Here’s a little gift for Halloween. A rough draft of a short story from my upcoming book “Visceral Tales”.
Nathan and Janet Matheson were living the dream life. Nathan’s entrepreneurial dabbling into real estate and the stock market had paid off big over the last few years, causing their bank account to overflow with cash. They travelled together, worked together, played together, always nearly inseparable; but most of all they loved together. Janet had stuck by him for the last two decades, through all the times good and bad, spending many a year toughing out the times when there was little money in their lives.
Now they had their love and the money, and things were nearly perfect. Of course, there were little glitches, hidden on the inside, like in any marriage. Nathan was an extremely jealous man, always over-protective of his wife. It only became worse when their money bought her new breasts and miscellaneous plastic surgeries. Now Nathan had to deal with every man on the street ogling his playboy centerfold of a wife. He loved it and hated it at the same time. Janet was the same, hating his jealousy yet loving his devotion and protectiveness. Together they worked through it, found ways to work around it, for there was too much love and money to enjoy while they were still reasonably young.
That all changed a couple days ago, when a sudden un-survivable heart attack ended Nathan’s life and made Janet a widow.
* * * *
Will Barnaby is midway through his second job of the day. It often takes two jobs these days for people to make ends meet, but at least both of his are related. During the day Will runs the Barnaby Funeral Parlor, a generational family business passed down from his father, and his father before him. In the evenings he is the caretaker of Southmoore Cemetery. Tonight, Will is burying Nathan Matheson, covering up his coffin with six feet of dirt.
The old cemetery backhoe had broken down earlier in the week, so Will is working old-school, with an actual shovel, making Matheson disappear one scoop of earth at a time. Out of shape, his back hurting, the slow pace at which he works is causing the sun to set faster than he can finish the task. His psychological discomfort is steadily growing as he stands in the middle of a slowly darkening graveyard, knee deep in the ground on top of a coffin holding a fresh corpse. George Romero’s vision of the dead rising to eat the living always haunted the back of his mind, and no matter how old or grown up he becomes, it never seems to fade.
It’s ironic how much the dead creep him out despite that fact he has worked in the family business all his life. When he was a boy, he would watch his father embalm the bodies in the funeral home, sticking tubes into veins, forcing smelly liquids in that pushed blood out into a large sink to disappear down a drain. In one of those twisted circumstances that life often hands us, Will’s first glimpses of private female body parts were that of a dead woman. That had affected him in an odd way, and although he could never tell anyone, ever, he liked when the females came in. There are always things that people do, alone in the dark, that no one can ever know about.
Those sorts of things change a person, make them callous towards the dead and jaded towards life, knowing that no matter what we do in life we all end up on someone’s morgue table, getting tubes shoved into our veins. Will had grown up hating both the living and the dead, and now he had to cater to both, often on the same day.
It was just yesterday that Matheson’s funeral service had taken place. None of his wealth had saved him from the Grim Reaper. He was only in his early fifties, but everything he had worked for, everything he had made, was gone in an instant and meaningless. Janet was truly devastated, a wave of sorrow crashing over her that not even being single, rich and beautiful could make up for.
Will had spent the morning the way he always did on funeral days, setting up the room, the flowers, the chairs. He prepped Nathan’s body for an open casket viewing and did all the other usual things that went along with this show. That’s how Will perceived these services, as just a show. A charade that was only for the living, not for the dead. For the dead were dead, just piles of meat to be used and discarded. As the mourning visitors came, he directed the traffic and handed out little cards with some cliché saying about the afterlife printed on them. Just more show, Will thought, as he had no false beliefs in any afterlife. Dead was dead and done was done. The only afterlife there was is in the money Will made from you after you were dead. He offered drinks and waters and words of condolence. Most of all he waited for it to be over. He still had to bury the coffin tonight in Southmoore and the damn backhoe was broken. He just wanted this long tedious day over with, until the widow arrived.
Will’s first glimpse of Janet was when her driver opened the limo door, and a pair of long shapely legs in sheer black stockings swung out onto the sidewalk. She came to the funeral in a little black dress, her bought-and-paid-for breasts threatening to spill out of it as she leaned over her husband’s coffin. Will spent the next hour providing her with special attention, all the while trying to not get caught eyeing her in ways that would be recognized as blatantly unsympathetic. He had spent most of his life a single man, having a few girlfriends long ago during school and such, but nothing that ever lasted. Now middle-aged and overweight, with a life full of dead bodies and hands that smelled like embalming fluid, eHarmony.com didn’t hold much hope for him. It had been a long time since Will had been with a woman in the way a man needs, at least not a living one.
The service wrapped up like they always do, with people slowly wandering out, each in turn offering their condolences to the widow. There’s talk of getting together somewhere else, as if coffee and cake somehow fixes grief. Funerals are funny things, the ritualistic use of a dead body as a prop to soothe the pain of the living. Janet was eventually escorted out by her closest relatives, Will studying the curves of her ass as she left, trying to pretend he gave a shit about everyone’s grief.
Now tonight he stands here in a half-filled hole, on top of Matheson’s corpse in a box, thinking inappropriately of the man’s wife and wishing the fucking backhoe was running. It was really starting to get darker now, dusk turning into night. In the back of Will’s mind a strange voice is whispering “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” as he scans the cemetery grounds to make sure he is still the only one moving.
Will knows it will take at least another thirty minutes to finish filling the hole. After pausing a moment to urinate on top of Matheson’s latest real estate acquisition, he begrudgingly sets about the task, throwing earth into the hole as quickly as he can. An hour later, while washing the dirt off his hands in the work shed about forty yards away, he studies the backhoe pondering what it needs to be fixed. That would have to wait until tomorrow though, as he needs some parts and the cemetery is now fully engulfed in the darkness of night.
* * * *
The next day is boring and mundane. There are no services today, and Will has little to do but hang around the funeral home, masturbating and waiting for someone to die. A little whiskey, a little Jerry Springer on the TV, and once five o’clock rolls around it’s time to work on the backhoe. The cemetery is quiet, as usual. The only noises are the sounds of crickets and Will’s tools banging on the machine, a wrench twist here, a hammer smack there, and a little grease in between. The backhoe isn’t cooperating though. After a couple of hours and fading sunlight, Will is about to pack it in for the night when something catches his attention from the corner of his eye; a movement, a light… something. He turns, staring down the pathway in the direction he thinks he saw it. The pathway leads right to Nathan Matheson’s freshly filled grave, where Will can still see the roughly graded dirt that wasn’t leveled quite right with a hand shovel.
Barely visible in the distance, Will sees it again, a strange glowing mist hovering over the grave. There is a strange light emanating from within it, very faint but noticeable. It drifts from side to side, moving back and forth above Matheson’s plot, like fog drifting in the wind. It moves slowly outward in ever growing circles, but never seems to leave too far from the grave. Will feels a cold chill run across his skin as the hair on his arms stands tall. He squints and rubs his eyes, trying to refocus his vision to understand what he is seeing. Moments later, just as suddenly as it appeared, the mist vanishes. Will’s heart tells him he just saw a ghost, while his mind gives him more common-sense explanations. After all, dead is dead and done is done. Regardless, with the superstitious fear of being alone in a dark cemetery crawling up his back, he locks his tools up in the shed and leaves as quickly as he can.
This event repeats itself for two more nights. Each night Will is attempting to fix the backhoe, and each night as dusk sets in, the strange glowing mist appears near the Matheson grave. Will has no explanation, nor is he sure he wants one. Last night he found the courage to walk towards it, to get a better look, to try and rule out the supernatural and see a logical scientific cause. With a dry mouth and goose-bumped arms he approached within twenty yards of it, when a strange thing happened. A sudden feeling of overwhelming sadness came over him. A crushing feeling of grief and loneliness, but it was someone else’s feelings, not his own; yet he could feel them too. With his superstitious fears growing, he quickly walked back to the shed, put his tools away, and left the graveyard once more as quickly as he could.
* * * *
The next morning brings fresh hot coffee and a fresh cold corpse straight from the hospital morgue. The buzzer on the back door summons Will there, where he greets the ambulance driver and the gurney that has already been pushed up to the door. Upon it is a black zipped-up body bag and a clipboard with paperwork on it. With a yawn and a nonchalant posture Will begins to sign the papers to accept the body. His demeanor changes suddenly when he reads the name… Janet Matheson. Will’s eyes shift from the clipboard to the body bag, to the driver, and back to the paper where he reads the rest, scanning to the cause of death – “Suicide by poisoning.” A strange mixture of shock and excitement courses through Will’s mind. Janet Matheson’s body, fresh and uninjured, is being handed over to him to be his very own.
Will pulls the gurney into the basement of the funeral home as the ambulance drives away. This is the room where the bodies are prepped. The room where his father had embalmed bodies for years, and the room where Will had seen his first naked woman. He spins the gurney around to line up with the little cooler door in the wall, where bodies are slid inside to keep them fresh until they can be embalmed. He stares at the body bag for a moment, studying the shape of it. He can clearly see the shape of her head, her feet, and the slope where the bag transitions from her small waist to her over-sized breasts. Visions of her from the funeral, in her little black dress, flit across Will’s mind. He knows she is naked inside the bag, his excitement growing as he reaches for the zipper to open it.
But the unveiling of his treasure will have to wait, as the phone in the office upstairs begins to ring persistently. Someone else must be dead. Janet will have to wait.
After spending half an hour on the phone with a grieving family, pretending to care about making their funeral arrangements, Will is sitting at his desk with a coffee and the day’s newspaper. In the paper he finds the Matheson’s named twice; one being Janet’s obituary and the other being the police report about her untimely death. Apparently, she was so stricken with grief over the loss of her husband that she killed herself, leaving a note declaring she was leaving this world to be with him. “How unfortunate” thinks Will, as he gazes over at the basement door, thinking about Janet’s naked body just a room away. Will sets the newspaper down and takes the phone off the hook before heading down the steps into the basement.
The makeshift cellar morgue is dimly lit and cold, much like the thoughts in Will’s mind. He stands beside the bag that holds Janet’s naked corpse, and his brain shifts focus, filling him with lustful thoughts and redirecting blood to different parts of his body. He reaches for the zipper, slowly pulling it down, savoring the moment. The parting halves of the bag first reveal her beautiful face, stunning features, and long brown hair. Will’s mind doesn’t even notice the discoloration of her skin, or the unpleasant odor now escaping from the bag. None of that matters to him as he focuses solely on the zipper that is now easing past her breasts, first revealing the curves of cleavage, and finally nipples as the bag continues to spread wider. In moments the full length of Janet is revealed, beckoning to his dark urges, and Will surrenders to his twisted desires.
In the midst of his acts, something strange happens. Feelings come over him, odd emotional sensations, like had happened in the cemetery when he approached the glowing mist at Matheson’s grave. He was experiencing the feelings, but they weren’t his. This time, instead of loneliness and sorrow, there is anger and hatred. As Will continues violating Janet’s body, the anger grows into something he can only describe as pure jealous rage; severe, uncontrollable, inescapable fury. It lasts for several hours after Will finishes, re-zips the body bag, and shoves Janet into the wall. The sensations claw at Will’s mind until he can’t take it anymore and he begins swallowing aspirins by the handful. It lasts well into the night until he finally falls asleep.
* * * *
The day comes when Janet’s funeral and services are over, and it’s time to bury her. Will had already dug the hole the day before, right next to Nathan’s. Matheson had bought two plots side by side, just for this reason; so that even in death, the lovers could remain together. Will had made sure to begin digging the hole early in the morning. He wanted no part of being that close to Matheson’s grave after dark, as the unexplainable glowing mist was still appearing nightly. Now today, while the dormant backhoe sits under a bright noon sun, Will is covering up Janet’s coffin, one shovel of dirt at a time.
As evening comes, Will is washing up at the shed, cursing at the backhoe that sits there mocking him. Dusk has long settled in, and Will is locking up to leave. A slight chill runs up his spine when yet again the faintly glowing mist appears in the corner of his eye about forty yards away at Matheson’s grave. This time though, when he turns to look, there are two of them. Two wisps of fog, moving about above the graves, yet instead of wandering aimlessly and without purpose they move together in unison as if they are dancing. Will watches for several minutes, nervous but mesmerized by the sight. Now he is sure they are ghosts. They move in sync with each other, slowly circling above the graves, two wisps of light dancing in an ethereal embrace. Strange sensations begin to come over him again, even this far from them, feelings of euphoria, of bliss and happiness, of deep love. He cannot explain them, and they are feelings he isn’t used to experiencing, but he can feel them none the less. With nothing more he can do tonight he locks the shed as he always does and leaves for the night. Behind him, two faintly glowing mists dance and swirl around each other in the crisp night air of the cemetery.
* * * *
Will has another body to bury now. The funeral service will end soon, and tomorrow morning he must dig the hole and plant another corpse. Completely fed up with hand digging with a shovel, Will is determined to get the backhoe fixed tonight. The sooner this service is over the better, and Will has a difficult time hiding his disinterest in the current group of mourners that have invaded his funeral parlor. Five o’clock finally rolls around, and with the new body tucked into the basement wall, Will sets about his task. He will have to stop by the tractor supply store to pick up a few parts for the backhoe, and that will make it late by the time he gets to the cemetery. When he gets there, the darkness of night has already consumed the last light of day.
As he enters the cemetery gate, the strange sensations begin to come over him again. These however are not the happy, blissful ones. These are the angry, hateful jealous ones he experienced when he was in the basement using Janet’s body. He tries to shake it off, but as he walks closer to the work shed the sensations grow even more intense, like a developing migraine. There’s a job to do though, and the backhoe must be fixed so he pushes on trying to ignore it. No matter what it takes, he’s not filling another grave tomorrow with a damn shovel. Glancing up the path towards the Matheson’s plots, there are no dancing wisps yet, which almost seems odd as he is beginning to become accustomed to them. Another unusual thing he notices is it looks like something has been piled up along Matheson’s grave. It’s hard to tell from this distance what exactly, but it would have to wait until morning. There’s no way he’s going over there at this time of night, in the dark. He assumes the damn neighborhood kids have gotten into the cemetery again, leaving behind another round of vandalism for him to clean up.
The cemetery is quieter than usual tonight as Will walks up to the shed. There are no crickets, no bugs, no bats, no anything. There is only simple dead silence. As his flashlight hits the shed doors, he is surprised to find the shed has been broken into. All around the handle the paint and wood are chipped and scratched, the marks of hammer claws or a crowbar edge used to break the lock open. “Damn kids,” he thinks to himself. He pauses for a moment to listen, wondering if the thieves are still inside. There is no sound from within the shed, only the strange and foreign feelings of jealous rage pounding in Will’s head; feelings that he wants to shake, as they aren’t even his own feelings. Slowly he opens the shed door and shines the flashlight inside.
The horror within is immediately apparent. Will’s flashlight hits the face of the rotting corpse of Nathan Matheson, standing before him in the dark of the shed. Will becomes frozen with fear and shock and disbelief. The putrid smell of death fills his nostrils as the walking dead man begins to move towards him, while feelings of overwhelming jealous rage fill Will’s mind. Will loses all control of his senses and his bladder as he stumbles backwards, falling to the ground halfway out of the shed. Matheson reaches out for him as he moves closer, maggots dropping from the dead man’s hands as they grab Will’s legs and begin to pull him back inside the shed. With his heart racing to the point of exploding, Will’s lungs desperately suck in a chest full of air that enables him to scream. It’s a scream of pure terror, the kind of scream that a would instill fear in any who heard it. But no one hears it except a flock of birds, suddenly startled, that fly out of a nearby tree and flit away into the darkness. A dead Nathan Matheson now has Will by the hips, clawing, pulling, as Will’s flailing arms grab the shed door in a desperate attempt to pull away. They only pull the shed door shut, sealing both the living and the dead inside.
* * * *
The red lights of an ambulance blink in silence, shining intermittently on wall of Southmoore Hospital and the police car parked beside it. In the back of the emergency room, two officers are questioning a nurse. She tells them of Will Barnaby’s arrival, of his irrational and psychotic state, and how removing his bloody pants revealed that all his male genitalia had been torn from his body. When police try to interview him, his ramblings about zombies and his confessions of necrophilia get him labeled as a self-mutilator. They Baker Act him, and he is ultimately confined to a mental institution.
A new urban legend has grown in Southmoore. The residents say that on a cool, crisp evening shortly after dusk, you can go down to Southmoore Cemetery and see the glowing ghosts of two dead lovers dancing in the moonlight, because love is immortal.