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Thanatos sighed, sticking his foot into one of the holes that adorned the maggot-eaten, rotting fence, as if an archer of reinforced strength had taken bow and arrow to the wood. He raised one leg over the inside of the necropolis, hesitating at the top of the fence, perching with near-perfect balance. From below him came rowdy ululations, mostly from Barrett, who was the oldest of the neighborhood boys. At fourteen, he stood head and shoulders above the rest, who were barely crawling into their growth spurts. 'Nat looked down at the group with contempt, wrestling with his anger.

“Come on, 'Nat, don't you want to get your little girlfriend back?” Ezekiel, one of Barrett's most trusted bruisers, drawled out with a dumb guffaw.

“Yes, Thanatos. Please, go get Rachael back. We're all missing her right about now,” Barrett crossed his arms, leaning against the wooden fence and, with a piggish grunt rammed his shoulder into Thanatos's perch. 'Nat wobbled at the top with a cry of surprise and then came tumbling down on the soft grass on the other side of the barrier.

The ossuary field was no longer alight with the sun's rays like it most likely had been when Barrett and the gang had led Rachael in. 'Nat let out a deep breath, knowing how large the graveyard was; it might take hours to find the little girl, and the sun was already saying its last farewells to the denizens of the part of the earth that Thanatos and the little white-blond-haired girl plodded on.

A ring sounded behind 'Nat and he whirled around behind him, seeing a bell hit the grass on his side of the fence. This was followed by Barrett's voice: “I hope you're not afraid of ghosts, Thanatos. But if you are, just give the bell a ring and you'll scare off bad spirits.” Laughter sounded behind him. Something told 'Nat that listening to the boys would be detrimental to his mission, and he picked up the bell, pushing it deep into his pocket, where it wouldn't be able to let off any sound. “Rachael has one, too. That's how you can find each other.”

The barrier between Barrett and himself made 'Nat courageous, perhaps more so than he ought have been. He balled his fists up, turning to the sound of the older boy's voice. “I suppose none of you cowards will come in with me?” he growled angrily. “Fine, I'll go by myself. I'm more brave than the whole lot of you!” Getting the final word, Thanatos turned and stomped off into the funerary grounds.

Tidy rows of graves lined up as if they had been marching like soldiers all through the grounds. There was a large variety of different shapes and sizes, but to 'Nat they all looked monotonously and mundanely uniform. He was afraid to raise his voice and call Rachael's name at first, but then decided that he would hardly find her otherwise. He shouted out into the quickly-falling night and shivered when there was no answer. The denizens of the place were silent as, well, corpses. Swishing branches of the trees whispered, coaxing him to stay, but he kept moving.

Thanatos traversed row after row of graves, going this way, then that. He meandered between the stones, careful not to step on any place where a body might be lying, even if a few feet under. He felt a guest inside a garish house where every piece of the interior was far too expensive to sit on. The boy didn't know how long he had been walking; all he knew was that the moon was fully out over the horizon when he looked up. The sky was black, sprinkled with stars. The trees that swayed ominously around created shadows with the help of these winking lights, and each one could be hiding a little girl in its grasp.

'Nat's heartbeat raced, his pulse spiking up at an alarming rate. In the distance, he heard something he almost mistook for a cry of someone quite young. But it was--

Yes! There it was again! Unmistakable amidst the whispering of the leafy trees, was a small, pitiful bell. “Rachael!” 'Nat yelled, running forward to where he thought it was coming from. He stopped in the general vicinity of where he had thought the sound to be coming from, but there was absolutely nothing there. He frowned, glancing from side to side. Graves, gravestones, flowers. Nothing else.

Thanatos took a few hurried steps back. “What the--!” His eyes widened, and just then another bell sounded about thirty feet behind him. He whirled around, seeing nothing in the area where the bell should have been. His hand quickly went to his own pocket, patting the side of his pants. His own little silver instrument was missing.

He backed up, away from the place where the spectral ringing had sounded from. 'Nat's breathing quickened, his lungs heaving air in and out. He took a deep breath. “Rachael!” he roared, hoping his friend would appear before him, and they could leave the graveyard far behind.

The boy's back collided with something solid, and his heart skipped a beat. The mysterious surface groaned. Thanatos yelled out in fear, jumping forward. When he managed to glance behind him, he saw just a young tree growing between a couple graves. It had let out a creak.

'Nat laughed nervously, taking a few steps backwards again, feeling silly...

And tripped over a grave. He barely managed to cry out as he fell a good four feet down into the dug-up earth. All around, he heard the sound of bells, coming from all directions like emotionless cheers from a crowd. The sound was cold, metallic. The ringing filled his ears, and as he pushed himself up, he looked next to him to find a white head, its eyes closed. Thanatos jumped up, trying to scramble out of the grave, but something pulled him back, like frozen fingers. He was falling backwards, couldn't grasp at the roots that stuck out of the dirt--

“'Nat!” It was a familiar voice. 'Nat stopped fighting back, and looked at the moonlit head, recognizing the white-blond hair and pale face of Rachael. He breathed a sigh of relief, shaking of fear. “You came!”

Thanatos wrapped his arms around the younger girl, though his fear did not subside. “How did you end up down here?” he asked, frowning worriedly. He stood, pulling the girl to her feet. The boy lifted her up and she crawled up out of the grave, then helped him out.

“Barrett pushed me in. I was too small to get out. He had us tie bells to the trees by the entrance, first. He said it was a ritual...” She looked like she was about to cry.

Thanatos let out a breath out, taking the girl's hand. So Barrett had set everything up... the bells, the grave, Rachael. He had done this deliberately to scare both of them. “It's okay. We can go home now,” he smiled reassuringly, guiding her through the rows of graves. She stayed close to him, holding on to his shirt tightly.

The moon was high in the sky now, and the gates were illuminated, metallic. 'Nat knew that Rachael was small enough to squeeze through the bars of the entrance, and he knew it would be easier to climb the gate. He hadn't had the gall to, in daylight. The girl dove between the cold rods, out of the graveyard, and managing a smile. She tilted her head to the side, her hair falling over her shoulder. “Hmm, that's interesting,” she murmured in her quiet voice. There were no more boys waiting for them on the exterior of the fence.

'Nat stopped before he mounted the gate. “What's interesting?” he asked, following her gaze, though unsure where her pale eyes were looking.

“Never mind,” Rachael amended, shrugging. “I just think it's strange how you can't hear the bells on the trees here.”

Thanatos blinked. “I did hear bells, but in the back of the graveyard. Close to the rear of the field, where I found you.”

The girl's face turned horrified. “N-no! Barrett and I and the rest of the boys only tied bells at the entrance! After they pushed me in, Ezekiel said the graveyard was scaring him, and they nearly sprinted out!”

'Nat's breath quickened again, as if he'd been running. His grip on the gate tightened, and a chill wind blew at him.

“'Nat?” Rachael urged, wanting him to scamper over the gate and leave the boneyard. “'Nat!”

The boy couldn't move. He looked behind him. In the distance, close to the back of the cemetery, he could hear bells. He was certain of it. Rachael's voice prompted him to climb once more, but he wasn't listening.

Then, suddenly, it all stopped. The chiming grew frightfully silent. Then it began again, but exactly where Rachael said it ought to be. Thanatos patted the side of his pants again.

His bell was back in his pocket.



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