by Ang Pompano
Gabby Newman crept through her backyard watching the lantern in the tent turn her brother Steven, and his friend Miles, into shadow puppets. Steven was telling the same old story of the headless ghost.
Dude, is that the best you can do? She thought.
She crept closer and could see Miles’ shadow put hands over his eyes as Steven got to the point where the ghost threw his head.
“EEEYAAAAA!” Gabby yelled as she threw a basketball into the tent.
“EEEEYAAARRGH!” The two boys scrambled over each other to get out through the flap. Gabby laughed and held her sides as she entered the tent and plopped herself in front of the lantern.
“I’m telling on you,” Steven said as the boys crawled back into the tent.
Gabby grinned at him. “Sorry.”
“You don’t mean it.”
“I sure do. Just like I mean it when I say I won’t tell every kid in your class that you guys screamed like babies.”
“You wouldn’t.” Her brother looked toward Miles who had a pained look on his face.
“Of course not…I think.” Gabby curled one side of her lip. She had seen her dog do that and thought it was cool.
“Just to show you what a nice person I am; I’ll tell you a story. If you don’t like it, you can tattle to Mom.” She spit in her hand and held it out to her brother. “Deal?”
“Deal.” Steven held out his hand and then quickly jerked it away before they shook. “But if I don’t like it, I’m telling Mom.”
Gabby hoped she could come up with a good enough story to keep the boys quiet. Mom had been a little overworked and grouchy lately. Now that Gabby had turned thirteen she was expected to act mature. In fact, this was the first time she had been given a paying babysitting job while Mom and Miles’ father went out to dinner and a movie. If Steven told, good-bye babysitting money.
“Don’t trust her,” Miles said.
Gabby eyed Miles. “Sit here and listen. Like I said, if you don’t like the story…”
The two boys gave in and sat cross legged by the lantern.
“Okay. Here goes. It was on a night just like this. But a long time ago…And a boy like…” Gabby pointed as she moved her finger back and forth past the two boys. “You!” Her finger stopped in front of Miles. “And you!” She pointed at Steven. “Disappeared.” The two boys moved closer to each other. Nine-year-olds weren’t so timid when she was a kid.
“Get out of here,” Steven said. “You can’t scare us.”
Maybe they weren’t as weak as she had thought.
“Not trying to scare you,” Gabby said. She started to get up. “I just wanted to warn you that Liver Man has been roaming the neighborhood. But it’s all good. I’m sure you’ll be all right. I’m going inside.”
“Sit, sit,” the boys begged.
“Okay. But any more interruptions and I’m out of here. And you can deal with Liver Man yourselves.”
“Well, tell us,” Steven said.
Gabby thought. This was going to have to be a great story or Steven would rat on her to their mother.
“Two hundred…no, it was two hundred and fifty years ago, a man named Jack Benton was found unconscious in his butcher shop, here in town, with his face in a pile of liver. They took Jack to his bed and at the stroke of midnight he went to the big butcher shop in the sky. His grieving wife had him buried that same night in Evergreen Cemetery. A stone was put on his grave that said: Here Lies Jack Benton.”
“Big deal,” Miles said.
“And!” Then Gabby made her voice very low and mysterious. “Below his name was carved The People Shall Be Troubled at Midnight and Taken Away.”
“What does that mean?” both boys asked at once.
“I’m not sure, but they say Jack wasn’t happy about not having a proper burial and his restless spirit wanders around the neighborhood looking for his butcher shop. Sometimes he’ll ask someone the way, and that is the last anyone sees of that person.”
Both boys gasped.
Gabby played it for all it was worth.
“But that’s not the worst of it. The next morning all that is found of the missing person is a lump of…LIVER!”
The boys jumped and made faces but were careful not to scream.
“That’s corny,” Steven said. “I’m still telling on you.”
Gabby had to think quick. She was only joking when she threw that basketball into the tent.
“I’d take you up the street to the cemetery to see for yourself, but I don’t want to see you two crying.”
“Do you mean now?” Steven asked.
“Why not? We have the lantern. Are you scared?”
“I’m not scared,” Steven said.
Miles on the other hand was very quiet.
“What about you, Miles? Are you scared?” Gabby asked.
Miles took a deep breath. “Of course not.”
Gabby knew they would never find the grave, since she had made up the whole story. She’d just say the headstone must have been removed.
With Steven and Miles behind her, Gabby went into the cemetery ignoring the sign that read, Closed At Sunset. “This way,” she said. “If you see him, don’t say even a word unless you want to become a pile of liver.”
“This is a waste of time,” Steven said as they stopped by a statue of an angel with a broken wing.”
“I saw someone over there!” Miles had his hands over his eyes again.
This kid must see the world through his fingers, Gabby thought. She shined the lantern toward the graves ahead.
“Liver Man,” one of the boys whispered.
Gabby aimed the lantern right and left. Nothing. Then she noticed the weathered gravestone next to the angel with the broken wing: Here lies Jack Benton. Gabby’s hands went numb and she dropped the lantern. She picked it up and aimed the light at the stone again. The People Shall Be Troubled at Midnight and Taken Away.
She gasped and took the light off the stone before the boys could see what was written there. It couldn’t be. She had made up the whole story to keep out of trouble. She turned around toward the boys. They were gone.
Then she spotted a large figure in what seemed to be a butcher’s apron move through the monuments. He was too big to be her brother or Miles. Liver Man! Gabby’s heart started to race. What had she done? She’d led not only herself, but her brother and his friend into danger. Mom was going to be totally off the wall because she let Liver Man get the boys. How could her made-up story have caused this to happen?
Gabby ducked behind the angel and peeked about. But she didn’t see Steven or Miles. And she didn’t see Liver Man. He must have taken them away. She thought she felt a little tear forming in the corner of her eye. But it was no time for tears. She had to find the boys and save them. Maybe later for the tears.
Then from in some nearby bushes she heard something. A cry? But not just a cry, it was a pitiful cry. Like someone in trouble. The boys! She headed toward the sound and then hesitated. What if all she found of Steven and Miles was a pile of liver? The crying got louder and she edged toward it thinking how much she hated liver.
The sound was coming from under some thick hedges. She pulled the branches of the hedge aside. She saw dark hair. The same color as Steven’s. “Don’t cry. I’ll get you out.”
She broke the branches with her hands until she freed a long piece of leather. She pulled and out came a whimpering dog on the end of a leash.
“You’ll be all right now,” she said to the dog. “You didn’t happen to see my brother and his friend. Did you?”
The dog got excited. The boys must have come back.
“Steven, you’re going to be sorry you ever did this,” she said.
Gabby turned. A man was standing in front of her. He was big. And he was tall. And he wore a butcher’s apron. Liver Man!
Gabby leapt to her feet and stood tall as she spread out her arms to make herself as big as she could. “You give me back my brother and his friend.”
Liver Man just keep walking toward her, laughing.
“You won’t think it’s so funny when my mother gets you.”
Liver Man put his hand under his apron and seemed to be reaching for something in his pocket.
“And I’m not afraid of butcher knives, either.” But Gabby felt sweaty even though it wasn’t hot. “I’m not afraid. You
He pulled his hand slowly from under his apron and showed her his badge. “You should be in trouble for trespassing after the cemetery is closed, but you saved my dog so I’m going to overlook it this time.”
All of a sudden, bright lights lit up the gravestones as a car rushed through the cemetery. The car came to a sudden stop and all four doors flew open. Gabby opened her mouth but nothing came out but a silent scream. Liver Man continued to smile and held up his badge for her mom and Miles’ dad to see.
“She’s not in trouble. In fact, she found my dog. I’m officer James Thomas. I just got off the late shift and was
barbecuing my dinner when my dog ran off. I heard noises here and saw two boys running away, apparently to get help.
I’m sure this young lady and the boys came here when they heard my dog crying. The three of them are heroes.
“Look,” Steven said. He pointed toward a bloody mess on Jack Benton’s Grave.
Gabby and the two boys screamed.
“How did that get there?” Officer Thomas asked his dog. “That’s my steak dinner.”
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