He only wished he knew what it was.
Yeah, right, Edgar thought as Tick disappeared down the dark road. Like I’m going to let my only son run off to who-knows-what all alone.
Edgar turned and hurried back inside where he grabbed the flashlight and binoculars he’d hidden in the closet. Though he really did believe in the whole Master George affair, he was also a father, and he couldn’t just let Tick go on his adventure without a little . . . supervision. After all, the clues hadn’t banned anyone from being near the cemetery, now had they?
“Honey, Tick and I are going for a walk!” he yelled upstairs.
“This late?” her muffled voice called from the bedroom. “Why?”
“Don’t worry . . . I’ll explain everything when we get back!” He groaned at the prospect.
Before she could reply, Edgar was out the front door and down the porch steps. He’d have to be quick if he wanted to keep up with Tick.
One thing, Edgar vowed as he walked down the driveway. I see one suspicious thing and I’m ending this.
By the time Tick reached the forest-lined road that led to town, the sun had made its last glimmer upon the world and gone to bed for the night. Now past eight o’clock, darkness settled on the town of Deer Park, Washington, and Tick felt himself shiver despite the warm and comfortable air.
He couldn’t believe it was here. The Big Day. The Big Night.
As he walked down the lonely road, the constant buzz of the forest insects broken only occasionally by a passing car, he ran through everything he needed to do in his mind. Even though it seemed so simple, he knew he only had one shot at this and didn’t want to mess everything up. Dual feelings of excitement and apprehension battled over his emotional state, making him nauseated and anxious for it to be over, one way or another.
He arrived at the town square and passed the fountain area, where the shooting display of water had been turned off for the night, and made his way down the small one-way lane that led to the old city cemetery. A few people walked about the square, but it mostly seemed vacant and silent, like a premonition that something very bad was about to happen to this quiet and unassuming town.
Quit freaking yourself out, Tick told himself. Everything’s going to be fine.
The entrance to the Deer Park Cemetery was a simple stone archway, both sides connected to a cast-iron fence encircling the entire compound. There was no gate, as though those in charge figured if some psycho wanted to visit dead people in the middle of the night, more power to them. As for grave digging, that had gone out of style with Dr. Frankenstein a couple of hundred years ago.
Tick paused below the chipped granite of the arch and looked at his watch, clicking the little light button on the side to see the big digital numbers: 8:37. Just over twenty minutes to go.
The moon, almost full, finally slipped above the horizon, casting a pale radiance upon the hundreds of old-fashioned tombstones; they seemed to glow in the dark around the chiseled letters declaring the names and dates of the dead. Barely defined shadows littered the ground, like holes had opened up throughout the graveyard, zombies having escaped to wreak their nightly havoc.
Once again, Tick shivered. No doubt about it, this was plain creepy.
Hoping it didn’t matter exactly where he stood when he performed his little song and dance as long as he was inside the cemetery, Tick stayed close to the entrance, near a tight pack of graves reserved for young children. Tick pulled out his flashlight and flicked it on, examining some of the names while he waited for the last few minutes to pass. Most of the names he didn’t know, but he did recognize a few that had been much-publicized tragedies over the last few years. A car accident. Cancer.
Despite his youth, Tick knew there must be nothing in the world so bad as losing one of your kids. Like he’d just swallowed a bag of sand, it hit him then that if anything happened to him tonight, his mom would be devastated. His poor mom. Of course, she’d be so busy yelling at his dad for letting him go in the first place that maybe she wouldn’t have the time or energy to hurt properly.
He turned off his flashlight and returned it to his bag. He pulled out the jacket and gloves and put them on, not wanting to take any chances that the instructions to dress warmly had been anything but literal. He tightened his scarf and glanced at his watch. He could see the numbers perfectly in the moonlight.
Five minutes to go.
He put his backpack on the ground, then thought better of it, swinging it back onto his shoulders. If he were about to magically travel somewhere, much better to have everything . . . attached.
For the millionth time, he wondered which was stranger—the things he’d been through or the fact that he actually believed there was something true behind it all. That he wasn’t crazy.
One minute to go.
Tick stared at his watch now, clicking the button that made it show the ticking seconds as well as the hour and minute. As the appointed time grew closer and closer, his heart picked up; sweat beaded all over his body; he felt himself on the verge of throwing up.
He quickly put his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans, counting down the last few seconds inside his mind.
Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . .
Tick closed his eyes and shouted out the words, “MASTER GEORGE!” He stomped the ground below him ten times with his right foot and a quick and cold shiver of excitement went up and down his back.
Tick waited, holding his breath for a long minute. He finally opened his eyes and looked around, but saw that he stood in the exact same spot as when he began. Everything was the same. He waited longer still, hoping something would change around him. Several more minutes passed. Then a half hour. Then an hour. Then two. Desperate, he went through the entire ritual again.
A Familiar Name
Knowing for a fact he’d never felt so depressed in all his life, Tick began the long walk back home. He wished he had a cell phone so he could prevent his dad from telling his mom about everything—now that it was all moot. Now that Tick had failed, and wouldn’t be going anywhere after all. At least then he could enjoy the one saving grace of Mom not thinking her husband and only son had gone bonkers.
If the town had been quiet before, it now seemed completely devoid of any life whatsoever. Tick didn’t see one person as he walked past the fountain area, and there wasn’t a light to be seen anywhere. Even the streetlamps had been extinguished, or they’d burned out. Only the moon shone its pale milky brilliance around the square, making everything look like a much bigger version of the graveyard he’d just left.