Monday, October 10, 2011

FICTION: Flowers for a Grave by J. Scott Kunkle

The cool winter wind blew heavily through the trees mak­ing a soft whistling sound in the night. The nearly full moon shone down on the countryside, filtering through the branches of the trees which swayed in the stiff breeze, caus­ing the faint light to dance about on the ground.

A small and rather run down graveyard occupied the clear­ing. Nearly two dozen headstones were visible, most nearly cov­ered by foliage. Many were lying on the ground, kicked over sometime in the past by vandals or children eager for the thrill of being in a graveyard after dark.

A small figure in white appeared at the edge of a tiny clearing amidst the trees. The figure paused, glancing about at the surrounding terrain and then moved slowly towards the dilapidated fence, which enclosed the cemetery. The fence had long since lost the paint from the wooden slats and was in bad need of repair, as most of it had fallen down. Only short sec­tions of the structure remained standing. A small gate hung precariously from a single hinge, moving slightly in the breeze. The silent visitor pulled open the gate carefully. Even still, a loud squeak sounded from the rusted hinge, sending sev­eral small animals scurrying through the underbrush in fright.

The small figure started violently at the sound, shaking loose the hood of the white shroud-like garment, revealing dark hair and the youthful face of a girl in her late teens. She looked about uneasily then passed through the fence into the graveyard. Crickets ceased their chirping as she walked past, moving between the older tombstones gingerly as to not upset them, and send them toppling like many of the others were. She made her way slowly toward the center of the cemetery.

She halted in front of three rather new headstones placed closely together and knelt in the long grass. Drawing several small flowers from beneath her coat, she laid one gently on each of the graves. Her hands shook slightly and her light blue eyes were moist with tears as she completed this silent ritual. She remained motionless for a few minutes afterwards, crying softly to herself, and then rose awkwardly and turned to leave, her eyes downcast.
The moon had disappeared behind the increasing cloud co­ver and she had some trouble finding the gate in the dark. The night had suddenly gone ominously quiet. After a moment, she located the broken gate and was about to leave the gravesite when a small sound echoed through the night. She stopped and turned around, ears straining to discover the source of the unexpected noise.

She strained her eyes, peering into the gloom that envel­oped the cemetery. Even the trees seemed to cease their move­ments as she surveyed her surroundings, but still she saw nothing.

A faint thumping reached her ears and then a slight rus­tling that came from the area that she had just vacated. Fearing the flowers she had just left might have attracted some sort of animal she started feeling her way back to the graves to insure that they were not disturbed.

As she approached the graves, the noise seemed to grow in intensity. She paused, fearing it might be one of the larger creatures of the forest. It was then that the moon passed from behind the clouds and into the clear night sky, casting an eerie light over the cemetery.

Her hands flashed to her mouth and she screamed in terror, a full-throated wail that cut through the night. She stood root­ed to the spot, her body quaking, and her eyes wide and unblinking, staring in total horror and disbelief.

A cloud of dirt hovered around the gravesite she had just left as earth heaved about violently. There was no per­son near the grave. The dirt flew upwards as if from the grave from the inside! As she watched, a human arm pro­jected from the center grave, waving about madly!

The girl found she could not avert her eyes. She watched as a human form emerged slowly from the grave, scratching and clawing at the earth around it. Almost immediately, the other two graves also erupted in a shower of dirt as two more forms ascended from their tombs. Clothes hung in tatters from the decomposing bodies. Flesh was clinging to the bones in only a few sparse areas, eyes protruding grotesquely from their sockets, saliva dripping from the misshapen mouths of the creatures.

She screamed once more, still unable to take her eyes from the gruesome sight. At the sound of her voice, the thing that had emerged from the center grave appeared to stare in her di­rection. It stretched out an arm a pointed at her with a long, bony finger.
"Rachel!" it seemed to cry, the word distorted by the de­formed mouth. It struggled frantically to move towards her in the mound of earth it had piled around the grave in extracting itself from the tomb.

The other two creatures stared briefly in her direction then fought more violently to free themselves from the encum­bering soil. Flesh fell away from their bodies as they clam­bered through the earth to get free.

As the girl watched, mesmerized, the flesh from the chest of the first corpse fell away exposing a large green snake that slithered through the thing's rib cage and intertwined itself about the torso of the dead being.

This seemed to break the spell holding the girl rooted to the spot. She whirled and rushed for the gate, sobbing with hys­teria as she stumbled along in the darkness. Her foot caught on a tombstone and she sprawled headlong in the grass.

Before she could regain her footing, one of the creatures was upon her. The smell of rotted flesh filled her nostrils as the thing grabbed at her, tearing at her clothes. She clawed furi­ously at her attacker, attempting to break free of its grasp­ing hands. The flesh fell away from beneath her fingers, leav­ing only the dull, gray bones.

The thing clutched at her, ripping the white coat from her body. She drew up her feet and kicked the corpse violently in the chest, sending it crashing to the ground with an angry cry of rage.

She scrambled to her feet and began running blindly through the darkness. Another of the things appeared in front of her and before she could stop her progress, she had rushed into its outstretched arms. It pulled her roughly against its foul looking body and raked her form with long, curled fingers, shredding the pale blue dress she had been wearing beneath her coat and leaving bloody furrows across her back.

She beat desperately against the thing's chest, ripping the tattered rags of clothing and the flesh from its body. In her frantic attempt to get free, she happened to glance upward at the thing's face. Almost immediately, she began to retch horribly. One of the creature's eyes had popped from the socket and now hung by a thin piece of membrane only scant inches from her face.

She began to struggle even more violently, upsetting them both, sending them tumbling to the earth. They hit the ground hard, breaking the thing's hold on her. She reached her feet just ahead of the creature and used her momentary advantage to seize a large broken branch beside her, swinging it club fash­ion at her assailant with every ounce of strength that she pos­sessed.

The branch connected with the thing's head, completely sev­ering it from the body. The corpse's head flew through the air, landing at the base of a tree with a soft thud. The girl saw thick gray worms crawling from the thing's neck as it collapsed to the ground. It began crawling around on the ground evident­ly searching for its head.
Dropping the branch, she turned to run and came face to face with the third being from the grave. She shoved violently at the thing, knocking it off its feet. The creature grabbed her on the way down, pulling her down on top of it. Struggling to get out of the corpse's grasp, she noticed a silver chain a­round its neck. Thinking that it looked somehow fa­miliar, she grabbed at it and twisted sharply.

The chain bit into the creature's throat, stripping the flesh from the bone. Maggots swarmed over her hand as the thing fell to the ground. She spun around, brushing the maggots from her hand, and ran as fast as she could in the dark from the cem­etery. She saw over her shoulder that the creatures were not attempting to follow.

Once out of the vicinity of the graveyard she slowed her pace until she finally halted. She leaned heavily against a tree and began to vomit. After she was through being ill, she raced off sobbing hoarsely, into the comparative safety of the densely populated woods.

* *

The police car slowed to a stop beside the other patrol car and turned off its flashing lights. A tall, burly man exited the vehicle and strode forward to meet the approaching police officer.

"What is the problem, Jim?" asked Sheriff Bill Colb.

The deputy took a deep breath before giving his answer. "It's your daughter, Bill. We found her lying beside the road at dawn. She seems to be in a state of shock." He pointed to his car. "She's over there."

Bill Colb blanched at his deputy's words and then rushed to the car. His daughter extracted herself from the car and threw herself into her father's arms.

"Please, Daddy!" she sobbed. "Don't let them get me! Please, make them leave me alone!"

The sheriff held his daughter close, confused. "I don't understand, Rachel. Who is after you? What happened?"

"Those ... things!" she cried.

"Things?" He looked at his deputy questioningly.
The deputy cleared his throat nervously. "She seems to think something came out of the graves at the old cemetery and at­tacked her." He scratched his head. "We checked it out, sheriff. There is no sign of anything unusual at the cemetery. No opened graves, no bodies. Nothing."

"No!" Rachel screamed. "They were there! They chased me! They ripped my dress! They tried to kill me!" She clutched at her father pleadingly. "Please, Daddy, you have to believe me. I'm not imagining this!"

The sheriff patted his daughter tenderly. "Don't worry, honey. Just take it easy. I will take care of it. Right now I am going to take you home where you will be safe." He led her to his own car and put her into the front seat, then walked back to where his deputy waited uneasily.

"Honest, sheriff," he began. "We checked it out. We didn't find..."

"Don't worry about it, Jim," the sheriff interrupted. "Rachel hasn't been herself the last few weeks. Three of her clo­sest friends died in a car accident recently and she hasn't gotten over it yet. The three of them are here in this cemetery. She must have sneaked out to visit their graves. She probably wan­dered around in the woods and fell asleep and had a nightmare."

"Yeah," the deputy agreed, nodding his head. "If she was wandering around in the woods last night, it would explain the torn dress and the scratches. Sure, that explains it."

"I'm taking her home now, Jim." The sheriff headed for his car. "I'll see you at the office later."

He wedged himself into the driver's seat and patted the leg of his daughter soothingly. "Let's go home now, princess."

In the small clearing, a slight breeze wafted through a grave­yard, blowing away the flowers placed on three of the graves that night.

In a car with her father, a young girl sat staring out the window at the gravesite visible through the trees, a silver chain clutched tightly in her hand.

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