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The Evansville Chronicles - The Beginning

By JeryLyn Harrington All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Thriller

Blurb

A reporter is caught in the political intrigue of the present when he starts his own investigation into two deaths that occur at the local cemetery. The police chief, to protect the city, has kept the official investigation quiet. With the discovery of a large underground temple complex and the intrusion of the State District Supervisor for Historical Research, both the police chief and the reporter become trapped in a mystery from the past.

Chapter 1

The British accent filled the words as Dr. Armstrong listened to the last part of a taped story. “I can still hear the bloody digging and the high-pitched screaming. I knew they would dig through.” Dr. Armstrong pushed the stop button on the tape recorder. He tapped his finger on the recorder’s plastic top as he ran his tongue across his dry lips. He shifted his lean, six foot two inch frame in the chair. His clinical mind played with the question what this patent, Josh Edwards, had encountered at the cemetery that could have caused such trauma in a person. The answer he found on the tape made the goose bumps form and begin their tingling trail up his arms to his neck and then up the back of his neck to his head making the hair stand up.

Dr. Armstrong shook the unpleasant and unneeded thoughts from his mind with a quick shake of his head. He frowned as his thoughts took another turn and he wondered about Josh’s needs and what he had to do that would be in Josh’s best interest. Dr. Armstrong already knew the answer to the question, and the answer played through his mind; Josh needed to talk to the person he blamed for his trauma and have his questions answered by him. He leaned back in his chair looking at the scene outside the window. He knew Josh had to confront the chief-of-police with the information he had given in his statement the night he had been admitted into the hospital’s psychiatric ward. Josh’s confrontation with the chief would give him answers and the answers wouldn’t only benefit Josh’s needs, but those answers would give him help to replace his misplaced delusion with much-needed facts.

Dr. Armstrong ran his fingers across his tired brown eyes and lost himself in the darkness behind them. He took a deep breath knowing this encounter between the two men was needed and could be to each other’s benefit. Josh and the chief could explore a two-sided problem and each troubling side could be filled in by the other’s answers.

Dr. Armstrong looked down at the tape recorder and, as his finger rested on the keys across the bottom; he pushed the forward key down. He stopped the tape and listened to the last part of the story and, just behind the story’s ending, he pushed the record button and said into the microphone, “Be sure this entry is marked confidential and for my eyes only.” He released the record button on the microphone and hit the rewind key going back on the tape. He stopped the tape as best as he could in the middle of the story and listened to the story he had heard, several times.

Josh’s anxious, adjudicated voice filled the room with the British undertones of someone who hadn’t been in the United States for more than a few years. ’The way the empty graves were discovered is very interesting. One of the newer grave sites collapsed in on itself. The mortuary director told me that when they dug the coffin out of the grave, the coffin collapsed inward on itself and a tunnel was discovered underneath. And, to think, that was only two weeks ago.

When they cleared the tunnel at the first grave site, they discovered even more tunnels leading off to some of the older graves and just a week back it was discovered that all the newer sections of the cemetery with all their grave sites, also, had tunnels. What I found to be even more interesting was that these newer grave sites, like the older ones, didn’t have their occupants either.

When I talked to the mortuary director, he swore me to secrecy concerning this next little piece of injustice. This part of the story, was by choice, the police chief’s choice to not make public, but the local grounds keeper found out what was taking the bodies. I hate he isn’t able to tell his side of the story. He’s dead.

Just before the grounds keeper’s so-called burial, the mortuary director let me see what was left of the body. I cringe with my recollections and the mind numbing memories of his body with all its horrible wounds, but what I discovered later was that they were similar to the ones on a local receptionist’s body.

Our local police chief allowed the mortuary director to bury the grounds keeper’s remains without the benefits of a funeral and, when I asked the mortuary director why, he told me that the police chief wanted to keep it secret until the investigation into the death ended. Someone should thank the local police chief for his thoughtful approach. He didn’t want to frighten the local gentry with two deaths instead of one.′

Dr. Armstrong pushed the stop button on the recorder. He leaned back in his chair and sat in pensive thought, for a few minutes, going, over and over, this part of Josh’s story concerning the chief and his part in the story. He rubbed at his tired eyes, again. What he needed and Josh, was to hear the chief’s own explanation of the events of what had happened at the cemetery.

Dr. Armstrong had no doubts and was convinced that Josh needed this confrontation to restore his mental health and attitude towards authority. And what he, himself, needed was to see the reaction that would take place between Chief Hapwell and Josh. Besides, after two days of listening and hearing Josh tell his own side of the story, he was convinced that Josh was not disturbed or hallucinating.

If the confrontation was to happen, he had to see that their confrontation happened and happened before five that afternoon because Josh was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital. He tapped the recorder with his finger and, taking a deep breath, he reached over for the telephone. When the receptionist answered, he asked her to call the police chief.

Most of Josh’s injuries were physical and the hospital staff treated those wounds and he was healing. As his hand fell to rest on his leg, he smiled knowing Josh’s injured leg would be with him for several months, but it would heal and heal. His smile turned to a frown as he recalled that the policeman who found Josh hadn’t related how Josh received the leg injury. It wasn’t included on the hospital admittance report, he had checked.

Dr. Armstrong’s mind played with the answer that wasn’t included in the hospital’s admittance report. He frowned realizing he already had the answer, and that answer came from Josh’s story. He took a deep breath knowing Josh’s answer was a frightening one. He glanced out the window and his eyes narrowed on the small bird landing in the large tree down below.

This meeting between the chief and Josh was vital as far as he was concerned. Josh gave his answer on his taped interview and that answer left him with an unpleasant and, as yet, unexplained feelings. His feelings were ones he would have to deal with and maybe hearing the chief’s explanation would take away some of his own unpleasantness. He turned from the view outside the window. This confrontation wasn’t for him or to help him answer questions although he wanted the answers; it should help both the police chief and Josh.

Dr. Armstrong flexed his shoulders to relieve the tenseness behind the shoulder blades and his thoughts returned to the injuries on the night of Josh’s admittance to the ER. His knew the hospital’s staff could do their jobs, not only, with Josh’s physical injuries, but the psychiatric ward personnel could deal with Josh daily on an emotional level. He would do his absolute best to relieve Josh’s mental trauma and put him on the road to mental recovery.

He sat upright in his chair and flexed his shoulders as the tension ran across his shoulders and across his upper back with his next unpleasant thoughts. Josh had a terrible experience in those tunnels under the graves and what this bad experience was, Josh had related in his story. Josh’s answer made him feel his uneasiness the first time he heard it and it did the same, now. But, as before, he shook the unpleasant thoughts aside with a quick shake of his head.

He took in a deep breath and released the thoughts as he blew the breath back out. He turned back to the window and his eyes narrowed on the outside scene below. He realized that Josh’s answer was a one-sided one and, with the anger eating away at Josh from the inside, it would remain that way.

If, and it was a big if, he could arrange a meeting between the two men, perhaps the police chief’s story...the if stopped his thought, but he wouldn’t let if go, and took it to its end. The chief’s answer would be the missing part and, that answer from the chief, could complete the other part of Josh’s own story.

Dr. Armstrong took deep breath thinking about the arrangements for the meeting between the police chief and Josh. The meeting... He hesitated and looked inward knowing the meeting would have to take place today. By law, he could no longer keep Josh at the hospital. His forty-eight hour observation period ended in the afternoon and he had to be released by no later than five o’clock in the evening. Josh would demand it.

Dr. Armstrong’s thoughts ended when he was interrupted by the telephone’s ring. He turned his chair from the window and his thoughts he put aside as he picked up the phone. He smiled as the reception informed him that Chief Hapwell was on the line waiting to talk with him.

“Hello Chief, how are you today?” Dr. Armstrong anticipated the conversation as he shifted his weight to the back of the chair and rested his shoulders against the cushions trying, once more, to relax the tenseness running across his shoulders and down his back.

“Hello, Doctor, I’m just fine,” responded Chief Hapwell in a deep, pleasant, but guarded voice. “How may I help you?”

The question came from Police Chief Arnold Hapwell. He was a large, burly man in his early fifties with his height just under six feet. His excessive weight, around his mid-section, was carried well for his age. His steel gray eyes often questioned people and the things going on around those people. And, for the last nine and one-half years, his sole job had been as the police chief of Evansville.

“Chief, I have a patient...” Dr. Armstrong paused and gathered his thoughts before he continued. “You remember that reporter, Josh Edwards, who was found by one of your deputy, two days ago, and admitted to the hospital for observation?”

Again, Dr. Armstrong paused as he took a quick breath before he continued. “I would like to speak to you about him.” When he finished, he hesitated before continuing as he listened to Chief Hapwell’s steady breathing coming through the phone.

Dr. Armstrong wanted this meeting between the police chief and Josh and he anticipated it. He, also, realized just how selfish he was in his request. He wanted to hear the chief’s story to complete Josh’s one-sided story on the tape. “Could you come by the hospital in the afternoon? I would like to have Josh relate his story to you concerning his incident.”

Dr. Armstrong paused just long enough to take in a small breath. He wanted this confrontation between the two men and he hoped that his request didn’t have an over eagerness to it. The tension running across his shoulders and down to the small of his back increased. He wanted the meeting so he could relieve some of his own fears and he continued. “It’s an incredible story. One, I think, you should hear from the man himself.” Dr. Armstrong finishing statement was issued as a challenge more than as fact.

Chief Hapwell was sitting back in his chair listening to the doctor’s request and could guess at what the reporter’s story had been with the truth or partial truth it would contain. Even though it wasn’t a part of his character to be rash or to be impatient, his decision was immediate. He realized that it would be best to keep the incidents at the cemetery under his control, if possible, until the problems and the two deaths there could be solved.

“Yes, I can come to the hospital to talk with you; when would it be convenient, doctor?” Chief Hapwell’s voice still carried the deep, pleasant, but guarded undertones.

Dr. Armstrong was pleased that the chief consented to his request. The smile appeared on his face as he said, “This afternoon, if possible. Let’s say 3:00 or 3:30?” He felt a slight accomplishment with the chief’s acceptance and left the time for the meeting to the chief.

“That’ll be fine. I’ll see you this afternoon between 3:00 and 3:30, Doctor,” informed Chief Hapwell. He sat back in his chair as he hung the phone up, and, as his shoulders sunk back into the comfort of his old chair; he wondered just what the reporter had told the doctor.

Dr. Armstrong sat back pleased with the results of the conversation. His anticipation subsided as his thoughts took a more rational course. If the information in Josh’s story was only partially true, then Chief Hapwell had hidden vital and important information.

The chief’s side of this story would be the completing side that would make his efforts with Josh worth his time. Even though, it would be a tension filled meeting between the two, it would be a stress-relieving confrontation not only for him, but, also, for Josh. If the meeting did nothing else, he could only hope that the information coming out of the meeting would help Josh better answer his questions and relieve some of his mental trauma towards authority.

His eyebrows rose in anticipation as he thought about the prior conversation with its future pending results. Even though the meeting was supposed to help Josh, he felt his own needs to find answers and, when the chief gave his side of the story, he would be there alongside Josh to hear the story. He didn’t feel he was doing anything wrong and, with all the effort he had put into making this meeting happen, he could satisfy his own needs to find his answers. He glanced down at his wristwatch and frowned. It would be a long wait until the scheduled meeting. As he stood to walk out of the room, he wondered how Josh would react when he told him he made arrangements for the chief to talk with him.

Chief Hapwell climbed the stairs between the first and second floors to the psychiatric ward of the hospital with mixed feelings. When he reached the double glass doors, he stopped and looked inside through the large glass panes. He found Dr. Armstrong sitting, with who he knew to be the reporter, having a conversation in the visitor’s area. He took a deep breath knowing they were awaiting his arrival. He pushed through the doors and entered the ward walking towards the two men. True to his own questioning nature as a policeman, he wondered about the conversation between them.

Chief Hapwell stopped in front of the two men. “Good afternoon, Dr. Armstrong, Mr. Edwards,” he said. He glanced from one to the other as he tried to judge their attitudes from their facial expressions.

“Good Afternoon, Chief Hapwell,” replied Dr. Armstrong He acknowledged the chief as he glanced up from his conversation with Josh, but, frowned when he glanced back over at Josh as Josh glanced up and, just as nodded his head before he lowered it and stared down at the floor.

Chief Hapwell sat down in the seat across from them and when he glanced over at Josh, he frowned at the angry and unresponsive expression he could see on Josh’s down turned face. His police training and his many years on the job told him that Josh’s hard, penetrating eyes when he looked up at him and then glanced back down at the floor left no doubts that the reporter had no real appreciation of civil authority or what it represented in the real world. As Josh looked up at him, again, he knew the reporter was judging him and judging him in a critical manner.

The chief’s frown disappeared as he looked over at Josh as he, again, lowered his head. What had the reporter seen at the cemetery and related to the doctor? He took a deep breath and released it without either the doctor or the reporter noticing, he hoped. He was here for only one reason and that was to find out what the reporter had seen and had related.

Josh glanced back up at Chief Hapwell when he heard the release of the chief’s breath. His questions came out one on top of another with barely enough time between them for a breath. The speed and demand behind the questions left no doubts they were in need of answers. “Can you tell me why no one was informed about the cemetery or the deaths there?” How the bloody hell did I get out of that hole? And who the bloody hell found me?” Josh’s anger was apparent as it narrowed his eyes in frustration and caused the muscles to flex and tense along his jaw line.

Chief Hapwell listened to Josh’s angry questions with a calm outer composure and then looked from Josh over to Dr. Armstrong. Josh’s angry questions and their accusing tone was one thing, but the doctor’s understanding was another.

Chief Hapwell continued to look at Dr. Armstrong as he took in a deep breath through his nose and released it. He studied the doctor, for several seconds, and, although the doctor’s eyes remained calm, they had narrowed on him waiting for his answer. With another complacent, but resolved breath, he realized the doctor would have his own set of questions and, they would be asked later. He would try to answer both the doctor and Josh’s questions at the same time and his answers wouldn’t compromise his investigation.

Chief Hapwell glanced back over at Josh as a smile formed on his lips. He could, now, tell the reporter just what he had been feeling for days concerning his behavior at the cemetery. His smile almost turned to a smirk when he said, “First things first,” He took another deep, steadying breath, and then continued. “Mr. Edwards should have cleared whatever he would do at the cemetery with my department before he started any investigation on his own.” Chief Hapwell’s response came on a well-modulated voice, but his words carried a hardness he felt about outside interferences in police department affairs. He had felt his own anger for days and the reporter’s attitude wasn’t helping to ease any of those angry feelings.

Chief Hapwell’s next comment came with a censure. “That would have been the proper procedure. Doing it his own way could have cost him his life.” Chief Hapwell’s steel-gray eyes were hard and uncompromising as he stared back into Josh’s angry, frustrated, hazel ones.

Josh sat in a rigid, upright position staring back at Chief Hapwell as he listened to the chief’s criticism of his behavior and felt trapped in a hopeless and repressed helplessness. He knew he had been close to death, but he was a reporter and that choice of a career on his part had its own set of priorities. He swallowed hard staring, even harder, back at Chief Hapwell’s uncompromising look. If the police department had released a story, any story, he would have gone through proper channels. Josh’s anger intensified as the chief continued.

“The receptionist and the grounds keeper’s deaths were unfortunate and unnecessary, but they happened.” Chief Hapwell glanced away from the doctor over to Josh and saw the lack of understanding mirrored in his eyes and when he glanced back over to the doctor, he saw the same lack of understanding mirrored there.

He thought for a moment as he gathered his next words trying to fill in as many of the gaps about the two deaths as he could before he continued. “The two deaths and their causes are under investigation. The information wasn’t released because we weren’t sure what happened at the cemetery and the graves. Our investigation is on-going and it was better to keep what we knew to ourselves without making the people here in Evansville think a cult had invaded our city.”

Chief Hapwell stopped after his last statement more than pleased with the results as he looked over at Dr. Armstrong. It seemed, that the doctor was in agreement. Dr. Armstrong’s head moved in an up and down motion in agreement, and, he knew the doctor appreciated his efforts and his concern for Evansville.

Chief Hapwell frowned when he glanced back over at Josh. Again, his police training and the many years of experience in police work told him that the reporter’s shut-off expression, body language and anger were keeping him locked away from grasping any understanding accept the his own needs for a story and that would keep him locked away from any understanding other than his own. He knew the reporter wasn’t and wouldn’t even try to understand his concerns or the need to keep things out of the public eye during an investigation.

Chief Hapwell shook his head as Josh turned his head away from him when he continued his explanation concentrating all his efforts on Dr. Armstrong. “The two deaths are the only ones. The receptionist was at the cemetery checking on a headstone the mortuary ordered for a grave site. From our investigation, she agreed with the mortuary director to drive to the cemetery just before she quit work to check with the grounds keeper and let him know a headstone was due to arrive. The only thing we know for sure is that she left the mortuary around four o’clock to check with the grounds keeper.”

Even though, Chief Hapwell had read, many times, over all the evidence in the receptionist’s death he still felt the uneasy that this death caused him. It was an unnecessary death when someone so young died, cut off in the prime of life. When he looked up from his own troubled thoughts, he took quick notice when both men, especially the reporter, tilted their heads as if waiting for more of his explanation.

Apparently, she noticed that the grave next to the one she agreed to be at, had collapsed in on itself. This is pure speculation that has was included in the investigation, but, again, and I say apparently, she walked over to check it.” Chief Hapwell didn’t look at either man as he continued to explain the receptionist’s death. His thoughts turned inward, and, he seemed, to talk to himself. “That was when the rats, if you can call the monsters, rats, tried to kill and eat her.”

Chief Hapwell glanced up and looked across at Josh and then over at Dr. Armstrong before he glanced back over at Josh. He could see the results of his explanation in each man’s face as he used the words ‘rat and tried to eat her’. He hadn’t used the word ‘rat’ to anyone except with his deputies and the actual people who were involved in the investigation. He was giving out privileged information, but it would be better if he could get the reporter over to his side. If he knew his training and people skills, the reporter wasn’t on his side and, from what he could see, the reporter wasn’t planning on being on his side.

Chief Hapwell took a breath and, with a policeman’s instincts, he knew neither the doctor nor the reporter would settle for or be satisfied by anything less than the truth. As he glanced from one to the other and saw the need to find out that truth, he made a quick decision.

He couldn’t see any reason not to tell them what he already knew from the past three week’s investigation. The story would have to be released with all the information and details concerning the two deaths and what took place at the cemetery. He swallowed hard when he realized that all the information from the investigation would have to be released to the city council and that had to be soon.

Again, Chief Hapwell swallowed hard as his thoughts turned inward. The ordeal at the cemetery with the rats had ended. The crew, he had hired for the city, was working, day and night, destroying tunnels and killing the rat creatures whenever they came into contact with them either in the cemetery’s newest part, and, more so, in the cemetery’s oldest part.

Chief Hapwell took a deep, calming breath glancing up and looked from Dr Armstrong over to Josh before he continued with his explanation. “The receptionist tried to run...” The chief’s voice trailed off with the unpleasant, but well remembered and collaborated thoughts about the receptionist and the scene he encountered at the cemetery.

He took another small, calming breath before continuing. “Apparently, the grounds keeper was on his way to keep his appointment with her. I can only use the word, apparently, because no one knows, but, it seemed, when he heard her screams, he went to see what happened. That was when the creatures got him...” Again, Chief Hapwell’s words trailed off as he stared down at the floor and his thoughts turned inward. He could still see the area at the grave site and the bloody mess around what was left of the grounds keeper’s body.

Chief Hapwell’s remembered thoughts about the grounds keeper and the secretary placed him in that strange and troubling place where he had never been until the deaths happened at the cemetery and his encounter with the rat creatures. He took another deep breath and released it before he continued to explain without glancing up. “The receptionist made it back to her car and, I guess, the creatures saw an easier target. That was when the creatures went after the grounds keeper. The only thing we know for certain is that the mortuary director found her in her car later that afternoon when she failed to return to work.”

Chief Hapwell shook the unpleasant thoughts away and turned his full attention back to Josh. His eyes narrowed with purpose and filled with the censure he felt towards the reporter. When he spoke, the censure edged his words as he stared hard over at Josh and continued. “The assigned police officer at the cemetery found you lying in the grass just outside by the grounds keeper’s old house. He was making his rounds when he heard you yelling for help.” Chief Hapwell’s eyes narrowed even farther with his censure after his statements and, even though his words were spoken in a low voice, they were spoken with intent. “There were two of those rat creatures coming up through the hole. Even though you injured your leg, you still climbed up out of the hole and, it seems, you tried to make it to the house on your own.” He paused just long enough after his final censured remark so that his point wouldn’t be missed with his next statement. “If the police officer hadn’t been there, you wouldn’t be having this conversation with me, now.”

Chief Hapwell sat back in his chair and stared over at Josh. As he tried to read Josh’s facial expressions, he surmised that his words hit the bulls eye with the reporter and left no doubts concerning what could have happened to him if the police officer wasn’t making his rounds. But, even though it seemed the reporter understood the danger he had been involved in, his scolding words fail on deaf ears. He wanted to say a lot more concerning the reporter’s behavior, but thought it was best if the words went unspoken.

Every feature on Josh’s face carried the anger he was feeling as he listened to the chief. His anger was controlled, but just barely so. The anger danced through his eyes and across his face as the muscles flexed and tensed along his jaw line. His hands were clinched into fists as they lay across the tops on his legs and he flexed his right hand wishing he could punch the police chief and punch him hard.

As Josh stared across at the calm, but narrow-eyed features on Chief Hapwell’s face, he wondered why Chief Hapwell had kept the story secret and for so long? Little did Chief Hapwell realize, much less know, that he wasn’t through with his own investigation, just yet, and someone’s job would be in serious jeopardy for this little piece of injustice. He sat and dropped his eyes to the floor and remained quiet as question after question went through his mind. He would find his own answers to his own questions. There was one certainty, and that was that he considered Chief Hapwell to be a serious threat to the Evansville community for his handling of the incidents at the cemetery.

Dr. Armstrong looked at Chief Hapwell as he stared across at Josh’s bent head. He was, now, aware that Josh’s story contained some truth, but only from his point of view. What Josh experienced down in the tunnels was real and his own thoughts combined with the chief’s explanation still made him feel uneasy, but, if the chief was certain the problem could be, and was almost solved, he would leave the matter in the chief’s hands. “Josh, why don’t you tell Chief Hapwell your story,” coached Dr Armstrong. The doctor used all his persuasion with his next question. “See what he thinks?” He wanted the chief to hear Josh’s story and comment and fill-in the missing pieces left out from both stories.

Josh glanced up and looked hard at Chief Hapwell as a disgusted smile crossed his face. “You’ve already told us about the receptionist and the grounds keeper’s deaths. Let me tell you what happened the night of the grounds keeper’s burial.” Before Josh continued, he took a deep, breath and stared even harder back over at Chief Hapwell then started the story he remembered, so well. “I was at the mortuary that night when they lowered that small wooden box that the mortuary director furnished for the occasion into the ground. The box was just dropped down into the hole with no ceremony and then the dirt was pushed in over it.

I made plans to go back later that night to dig up the grave and see if the wooden box would still be there. I’m not sure, but, I think, it was just after ten when I returned to the cemetery. I dug the dirt out of the hole and I expected nothing to be out of the ordinary.”

Josh paused and his eyes dropped to the floor. He swallowed hard before he looked back up at the doctor and then across over at the chief. Thought after troubling thought rushed forward, and he swallowed hard before he spoke, but with a soft voice.

“I dug down to the wooden box, and, after I removed the lid, I froze with dread and found what I didn’t expect to find. The remains of the grounds keeper were gone along with the bottom of the box. And true to the mortuary director’s story he told me about the graves, there was a tunnel under the box and, whatever dug the tunnels, also, dug up to the grave and through the bottom of the box.

I used my flashlight to examine the grave’s interior and discovered there was a six or seven-foot drop to the bottom. I didn’t want to climb down under the box so I returned to the grounds keeper’s house to get a ladder before I went down into the hole. I lowered the ladder down through the bottom of the wooden box and made sure there was enough of the ladder left outside the hole so I could get out of there if I needed to in a hurry. When I reached the bottom, the tunnel leading off to the side hadn’t been large enough for me to stand upright and I had to bend over at the waist so I could move forward down the tunnel.”

Josh paused and looked passed the chief sitting across from him and put his full concentration on the large window at the end of the room. He found the light coming through the window to be inviting with its golden glow as he remembered the darkness, the total darkness that lay down in the tunnel. He, again, swallowed hard as his thoughts intensified the darkness into a remembered terror-inducing fear as it spread through his mind. He glanced away from the window back to Chief Hapwell and noted the chief’s attentive attitude as he listened to his story.

Josh’s fear vanished as his eyes narrowed in an angry pleasure before he continued, “I remembered what the mortuary director told me about the tunnels collapsing at several of the other grave sites. This put some very troubling thoughts in the back of my mind. I made my way down the tunnel making sure not to hit or bump the sides.

I had moved down the tunnel, I think, about half-way when the smell of the fresh dug earth became over-powering and I had to put my handkerchief over my nose and mouth to breathe. I was sure as I moved farther down I could hear something or someone moving ahead of me and whatever it was couldn’t have been that far ahead of me. Even with the flashlight’s beam showing the full tunnel up ahead, I couldn’t see anything passed what the flashlight’s beam exposed.

I stopped and looked as far ahead as the flashlight’s beam would allow. And then the thought struck me that maybe I didn’t need whatever was up ahead in the tunnel to know I was following it. I moved about fifteen feet further down the tunnel when I ran into several more tunnels branching off in different directions. I left a dime at the entrance to the tunnel leading back to the grounds keeper’s grave so I could find my way back and followed the sound as it lead me down a different tunnel.

As I moved down this new tunnel, it was here that the new smell started. It was a horrible stench that permeated the air and took my breath away. My skin crawled and one thought played with my mind. No human could have dug these tunnels. I tried to turn around to return to the grounds keeper’s grave, but the floor of the tunnel collapsed and I fell through into another section far below where I had been.”

Again, Josh paused in his story as his eyes widened in a remembered fear as he stared out the window. His full attention became focused on the golden light coming in through the large pane of glass. He ran his tongue over his lips trying to moisten them and then swallowed hard as he remembered the darkness in the new tunnel. He swallowed hard, once more, remembering the darkness that was darker than any dark he had ever encountered.

Josh glanced away from the window back to Chief Hapwell, sensing and knowing, by the chief’s intense look, he knew what he was talking about. He continued, his eyes wide, his anger forgotten. “I was, completely, disoriented with the blackness surrounding me. I know I continued to ask, myself, where was my flashlight? And, for the first time in my life, I knew what terror was. I can’t say what stopped me, but something did. I froze. I was afraid to move. I was sure the tunnel would collapse and bury me alive.

I dug my hands into the soft dirt along the sides of my legs. I know I was terrified the tunnel would collapse, so terrified that the tunnel would collapse. It was, as I searched for the flashlight, I realized I was no longer in a tunnel. I reached out for the side of the tunnel and ran my hands all around me, but there were no sides and no top, just the mind-numbing darkness. I can’t get that darkness out of my mind.′

Josh paused and stared out the window as his mind tried to wrap itself around the remembered thought about the darkness. He swallowed hard and glanced at the chief and the doctor and saw the disbelief that had spread across their faces. He gave a half-felt smile and then continued.

’I continued to search in the soft dirt around my legs for the flashlight with my panic not that far away. I remembered hearing something moving ahead of me at the far end of wherever I was, and, when I looked up, I saw the yellow eyes, those glinting, yellow eyes. At first there was only one pair, then another, then another, and still more came. Wherever I was, it was being filled with these yellow eyes.

I never stopped searching for the flashlight in the soft dirt around my legs. My hands moved through the dirt, but my eyes refused to look away from the yellow eyes as they continued to fill the darkness at the front of wherever I was. I couldn’t look away and my fear took hold of me. Those yellow eyes, even with the fear they made me feel, they were my only points of reference, the only real things in the darkness.

I found the rounded end of the flashlight down near my foot and pulled it up out of the soft dirt. When the flashlight came up out of the dirt, its beam hit the top of the large tunnel. As I stared ahead, it was here that all of those glinting, yellow eyes turned in unison to stare back at me.

As I lowered the flashlight’s beam, my fear grew beyond fear. Those yellow eyes belonged to some of the largest rats this reporter has ever seen. Almost all the creatures were as large or larger than a medium-sized dog.”

Once again, Josh paused. The unreal image of the creatures filled his mind and, as he remembered his first encounter with the rats and its fear-inducing terror, he swallowed hard and glanced away from the window over at the chief’s knowing expression before he turned his head to look over at Dr. Armstrong. Dr. Armstrong’s expression was the same as he remembered from the night he had been admitted to the hospital. The doctor’s expression was open-eyed wonderment mixed with what he sensed as fear.

Josh glanced back over at the waiting expression on Chief Hapwell’s face and then his eyes moved passed the chief to the window and its welcoming light. Josh, again, swallowed hard concentrating on the light from the window before he continued his narrative in a low, fearful voice.

“The thing I remember most, besides their size, were their claws and sharp fangs. These things were made for biting, ripping, and tearing. There were about five or six in the underground passage with me and, all we did was just stare at each other, not sure what to do. It seemed, to me, they had expected no one to be down this far into their dark world.

The screams started low at first and then grew to a deafening high-pitched scream. I jumped up pointing the flashlight away from them to the tunnel’s other end behind me. I found a tunnel leading off at the opposite end where I had fallen. My fear was intense and froze my mind. I didn’t care if the tunnel collapsed on me or not. My only thought was to get out.

I remember those screams, so well, as they started low and then grew in volume. They echoed around me and I jumped up then I ran as the screaming echoes followed me down the tunnel. Those first few high-pitched screams were joined by more screams as more rats joined the ones pursuing me. I knew I had to find the grounds keeper’s grave. It was the only way out, but to find the grounds keeper’s grave, I had to go up, not sideways.

As I moved forward in the tunnel, I came to an area where several tunnels intersected each other. I searched the ground in front of each tunnel looking for the dime I had left at the tunnel’s opening where I entered. I found no dime in front of any of them.

I looked up and followed the flashlight’s beam to one of the tunnel that led up and I followed it. This tunnel wasn’t very long and when I reached the end, I found another area where the tunnels intersected each other. I searched the ground in front of each of the different tunnels. I know I felt relieved when the flashlight’s beam caught the glint of metal. I almost shouted as I stared down at the dime.

As I started down the tunnel, I could still hear the rat’s screams and they weren’t that far behind me. I pushed my way through this final tunnel to the grounds keeper’s grave. I anticipated the safety it offered above ground once I had climbed the ladder.

When I reached the ladder, I thought I was safe, but I panicked and tried to climb the ladder, too quickly. I was about halfway up the ladder and I’d had put my foot one of the ladder’s rungs when it gave way breaking under my weight. I fell backwards as the wooden box from the grounds keeper’s grave fell down on top of me.

The fall must have knocked me unconscious. All I can remember is opening my eyes looking up and seeing the night sky through the small hole in the grounds keeper’s grave. My left leg was twisted behind me and the pain was unbelievable.

My fall must have collapsed the tunnel, but I was certain I could hear the sound of digging accompanied by high-pitched screaming coming through the dirt. I know I yelled and yelled hoping someone, anyone would hear me. The last thing I remember was the pain in my leg and, I guess, I must have passed out, again.”

Josh didn’t look at either the doctor or the chief sitting across from him. His eyes remained on the window and the golden light when the last part of his story ended. He had forgotten his anger or why he was angry. As his thoughts cleared, he swallowed hard and ran his tongue over his dry lips to moisten them.

Dr. Armstrong sat looking from one to the other. He could appreciate the gravity of the situation, especially, Josh’s trauma, but, if Chief Hapwell thought the problem was solved, it may be better for the community, not to be left with a reminder of what could have happened. He, even if Josh didn’t, could appreciate Chief Hapwell’s ordeal. He took quick note of Josh’s anger as it resurfaced. He glanced back over at Chief Hapwell as he sat, and it seemed, that he was lost in his own thoughts.

“May I suggest we bring the meeting to an end,” intervened Dr. Armstrong. He wanted to counter any farther attack from Josh. “Josh, you can return to your room and pack your belongings. Try to rest until the nurse brings in your release papers.”

Josh used the arm of the chair to push himself up from the seat. He pushed the crutches up under his arms looking across at Chief Hapwell. “You know you haven’t heard the last of this. I want more answers,” he said. His words were spoken low and the harshness that edged the words came out because of his new found anger.

As Josh looked away from Chief Hapwell over to Dr. Armstrong, he smiled. His threat, it seemed, had registered on both men. Josh tried to move forward on the too-large crutches and they caught the floor causing him to stumble, but he didn’t want to give Chief Hapwell the opportunity to respond. He only wanted to be as far away from him as possible. Maybe packing his belongings would help.

Josh’s own story, the one he repeated, over and over for the last couple of days, was burned into his memory. He lived through a nightmare and he needed to put that nightmare into print so people could read and, if for nothing else, to prepare for whatever was out there. He didn’t know how, he knew Evansville hadn’t seen the last of these creatures or the damages they would cause.

Josh left the visitors area and stopped at the double doors and looked back watching Dr. Armstrong’s interaction with the chief. He frowned as he watched the conversation taking place between the two men and, finally, he turned pushing through the doors. He took a deep, calming breath as he started the long, tedious journey down the hall on the too-large crutches.

Dr. Armstrong glanced up and looked over at the double doors as Josh left the visitor’s reception area. He felt compassion for Josh, but didn’t know how to get Josh to respond outside the anger he felt. He frowned and turned to face Chief Hapwell to continue his conversation with him. He had his own questions, and he needed the chief’s reassurance that the problems with the rats was over. He cleared his throat preparing to ask a question when the page for Chief Hapwell came over the PA system.

“Where can I take the call, Doctor?” asked Chief Hapwell. He was pleased the doctor would have no farther opportunity to question him. He had given all his attention to the reporter’s questions along with all the information he cared to relate outside the investigation until it was needed in a release.

Without answering, Dr. Armstrong pointed to the enclosed cage-like area and the nurse’s desk. He made mental notes as Chief Hapwell picked up the telephone and watched as the chief’s eyes widened and then the curse words under his breath followed by the shaking of his head.

Chief Hapwell pushed the telephone back onto its receiver. His hurried steps brought him back to the waiting doctor. “I’m sorry, Doctor. I’ve got to leave. My deputy needs me at the cemetery, please, will you excuse me?” Chief Hapwell turned away from the doctor and left the ward’s visitor area at a much quicker pace than he had entered. As he pushed through the double doors, he was very pleased that he wouldn’t have to answer any more questions.

Dr. Armstrong sat for several minutes after Chief Hapwell’s departure watching the doors into the ward. He cleared his head of the meeting, and its worrisome conversations, except for the remaining notes he would have to include in Josh’s records. Hopefully, the meeting and what transpired would help Josh cope with his trauma.

He rubbed his forehead feeling the beginnings of a headache and frowned. His questions were never asked, and he was glad. Again, if Chief Hapwell thought the problem was solved, the answers weren’t needed.

Dr. Armstrong stood up stretching his shoulders from side to side relieving the tension between the shoulder blades. And not for the first time, his thoughts return to his other patients and they were just as important as Josh Edwards. He walked towards the nurse’s desk squinting as his headache tightened the muscles up the back of his neck.

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