Run of the Bullies
By Carl R. Merritt
Timmy Gray, 11 years old, was nervous as he walked the final few blocks of his half mile trek to school. He knew full well what was coming. The same thing that has happened every day for the past three weeks.
Every single day, sometime before Timmy stepped onto the school grounds, the school's three biggest bullies, all eighth graders, would torment him, take away his lunch money and then knock him to the ground. Then, as if things weren't bad enough, other kids that were watching this would begin laughing . . . just so the bullies wouldn't pick on them next.
It was humiliating.
Little Timmy had tried everything he could think of to get the larger kids to stop harassing him. First, he had tried talking to the eighth graders, hoping a little reason would prevail. That did no good at all. They simply ignored him as they stole the two dollars he had for lunch. Going to his parents was a waste of time also. Once they had heard about his dilemma, Timmy's parents contacted the school's principal, demanding action. The school had suspended the bullies for three days, but that was all. When they returned to school, they made things even rougher for Timmy by hurting him every day.
This day, a Friday, was turning out to be no different. As Timmy turned a corner, a full block from the school grounds, he saw the three bullies . . . waiting for him.
"Well, well! Look what we have here! The little squealer!" This came from Billy, the biggest of the three and by far the largest. Timmy knew he was also the group's leader. "Hey, punk! You gonna squeal on us again today?"
Timmy felt his stomach begin to tighten up in fear. He didn't want to get hurt again. Billy and his friends never hit him in the face, or anywhere else where it may show, but the day before they kicked him in the knee so hard, Timmy was still limping when he got home. And there was no way he was going to tell his parents that the problem was still unsolved. They would contact the principal again and the bullies would absolutely KILL him!
Having no idea what else to do, Timmy tried talking his way out of the unfortunate circumstance once again.
"Why don't you just leave me alone?" he asked, still trembling. "It's not like I have anything you really want. You don't really need my two dollars, do you?"
"No, punk, we don't," one of Billy's two friends said as he neared the small boy. "But we're gonna take it anyway!" He then kicked Timmy in the same knee as the day before as hard as he could.
"Aaugh!" Timmy cried out, falling to the ground. The pain he felt was unbearable. Waves of nausea washed over him, causing him to nearly vomit. He closed his eyes against the agony. Timmy then felt rough hands going through his pockets, searching for his money. He felt his pants rip in the pocket and even in his misery, tried to envision how he could explain this to his mom and dad.
"Aww, looky, looky! Little boy is gonna cry!" he heard Billy shout out so any other kid around would hear. Timmy's breath exploded from his lungs as one of the three brutally kicked him in the stomach. That morning's breakfast came roaring out onto the sidewalk.
"Oh, Man! That's SICK!" Billy said as he turned to leave, motioning for the others to follow. "Tomorrow, punk, don't eat anything before school!" With that, they were gone.
Just now opening his eyes, Timmy saw his fellow classmates laughing at him from across the street. Cindy, the cute little girl he had a crush on was one of them. She was also giggling while whispering into her girlfriend's ear.
Timmy took a few minutes to cry before getting up and continuing on to school.
An old man who had witnessed the last few seconds of the episode came running out of his house on the corner wearing a tattered old bathrobe over his pajamas. He knelt down beside Timmy and quickly checked him over for any serious injuries. Finding none, he helped the boy to his feet and asked, "Why do you let them get away with doing that to you, son?"
Timmy, feeling a little better, wiped away the vomit from his lips and tried to make sense of the question. "What do you mean?" he asked. "There's three of them, all bigger than me. What could I have done?"
"Look, son. Bullies are only what they are because others let them get away with it. I'd bet my bottom dollar that if you went right up to their leader and gave him a good 'ole fashioned knuckle sandwich square in the mouth, they'd never bother you again. Life's hard, boy. If you let it run over you, you'll never make anything of yourself."
Not understanding the old man at all, Timmy just walked away. Turning back once, he saw the man shaking his head in disgust as he went back inside.
It was lunchtime and Timmy had no money once again. So instead of going hungry for the rest of the afternoon, he went up to the only friend he had left at school, Chris Peterson, who was sitting outside under an old oak tree just opening his lunch box.
Already hearing about the incident, Chris offered Timmy half of his tuna salad sandwich and a few of his oatmeal cookies.
"I hear they gotcha again this morning," Chris said, taking a bite from his half of the sandwich and looking his friend over, finding the torn pocket right away. "They break anything?"
"No. I guess I was lucky," replied Timmy, ashamed.
"Why don't you do like I say and stand up to "Billy the Butt?" Chris said, annoyed that his friend hadn't taken his advice he had given him the day before. "He ain't nothin' without his two friends backing him up. They're the ones that do all his dirty work! Call him out! Tell him to fight you one on one! Ask him why he's too chicken to do it without his friends' help!"
"That's just about what that old man in the corner house said this morning," Timmy said, looking at his half of the sandwich. "Then, he said something real old . . . something like giving Billy a knuckly sandwich!"
"The term is "knuckle" sandwich, Timmy," Chris said, chuckling. "And what corner are you talking about? I heard you got beat up down the street from where I live . . . at Third and Elm."
"Yeah, the old man who lives there on the corner."
"Man! You got hit worse than you thought. There are four houses on that corner and two are owned by young couples. Another is owned by an old woman. Her husband died a long time ago. The fourth is empty."
"I'm talking about the house that's in real bad shape. Has a broken porch swing out in front," Timmy explained. "An old man came running out of there and asked why I keep letting Billy and his buddies beat the tar outta me. Don't you know what house and what old man I'm talking about?"
Chris' face turned ashen as he listened to Timmy. Yeah, he knew the house all right. He didn't know anything about the man, and he was glad he didn't. The other neighbors who lived around Chris claimed the house was haunted. They said strange things happened there every few years that couldn't be explained. That's why the widow who used to live there moved out. That's why it still hasn't been sold after all these years.
Up until now, Chris simply believed it was all rumor, talk started by people who just wanted to cause trouble, or wanted to scare people. But now...
"Timmy, listen very carefully. That house. It... " Chris was interrupted by a voice. A girl's voice! Turning, he saw who it was and sighed. What he had to say would have to wait.
"Ooooh, Timmy! Are you alright?"
It was Cindy. She was walking up to the table with her girlfriends.
"Of course!" Timmy replied, trying to sound as if nothing serious had happened. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well . . . we saw what happened this morning and well, you know. I was just worried. That's all."
Then, the bottom fell out of Timmy's life. One of Cindy's friends spoke up.
"Why don't you go see Abe?" she blurted out, thinking what she was suggesting wasn't for real anyway. Maybe she and her two friends could all make a big joke of it in the future. "He'll help you!"
"Who's Abe?" Timmy asked, totally bewildered, glancing at Chris to see if he knew anything.
"Nobody! Just a big joke they're trying to pull on you." Putting his lunch box aside, Chris got to his feet and stood eye to eye with Cindy's friend and said, "I think it's about time to go back inside. Don't you agree?"
"Well I don't see what you're getting so upset about!" the girl said, her voice dripping with venom. "If it's all just a 'big joke,' why won't you let Timmy hear it?"
"Just get outta here and mind your own business!"
Cindy, not wanting to cause Timmy any more grief, tugged at her friend's arm and herded her off. She looked back to Timmy and shrugged her shoulders, indicating that she hadn't wanted this to happen. She thought Timmy understood her gesture.
"What was all that about 'Abe' and him being able to help?" Timmy asked his friend.
Being a few months older than Timmy and a lot wiser, Chris put on a serious face and tried his best to convince his friend to forget about this whole thing.
"Timmy, you're my friend, regardless of how many times you get made a fool of. But I want you to listen to me very carefully. Okay?" When he was sure he had Timmy's full attention, he went on, not particularly caring that they only had about ten minutes left before lunch was over. "I've heard a lot about Abe from stories my dad tells me every night to try and scare me before I go to sleep. At first, I thought it was all a bunch of bull, until I heard about this one guy that really went there. His name was Joe something I think. Anyway, he was never heard from again. In fact, from the stories my dad tells me, that house that you saw that man come out of used to belong to him! That guy, Abe, he's DEAD! You understand me? Some kind of ghost, or ghoul or something! He'll help you all right, but he'll charge a PRICE! And it's something you don't want to pay, believe me!"
"But if he'll help me with Billy... "
"Forget about Billy! I'm telling you that he's no problem if you just stand up to him! Is it worth dying . . . or maybe something worse . . . just to get rid of a few bullies? Don't be stupid! Now, are you going to forget about all this foolishness, or do I have to beat some sense into you?" Watching Timmy's reaction, Chris wondered if he had said too much. His friend looked both frightened and thoughtful at the same time. He couldn't tell what Timmy's answer would be.
"Yeah. Okay, I'll forget about it. Chances are it's just a bunch of bull like you said anyway. Come on. Let's go back inside before we're late for class. That's all I need right now, to be yelled at by the teacher."
Relieved, Chris followed his friend back inside, never realizing that his words to Timmy went in one ear . . . and out the other.
Late the following afternoon, Timmy left his house to find Abe's Tomb. For all the advice Chris had given him, he still could not find it within himself to stand up to Billy and his goons. More, he knew he must somehow gain the respect of Cindy, who now seemed to care at least a little for him. If he couldn't face up to Billy, then maybe she would respect him if he faced up to a ghost.
According to the directions he had received from Cindy's friend after school, Abe's tomb was supposed to be located in a cave somewhere in the hills on the other side of an old cemetery. It was on the opposite end of town from where Timmy lived and it was taking him much longer to walk there than he had planned. Already it was well after seven o'clock. He knew with the time change, even if he left now, he'd never get home before dark. Timmy decided to continue on. He'd be in big trouble with his parents, of course, but maybe this "Abe" character could help him with that also . . . if it weren't all a big hoax that is. He hoped it wasn't.
Once he found the cemetery, Timmy looked around for the hills and saw them right away. Cindy's friend had been right. He'd have to cut right through the headstones to get there. The only other choice was to go around the cemetery and that would probably take an additional fifteen to twenty minutes. Time he really couldn't afford.
Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, Timmy started through the cemetery.
The first thing he noticed was how old the graveyard was. Cindy's friend had also used the word "old" to describe it, but that just didn't do it justice. To an eleven year old boy, fifteen or twenty years might have been old, but this place looked to be HUNDREDS of years old. Curious, Timmy looked at the dates on some of the headstones. Most of them dated back to the civil war! Instead of the plain, flat markers modern cemeteries had, this place had statues, crypts and religious icons everywhere. With the wind blowing the leaves around and the already darkening sky, Timmy felt himself grow even more afraid with every step he took. He took another deep breath and quickened his pace. Determination now his only motivation.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, he thought he heard a voice . . . more like a gasp really, that scared him half to death. He spun around to find the source, but there was nothing there. Nothing, of course, but the grave markers and the dark shadows surrounding them.
He looked up into the sky, the sun was gone. It would be completely dark now in a matter of minutes. Timmy, feeling like a fool for doing this, ran the rest of the way through the cemetery, imagining the whole way that some ghostly hands were trying to hold him back.
There was a full moon that night, something Timmy was very thankful for as he tromped along in the woods, looking for the cave. He needed the moon's brilliance because he hadn't thought of bringing along a flashlight. He felt stupid for forgetting it and knew if he had any brains at all, he would stop what he was doing and return home without hesitation. But he also knew that once he stepped inside the door, he would be grounded for getting home late. No, he thought, he had to continue. To chicken out now meant not only being grounded, but being tormented at school the following Monday as well. No, he had to keep going now, no choice. He had to find the cave that held Abe's tomb!
Somewhat lost, Timmy had been looking off into the distance when his foot got caught up in a twisted root from some tree. He fell hard and smashed his injured knee against a large boulder half sticking up out of the ground. He sat up and while rubbing the soreness away, noticed a dark spot against the side of a hill not twenty yards from where he sat. Somehow, something deep inside of him knew that must be the cave. Finding it difficult to put any weight on his injured knee, Timmy was forced to wait a few minutes before he was able to hobble over to investigate.
He found it.
The small mouth of the cave, about two feet in diameter, had been hidden by an overgrowth of bushes and small trees. He idly wondered how he ever noticed it at all. In this low light, it should have remained invisible to his mere human eyes. Timmy began to have the suspicion that someone . . . or something . . . had been leading him to this spot.
Scared out of his mind now, Timmy slowly entered the cave. He knew this must be the right one . . . how many caves could there be?
Darkness. Complete, absolute and total darkness surrounded him. Timmy couldn't even see his own hand as he waved it in front of his face.
With one arm out in front to pave the way and the other protecting his face, he proceeded down the cave, his knee feeling as if someone had taken a baseball bat to it. Cobwebs caressed Timmy's face and it felt like spiders were all over him. But that wasn't the worse part. It was the smell. It was terrible, the odor of death. Turning around in an attempt to orientate himself, Timmy saw the cave's entrance with the moonlight beyond. That's when he noticed the torch's silhouette framed in the mouth of the cave. He went back for it, hoping against all odds that whoever left the torch had thought of leaving a book of matches somewhere nearby.
It was a disposable butane lighter. Flicking it, Timmy then noticed a small can of linseed oil and a tin box of rags. Good, he thought. Everything he needed to ensure the torch would last a while. Working mostly by the moonlight, Timmy soon had the torch wrapped with rags, soaked in oil and burning. This did a lot to calm his fears as he continued down the cave.
Now that he had some light to see by, Timmy saw bones . . . everywhere. Some were human bones, but most were those of small animals such as birds and rats. A few were still decomposing, he noticed, and that's what accounted for the smell.
Then it happened.
A bat came fluttering down from somewhere above, grabbing Timmy's hair for an instant before flying off. Another came streaking down in front of him. Where it flew off to was a mystery. It moved too fast for the limited amount of light the torch produced. Suddenly one bat, a full foot from head to toe and roughly twice that in wingspan, swooped down to hover a few feet in front of Timmy. It was the largest bat Timmy could have imagined. Brown in color, it's leathery wings flapped just fast enough to keep it aloft . . . directly in front of Timmy's face. The boy felt as if the creature was studying him, or else warning him away. The frightened boy was about to take a swipe at it with the torch, when the ungodly creature flew over Timmy's head towards the cave's entrance. The gigantic bat had been so close, the boy had even been able to see the features on its face.
Terrified beyond anything he ever felt before, Timmy took yet another deep breath and proceeded once more further into the cave.
After passing through about a million spider infested webs, bypassing more gigantic bats, all resting upside down, and sloshing through some syrupy puddles a foot deep, Timmy finally made it to the end of the cave. That's when he saw his goal, directly in front of him . . . Abe's Tomb!
Slowly walking up to it and using the torch, inspecting it more closely, Timmy saw that it was actually a wall that extended from one side of the cave to the other and from floor to ceiling. It was made of stone that had been mortared over. It completely cut off the rear of the cave. The entrance to the tomb looked like one of the grave markers that he had seen in the cemetery, except that it had been made into a door. It looked a million years old. To the left, someone had recently used black paint to make a background for a stenciled skull and crossbones. Underneath were the words: "All ye who enter beware! A price for those who dare!" The ominous words were literally carved in stone.
The door was slightly ajar, so after brushing away the cobwebs and driving away the fear that was threatening to paralyze him, Timmy squeezed through the narrow opening . . . and was immediately attacked by hundreds of those same gigantic, brown bats. They swooped down on him, clawing away at his hair, face and shoulders. Using the torch as a club, Timmy took wild, frantic swings at the feral beasts, eventually driving them away.
The enclosed area, the actual tomb, was only about the last twenty feet from the end of the cave. Timmy expected to see a coffin, but there was none. Just a human skeleton stretched out on the dirt floor next to the door. It looked like whoever it was, presumably Abe, had died trying to escape the tomb. Timmy swallowed hard. Abe had been buried alive!
"Uh, hello?" Timmy whispered, not really knowing if he wanted anyone to reply or not. With no answer, he tried again, a little louder. "Hello! Abe, can you hear me?" he shouted upwards towards the ceiling. Why he was directing his voice above, Timmy didn't know either. If Abe had been buried alive, chances are he may have deserved it. Perhaps his voice should be steered more towards the floor, Timmy thought. "Answer me!" he demanded, this time a shout.
Moments passed and nothing happened. Then, totally unexpected, Timmy felt the presence of Abe. He as yet could see nothing but the bare tomb, but that same driving force that kept him coming, now told Timmy that he was now not alone. Someone, God help him . . . a ghost, was in the tomb with him.
"Show yourself! I didn't come all this way and get into all this trouble to talk to an old set of bones! Come on! Please! Show yourself!"
Slowly, a mist began to form over the bones. It was swirling with what looked like little stars inside. Taking shape, Timmy could make out the outline of a man. When it fully materialized, Timmy saw that it wasn't just a ghost he was seeking. Abe was a ghoul! He looked just like the pictures on TV of the Grim Reaper!
Abe's face was withered and half eaten away by years of decay, but Timmy could still see the resemblance to the man who had come to his aid the day before after his run in with Billy and his two friends. When Abe spoke, it was with a deep and grating voice that came straight from the depths of hell.
"Speak! Why have you come?"
Suddenly, Timmy found he had to force himself to talk. The driving force that had brought him here and enhanced his bravery along the way was now gone. He found himself shaking with fear.
"You know w-why," Timmy stammered out. "I want help."
"I don't help those who can help themselves. Leave. Now. Before a price is collected."
"Leave? And do what? Go home and get grounded? Go back to school Monday and have Cindy and the rest of the kids laugh at me when Billy and his pals beat the tar out of me again? You're my only chance! Abe! You've got to help me! There's nothing I can do on my own!"
"You are brave, young Timothy. Just making it this far proves that much. Go home. When confronted again by the bullies, fight back like I told you to do yesterday." Abe's ghoulish form began to disappear. However, his departure was suddenly halted by Timmy's next words.
"You're nothing but a joke! You know that? And what do you mean when you say I was brave?! I was driven to come here! Wasn't I? What did you use, hypnotism, or something?" Timmy knew that if he didn't convince Abe, his life from then on would be a living hell. He tried to think of anything that would persuade the gruesome spirit to change his mind. "Look, this ain't fair! All that I went through to get here, and THIS is how you treat me? You've GOT to help me! Can't you understand that I just want to have some peace?!"
The disrespectful tone outraged Abe. He fully materialized once more and confronted the boy, anger now in his tone.
"You fool! The driving force that brought you here was the love in your heart for this 'Cindy' of yours! No one is forced to come here! Those who do, pay the price! A dear price! Hear my words! You do not need my help. You have the ability to take care of yourself! Now, I'll tell you once again to flee! I'm leaving for a time now, but when I return, you'd better be gone! If not, you will receive the help you so foolishly desire . . . and a VERY heavy price will be extracted in return!"
The following Monday, Timmy was once again on his way to school, confident now that everything would be alright. He thought back to Saturday night when he returned home from Abe's Tomb. It was well after three o'clock in the morning before he walked through his front door and was immediately pounced upon by his parents. He explained that he had been lost, which wasn't really a lie, for a while there he actually was. After hearing the story, his parents were so relieved at having their son return home safely, they didn't even punish him. For this, Timmy was very thankful.
Timmy entered the school grounds without being accosted by Billy, or his friends. He learned later that they had been arrested for drug violations and were now in the custody of the police. They were to be expelled from school, never again being able to harass Timmy, or anyone else.
Cindy ate lunch with Timmy that day, making him feel like a million dollars. After school, he played ball with Chris in the school's playground before going home to do his homework. Timmy never felt more alive.
When he went to sleep that night, Timmy was looking forward to the dreams that he knew was coming. They were sure to somehow involve Cindy.
However, that was not to be. Tossing and turning, Timmy's dreams were in reality . . . nightmares. Visions of Billy that were so real, Timmy could actually feel the kicks he was receiving in his unconscious state, could taste the blood running down his lips, could feel his ribs snapping like twigs as Billy kicked harder and harder. In the back of his mind, Timmy knew it was all just a bad dream, but he couldn't force himself to wake up. All night long, beads of sweat ran freely down his face as he tossed and turned in bed and dreamt of Billy and his two friends beating and torturing him, agonizing him in every way humanly . . . and inhumanly . . . possible.
And something deep inside told Timmy that it would be like this for the rest of his life...
Six months later, Chris and Cindy were once again visiting Timmy at the mental institution. They had been coming every weekend to see their friend since the day he had been admitted . . . three days after returning from Abe's tomb.
But this weekend was different. As they watched their unconscious friend struggle against the straps that held him in place, the tubes that fed him quivering, a swirling mist began taking the shape of a man next to them. Chris and Cindy both tried to run, but some invisible force held them frozen in place, unable to move a single muscle.
They saw the specter of death materialize and knew right away it was Abe, the evil creature that had caused their friend to go mad. At first, they were frantic, certain that they were soon to share their friend's fate. But as they watched Abe stand over poor Timmy, they slowly came to realize they were only to be witnesses to Abe's final collection on his toll. As this realization came, their paralysis subsided, as if Abe could somehow read their minds. Free to move now, Chris and Cindy moved closer to each other for moral support and soon found themselves holding on to each other in utter, bone-chilling terror.
Chris and Cindy watched as the brown cloaked figure slowly glided away from Timmy, approaching them. His words were like they originated from hell's basement as he said, "The price has been extracted!" The specter of death then disappeared in that same swirling mist.
Running over to stand at Timmy's bedside, they watched him as his struggling finally slowed . . . then stopped completely. Timmy's face took on a look of contentment as he breathed easier for the first time in months. A smile actually came to his lips as his breath became shallower and slower. Then it stopped altogether. The monitor above his bed began ringing out a single, non-ending tone.
Timmy had finally found what he was looking for.
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E-Mail me at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com