Hallowed Ground

by Brian Boru

 

“Whatever you do, don’t screw up!” Jon barked, then pressed the wire cutters to my chest.

I fumbled the other tools I’d been carrying and everything fell with a resounding metallic clang that echoed through the night.

“Are you trying to call attention to us?” Jon snapped and shot me an acidic glare.

“No,” I replied sheepishly and avoided eye contact.

“Try not to wake the dead,” he warned and ducked through the newly made hole in the cemetery fence.

I collected the tools and followed.

This would be the last job with my psychotic, dope-fiend brother. Just like in our previous job, we’d met at a dive called Caspar’s. It reeked of stale beer and fresh vomit. We’d picked this place because Jon could score heroin and shoot up in the bathroom. He said it was his pre-job ritual. I’d found him deep in the Land of Nod in the toilet stall with a spike still in his arm. I’d hoped the bastard wasn’t dead yet and kicked his foot. Slowly his jaundiced eyes fluttered open. He cleaned up and I ordered drinks. Then we discussed the specifics about the cemetery we were going to rob.

The cemetery had once been a sacred grove, replete with rolling hills and a small reflection pond. However, economic setbacks in the 1970s caused funding to dry up and the gates to close. Slowly thereafter, it fell into disrepair and decay. Scores of teenagers snuck in over the years and sped its decline along by defacing tombstones, stealing statuary, and breaking into tombs. Years later, local papers had run stories about missing kids, who had last been seen around the cemetery. Soon rumors began to circulate about it being haunted, that malevolent forces were killing kids.

One morning pandemonium erupted when an unidentifiable, mangled body was found at the gates. The words “keep out” were spelled in a gruesome display with its entrails. The police hunted the cemetery for months looking for answers, but found none. As a panacea, they chained up the tombs, welded the gates closed and installed razor wire across the top of the fence. No one had trespassed since. Until now.

Ankle-deep fog rolled and tumbled over headstones and fallen grave markers. The pale moonlight gave it an eerie, opalescent glow. It ebbed and flowed up to the fence, but didn’t bleed out. Small tendril-like skeletal fingers of fog rose around our legs when we breached the hallowed grounds.

“This is really weird,” I said in a quivering tone. “Do you think those rumors are true?”

“Of course not! We’ve got a job to do so pull it together!” Jon snarled.

“Ok.” I dropped to one knee and made the sign of the cross.

“Lord, please protect me as I–”

Jon interrupted, “No time for that.” He pulled me to my feet and pushed me onward.

A copse of weeping willows had been planted to give the cemetery a sleepy, peaceful vibe. It probably did, decades ago, but without maintenance they had become overgrown monstrosities with massive gnarled roots that burst from the ground. From a distance, they looked like blackened limbs of the dead. The gentle night breeze caused the limbs to sway and creak in a way that made them appear to be beckoning us closer.

Jon moved through the minefield of roots and toppled gravestones with a confidence that belied an extra-sensory perception. I followed him the best I could, but tripped and stumbled trying to keep up. As we progressed deeper into the heart of the cemetery, the scenery changed. We now came across old beer bottles, crushed cigarette packs, and used condoms.

Tombs arose from the ground like rotten teeth in a diseased mouth; once white and pristine, now eroded with chips and cracks. Jon pulled out a crude map drawn on a cocktail napkin from Caspar’s. He shone his flashlight on it briefly and proclaimed, “Just a little bit farther.”

We traversed through rows and columns of tombs and paused every few minutes to check the map. He pointed out the largest one surrounded by a constellation of smaller ones. He illuminated the etching just above the cornerstone that read B7.

“This is it,” Jon said.

He nodded at me and pointed to the thick chain and padlock that ran through the door handles. I snapped the lock with the bolt cutters and removed the chain. Then he pulled out a set of lock picks and went to work on the lock set in the tomb’s steel door. He quickly defeated it and smiled.

“Ready to get paid?” he asked.

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I warned.

He shook his head and wrenched the door open. The earsplitting screech of rusted metal hinges that had lain dormant for ages howled through the night.

“Damn it!” he cursed and a bloodcurdling moan echoed in the distance. I looked at him with terror in my eyes.

“Let’s go,” I begged.

“No! We can’t leave empty handed. He’ll kill us if we do.”

“I can’t do this alone. Please.”

He entered the abyssal darkness and I begrudgingly followed. Jon flicked on his flashlight and dust particles danced and floated in a light they’d been denied for years. The light illuminated a large bronze casket resting on a stone edifice.

“Come on!” he urged and wedged a pry bar in one end of the burial lid. I wedged one in the opposite end and we pried it open. The stench of rot rolled out and hung in the stale air.

“Hold the flashlight,” Jon said and rummaged through the coffin.

“What are we looking for?” I asked.

“Don’t know. He told me I’d know when I found it,” he replied.

“Just hurry up so we can get the hell out of here,” I demanded.

Jon rifled through the dead man’s pockets.

“You want to do this?” he snapped.

Just then its’ cold rotting hands shot up and closed around his neck. Jon let out a soul-jarring scream as he futilely tried to break its grip. With a preternatural strength, it pulled Jon to its mouth and tore into his neck. Arterial blood pumped and sprayed across the wall. The cadaver sat up in his coffin with blood and gore dripping from its mouth. I looked on in horror while this monster slaked its thirst on my brother. Jon was dead within seconds. I dropped the flashlight and ran for my life.

Later that night, at Caspar’s, my employer sat across from me.

“I take it everything went well?” he asked.

I stared into the space between us and said, “I didn’t expect it to be so horrific.”

He pushed a fat envelope across the table. Hesitantly, I reached for it and brushed his frigid hand.

“That was my last time,” I told him as I pocketed the money.

He raised an eyebrow and said, “What if I double your fee?”

I sighed, “You could triple it, I’m not–”

“Fine. Triple,” he offered.

I shook my head and rose from the table. He looked up at me and said, “I’ll quadruple your fee.”

I sighed and sat back down.

“I’ve got to eat.”

He smiled. “And so do we.”

 

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