They say that Middle School is brutal. Those friendships that were developed in elementary school seem to vanish and in its place, a growing emptiness that comes with the quest for popularity and power.
Jim Haynes had made this observation in a journal that his 5th grade home room teacher had given to him as a parting gift. She had instructed him to write in the journal on a regular basis during his time in middle school. It was a leather-bound book with ornate carvings on the edges and rough-hewn paper inside.
"It will serve you, well, Jim" she had said. "You have great talent and I believe that this will help you grow"
Now, in 7th grade, Jim took time to flip through the leather-bound volume and noted that it was half full of his observations on middle school life and the struggles he faced here in the halls of Barton's Grove Middle.
The town itself presented other challenges for the residents. It was filled with old tales from the time of the founding of the town and most of them were inflated even more here in the school, especially in the month of October.
By far the most inflated of the tales was that of Old Preacher Campbell, the town's founder from the early 1800s. It was said that this man, dressed in pastoral cassock and hat would often carry a cane that he would use on the children to banish the demons from their lives and the town. Any infraction of the Preacher's long litany of rules of conduct meant a meeting with this terrifying man whose eyes seemed seethe with a fire that was ready to consume anything it's path.
He was also the man who established the town's graveyard and placed it on the hill on the center of town. He always said that everyone in his flock would end up there and the location was just a reminder of that point. From the time of his passing, the name of the place was called Campbell's Hill.
Jim didn't live too far from that place and in fact, he could walk there just as easily as he could walk to school. It was always eerie walking apply there with that dark hi also obscuring the setting sun every day and Jim always did his very best to ignore it, although this was made more difficult this time of year with all of the Halloween decorations, costumes and ghost stories.
This day, though he felt was going to be more of a struggle than most, going home but he couldn't think of anything that would explain it. After all, Jim was good student. He had a good family and he still has one friend from his elementary school - Parker Mills.
Parker was a red headed kid that was an average student and he always found a way to make Jim laugh which was very necessary in a town like this. Parker did many of the pranks in the town including the rolling. Jim shook his head and smiled while thinking of his friend. He also knew that today, Parker had a very special prank in mind and that he needed Jim's help.
Jim walked outside of the school n building just in time to see the buses leave and see several other students get in the car rider line.
" Hey, Jim!". an out of breath voice said. " wait up!"
" Hey, Parker!". Jim stopped and waited for his red headed friend to catch up. Parker was had asthma but since he only lived a few blocks away from school, he walked too. It seemed to always take a lot out of him, but Jim wanted to keep him company, ignoring the strange feeling of foreboding in the pit of his stomach
":Hey," Parker breathed again heavily as he placed a hand on the telephone pole for support. " I'm glad I caught up with you, Jim. Are we good for tonight?"
"Sure, what's the project?"
"Oh it's a surprise, " he said as he started to walk across the street. "You are going to help with the most ambitious prank for this town! You'll love it!"
" Cool. Sounds like fun!".
" Meet me outside your house after dinner?" Parker asked.
" Sure, no prob, see you after dinner!" Jim said as he walked down the street towards his house. While he walking he glanced towards the hill and thought he saw an old man wearing a cassock near the gates. When he looked again, the man was gone.
Two hours later, Jim walked outside his home by the picket fence, while he waited for his friend to arrive. The moon loomed high overhead lighting the view from his house in this case, it was the town's cemetery. Jim kept watching that hill, almost as if he was expecting Old Preacher Campbell to appear and take him away.
"Yeah, I always thought that was creepy too." Parker said as he arrived. It was almost as if he could read Jim's thoughts.
"What?" Jim said, glancing sideways at his friend who seemed to be bearing an uncharacteristically evil grin. Parker was a bit of a prankster and had a habit of getting in trouble for it only 50% of the time.
"That's where we're going!! Come on!"
Parker suddenly took off in the direction of Campbell's Hill at an unusually brisk pace for an asthmatic. Perhaps it was the adrenaline kicking in.
Jim rushed to catch up to him. He was always fond of pranks himself and Parker was almost a king of pranks, but something about this one bothered Jim he decided push the feeling aside and continue up the darkening pathway. He would find out when they arrived at the location that Parker picked wherever it is.
The sky grew darker as a cloud passed over the moon. Jim shuddered as he drew his coat closer and walked further up the tombstone lined pathway after his friend. His feet he both the pavement and gravel as well as the dried leaves that seemed to cover both the path and the ground. The trees were bare and they creaked as the wind stroked the branches,
Suddenly, the sound of a blood curdling scream filled the night air.
His cries were met with silence except for sounds of the wind and slow creaking of old tree branches Jim looked further up the pathway and saw the old man beckoning him to follow.
Jim noticed his limbs growing colder and colder almost to the point where he couldn't move.
"Parker!?!". he cried again and again there was silence and the only replies he would receive would be fun the headstones themselves which seemed to be mocking him
The figure of the old man stood over him. It was so dark, that Jim could not see his face from beneath the broad brimmed hat he wore.
Still, Jim, in spite of being terrified, found some courage within himself to croak out the words, "what have you done with Parker?" His eyes were beginning to brim with hot tears. "Why did you take my friend?"
The figure shook its head and pointed a bony hand towards the left. Following the hand, Jim looked and saw Parker, kneeling down in front of a small headstone. He, too, was sobbing as he laid a wreath down in front of the stone.
Now able to move, Jim walked slowly towards his friend, reaching out to comfort him and found that he couldn't touch him at all.
Then Jim remembered. He and Parker had come here before. It was his idea to go to this hill and find the gravestone of Old Preacher Campbell and just roll only that stone and any trees around it as if to mock the fear that the old man seemed to feed upon. Jim had twisted his ankle near the top and had fallen headlong down the hill and had cracked his skull on one of the stones.
"They say that there is wisdom in age and in death", the old man said finally. "People must of live their own lives. I didn't honor that in my life. That was my own sin.
"You, Jim Haynes, must allow your friend to live his own life, now.
Jim looked upon the old man, this time with no fear at all but with wisdom of acceptance. For Parker, he had some more of life’s trials ahead of him including middle school. For Jim, the trials of middle school in Barton’s Grove were over and a new journey begins.