Nobody in town ever knew whether to believe Old Man Jenkins or not. He would sit in the pub, telling wild stories. He would brag about himself and tell anyone who would listen about how brave he was. He told them he didn’t have any fear of ghosts or ghouls or the spirits of the dead. He said he was the bravest man in the world. He claimed that, every night, on his way home, he would take a shortcut through the cemetery. While he was walking, he would shout out, so the dead would hear.
“Rise up, rise up!” he would say. “Rise up bloody bones and dance!”
According to Old Man Jenkins, the dead bodies would rise up out of their graves, their dusty bones clicking and clacking as they danced around in the moonlight.
The townspeople didn’t believe Old Man Jenkins’ tall tales, but none of them were willing to follow him into the cemetery at night to prove him wrong.
As time went by, people grew sick and tired of hearing his wild stories.
One cold, windy night, just at the end of autumn, Old Man Jenkins set off for a midnight stroll in the cemetery. The moon was full that night, just the way Old Man Jenkins liked it, because he could see the white bones dancing in the light. He walked from his house down a shadowy path that led to the old cemetery where people from town had been buried for the last two hundred years. There were some new bones in that graveyard, but most of them were old.
Old Man Jenkins walked straight through the wrought–iron gates of the cemetery. The crumbling tombstones looked ghostly and forboding in the moonlight. He walked to the middle of the graveyard and stopped. He listened to the wind whistling through the trees.
“Rise up, rise up!” he shouted. “Rise up bloody bones and shake.”
And all around him in the graveyard, the old, dusty bones in their graves began to stir.
“Rise up, bloody bones,” he said again, even louder.
And the old bones sat up and than stood up and then rose out of their graves.
“Rise up, and shake,” Old Man Jenkins said in his powerful voice.
Those old bloody bones rose up and began to shake all around Old Man Jenkins in the moonlight. The wind blew them around and made their bony hands claw at the air and their feet dance on the soggy ground of the cemetery.
Old Man Jenkins stood where he was, never moving. He felt big and strong, making those old bones shake like that.
“Rise up and shake, bloody bones!” Old Man Jenkins said again, just so he could hear the sound of his own voice.
The bony skeletons seemed to jump in the air at his command, and they shook even more. Finally, Old Man Jenkins had had enough, and he let the old bones crawl back in to their graves to rest. He started to walk back out of the graveyard toward home, when he stumbled over an old skull and fell down.
Old Man Jenkins picked himself up, brushed off his clothes, and looked down at the skull. It was staring right back at him, its old teeth grinning in the moonlight.
Old Man Jenkins went from one house to the next, pounding on the doors and telling everybody that he had found the skull that talked. The people got dressed and came out of their houses, grouchy and rubbing their eyes. They all thought Old Man Jenkins that he was just telling another one of his lies, but he insisted that he was telling the truth. All they had to do was follow him to the graveyard, and he’d show them the skull that talked.
“Listen I guarantee you I’m not lying,” Old Man Jenkins said. “And I promise you that, if that skull doesn’t talk, you can lock me in the graveyard all night.”
Most of the people just laughed at what Old Man Jenkins said, but one man, who didn’t like him at all, went and got a big, strong padlock from his house. He brought it along with him as the group of townspeople followed Old Man Jenkins to the graveyard in the windy, cold night.
As they came near the tall, wrought-iron gates of the cemetery, Old Man Jenkins could see the skull lying on the path just inside the graveyard. He walked up to it while the rest of the people gathered around the gates.
Old Man Jenkins looked down at the skull and said in his loudest, most powerful voice, “Talk!”
But the skull just lay there on the path and grinned up at him. He gave it a hard kick. It bounced over closer to where the people were standing.
But the skull just stared back up at him and grinned. The townspeople began muttering to each other in angry voices.
It bounced high in the air and landed not far away from the man with the padlock.
The townspeople were getting impatient. They were tired and weary and the wind was cutting through them like a knife. Eventually, they had enough of Old Man Jenkins and his lies. They slammed the high, wrought-iron gates of the graveyard shut, locked them tight and headed back home.
Old Man Jenkins heard the creaking of the gates as they closed. He ran over, grabbed hold of the bars and began to shake them. He started yelling at the people to let him out, but they couldn’t hear him. The sound of the wind blowing through the trees was so loud that it drowned out his cries.
And then, Old Man Jenkins heard a voice behind him. A low, gravelly voice. A voice that sounded like it had clawed its way up out of the grave.
“Rise up, rise up!” it croaked. “Rise up and dance.”
Old Man Jenkins felt his body begin to shake. He couldn’t control himself. His limbs flailed wildly and he started dance. He shook himself back and forth, to and fro. He shook himself all night as the icy wind blew around him. He shook himself in the lonely graveyard, as the skeletons watched in the moonlight. He shook himself all night until he finally danced himself to death.