Children of the Grave by Alex S. Johnson

Children of the Grave by Alex S. Johnson


They tramped back from tomorrow into today, born aloft drops from a blinding sun, on rifle-cracks of wind, in the pits of black stars.

They came from cracked temples where sacrifice never slept, where green, mossy things little different from rocks formed long steps that writhed at night and died by day. They were the tomb-children, the beings of dark fancy evoked by witch-candle. Their eyes crawled with scorpion ghosts and they lived inside the cells of men, citizens of present time, flesh slowly unwound like a shroud.

By the churchyard they gathered, among the toppled granite crosses, faces stained with holy light. The priest who kept watch fingered his rosary and gazed up at the body of the Savior, who seemed powerless to do more than watch.

Once potential, hosts of golden wonders, deprived of air and succor, food and care, the bodies of the children faded away; but not their spirits. These took longer to disappear, to scorch emblems into walls and fences and even beneath the curious, quaint faces of the villagers, whom time had forgotten, who moved in a shrouded dream, scratched like the emulsion of black and white movies.

They drifted down from space in ships like glass coffins, wielding signs of peace in one hand and destruction in the other.

Deep in the earth, their shadows echoed with them, the bones waiting, quiescent, for a chance to hatch. And surfacing, ripening in the moist night air.

And they gave the bones blood. Not theirs, of course, since every final drop had been purged from their bodies; as they churned and chafed in shackles, crying out to no avail. Because their hurt went unheeded, crafted by the adults in whose power they remained locked.

The crimson nourishment they gave came from their hosts: the fiends of their fathers, the madcap jesters who amused themselves by crippling children. Those who had forged their death like pyramids, laying on brick upon another until the kids were lost, smashed under rock. Blind and dead, but their eyes still burned, and sometimes, late at night, the villagers saw them, peering out through the trees, or on the edge of the lake, or in subtler forms that flashed gently by as they tried to sleep. The bodies of the scorpions growing larger, until nothing could be seen of their once-innocent regard but cosmic blackness.

They left signs of their presence, diary entries of their wanderings discovered later in the crypts beneath the town, where shameful deeds had been done. Blood graffiti, cryptic feathers, semi-liquid offerings of flesh. They dropped hints, whispers in the ears of apple-cheeked old women, young, hearty men, hints of a coming nightmare. They wrote in curvilinear script, in hieroglyphs, in tongues of honeyed mist. Sometimes they chuckled from haybales as the harvest proceeded; sometimes they were only felt, as an absence, a sudden darkening, a sketch of terrible things that might yet be.

And the screams of the villagers rang among the hills, only to be stifled as the candles were snuffed, the mouths closed, the stitches lashed through the soft skin of eyelids. Their animals ran loose and free, especially the cats, who meowed in sympathy with the children. They understood the pain as only creatures with the wild in their veins could understand it. And they joined in the games, sometimes playful, sometimes cruel, the kids crafted from suffering and flesh and bodies and bone and hurt.

When they were done, giggling with glee that shaded into evil, they ascended once again, the tracks of the coffins etched briefly into the dark, as the wind shrieked and a storm gathered.

Only to be remembered as stories, legends, tales told by the fireside to the children of the grave.



Egg Hunting: by Jesse Orr

Egg Hunting
by Jesse Orr
The day of the egg hunt dawned cool, mostly clear, and breezy. The parents were relieved; they would not have to supervise in the rain, as had been forecast. The egg hunters were relieved, the fiercely competitive hunt would not be made any easier by wet underfoot.
Almost a thousand children, ages old enough to walk to twelve, milled around the stadium
parking lot, clamoring to be allowed inside. The local team had no game on Easter, and the team’s owner (who was running for mayor) had invited the public to bring their young. So they can restlessly search for the ten thousand hollow plastic eggs which had been hidden throughout the stadium’s bleachers and playing field. A prize would be given to the children with the most eggs, second most, third, and honorable mentions as Egg-Hunter Extraordinaire for all the rest.
As promised, on the stroke of noon, the doors opened and ticket takers appeared in the kiosks, marshaling people inside and down the stairs to the field. They were relieved, the event was a free one, without the headaches of fake tickets and sports-crazed fans that so often plagued their working hours. The news reporters found talking to them later to be an absolute waste of time. Since being outside they didn’t see anything that happened.
When finally the parking lot had streamed into the field as directed, a deafening voice filled the stadium.
The children squealed and dashed forward in a tidal wave of glee, buckets, baskets and bags eager to hold the bright plastic booty. In no time a sizable knot clustered in the middle of the grass, positively quivering with anticipation. The parents spread to the edges of the field closest to their children, glowing with benevolence and raising cameras to document the precious moment. Mad rumors had been flying about the nature of the prizes, the most popular belief being that a local chocolate factory had donated several hundred pounds of their best rabbits for the purpose.
“ALL RIGHT CHILDREN!” the voice yelled, sounding beside itself with excitement. “ON
But this was only heard in its entirety by Charles Bucket, Sr., the owner of the team, the
stadium, the voice, and one young lad by the name of Charles Bucket Jr., who coincidentally was the reason for this selective hearing. Junior (to which he was naturally referred) stood before the knot of children, both hands clasped around daddy’s gun, his five year old fingers struggling to work the stiff action of the trigger. It was the first explosion which had blocked the last of Charles Senior’s message to the crowd.
Junior had thrown a fit when Charles explained that his son could absolutely not participate in the egg hunt contest, for it would reek of favoritism and not benefit his coming election. He was neither cheered when Charles attempted to console him by saying that all the eggs surely wouldn’t be found, and after the hunt was over Junior could have a go at them. It was only when Charles suggested Junior might just rather stay at home in his room with the babysitter watching TV that the fit ceased. They had
left an hour later and Junior had been a little quieter than usual, but perfectly well behaved.
At least until now.
Bullets ripped through hunters and parents alike, some passing through the former to strike the latter who were rushing forward to save their hunters. One bullet exited one girl’s eye to slam into the kneecap of her mother, shattering it and causing her to yowl in agony and limp for the rest of her life. Junior turned, his sore fingers continuing their squeezing sending out the next shot, and the next, and the next, knocking a pair of twins to the ground with sucking chest wounds and piercing a small boy’s hand with a neatly placed bullet in the middle of the palm. By now everyone was too far away for him
to aim well, and the trigger produced nothing but a clicking sound. He tossed it aside and looked around.
It had been far louder than he expected, and the silence was comforting. Except for the screams. But it had worked. The field was deserted except for those who could not walk. Some were still moving, but that was OK, they probably wouldn’t feel like egg hunting anymore anyway. Some weren’t moving at all, and that was OK too. One of the immobile was Janie Somers, and that was great.
Janie was the one who had taken the first shot through the head for laughing at him for not being allowed to hunt. Janie was always being so mean to him. He’d show her now. He’d show his daddy too. He grabbed Janie’s basket and started toward the first egg he could see in the bleachers, taking care to step on Janie’s head. He could almost taste the chocolate already.