She knew her mom had an important dinner, the kind she hosted three or four times a year for her loud, obnoxious girlfriends. It was almost nighttime, which meant all of her mom’s friends—most fat, some thin, all dumb and dumber—would be arriving any minute. She knew once these abominations arrived, there would be no chance at getting her mom to listen to her.
Molly tossed the tennis ball to her cocker spaniel Wally, who never seemed to tire of playing fetch. The dog snapped up the ball and brought it back to Molly.
“Mom?” the five-year-old said.
“Mommy?” She tried to yell louder. Still nothing.
Molly wandered into the kitchen to find her mother, sweating and stressed, hovering over two pots, three pans, and enough food to last for the rest of the month.
“Am I having dinner with Dad tonight?”
“No,” she said. She poured enough olive oil on the chicken dish to drown a city. “Your dad’s on a business trip. I’ll make you something soon, OK?”
Molly sighed, turned to her left, and tossed the tennis ball into the dining room. She watched in surprise as the ball bounced off one of the chairs and onto the delicately garnished dining room table.
“Wally, no!” Molly shouted, but it was too late.
The dog dashed up on the table, knocking dishes and silverware down to the carpet. He nabbed the ball and raced back to Molly, smashing into one of the chairs and sending a dish of fruit down to the floor.
“What was…” Molly’s mom stepped into the living room. “Goddammit! Goddammit, Molly! I told you to keep that dog out of the living room!”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It was an accident.”
“I don’t have time for this!” Her mother looked ready to cry.
Molly fell down to her knees and started picking up the giant mess of fruit on the floor. Wally helped out, by eating most of it.
“No, no,” her mom said. “Just stop. I’ll do it.”
“Take the dog outside! Right now!”
Molly hadn’t seen her mom this angry since the last time she hosted a major dinner party. She could be the sweetest woman in the world, but when she was under pressure, she could be terrifying.
Molly grabbed the tennis ball, which was now gooey and wet with the mutt’s slobber, and stepped away from her mother’s sight as quickly as she could. She stepped onto the front porch and looked in the distance to see the sun setting.
“All right, boy,” she said. “You want me to throw it far? I’ll throw it far.”
Wally perked up, obviously excited for this new challenge that didn’t involve doors and living room tables, and ran to the other end of the grass.
“Here you go, boy!” Molly shouted, tossing the ball his way. She knew she didn’t have a lot of power in her throw, but even she had to chuckle at that one. The ball didn’t even make it halfway across the yard.
He didn’t race to the tennis ball this time; the dog strutted up to it in a manner that suggested even he was disappointed with Molly’s lackluster throw.
“Sorry,” she said as her dog brought the ball back. “Let me try that again.”
She threw it harder. It landed a few feet in front of Wally. When she threw it again, it landed on top of Wally. Her next throw landed the ball a foot past Wally. The dog faced a lack of difficulty in this game.
“Are you bored, boy?”
She could see the dog actually nodding.
“All right. I’m gonna throw this one really far. How does that sound?”
Again, the dog seemed to understand her. Wally took a few steps back and started wagging his tail.
“How far you want me to throw it, Wally? Super far?”
The dog spun around in a circle and started barking with enthusiasm.
“All right, then. Here goes nothing.”
She took a step forward, wound her hand back behind her head, and threw the tennis ball high up into the air with as much power as her small body allowed. It flew way past the dog, past the end of the grassy yard, and landed on the sidewalk. Molly watched as the ball bounced from the sidewalk to the street, and then started rolling down the hill.
“Oh no!” Molly shouted. “Wally! Don’t—” But it was too late; the dog started chasing after the ball, down the street, into the line of cars and other dangers.
She turned around. She wanted to shout for her mom. But she knew she was busy.
Molly ran to the sidewalk and started chasing after her dog, who was barking loudly toward the end of her street.
“Wally! Stop! Come back!”
Her dog was almost to the ball. But then she saw it. A large Jeep, with four chatty teenagers inside, swung around the corner and headed straight for her dog.
“Oh my God! Oh my God, no!”
The dog stopped in his tracks, right in front of the car. Molly was too far away; all she could do was close her eyes and scream.
When she opened her eyes a moment later, she saw that the Jeep had veered around Wally. She leapt onto the sidewalk and watched as the car raced past her, four teens inside of it still laughing as if the driver hadn’t nearly murdered her pet in cold blood.
Molly turned back to the end of the street to see her dog standing still, looking out past the guardrail toward the back entrance to Grisly Cemetery.
“What is it, boy?” she said as she reached Wally. The dog didn’t have the damp tennis ball in his mouth. He was whimpering, like an invisible force field was keeping him from taking another step.
Molly peered forward. The ball had come to rest under a tree a few yards ahead, next to a large, impressive gravestone.
“It’s OK, Wally,” Molly said, stepping onto the grass and marching over to the tree. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Molly would have been terrified to step foot in the cemetery if it were dark out, but the hint of the sun still remained in the distance. Molly had heard stories from her friends, and even her own father, about how this cemetery was haunted. But she didn’t believe in that stuff. She didn’t believe in ghosts or witches or vampires—any of it.
The farther she walked, the quieter it became. She turned around to see her dog whining, and still not stepping onto the grass. Molly darted her eyes at the tennis ball. She was ten feet away.
She heard a weird growl noise, something from her right. She turned to see a multitude of headstones, a hundred or more, leading all the way to tiny hills and the side of a mountain. She could even see the back of that new golf course in the distance.
Molly picked up the ball. It was stained with black water and yellow grass. She wiped it down. She looked back at her dog. Not only was Wally still whining; he was taking a few steps back.
“What?” She smiled at her frightened dog. “What’s the matter, boy?”
The dog took another step back.
Molly walked toward him, not with concern, but with a smile. She could see terror in her dog’s eyes.
“I never knew my own dog to be such a scaredy-cat!” she said with a laugh. She made her way past the tree, past the tombstone, and toward the sidewalk. “You’re not a cat, are you, Wally?”
The dog stopped whining. And then he started barking.
“Wally, what are you doing?” The dog kept barking. Louder and louder. He wouldn’t stop. Molly sighed and shook her head. “What are you so afraid of?”
She planted her left foot down on the sidewalk, but her right foot didn’t make it. An arm wrapped around her mid-section and pulled her back toward the cemetery.
Molly screamed as loud as she could, but only for a second, as a yellow hand with dripping flesh and a foul smell smashed against her mouth.
She tried to flee from his grasp. She bit down on the hand, but all that did was get a piece of his flesh stuck in her throat.
Molly started coughing. She couldn’t fathom it: she was choking on someone’s index finger!
She finally looked up to see him, or her, or whatever it was. She could see the bones in the creature’s cheeks; she could see the tuft of gray hair on top of the head. The creature smiled at her, showcasing a mouthful of cracked, rotting teeth.
“DO YOU WANT TO PLAY?” the creature said before he slapped his hand against her back, making her cough up the finger.
Molly started crying. It was all she could do.
As the creature began to pull her underneath one of the many gravestones, as the unimaginable stench and all the whispering voices of this creature’s minions hit her from every direction in the dark, Molly tried not to scream.
She knew the sooner she played by the rules, the sooner she’d get to play with Wally again.
“TIME,” the creature shouted, as Molly met the growls of hundreds of hungry beasts. “TIME TO FEAST!”
She was a good girl, Molly was. She didn’t like to get into trouble.
And she certainly didn’t like to disobey.