espresso with a shot of Sambuca
Dante sighed as he watched his best friend walk away. He knew it was only a matter of time before Leon gave in to Skeleton. He was the leader of the Bone Collectors: a street gang who ran the south side of town. They had tried to persuade Dante to join but his grandma would kill him. Leon didn’t have a grandma or a mother, his guardian was a father who drank and was too handy with his fists. Living in Barron Heights was tough for most kids; the kind of tough that steals your youth and leaves you vulnerable. Dante’s mother and grandma did their best to protect him but he needed to belong, to be part of a family, and that was the pull of the Bones Collectors.
Dante turned back to go indoors and saw his grandma standing in the doorway. Her brown eyes wide as she watched Leon walking towards the old skate park. She placed one hand on her heart and held a kitchen cloth to her forehead with the other.
“Baron Samedi,” she whispered to herself.
“What’s up Grandma?”
“Oh my Lord,” she said, panting heavily, “I just seen death on the boy.”
Dante wrinkled his nose and shrugged his shoulders. “Grandma you trippin’.”
The old woman pulled her sleeves up her chubby arms and ushered Dante up to the porch and behind the bar-covered front door. Once safely inside she stooped down and grabbed his shoulders tight.
“You listen to me child; you cannot see Leon anymore you hear me?”
Dante looked into her eyes, they were wild and scary. “But, he’s my friend.”
“That boy is mixed up with some bad people. Your mamma will have a fit if I tell her what I seen.”
“But Gran you always say things like this around Halloween. Maybe we should help Leon?”
“It’s too late child. Leon is being followed by somethin’ evil. You need to keep away.”
Dante screwed up his face and glanced out the window. He couldn’t see anything following Leon. Grandma wasn’t a fan of Halloween, she was born in Louisiana where they practiced Vodou and didn’t see the need to have a special day to celebrate everything evil.
“But Mum said she was going to take us trick or treatin’ tomorrow.”
“Listen to me good. Death was hovering above that boy today and I don’t want you anywhere near him, you promise me now, Dante!”
Dante stepped back from her as he slowly nodded without taking his eyes off hers. She relaxed and wiped the beads of sweat from her head.
“Whatever that boy has got himself into, it’s too late for him now.”
It was three hours later when Dante got the call from his mother; she had been working in the local supermarket and heard the sirens. Leon was found dead on the opposite side of the road. He had been shot in the head. A rival gang member had driven past and recognised his white bandana as Bone Collector gang colours. The police had arrested the shooter who had told them it was payback for what the Bone Collectors had done to his little brother last month. One dead boy for another.
Dante was inconsolable and cried for hours alone in his room. He didn’t want to see or talk to anyone.
When the phone rang on his side table, he couldn’t see the caller ID through the tears.
“Dante, help me, they keep grabbing me, help me!”
Dante stared at his phone, “Leon?”
“I’m sorry, it’s not my fault. Please find me. It’s so hot I’m burning.”
“Leon where are you?” Dante said, looking towards the window. The darkness was creeping in like next door’s black cat.
“I don’t know where I am,” said the voice on the phone “but they keep grabbing me and won’t let me come home.”
“I’ll get my ma she can help. Tell me where you are!”
“No she can’t, it’s you Dante, only you. I’m sorry, so sorry.”
Dante shivered and pulled his jacket around his shoulders.
“Wait, Leon, I’m getting Ma, she’ll know what to do.”
“Just you Dante, please find me.”
“I don’t know where to look.”
“They’re coming for you Dante, it was my only choice. I’m so sorry.”
The line went dead.
Dante pulled on his backpack, grabbed the torch from his drawer and crept into the hallway. A few of the neighbours had come in to console Leon’s father who had been at their house since hearing the news. Dante had never seen him sober before. Granma was against alcohol and was busy in the kitchen making tea for everyone. He slowly unlocked the front door and slipped out.
Not knowing where to start looking, he gazed around until his eyes landed on the distant lights from the supermarket where Leon had been killed. He had never been there in the dark before; he wasn’t allowed out after 7.00 p.m. It was now past eight.
Standing in front of the supermarket, Dante looked across the road. He leaned forward peering towards the road and could just make out a half visible black cat sitting between the stripes of the crossing. Slowly, heart pumping, he stepped towards the cat who stood and looked at him before walking in the direction of the skate park. Dante looked towards the park then back at the cat. He remembered being told in a story at school once that black cats were really the spirit of people who had died.
Of course! He thought, the cat is has been sent by Leon to help me. The skate park was his favourite place when we were ten and skateboarding was our life.
Dante followed the cat to the park and through the gates. The park was a large open space surrounded by bushes and tall trees. An autumn mist had descended, and the only light came from an old street lamp off to the right, its weak rays penetrating through leafless trees, casting shadows onto the concrete. There was a playground near the entrance with one working swing, a seesaw and rusty monkey bars. The skate bowl was surrounded by floodlights but they had been broken long ago.
Dante was desperate to see his friend Leon. He caught something moving to the right of him and watched as the cat slinked away through a hole in the fence. He wondered if he should follow it but he heard a scratching sound coming from under his feet. He looked down. The scratching stopped. He stood still and tried to hear over the sound of his heart thudding in his ears. The scratching noise started up again and was joined by a burrowing behind him in the grass. Dante jerked his head around to see if there was anything there. The burrowing stopped. He tried to move away but his feet were welded to the ground. Then came the scratching sound again. His body stiffened in response. What’s happening? Why can’t I move?
The sound of quick shallow breaths accompanied the continuous thud of his heart; Dante began to sway his head light, his legs heavy. His eyes darted on the ground around his feet. There is was again; he could feel the burrowing of the earth. The movement rippled nearer to his feet.
Dante let out a cry as a hand reached through the turf and grabbed his right foot. He screamed again and yanked his foot hard. His trainer slipped off and he ran as fast as he could towards the gate.
Turning briefly to make sure he wasn’t being followed, he could see a black shadow with a white face emerging from the ground, pushing itself up. In his rush to find Leon, he had not processed his last words to him...’they’re coming for you, Dante.’
With a renewed energy, he ran across the grass, his sock attaching itself to several twigs making it painful to run. He made his way to the playground and grabbed a section of the monkey bars to steady himself as his body swung around towards the park exit. He could see the gate and the street lamps ahead but now he could feel something above him. He dared not look straight up but swung his hands over his head to bat away whatever was there. His hands didn’t touch anything. Whatever was hovering over him was more like a shadow or chimney smoke. He had to get away.
His right foot was now bleeding through his sock but there was no time to stop. The gate was just fifteen feet away but as he got nearer, the blackness above him extended its ebony fingers towards his face gently stroking his right cheek. The softness of its touch sent an electric bolt through his entire body.
“Get off me! Help me, somebody, help me!”
The gate was so close, Dante kept running.
On reaching the gate, he swung it open and as he looked back into the park he could see the white skeletal face of the shadow figure standing — watching. Dante held his gaze for a second or two before taking a deep breath, slamming the gate behind him and running towards his house. His throat sore and his breathing heavy – there was no time to scream for help again, he had to get home. He heaved his backpack more securely onto his shoulders, wishing he could throw it off but there wasn’t time. His foot was now bleeding badly and the pain was slowing his pace but he managed to hop the last hundred yards to his front porch.
Once at his house, Dante briefly looked up before bending forward to catch his breath. The shadow above him had gone.
“What on earth happened to you boy?” His grandma asked as she walked onto the porch her hands firmly on her hips.
“I’m sorry Grandma but Leon called me. He said he needed me but there was ....I saw....”
“What you talkin’ about child?”
“Leon said he was sorry but he had to tell them and he didn’t know where he was.”
Dante’s grandma dropped her shoulders and moved towards him. “What did he tell them; what did you do?”
“Nothing, it wasn’t me Gran I was trying to stop Leon but ...” Dante’s eyes filled with tears and his body began to shudder as he struggled to get his words out.”
His grandma took a few steps back from him, put her hands on his arm and looked into his eyes. “Did Leon kill that little boy?”
Dante looked at the floor and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “He didn’t mean to, they made him do it.”
“Were you there? – Dante! Were you with Leon?”
Dante slowly lifted his head to look at her but she didn’t look back at him; she was staring at something just above his head.
About the author
Wendy has been a Personal Trainer for twenty years but has always made time for writing; She is currently editing the sequel to her Chick Lit novel 'Wandering on the Treadmill' and completing her first thriller.