Bury me, bury you.


    © by Gary Morton

    2,600 words

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 destroyed.

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 black trees.

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 thoughts.

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 work.

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.

Fortunately, the 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.

Perhaps the 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 the dead.

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.


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