Despite the mad ravings of the internet, it is not a common spectacle for six men of various ages and different walks of life to be in a cemetery at night, especially when the goal of the night’s mission is to prove or disprove if a dead man is indeed dead. Nor is it usual to see otherwise respectable men participate in unlawful activities when it is their code not to do so. But curiosity can drive a man beyond reason. Mix in loyalty and an inborn desire for truth and trouble naturally follows. These are the chronicles of the Men of the Secret Monitor.
The cemetery was well kept and quite peaceful at night, yet haunting tones invaded the airspace this night. A full moon glowed bright overhead mirroring the magnificence of the sun on the other side of the planet. A supernatural current charged the air this summer solstice night tracing its ancient power back centuries to the time of pagan ritual, to rites unknown to even the Freemason. An owl hooted from an unknown perch in one of the many old trees about the graveyard, a bad omen felt in the pits of men’s stomachs. Below Ray and Andrew led the way while the others trailed hesitantly behind; six men on a secret nocturnal mission.
“I can’t believe we are actually going through with this.” A lazy summer breeze challenged the building tension of his voice.
“Damn it Kenny, I have to know the truth about Darius. Can’t you understand?”
“Look buddy, if we get caught digging up a grave we will be branded as another P2,” Kenny grabbed Ray’s wrist holding him up. “And who cares what happened in Italy with that rogue lodge anyway? We’re not trying to take over the damn country, guys. We’re simply investigating our friend’s death,” shot back Ray.
“Do I have to tell you what a shit storm that will bring down on us? We all know the wild imaginings of people outside the organization. They already accuse us of devil worship and a variety of other conspiratorial acts of nonsense. What repercussions will this bring?” Stubbornly, Ray pulled free of Kenny’s grip and continued toward his destination, the graveside of their recently deceased friend.
“It will bring us some closure Kenny,” asserted Ray, thinking of the Cowans, those outside the Freemason circle of trust.
“You mean it will bring you some closure Ray. You’re the only one that believes he is alive,” admonished Kenny.
“I know what I saw damn it. It was him I tell you. I saw him as I see you now except that I saw him in the light of day.”
“It was in a crowd and only for a second. I don’t see how you can be so sure. We’re digging up a grave over a glimpse. You’re obsessed Ray.”
“Like hell I am! I’m one hundred percent certain it was him. And there was always something not right about his death. I mean he was only thirty-five and never sick while we knew him. Suddenly, he’s dead of some heart ailment I’ve never heard of. Bullshit.”
“Will you guys stop fighting and keep it down,” whispered Jim. “The last thing we need to do is draw attention to ourselves. Some cemeteries have security now you know?”
“Yeah, like some kid in a car either falling asleep or blasting that damn fool rap music,” pantomimed Frank mocking the ‘low-riding jeans’ crowd.
Shayne laughed for the first time tonight saying: “And besides, I saw no one tonight or the other nights I drove by here. We’re alone so let’s just do what we came to do and be fast about it.”
The silent one of the group, Andrew, carried the shovels. The kid enjoyed the excitement such an adventure brings, but remained too naive to see the consequences. Cindy, his girlfriend, knew him to be spontaneous enough to do something this crazy.
Ray pressed forward driven by a dogged thirst for the truth coupled with his unrelenting curiosity; the other four, loyal, but reluctant accomplices with Andrew, the sole exception. “Here we are,” murmured Ray, stopping at a headstone with a familiar symbol inscribed on it.
“Let’s get moving guys,” grumbled Shayne. The shovels were passed around without ceremony. The men began digging. Grunts and soft curses could be heard around the gravesite. Sweat dripped down the sides of their heads where temple met hairline. The soft sounds of earth being pierced and piling up with increasingly labored breathing marked their progress. Two hours passed; the hoot of the owl acted like a cemetery clock marking the much anticipated time. The metal of shovels finally hit wood. A combination of sweat, curiosity and relief showed on the men’s faces.
“Who’s going to open ’er up?”
“Ray, it’s your obsession, it’s yours to pry open.”
“I am going to need some help to get this coffin open. They lock these things you know?”
“What I know is this whole situation really creeps me out,” whined Jim.
“I have a weak stomach when it comes to dead bodies and if we’re wrong ...” Kenny’s voice trailed off.
“I’m not wrong about this, guys. He won’t be inside. Someone else maybe, but he won’t be.”
“Well that’s really comforting,” griped Jim. “I have trouble sleeping as is. Damn it Ray, why the hell can’t you let go of this thing? He’s dead. Let’s just go home before we’re arrested.”
“No one is getting arrested Jim. Soon we’ll know and then we’ll just quickly fill in this hole and no one will be the wiser,” soothed Frank.
Blue and red lights of a city police cruiser flashed by at an outrageous speed from the north paved road that acted as a boundary to the cemetery proper. Paranoia played pranks in the minds of these men this night. “No chance of getting arrested eh Ray? That was the five O that just whizzed by. What if he spotted us all here? You don’t think that it looks a little suspicious? Men with shovels in the middle of the night?” grilled Jim.
“Ah Jim relax he went by so fast he didn’t notice nothing,” responded Ray calmly.
“There’s always another copper that could come by. And should he come to investigate then what? Oh officer we just wanted to make sure our buddy is really dead,” Jim jabbed at Ray sarcastically. Soft mocking laughter brought a sour look to Ray’s face.
“And what if he takes out his little evidence book and asks ′and your names are? And just how exactly did you all know the deceased?” Everyone went silent and serious. Clearly, no one liked the idea of that scenario playing out.
“Well let’s get ’er done then,” ordered Ray sulking.
“I’ll second that motion,” joked Jim attempting to lighten the mood. “The sooner we find our answer the sooner we can all go home and put this behind us forever.”
Rays of white and blue light trajectories shone downwards from above as Ray, Kenny, and the new guy Andrew jumped down into the hole and used their shovels to pry the casket open. After two initial unsuccessful attempts, the casket creaked open. The men gasped.
“No way, I don’t believe it,” hissed Kenny, stunned.
A look of triumph lit Ray’s eyes while a wide grin spread across his face; a believer’s smile of victory over the doubters.
“Keep your damn voice down,” scolded Shayne shaken. “We’re looking real guilty at this point.”
“Guilty of what? Ray spread his hands wide looking far too pleased with himself. “Opening an empty coffin? Didn’t I tell you? How do you explain this?”
Frank and Jim, utilizing their mini mag-lights, looked down into the newly formed hole. The men fixated on the empty coffin; while Andrew stepped around inside shining the light left to right looking for no one knew what. The others looked confounded with frowns and furrowed foreheads. No one volunteered to answer Ray’s question.
“I’m not sure what else we can accomplish here guys,” blurted Andrew breaking the silence of the night.
“Nothing is down here. Sometimes answers only bring more questions. Let’s shut this thing back up and fill the hole in like it was,” demanded Frank. “I’m usually home by this time,” he complained. “Skye will start to worry about me. The meeting was over early at nine pm. We left the last few at social hour at ten and it is now approaching one am. I heard there is a chance of thunderstorms tonight so we need to fill in this hole now.”
“Frank’s right Ray,” agreed Kenny. “We need to call it a night. We can figure this thing out later.”
Andrew slammed his shovel down on the bottom of the casket. “You hear that guys?”
A hollow boom echoed back, but before their minds could process the knowledge the earth swallowed their friends whole. Suddenly, a new sound thick with fear overshadowed the first-a sickening sound of men yelling. It was the sound of uninvited horror and panic. Shayne, Frank, and Jim watched in distress as their lights pierced the black void. Their screams became more and more distant fading into the night. A black hole remained replacing the warm voices of friends with the cold shock of silence. Now they were gone. A disturbing question played on their unease. Where to? A question the men remaining could not fathom.
“Who do you call when your friends disappear down a hole that doesn’t belong there? A hole that we created,” gasped Shayne.
“I felt something Jim,” cried Frank in the darkness.
“Is it spitting out already?” Jim squealed in horror as Shayne stumbled into him with what appeared to be an arrow through the side of his head. The rain was blood splatter from a well placed bowman.
“What the hell? What the hell Frank?” A second arrow found its mark from an unknown adversary and Jim fell to the ground. Five men down, three below and two above.
Only Frank remained standing. He heard shouts off in the distance, but could not see anyone. The cemetery took on a haunted atmosphere and fear overtook him, a feeling of ice crystallized in Frank’s stomach, while ice water rushed like a freight train in his veins. His skin tingled and prickled sparking electricity through him. Fear shot up his spine as a cold sweat trickled down his back. Frank’s face grimaced as his intestines twisted. Sweat ran down his forehead stinging his eyes. The Master Mason’s feet flew with a flurry through the midnight graveyard. He raced like a running back dodging gravestones, trees and their treacherous roots reaching up through earth like booby-traps. Without warning, Frank’s foot caught on an offending root throwing him forward into an undignified sprawl. Breaking the fall with his hands and knees, Frank looked up to his right with a sense of dread. A silhouette stood beside a wide oak, crossbow loaded with a bolt, pointing straight at his head. Frank knew he was going to die. His eyes widened in horror. In the split second before the veteran hunter released his bolt, self-preservation kicked in. Skye’s father sprang to his feet, lunging forward, pushing his legs beyond their limit. A projectile whizzed past the back of his head narrowly missing its mark. With burning calves and rubbery quads, Frank pressed on like the cross-country champion of his athletic days.
Frank, a gasping and desperate man, reached his pickup truck soaked in sweat. Adrenaline coursed through him, a sensation he hadn’t known in decades. His chest heaved and his legs ached. The accelerator was floored before Frank understood what he was doing. A hunted man reacts by instinct. Something closing in behind him wanted him dead. His sides hurt as he rounded the corner with tires squealing. He didn’t know where to go, but didn’t want to lead these predators to his home. Skye was there and he couldn’t risk that. Jackals! His mind raced faster than his Ford 150. What was happening? How can all five of his brethren be gone? In an instant! It all happened so quickly. Had he lost whomever or whatever was behind him? That was no regular security. Who the hell uses arrows in a cemetery? What secret were they protecting? What had Ray gotten them into? Who buries an empty coffin anyway? Frank drove with the fury of the haunted. Like a man possessed with lights stalking him. Were they friendly or hostile? Frank doubted they were friendly. Shock and confusion reigned in Frank’s mind. Speed was Frank’s only friend. The night had gone bad. Everything had gone sideways so much worse than he ever imagined. Frank pushed his truck to the limit without knowing his destination. How long since his pursuer’s headlights cursed his mirror? Frank lost track of time. His ears were ringing. Time had stopped back at the cemetery. Who would look after Skye? She would be alone. Pure terror surged through the marrow in his bones. Frank reached for his cell phone, the darkness his enemy. Streetlights sporadically lit up the pickup glimmering off the cell. His shaking hands snatched up the phone. He went to his contact list and hit a familiar number. It was ringing... God someone answer.