Wednesday, May 14, 2014

GRAVE NEW WORLD
















































1

YEARS AGO IN COLLEGE I used to work once in a while as, of all things, a body-snatcher. This was for a guy I knew at the university. Eddy, my drinking buddy, and I used to check in on Friday afternoons with our university connection to see if he'd be paying us to make a run for a freshie that night. Sometimes he paid us in pot, sometimes he paid us in beer. Usually he paid us in money, plus some pot and some beer. "I don't want you guys too thoroughly aware of what you're doing," he'd say, and we'd all laugh..

What also made things kind of funny was how much Eddy looked like Edgar Allan Poe. He was pale, with dark hair, a wide brow, a little mustache and often looked morose. Even his name for crying out loud. Not that Eddy was any kind of writer, but whenever he talked about work, he always had to get that pun in on the word "spoils," his lamp-like eyes lighting up as he visualized the unearthing, transportation and subsequent payment upon presentation of the dubious plunder, the spoils. That was Dirty Eddy for you. For me, helping the university under the table was just a job. For Dirty Eddy though, robbing graves was the highlight of his life.

Looking back, it seems perverse that college students had to sneak around cemeteries digging up bodies to trade for basic necessities. And it's not like we were just a couple of dummies with shovels. I myself had once received the only spontaneous standing ovation I've ever seen in a college classroom, and that was for a piece I wrote responding to Faulkner's "The Bear." First of all, in Shakespeare, the gravediggers are always the ones with the wisdom, if I remember correctly. That wasn't ever my specialty because Shakespeare's been done to death. But secondly, figuring out which cemeteries to hit took strategy, increasingly so every time.

Dirty Eddy had definite opinions on the subject of cemeteries. Naturally quiet and reserved around most people, once the iron hinges of his face creaked open with me at work, out sprang the fecundity within. "A graveyard is a lady to me," he'd say, the wheels of his mind audibly churning. "You have to know how to treat a lady. Treat her right and she'll coax a corpse."

Getting our joint Master's in Lit and Teaching Writing, neither of us fit the Political Correctness agenda of the time. That being a point of identification, we first began logging in the forest education hours the day we learned we were dropped along with a few other guys from the Tutoring Basic Writers class because of being white and male.

"I needed those units," Eddy had repeated over and over as we headed to the Carata Community Forest after learning we'd been purged. "I needed that money. I know it wasn't much, but it was part of my budget."

My friend's rich parents bought him a nice house with a lovely view from the deck. This guy always had people there hanging around. He hadn't ever called me before, so I knew something special was going to happen the night that he asked us over. He didn't say what exactly he'd be doing with the bodies, but I got the definite impression it had something to do with study. Specificity on that point aside, from a pragmatic point of view, Eddy and I would get a hundred bucks each, plus perks, and that paid better than the tutoring class right there.

Eddy lived in Egeria in the basement of the Goldinege Museum. He was the caretaker, and as such did a dead-on Jack Nicholson when quoting from The Shining, while I in turn gave him the full Grady, assuring Eddy, at the risk of being too bold, that he'd ALWAYS been the caretaker.

Naturally I felt some trepidation prior to taking the grave plunge. Sure didn't want to have to see my name in the paper for it. Choosing which graveyard to hit made me really stop and think. "What if some caretaker at the cemetery hears us digging and calls the cops?" I said. "We'll be in trouble."

"Not if we wear coveralls," Eddy said.

"I'm intrigued."

"Think about it. If you're the caretaker, and you see a couple guys out looking official, do you call the cops first thing, or do you go find out for yourself so you don't look like a douche?"

"Okay, well what happens then?"

"We kick his ass! Besides, what planet do you live on? Who are all these caretakers guarding cemeteries?"

"These are your fellow caretakers you're talking about, man."

"Hey, I'm the caretaker for the Goldinege. These are just cemetery rats, lowest of the low."

The first time we plundered a grave, we took hardhats, dust masks, shovels, picks, the works. I wasn't too keen on it being my pickup that we used (I also had a VW bug at the time) because I didn't want anybody calling in my license plate in case something went wrong, but Eddy only had a Honda, and some kind of work vehicle was an essential element to our appearing legit.

Scouting around shortly after midnight, the first cemetery we passed had too many houses close by. The second cemetery was too close to the cops. But the third cemetery, that one was just right. Until, that is, we had to start actually digging.

"Wish I'd worn my boots," I said. "This shovel's killing my instep."

"I can't wait to see the body," was Eddy's excited reply.

Demands of the job necessitating silence, conversation died. The buzz from the beers and the bong was long gone. All we really had in our favor was the freshness of the grave, but I certainly wasn't in any kind of shape for shoveling all night, and in feeling very much under the gun time-wise--we would have to be done well before dawn--began to deeply resent the literal hole in which I found myself digging. Would the body we presented our employer still even be any good? It was a nightmare that seemed to take forever, but we finally reached our destination. Thunk, thunk.

Pay dirt.

I confess, I saw yet more work in having to get the damn thing out. For Eddy though, that ominous coffin's lid was like the door opening to Oz, and the eddies that were Eddy's eyes whirled in this grave new world.

The work of removing the body almost made me throw up, mostly because of the smell. The woman inside, wearing a dress, looked absolutely awful. I have no idea what she was like in life, but in death she looked like hell. Shoving the stiff into a body bag supplied by my wealthy pal, our employer, was the work of moments. No point shoveling the dirt back down in the hole. We couldn't possibly conceal the theft without at least having fresh matching sod to replace what we destroyed. But there was no way we could come up with that. We were only a couple of college guys. So we grabbed the old girl and hustled off to make our delivery.

Next day, we partied.

All that easy. With the money we got from robbing the grave, Eddy and I drank Scotch Ale and Guinness fortified in the natural turret of a tall redwood stump which stands on a slope over the curve of the road leading up to the Carata Community Forest parking lot, congratulating ourselves on our hard work. There in the tree so well known to the stoners, its exterior chainsaw-carved with ancient-looking likenesses of animals and people, we guzzled our beer con mucho gusto and tore into garlic bagels, smoking joints like emperors and recounting aspects of the evening.

High in the great stump celebrating our success as grave robbers, Dirty Eddy told me about his waitress friend, young and blonde, whom he swore let him show up any hour unannounced late at night. I found this hard to believe, and didn't say anything about it because I didn't want to embarrass him, but I was surprised when a couple days later he called from his basement digs and invited me over to meet her.

2

Clarissa dyed her hair black, had very pale skin, and wore red lipstick that glistened like a show car. She didn't say much, but regarded me behind a wall of mascara and eye shadow like a sniper in a clock tower. Eddy had let us in upstairs to see some of the treasures of the Goldinege. Amid the varied artifacts which included crystal skulls, huge geodes, stone statues, weird figurines, two long-head skulls still bearing red hair, and a host of taxidermy animals hiding under dusty bed sheets, stood an intriguing metal table connected to a large Tesla coil. Floating like a geisha's ghost in her tight black floor-length dress to the table, Clarissa caressed the antique machine.

"It's a galvanizer," Dirty Eddy said. "Her favorite part of the museum."

"My second favorite part," she said, looking directly at Eddy.

It seemed as though they might embrace. Right there on the galvanizer. I thought I was going to be sick, and said so.

"Don't throw up," said Clarissa, still smiling at Eddy, "because if you do, then I won't introduce you to Tish."

"Tish?" I tried to sound nonchalant. "Who's Tish?"

"Tell him."

"No, you."

"Would someone please tell me who Tish is? Is Tish...a dish?"

"We'll introduce her to you," said Dirty Eddy, "on the condition that we take Clarissa and Tish with us next time."

"Take them with us--robbing graves? You mean like a double-date?"

Tiny gasp of delight from Clarissa.

"Yes," Dirty Eddy said, "that's exactly what I mean." I could see that he meant it, and his grave air hinted of there being given up in the bargain significant dishiness indeed.

Turned out Tish, with whom Clarissa shared an Old Town apartment, was a fine-featured blonde with a baby teeth smile whose offbeat sense of humor had me laughing from the moment that I met her, which was in the spectacularly Bohemian upstairs studio they shared. Thin, brittle panes of glass rattled in old windows. Cracks in the paint traced the edges of the molding. The gray line of the bay cast a dull glimmer beyond. I had suggested we take the trek from Fernden out to the coast and back around down to the Avenue of the Giants. Seeing how my well-heeled pal back at the lab didn't need another body for another week, I figured we could try a taste of doubling up and see how it worked out before jumping into the big show. Would they likely help or hinder? Our inquiring minds needed to know. Mine did, anyway. Clarissa being off the charts, and Eddy barely reaching the charts, I wondered if he wasn't beginning to slip. Surely this was the most action he ever saw in his life. Except for when he and Clarissa walked with a hand in each other's back jeans pocket, I was keen to give him leeway.

Quite sweetly the girls had stuffed a basket for our Lost Coast picnic. Passing through Fernden, we paid a visit to the cemetery, discussing the ins and outs of robbing graves as we wound up and down the grounds, and continued on out of town up into the hills overlooking the ocean. When that came into view, for awhile there Tish and Clarissa sang "By the Sea" from Sweeney Todd, but most of the time we all talked about dolmen, Puma Punku, Cahokia, mound-builders, ancient stone carvings of astronauts, and Kincaid Cave while we used our electrical and magnetic bodies to pass around the bone.

Long gray lines of waves lashed the broken, rocky shore. I had hair then, brownish-red, and it whipped in the wind when we walked on the sand. I held Tish's hand. Quite dream-like, really. In the great gray gloom of the overcast afternoon we affirmed respect for the departed, yet couldn't restrain our joy at the prospect of some profit in the dead economy.

Loosely likening ourselves with Daphne, Fred, Shaggy and Velma, we kept our eyes peeled for a dog as we drove from the beach into dark wood and wild splendor rarely seeing other cars. A brief recent rain had patted down the dust, permeating the air with the scent of back woods and of autumn. Near a wooden bridge spanning a roiling bend of river we stopped to investigate a huge maze of blackberry bramble rife with a warren of trails. On the other side of this thorny thicket where the undergrowth meshed overhead like fingers of the land contemplatively laced we found a small yellow field separated from the road by a low rock wall, ragged and in disrepair. Crumbling head stones dotting the field beckoned us from the bracken.

Dirty Eddy and I strolled like stately land barons while the ladies poured over the graveyard. Selecting a gnarled representative from the myriad of sticks at hand to serve as a cane on which to lean in a casual and gentlemanly manner, I rigorously opined on some subject or other.

"Do you think I should grow mutton chops?" I asked Tish when she came over, but her reply was interrupted by a pickup that appeared. The big clean truck was loud and quick. From it there emerged a man clad in Carhartt clothing. In the imaginary play-act theater of his existence, this guy fancied himself a fellow of great importance, no doubt.

Dirty Eddy's first impulse was to bolt back into the blackberry maze. The ladies tried to hide behind a head stone, but as this proved entirely insufficient coverage for their combo-pack of pulchritude, they had to give up and resort to postures of studied indifference.

Not me, though. I stood rooted to the spot with my cane. It's not like we had our shovels with us. Yet. Obviously--I could see the concern stamped all over his face--he had heard about some graves getting robbed. Had I known that my pals would jump to the last page of "The Tell-Tale Heart" at the slightest provocation and so freely reveal their guilt, things might have turned out a whole lot different. As it was, soon as the guy got out of his truck, he took about two or three steps, coming toward us all pissed and fast, and took a complete header on the other side of the low rock wall. Almost like he dove down. Except I knew he hadn't. He had tripped. On a rock in the tall grass. And cracked his head on another.

He was dead! The guy had fallen down and died, just like that, right in front of us! We couldn't believe it. This was like being bank robbers on a hike and finding an open safe. For the purposes of this narrative I almost wish we'd had some sort of difficulty getting the body back to the museum. But there really was just nobody else out there. Clarissa used some flimsy part of her clothing to turn off the ignition in the truck without leaving fingerprints. We were all very careful to touch as little as possible, and even then never with bare fingers. Eddy threw the rock that the guy's head hit down into an ivy-choked gorge. We could have left his body where we saw it. We could have been uncaring. Might sound like bragging, but the truth is we were very nice people and we happened to have a galvanizer. Besides, there was no way we could leave him there like that. He'd bashed his head so perfectly, it didn't even bleed. So we stuffed him in the back of my bug, threw the thick black picnic blanket on top, and returned to the Goldinege with our souvenir.

One bit of difficulty we did encounter involved the precise details of transferring the body from the back of the bug to the back door of the museum, and this was only because we were returning with an unbagged body in daylight hours, but it really didn't take too much effort. The hardest part was having to listen to Clarissa try to micromanage everything. Plus she kept misinforming Tish about the galvanizer. Reminded me of my ex-girlfriend's landlord. This lady rented out rooms in her house to college students, and I heard her telling her young daughter one time that the reason why Batman and Robin wear capes is because they can fly. She was smiling like an asshole because she'd had a little pot, blithely misinforming, and quick to be bitchy when eventually corrected. Same thing with Clarissa. I don't know where she got it in her head that a galvanizer could bring the dead all the way back to life. If the coils still even worked, the body would respond to stimuli only when hooked up on the table. When I eventually tried to explain this, Clarissa started squawking, which put Tish in a funk. I had waited until we were in the museum to say anything, but she put up such a racket over nothing I knew right then she would prove a liability. I was drenched with sweat from doing most of the lugging, plus it turned out the guy must have sharted himself when he died. You could see there was a lump like a little diaper load in the back of his pants. I had wanted to be respectful, but this was just too much.

"Oh my God," Tish said through her shirt, "it smells like shit in here!"

"Who's got my lighter?" said Clarissa, to everyone at first, then specifically to me. Which was inexplicable. "I don't have your lighter," I said, still trying to get the damn body on the table with my hands hooked under the corpse's arms, "I never touched your lighter."

"There are some garbage bags over there," she said. "You should wrap a bunch of those around him like a diaper. Check your pockets for my lighter."

"I'm trying to get him on the table!"

"Don't yell at me!"

I couldn't believe it. The way Eddy's girlfriend acted was taking the fun out of everything. Certainly I desperately wanted for no untimely accident to suddenly befall her. That would have been terrible.

"Now isn't the time," Eddy intervened, "to start falling apart. You two need to cool it."

"He started it."

"You liar."

"You're both liars, and we're all on edge because our first corpse has a turd sticking halfway out his ass. Folks, we got a raw deal here, but it sure looks like he's gonna pay. Tish, hook up that cord there, would you?"

Deep down I had  to admit, it probably would have been better just to leave him be. I truly felt bad for the guy. His accident was utterly bizarre, but there we were. And we were already used to handling bodies.

"That's the strongest pot I've ever smoked," said Tish, "and I trim pot for a living. Ordinarily I don't even smoke pot. Whenever I trim I always wear gloves. But that pot's fuckin' awesome! There's no way I'd be doing any of this without it."

"Seriously?" Clarissa evinced dismay. "I've always loved graveyards and this kind of shit." Tish politely fanned the air from the corpse toward Clarissa, but Clarissa remained undeterred. "I hope we can get it to talk. We sure got that dead dog to bark, didn't we Eddy?"

"You got a dead dog to bark?" I said.

"We only practiced on it a little."

"Where did you get the dog? From the restaurant?"

"Yep," Clarissa said. "I wonder why they stopped making these things."

The galvanizer certainly was an impressive array of machinery. Very old school, lots of brass.

"I guess somebody figured they weren't cost-effective," Eddy said, visibly anxious now to undertake the operation. It was hard to believe that beyond the arcane artifacts gathering dust in shrouded gloom the upperworld bustled. Ours was a foul and profane lark, to be sure. And yet, for all our faults, we were young and alive and shared a burning curiosity: What would happen when we activated the antique galvanizer hooked up to the corpse? Would the body jerk and flail, maybe even scream? Eddy--Dirty Eddy--flipped a couple switches and said, "Stand back!"

From the body on the table a slight sizzling sound ensued, similar to television static, and a curious odor grew.

Strange thing, as this was happening, I noticed my reflection in the glass of a large framed rendering which Clarissa had recently dusted, and happened to see my body as it truly was, an unguarded moment at an unflattering angle, and I saw the others, looking just the same as well, all of us thoroughly bizarre with our legs and our arms and our noses and teeth--there's something about the human form that simply looks weird, I couldn't help but think in a sort of deja vu moment. It was one of those moments where you feel as though you've stepped outside of yourself. It didn't occur to me at the time that it might have something to do with the fruition of our lark.

"Look," Tish hissed, "he's moving...Oh my God he's really moving..."

Indeed, a slight movement of the fingers could be perceived. Head-to-toe, the body almost imperceptibly jittered.

Hee-hee-hee-ing in his teeth like Dwight Frye, Dirty Eddy bade me strike the corpse in the face with something made of wood or rubber. "You have to hit it," he said, "same as a doctor smacks a baby to get it to breathe. Come on now, hurry up!"

Figuring a shoe ought to do it, I lifted my right foot, retrieved the sneaker, then hauled off and smacked that corpse right in the puss. Not quite as easy as it sounds, actually, because I had to be careful not to hit any of the electrodes. Particularly in front of Tish I entertained no wish to appear insufficient in my abilities, and the result was a loud slap...followed by the body's ragged intake of breath. At first the corpse's eyelids fluttered. Then the mouth opened. Closed again. Opened. By degrees, and in a low tone, slowly the dead man spoke.

"What's...going...on?" The voice was gravelly and flat behind a pale slackness of flesh. "Oh...my...god...it hurts." He seemed confused and in a stupor, but not as much as you might think. The dim, cloudy eyes of the corpse stared blankly ahead. "Help...help me."

I had seen enough. It was one thing to move a couple bodies here and there to try to make a buck, but this business of charging the helpless dead was proving to make a mockery of a perfectly good perversion, and after a bit more of the display had happened, why, I had every intention of calling it off. Tish though, cracked pretty fast, telling Dirty Eddy at least a couple times to for god sake turn it off.

But the way he saw it, this guy hadn't only gone to the other side, he was still there, and Eddy wanted the corpse to dish the dirt. He began interrogating. Clarissa helped. I guess what with the tons of abuse she took as a waitress, Clarissa figured this was her shot at a little bit of payback. At first she slapped the dead man in the face with her open hand, having removed one long black satin glove so as not to smear it up with corpse, and this done with shrill, expletive-laced demands for answers. Then she started really getting into it, and began hunting up and down the oddity-packed aisles for any sort of Medieval torturing device she could find.

Eventually Eddy intervened. "It's no use," he said with a sigh, "we've lost him."

3

The apparatus wound down. The confines quieted, leaving only the sound of Tish's sniffles. She had been crying. I tried to comfort her, but she lashed out at me. As though everything was all my fault. Didn't exactly endear herself to me with that. I had a sneaking suspicion Eddy and Clarissa were looking for some quality time, and was pleased as punch for them to dispose the body because I had a Herman Melville seminar to attend that night and needed to get going.

The whole way back in my car, even though I had not only seen a man die, but also helped make his corpse move and talk, still all I could focus on was my being single and alone in a cold hard world and having to do shit I didn't want.

When I got back to Carata I went to the Co-op and picked up some bagels, then headed over to my apartment to shower up and get ready for class. The Melville seminar met once a week at the professor's house. He was an old guy who drank a lot and had a younger wife with a face like a halibut. They rented a room to a woman from a faraway land who sat in with the class and acted as his assistant. She cut in front of me at the turnoff on the way over. It took me a second to recognize her out of context, and I'm not sure if she recognized me at all, but it would've been awkward if I'd gotten pissed off. As ordinarily would have been the case. Altercations of all kinds were forever required. On the way to another literary seminar at another prof's place not long prior, I'd had to turn the car around, get out, and chase two dudes down for some unwarranted insolence.

Class proved uneventful that night. We talked about Billy Budd and made puns on the name with regard to weed, but other than that we didn't do much. Nothing to compare with re-animation, that's for sure. All that week, sitting at a desk taking notes, standing behind the counter at the liquor store, my mind wandered the black aisles of the Goldinege. Eddy, I noticed, skipped every class, and it wasn't until Friday afternoon that I saw him on the quad looking somewhat the worse for wear.

"Hey, what's up?" I said. "Where you been? You look dead tired."

"You remember those two long-head skulls," he said in a lowered voice as we stepped aside, "the ones with the clumps of long red hair?"

The giant skulls with disproportionately large jaws belonged to men who had to have been at least eight feet tall. With their double rows of teeth, and the thickness of bone throughout the elongated skulls, the men clearly were not human.

"You won't believe it when I tell you what happened."

"Don't be crazy," I said. "You know I keep an open mind." Indeed, many times even at that age I had already seen things which supposedly could not be real, yet did in fact exist.

"You probably could have figured that Clarissa and I kept practicing."

"But of course. Just on that one guy though, right? Holy crap, you guys didn't bury him? He's gonna stink the place up."

"Galvanizing staves off decay," Dirty Eddy said, "and we did bury him. A couple times. But he keeps coming back." Dirty Eddy paused as a group of students, like a clump of kelp, slowly floated by. "He comes back so the heads can work their will through him. Come on over, I want you to see. With the help of the long-heads, the corpse is getting stronger. Last night I went into the room and found it already there, having somehow clawed out of the hole that I keep digging deeper. It was standing at the galvanizer with the long-heads hooked up."

"No way."

"I'm telling you, those heads aren't hollowed out. They don't have eyes, but I think they still have brains. Like toads buried in mud for years, the long-head skulls are waking up."

"I'm supposed to work tonight at the liquor store."

"Call in sick. Listen, I've missed out on everything all week having to deal with this. We need to figure out a way to stop the corpse from coming back."

"Oh come on," I groaned, "what's so hard about that? Just chop it up."

"You have to help me."

"When you put it like that, I don't have to do a damn thing at all."

"All right then, I'm asking you to please help me make the corpse be more dead."

"Okay, all right, I'll see you after work. I can't call in sick, though. I need to make money. I work from six to ten tonight, so I'll see you at ten-thirty."

"Well, if that's the best you can do."

"It's the best I can do." I almost asked about Tish, but figured, nah. To even mention her name when Eddy was miffed for not getting me to give up work would lead to nowhere good.

A little while later inside the cooler at work, loading the shelves with beer, I wondered if my maul would be sufficiently efficient, blunt and heavy as it was, or merely make a mess of things. I had a paperback book of Robert Louis Stevenson stories with me that I never got a chance to crack open because the liquor store was too busy. The owner was a piece of shit who used to stumble in drunk, take money from the till, then blame the workers the next day for the missing money and threaten to fire everyone until the money came back. I expected him to show up, but he didn't. Instead I saw my friend from the university. He didn't realize I worked there, and I could see he was sort of perturbed at this. I suspect he was afraid I would talk about working for him as a body snatcher. Right in front of all the drunks. It was annoying because we'd had this conversation before. None of us wanted to get caught. There were customers standing and staring, unhappy fidgeting customers waiting to get their liquor. Yet what was up with this guy's face? It distracted the hell out of me to see this look of disappointment. Entirely unaccountable. Every fiber of his being seemed to scream, "Oh great, now everybody's gonna know I buy bodies you take from graves!" God, would I have to kill him? Then when he got to the counter, he didn't really say anything to acknowledge all his shitlooking, but bought a couple cases of beer and a fairly pricey bottle of vodka and left.

How silly of me, I thought later on heading into Egeria, to have so egregiously misread the situation. But when I saw Eddy waiting for me outside the Goldinege and happened to mention the incident, Eddy had a different take.

"Tish knows him," he said as I retrieved my maul. "Sometimes she clips weed for him."

"How do you know?"

"Because she said. Think about it, he's probably jealous of you."

The moon was nearly full and I hadn't had a bong rip in days. "I better get this over with while I'm still kinda pissed off, I guess. Where's Deadsy Deadso?"

Muffled crashing sounds somewhere down inside the basement made us crouch and wince. "Goddamit," I said, maul in hand, descending steps. "Goddamit to hell!"

In the shadowy rat maze of aisles I found the corpse in a corner huddling over something...or someone. I couldn't see clearly at first because of some boxes in the way. Then I realized that the corpse was on top of Clarissa.

The fight that happened after that is hard for me to recall. I guess it's aggression that makes the mind so dumb, because all I really remember is that there was this dead body moving. I wanted it to stop. I think I hit it a few times with the maul choked up in my grip. Not good solid swings in the close confines, but more like in a warding off motion. Eddy and I called out to Clarissa, or else I was yelling and he said to watch out for Clarissa. It's amazing how many times after a conflict you can't quite recall exactly what was said.

The body had decayed so badly, I couldn't bear to let it touch me. The skin was mottled everywhere like an overripe banana. There was mold all over, just like you find on bad food in the fridge. To say I found it unnerving to see it move is of course an understatement. I wanted to get away from it with every bit of my being. But with Eddy behind me, blocking the aisle, plus Clarissa sprawled on the floor in front, and all kinds of junk all around, somehow I managed to fend off the unexpectedly powerful swipes from the corpse.

Corralling it back against the far wall, I held up the maul to jab the weighty wedge like a thumb on a bug, aiming a blow intended to crush the corpse's skull. But at the last moment it moved, and all I took out was the lower jaw. Rotting eyes like spoiled boiled eggs jiggled in the sockets with the crushing impact, and the limbs flailed momentarily in the manner of a writhing insect. Eddy scooped Clarissa up as best he could and dragged her back out of the aisle. This left me free to take a real swing, except I slipped on some boxes behind me, and when I fell to the floor lost my grip on the maul. Jawless, the corpse lurched.

The crashing noises which ensued sounded like nothing I had ever heard. What little light there was went out. A cold, black illimitable void extended all around. Everything just suddenly disappeared. I had one hand held out in front of me to ward off the corpse; my other hand, in my search for something sturdy as I fell backwards, latched onto a large triangular slab of stone. I had seen it before and knew it was there, a black stone with green veins sparsely marbled with the curious quality of glowing brightly in darkness, and stranger still, a single enigmatic eye at the top of the pyramidal stone, all apparently natural in formation. With my hand on the stone I saw the green glowing eye and felt an electrical energy enter through my fingertips. A weird light suddenly flared, illuminating my surroundings.

Columns of rock towered before me.

"A cave?" I said aloud. Startled to hear my own echo as I was, I nonetheless repeated, "I'm in a cave?" Bewildered increasingly out of my mind, I called for Eddy and Clarissa. Was I hallucinating, I wondered? How could that happen? Maybe something on the stone? 

The palpable sensation of being watched pervaded my every nerve. I looked around. Two enormous figures were standing behind me. Ten feet tall, wearing weapons, and regarding me coolly with eyes in disproportionately long red-haired heads. They had Mohawk-type crests of hair swept up into topknots. Other than belts and skins wrapped around their loins, and great sandals strapped to their feet, the main items in the giants' possession were the tremendous blades which swung at their sides, and lesser swords, too--mere daggers to the titan twins, yet each fully as long as a cutlass.

Beyond a myriad of stalagmites and stalactites barring my view, I perceived the sheer face of the wall of all walls, its limits lost in the Stygian shadows of the ominous cavern, a wall perfectly constructed of colossal black blocks, an impervious barrier to protect a castle of onyx and obsidian, perhaps. I wanted to know, but then the light grew dim, narrowing above me.

I heard my name being called. What appeared to be the light at the end of a tunnel seemed to rush toward me and expand. Immediately I was back in the museum. Dirty Eddy and Clarissa were looking at me. I felt like I'd been knocked out.

"What happened?"

"Eddy killed it. He saved you."

"It was already mostly dead," he said.

I sat up. Somehow they'd managed to get me stretched out on the galvanizer. I wondered why they did that. "Hey," I said. "Were you gonna zap me?"

Dirty Eddy and Clarissa remained silent.

I never did understand exactly what happened. Evidently, Clarissa had gone down in the basement, correctly expecting to find the corpse loose again. They had been burying it in the back yard flower bed, for crying out loud. Clarissa had a wound on her hand which Eddy claimed I caused by stepping on it.

"Where's the corpse?" I said.

Eddy pointed to a cardboard box nearby. "Most of it's in there," he said. "I think there are still a few pieces left in the aisle."

Some of the bits in the box, I noticed, still wriggled. All in all, the entire experience had gone down rather ugly. Those wriggling box bits somehow summed up our Bohemian association, and it was sad to see, but the end had to happen. There was no way I could focus on my Melville seminar like this. I did think at the time that Dirty Eddy was a loose cannon. He was a terrible student, never what you could call a good influence. I got a bad feeling from the whole thing that night, and told myself driving back to my apartment that I was done hanging out with Eddy, Clarissa, Tish, corpses, all of that.

Weeks passed. The semester ended. At some point while organizing my address book I axed old numbers. I'd heard from somebody that Eddy blamed me for his drinking. It was easy losing touch. That happened with classmates all the time. No one ever stayed anywhere too long.

4

Weeks went to months, months moved to years. Lots of years. Two decades later, after a long absence and most of the major experiences of my life, I returned to the area. It wasn't my choice to relocate. Sometimes life seems guided by hidden hands.
 
The first thing I did after my divorce was work as a laborer for a father and son way out in the hills. I started working regularly for Graham and Marty on all manner of projects because I'd known them since even before I was in college and they needed extra help. I was the hay-buckin', barn-paintin', fence-fixin' ranch hand on 2,500 acres for a few years. I've worked in rivers for the Confederated Tribes on a salmon restoration project and done all kinds of manual labor, so I was comfortable in the basic grunt capacity and then some. Working for Graham and Marty I always learned something. Whether it was mixing cement, or putting in a deck, or dragging a 20-foot log up on a roof as a beam, every work experience offered something new to learn. They also had a cabin on their property which they rented. Usually to hard-luck cases. They wondered if I'd be interested. The guy they let stay there was way behind on his rent.

Knowing how large caves loom in my mind, Graham and Marty wanted to show me one on their property. Also they wanted to introduce me to the guy renting the cabin. At this point I'd been working regularly for them for weeks, and had heard all sorts of horror stories about him. Graham and Marty don't get much company way the hell out in the hills.

We plodded across precipitous trails on the way over to the cabin while Graham recounted instances of the renter's failings spiced with tangential tales from his Wisconsin youth as a train conductor's son. I had to wonder how many times Marty had heard it all. Now and again Marty added to what Graham said, and Graham would like as not say something subtle and sharp back to Marty, apparently a rebuke to his temerity. Yet at such times, Marty would respectfully nod his head, resilient as a samurai.
  
"The cave isn't far from the cabin down here," Graham said. "We were thinking you might want to see it because you said you like caves, but then again we also thought you might even want to use it in one of your stories."

Marty nodded with solid assent affirmed with a succinct, "Full on!"

Graham shot Marty a look. "Looks like he's here," said Graham, indicating the pickup parked outside the cabin. A bald guy came out with long stringy hair. It took me a long time to recognize him, he had changed so much in twenty years.

"Dirty Eddy, you old dog! How the hell are ya?"

"I'm doin' great," he defensively replied, wild-eyed and gaunt, looking like a hillbilly from hell. We clasped hands perfunctorily. There was no warmth in the quick grip. "I hear you're some kind of writer now, huh? You get rich yet? Pay my rent!"

"Rich in spirit, pal. I guarantee you have more money than I do. I should take your money."

Eddy's haggard face took a dirty, feral turn. Wow, I thought. Somehow over the years Eddy had become dumb.

"I didn't realize you two knew each other," Graham said, intervening with an energy suggesting to me that he didn't like feeling deceived. But no one had deceived him. No last names were ever used in any prior discussions. It had simply been a lot of years. "Ed is the one who found the cave, actually. Let's see, do we want to take a few minutes to do a break or should we head on over?"

Marty, Eddy, and I all agreeing we were good, we left the cabin and made for the cave. Along the way, Graham inquired further. "So where do you know each other from?"

"College," I said.

"You were both in the same program?"

"I guess you could say that."

Graham launched into a story about his early post-college days living on a commune.


When we reached the cave, Graham said to watch out for rattlesnakes. "Right," Marty agreed, crouching down and heading in with a small, powerful flashlight that he produced from a leg pocket of his cammo pants.

The entrance of the cave was roughly four feet high and four feet wide, with no sort of man-made construction, only large rock split by natural forces. Marty gave the go-ahead, and I ducked on down and scooted in, discovering a much larger hidden interior.

The boulders inside were strangely smooth. There were signs of digging going on behind the biggest one. The vision of the giant twins had never left me. It stayed buried in my mind. But I hadn't seen the interior of a cave since that night in the Goldinege.

All that day we dug into the hillside, and as we expanded the cave, Graham expounded on the plunder they had thus far acquired. Eddy chimed in, too, talking about how Abraham Lincoln had referred to bones of giants unearthed in expanding agrarian America in an 1850s speech at Niagara Falls. 

The day went by fast because we took a lot of breaks and talked about electromagnetic lines crisscrossing the planet. We talked about how Tesla knew. "Most UFOs you see," said Graham, "are here for a fill up on the geomagnetic energy grid." 

"Here we are," I said, "wax dab in the redwoods, and we all know this shit. It must be totally well known everywhere."

"You'd think," Marty nodded. 

Graham passed a fattie and talked about work. We were doing great, but we still needed to go dig some more. Then when we were done in a few hours we'd make dinner. Also Graham talked about how when he listened to the sitar recently, it felt like watching step pyramids from all sides grow, like seeing images from a global civilization twenty-five thousand years ago. There are pyramids on the moon, he said, pyramids on Mars--pyramids hidden all over Earth, hidden in jungles, hidden in sand, hidden underwater--we are far older than we know, Graham assured, and our Makers come from the stars. 

After we dug for the day, we marched back to the house, famished, filthy and exhausted. Eddy kept on moving past the house though and headed straight for the cabin. It was only about fifty yards downhill and didn't seem like any kind of big deal for him to appear at the house again after cleaning up, but according to Marty when Eddy said he'd be back over, it was anybody's guess if he'd actually show.

Sitting down in a chair near the TV with beer and snacks made up for a lot. My lats and hamstrings were sore as anything. It's a big soft chair there, almost impossible to get out of after putting in a long day. Musing back over the old college hijinx, I tried reconciling the Dirty Eddy I knew with this guy now. I was kind of glad he didn't show up, partly because I was so wiped out from work, and partly because it was just a depressing thought to me, increasingly, to hang out with him. If everything else had been going great, I might have felt differently. If he didn't look like such a textbook kook, that might have helped. He was like a really beat-up Christopher Lloyd. You expected to see an old rifle in his hands and hear him slobber to get off-a his land. Negative things to think, but there it was. I nodded off a few times in the chair while Graham and Marty watched a program about how the weathering of the Sphinx shows it's thousands of years older than mainstream Egyptologists say before I eventually managed to peel myself up and take the cot downstairs.

5

Next morning, more digging. Eddy showed up at eight and we all had breakfast. Oatmeal with local honey. We talked about bees and GMOs. The table had a wobble that shook the cups and glasses, two of those being Mason jars. Graham had tea in his. He kept tea in cammo pockets and various flaps of durable outdoorsy clothing, probably obtained through Norwegian surplus army outlets. 

Gathering our crap and finally getting going--we suffered a bit of a setback, time-wise, striking up a joint, because soon as Marty told Eddy about the Sphinx, Eddy mentioned the lost continent of Mu, which reminded Graham how he first heard of Mu back in his Wisconsin youth--we had just started out when the sound of an approaching ATV set the dogs barking. This was Willard, one of their neighbors. It being a slight trek, banter necessarily ensued. Willard pulled a pre-roll and put us back, time-wise, some more. Initially set to decline having seen some sloppy action from Willard with his spitty mouth all over it, after it went around a couple times I figured the worst got cooked and held the spliff in three fingertips to create a little safety tunnel. Even if it was the hottest goddess all spitty, still the last thing I needed was to get sick, and Willard definitely wasn't the hottest goddess. On the other hand, I couldn't pass up getting baked with so much work ahead. 

After awhile, Willard rode off. We listened to the sound of his ATV recede. Finding how much time had flown did prove a bit of a shocker, and we talked about that a little while we looked around for tools. Eventually I think it was Marty who remembered we had left the tools we were looking for back at the cave. 

"It's ten o'clock," Graham said when we got there. "Well, should we take a break before we start?"

Turns out, off Japan, they've got ancient underwater pyramids built for giants. All around the world, ancient people moved into places they never built, preexisting monolithic palaces. There are pyramids on every continent. The architect was the same. Pyramids tap into free energy from the planet's geomagnetic fields. Tesla knew.

Graham said he was pleased during lunch with our progress so far. "That's considering of course that today we've only worked for forty-five minutes."  

Putting our shoulders into it when we returned, Eddy and I zoned on auto for a good few hours while Graham and Marty used some beams they had to form supports. There wasn't enough room in the cave for more than two guys to dig. We had hard hats, ear plugs, dust masks and safety glasses, mostly swinging picks, but sometimes working with a pry bar, a shovel, or a sledge, and every half hour or so we'd rest for a couple minutes while Graham and Marty propped up support beams and took new measurements. Eddy asked about my divorce in one of these moments. We had stepped outside the cave to avail ourselves of air. Shaking dust from my bandanna and wiping off sweat, I gave the bare info, sparing him the full saga. 

"Whatever happened to Clarissa?" I asked. 

"Clarissa's still around," Eddy said. "She works at the mall up there just a few blocks from the museum." The Goldinege. This was the first time he'd mentioned it. I wondered what Clarissa looked like now, if I'd even recognize her. I was about to ask, when I was stopped by yells from in the cave. Eddy and I could both clearly hear Graham going off on Marty over some silly bit of nothing again. That went on for a little bit. All very one-sided, with Marty retaining full composure as he respectfully apologized. I can only wonder what their faces must have looked like, but I had a pretty good idea, based on prior observation. Eventually, quietly, Graham exited the cave shooting a stern look over his glasses before threading his way back on the hillside trail. His hands, I noticed, glistened profusely. 

As I started to go into the cave, Marty emerged with the suggestion that we buck up a tree that fell down near the house into rounds, call it quits for the day on digging, and instead play some cards and start up a fire in the pit to barbecue some chicken. "My father has to take medication with some gnarly side-effects," was all that he said heading back. 

The cards and the chicken all sounded good, but when we reached the house and saw Graham still had attitude we reconfigured on me chilling with Eddy at the cabin. I had brought some provisions, anticipating a few days of work out there, and these I retrieved from the downstairs cot without event. Taking that rutted old road to the cabin reminded me of our Community Forest haunts. It was all I could do not to fall in a deep depression as images from my life before the divorce flashed in my mind and clashed so jarringly with all I saw around me. 

A good bit of what I saw showed me Eddy was a colossal slob. What with all the dirty dishes left around and little black pellets of mouse shit along the walls, I foresaw organic fig bars, a pack of peanuts, the last chunk of sourdough and several pale ales in my future, and all at the picnic table on the deck.

"You say Clarissa works at the mall, eh?" I mused, cracking a brew. "What store?"

"Why do you want to know?" Eddy darkly replied.

"No reason, just curious. Why should my asking upset you?"

He didn't say anything, and I let it go. Back at the cave he'd said he hadn't even talked to her in a couple years, but wherever she worked it was visible enough for him to be sure she was still there. 

"When's the last time you saw Tish?" I said.

Taking a pull off an ale, Eddy stared into space and flicked an acorn. "She dropped off the face of the earth a million years ago," he said.

Echoes of yells from up the hill. 

"Graham must take a lot of medication."

"They're probably going to want you to drive up to Egeria tomorrow and pick up some shit at the lumber center."

"Why do you say that?"

"Marty told me while you were grabbing your food."

From the way he shook his head after saying Marty's name, I could tell he had something negative he was itching to say. Sure enough, he had a grievance he launched into. I didn't want to hear it. From his perspective, Graham and Marty were lousy landlords. And I'd already heard from them how Eddy was such a lousy tenant. 

"Did Marty tell you what I'm supposed to get?" I hoped they didn't think my car could handle any kind of a load.

"Last I heard," Eddy said, "Graham's still making up the list." 

6

It was hard to believe how much Egeria had changed over the years. Former fixtures long vanished. Up and down the streets, patches of the wandering poor. Grown men meandering on one-speed bicycles. People with faces like Popeye impersonators, Goya-esque grotesques in the flesh filling up sidewalks with skeletal frames jacked-up on deadly shit. The cameras on the streetlights caught a collection of dilapidated corners and long line of global corporate business signage flanking traffic. 

Off the main drag, other than the chemtrails crisscrossing the sky, the residential area looked about the same. Nice old houses from various times, some with palm trees in the yard. The lumber center, I realized, stood just around the corner from the old mall. I figured I'd stop by the supermarket there to replenish provisions and pick up something from the deli for lunch, the thought occurring in the back of my mind that, who knows, conceivably, I might even see Clarissa working somewhere in the store. Sure enough, the deli was right there when I walked in. I stood checking out some meat and cheese. A voice near some hands with plastic gloves in the case asked me what I'd have, then I looked up and saw Clarissa.

Took her a second to recognize me. When she came around from behind the counter to give me a great big hug, I saw her damn good looks shone better than ever.

You see people over the years, of course, enjoying that feeling of reconnecting, however briefly, and that's nice. But I mean this was way beyond that. Together with two of our friends she and I had accomplished something. We raised the dead. That's not something you can buy. They can't teach you that in school. 

We couldn't properly catch up at work, naturally, especially not with a cluster of deli customers suddenly waiting, but we exchanged numbers with mutual assurances to contact each other later in the day and get together as soon as possible. Clarissa's enthusiasm suited me perfectly. She was much sexier now than she was younger. Every beautiful bountiful bit of her was just sheer luscious goodness that bounced around like full ripe fruit on Greek gods' trees. Happy to say, I didn't see no ring.

The whole drive back, the world rose majestically. So timeless, so serene. I felt good.

Funny old world. Far different from the thoughts of the previous night, now I reveled in being a survivor, dammit, and not only that but a man with varied work, plus the phone number of a very exciting woman. Letting my mind wander as I entertained thoughts of Clarissa, I passed into the southern portion of the county. Just as I approached the Vista Point overview, happy little notes from my properly situated TracFone alerted me of a message. Indeed, a series of three more. All from Clarissa, I noticed when parked up top with the engine running. Turns out, one of her coworkers had asked who I was. When Clarissa said my name, incredibly enough her coworker knew who I was from the newspaper. 

We texted back and forth a few times. I almost asked if she was single, but didn't want to blow it, and congratulated myself on showing restraint when back on the road cranking tunes.

Clarissa's positive energy was such a turn on, I beamed all the way back to the ranch, the glorious moon being visible most of the way all day, showing increasingly bright when I returned by dusk. Leaving the things from Graham and Marty's list in my car, I gathered up my provisions and noticed when I went to the refrigerator with my perishables that none of the regular lights were on, which was odd at this hour with the rigs there. Feeling like Mr. Hallorann calling out for the Torrances, I conducted inquires to no avail. They must be down with Eddy, I figured, and headed for the cabin.

As soon as I got there, I could see that something was wrong. Marty and Eddy were on the deck. Marty, sitting on the warped gray wood of the picnic table bench with his back to the table and his elbows on his knees, looking strangely dejected. Eddy stood nearby holding until the sound of my approach a posture indicative of sympathy, thumbs in belt loops, shaking his head. This much was clear at a glance, even in the waning light. I watched them wondering what was up as I walked, and said when I reached the deck, "Hey, how goes? Where's Graham?" I wanted to hand him his change from the list of things I picked up. Eddy looked at Marty, who stared at the deck with his elbows on his knees.

Somehow I knew. I could just feel it. The loss. Marty looked like he had lost his best friend. And he had. 

The first thing I thought: meds. Graham and his meds. Some sort of side-effect. I didn't say anything. I could feel it was one of those times to say as little as possible. Part of you wants to be polite, but then you also remember that in heightened moments, in times of stress, the slightest utterance tends to set off the aggrieved, whereupon frustrations are drawn then to the speaker. So when Marty started explaining that, indeed, when he and Eddy found Graham's body only a couple of hours prior, he determined from several factors the most probable causes of death. I believe it came down to a heart attack most likely brought on by a long laundry list of organ malfunctions. Hyper-thyroid this, pernicious anemia that, numbers long recorded, all pointing increasingly bad. I listened to Marty as well as I could, being sure to show him I cared, yet remaining careful to let him do all the talking. 

From what I could determine, Graham was beyond emergency assistance when they found him. Marty and Eddy had been doing some light work in the cave. Graham had stayed at the house to work on something else, some sort of paperwork. Perhaps because he didn't feel well. Whatever the case, Marty didn't want to have to report it. Just when he started to reach for the phone to let the authorities know, looking at Eddy and thinking about Clarissa the idea suddenly struck me.

"The galvanizer," I said. "We can galvanize him."

Instantly all the frustration Marty felt came out in a volcanic rant directed at me. Eddy seemed helpless to corroborate my testimony, initially. I could've killed him. Somehow my asserting that Eddy and I had in fact brought people back from the dead, sort of, wasn't good enough for Marty to accept. But when Eddy finally spoke up and said all the same things that I'd already said, then Marty found the information reliable. 

Right about when Marty started getting excited about our taking Graham up to the Goldinege, I got another text from Clarissa. Things must be good, I couldn't help noticing, seeing how she was checking in with me for no particular reason. At first I thought I shouldn't invite her. Then I remembered how long Eddy took before backing me up. Clarissa's job was crappy enough without having to miss out on reliving those magic nights of yesteryear. I went ahead told her.

"Dudes," I said, "hold up for a sec and I'll help Graham get loaded in the car. So to speak." By this time, Marty had heard about Clarissa and Tish, so when I told them that she was texting with me now, Eddy started fixing at what was left of his long scraggly horseshoe hair, and Marty perked up when I told him what she had to say about the museum.

"She says she passes by it going to and from work almost every day, and that she knows it hasn't changed at all. It'll be a cinch for us to get in. She's super-excited, and knows to tell no one."

"Where's Tish?" said Eddy, sharply.

"I don't know. You said she dropped of the face of the earth."

"Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?"

"Sarcasm? Whatever. Clarissa says she just ordered a pizza right before texting me and wants to know if any of us want some."

"What kind is it?" Eddy said, sharply again.

I typed in the question. Things were quiet for a minute while we waited. Except for the frogs. The frogs sounded loud. I sure hoped the galvanizer still worked.

Dee-doodle-oo. New message.

"Pepperoni and olive," I said. We all agreed that would be great, then Marty and I headed back up the house to grab Graham and deposit him wrapped in sleeping bags in the little back seat area of Eddy's rig without Marty having to see. I felt bad about Marty having to take the middle up in front. It was Eddy's beat old rig though, so he had to drive, and I'm too big to sit there. I kind of hated having to turn around and go right back up north again. Small price to pay, of course, for bringing Graham back. For however long, and in whatever sort of condition. Better than nothing though, probably. Also I looked forward to seeing Clarissa again. A good bit of the way out there was spent with Eddy asking how I knew so much about her now. I told him I didn't, really. Although I wouldn't mind getting to know her, that's for sure. 

"She taught a community education class on Gothicism a few semesters back. How cool is that?"

"She told you that today?"

"Watch the road, Eddy," Marty interjected.

"Oh yeah. She still paints, too. And sings."

"How do you know?"

"She sent me links. Very Gothic stuff, quite good. She never forgot our nights robbing graves."
 
7

We caught the last purple glow over the ragged black tree-lined mountaintops in glimpses through the winding woods on our trek back to the Goldinege. Deep boulder-choked ravines and primordial gorges thick with waterfalls contrasted grimly in their beauty with the purpose of our journey, the dark bundle bouncing on the back seat. I thought about Graham. Times we'd all shared. Marty spoke little except to occasionally inquire for further details into the galvanizing process...


 






















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