Steven sits in Mrs. Livingston's 8th grade English class staring at the clock like a predator stalking its prey. The seconds tick by in slow motion like an everlasting time loop. His eager anticipation sends ripples of joy soaring through his veins creating a rush of exhilaration. It was after all the last period of the day, and Steven’s rag tag group of friends - The Nightstalkers - have big plans for the night.
Finally, the second hand strikes 3 o’clock, and the bell rings like a war cry from an evil monster awakening from a deep slumber. The mad dash begins. Thousands of students enter the hallway sprinting towards the exit like ants flocking to a small grain of spilt sugar. Steven sneaks out the back into the playground area and sees his motley crew of misfits waiting for him behind the caged electric generators.
He trudges forward through the freshly cut grass, the smell percolating his spring allergies. His eyes are ever vigilant. Teachers are always watching, and one stray glance would be enough to ruin everything. The plan was too important, and The Nightstalkers couldn’t afford a setback. Not now, not when they're so close to the goal.
Steven sees little Suzie with her light brown hair tied into two pigtails that hang ever so sweetly around her ears. Buster is wearing his black leather jacket and dark sunglasses. Even though it’s 75 degrees out, the personification of cool never bows down to the weather. Doug is hiding behind a rhododendron bush, popping his head out like a nervous meerkat.
“What took you so long Steven?” cried Suzie, twiddling her pigtails.
Steven scrunches his face and snaps, “I was trying to be careful!”
Buster shakes his head in frustration. “Let’s hurry this up, I got me a hot date tonight!”
“Does she have a heartbeat, or an air valve?” retorts Doug.
Buster slaps a fist against his hand. “I’ve had enough! You’re a stupid smartass!”
“Better to be a smartass than a dumbass,” Doug mumbles.
Buster erupts in a fit of rage and runs towards Doug. “What did you say to me!?”
“That’s enough calm down both of you!” Steven says, stepping in between them.
Suzie runs up and slams her fist into Buster’s arm. “Cool it you guys, we need to concentrate on the mission!”
Buster and Doug take a moment to collect themselves and nod their heads in agreement. Suzie gives Steven a reassuring look, to let him know that things are under control. She always has a way of getting through to the guys when things get rambunctious.
Doug adjusts his eyeglasses and asks, “So... are we still doing this?”
Steven clears his throat and looks at everyone to make sure they're paying attention. “Yes. Do you all remember the plan?”
Suzie smiles and raises her voice, “There have been several reports that The Gemstone Public library is haunted.” She places her hands on her hips and continues, “It’s up to The Nightstalkers to find out if it really is!”
Steven nods his head in approval. “Well said, Suzie! Now are you guys in or out?”
“I ain’t no wuss, I’m in!” insists Buster.
Doug crinkles his nose and says, “Well… I guess I’m in too, if I can bring some snacks. Sometimes I get the munchie crunchies and I need to nibble on somethi-”
“Ok, ok, we get it already. Enough of your rambling!” shouts Buster.
“It’s settled then,” Steven says with a smile. “We go in tonight, but we have to be careful about the security guard.”
“Why does a library need a security guard anyway,” Suzie asks in bewilderment.
“Because it's night time, and a lot of scary bad guys come out in the dark,” stutters Doug.
Buster gives him a dirty look and sneers, “It’s because of the insane violence here in Gemstone city. Something is always burning, and it’s really starting to mess up my flow you know!”
Steven interjects, “Alright, alright, enough chit chat. Let’s all meet up tonight at the library around ten.”
“The Nightstalkers are on the case!” shouts Suzie.
Later that night…
The Nightstalkers approach the back of the library all dressed in black clothes. The silence is deafening as Doug picks the lock on the back door. With a rat-a-tat-tat the lock springs open to the sounds of gasps in the cool night air. The quartet of mavericks look at each with ascertainment in their eyes. The first step is complete.
One by one they enter through the door ducking and weaving in between the bookshelves to avoid detection. The library is dimly lit with a soft natural glow, and the dark green carpet looks like perfection personified. The bookshelves are spaced out evenly in two columns leading up to a robust reading area full of light brown tables, and soft comfortable chairs.
Hiding behind a bookshelf, The Nightstalkers hold on to their silence like a special gift from the Gods, because the security guard is on patrol. Steven points toward him and motions for the others to be quiet. They all nod their heads and watch as the guard enters the reading area.
The guard is wearing a light blue security shirt, and black dress pants. With each booming step he takes, a shockwave of vibration soars up through his tree trunk legs making his belly jiggle.
“That guy is huge,” whispers Suzie.
“Be quiet would ya,” utters Steven.
Buster’s eyes widen as he sees the guard reach up to wipe thick beads of sweat from his forehead. He dry heaves when the guard flicks the sweat from his hand sending the droplets soaring through the air. The back of his white hair is soaked with perspiration and sweat stains are spread throughout his uniform.
Buster taps Steven on the shoulder and whispers, “I don’t think this place is haunted, because if it was that fat bastard would have died from a heart attack months ago.”
Anger clouds Steven’s face. “I told you to be quiet!”
Crunch. Crunch. Munch. Munch.
The nibbling sounds echo through the silence like a piercing torpedo from a ballistic war ship. Steven winces back and sees Doug stuffing his mouth with popcorn.
Flabbergasted, Doug looks back at Steven and babbles, “Um… Sorry I got the munchies. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Who’s over there!” the guard shouts. His footsteps sound like an earthquake blasting towards them.
The Nightstalkers turn and run, knocking little Suzie over in their stampede. They take off like bats out of hell - heartbeats throbbing. Suzie slowly stands up grabbing hold of her knee. She lifts her eyes and comes face to face with the guard. He forcefully grabs her arm and pulls her close.
Breathing heavily, Suzie can smell his nasty breath. It smells like sour onions in a garbage dump. He gushes in delight, “Ohhh... a little girl just for me!” He licks his chubby lips and teases, “I love little girls like you…” He starts to giggle to himself, and continues, “My name’s Antonio, but you can call me Uncle Antonio if you like...oh yes! We are gonna have some fun! Oh yesss!”
Suzie withdraws from his grasp flinching in disgust - choking on her own vomit.
Please help me, please help me!
Suzie wants to scream, but she is paralyzed in fear.
Just then, Buster appears from around the corner holding a thick red covered book. The guard looks over at him with confusion in his eyes. His creepy smile quickly fades as he hears:
“Hey fat ass! Reading is fun-da-mental!”
Buster throws the book with all his might, and it hits Antonio right on the nose. Blood splatters on Suzie’s pale white face, and he releases his grip on her. Buster grabs Suzie’s hand and pulls her to a running start away from the madman. She takes off crying with each step - as her skin crawls with revulsion.
Buster turns to follow, but Antonio pulls out his black baton, and clobbers him on the back of the head. Lights Out! He falls to the ground with a tumultuous thud - blood gushing from the wound. Antonio steps over Buster’s prone body and raises the baton high above his head.
“This will teach you not to interfere with Big Daddy’s tasty treats!!”
At that moment, Steven hits Antonio across the back with a wooden chair. Antonio falls to his knees and watches the room spin round and round. Doug runs over to Buster and pulls him away from the carnage. Never one in the strength department, Doug’s arms start to tremble as his strength starts to dwindle. Pulling herself together, Suzie runs over and grabs Buster’s other arm. Together they drag him out of harm's way.
Reaching into his backpack Doug pulls out a bandage and places it on Buster’s gushing wound. “Don’t worry pal, you’ll be ok!”
“You have bandages in that backpack too?!” Suzie murmurs.
Doug looks at her with a wry smirk, “Yes I do, along with munchies and crunchies, and some Snapple tee!”
Meanwhile, Steven looks at Antonio leaning on his knees with utter contempt, and murderous intentions. He lifts the wooden chair again as evil thoughts echo through the dark clouds in his mind.
He hurt my friends.
He hurt my friends! This is all my fault, for believing this place was haunted. I have to make this right. I have to make him pay!
Steven swings the chair hitting Antonio across the back, causing the chair to explode on impact. Steven lifts his eyebrows high as Antonio starts to laugh - slow and steady at first, and then loud and hysterical as he rises to his feet.
“You think that can hurt the great Antonio!!”
Steven looks into Antonio’s evil eyes, and trepidation fills his soul. He runs over to his friends and yells, “Come on we gotta get out of here! This guy is really mad now!”
They all turn their heads simultaneously to see Antonio slowly walking towards them. Blood is flowing down his face making him look like some crazy zombie from one of those horror flicks.
The Nightstalkers grab Buster who is still unconscious and drag him towards the front exit. Antonio is hot on their trail inching closer and closer. Suzie runs over to unlock the front door leaving Doug and Steven to carry most of the weight. There’s no time to waste, and they need to get away.
Antonio walks over to his security station and grabs a loaded shotgun from his locker. In one swift motion, he pumps the shotgun and aims it at The Nightstalkers. They look at each other with doom in their eyes.
“Please don’t kill us, please don’t kill us!” cries Steven.
“Give me the girl and maybe I’ll let you twits leave here with your lives!”
“I got it! The doors unlocked!” shouts Suzie.
Antonio’s eyes light up at the sound of her voice. “Oh yes… That’s the sound of my girl! Come here sweetie, sweetie, or your friends are DEAD!!”
At that very moment, the dim lights start to flicker on and off. Antonio looks around and sees a dark figure standing in the reading area of the library. He squints his eyes to get a better look. He notices the figure is wearing a trench coat and a fedora hat. Wisps of black smoke flow from his body like a burning corpse. His face is clouded in darkness, masking his features.
“W-who are you, a cop or something?” Antonio stutters.
The Shadow pulls out a long sword and holds it out from his body. Black flames spark to life around the sharp blade like a flame to a match. The Nightstalkers watch on in curious amusement.
“I know what you did… BOY!!!” The Shadow says.
Antonio shakes his head in confusion. “I didn’t do anything, but I tell you what I’m gonna do… blow your ass to kingdom come!”
Antonio points the shotgun at The Shadow and pulls the trigger, BOOM!
The Shadow raises his blade in a sweeping motion, blocking the shot. Ping. Ping. Ping.
Antonio ruffles his forehead and screams, “What the hell are you!?”
The Shadow chuckles to himself and sneers, “I am a debt collector and it’s time to pay the devil!”
Antonio starts to tremble. “How much money do you want?! I’ll pay anything you want!”
“As a lifelong pedophile and rapist, you should’ve known that eventually the bill would come due. You will pay boy!” The Shadow chuckles again and finishes, “With your life!”
Suddenly, a boisterous growl reverberates through the entire building shattering all the windows. Stepping from the darkness a mighty hellhound emerges. An enormous wolf-like creature with fire in his eyes, and mangy black smoky fur, sits down beside The Shadow. The Nightstalkers gawk in amazement.
“What the hell is that thing?!” Antonio cries.
“Oh… you haven’t met Hot Head? Ha, ha, ha.” retorts The Shadow.
The Shadow raises his shadow blade and points it at Antonio. Hot Head pounces through the air like a speeding jet getting ready to crash into a mountain. Antonio quickly fires another round at the beast, but it’s no use. The pellets ricochet off Hot Head’s body and he lands right in front of Antonio.
Hot Head swings his mighty paw towards Antonio’s robust stomach - ripping the flesh away. Antonio screams in terror as his intestines spill to the floor. With eyes wide open he reaches down to hold them in. Blood sprays out like a shower, and Antonio quickly goes into shock. Hot Head slowly opens his maw and spews forth a fiery inferno - roasting his flesh.
Hot Head pounces on him and tears him limb from limb devouring every last fatty barbequed morsel. The insatiable hunger now at ease, Hot Head burps a fiery flame. The Nightstalkers watch in disbelief as Antonio dies before their eyes.
Suzie cries out, “You see guys! I told you there were ghosts in this library!”
The Shadow slowly turns his head towards them meeting their eyes. He holds a single finger up to his puckered lips and whispers, “Shhhhhhhh!”
The lights start to flicker again like a pulsating strobe light, and The Shadow and the beast vanish into thin air.
The Nightstalkers stare at each other with mouths wide open. Buster starts to come around and asks, “What the hell did I miss?”
Steven and Doug speak in unison, “You will never believe it…”
Buster looks over at Suzie with a puzzled look on his face. Suzie smiles and declares, “You just missed all the fun! We just proved that ghosts are real!!”
Steven helps Buster get up to his feet, and The Nightstalkers walk out the front door together - hand in hand. They walk a few feet away from the library and turn back around for another look. A sense of pride fills them despite the horrible events that had happened. They look at each other with an unspoken bond, and a sense of accomplishment.
A disturbing crunching noise ruins the moment. They turn to Doug and see him eating his popcorn. Eating is my way of coping with stress. I might have a few restless nights, but I’ll be ok. Doug smiles and speaks with his mouth full, “What!? I’m still hungry!”
Suzie takes a long deep breath and releases her built up tension. The idea of Antonio wanting to use her as his own personal sex toy really sent chills down her spine. I’m a tough girl, and it will take more than that creep to ruin my life. She raises her hands and shouts out into the night, “The Nightstalkers have done it again!!”
Buster rubs his hand over the lump on his head and smiles. Girls like scars, it’s a sign of a real bad-ass. I just can’t believe I missed all the action! He looks at Steven and asks, “What should we do next?”
Steven looks up to the stars with a twinkle in his eye. We made it out of this mess with our lives. I almost got us killed thinking we could prove ghosts were real… but we’re not dead. Something saved us, I don’t understand what happened, but I think we need to find out the answers. He looks at The Nightstalkers with renewed determination, and replies, “I think our world just got bigger. We need to spread the word about what we saw here tonight. People need to know the truth, and The Nightstalkers are the only ones who can do it.”
In the distance, a sharp piercing howl impales the night sending shockwaves throughout Gemstone City. Everyone closes their doors and turns on their lights…
Daniel R. Hayes