A week earlier, before he even knew he would be leaving to head down to the South, Will had dreamt about the graveyard again.

Will never knew how he got there or where the there happened to be in these dreams, but he knew it was a place full of headstones. Hundreds of them. Black things sticking out of the ground like bruised thumbs. The ground itself was uneven for some reason, and this simply contributed to the nightmare. It always felt like the world was starting to bend all around him. He might be sitting on the ground and see the graves surrounding him, or he might be running up the hill searching and out of breath. It didn’t matter, because soon enough, things would go bad. Things in this dream always turned bad.

In this particular episode, Will found himself sprinting over dead grass and feeling hot and frantic and wet. His back and his arms and especially his legs felt drenched. Not from sweat but from something else. He had an idea what it might be but he didn’t want to dwell on it. The throbbing, burning sensation in the back of his neck surely had something to do with it. But he was running from something so he couldn’t check his clothed arms or legs to see if it really was blood he was feeling coated in. It felt warm and sticky and the longer he ran the weaker he became.

The thing he was running from was getting closer. Will knew this from the noise it was making.

The little laugh.

It was high enough to be a child’s giggle and low enough to be absolutely terrifying. It sounded like it was laughing and choking at the same time, and the noise kept getting louder. He looked behind him down the hill but couldn’t see anything.

He had arrived. He was finally there but now what? Where was he supposed to go?

Everything felt absolutely real, of course. It always did at the moment, always up to the second he was jostled out of sleep somehow.

Standing in the graveyard, he thought of an image from one of his favorite films. Since he didn’t know he was dreaming now, naturally his mind could have thoughts within thoughts. Visions inside dreams. He was a writer, and this place was like a grand canyon full of creativity and darkness. He pictured the climactic scene at the endless cemetery in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Where the bandit named Tuco came upon all the graves and began frantically searching for one, all while Ennio Morricone’s score kept building and building and building.

Just like Tuco, all Will could see everywhere he looked was row upon row of gravestones.

He tried to suck in air but it didn’t seem to be coming. The panic always set it because he knew he was looking for something alive in this endless sea of death. Nothing bright stood out, however. Nothing hopeful could be found.

The sound echoed again. The cackle. That’s the word that came to his mind. Some kind of perverse gurgling cackle closing in behind him. High and screeching but so very off.

He looked behind him and couldn’t see anything but he felt and heard whatever this thing was chasing him. Then the ground gave way and for a brief moment he was floating, then snapping and breaking on the bottom of the hole he’d fallen into.

Blackness covered him for a moment, but he fought it and opened his eyes to see the rectangular outline above him. The daylight was almost gone but there was still enough light to see the figure hovering at the edge of this pit. It was short. Some kid. A boy maybe eight years old. Will couldn’t see the face but he still heard the laughter and he yelled for the kid to stop but he wouldn’t.

Will closed his eyes, finally beginning to realize this wasn’t happening. There was no wound on the back of his neck. No blood covering his back. No creepy kid towering over him. No graveyard and no terror and no hole . . .

Something whacked him on the head. He opened his eyes and saw something white lying on the ground next to him. As he started to pick it up, another flying object hit the wall next to him.

Another. Then another. All white with dark specks of dirt on them.

Will tried to stand but couldn’t. His legs were broken. He caught another object in his hand and then realized what he was holding.

One more plopped down next to him.

They were white furry boots. He knew them well because he’d been there with Tricia when they bought them at Target. White winter boots for the girls. The bigger ones for Claire and the smaller ones for Ashley and Emma. They didn’t look new anymore. They appeared muddy from being outside.

The laughter above him began again, and now he knew why.

The fading light of day was playing tricks on him.

The boots weren’t muddy. They were bloody.

Bloody enough to choke him awake on that early Monday morning.