Black As Night
The Thompsons were a poor family who lived in a dilapidated farmhouse on a gravel road about three miles from Route 11 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. It was a cold Halloween night in 1963, and the family of four had just finished eating dinner.
Norman Thompson looked out his window at the expanse of his property as he pondered the chores he would do tomorrow. Emily, his wife, was sewing a checkered quilt in the living room by the light of one naked hundred-watt bulb. Their teenage sons, Hank and Jeb, were lying exhausted on the front porch after a hard day’s work bailing hay.
Jeb struggled to his feet from a hammock and flexed his aching muscles. He extracted a rock from his pocket, and after winding up like a pitcher on a mound, he hurled it as far into the night as he could. Shortly, the sound of breaking glass shattered the silence of the dark house that stood in the shadows across the gravel road.
“Damn, Jeb, that was a hellacious throw. You’re gettin’ pretty accurate in your rock throwin’,” Hank complimented as he leaned off the side of the porch and spit out a big chaw of tobacco juice.
“That old house gives me the creeps. I wish somebody would come along and bulldoze it.”
“What would be the point? The whole parcel Sam Johnson owned is nothing but a pile of rocks. I’ll bet that house will fall down before somebody bulldozes it. It’s just not worth the bother.” Hank scratched his oily black hair and continued. “Do you know what day it is?”
Jeb paused for a moment and then replied, “Hey, I almost forgot after liftin’ all those bails of hay. It’s Halloween, and I know what you’re gonna say before you even say it.”
“Last year, on this very night, with a full moon blazin’ just like tonight, we heard the sound of that horse. The hoof beats sounded so strange…like thunder,” Hank whispered in his spookiest voice.
“I’ll never forget how scared I was,” Jeb piped in as he peeled a scab from his thumb.
Hank jumped up from his rocker, and like an actor on a Broadway stage, he motioned in the distance and shouted, “And lo and behold, the horse had a rider, both as black as night.” And then he continued in his normal voice, “He looked like he was going to a Halloween party, dressed in black from head to toe and wearing a black mask so you couldn’t see his face and a black cape blowing in the breeze like some kind of vampire.”
“If it weren’t for the moon, we’d a never seen him.”
“But we still woulda heard that woman screamin’ in that sack,” Hank remembered.
“Sergeant Wilkes didn’t believe a word we said.” Jeb sucked on the scab and spit.
“Sergeant Wilkes and his morons! They never did find who murdered those old maids that lived out near Possum Corners.”
“Nope, they never did, but I think we mighta seen their killer that night. He certainly was up to no good.”
Jeb rolled a cigarette from a tobacco pouch, lit it, and took a long drag. Sticking out his tongue, he blew several smoke rings, which magically spun in circles, one through another, as he recalled that hellish night one year ago. “I can still hear that poor woman screaming. She knew she’d never see the light of day agin.”
“I can’t believe Wilkes paid us no mind when we spilled our guts on what we saw. Just because we lied about tearing the stop sign down at Columbia Furnace is no reason to think we’d be lyin’ about a murder.”
Jeb flicked an ash on the porch and said jokingly, “You still say that old house is not haunted?”
“Yep, I never seen anything bumpin’ in the night over there so far.”
“What about the Johnsons? They disappeared in the dead of night.”
“It don’t matter if they disappeared; there’s no doubt they were murdered. The coroner said that their blood was splattered all over the house. Some maniac like the man on the black horse probably done it. Not ghosts,” Hank said as he watched a bat fly across the face of the moon.
“Nobody will ever live in that house agin’ after that. The county can’t give the place away, and we live right next door.”
“Well, Jeb, I’m gonna turn in before you give me the willies and I have to sleep with one eye open all night.”
Jeb smiled and pulled out his crusty wallet. “Since you don’t believe in ghosts, I’ll give you a dollar to go into that old house and stay ‘til morning.”
“No way,” Hank said as he flicked his cigarette onto the road and went for his wallet, “But I’ll raise the stakes to three dollars if you think you’ve got the balls to spend the night over there.”
“I don’t need money that bad,” Jeb conceded.
The two laughed and went to bed, but visions of ghosts and ax murderers lay heavy on their minds.
The night was uncommonly still as the two teens lay there rolling the things they’d seen last year around in their minds. The moon sailed across the sky and disappeared behind a cloud, and the land was swallowed in pitch-black darkness.
Hank couldn’t sleep. All he could think of was the masked rider in black with the flowing vampire cape, the blood, and the house next door. He thought he heard Jeb snoring in the next room, but he wasn’t sure.
Jeb was tossing and turning and humming “Faith of our Fathers” into the pillow in a low drone. A cool breeze found the crack at the base of the window and blew a musty curtain across the back of his neck. Jeb’s hair stood straight up, and a chill ran down his spine like icy fingers.
He sat up and looked about the room and listened for the slightest sound. The moon had reappeared in the sky, and its light shining through the limbs of the trees outside cast eerie phantoms on the bedroom wall. The open closet door gaped at him in the silence.
Several hours passed, and both brothers were restless in their beds. A sound pricked Hank’s ear. Hoof beats. He knew right away that no Mennonite carriage would be out at this time of night. It was just one horse coming down the road. It sounded like thunder coming from far off. He looked at his watch—midnight, Halloween.
Jeb whispered in Hank’s ear, “It’s him,” scaring his brother right off his bed.
“What are you doing in my room?”
“Whadda you think? Are we gonna let him get away again?”
“Let’s call Sergeant Wilkes!” Hank suggested as a better alternative. “Let him take care of it.”
“You know he won’t believe us.”
Hank paused to weigh the alternatives and whined, “Let’s wake up, Pa!”
“You know what Pa said last time.”
“The same thing he says every time.” Hank rattled off a few Pa-isms in a stern voice impersonating his father: “Mind you own business. Don’t catch a bullet that was meant for somebody else. Don’t go hunting wolves unless the wolf is hunting you. Let’s face it, Pa’s not gonna get involved unless the man in black comes knocking on our door, and maybe we shouldn’t either.”
“If we don’t take the bull by the horns, he’s gonna get away,” Jeb said with a long face.
“Look, birdbrain, I wanna live. I’m too young to die.”
Jeb knew his brother well enough to know that Hank was not going to put his life on the line for a total stranger. He didn’t want to take any chances either, but he couldn’t stand the thought of letting the murderer get away two years in a row. His family could be victims next year. He grabbed his slingshot and some rock pellets from a drawer and reasoned with Hank: “Hey, let’s just see what he’s gonna do. We don’t have to handcuff him or anything. Let’s just see where he goes.”
Hank reluctantly joined Jeb, and they sneaked out through the back door and crawled behind some shrubs that faced the old Pickens house.
The autumn wind blew through the old tattered curtains that hung in the windows of the battered house. The full moon was still high in the sky as they watched the rider in black dismount his ebony steed. Hank and Jeb’s hearts were pounding in their chests, and they were so excited they could barely catch their breaths.
The figure in black crept into the shadows and disappeared behind the dark house. After what seemed like an eternity, he reappeared with a burlap sack in his arms the same as he had last Halloween. The teens heard the sound of a woman screaming emanating from the sack.
“Time for the police,” Hank whispered.
“Hey, by the time they get here this pervert will be gone with the wind. Another poor lady murdered.”
The rider in black tied the sack on the back of his mighty steed, mounted, and rode off into the night heading away from the state road and deeper into the country. The teenagers mounted their bicycles and followed as close behind the rider as they could without being seen or heard.
“Where can he be going?” Jeb said blankly. “This road is gonna end in about a mile. There’s nothin’ out here but the old abandoned—”
“Cemetery! Damn, that’s where he’s headed all right,” Hank answered.
With each section of the road, they were ready to give up the chase and make a run for it into the underbrush that they hunted in with their pa for most of their lives. In spite of the unknown that lay ahead in the black night, they continued to follow the masked rider from a distance on the lonely road.
The boys hid their bikes in the bushes a little before they reached the abandoned graveyard. They continued on foot as silently as they could and were careful not to make the slightest sound. The graveyard hadn’t been used as a burial ground for many years. Most of the graves had collapsed, and the old stones were leaning. The grass was long and the trees gnarled and leafless. The wind stirred in the trees and crawled up the back of their necks as they lay still near the entrance to the cemetery.
The man in black dismounted, and lifting the sack from across his saddle, pitched it into a grave that had already been dug. The pitiful screams of the helpless female filled their senses with horror.
“He’s going to bury her alive. What kind of monster could do such a thing?” Jeb whispered in disbelief.
“I don’t want to find out, so stay quiet or I’m out of here.”
Hank and Jeb were too terrified to lift their heads to look at the monster piling the suffocating earth on top of his helpless victim. Her futile screams diminished as each shovelful of dirt filled the grave and sealed her doom.
Finally, the deed was done and the screaming ceased entirely when the woman was finally enveloped in the damp, wormy earth. The rider placed the shovel neatly in its place on his saddlebag and swiftly mounted the bellowing, hellish steed. Without the slightest reservation, he rode off into the night from which he had come.
After the hoof beats disappeared entirely, Hank and Jeb ran to the grave in hopes that they could still save the helpless woman from the horrible fate of being buried alive.
Hank found a piece of stump and Jeb a flat rock with which to dig. It seemed like an eternity before they finally reached the burlap. The worms were blanketing the earthen tomb. Their skin crawled with disgust as they untied the sack.
The whimpering sound of the woman within lifted their spirits as they pulled the burlap away from her head and shoulders. The full moon shone down through her golden tresses. Her neck and shoulders looked like ivory in the moonlight. Her sheer nightgown felt like silk to the touch, and the sight of her breasts heaving under the gauzy negligee was the most erotic sight that Hank and Jeb had ever seen.
Hank felt like a hero as he lifted her into his arms and turned the shadow of her face toward the moonlight, saying, “Jeb, I might have just died and gone to heaven.”
“Not yet, dearie,” the she-beast cackled as she tossed Hank into the grave like a toy soldier. He heard the sound of bones breaking and looked up to see Jeb’s headless body, with arms flailing and blood spewing from the cavern that was his neck. Hank tried to scale the slippery wall, but he was again caught in the vise of her icy fingers. He writhed in agony as the monster playfully harvested his left eye with a long fingernail and popped it into her mouth.
Hank remembered that his pa had once told him ”Good guys don’t always wear white hats” as the world started to spin.
The last thing Hank saw with his good eye was the horror of her face in the moonlight.
This story is included in my book of 32 tales of terror, Black As Night http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0054ECJ4C and in my book, In Your Face Horror http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008TC5WHM , my most gruesome stories from Black As Night and Shivers and other nightmares. If you liked it and want more, click on the applicable link and enjoy more cheap chills.
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