The buzzing dim orange of the streetlight shone on the sidewalk in front of the cemetery at the end of Eastern Street. The spring air whispered, exercising the joints of the cemetery gate. The aged metal creaked and moaned as it swayed gently, spilling out onto the cracked sidewalk at the whim of the wind.
The moon sat high, adding a cold white glow to the night not already coated in orange. A silhouette bounced onto the concrete from the curbside, getting closer and closer to the line drawn in stone, toward the gate. With pure single mindedness, the lone shadow of Malcom Oldman stepped over the crack, pushing past the chirping rust of the gate before disappearing out of the dull light.
Every couple steps, Malcom couldn’t help but peek over his shoulder (which was burdened with a large canvas bag) to see if anyone was under the streetlight, watching him, following him. There wasn’t. There never would be. There wasn’t a single person on the street that night, but Malcom still felt a tickle running up his spine, a feeling that there was somebody right behind him, getting closer and closer, and they knew what he was up to. If his paranoia kept up, it was going to be a long night. It was going to be a long night either way, but Malcom knew that going in. But the reward? Oh, the reward made the horrible act almost forgivable.
“Just one time,” he told himself under his breath. “That’s all.”
Malcom strolled down the aisles of tombstones glowing a stone grey white; each slab a person, some of whom he had helped put in the ground personally.
“Just once,” he reassured himself. He scanned the names, the dates, looking for his lost friend. He stopped in front of the grave marker of one George Gears; the letters still sharp from their shaping and the dirt still soft from that morning’s burial. Malcom had been standing in that same spot twelve hours earlier, paying his respects to his dearly departed friend who he had personally placed in the casket. Someone had set flowers in front of tombstone in the time since.
“Sorry old friend,” Malcom said, dropping his bag to the ground. “For everything.”
With a deep inhale, Malcom opened the bag and looked over his equipment like a surgeon looks over his instruments. The bag contained a shovel, a crowbar, a twenty foot length of rope, a knife, and a bottle of water: because hydration is important, especially in the face of physical labor. He crouched down and pulled each item out of the bag and laid them out next to the gravesite, pulling the shovel out last.
He stood over the grave, tightening his grip on the shovel with both hands. He let the tip of the blade touch the ground, his hands resting at the handles end. He closed his eyes. Exhaling, Malcom stabbed the spade into the recently turned sod with a kick. He didn’t bother to move the flowers.
Six feet to his goal and seven hours till dawn with nothing but time to think. Time to think about all the evils he had committed, might have committed, could have committed, did commit all in the name of self. Every rise and fall of his shovel was a reminder of that plain fact. Malcom tried to think of something else, something other than what he’d done to someone he had once called friend, but his thoughts stayed sharp as his blade cut through the soil.
He moved methodically to conserve strength. Stab, kick, toss, repeat.
Three feet to his goal: five hours till morning.
Malcom focused on the sweat bead forming on his forehead, slipping slowly down his cheek. He focused on the sound of his shovel penetrating the spongy ground with the kick of his shoe, the distant wave of traffic from the freeway, the lonesome choir of crickets playing just for him, anything to keep his mind away from the reality of what he was doing.
“When this is all over,” he huffed under his breath, “we’ll have a good laugh about it.” But he knew that wasn’t going to be true. Needless to say, there are some things you just don’t come back from, death being one of them. Malcom was a firm believer in that fact, but he had manic hope that the damage could be undone in time. He had to have that hope; otherwise his hours of work, his weeks of forethought, would have been for naught.
His back ached with each proceeding movement of his shovel, knowing full well that every bit of dirt he dug out from the grave would have to be replaced by his own hands before day broke over the cemetery gates three hours from then. Each shovelful of soil over his shoulder was followed by a silent prayer to himself that all would go well. After all, there was so much that could go wrong.
Finally, he reached his goal: the lid of George Gears’ coffin. Malcom climbed out of the open grave and looked down at the exposed wood, the still glossy finish beaming under the moonlight. Standing over it, he couldn’t help but think about the body that was hidden behind the oak paneling.
He retrieved his crowbar, taking a drink of water while he was at it. He looked towards the cemetery gate. It sat there as it had when he first arrived, gently creaking in the wind, not a soul to be seen near it, but he still couldn’t shake that feeling that at any moment, the floor would be pulled out from under his feet. Malcom capped the bottle, tossed it next to his bag, and hopped back down into the grave, his feet landing hard on the coffin lid. Malcom’s balance was shaky as he positioned himself over the concealed body. He tightened his grip on the crowbar, steeling himself for what would come next. The hard part.
Malcom pried open the lid and looked at the body he’d put inside no more than forty hours earlier. There he lay—all three hundred-twenty pounds of him— George Gears. Husband, father, friend, millionaire. Same as he ever was.
“You know George,” Malcom said, “You really are one fat fuck.”
Malcom tossed the crowbar out of the grave. It landed softly on the grass next to the rest of the tools. With a focusing breath, he reached into the pocket of his sod coated pants, removing a small pouch.
From the pouch he poured a fine powder into his freshly blistered hand, the grains mixing with his raw tender flesh. He blew the powder into the air in the general direction of his friend at rest, letting the tiny crystals dance and work their way into every pore of George Gears’ face and nose.
Malcom waited with nervous glee.
His glee turned to anxiety.
Turned to fear.
The minutes crawled by.
Just as Mr. Oldman began to think the worst, George Gears opened his eyes.