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 after midnight, especially when the goal of the night’s mission is to confirm the status of a dead man. 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.
An assortment of budding flowers offered life to a dead place. Crickets sang their seventh symphony of the night. The well-kept cemetery exuded a calm nocturnal atmosphere of freshly turned soil, yet haunting tones invaded the airspace this night. A half-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 even to 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 behind, hesitant in their march; six men on a secret nocturnal mission.
“I can’t believe we're 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,” justified 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 he stood in the light of day.”
“For a second in a crowd? C’mon, buddy roo. We’re digging up a grave over a glimpse. You’re obsessed, Ray.”
“Like hell I am! I’m one hundred percent certain he’s alive. And something’s not right about his death. I mean, thirty-five years-old and never sick. 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 falling asleep or blasting that damn fool rap music,” pantomimed Frank, mocking the ‘low-riding jeans’ crowd.
Shayne laughed for the first time, 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. The moonlight filtered through the branches of an overlooking beech tree, creating sinister shadows, the silent picture show of paranoia. An aggressive gust of warm wind brought the tree limbs to life, its creaking moan issued a final warning. Lightning lit the sky, far in the distance. Trouble brewing, set to slow simmer.
“Let’s get moving, guys,” grumbled Shayne. An array of shovels passed around without ceremony. The men began digging, an earthy odor invading their olfactory senses. Grunts and soft curses could be heard around the grave site. 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. Time to open the coffin.
"Are we really going through with this?" asked Andrew.
The men nodded their assent.
A gray tree fog croaked, the sole nay vote.
“Well, who’s going to open ’er up?” pressed Frank.
“Ray, it’s your obsession, it’s yours to pry open,” demanded Kenny, hesitant to open the thing.
“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 Frank? The five O just whizzed by. What if he spotted us all here? You don’t think 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, calmer than the others.
“There’s always another copper that might pass 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, sarcasm coursing freely through his voice.
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, using their shovels to pry the casket open. After two initial unsuccessful attempts, the casket creaked open.
The men gasped.
A look of triumph flooded Ray’s eyes, a wide grin bursting across his face; a believer’s smile of victory over the doubters.
“No way, I don’t believe it,” hissed Kenny, stunned.
“Keep your damn voice down,” scolded Shayne, visibly shaken. “We’re looking real guilty at this point.”
“Guilty of what? Ray spread his hands wide, smugness lit his eyes, condescension overtaking his voice. “Opening an empty coffin? Didn’t I tell you? How do you explain this?”
Frank and Jim, utilizing their mini mag-lights, peered down into the newly-formed hole. The men fixated on the empty coffin. Darius did not rest in peace.
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 ended early at eight pm. We left the last few at the year-end barbecue at ten and it is now approaching one am. I heard there is a chance of thunderstorms later 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. In an instant, a new sound, thick with fear, overshadowed the first; a sickening sound of men yelling. The sound of uninvited horror and panic.
Shayne, Frank, and Jim watched in distress as their lights pierced the black void. Their screams, more and more distant, faded 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 we created,” gasped Shayne.
“I felt something, Jim,” cried Frank, the darkness closing in.
“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, 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.
Excited calls of his predators sounded off in the distance, with no one in sight. The cemetery took on a haunted atmosphere.
Panic overtook him. A feeling of ice crystallized in Frank’s stomach, the cold sensation of fright rushed like a freight train in his veins. His skin tingled and prickled, sparking electrical current 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 the 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. He stared down the Grim Reaper, cloaked in shadow, his eyes widening 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 like a track star out of the blocks, 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. His trusty Ford now in sight.
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. Frank floored the accelerator before he 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. He must protect Skye from these 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. Hostile headlights harassed him. Like a man possessed, he floored the accelerator, lights still stalking him. Houses flew by in both directions. Shock and confusion reigned in Frank’s mind; speed his 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. His tires screeched in the night, rounding a corner too sharp, almost clipping a cyclist on his way home from work. How long since his pursuer’s headlights cursed his mirror? Frank lost track of time. His ears rang, distorting reality. 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.