery. She could see her house ahead. It was only yards away now. She ran faster and faster until she reached the front door. With trembling hands she twisted open the knob and ran inside. She shut the door behind her, double-locked it, and ran up the stairs, panting with fear. She slipped into her bedroom and shut the door. From outside her screen window, she could hear a neighbor's dog howling weirdly in the night. But suddenly it stopped. Melissa looked down at her trembling hands and saw the amulet necklace.
Quickly she went to her dresser, opened the top drawer, and hid the amulet inside. Then she got undressed and lay down between the sheets, trembling with exhaustion and fear. Melissa stared out her window at the ghostly shapes of the tombstones in the moonlight. She listened to the night sounds. And finally, after a long time, she fell into a fitful sleep.
Melissa woke with a start. She had been having a terrible nightmare. In the dream, a demon was leaning over her. Melissa opened her eyes and stared into the darkness of her room. Then she remembered the amulet. She switched on her lamp and ran to the dresser. Quickly she pulled out the top drawer. Then Melissa saw the deep claw marks on the top of the dresser. She whirled around.
And there, standing by her closed door, she saw the guardian demon . . . staring back at her with glowing green eyes.