Graveyards tale

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A gravedigger stays at the cemetery overnight, what commences after hours is more than he signed up for.

The schick, schick, of the shovel breaking ground had always bothered Gerald and he’d chosen to dig graves in silence. The gravel in this section had been unusually rocky. The others on his crew listened to music, but his aids had never found headphones friendly. He chose to dig with them turned down, listening only to his thoughts. The sun baked the back of his neck. Sweat trickled from his forehead as he held his hand, blocking the sun to get a glimpse of his watch.

Everyone on the crew, boss included, knew about his hearing impairment and they knew he didn’t always keep them on. As the aids had aged, their ability to hold a charge did too. They had to be replaced and he’d made the appointment already. Gerald played the credit card shuffle, like a lot of folks did. He had to time the new pair with a coinciding paycheck.

Ten years of digging graves and mowing lawns got him the title of yard boss, which he wore as a badge of honor. Originally, Gerald didn’t think the job would last. He thought it would be too hard and he felt his manual labor days were numbered, but he always relished working with his hands. It helped they had a backhoe, which kept the shovel work to a minimal.

Gerald wiped at the sweat building on his forehead as he looked at the cavernous walls of the grave, layers of dirt resembled ash and peanut butter. Six foot high walls surrounded him, blocking only a sliver of the summer sun. Imbedded in the sides were rocks, roots and other intrusions that had made digging hard.

In order for the vault to sit inside the hole, he had to square the sides. Mr. Benedix, the owner, had been the one to show him how. With a shovel, you could smooth the edges and make the hole almost perfectly rectangular. Ten years had gotten him exceptional at it.  

He tossed the tamp overboard and noticed someone standing over him. He’d recognized the shiny dress shoes and knew them to belong to Avery Benedix. Out of everyone in the company, none of them would wear shoes like that but him. They wouldn’t last an hour out in the yard. He didn’t tend to the grounds like he had when he’d been a younger man. Now, he kept himself in the office tending to paperwork and harassing the receptionist.  

As swift as he could, Gerald raised the volume on his hearing aid. “Mr. Benedix how are you today?” he asked, blocking the sun with one massive black hand.

“I’m quite well Gerald. Just last week you were asking me about overtime. Well, something has come up, if you’re still interested of course.” He spoke with the patient rhythm of an aged man.

Standing over the grave in a nice suit, Gerald imagined him starting a service. Surprise! You didn’t know it, but this is your grave. A fictional voice lingered in the back of his mind. He shuddered at the thought.

Mr. Benedix wore a suit nearly every day now, which made the funeral goers feel more at ease. It reminded Gerald of his grandfather, who’d been a preacher. He’d worn a suit frequently, except when he wasn’t wearing his clergy robe. Gerald checked the watch on his wrist, which his grandfather had given him.  

“Oh, yes. My daughter is getting braces soon and I could certainly use the money.” He didn’t want to mention the hearing aids. Handouts weren’t Gerald’s habit and he didn’t want anyone thinking he was asking.

Talking to his boss from inside the hole felt unprofessional. The bucket thumped in the dirt as he turned it over and used it to hoist himself out. Outside of the grave Gerald could read his lips, if it came to that.

He adjusted the gold watch on his wrist, feeling the ridges of the band with his fingertips.

The wind whipped his hair in a gray frenzy. “There have been a string of vandalisms in the area. We’ve been lucky thus far, but it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on the place, especially at night.”  

“I agree,” Gerald said.

“You aren’t afraid to be in a dark cemetery alone, are you, Gerald?” A smile curled on his face. “Strange things have happened here at night.” He snickered.  

“I’m your man, Mr. Benedix,” Gerald said.

“Good. I trust you to handle anything that comes up. You’ve got good instincts. You and I are a lot alike,” he said with a smile. The old man ambled off, looking down at the memorials around him.

Gerald surveyed the scene, looking up and down the lots, assuring himself he’d be safe to turn off the hearing aid again, so he didn’t have to listen to that awful sound of shovel hitting rock. Gerald dropped into the hole and continued to scrape the sides, making them perfect. He remembered a time before the vaults, when they’d dropped the caskets straight into the ground, life had been easier back then.

The breeze crossed right over the top, missing him by a couple feet. The sun on the other hand, didn’t miss an inch. As he pounded the tamp into the ground, flattening the bottom, he remembered the reoccurring dream from his early days in the cemetery. He’d dreamt of digging the grave by hand and when he reached the bottom, it always turned into quicksand. The sand sucked until it smothered him. With what little he could see from under the dirt, he’d see someone lowering a coffin on top. Sometimes he’d hear prayers through the darkness, other times he’d hear song.

Gerald tossed the shovel and other various tools out of the hole before climbing out himself. I still got it, he thought, staring down at the picture-perfect grave. He took pride in his work, although his family didn’t care for it. If he spoke about his job at dinner, they’d listen but quickly change the subject. To them, working with the dead was taboo. They’d often pressured him to get a “normal” job.

As he walked across the lot, Gerald read the names on the stones. He’d always liked looking at the messages and poems and such. Sometimes he’d try to determine how old they’d been when they passed. Math had never been his best subject, but he could usually get close in his head.

The hinges creaked on the vault truck door. He hopped in and jammed his foot down on the clutch. Is this thing getting harder to do, or am I getting older? Gerald reserved the truck for himself because he and Mr. Benedix were the only employees who could drive a stick. C’mon on you broken down whore. The engine sputtered, threatening failure but at the last moment pulled through.

“I bet this thing is as old as this damn cemetery,” he muttered to the empty truck. He crossed the lot and as he drove back to the grave, he saw Buster. The weedwhacker whirred and he had to honk to get his attention.

Buster jogged over, eager to help. He’d been the newest of the group, summer help. He didn’t look like he belonged working in a cemetery. His long hair had certainly seen dreads, and he’d gone to more Phish concerts than anybody Gerald knew. The kid was a modern day hippie.

“Guide it in,” Gerald said.

Buster worked the two boards in the hole like a pro. He guided the hunk of cement in square like someone who’d done it longer than a few weeks.  

Gerald worked the chain fall, hand over hand, lowering the vault. “Nice and easy,” Gerald said, more to himself than anything. Moving the vaults were the most dangerous part of the job and Gerald didn’t like the summer help moving them alone. He always either worked the chain fall himself or supervised.

After guiding it square into the hole, Buster removed the boards. “Man, it’s hotter than the hinges of hell.” A slick of sweat dripped down his forehead and he chased it with the back of his hand.

Gerald liked Buster, but he could go on some tangents about hippie shit. Once in a while, Gerald would lower the volume on his hearing aids, so he didn’t have to listen. He didn’t much care what the cost of food at the organic market was or how many times The Grateful Dead had come to Maine.

The tools thumped and rattled as they tossed them into the back of the truck. Gerald stole another glance down into the hole, observing the vault and imagining being trapped in there alive. The thought gave him chills, which he tried to shake off.  

Dropping the last tool in the back, Buster turned to him. “Do you have any ghost stories from working here?”  

Gerald thought back. “Nope, nothing.”

His stay at the cemetery had been rather ordinary. He’d never seen a ghost or heard any unexplained noises. He’d had a few strange dreams, but that was about it. He tried to think back to any of the staff over the years. Had any of them told him about any paranormal experiences? He didn’t think so.

Per usual they stayed out of sight during the service. Sometimes Gerald liked to be close, like a spy. He’d always loved the cadence in which preachers spoke. It reminded him of his grandfather. He fondly remembered sitting front and center as his grandfather led a congregation in story and then in prayer every Sunday. He touched the watch.

The two of them sat in a nearby flower garden, weeding as the service commenced. The pastor spoke of God and heaven. He said all the things Gerald’s grandfather had years prior. He couldn’t hear it word for word, but what he could hear, he cherished.

A smile crossed Buster’s face as he plucked a weed from the garden. He’d taken it upon himself to learn a little sign language. He did the sign for “fart” followed by the sign for “bullshit” and “cunnilingus.”  

Gerald bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing, but he couldn’t. “You’re an asshole,” Gerald joked.

“What did the old man want?” Buster asked, dropping weeds into his bucket.

Gerald pulled the bottle of water from his pocket and drank a big gulp. “I’m staying over tomorrow night. The graveyard shift.”

His eyes grew wide. “Better you than me. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near here in the middle of the night.”

The dark didn’t scare him, nothing did, except that dream.

After the service ended, they rushed to put everything away. Gerald had promised them they’d go home early if everything went smooth. They took down the podium and the chairs, tossed everything into the trailer and parked all the trucks in their designated spots. They locked everything up and bid farewell.

Gerald climbed into his truck last, watching them all go. The engine rumbled to life and he looked cautiously at the odometer. It had a lot of miles and he knew what that meant. Just like a person, after so long, they’re only holding on by a wing and a prayer.

The wind whipped through the window, blowing against the side of his face. An announcer talked on the radio, speaking about the burial of a local child. They mentioned his cemetery. Gerald knew they were talking about the days service because the coffin had been rather small.

“The burial of a boy named Nick Fecteau commenced today at Hill View Cemetery after rescuers found him in the Hudson River.” An announcer chimed over the radio.

Gerald shook his head at the tragedy, trying not to think about losing someone so young. His daughter had to have been close in age to him, judging by the size of the casket. His heart went out to the parents and he tried to free his mind by flipping the station. He found a Rolling Stones song halfway through and it was enough to get him home.

The stones on his path teetered and clacked under his feet as Gerald headed for the door. He let himself in, dropping his keys in the ceramic cup.

“Daddy,” a high voice screeched. Bailey came running out of the kitchen and leaped into his arms. A beautiful but crooked smile erupted from her face.

“Are you ready to get your braces? It’s going to be hard to travel through metal detectors. They’re going to hold you up at the airport,” he joked.

“That’s not funny,” she said as he carried her back into the kitchen.

The strong scent of baked chicken wafted around the kitchen, along with mashed potatoes. “It smells good in here,” Gerald said, setting down Bailey. He walked up behind his wife Nadene, wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her.

“Get a room,” Bailey said.

A smile fighting its way to the surface, Nadene said “why don’t we ask if the dentist will wire the braces shut?”

With a green bean skewered on a fork hovering in front of her, she said, “that’s not funny.”

They all sat down and started talking about their days. Mr. Snuffles, their shelter dog, laid on the floor at their feet, conjuring a lake of drool.  

Nadene scooped herself some potatoes before staring across the table at Gerald. “I heard you guys had a big day today. They talked about it on the news.”

“Yeah, I didn’t know anything about it until the drive home. You know I don’t pay much mind to such things.” He’d been more concerned about another hole he’d dug. He didn’t like leaving holes overnight, not even if they did cover them with boards.

They were speaking vague, almost in a code. Bailey. She could be sensitive to such things, especially when it came to children.

Bailey’s fork clanked against the dish. “I had a good day at school today. Becky said if I brought in the ties, she’d do my hair. She’s really good at doing hair.”

Gerald loved little witticisms and stories from his daughter, even the mundane ones. It made him feel like she had an ordinary life. She hadn’t grown up as poor as him or an orphan like Nadene. Her problems were usually quite simple, what boy was talking to who? Was there a test on Wednesday? Things of that nature.

After dinner, Gerald sunk his hands in the wash basin and Bailey slung a rag over her shoulder. Shawn James pelted notes that filled the kitchen. Bailey had taken her musical taste from him. The two of them loved Rock and the blues, which differed from Nadene’s deep love for jazz and soul.  

“That boy can sing,” she said when she first heard him.

Gerald splashed her with a little bit of water from the faucet, earning himself a disapproving scowl.

Her expression changed. “What are you afraid of?”

Gerald didn’t like that look. It seemed too mature for her age. “I’m none too fond of spiders,” he said, making a gross face.

“No. Seriously.” She wouldn’t let him get off the hook with a cheap answer, not this time.

He stopped washing the dishes, dropping the sponge in the water. “I’m afraid of losing you. I’m afraid of my hearing aid failing when someone needs me.” The dream stood on the tip of his tongue, waiting to make the plunge, but he closed his mouth. He’d been afraid, as if saying it might make it real.

Gerald expected her to say she too was afraid of something, but she didn’t. She went on drying the dishes and even sang when The White Buffalo came on. She’d been the one to introduce him to their music and they’d quickly gone up the charts in his mind.

After dishes, Gerald tucked Bailey into bed. He remembered all the times he’d read her the three little pigs. It had been her favorite story, and she wouldn’t settle for anything else. Those times had slipped past like a ship in the night. She didn’t want stories from daddy anymore. She probably didn’t want to be tucked in, but it had been part of his routine for so long he didn’t know if he could break the habit.

Before clicking off the light, Gerald looked at her room. Once upon a time it had been pink with pictures of princesses and fairies. Now, bands covered the fairytales and the pink had turned into dark blues and blacks. An image of Bailey walking down the aisle flashed through his mind.

He tried to fight off the thought, but it had been so clear. He could see it, white dress streaming behind her. One step at a time. He knew all too well that it would be coming, soon. Time had been moving too quickly and nothing he did could slow it down.

“Goodnight,” Gerald whispered before closing the door.

He leaned against the doorframe outside of her bedroom and took a deep breath. He’d never been the emotional type, but she’d been growing up too fast. Her childhood would be over soon and then she’d be a teen. She’d probably resent him soon, as most teens do. She wouldn’t run and jump into his arms anymore. Gerald fought back a tear as he walked into his bedroom.

Nadene’s warmth resonated against his body. He held her close, whispering sweet nothings into her ear until she drifted off. It didn’t take long for him to follow.

The following day went off without a hitch. He’d dreaded working the graveyard shift in, well, a graveyard. He’d thought about it the whole day.

When the day was over, he waved everyone off. The sun tucked behind the trees and Gerald went about patrolling, less out of curiosity and more out of boredom. If he’d sat in the car the whole time, he’d fall asleep.  

The crematory lights barely illuminated a quarter of the cemetery. He stepped out of the car, whiffed the summer air and began to stroll. Mr. Benedix hadn’t told him what he had to do with the time, only that he had to be there. If anybody looked suspicious, he’d call the police.  

The beam from his flashlight danced on the headstones as he walked through the cemetery. At every hoot of an owl or rustle of a tree, Gerald nearly dropped the light. He tried to harden himself, saying he wasn’t afraid.  

He had an image of Bailey with a perfect smile. “It’s going to be worth it. She’s going to have straight teeth and all sorts of opportunities I didn’t get.” As he walked, he flicked the light around, looking for nothing in particular. It crossed the two planks covering the grave he’d dug.

In Gerald’s family there had only been one pair of braces, it belonged to his older brother Clyde, who’d never been grateful for anything. Gerald didn’t get that chance. By the time his turn came, the money had all run out and his dads bookstore had started its departure into the toilet.

The epitaphs on the stones had always intrigued him. Gerald thought he could spend all day reading them. As he walked among the thick stones, he thought about the bizarre offerings people left. He’d seen a pineapple once, full and fresh. He’d seen a ton of coins and once a prophylactic still in its wrapper. He wondered if there had been an inside joke, perhaps the recipient of said prophylactic had twelve kids. 

The arched sign of a section of the cemetery called the ark loomed overhead. Over the rustle of the trees, a noise caught his attention. The sound reverberated and warped. He couldn’t tell what it had been because the batteries in his hearing aid wavered. They’d be dead soon and he didn’t have an extra set.

Gerald grumbled. “Son of a bitch. I should have charged them before I left.” He leaned against a headstone, removing the earpiece, and inspecting it. “Not much I can do now,” he said.

With the aid still in his hand, Gerald heard something on the other side of the cemetery. “That’s not possible.” He jerked his head in the direction of Babylon. The unmistakable wail of a baby crying swept through the cemetery.

I better get up there. He wanted to get up there before the battery died. When one went, the other wasn’t far behind. He hiked through the cemetery as a million thoughts raced through his mind. Why on God’s green earth would there be a baby out here? If you’re going to ditch a baby, do it at a fire station or something.

Hundreds of feet before the threshold of Babylon, he heard another voice.

“Who the hell are you?” it asked, sharp as a tac.

Chills raced up and down his spine, but Gerald turned around to confront the voice. As he turned, he saw the green uniform of a soldier. It didn’t look like the modern ACU’s his cousin Bradly wore. No, these were something else. They were much older, like the ones from old war movies.

The voice struck again. “Are you going to answer me you fat sack of monkey shit?”

Gerald couldn’t answer because he didn’t know what to say. He stammered, trying to think of something, anything to say. Every piece of energy he had, he used to keep from pissing himself.

The figure didn’t look normal, something about it looked, strange. For a couple of seconds, Gerald couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him until he noticed a stone behind him, but it wasn’t behind him but through him. The soldier wasn’t a soldier at all, but transparent. A ghost.

He stepped closer, voice dropping an octave. “You’re not our normal guy. Where is he?” A pause fell between them. “Have you got shit in your ears?”

“N-no, sir.”

“What are you doing here?” the soldier asked.

A tremor formed in his speech and he immediately hated it. “Th-the boss told me to stay overnight.”

The hearing aid beeped its last warning before powering down.  

The soldier went back to screaming. “Why do you have that goofy look on your face?”

Gerald nearly fell over. He heard every word, clear as day, but the hearing aids had died. One of them sat in his pocket. This isn’t real. As the soldier continued to lecture him, Gerald pulled the other hearing aid out and he still heard him.

“Are you listening to me, asshole?” The soldier closed the distance between them.

Without thinking, Gerald reached out a hand, passing it through the soldiers chest. He isn’t real. A cold chill raced up his arm.

In the distance, the baby wailed.

Stunned, Gerald asked, “Did you hear that?”

The soldier gave him a stupid look. “Of course, I heard that, happens all the time around here.”

“What is it?” 

“That’s a baby crying dumb…”

“That’s enough, colonel.” Another voice broke through the silence.

Gerald twisted his head to see where the other voice had come from. When he turned, he saw a little woman in a candy stripers uniform. She wasn’t a tall woman, not a young woman either. Her dark hair met weary, tired eyes that too were transparent.

“Avery sent you, didn’t he?” she asked.

“Yes. How can I hear you?” Gerald asked.

A smile curled on her lips. “You don’t need ears to hear darling. You have intuition.”

Gerald opened his mouth to reply but couldn’t. The words jumbled in his throat and died there.

She waved her arm to get him to follow. “Come along, there’s a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it.”  

Confused but fascinated, Gerald followed her. As they walked toward the arch of Babylon, he watched stones passing through her body and tried to wrap his mind around everything.

Distantly the baby cried. He shook his head, then felt the outside of his pocket to be sure. The aids were still there. “This is all a dream,” he said.

“Now, that’s not very nice, nor is it true. Just because you don’t want us to be real, doesn’t mean that we aren’t.” the nurse said over her shoulder.

He hadn’t considered she might feel such a way, or any way for that matter. “I’m sorry.”  

“That’s quite all right, dear. I’m sure you’re confused. I can’t say that I’m too surprised. Mr. Benedix used to come and handle these things, but he didn’t look too well the last few times I saw him. He’d barely been able to walk across the cemetery the last time we spoke, poor thing.”

A weight landed on his chest. A responsibility he hadn’t had before. “What things?”  

“Ah, right. How could I forget? Sometimes there are people who don’t cross over. They just sort of linger here and I can’t always convince them to come with me across. Avery had a way of convincing people. I used to tell women here that if Avery Benedix weren’t as smooth as the mornings butter, I’d eat my hat.”

Gerald tried to imagine helping someone cross over. He tried to picture himself talking a spirit into doing anything and couldn’t. He didn’t even know where to begin. “You think I can do that?”

“Oh yes, dear.”

Nurse Agnes walked into Babylon, reached down, hands passing through the grass and topsoil and lifted a baby in a white sheet. “There, there,” she whispered. “You’re all right.” She clutched the baby against her shoulder, patted it gently on the back.

A part of him wanted to touch nurse Agnes, or the baby, to see if they were real. “You mean to tell me that Avery has been doing this?”

Oh, yes dear, Gerald’s mind answered. Instead, Agnes nodded.

She held the baby to her chest, rocking it back and forth, a light hum escaping her lips. A melody, soft and low, but beautiful and true.

“How long?”

At this, Agnes looked off into the distance, perhaps in search of an answer. “He took over the cemetery in 96’ I believe. The first one who wouldn’t cross over happened to be a young man in a motorcycle accident. He couldn’t have been but twenty or so. Even with all the pieces laid out for him, the poor man couldn’t accept it.”

Down the hill, where the soldier had been, nothing. As far as he could see, there weren’t any other spirits out. He couldn’t fight off the feeling that there had been some sort of mistake. “I can’t help someone cross over. You have the wrong guy.”

An irritated look crossed her face. “Avery sent you, didn’t he?”

Gerald stammered, looking for any line of defense. “Well, yes.”

She slid the baby back into the ground. “Then you’re the right guy. He’s down there.” She pointed to the spot where he’d dug the hole the day before.

“Did I?” he started.

“Oh, honey. I’ve been here since before you were born. Don’t worry, we don’t take it personal, most of us anyway. The colonel can be a bit much, but even he’s relatively harmless these days. It’s not like the myths they told us growing up. I don’t mind if you step on the grave, or even if you touch the headstone. I don’t mind that you run the mower across either. It’s really nice to watch you work. I feel as if I already know you.”

Gerald grunted in disbelief.

Nurse Agnes ushered him along. “I can’t hold your hand. If he sees you with me, he won’t even talk to you. They know, deep down inside. They all do.”

She waved her hands, ushering him to go. She hadn’t even given him the slightest clue of what to do, only sent him on his way.

He hadn’t even made it three steps before looking over his shoulder, but she wasn’t there to encourage him. He swallowed hard at the frog in his throat and approached the trunk where the little boy sat.

“It’s now or never,” he said to nobody at all.

Above, shone a fingernail moon hiding behind a thatch of clouds. Fascination and curiosity had been replaced by dread and a strange feeling churned in his stomach. The boys legs stretched from behind the tree. The blades of glass were visible through him.

Gooseflesh broke out on his arms. He’d never seen a spirit before, and each step brought him closer to the third he’d seen in one night.

Off in the distance broke another sound. He doubted what he’d heard at first because certainly it couldn’t have been real. Then, cutting through the silence, it happened again. A whinny followed by a second. Hooves trotting on pavement commenced.

What the hell was that? Again, he contemplated it being nothing more than a strange dream. He’d had strange dreams before, especially when he’d come down with the flu and his mother had given him medication.

“Oh, no,” a voice spoke behind him. When he looked back, he saw Agnes with fear written all across her face. 

The clopping hooves got louder as they came closer. The squeak of wooden wheels and ancient carriage rattled as it moved down the street. Through the cascading streetlamp, Gerald saw the rickety wagon drawn by four horses. With them came a sense of doom.

His chest got heavy, as if forced to think about all the mistakes he’d made in his life. The urge to weep came over him, but he managed to bite at it and subdue the feeling. Something resonated from the carriage, a feeling he couldn’t explain.

“What the hell is that?” Gerald asked.

Agnes approached, checking her voice. “I haven’t seen her in a long time. I certainly didn’t expect her tonight,” she whispered. As if fighting back tears, she shook her head.

The carriage came to a stop. The night filled with another loud whinny from an unsatisfied horse. The only thing creepier than a horse in a graveyard is a crying baby. The carriage rocked before something or someone stepped off.

Agnes said with a whimper, “she’s the collector.”

A feeling of unfathomable doom and dread came over him, deeper than any depression he’d ever experienced. He wanted to squirm out of his skin. She stood there momentarily and Gerald swore he could feel her eyes upon him.

He looked to Agnes, “what do we do?”

She took a few steps closer, standing between the shadowy figure and the tree by the fountain. “Don’t let her take him.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Lurking in the moonlight, she came closer. Wearing a black trench coat and a fedora, she came into sight. As she crossed the lot, the tree nearest her wilted. The branches sagging immediately. The blades of grass below her feet turned brown. A glass-like rattling came from her pocket. Unlike Agnes, she wasn’t transparent. She looked like a person made from black mist with the most beautiful set of emerald eyes.

She came to a stop in front of them. “Hello,” she said. A smile curled up her lips. Her eyes danced around them, in search of the child.

When Gerald looked back at the carriage, the horses had gone still. The uneasy feeling clung to his skin like wet clothes. A plume of his breath clouded in the air.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” Agnes said.

The half-smile faded. “I don’t want to be here any more than you want me. Make it easy, hand him over and I’ll be on my way… that’s a promise.”

Gerald intervened. “Wait a second, can we come to a compromise?”

She chuckled. The black mist rolled out at her feet as she pulled off her hat and scratched her head. “Are you going to give me your soul in his place?”

Gerald looked for the boy, but he couldn’t see him. He wished he could call down to him and tell him to run. The question lingered in the air, but he couldn’t answer.

Another heavy moment of silence fell between them as Gerald thought about all the options. He couldn’t escape her. Even if the boy ran, he didn’t think they’d get away. He couldn’t fight her and win.

“Nurse Agnes, don’t you have something you need to tend to?” Gerald asked, in hopes she’d get out in time.

Through the stillness of the cemetery, a slight whimper came from behind him.

The collectors back straightened, and she clapped her hands. The noise like thunder. “Enough!” she shouted.

Gerald fell to his knees, ears shrieking. The torment amplified. A million screaming voices exploded in his mind and he fell to the ground, clasping his hands to his ears. He couldn’t hear himself screaming, but fire crawled up his throat.

She knelt down beside him, looked deep in his eyes. “Where is he?”

He gripped his ears tighter. The voices yelped in torment as they swirled around in his head. Make it stop, make it stop.

The black cloud followed her hand as she stretched it to grasp his wrist. Immediately she jerked it backward and screamed. Smoke rolled off her fingertips. “What the hell was that?” she asked.

She’d come into contact with his watch. The gold watch his grandfather had given him. His grandfather, the preacher. The voices dissolved and Gerald found his feet, but not easily. Had holy water trickled into the band or something?

She let go of her wrist and glared at him. “Give him to me now or suffer a worse consequence than death.” Her nostrils flared.

What are you afraid of? his daughters voice entered his head. Losing you, he heard himself respond.

The collector cocked her head as if she’d heard his thoughts.

The voices didn’t return, but something else did. He didn’t have control of his thoughts. She did.

He saw a coffin and his daughter standing beside it. He saw himself dressed in the black suit with arms crossed on his chest. Nadene sat in a chair nearby, face buried in her hands.  

She smirked “That’s not doing the trick, huh?”

Another vision crossed his mind as he clasped his temples, trying to shake the thoughts out. He saw Bailey lying on an autopsy table, Y cut into her chest. Her beautiful face gaunt and void of life. Her organs sat on a metal table next to her.

Gerald couldn’t look away from those emerald eyes. They kept him trapped. Through his periphery, he did see that Agnes had escaped.  

The third image came. He’d been lying on his back, staring up at the blue sky above as people he loved shoveled dirt onto him. He screamed and cried and pleaded for them to stop, but they continued. The dirt grew heavier, crushing his chest. Every breath restricted in his lungs.

The collector whipped her head around, breaking the contact. “Ah, you found him for me,” she said and summoned them with the flick of a finger.

Agnes opened her mouth to retaliate and found it closed by a black, misty strap. The kids hands and feet were bound by the same. Tears welled in his eyes. The muffled attempt at a scream fell to nothing.

A wry smile crossed her lips with a tip of the cap. “Thank you.”

The kid lifted from the ground and hovered. With every step toward the carriage, he followed her like a balloon. She whistled as she walked, unconcerned with Gerald. Her mistake.

His massive feet pounded the grass as he ran toward her, full force. He passed by the boy and tackled her from behind. She dissipated like he expected, except she howled in agony first.

Tears had streaked down his face. He’d felt them crossing his lips. The torture she’d made him endure felt physical, but it had all been inside his head. He feared he might be able to hear residuals from those screams forever.

The watch, which still clung to his wrist, burned like it had come from an oven. He shuffled, trying his best to release the clasp. It fell into the grass, smoke rolling off its surface.

Black smoke condensed, and she appeared again, standing only ten feet before him. Her lip curled up in distain. “You’re going to pay for that.”

Those emerald eyes caught him in their sights. Gerald tried not to look at them because he knew he wouldn’t be able to look away.

Over his shoulder, Gerald saw the outline of the kid. He’d fallen from her grip during the attack. Gerald ushered the kid to go, to run.  

The skin where the watch had been ached, but his flesh remained intact. The watch laid in the grass, but the smoke had stopped. Instinctively, Gerald knew there wasn’t enough time to pick it up.  

When she took a step toward Gerald, she stopped. The expression on her face changed.

He didn’t know what she’d seen, but he swore fear lingered in her eyes. That’s when he looked over his shoulder and saw the most beautiful sight. Hundreds of spirits had risen from their eternal rest, creating an army behind him.

The collectors eyes had grown huge. She turned and ran for the carriage, only looking over her shoulder when she had the reigns in hand. The horses clopped and galloped into a black mist that disappeared.


Submitted: December 29, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Clarence Carter. All rights reserved.

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Comments

NikM

Good stuff, I've enjoyed it.

Fri, January 1st, 2021 3:38pm

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