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Morgan sat beside the pond, waiting for the dead boy to show up.
Salty liquid flowed down his face, drenching the thin cotton shirt he wore on that warm July night. He checked the time on his watch, quivering as he fought to stay calm. The luminous watch dial read eleven fifty-five. If what the book said was true then Billy Conway's ghost would appear five minutes hence, in all of its horrific glory.
His thoughts drifted back to Halloween the year before. It had been a good night...
"Well, what have we here?" said Mrs. Taylor, looking down at the costumed figure that stood at her doorway.
"A werewolf!" answered Morgan, gazing up at her through the eyeholes in his rubber mask.
"And a hungry one too!" the grey-eyed brunette said, chuckling as she poured a generous helping of candy into his orange sack.
Morgan took a peek at what she had put into the bag, smiling when he saw all his favorites lying there on top of an already sizable mountain of treats. "Wow, thanks, Mrs. Taylor!" he shouted, and then scurried off to her neighbor's house, in search of even more sugary treasures.
Later he sat in his room, his costume stored neatly in his closet and the sack on the floor beside him. His belly groaned from its recent intake of chocolate and caramel. Eyes wide, he read a comic book by the light of his desk lamp. It was filled with tales of aliens and rotted, molding corpses climbing from their graves. He smiled as her turned the pages, lost in another world. Life couldn't get much better for a ten-year-old boy.
"Time for bed, son," the deep, masculine voice said. He looked up, seeing his father's large frame fill the doorway.
"Yes,sir," he said, "in a minute."
"Not in a minute, now," his dad said, a scowl crossing his weathered face. "Is that one of those monster books you're reading? I thought you were going to give those up."
Morgan's gaze fell to the floor; he looked like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I'm sorry," he began, his face flushing red.
A small, feminine form appeared behind his father. "Don't be sorry, son," his mother said. "Your dad knows you enjoy your comics. He just wants to make sure you read other kinds of books as well. Right, Dear?" she said, giving her husband one of her "just go along with me if you know what's good for you" looks. He almost answered, but thought better of it.
Turning to Morgan, he said, "Hurry on to bed. And don't forget to say your prayers."
"I won't, sir," the boy replied. "Good night." As his parents shuffled down the hall, his mom grinned and winked at him. He smiled and winked back. He could always count on her to defend him.
He sighed as he put the half-finished book down. It was almost eleven o'clock, and he felt his eyelids drooping. Switching off the lamp, he stood to undress in the moonlight spilling through the window. He would leave it open for the evening, since a cool breeze was blowing. Autumn was in full swing; winter came late to Northeast Georgia.
He remembered one of the stories he had just read, and for a moment thought he saw an inhuman face glaring up at him from the woods. Then the branches swayed in the wind, and the image dissolved.
He fell asleep soon after turning in, but woke at a quarter till midnight. His room was bathed in greenish light, so bright it made his eyes hurt. He sat up, and nearly screamed when he saw his plastic Dracula model; the weird glow made it look real.
"What the Hell is going on?" he said, feeling guilty for cursing. His father would have whipped him for using the "H" word. He looked outside. The farm was bathed in an emerald glow. It reminded him of a story he had read once about a Martian invasion. He stared at the sky, but there were no flying saucers hovering above him.
A heavy patch of forest lay past the backyard. The greenish light lit the trail that led through it to the pasture beyond. That was where their cattle grazed. It was a forty-acre parcel with a small lake in the center, where thirsty cows would drink. It would have made a great swimming hole, but his father made him stay away from it.
He got his telescope and focused the eyepiece on the woods. The leaves had fallen weeks ago. He could see part of the pond. The weird glow was gushing out of it like a geyser. "Holy shit," he said, too scared to feel guilty this time.
Pulling his chair up to the window, he sat and watched as the light reached up to the clouds, then faded away several minutes later. Darkness took the night, and all was still. He went back to bed, tossing and turning for several hours, wondering what he had seen. Each evening after that he looked for the light. But it didn't reappear.
"Cool," Morgan said, as he stood in the town library months later, holding the book he had just found: Myths and Legends of Northern Georgia. "Better hurry if you want to check that out," the woman behind the desk said. "We're about to close."
He grinned. "It looks good," he said, taking it to her. She smiled as she stamped the due date in the back. "Most kids are thinking of what they'll be getting for Christmas in a week," she said, smiling as she handed the volume back to him. "You're more worried about reading. You're a special boy, Morgan." His face turned red as he absorbed the praise. Then he went to meet his mother at the market a few blocks away. He had a two week holiday to look forward to, and the book to keep his mind busy.
That night he read the story of Billy Conway, a boy who lived "out in the country, near the hamlet of Pleasant Grove," as the text put it. "He drowned in a small lake where he and his friends were swimming. The date was July 12th, 1903. Since then his spirit has haunted its waters, and some say a strange glow rises from it on Halloween night."
The book told where the pond was located; it was on their property. What it said next made him shiver: "The ghostly luminance is also said to appear each July 12th, near the stroke of midnight."
Shutting the book, he did a little quick math. July 12th: seven months to wait.
1975 came a few weeks later, and Morgan returned to school. Winter gave way to spring and then to summer. Classes ended in early June, and he looked forward to months of bike riding, camping, swimming and reading. He would also be doing chores on the farm, but his father paid him well for the extra work the warm season brought.
That July he and his parents went to Pleasant Grove's annual Independence Day party. "Having a good time, son?" he father asked as they watched the fireworks.
"I sure am, Dad," he said, but his mind was on the 12th, and the plan he had hatched for that night. When midnight came, he would be at the pond ready to face Billy Conway.
When the day finally came it was long and hot. After his chores were over he wanted nothing more than to eat supper and go to sleep. But he lay awake until he heard his parents snoring.
Shortly after eleven thirty he slipped out of bed, put on a tee shirt, pair of jeans and sneakers. Going to his closet, he got his canteen and flashlight and tiptoed out of his room, down the stairs and out of the house. He started down the porch steps, across the yard and to the trail that led through the woods to the pond.
He crept along the dark path, forcing his feet to take each step. The trees pressed in around him, their limbs swaying, casting eerie shadows. His heart pounded in his chest as he braved his way forward.
The full moon shone overhead as he saw the pond. A few cows were still grazing, but most were asleep. They paid him no mind as he approached. He almost turned away, but heard a voice whisper in the back of his mind, beckoning him forward.
It was eleven forty-five. If what the book said was true, then another fifteen minutes would tell the story.
He looked up at the stars, feeling foolish, wanting to go back to his room. The pond's surface was smooth. Beneath it was an inky blackness that seemed to descend forever.
Deep inside he knew what had driven him there that evening. It was his curiosity about death. He had lost his dog, a Collie named Lucy, a year ago when a car had struck her. Soon after that his aunt died, and he shivered when he saw her still, cold form lying in the casket at the funeral home.
He leaned forward to kiss her goodbye then jumped backwards when he thought he saw her twitch. She looked so empty, as if her soul had fled to another place. He hoped she was in heaven, but he knew she had stopped going to church when her husband died of cancer. She had never forgiven God for taking him.
"It's not her place to question the Lord," his father had said at the time. He was a Baptist preacher as well as a farmer, and in his sermons would paint images of Hell that gave Morgan nightmares.
Sometimes he would dream his aunt was there, stuck on a metal stake that turned over hungry flames as demons mocked her. He would wake up screaming.
The second hand ticked by on the watch; it was eleven fifty-nine. His heart pounded and his stomach churned with bile as the final moments to midnight passed away. Fifteen seconds, ten, five...
The waters stayed still and dark. He strained his eyes, hoping to see something in them He didn't. His fear melted. "What a letdown," he said to himself.
At twelve fifteen he gave up, assured there was no ghost. The light he had seen before must have been swamp gas or something else natural, he figured. He stood and turned toward home.
The next moment he was pulled backwards into the pond, his fear morphing into full-blown panic as he plunged to the bottom. He landed on his back, the muck burying him as he sank deep.
He caught his breath before he went in, and he was a good swimmer. He paddled upwards, terror giving strength to his limbs. He felt his fingers touch air, just as the thing that had yanked him under grabbed his left foot, dragging him back down.
His lungs burned, and he knew he couldn't hold his breath for much longer. His right foot was free, and he kicked at what held him. But his sneaker passed through it; whatever it was could not be touched.
Then a greenish glow burst out of nowhere, filling the pond. A hand formed, its rotted fingers wrapped around Morgan's ankle. The rest of the creature appeared a moment later. He opened his mouth to scream, and filthy, stagnant fluid forced its way down his throat.
The specter was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen. Its eye sockets were hollow, the orbs having rotted away decades before. Tattered strands of clothing partially covered its dead flesh, but where the body was exposed it had ruptured, showing the organs inside. Slimy things slithered in and out of its thin, lipless slit of a mouth.
Looking up, Morgan saw the moonlight fade away. Liquid forced its way past his clamped lips and into his lungs as he sank. His mind clouded over, and blackness swallowed him as he thought of his parents.
Then his head was bobbing just over the surface of the pond. His feet were free. He paddled to shore, sounding like a dying tuberculosis patient as he coughed out water. He lay there in the grass, sucking in huge breaths, letting the precious oxygen revive his brain.
He stood. The moon hung high above, bathing him in its cold light, and he felt small and afraid. The shadows of the trees seemed to creep toward him, and terror clutched at his heart. But he fought the urge to scream, and kept his feet planted where they were.
Though the night was warm, an icy chill swept through him. He looked into the pond, inches from the water line, and saw something moving deep within it.
Fear overtook his remaining shreds of courage, and he turned, running down the trail. His foot caught on a root, and he flew forward. His nose hit a rock and split open.
For a moment he laid there. Then, getting to his feet, he kept going. Blood spewed down his face and chest. His screams echoed through the countryside as he fled toward home.