“Yeah, right. Like he’s really going to do it.” The group of boys stood back and watched Thomas shiver.
Greg, the leader of the group, stepped forward and offered Thomas a small knife. “Stick it in the stump, and it’ll be cool with you. Kay?”
Thomas fought off another shiver. He glanced over at the graveyard entrance beside him. Tombstones ran rows away into the fog and mist. Something about the place felt strange, awkward. He shouldn’t have been there.
But the guys! What will they think? If he backed out now, his chances of being accepted in the new school would be moot. His family had just moved, and with moving, comes picking up everything and starting over. And the kids at school were tough. There was only one way to be officially okayed by everyone: if you were okayed by Greg.
And now Greg wanted Thomas to pull off this little dare.
Thomas grabbed the knife. “I’ll do it.”
The boys laughed. “He’ll never make it out alive.”
Thomas felt another chill run down his back. “Wh-what’d you mean?”
Greg waved them off. “Oh. Just some stupid story. I don’t know, but from what I’ve heard, there’s this guy in there-”
“Old Man Johnson,” One of the boys interrupted.
“Hey,” Greg stood over the kid who had spoken. “Who’s tellin’ this story, here?”
The boy stepped back into the group.
“As I was saying – Old Man Johnson’s supposed to be wandering around in there, checking on his gold. He keeps it in a grave somewhere by the stump, and every night he digs it up to make sure no one has messed with it.”
Thomas’ eyes were wide with fear.
Greg smirked. “But don’t worry. It’s only a story. So get in there!” He gave Thomas a little shove through the gate.
Thomas stepped into the graveyard. He swallowed loudly. The kids behind him snickered. He walked a little ways between the tombstones.
There was a sudden crash behind him. He whirled around to see the kids throwing the padlock on the gate.
Greg called out, “Just put the knife in the stump, and then we’ll unlock it. Gotta make sure you pull through. Kay, buddy?”
Thomas could only nod in fear. Was Old Man Johnson real? Or was he as Greg said, just a story? Somehow, he felt that there really was some truth to the story.
He began his walk into the cemetery. Greg had said that if he followed the path, that would lead him to the center, where the stump was. And…where Old Man Johnson’s grave of gold was.
The mist and fog surrounded him on every side. He could only see a couple feet ahead of him by the dim flashlight he had brought. His feet made a pattering sound on the cold cobblestones beneath him. Everything else was deathly quiet.
The fog thickened around him. His throat went dry. God, why in the world am I doing this? He knew his mom and dad would worry if they found he had sneaked out of the house this late at night. In fact, they had forbidden him from coming to the graveyard at all. Deep down, he felt a weird pinching feeling in his stomach. Why did he feel so guilty about coming here?
A faint humming noise found his ears. It was a sad, mournful song. Thomas’ skin prickled. Goosebumps ran up and down his arms. What is that…?
The humming grew louder with each step he took. He was getting closer to it. What if it was Old Man Johnson? What if the stories were true? And he had never found out what Old Man Johnson did to people he found out here…
Thoughts tumbled in his mind. What ifs poured through…what if Old Man Johnson did something totally awful to his victims? What if he…Thomas swallowed…killed them?
A light swung back and forth in the fog ahead. Thomas froze. Someone was coming.
The light grew brighter and brighter.
“Who’s there?” And old, cranky voice called out.
Thomas bit his lip.
“I said, who’s there?”
The light grew closer.
“Ah, Thomas. Thomas Porter, me thinks.”
Thomas’s eyes bulged almost out of their sockets. “H-how do you know m-me?”
“I know a great many things, Thomas Porter.”
The light finally drew near. An old, wrinkly man stepped into the light, towering over Thomas. He held his dark raincoat tightly over his shoulders. The hood covered his head, shadowing his features.
“Are you Old Man Johnson?” Thomas asked.
The man smiled slightly. “I see me name precedes me.”
Thomas’ mouth fell open.
“Close yer yapper, Thomas Porter. I ain’t a scary old man, but then again, that’s only what I say…” Old Man Johnson reached out a hand.
Thomas screamed and tried to bolt away. But Old man Johnson already had a firm grasp on his shoulder. Thomas wriggled out from under the shoulder, and turned to run. But Old Man Johnson was too fast for him. He grabbed his arm and pulled him close.
“Now, Thomas Porter. Don’t be too afraid. I ain’t going to do anything too terrible to you.” Old Man Johnson put his hand around Thomas’ shoulder and began to walk with him down the path, swinging his lantern in the other hand.
“Now as I see it, Mr. Porter, you happened to be here tonight for what reason?”
Thomas felt shivers running all over his back. But now he was at the mercy of this old man. What was going to happen to him? He didn’t want to think about it. “I…was on a dare…” He said shamefully.
“You say that with such remorse. And I see that because it appears to me you were disobeying your parents.”
“How did you know about that?”
“Ah! Like I said. I know a great many things.” There was a slight twinkle in his voice that almost put Thomas at ease. Almost.
“Now, what do you think the right thing would be to do?”
They stopped, and Old Man Johnson leaned down into Thomas’ face, waiting for an answer.
Thomas scratched his head. What was the right thing to do? He sighed. He knew what was right. And he had done just the opposite. “I guess…I should listen to them.”
“To who, Thomas Porter?”
Thomas furrowed his brow. “Well, my parents I guess…”
“And who else?”
“Um…” Who else was there? He figured his parents were a pretty good starting place…but was there somebody else he should obey?
“Let us see if we can’t solve this little mystery for you. Now, as I see it, whoever put your parents in charge of you, you should obey them too, right?”
“So who put your parents in charge of you?”
Old Man Johnson’s twinkle returned. “Of course! Right my boy! So why don’t you get obeying Him?”
Thomas looked up at the old man. “But, um, I can’t get out of this graveyard until I put this knife in the stump in the middle of this place. Greg and the other guys said so.”
Old Man Johnson smiled. “There’s another entrance straight along this path. Just follow it.”
Thomas hurried away without thinking. He just wanted to go home. Who cares what the other guys thought? He stopped and looked back. Old Man Johnson had disappeared. Thomas shuddered. Who was that guy anyway?
He shrugged and hurried on down the path, only happy to be on his way out.