Children of the grave
The Gang gathered in the shed on Friday early afternoon. Jess, Danny, and Nate were all there and they waited for Andy and Chris. It was still hot outside but the shed offered some relief from the blazing sunlight. They were sitting on the wooden floor but only Jess tried to talk. Nate and Danny were silent which wasn’t usual for them. Even Danny, who was the contemplating kind, spoke much less than on other days.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ asked Jess and looked at Nate, ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘I saw something bad,’ said the boy and kept looking at the floor as if he must be ashamed.
‘Well, why don’t you tell us?’ she asked.
‘I want to tell you after Andy and Chris arrive.’
Jess left him alone but she was curious what he has to say. Danny looked unaffected by what Nate told them. He kept playing with his shoelaces and his stare looked lost again. In his mind, the sexual act between Nate’s father and his secretary kept replaying over and over. The door opened and two remaining gang members entered. Chris jumped straight to Nate, sat beside him and put his hand around his shoulder.
‘Hey, Bible-boy! I’m gonna kick your ass!’ he said trying to imitate Frank.
Nate didn’t even look up, Danny threw a hollow look at them and Jess just raised her hands to show them she doesn’t know why they are acting like this.
‘What’s wrong with you two?’ asked Andy and sat down.
‘Ask him,’ said Danny and pointed to Nate, ‘I’m alright.’
‘I have to tell you something.’
‘Come on,’ Chris shouted unable to control his impatience, ‘let’s hear it!’
‘You will not believe me anyway...’ said Nate.
‘Just spill it!’ said Jess because she wanted to hear the story too and saw that it was hard for him to talk about it.
‘Well, yesterday I went to the church library and as I was reading, Father Jonathan came to me.’
‘That creepy old priest?’ asked Chris and made a disgusted grin.
‘Something’s wrong with that old fucker, I knew it.’ said Jess.
‘Guys,’ said Andy and raised his hand, ‘let him tell his story.’
‘He invited me into his office,’ Nate continued, ‘he said he’ll show me some books.’
‘Pervert.’ said Jess in a disgusted voice.
‘What’s that?’ Nate asked.
‘It’s a...it’s just a weird person.’ replied Chris to help them out.
‘He was weird. The weirdest was the things I found behind his bookshelf.’
‘How could you? Did he just let you?’
‘No, he went out because Father Matt came in. He said the sheriff was there with some questions. So he went out and I got bored. I searched for a book and found the hole behind one.’
‘What did you find? A dead body?’ Chris interrupted again in a half-joking manner.
‘No...pictures of dead bodies.’ Nate said and watched as his friends dropped their jaws, ‘They were in a small hole in the wall behind the bookshelf.’
‘No way,’ said Chris, ‘he collects pictures of dead people?’
‘I guess he...he also kills them.’ replied Nate and his face begun to distort.
‘What? Are you serious?’ asked Andy and he almost forgot to breathe.
‘Do you r-remember Mikey D-Doyle?’ asked Nate and his eyes started to fill with tears, it was now that the others realized it was all real.
‘Yes,’ said Andy, the others just nodded, ‘he was a good kid. But...’
‘I saw h-him on a p-picture,’ Nate began to struggle to speak, ‘he was naked and...and h-his h-h-hands and f-feet were bound and...’
The boy couldn’t finish. He was sobbing. Tears filled his eyes and begun flowing down on his cheeks. Jess went closer to him and, together with Chris, tried to comfort him. They took him in their arms from both sides and told him anything they could just to console him. Even Danny forgot about his thoughts and tried to comprehend the gravity of the situation.
‘Was he truly dead, Nate?’ asked Andy the question he didn’t want to but which had to be asked.
Nate nodded because he couldn’t speak. After many seconds he uttered a few words.
‘Y-yes, I think s-so.’ he said and continued crying.
‘We have to tell the police,' whispered Danny, 'what you have found could explain many disappearances around here.'
‘Good idea, genius,’ replied Chris, ‘who would believe us?’
‘No offense but he’s right,’ said Andy, ‘what proof do we have? Who will believe a ten-year-old kid?’
‘Then we’ll have to take the proof!’ said Jess and looked at Andy.
Silence, nobody said a word. Her eyes were piercing. They knew she was too brave for a girl but now her blazing eyes burned with determination.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Andy trying to hide his reluctance.
‘We have to take the pictures. Are we supposed to let that monster do it again? Who knows who’s next?’
‘She’s right,’ said Chris, ‘what if Father Matt didn’t enter the room? Know what I mean?’
‘Yes, we all know,’ she said, ‘but please don’t continue, he is scared enough.’
Nate was indeed scared. A storm was raging inside his little soul. He was too young to witness such terrible things.
‘I’m in,’ said Danny, ‘I don’t have much to lose anyway and I knew Mikey too. If the old fart finds me I’ll just run away, good luck catching me.’
Faint and sour laughter followed. Seeing Jess’s and Danny’s fearlessness, Andy and Chris accepted to go too.
‘All right then,’ said Andy, how are the four of us going to enter his office?′
‘Five,’ replied Nate and sighed, ‘I’m coming too.’
‘But you don’t have to. We can take care of it. Why would you come after what you’ve seen?’ asked Jess because she was surprised by the young boy’s decision.
‘Because I knew Mikey and because you are my friends. I have to help you.’
‘All right, how do we enter?’ asked Danny and looked at Nate.
‘The window, I guess,’ he said but sounded unsure, ‘it looked awry but I don’t know if it’s locked or not.’
’I can open it with a pocket knife, ’said Danny, ‘I opened my window like that once when it got jammed.’
‘We just have to make sure that Old Jimmy doesn’t catch us.’ replied Andy, he looked thoughtful.
‘He won’t be a problem,’ said Jess, ‘he is usually drunk and sleeping. So we meet at midnight again?’
They all agreed to meet at the corner of Coldhill and Jameson Street. Some discussion followed about the details of the break-in, and possible outcomes. The Gang stayed resolute in their decision. None of them felt that it was a good idea but they knew in their young minds that it has to be done. For little Mikey’s sake and for their own soul’s sake.
Old Jimmy watched with growing concern as the fog was creeping upon Coldhill Cemetery. The bottle of Wild Turkey begun to shake in his hand. Looks like, he thought, there are demons which can’t be drowned, no matter how much booze ya gulpin’ down. The sun was almost gone, the early darkness enveloped everything.
He stood up from the chair which he put in front of his cabin and went inside. Jimmy put down the bottle on the table and took out a flask from the pocket of an old jacket. It contained the same kind of whiskey as the bottle. After putting the flask away, he pulled out a large chest from under the bed. After opening the chest, Jimmy stared for some time at the items within it. The main one was a Winchester repeating rifle which was given to him by his father. The other items were cartridges and tools used for cleaning the gun.
He grabbed the rifle, checked it thoroughly then loaded it. I didn’t use ya for some time, he thought then closed the chest, pushed it back then searched for a flashlight and went out. He felt the need to talk to her again. His wife died in ’57 but he visited her grave ever since. A long walk lay ahead of him because she was buried on the other side of the cemetery, close to the back gate. Not the physical effort was the challenge for him, Jimmy was resilient. Kerrigan and the all too familiar fog dug up bad memories from the soil of his soul. Memories he couldn’t drown.
As he walked through the graveyard, he stopped here and there where the graves of old friends and lovers were. Night fell over the cemetery and the mist got thicker. Summer’s heat was chased away by late autumn’s cold or so it seemed. This was how Jimmy felt that night. He took another gulp from the flask to warm up a little then walked a few more steps until he reached her grave. A small bench waited for him there, it was built by him 26 years ago. The bench was old and worn but it was dear to Jimmy.
‘Hello, my dear,’ he said and sat down, ‘long time no see.’
He put the rifle beside him, took the flask in his hands and stared at her headstone. It read: Elizabeth Slade 1914 - 1957.
‘I’m comin’ for the last time, my love. Keith had a bad feelin’ an’ now I’m havin’ it too.′
He paused and drank from the flask. The mist was whirling around him like a ghost ready to attack, it was past midnight.
‘It’s back, I’m almost sure of it now. Some damn bastard summoned it again,’ he paused and looked at the sky for a few seconds but couldn’t see much, ‘I really hoped that in my lifetime I won’t see it again...or what it digs up from them graves.’
Jimmy looked around but his ailing vision couldn’t get through the milky-white fog. Time was short and he had to go but couldn't. He liked the peaceful nostalgia brought upon him by talking alone beside his wife’s grave.
‘I have to finish this, my love. I have to do sumthin’ before it takes us all and, besides, I don’t want it to come for somebody dear again. Diggin' you up back then was 'nough, ya know.′
Tears filled his dry eyes and he started sobbing. Another drink from the flask calmed him a little so he continued.
’I had to kill you after it dug you up in ’58 but I can’t bear to do it to somebody else whom I loved. I’m sorry for that anyway...we’ll meet tonight in heaven, or it might be hell, who knows...and I’m gonna ask for forgiveness person'ly.’
Jimmy stood up, emptied the flask and put it down on the headstone. With a shaking hand, he picked up the rifle, kissed two of his fingers and then touched the headstone with them.
‘I have to go, my darlin’. The night is long and the dead travel fast.′
Old Jimmy headed towards the crypt of William Hershey and his family. It wasn’t too far from his wife’s grave. The crypt was near the cemetery’s edge which was closest to the Hershey house. After a short walk, he reached the place and stared at it for a minute or so contemplating for a final time if he should enter or not.
The crypt’s iron door had been locked 25 years ago with a chain and a padlock but now they lay on the ground. Jimmy picked the chain up and saw that it was broken from the inside since the padlock was intact. He now knew for sure what happened.
He opened the heavy door and peered into the darkness. It peered back at him. Jimmy switched on the flashlight and went inside. Here ‘gain after twenty-five years,’ he talked to himself and spit on the ground, ‘this shitty place ain’t changed a bit. His flashlight beam jumped from one coffin to another. The coffins were heavy stone ones. Time put its stamp on them, the writing on the oldest ones wasn't visible anymore. Some of them were cracked due to the freezing winters. The light fell on a huge stone cross on the back wall. Crosses ain’t helpin’ here, he talked again to himself, all the popes, bishops and churches aren’t enough now...God help us all!
Jimmy went straight to William Hershey’s coffin which was right in front of the stone cross. It was covered by a thick stone slab which couldn’t be moved by only one man. He remembered that in the crypt’s far left corner there has to be a crowbar. It was left there by him in ’58. Jimmy shone his light toward the corner but almost couldn’t see it. The crowbar has got covered by rust and cobwebs over the years. He picked it up, went back to the coffin and slid it under the lid and pushed. Having enough leverage, the lid slid back without much effort. Jimmy peered inside, the coffin was empty but it didn’t surprise him at all. Instead of a body, he saw only an iron lever. When Jimmy pulled it, the lever made a rusty, metallic sound. Then, coming from somewhere to his right, he heard another metallic sound. Jimmy used the crowbar again but this time on a piece of stone which was covering the crypt’s floor.
Jimmy removed the piece of stone which was about two-by-two feet and looked inside the hole that was beneath it. A wooden ladder was leading down to its bottom which was about ten feet beneath him. With shaking legs, Jimmy descended all the way down to the bottom. It was rectangular, padded with stone all around and had an opening on one of its sides. The opening was leading to a corridor which was going in the direction of the Hershey house. Jimmy followed it until he reached a big iron door. After opening it, he entered the great underground hall with the altar and the pit in the middle.
Jimmy took careful steps toward the altar. The Winchester was in his right hand, ready to be used. He reached the altar and looked at the symbols. There, on the left one, he could still see the dried blood. You damned fool, he thought, whoever you are, you’re just a damn fool. With trembling fingers, he touched the bloody symbol and felt that the blood was still somewhat fresh. Jimmy put down the rifle on the altar searched his trousers for the pocket knife he was always carrying. I have to do this, Jimmy talked to himself again, I ain’t gonna live much anyways.
But before he could do anything, Jimmy heard rustling from the pit. He dropped the knife and grabbed the gun but his hands were shaking badly. Something was crawling up the pit's walls. Jimmy could hear the sounds coming ever closer. He took a few steps back but with his gun pointed toward the pit. When the sound almost reached the edge of the pit, his bravery faded away and he ran behind one of the stone pillars.
The thing that was coming up from the depths has reached the top. Jimmy stood motionless with his back to the cold stone and the rifle in his hands. He heard heavy footsteps, the thing moved away from the pit. At first, he thought that it comes after him but it moved towards the iron door. After it left, Jimmy hurried to the oak door on the other end. The door was open but when he moved up the stone steps, it closed with a bang. Jimmy turned and knew in an instant what was waiting for him. The black creature with the yellow eyes stood in front of him.
The old man dropped the flashlight and started firing. White smoke came out of the bullet holes. He hit it three times but it didn’t matter. In the darkness, only the pair of yellow eyes were visible. Jimmy looked into them. In that very instant, he knew that he made a mistake. The rifle fell out of his hands and he fainted. He fell onto the floor hitting his head on the stone.
The creature turned back and went on his way towards the iron door and then out into the cemetery.
The Gang assembled at midnight, as they have planned. Visibility was low, the mist enveloped everything. They reached the cemetery a short time after but decided to enter using the back gate. The kids went around the outer fence, they had to walk close to it in order to not lose their bearings. After reaching the gate, it was easy to climb inside.
As they were heading to the church entrance, Danny raised his head and listened. The stillness of the night carried a tired voice to their ears.
'What's wrong?' asked Nate in a shaking voice.
'Listen,' Danny whispered, 'somebody is talking.
'It's Old Jim,' said Jess, 'his wife is buried somewhere around here. He comes to talk to her when he drinks too much.'
'What happened to her?' asked Nate.
'She died, you moron,' said Chris sarcastically, 'buried people are usually dead.'
'Shut up and let's go.' Jess urged him.
They walked on the stone-paved path for some time and reached the iron door which opened into the church annex. It was locked, just as they expected it to be. The kids went around the building until they reached the window of the office. No light was visible in the priest's room nor the office so they assumed that he was sleeping. The office window was at a considerable height so none of them was able to reach it.
Andy stepped below the window and folded his hands in front of him. Danny put one leg in Andy's hands then pushed himself upward in order to reach the window. Danny stood there for a minute or so in order to make sure that nobody was inside. Then, using his knife and with a lockpicker's ease, he opened the window.
One by one they climbed inside. Andy was the last, as usual. The kids brought flashlights but they chose not to use them. Even with the thick fog surrounding everything, it might have been seen by somebody.
'Yuck, smells like someone shat himself in here.' said Chris and put one hand to his mouth.
'Yeah,' replied Andy, 'smells like somebody is afraid of water.'
'Forget it,' said Jess, 'the old perv will have plenty of time to take group showers in prison. Nate, where are the pictures?'
'There,' he pointed toward the lowest shelf. Jess kneeled before the bookshelf and begun taking the books out. When enough space had cleared up, she reached inside. The hole was there just as Nate told them. She took the brick out and then the stack of papers.
'Let me look,' said Chris, 'come on, show me!'
'I'm not showing you anything. We have to take these to the police as quickly as possible.'
'And what you'll say when they will ask how we've got them?'
'I will say the truth,' Jess replied, her voice radiated with confidence, 'something like this shouldn't ever happen to anyb...'
She couldn't finish because the back door's hinges uttered a long metallic cry. Their courage disappeared in an instant. None of them moved because none of them really knew what to do. The kids looked at each other for a solution but none of them took the initiative. Heavy but slow steps followed but not for long. The Gang talked in whispers after that.
'W-What was t-that?' asked Nate.
'I don't know,' replied Andy, 'maybe it was the priest.'
'Yeah,' continued Chris, 'he had to take a piss...you know, prostate issues.'
'Say one more joke and I will slap you.' said Jess and raised one hand toward Chris.
'What the hell are you afraid of anyway,' asked Chris, 'he's just an old fart who can barely walk. We are five, he is alone.'
'He's right,' replied Danny, 'why are we afraid after all?'
Jess bent on her knees and searched the hole again. She found a few more scraps of paper, she took those too. After the hole was cleared, they put the books back. They were hurrying because they wanted to get out as quickly as possible but all their dreams of getting out and talking to the police vanished.
A key was inserted into the door and it was turned two times. Again, their courage faded away and they just stared at the priest who entered the room. It was Jonathan, he switched on the light and they could all see the revolver in his hand. Andy moved in front of Jess in a protective manner. He didn't think, it was instinctive. The others just stood there wide-eyed and with their jaws dropped. Jess was the least scared of them all. An evil smile appeared on the priest's wrinkled face.
'Suffer the little children, come onto me...what do we have here?' he said and measured them.
'Please don't hurt us!' said Nate who was scared out of his wits.
'I see you have found my prized possessions. Hmm...should have put them away to a more secret place. Damn vices...'
'We know what you have done, you pervert.' shouted Jess and came out from behind Andy.
'So what, you foul-mouthed slut? You will feed the soil of my basement like many others. Now move!
He gestured with the revolver towards the corridor. Jess was shocked by the name the priest called her. The children obeyed, they understood that soon they will be dead unless they do something about it.
'Give me the pictures, you little whore! said the priest and took them away from Jess.
She threw a piercing look toward him but couldn't do more. Jonathan put the pictures and clippings in his pocket. Danny planned on running away but Jonathan was behind them. He didn't calculate the possibility of the priest having a gun. They were being led towards the corridor's end where the door stood but it was closed. Jonathan might have closed it after he came inside, they thought, but what did he do outside at such a late hour?
'Don't even try the door,' he said, 'I closed it. Down into the basement, quickly now!'
The children obeyed and they descended the stairs. Jonathan switched on the lights after reaching the bottom of the staircase. The basement wasn't too big and its walls have been padded with red bricks all around. It was packed with all kinds of pretty much useless stuff. Opposite the end of the staircase, they saw an old wooden door with a big cross on it.
'God is indeed good,' said Jonathan, 'praise the Lord for the bounties He's providing. Four young boys and a juicy little girl in one night. What a catch!'
The end drew near, they all felt it. Nate began to cry and plead for his life but the priest just gestured towards the door. When they reached it, Jonathan opened it but kept his eyes on them. He waited in the doorway until all of them entered. It was now that a foul smell hit their nose. As they looked back on the priest they saw that he was surprised too.
He took a flashlight out of his pocket and switched it on. The kids realized that they were lead into a crypt. Several graves with stone lids lay in an ordered fashion to their left and right. The ground was covered with two-by-two feet stone slabs which were as old as the church.
Jonathan bolted the door from the inside and went to look around, he seemed bothered by the smell. He paced toward the middle of the crypt shining his light on the graves. The Gang stayed together and hoped that some divine intervention would save them.
What happened next wasn't at all divine, it was hellish in every aspect. As the priest kept looking around, Nate looked into the far right corner of the crypt. A tall black shape with yellow eyes emerged and looked straight at him. Their stares met and the boy began shaking. A few seconds later he fainted. It was now that the other kids took notice. At first, they crouched over Nate to see what's wrong with him but then they raised their heads and saw the shape. It was looking at the priest who stood with his back to it. They started screaming like never before in their lives. Andy grabbed Nate and lifted him up. One by one they ran to the door.
Danny tried to unlock the door but it wouldn't budge. The lock was old and rusty. When the kids began screaming, Jonathan turned and saw the black horror with yellow eyes. Beside the figure, there was a mound of earth, four stone slabs which have been removed from their initial positions, and a black spot which looked like a hole.
The priest was shaking, he couldn't utter a single word. From the hole, a small hand reached out. Jonathan screamed.
'No! It cannot be!' he screamed and fell to his knees.
Soon a head appeared. It was that of a child, a dead child. The Gang watched in horror the unfolding nightmarish events. They were frightened to death, panicked even but they couldn't get out. Fright froze their muscles and weakened their will.
'No! Please God, no!' pleaded Jonathan in a shaking voice.
The dead child emerged from the grave. The priest began shooting. He aimed towards the dead child, then towards the figure. It didn't make much difference. His hands were shaking and even if he hit any of them, they didn't seem to bother. Jonathan dropped the gun and bolted toward the door. The kids ran out of the way and cowered in the near left corner. Andy was still holding Nate in his arms. Danny switched on his light and pointed it in the hole's direction.
'Mikey,' Andy whispered, 'I recognize him, it's Mikey Doyle.'
'What the hell is happening here?' asked Danny.
The priest tried the door but couldn't open it. He started beating on it like a madman.
'Let me out! Let me out! Please God, let me oouuut!'
Two more children emerged from the hole. All three of them started moving towards Jonathan. They were small and were shuffling with patience like they knew that Jonathan can't escape. The kids were horrified at the dead children's sight. Their skin, or what remained of it, was of dark brownish-green color. In some places their bones were visible, their lips, eyes, and nose had rotted away a long time ago.
They reached Jonathan. He was beating the door so hard, his fists were bleeding. One of the dead children grabbed one of his feet and bit through his Achilles tendon, the priest screamed in pain and fell on one knee. Another one bit through his other leg, he screamed again and fell on his back. Some of the pictures and clippings fell out of his pocket. The dead ones grabbed him by his hands and dragged him into the hole.
There they dealt him the punishment he deserved. Little Mikey's corpse ripped the priest's shirt and dug his hand into his belly, going through skin, flesh, and guts. Jonathan screamed and pleaded and cursed, then pleaded again. Mikey tore Jonathan's pants open and ripped his private parts off, then the dead ones began biting and tearing at him until he died. The Gang didn't see this, Danny pointed the flashlight away and all of them covered their ears.
After the priest died, the black figure started shoveling. In a short time, everything looked as it looked before. Almost every sign of what happened had been erased as if by the hands of a magician. The ground, where the hole had been, returned to its initial state. Nobody could have been able to tell that the soil had been dug up just minutes before. The blood, however, which was splattered on the walls and on the ground a few feet from the hole remained there.
What had fallen out of the priest's pocket also remained scattered on the ground. The black figure walked towards the door. Danny shut off the light and they stood in the corner without moving or breathing until it left. After some minutes have passed, they gathered their courage and left. On their way out, Nate woke up.