Would you be disturbed to learn that the pages you now read were penned by the moldering hand of a buried man from within his own grave? Would a reanimated corpse hiding outside a house with a plan in the dark serve to unsettle, or perhaps defy all belief?
What if I told you that: the worm which fed on the large carcass of a creature inadvertently exposed to high levels of contamination from an ancient toxic source beyond modern comprehension–that: having squirmed across wet carpet, under a sliding glass door and onto a sidewalk where it was nabbed and gulped by a bird–that: flew off, eventually landing in discomfort on the soft grassy mound of a fairly fresh grave–that: there the writhing, undying burden in the bird’s belly burst–that: the contaminated worm, which squirmed down through the mound, through a fissure in the softened casket, then poured itself into the cracked skull of the occupant, and that skull being mine?
Perhaps had I taken the dark journey less recently–perhaps had the circumstances of my unjust demise cried less loudly for, if not revenge, then justice at least–perhaps then I would not be here to pen these mute pages with my rotting body. The grave gift I was given came as strangely and as unexpected when I returned as it did when I departed.
The contaminated worm, you see, lodging in my rotting brain, gave me the means by which to know the course of its journey resulting in my decomposed fingers slowly scraping in the cold and the dark at the wet, mud-claimed casket’s lid.
My name was Will Todd. I lived in a town called Fernden. Murder.
I have to pause a moment.
You know that space in the back of your leg behind your knee? A big fast millipede wriggled out of mine just now, right out of the tear in my pants leg. I’m sure there are lots of delightful little creatures feeding on my flesh just now. I can’t feel them, though. I hardly even know they’re there. Even when living there were always all kinds of tiny invisible bugs and things feeding all over me. I just didn’t notice.
I didn’t have to say all that just now. I could’ve talked about my murder. I told you about the millipede the way that I did partly because I want you to understand. I want to feel as though you are here with me, alive. Mostly though, not to forget what I need to do while I’m here, I want to remind myself I’m dead. When I was alive, I always wanted to be reminded of that.
I could’ve talked about my murder, I said. No, I could not. Not in a way that you would have understood. You see, I tried talking. That doesn’t work. But I can hold a pen. And I managed to get some paper. I don’t eat, breathe or sleep. So, I want to record my experience. This is where I will plot.
I had a love. Her name was Mary Annette.
I said “you see” before. But I don’t. Not with the eyes that I had when alive. The world appears in my mind darkly now. Shadowy figures shuffle. Were I to stand in front of a mirror, I doubt not I would perceive my reflection as clearly there as I see my decaying flesh push this pen across this page. I don’t fly. I can’t walk through walls. I’m not a ghost. I pass the night in this pit, my own open grave.
Digging my way up and out had not been easy. In Fernden, the cemetery extends across the side of a forest hill which overlooks the town from the southeast end. I used to play here when I was a kid. In fact I even applied as groundskeeper here once, but didn’t get the job. I started my own landscaping business. Plus I cut wood.
My girlfriend, Mary Annette–fiancee, really–was–is–a checker at Viscount Discount. She was twenty-eight when I died, and I was thirty-five. She’ll be turning twenty-nine this year. Probably stay that age forever. I couldn’t help myself. I had to see her.
When I crawled out of my grave, I was aware of things falling off of me–aware in a manner which I cannot call hearing precisely, but then again, how sound traveled as vibrations into my ear when I was alive was always a mystery to me, too. I crawled out, dropping sloppy clumps, and looked around.
Below me, the cemetery spread forward and laterally in tiered rows with a narrow road for passing cars to wind around. Beyond the headstones and crypts a spiked iron gate ran along the north and west street-sides. Roughly diagonal to the bulk of town as the crow flies my Mary Annette rented a nice apartment, and at good rent considering the picturesque Victorian architecture for which the town is justly noted.
The hour seemed late. Snagging some roses from a vase I hopped the big gate–or rather attempted to. I caught my pants leg at the top on the tip of one of the spears. Doing that stretched my baggy dead man’s pants so tight for a second that mud and rocks, mostly, clattered down on the sidewalk a good bit below so loudly that, in frustration at botching my attempt at stealth, I groaned. I don’t know, what with all the gases of putrefaction built up inside my rotting carcass, my cadaverous innards quivered, suddenly and spasmodically heaving up my gullet and shooting out my wide dead mouth a huge wad of worms and bugs that squiggled in a puddle of guts. Desperate not to get caught, I stumbled across the road.
In the relative safety of a tree trimmed into the shape of a big bell I hunkered down and brushed myself off as best I could while keeping an eye out, so to speak.
I’ll tell you right now I had no trouble walking without so much as the dragging of a leg, or lolling of the head. I completely blended in, at that hour, looking I suppose a little tired, maybe. All of this of course just in passing. Up close, anyone looking at my eyes would probably see a problem, and even further away than that there would have to be the smell.
But what did I care? All I wanted now was my revenge. Revenge on Randall Manson, the coward, the sickening coward, my murderer–that, and to somehow simply see my dear sweet Mary Annette one last time. To let her know how much I loved her, and love her, and always will. Mary Annette–sweet, sweet Mary Annette. They could try to do to me whatever they wanted. I wouldn’t care if I did get caught. But I want that Randall Manson dead, dead by my hand and him knowing it’s me when I murder his worthless damned ass right the hell back.
So I marched myself on down the street, encountering no one, arriving at the nice apartment I found for Mary Annette myself, and marveling at every nuance of the night. But then I saw that she was gone. Her car was gone. The chimes she had hung from a hook under her little upstairs balcony were gone.
Even though I knew that she was gone, I eased my way beneath her bedroom window, to try to peer in, just to be sure. It was a bedroom still, but the things weren’t hers. Someone, however, was sitting up in bed. I guess my scratching around outside must have woke him up. And I guess from his perspective, my reanimated corpse’s head slowly rose in the moonlight over the sill, then descended. He had the strangest look on his face.
Anyway, I went to a newspaper box on Main Street and saw on the front page that the date was the first of May.
“That means I’ve been dead exactly a month,” I said to myself. “Where can my Mary Annette be?” Into the garbage can went the flowers I still carried. Wilted.
When I stumbled blindly to my house, my old house, not daring to imagine what I’d do when I got there, my heart sank. It, too, was now someone else’s space.
My fixer car, however, was tucked away behind my old shed. I have no idea why. Someone may have said they’d come get it and just hadn’t gotten around to it. I wouldn’t be surprised. Whatever the reason, I took a look inside and found this bound notebook in the glove compartment. Completely unused. Not one word written on a single page. Somebody gave it to me for a present and I put it in the car somehow out of convenience at the time. But now it was as though I had gotten it and left it for myself just because of this. And I even left myself a pen.
Then on the corner of Sycamore and Ash I saw something that made my jaw drop. My Mary Annette, getting into her Celica, with–there could be no mistake–Randall Manson. That sickening coward I’m going to kill. And she called him Randy.
You haven’t lived till you’ve died.
The wheels of what I will call my mind spun the gears of my giant revenge machine all that night sitting upright in my grave. As dawn neared I decided to creep around the crypts in hopes of forcing a door. I would have stayed in my own grave if I could, but the pile from the freshly upturned mound would call attention to a mindful eye that something was amiss. So I patted down the dirt as best I could, sort of sad at seeing my dead limbs doing this. Somehow images of Mother and the horrified expression she would have to know this would one day happen to her baby appeared before me. I would have cried, if I could, but for fear of merely excreting maggots.
A gray tattered mist hung among the tombs. To my left below sat a large crypt notable for its intricate if crumbling masonry. Pen and paper in pocket, I strode over.
“Anybody home?” I thought, peering through a small iron-barred window. “What have we here? A rusty lock. And look over here, an iron bar lying perfectly for me to do this–”
Here I twisted the lock off with a snap that actually took the hinge. Gathering up debris, I shoved open the creaking door, hauled my carcass in and shut it.
I sat there in that crypt listening to the sounds of the morning. Birds, mostly. A screen door or two. The slam of the door of the idling truck of someone with a long commute. It occurred to me that, what with the May heat, not too bad yet but not getting any colder, the crypt might almost have an oven-like effect, inviting unwanted attention from passersby with the smell of death warmed over. If I had to play dead, I supposed, anyone who nosed me out would figure it was vandals that moved me. But I really didn’t want to have to endure being handled and redeposited. What if they put me in something I couldn’t get out of?
I looked around behind me. MANSON, said the family name. I had stumbled upon the Manson family crypt!
The joy I felt on realizing the sheer fun now at my disposal sent a shiver of glee quivering through my rotting body sufficient to loose galvanized crawlies skittering to the corners.
A slab centered at the far end in a recess of the wall presented possibilities. Yet when I slid the concrete slab I found not a body as I expected within, but a dark aperture. Upon closer inspection, I saw rungs descending down a wall into an interior crypt. I climbed down.
The room was good-sized, but appeared a little smaller than it was due to the numerous boxes and crates stacked along the walls. The toxic worm fermenting in my skull’s slush wriggled. This, I surmised, must have been a bomb shelter. Private, but big enough to hold a sizeable portion of the community at the time it was built. The owner of the house, probably tired of the proximity to the graveyard and its advancing needs, must have sold his property to the city.
So now the shelter is under that slab, possibly completely forgotten. But no matter. Because it’s all mine now. Everything in it. And that’s just for starters. Compensatory damages from Randall Manson and his dead family are going to be extremely stiff.
LETTER FROM CLAIRE VOYANT TO LINDSAY HEARST
Congratulations on the job! That is so exciting. I want to hear all about it. I wish we didn’t have so many of our local businesses getting steadily snapped up by big chains. What they really do is drag the area down. You remember from your visit they had just put in that supermarket? There’s a chain video store over there now, too. As we talked about before, less competition means less quality and less responsibility. There used to be a great grocery store over there. I knew the couple who owned and ran it for years. Now if you have any problems, there’s no one you can talk to. The inexperienced workers hired on the cheap are rude, and barely any of the money even stays in the area. If I didn’t love the redwoods so much I’d have to move to Wales myself. By the way, I love the pictures you took in the bookstore there–and I’m touched to hear their occult section doesn’t compare to mine.
Which reminds me. There’s a strange character who’s been coming in to the shop the last few days. He dresses entirely in black with a black hat and even black gloves. His head and face are wrapped with white gauze bandages entirely, except for a slim slit each for his mouth and nose. His eyes he keeps covered at all times with dark sunglasses. Stranger still, he’s mute. I’ve heard him grunt several times effectively enough–otherwise, when he has anything to ask of me, he does so by the use of the writing implements that he carries. He came in looking for something in the occult section, come to think of it. But since then he’s proven most interested in hypnotism, and has purchased almost every volume I have on the subject. Every time he pays it’s always with flat, crisp twenty dollar bills that smell like mothballs.
But Lindsay, the worst and strangest part is the awful way he smells. You would not believe it. I have to go around opening all of the windows as politely as possible, turn on the fans and light some incense every time he comes in. He’s obviously been in some sort of accident. He may be a burn victim, or have some sort of disease. Which (I hate to say it) but I hope is not contagious.
In any event, Cyrus just finished up with seventh grade. It’s still hard for me to believe I’m the mother of a teenager! Did I tell you I’ll be setting up a booth at the carnival in July? I’m thinking I’d really like to not haul my entire back room over to Fernden Fields to go in a tent for two weeks, so I suppose I’ll just go with a little tarot and palmistry. No voodoo, though. That’s what the mysterious stranger was looking for in Occult, I just remembered. Books on voodoo dolls. Isn’t that weird?
CYRUS VOYANT’S JOURNAL
Me, Shayne, Wes and Tanner went out to do some Ouija in the woods today. I brought my tape recorder and turned it on when we talked. I’m writing down everything we said that I got on tape and only saying who said it and describing other stuff when I have to, just like Mr. Brenner said in class.
“Is it on?” That was Shayne. We’ve been best friends since third grade.
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s on. Too bad we won’t be able to see ourselves in these bitchin’ black hooded sweatshirt dealies.”
“So what are we going to ask it?” said Wes.
“Ask it how I can get Felicity to do a sleepover at my house,” said Tanner.
“You don’t ask it,” Shayne said. “You use it to contact the dead.”
“Then ask the dead or whatever what all the winning Lottery numbers will be,” said Wes. We all agreed.
“This looks like a good spot,” I said.
At this point the tape gets hard to hear while it gets jostled on the way from the trail in the forest to where I pointed. We came to a mossy tree that must have fallen down a long time ago. I liked the way the other trees arched over. Close by, a trail leading to a deeper part looked like the tangled entrance to a crumbling castle overrun with vines. The Ouija board was in my pack. I got it out.
Shayne said, “It’s overcast. Better not rain.”
“Let’s break out the goodies,” said Tanner. Somebody said, “Let’s do it.” (I can’t tell who. I mean I would, but I can barely hear it at all.) Anyway, between all of us we had a giant Hershey bar, four Cokes, two Reese’s, one Cheetos and some Chicken in a Biscuits in a Ziploc.
“My mom would kill me if she saw what I was eating,” I said.
“So what are we going to ask?” said Wes. “Maybe what’s the meaning of life?”
“Ask what it’s like to be dead,” said Tanner.
I said the next thing: “I want to know if Carrie likes me.”
“That’s stupid,” Shayne said, and he only said that because he just started liking her recently himself because he knows I do. But I wish he wouldn’t. I didn’t say so because that was when we saw someone standing in the trail.
Dressed all in black as he was, with a black wide-brimmed hat tipped down so we couldn’t see his face, and standing in the dark entrance to the deeper part of the forest, we hadn’t seen him at all. Now that he was standing in the trail, he tipped his hat slowly up by raising his head and revealing a bandaged face and sunglasses. With piston-like jabs of a black-gloved finger, he pointed at either our food or my Ouija board.
“You want my Ouija board?” I said. He shook his head and made a sort of grunting noise through his bandages.
“I think he wants to use it,” said Shayne. This time the bandaged face nodded. He came over, slowly. I could tell he was trying not to scare us. It looked to me like he had some sort of sensitivity to sunlight condition or maybe was a burn victim.
“You guys.” Even though it was the sort of thing that should have been said as a warning under the breath, Wes said it plain enough to come through loud and clear. I wasn’t afraid, though. I let him take the planchette to point exactly at the letters, numbers or words Yes, No and Good Bye arching on the board underneath. He could have just used his finger, but it’s more fun with the heart-shaped plastic thing with the little window for seeing what’s underneath. We all leaned over as the planchette in his black gloved hand moved, and said each letter aloud and the subsequent words they formed.
“Yes,” I replied.
He spelled, “I–will–buy–it.”
“How much?” I said, exchanging glances with my friends. They all know I’ve got way better ones at home. I only brought my cruddy one because I thought it might rain.
He reached into a pocket and held up a twenty.
“Sure!” I said. “Just let me keep this one tape. I have some blank ones here you can have for free.” I could see them in my open backpack wrapped neatly in a bag.
“What do you need a tape recorder for?” said Tanner.
Me and Shayne groaned.
Tanner goes, “What? I’m not rude, I’m just curious.” But it didn’t matter. Behind his big dark glasses the bandaged man must have been staring at the bag that the blank tapes were in. He pointed at the logo on the side:
Palmistry, Tarot, Astrology
“It’s my mom’s store,” I said. I remember this was when he handed me my twenty. “Just right in town.” The address was on the bag, too, only smaller.
Tanner moaned. “What’s that smell?”
Well, although the tape keeps running, those are the last words on it. After a few minutes it just runs out. It’s a good thing I had it on in the first place, because the funny thing is, after we stopped talking, I really don’t remember much of anything. Anyway, I’m glad that guy bought my tape recorder. I wish I could remember where I spent that twenty, but trying to kind of gives me a headache.
WILL TODD’s JOURNAL– continued.
One thing I did not want, for a plethora of reasons any one of which sufficient, was to raise the slab covering access to my new digs right when someone was standing outside looking at the broken lock–or perhaps inside even, checking to see what more is amiss, and happen then to see me rising from this crypt. Still bound to the clock, I would need to be aware of the hours to carry out my plot.
I found a watch on a chain in a jewelry box. The hands were stopped at the twelve. I wound the watch to see if it worked; it did; and as the watch wound down, I read up. This went on repeatedly. I wanted to keep myself in the habit of remembering time. When I finished my books, I had an epiphany: I needed subjects on whom to practice. With this realization came a dry gurgle drifting through the tomb like the creeping claws of a sour mist. Yet in order to practice hypnotizing the living to do my bidding, I would need to be able to speak. True, I was closer now to approximating spoken language than when I first rose from my grave. My practice had improved; most of the bugs were out. But the prospect was dubious at best.
Crawling out of the crypt, I found peering around that the hour was around noon. Voices floating nearby manifested themselves as children emerging from the far rock wall. Four young lads just outside the cemetery were walking the road up the hill. Incredibly, as if by order, one of them had a tape recorder in hand. I let them pass a bit, then followed.
I spied them in the woods soon after, when lo, the four had in their midst a Ouija board. With this I made them know I wanted to buy the recorder, learning in the process that one of the kids is the son of the woman from the book store. I had lulled them into a false sense of security. Though the stench of my decay threatened to prove unnecessarily distracting, the most important factor in my favor was sheer impressionability of children.
In attempting to loosen the bandages around my mouth in order to pull in a sufficient quantity of air, which bringing down my arms in a forceful bellows-like motion would help me simulate speech, my shades accidentally fell off.
Now, it may well be that, as the first human being to ever literally return from death, what I impart on those who see the impossibility of my reanimation is a sort of shock-induced paralysis. Then again, perhaps the worm pumped with strange toxin beyond human ken and housed in the porous pudding rotting in my skull magnifies my will to control, and does so in some simple way which the human species as yet cannot fathom.
A radiance issued from my sockets. I found I did not need to speak. The primary source of communication between human beings is, after all, nonverbal. Immediately realizing they were under my spell, I communicated to the son of the book store woman, “Give me back my money.” He did. I pocketed my stolen twenty. Out of curiosity I asked why he so desperately needed the tape still in my recorder.
“I wanted to tape record what we said hiking around messing with my Ouija board,” came the words from his own animated husk in a calm, relaxed manner.
“Why?” I demanded with my mind.
“To learn how to write better,” he said aloud. “It’s an exercise we learned in English class. I still keep my journal.”
“Why the Ouija board?”
“My mom gave it to me. It’s the first day of summer vacation. We wanted to ask questions.”
“All right. Go ahead.” The kid kind of faltered. Even in a trance. This I had to hear.
“I want to know if Carrie likes me.”
I told him no. It went against my better judgment to give him back the tape recorder. There was nothing to be gained by my not having it. What if my newfound powers didn’t work every time? I might need to fall back on my original plan of playing audio instructions with someone else’s voice and dangling the watch to facilitate my bidding. I therefore asked if any of them had another recorder. The same one said he did. I told him he was free to continue with his writing exercise, but that none of them would remember anything of our encounter. Most importantly, so that I would not have to go to the trouble of finding anyone to do my bidding again, I told the son of the book store owner, “You alone will return here at this time one week from today. You will all wake up and leave one minute after I go.”
Taking my time, I re-wrapped my bandages with my shades back on so that they would not fall off accidentally again. Then I returned to the trail from which I had emerged, where, hiding in the darkness, I watched the four of them blink their way to consciousness and quietly depart.
JAY ISAAC’S JOURNAL (transcribed from audio recording)
Oh hey, I’m um, Jay Isaac. Right now I’m like all in this crypt with this candle, and I’ve got a tape recorder and this really trippy dude here who totally found me in the forest outside Fernden living in my tree waiting to see the Dead.
So I’m like in there taking a little nap all cozy and everything, and I wake up hearing weird noises or something and I poke my head out of my tree–it’s this really cool old hollow tree I go to when I hear the Dead might be coming through–and there’s this like really dark dude dressed all in black with this big honkin’-on black hat–which, even though it’s June, we have had a lot of rain–and then there’s these kids, four of them I guess, not much younger than me, and they were just standing there looking at him, all together in the woods.
It got kind of boring. I didn’t stare the whole time, mostly because I try to follow the ol’ golden rule, but also on account my feet had fallen asleep and were totally killing me after I moved and they started waking up. When I looked again, the dark dude was like fitting his hat all back on his head or something, and the kids still stood all zombied out while he actually came right over toward me.
Oh man, I totally ducked back inside quiet as a little mouse. I knew he was just a few feet away. After a bit I could hear from sticks cracking that the kids were taking off down the hill or whatever, going the totally other direction anyway, but I never did hear the dude move off. Then in the doorway of my tree, he suddenly appeared.
I go, “Holy shit! You just scared the crap out of me! Hey peace man! Take the tree, it’s all yours!” He sort of like fumbled with his sunglasses, except he’s also got these bandages that held them on so tight, but then he dropped this tape recorder and a bag of tapes all ka-ploop, and so while he was trying to deal with that, I slipped out the side, see? But it was cool. I didn’t think he could catch me if I had to like really split. Although now that I think about it, it would have way sucked if he had some kind of gun or something and totally wanted to kill me. Whoa.
So anyway I go, “Dude, what’s up with you?” And then I’m all like, I’ll distract him, see? You gotta know how to control people a little bit sometimes in the certain situation. So I’m like all, “Dude, what’s with the bandages? Shouldn’t you be in a hospital or something?” I could tell he was trying to say something. And I was all, “It’s okay dude, take a breather. I was just chillin’ in a tree, no harm done, it’s okay, it’s all right.”
That seemed to calm him down. Then he let up on the shady shades that just would not come off, and did a total double-fake, going instead for the pen and paper he had in a hidden pocket. And he writes on it, “I’ll pay you to buy bug spray and Lysol for me.”
I go, “Dude, gainful employ! That would be way cool. Every little bit helps the cause. Yeah, I’ll help you get your stuff, no problem.” So he sent me on my mission, see, ‘cause he couldn’t really actually stroll in the ol’ Viscount Discount for his goodies on account I guess he’s not really a people person.
So I’m all at the store and I see the manager, stately and plump as the veritable Viscount himself, and he’s all, “What? You’re not out front?” He always hassles me a little for hangin’ out and settin’ out the ol’ hat. But it’s cool. So I go, “No, not today. Just here for a few simple grocery items, sir.”
And then I’m all at the counter, like a good little customer consumer waiting to pay, except I’m like looking at the cashier to see her name tag, which said that her name was Sharon and she was happy to serve me.
Then I asked–and this was part of my mission–I go, “So Sharon, does Mary Annette work here or what?” And she goes, “Oh yeah, she still works here, only not so much on account she only works part-time now.” Then she looked all sly. Like she knows something, but wants not to say, see?
So now I’m back here. With my buddy. Who wanted me to tell the tale and save it for prosperity. Just me and my new bro all camped out here. Just like Huck and Jim, talkin’ ‘bout man’s inhumanity to man. It sucks, bro. Big-time.
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