by Robbie Kenyon
“Where’d you go last night?”
“Whaddya mean?” Andy tossed the softball up into the air and caught it in his mitt.
“Aw, don’t lie to me, Andy. I saw you sneaking across the yard last night,” Bertie reached out and caught the softball mid-air. She gave him the eye. “Did you go up to the graveyard?”
Andy grabbed the ball from her hand and flashed a mischievous grin. “Maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t.”
Bertie squinted at him through one eye and gave him a good looking over. She shook her head. “Nah, you didn’t.”
Andy frowned at her. “How do you know?”
“Cause. If you’d gone up to the graveyard, you’d have some respect by now. You still ain’t got any respect.” Bertie grinned at him, picked up her book bag, and headed across the street to her house.
“You don’t know what I got, Birdhouse!” Andy called out to her. Bertie flapped a hand at him and went inside, leaving Andy alone on the street. Andy marched into his house and slammed the front door.
“Andrew Wilson, you better clean up that room!” His mother called to him from the kitchen. “I’m not going to tell you again!” Andy stuck out his tongue at the kitchen door. He heard his mother’s footsteps cross the kitchen. His tongue disappeared back into his mouth, and he barreled down the hallway into his room. The door slammed shut, and he looked around. Clothes littered the floor. Piles of dirty dishes covered his desk. He threw himself down on his bed, and pulled a toy metal car from under his back.
Bertie! What did she know, anyway? He shook his head. She knew something, all right. The truth was that Andy had gone to the graveyard last night. At least, he’d planned on going to graveyard. He had biked all the way down to the Susquehanna Bridge, then turned around and come straight back home. He hadn’t even looked towards the graveyard. Andy sat up and slammed his hand into his fist. Tonight’s the night.
He spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning his room and finishing his homework. He went to bed without complaint at about ten o’clock. His mom knocked and opened his bedroom door. Andy couldn’t see her face in the dark, but he knew she was marveling at the cleanliness of his room. He heard the rustling of her clothes as she sat down on his bed and felt her cool hand against his forehead.
“You finish your homework, Andy?” she whispered in the dark.
“You all right, son?” she asked him.
She shrugged and glanced around the room. “No reason.” She ran her hand through his dark, too-long hair, kissed his forehead, and closed the door on her way out. Andy waited until the whole house was silent, then got up and tiptoed to the window. A full moon lit up the yard.
He slipped out of his pajamas and pulled on his jeans, t-shirt, sneaks, and glasses. He grabbed his jacket from the closet and slipped out his bedroom door. His dad snored loud and clear from the other room. Andy pried the back door open inch by inch and crept out into the yard. He took a deep breath of the chill night air, and looked up into a sky filled with stars. He shivered.
He unlocked his bike as quietly as he could, and wheeled it out to the front of the house. All the windows over at Bertie’s were dark. He lay his bike down on the sidewalk, snuck across the street, and tapped Bertie’s window. No one answered. Andy tapped it again and ducked down. The latch pulled back, and the window slid open.
“Bertie, down here,” Andy whispered. Bertie poked her head out the window and looked down at him over the windowsill.
“What are you doing?” she asked out loud and rubbed her eyes.
“Shhh!” Andy hissed. “I’m going.”
“What did you wake me up for?”
Andy hesitated. “You wanna come?”
Bertie slid the window shut. Andy waited. Was she coming or did she go back to bed? He heard the back door creak open and then shut with a soft thwack. Bertie appeared around the side of the house, rolling her bike.
“Let’s go,” she whispered. He nodded. She looked real pleased that he had asked her to come along, and he was glad he had asked her.
They put on their helmets, straddled the bikes, and pushed off into the darkness. Bertie took the lead. Andy pedaled fast to keep up. Bertie was two years younger than him, but she’d already been to the graveyard because of her older brother, Mal. Mal took her everywhere he went, even gave her a swig of beer once. Andy’s brother, Damian, never took him anywhere. Dami just stayed in his room with his headphones on, texting girls.
They flew down High Street Hill, banked the curve onto Pine, and pedaled up the slope towards the graveyard. It sat in the middle of a field, fenced in on three sides by a stone wall. The Alvarod family, who used to own the land and house just down the road, built the graveyard over four hundred years ago. All the Alvarods were buried there, along with cousins, in-laws, and close family friends. Someone still took care of the graveyard, though Andy never knew who. The grass got mowed at least once a month in the summer, and the weeds were trimmed around the graves.
They skidded up the drive, hopped off their bikes, and laid them down in the wet grass. Andy heard the creak of the cedar trees overhead. Their branches waved over the graves as if shooing away intruders. Tendrils of fog wove between the graves like silk drifting through water in the moonlight. The whippoorwills called out to one another in warning: whip-poor-will, whip poor-will, whip poor-will.
“We can go back, if you want,” Bertie whispered to him. “You don’t have to do this tonight. You got a whole year.”
Andy shook his head. Every kid who grew up in Forger Falls had to “go to the graveyard” when he or she was twelve, and any kid who refused would be cursed for the rest of his or her life. All the dead in Forger Falls would come for him, one by one. He’d heard of a kid just a few years ahead of him at school who scoffed at the curse and refused to go. By the time he turned eighteen, the kid had been in four car accidents, two fires, and he got his girl pregnant. He joined the army and went off to the war in Iraq. He never came back. His mom got a letter saying he was “MIA.” Andy had looked it up. It meant “missing in action.” The dead of Forger Falls had come for that poor kid, all right, and claimed him as their own.
Andy decided he wanted to live a long time. He followed Bertie to the back of the graveyard.
On the way, he read the gravestones. “Adelaide Alvarod, 1694 -1723, Beloved Daughter of Liam Alvarod; Nathanial Bonaventura, 1654-1710, R.I.” The “P” was missing. “Arthur Cookson, 1843 to 1864, of Typhoid. Martha Alvarod, 1715-1727.” There, that was the one. Martha Alvarod died at the age of twelve. It was she who rallied the dead of Forger Falls into tormenting the kids who refused to pay their respects in the graveyard. They said she was bitter at having died so young, so she forced all the young of Forger Falls to face death.
Bertie was whispering his name. He approached where she was standing and stopped. Bertie stood over an open grave. It had been dug many years ago, but never filled. Bertie sat down and dangled her legs over the side.
“How long do we have to stay?” Andy asked, looking around.
“Just past midnight. It’s 11:45 right now, so get in, quick,” Bertie replied. Andy sat down next to her and slid into the open grave. He could still see the moon above him, but he felt cut off by the earth walls of the grave. It was darker down there, and the dust tickled his nose. The call of the whippoorwill seemed further away. He grabbed Bertie’s ankle, telling himself it would be fun to scare her, but really he just wanted to see her face. She glanced over the edge at him, pulled out her legs, and disappeared from his view.
“Where are you going?” Andy called to her.
“I’m right here,” he heard her reply. “You gotta lie down, you know.”
Andy nodded. He had to lie down in the grave and pretend he was dead, so that Martha Alvarod would know he was facing his death and being respectful. He lay down in the dirt and waited. After what he thought was about ten minutes, he called up to Bertie.
“Hey, Bert, can I get out yet?” There was no reply. “Bertie?” he called. Only the whippoorwills answered. He tried to laugh. “Come on, Bertie.” But there was no answer. Andy checked the time on his cell. It was just past midnight. He could get out now. He hauled himself out of the grave onto the grass. He saw Bertie standing with her back to him, looking down at a gravestone. He snuck up behind her and grabbed her shoulder. His hand slid right through.
Andy gasped and backed away. Bertie turned around. The moonlight shined through her. He saw the gravestone behind her. They were standing before the grave of Martha Alvarod, and it was open.
“Bertie?” She was dressed funny. Her jeans and t-shirt were gone. She wore a white dress with a sash tied around her waist, and a bow in her long hair.
Andy turned to run, but Bertie blocked his way. Bertie’s ghost hand reached to touch Andy’s cheek. “Bertie?” Andy stammered.
“I have seen everything. I know all there is to know.” The ghost circled him. Andy felt cold all over. He wiped his hand across his forehead. He was sweating. The ghost threw back her head and opened Bertie’s mouth. Fog streamed out and the ghost shot into the air, screaming over his head. Andy ran. He skidded in the mud near his bike and stopped. Andy looked back. He could make out Bertie, her real body, lying on the ground. He kicked a clod of earth.
“Damn it!” he muttered. He couldn’t leave Bertie there, no matter how annoying she was most of the time. Andy ran back.
When he got to Bertie, the ghost was gone. The empty grave had disappeared. Andy bent down close to Bertie and tapped his hand against her cheek. She opened her eyes and smiled up at him.
“Is it midnight? Did I fall asleep?” Andy pulled her to her feet.
“We have to go! Now!” He took her arm and dragged her down the hill back to their bikes.
“She was here, wasn’t she?” Bertie said and swung her leg over the saddle of her bike. Andy nodded. “I’m sorry to have missed it.” Andy stared at her. She really looked disappointed. He shook his head in disbelief and shot off on his bike into the dark. He heard Bertie panting as she tried keep up behind him, and he knew for sure that he’d never call her “Birdhouse” ever again.