© by Gary Morton
Forks of lightning sizzled in the sky,
making it an eye, bloodshot with electric veins. A bolt splintered off and
struck a twisted oak tree, and it rocked from the blow, showering down rain and
branches. Thunder boomed, more debris slapped the mud, and then the nightmare
rose and possessed him again.
A moldered corpse was
struggling to rise from the bottom of an open grave; around him were tombstones,
mud and slashing rain. He was almost too frightened to flee, and he couldn't run
from this; if he didn't snuff it out and bury it he would be pursued and
His grip on the
shovel was slippery, but he fought the terror, determined to foil the conspiring
dead. His hair sailed with spray; his features were as wild and twisted as the
wind. The thing came up in a scrambling leap from the bottom of the grave and
jammed skeletal hands in the reddish graveside mud. He brought the shovel down,
cracking it against the wrists, and he continued swinging, trying to knock it
down. His clothes snapped in the tearing rain, his motion frenzied like he was a
hurricane-kicked scarecrow, caught in a nightmare image of graves and gnarled
Its skull was as hard
as stone and its neck ropes of blackened muscle; he drove it back, inch by inch
into the grave. A final vicious blow and it fell, then he relaxed, feeling hot
urine stream down his leg. Lightning made a spider web and it came up again. Its
face was over the lip of the grave, and its stare had a hideous mesmerism that
iced his blood. A bleeding tongue showed through splintered teeth and swollen
lips. Green ooze slid out of its smashed nose and the maggot whites of its eyes
rolled. Its forehead was a wall of purple welts and it clawed the mud with torn
hands, crawling closer and closer.
A bony hand seized
his ankle. Screaming, he kicked free, drove the shovel into its shoulder and
shoved it back over the lip of the grave. Then he began to shovel mud on it,
desperately hoping to bury it before it came up again.
Jim awoke with a
jolt, finding his bed fouled
by sweat. And his waking wasn't much better than his dreaming. His thoughts
whirled, refusing to come clear, and he knew it was because of the maggots
squirming in his brain. He could feel them, a cancerous pulp at the roots of his
A somber and empty
world was out the window -- slate skies and mud. A rush of whispering blew
across his mind like cobwebs spilling from a point behind his forehead. The
whole scene ran flat; shapeless clay of a dead place. And in the underground,
the dead laughed and convulsed. Indoors he was dry, his brain crumbling rot for
the maggots. Months ago, the maggots had crawled in his ears, making his brain a
radio tuned to the channels of the dead. Months ago, the conspiracies of the
dead had begun. It wasn't schizophrenia that had set in . . . the others could
believe that if they wanted, but Jim knew better.
He dressed slowly,
grim determination in his silent ways. Others would have succumbed to the
madness; they would already be screaming in the streets. Yet Jim hadn't given
in, and he didn't care about madness. There was an enemy - the maggots and the
dead - and he struggled through each day, telling others nothing, looking weak
and pale as his life slowly faded.
A theatre-mask face,
some fire above the dark orbits of the eyes, looked back from the mirror, and
over the inner frequencies, he could hear the appalled whispering of the dead.
They moaned and their moldered sinews snapped as they struggled against the
cruel earth. Forcing life into his face, he turned and prepared to leave for
Clammy cold gripped
him as he stepped outside. A clattering of skeletons rode the wind. Not a good
day for walking, but he had to -- his Ford was possessed, an engine of the dead.
If he got behind the wheel, it would steer him to one of the many accidents
about to happen. He was sure of it.
Without giving the
car a second glance, he crunched up the gravel path to the rise. A graveyard was
at the top, and more graveyards were on the little hills that stretched like
breasts of bloated corpses into the city.
Fog tentacles crowned
the trees, their movement poisonously slow. Cold drizzle fell from scudding
black clouds and the chill massaged his muscles with fingers of icy misery.
Today even the dead had been numbed. It was on sunny days that they were most
active, forbidding him the pleasure of the light, tearing at his coffin-lid
skull with hands of splintered bone.
On the crest of the
hill, he met up with a shovel and an open grave. Behind his forehead, the
maggots pulsed in a wavelength of pain, and as he cringed, it became wicked
screaming. The dead had opened the grave for him, he knew, and he stumbled away,
down toward a black ribbon of highway, hating them for their cruel plans.
As he came to the
fence, a red Pontiac squealed around the corner and slid to a halt. A burly man
wearing a flannel hunting jacket got out on the passenger side. Jim could see
him clearly; his silver earring, cunning face and strong neck. A Colt pistol was
stuffed in his belt.
“Agents of the dead,”
Jim thought as the Oriental driver got out. “Poison!” the dead screamed in his
head as the driver threw a plastic bag full of hypos into the ditch.
An argument ensued.
Wind snatched away the voices and a branch swung over the two men like a switch
about to strike. The wind picked up and its shriek found oblivion in an instant.
A raised fist from
the Oriental caused his partner to go for his gun. Three shots were fired,
opening the man's chest and throwing him to the ditch. The killer took a quick
look around. Spotting Jim in the graveyard, he hurried to the fence.
fence was tall and made of black-painted iron. Jim knew the guy would have a
hard time getting over it in the rain. Slugs popped through the bars as Jim
slogged up the hill. One thumped the mud by his feet, and then he was safe
behind a tree.
“Bastard son of the
dead!” Jim yelled from the hilltop.
architects that built cobwebbed canyons
like the main sorting terminal were also tuned into the dead. Jim believed that
the dead worked through them in some way. Their factory hells were built in
anticipation of the end to come. “I must witness with the eyes of the dead,” Jim
thought as he walked with his pink slip to the payroll department. He was
temporary and had been terminated with a bunch of other guys when he'd arrived.
He figured on getting his promised severance and returning home. The voices of
the dead told him that one of the other guys was going to shoot the office
staff, and he didn't want to be around when it happened.
“We'll all be dead
together,” Jim said, startling some of the office staff as he picked up his
check. He left the post office carrying the contents of his locker in a small
shoulder bag. Some of the union boys watched him pass. They had years of yellow
postal dust in their wrinkles, and whiskey flasks in their pockets that made
dingy rooms rosy and bright. Jim saw the maggot whites of their eyes and knew
they were pawns of the dust that had buried them. They thought they were safe
and secure, but they were dead.
Strolling down the
rain-slicked streets, he looked for a suitable restaurant. A deli and a
cafeteria were the only places he could afford. He settled on the cafeteria
because it was brighter, but once inside he was disappointed. Orange plastic
seat covers and stained walls, the place was as decrepit as the thoughts of its
rotting patrons. He ordered a clubhouse and let his eyes follow the waitress as
he sipped his coffee. Teased blond hair, black net stockings and a short skirt;
she was an angel of sluts. The sort of sleazy dream queen he used to date.
Lately he'd been reduced to voyeurism, since sex was impossible with the dead
screaming under the floorboards. The dead hated sex and he could see it in
people -- in their hang-ups and desire to bury sex under the floorboards with
the dead. He figured you had to be somewhat perverse or else you were in the
clutches of the dead.
Dense mist rolled
over the rail yards
and beaded on his face, wet as tears in a city of sorrow forgotten and rust
remembered. Ahead were the hills, their patchwork of tombstones, and the low
angry sky. The coffee in his stomach was the day's only warm glow, and it helped
to distance him from the sighs of the dead.
Early afternoon and
the inclement weather made for an empty road. He followed the white line,
feeling ghost bodies of fog brush past him. He was prepared to turn into the
brush as soon as he spotted the police. He hadn't reported the murder, like
everything else he kept it secret, but he assumed a graveyard worker or a
motorist would've discovered the body by now.
There were no police
or signs of life, just gloom, and it carried him on dreamlike, to the scene of
the shooting. Arriving at the ditch, he found no corpse, and he guessed that the
dead had already pulled it under.
A corpse gurgled in
his head and he realized that he shouldn't have returned. Turning away, he saw a
flash of red and jumped. The thunder took his heart and he almost collapsed from
the shock. It was the Pontiac, parked under a willow across the road. A blurred
face hung behind the rain-streaked windshield. He wasn’t sure if it was the
killer. The guy seemed to be on the nod.
“The rotten junkie,”
Jim thought as he moved to a spot where there was a crawl space under the fence.
He was just slipping through to safety when the wind gusted and the trees
creaked like a thousand opening coffins. The killer burst out of his car and
staggered, a needle still hanging from his arm. Jim knew the dead had roused
him, and at first the junkie sloshed clumsily through the puddles like he was a
zombie. His face showed bruise-blue amid a wash of mist, and his lethargy
swiftly became athletic prowess as he charged for the fence and Jim.
The killer got under
the fence and the race was on as he chased Jim up the hill. At the top the wind
was howling out of an opening sky, and in Jim's ears it was the mad raving of
A muffled crack and a
chunk of bark flew off a tree, causing Jim to duck lower as he stumbled on the
squishy turf. He moved on toward the open grave and the shovel.
Reaching the grave,
Jim leapt over it to the mound of earth and the shovel on the far side.
Something flashed in his mind; he'd just seen a body sprawled at the bottom of
the open grave -- a corpse with an Oriental face.
Grabbing the shovel
and crouching behind the mound, he watched the killer jog the last few yards up.
A mad grin was pasted on his vulpine face; brilliant junkie confidence was in
his eyes, death was in his soul. Without hesitation, he leapt over the grave to
the top of the mound, planning on plugging Jim with a close shot before he could
run or hit him with the shovel.
But the damp earth
slipped under his heels. He fired in the air as he fought for his balance and
Jim caught him square in the face with the shovel, sending him tumbling to the
bottom of the grave.
Forks of lightning
shattered the sky
and a close one ripped into an oak tree. The blow split it like a cannon shot,
showering down rain and branches. Thunder boomed, more debris hit the ground,
and he knew it was the nightmare rising to possess him again.
A killer was
struggling to rise from the bottom of the open grave, so he could murder him and
leave him to rot amid the evil cackling of the dead. Jim ground his teeth,
knowing he couldn't run from this . . . if he didn't snuff the monster out and
bury him he would be pursued and destroyed.
His grip on the
shovel was slippery, but he fought the terror, determined to foil the conspiring
dead and their helper.
Jim's hair and face
were wild enough to be the howl behind the wind. The killer came up in a
scrambling leap from the bottom of the grave and sank bleeding hands into the
black mud. Jim brought the shovel down, a hard bash, and he continued swinging
hysterically. His clothes snapping from gusts of wind and frenzied movement like
he was a hurricane-kicked scarecrow, dancing with a mock shovel by a grave.
The killer's head was
as hard as stone and his neck like steel cables, but Jim drove him back, inch by
inch into the grave. A final vicious blow and he fell. Jim heard him hit the
bottom and felt hot urine stream down his leg.
Lightning sheeted the
sky with orange neon and the killer came up again. His face was over the lip of
the grave, and the hideousness of it was paralyzing. Green ooze slid out of the
smashed nose and a gory tongue stabbed through splintered teeth and split lips.
The forehead was a wall of purpling welts, the eyes rolled to maggot white, and
he clawed the mud with bleeding hands . . .
. . . And this time
the nightmare didn't end, the thing crawled all the way out of the grave; it was
grasping for him blindly as it crawled around the mound. Jim shivered, dropped
the shovel and fell weeping to his knees. A face like a slab of red meat with an
eye hanging in jelly came up close, and the thing panted and slobbered reddish
vomit like a dying beast.
A beast that was
stone blind and crazed; it crawled around Jim, then it went up the mound and
slipped over into the grave, leaving only a smear in the mud.
. . . with each
shovelful of mud
the voices of the dead grew weaker, and when Jim was finished he heard only the
rushing wind; a pleasing sound that covered the dead like leaves and dust. He
felt a fire burn itself out in his blood and he was left refreshingly empty.
There weren't many recent memories. What was he doing here, some crazy thing to
make peace with the dead? “No matter,” he thought, because he had no more time
for morbid things. He was sure there was something better. Before the
schizophrenia, he'd been alone, so he had no life to reclaim. Now that the
madness was gone, he walked away and for the first time in a long time found
comfort in the storm.
. . .
. . . . . . . .