By Phoenix Irvine
Once upon a time there lived a boy whose name was Arthur. Arthur feared everything. He was scared of the dark, the woods, even his own house. Most of all, he was scared of the dead. It did not help that his only neighbour was an ancient graveyard surrounded by a dense and tangled forest. The graveyard was the spookiest graveyard Arthur had ever seen. Low-hanging mist permanently encircled the tombstones, and there were never any ﬂowers or visitors. Worst of all were the black crows who swooped whenever he got too close.
One day Arthur was walking to school when he ran into the local bullies, who were just hanging around doing nothing as usual. No matter how hard he tried to avoid them, he never could. Today the bullies were looking particularly devious, which was never a good sign. Without warning, they ran at Arthur. He tried to run, although he had never been sporty, and was soon overcome. They grabbed him roughly and dragged him into the forest. Arthur screamed for help, but of course nobody was around to hear. The next thing he saw was a ﬁst to the face, and then darkness.
Arthur woke to ﬁnd himself gagged and tied to a tree in the graveyard. The bullies were gathered around him in a ragged circle. They were talking in weird spy voices. Everything about his situation was not normal. The hairs on Arthur’s arms and legs agreed with him, as they all went spiky. Arthur was overcome with fear. He had a terrible thought. What if the bullies had been possessed by the dead? Maybe they had been sent by the devil himself on a quest to kill Arthur and add his name to a tombstone? Or maybe they were sent to raise an army and take over the world, one child at a time. If it were to come to that … Oh, he could not keep thinking about all the what ifs.
Arthur knew he had to get out and fast. As quietly as possible, he untied his arms, gag and legs. Surprisingly, they did not seem to be too secure. Then he crept past the bullies. Something was not right. The bullies did not seem to see him. In fact, they were not moving, it was like they were frozen. Arthur did not know what was going on, but he did know one thing – he had to keep moving and get out of the cemetery. He started to run and this time he was running like an Olympic athlete. The pace frightened him, especially when he saw the black crows ﬂying towards him in all directions. Suddenly, they were on top of him, black feathers ﬂying everywhere, beaks pecking at his eyes and claws raking the clothes oﬀ his body. Arthur screamed in pain. As if woken by Arthur’s fear, the bullies charged towards him, their knives drawn. Arthur was able to dodge the ﬁrst slash but was not so lucky with the second. It sliced him on the arm, catching a vein, and immediately blood came pulsing out.
“Wake up Arthur, get up, you can ﬁght them. You must conquer your fears.”
“What are you talking about, who’s there?” Arthur cried out.
“We are the spirits of the dead and we have come to help you. Just face your fears, Arthur.”
As quickly as the voices arrived, they were gone. Arthur was so confused. He realised that he had fainted at the sight of his own blood – another thing he was afraid of. He needed to stop the blood, but the bullies were advancing for another attack. This time, they were moving like someone had pressed the slow-mo button. Again, Arthur wondered why, but he had no time to ﬁnd out. He turned the other way only to ﬁnd a wall of crows. What was he to do? He was cornered. What was it that the spirits had said? Yes, that was it – if he conquered his fears, the bullies and the crows would go away. But how? Arthur looked down at his arm and nearly fainted again. It seemed impossible. Everything scared him.
The bullies picked up speed again. It was like they had heard his negative thoughts and fed on them. Then Arthur had a revelation. Instead of running, he stopped and faced the bullies. He looked each one straight in the eye and shouted, “Go away. I have done nothing to deserve this!” Before he had even ﬁnished his sentence, the bullies retreated into thin air. The sun shone through the forest canopy. The mist lifted. The crows were now ﬂuttering butterﬂies bouncing oﬀ the ﬂowers by his feet. It was a miracle! Arthur lifted his hands, looked upwards and whispered, “Thank you spirits.”
Later that day, on the way home from school, Arthur decided to walk back to his house the quick way – through the forest and via the graveyard. Life was so much easier when he was not so scared of everything. He was conﬁdent and not afraid to try new things. And the best bonus? Arthur now had somebody to talk to – the spirits were his friends.