Vacancy

by J.M. Anderson

 

The fog was crawling in when they heard the scream. It wavered for a few seconds then become echoes, then became silence. Krista checked her watch. 9:45. She turned to David. “Did you get that?”

David was wearing big headphones and a light windbreaker, pretending not to be cold or a little shaken. Krista wore a sweater and jeans and was cold and scared and hid both well. David rewound the tape in the recorder strapped around his shoulder; the whirring noise was the only noise around them. He finally hit play and heard the ghost (or whatever it was) scream and he didn’t like it any better the second time.

Krista motioned for the headphones and as always she got what she wanted. She listened to some woman’s scream, the sound of someone dying, that came from God knew where, out of the fog somewhere.

“What’s she saying?” asked Krista.

“I don’t know,” said David. “Let’s figure it out in the car. Down the road somewhere.”

* * * * *

Soon they were in their rented Ford and the cemetery was still in the mirror when Krista said, “‘These guys.’ I think she’s saying “‘These something guys.’” She pecked the rewind button again. “Or maybe ‘Please something guys.’” They were farther from the cemetery now. The countryside flew past them. “David, slow down.” David’s eyes were locked on the lights up ahead. Civilization. She put her hand on his and he slowed.

“Sweet Jesus Christ,” he said.

“What?”

“She’s saying ‘Sweet Jesus Christ’.”

Krista listened to the tape again and in a rare move agreed with David. Then she told him to head for the motel.

* * * * *

Their car crunched into the parking lot of the Pepperidge Motor Court at 10:00 p.m. and even at that hour the motel was noisy with tourists who were looking for a quiet time in the country. The lot was nearly full and kids ran from motel room to car to room again. TVs blared from open windows.

“There’s a spot over there,” Krista said.

David squeezed the car between two SUVs and they got out, creaking on the wooden planks leading to the manager’s office. Krista grabbed David. “This is it,” she said.

Their creaking stopped outside of room 17. David seemed to back away. Krista saw this and smiled. But she hesitated herself before she cupped her hands over her eyes and pressed her face against the window. The curtains weren’t drawn because there was nothing to hide. It was a boring, uninspired motel room with ten-year-old furniture. “Hmm,” she said dismissively.

* * * * *

The office smelled like peanuts and the man’s breath smelled like hot peanuts. “Lucked out,” said Pepperidge, the middle-aged, friendly owner and manager. “Nearly all booked up.” The skinny man turned and reached behind to his nearly empty rack of keys and palmed one. The key to room 18.

“We were looking to rent room 17,” Krista said.

“Oh, I don’t let that room out,” Pepperidge said.

Krista said: “Look, we know the room has a ‘history’. That’s why we’re here. With money.” She reached into her purse and graced the counter with a fifty. “We’ll take our chances. So if room 17 and 18 are adjoining—” started Krista.

“They are,” said Pepperidge.

“Then we’ll take them both,” said Krista.

Pepperidge pulled out a key from a side drawer and took the fifty.

* * * * *

Krista and Pepperidge were outside of room 17. “I take it you folks are some kind of investigators,” Pepperidge offered as he put the key into the lock.

“Something like that,” Krista said. “Working on a book.”

“What do you know?” Pepperidge asked.

“A little,” she said. “We got the gist of it.”

The manager snorted. “You probably got five or six different stories. Well, I was here when it happened.”

David came up the walk with the first batch of Krista’s luggage as Pepperidge opened the door to room 17. The three went in a little cautiously, as if sneaking up on something. Pepperidge turned on the lights. They flickered a little, but finally stayed on. He crossed the room and opened the window, letting the crisp night air seep in.

“Like I said, I don’t let this room out…” He looked out into the fog. “This is the thickest I’ve seen it in years.”

“So what happened that night?” Krista asked.

“Forty-two years ago,” the old manager muttered. He looked out, lost in the fog. “Nate McKee… You never would have thought… I mean, not him…” Then Pepperidge remembered he was telling a story. “My parents ran the motel back then. Anyway, I was seventeen the year Nathan McKee killed his wife and two children. He was an attendant at the station on the corner, back when they had full service. Nice guy to know, but one night he drove a stake through the heart of his wife and two kids. Girl and a boy. Girl was nine, the boy was six.”

“Did he say why?” asked Krista.

“Well it came out he’d been on shaky ground for a while. Mentally. Hearing voices and such. Turns out he knocked Jeanie, his wife, around a couple of times, but she never said anything to anybody or the cops swept it under the rug for free gas or whatever. The thing of it was one night he snapped and said the virgin mother came to him and told him the truth. Said the woman he married ten years ago and the kids she bore weren’t really his family, but demons in disguise. The only way to get rid of them was to tie them down and… Well I guess I told you that part. So he did what he thought he had to do, lot of grief in his heart they said, and he left them dead in the two-story home he built three years before.

“He killed one more person after that,” he continued. “A ‘Jane Doe’. Left her buried with a stake in her heart out by the old split tree.”

“What’s that?” asked Krista. “The ‘old split tree’?”

“Down the road from here, quarter-mile. Tree that got hit by lightning long time ago, split in half, kept growing.”

“So what happened to McKee?” asked David. “How many years is he serving? Or did they execute him?”

“Well, we don’t have the death penalty here in Maine,” said Pepperidge. “But it doesn’t matter, because they never found him. Threw himself into the river most likely. But the body never washed up.

“So how does all this tie into the room?” asked Krista.

Pepperidge finally turned away from the fog. “While he was on the run, he stayed in this very room.

“The motel was empty, going through six months of renovations. Anyway, years later, people have heard noises and have seen Nate McKee in room 17. His ghost, I guess. Not that I’ve seen anything. I make a point of cleaning this room on bright, sunny days. Nights like this, with the fog coming in, I’d just as soon have the wife bring the dog in and then crawl into bed with her. The wife, I mean, not the dog.” He looked down at the key in his hand. “Are you sure you want to—”

Krista smiled. “You just talked us into it.”

The old man let himself out. Krista shut and locked the door behind him. She turned to David. “Tomorrow we need to find out where the old McKee house is…”

“Krista…”

“Dave, don’t start. Not now.”

“For the past three weeks, we’ve been trampling over graveyards, hanging around morgues—”

“And coming up with nothing. Now we finally have something to grab onto and you want to back out? Dave, I’m afraid you’re afraid.”

“Well, maybe being afraid comes with having some kind of respect for the dead. I can’t do this anymore.”

“And what are you going to do? Who’s been supporting you for the past year? Who paid the bills when you spent nine months locked in the bedroom making bad techno music that never made a dime? Who smiled while you ran all over the state playing wanna-be-30-year-old DJ?”

Someone in room 16 pounded on the paper-thin walls. “We can do this in the morning,” said David.

“And now when I need your help,” she continued, “now when I have a chance to do something, when I need you to stand by some graves and hold a microphone, all I get is regret.” She mimicked him, adjusting imaginary glasses on her nose, “Krista, you’re pushing too hard; Krista, we should slow down…”

David moved toward the adjoining room. “I think I’ll sleep in here tonight,” he said. He wasn’t going to feed her anger; she did such a good job of it herself.

“You don’t get off that easy—” But Dave entered room 18 and closed the door. Krista snorted then took a deep breath. She crossed the room and slammed the window shut and threw open her suitcase, fishing for something to sleep in, ready to spend a sleepless night fuming.

Then she saw it. The box. She opened it.

Inside was something she recognized, saw it a week ago in that little shop in Salem. Little stupid pendant. A cartoon ghost. Saying “boo”. It was so corny, it was so him. It forced her to smile and some of her anger fell away. She looked at the adjoining door to room 18 and felt ashamed.

“Dave…”

No answer. Krista knocked gently.

“Baby, don’t sulk. I like your music. It’s just all this running around, late nights at hospitals and accident scenes and finding nothing… It just makes me crazy. I want this so bad… And I want it for both of us. Dave, talk to me… I said I was sorry. I know I keep saying that—”

Krista heard a noise and turned away from the door. It was coming from the bathroom. Her bathroom. Kling. Like metal hitting porcelain. Then the water was running.

“Hello?” It caught in her throat.

The water stopped running. The room, everything, was too silent. Then the lights flickered a little and a little more and then they went out. “Hello?” she said again, lower this time. Krista tried the light switch but nothing happened. Now everything was too quiet and too dark.

“Who’s in there?” She headed toward the bathroom.

But the door opened before she got there.

Silhouetted behind the glazed bathroom window was a man. The man looked out into the bedroom and the bed, the nightstand, the woman… The man didn’t understand. What was left of his mind was racing.

Krista backed up toward the door to the adjoining room, toward room 18, toward David. The man came out of the bathroom, slowly, unsure of every step. In the moonlight she saw he was in his early thirties, but only after she saw the blood on his shirt. She also saw the name patch stitched into his workshirt.

“Nathan,” she said. “Nathan McKee?”

The sound of his own name didn’t soothe him. He clenched his teeth. He dropped the rag he was drying his hands with.

“How do you know my name?” more exasperated than inquisitive. He advanced on her, still unsteady and she put her back up against the door to room 18.

“Nathan, you can’t hurt me,” she said, forcing herself to be calm. “You’re dead, Nathan.”

“What?”

“You threw yourself in the river. Forty-four years ago. After you killed your family.”

He threw his hands over his ears as if that could make it all go away.

“You’re a ghost and you don’t know it.”

Nathan McKee looked confused, considering all of this. “No…” he exhaled, weary.

“Yes,” Krista said.

“This… this is all wrong. Where am I?”

“You’re dead, Nathan. I guess… I guess I’m here to help you move on.”

He advanced, closer to her now and she smelled the sweat and musk and oil on this “dead man”, this ghost. Nathan shook his head at her.

“You’re one of them,” he said. “Sent by Satan. I’m not dead.”

And he grabbed her and she knew he was right, he wasn’t dead, she could admit for once in her life that she was wrong because a hand had her wrist and the other dug into her throat. She brought a knee up hard into his groin. The “specter” groaned and Krista stabbed out and grabbed an unlit lamp and slammed it over his head as hard as she could and didn’t kill him only because the plug snagged a little behind the table.

Nathan fell back bleeding and she told herself ghosts don’t bleed. Before he hit the floor, she was whacking the door to room 18, calling for Dave. Then she threw her 135 pounds against the door, grateful that she put on (just a little) weight eating crap food on the road and she slammed into the door again.

Desperate now. Again.

Finally the flimsy motel lock gave. And Krista staggered into room 18.

There was a lump in the pit of her stomach; her soul seized.

She was looking into the room and she was faced with nothing. The absence of suitcases, of the bed, of the furniture.

Of David.

The room was barren except for a scattering of loose plywood and paint cans in a corner. Uncurtained windows stared out at the infinite fog.

“Dave?”

She ran through the doorless front door and out into the parking lot. “Please, somebody—”

Then the lump in her stomach fell and kept falling.

Desolation. Silence. Not a single car, not an SUV in sight. Just covered plywood stacked along the wall. She looked around for help. It came in the form of sign on a pole barely visible in the mist:

Pepperidge Inn — Closed for Renovations — Re-Opening May 1961.

The sign in the mist was the last thing she saw before Nathan McKee fractured the back of her skull with a rusted shovel.

* * * * *

Krista awoke in pain but the first thing she wondered was what was that noise. It was a familiar sound, not a pleasant sound. Even through the pain in her head she thought it was not a sound you’d hope to hear or want to hear or—

Then she placed it. It was the sound of digging. The sound of a shovel moving wet dirt.

The next thing she realized was that she was on her back. In the dirt. Her hands were tied behind her back.

She looked up at the mist that hovered above the ground and was looking at a tree, an ugly tree. Black, or blackened. The sound of digging stopped and she realized that was worse than the sound of digging starting.

To her left Nathan McKee pulled himself out of a shallow grave. She struggled but he had tied her hands tight behind her.

“Please…” It was low, so maybe he didn’t hear her. “Please.” Louder this time. “Don’t do this.”

Nathan was out of the hole now. He looked over and saw the dawning panic in her eyes and she saw the deadness in his.

“Help!”

“Scream your head off. No one can hear you, demon.”

“Oh, God, oh. God.” Gasping. She looked up and he was standing over her.

“How dare you call on God?” He lowered himself, straddling her, kneeling over her.

As she continued gasping the Lord’s name, his dirty hand parted the tall wet grass near the tree and when she saw his hand again it held a ten-inch wooden stake.

Her eyes shut and she struggled underneath him but Nathan steadied her by putting his knee on her shoulder and all his weight on the knee.

“This isn’t happening,” she thought aloud.

Then his hand wandered nearby and he had a heavy hammer in his fist.

“I don’t belong here…”

He shoved the stake underneath her left breast. Flesh was broken.

She screamed and said “Oh, God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

The hammer rose into the air over her.

“I’m sorry—”

And it came down like—

“Sweet Jesus Christ!”

* * * * *

David was brushing his teeth and stopped in mid-stroke when he heard the scream again. The same one from the graveyard. Louder this time. Closer. Then the scream became echoes, then became silence.

“Krista?”

Forty seconds later he opened the adjoining door to room 17, wiping his mouth with a towel. No sign of Krista, just a broken lamp, which was weird, he thought, because he never heard it break.

A few minutes later he was outside in the thinning fog among the half-clad or robe-clutching motel guests who also thought they heard a scream or something. He asked questions, but they knew as much as he did.

Then David strayed from the Pepperidge Motor Inn, deeper into the now-clearing fog and called for Krista and kept calling. No one ever answered.

For an instant he thought he saw a man underneath a tree patting down dirt with the flat side of a shovel.

But the fog lifted and the man was gone.

* * * * *

David never learned what happened to Krista and he never forgave her for walking out on him in the middle of the night, but song #3 on his last demo was dedicated to her.

 

A Grave Situation

by Eric Bonholtzer

 

Digging graves was not a desirable occupation. The dirt was unforgiving, cold and solid. It was back-breaking work, a bone-wearying profession. Max had known all of this before he had taken the job, but sometimes circumstances dictated the situation. He had a problem, and try as he might, his hands just always seemed to wander where they didn’t belong and return with something that was not theirs.

But Max was an optimist. No matter how far he sank, he always considered it a temporary plight. He could dig graves. He could till the earth’s surface for as long as it took because after all was said and done, it was still just a temp job. Now, almost six months after being released from the county lockup, Max began to wonder just how long this living hell was going to last. His Uncle John, the graveyard caretaker, a gruff old man with a toothless grin and a lazy eye, had told Max when he’d started off that he’d be digging graves until he dug his own, and at the time, Max could barely suppress a chuckle, but now he wasn’t so sure.

As Max’s dirt-encrusted pick split the grass, his thoughts wandered. He wondered how, for a town of only 500 people, they could manage a body or two a week. Sure, threshers hacked people to death. Farm animals killed ranchers in freak accidents. And there was a staggering cancer rate; these people smoked like the Marlboro man was riding away with the last of their cigarettes. But still, it just seemed like a bad town, a place where people came to die.

Max’s current client, though, had been a transient. A bad car accident and no one to claim the remains. Not a particularly pleasant way to go. Max paused, lit up a cigarette, and thought that, perhaps, there weren’t all that many ways that were. Inhaling deeply, Max listened to the faint rumblings of thunder just over the hills, telling of the storm to come.

He had to hurry. There was still another body waiting on the table, an old drunk named Howard Broach, who had to be interred before the storm made the ground too muddy to till. Max’s thoughts grew grimmer contemplating the enormously corpulent deceased, whose only legacy in life was to indulge in everything to excess and leave an immensely bloated corpse behind. And while there were no shortages of mourners at his funeral, when all the smoke settled, no one wanted to be stuck with the bill. Howard Broach became another county job. Max had been sour at the funeral and he was sour now. County requisitioned bodies, those with no one to claim them, were interred for next to nothing, which made Max’s cut even less. With a grimace, he snuffed out his cigarette with a booted toe, took a swig of whiskey from the flask he always kept at the ready, and returned to his digging.

* * * * *

Night had fallen by the time the two holes were dug, and with great effort, Max wrestled the bodies into their final homes, the unwieldy body of the late Howard Broach giving him more than a little trouble. Max had asked his uncle about a coffin for the body and the man had merely shrugged. The county got what it paid for.

With a grunt, Max picked up his shovel and somberly started filling in the graves. Rain was beginning to fall, making his grip more slippery with every stroke of the shovel. “Damn,” Max groaned as the spade slid out of his hand, down onto the barely covered body of Howard Broach. Max shook his head in aggravation as he climbed down into the muddy hole, cursing his misfortune. As he bent down to retrieve the implement near a bloated hand that appeared to be reaching out of the dirt for a lifeline, suddenly Max’s run of bad luck seemed to come to a dead halt. Fortune surely smiled on him as his eye caught a glimmer that could only be gold, a ring still attached to the dead man’s finger.

It was a plain gold band with ruby inlay set in a distinct pattern. Definitely valuable. Perhaps tonight had not been such a bust after all.

Curious as to why his uncle, by no means an honest man, had not thought of the same idea, Max bitterly found out the reason as he tried to wrest the ring from the corpse. Stuck tight. Judging from the frayed and torn skin on the bloated finger, Max realized his uncle had come up with the same idea and had obviously failed. Not wanting to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, Max simply seized the burial spade and hacked off the finger with a single stroke, easily extricating the ring. Prize in hand, Max climbed from the grave, tossing the finger over his shoulder with no more thought than a discarded cigarette butt.

After relishing his treasure for a few golden moments, a subtle fear began to gnaw at him, realizing what he had just done. Thoughts of cold clammy hands bursting from the grave flashed through Max’s mind with every scoop of dirt as he quickly resumed his job of interment. Max could almost feel that cold lifeless stare watching him, waiting for something. “Sorry buddy, you’re not getting your ring back,” Max muttered under his breath. “Finders keepers. You’re not going to need it where you’re going.” Sweat beading his brow, Max swore, as he shoveled the last patches of dirt over Howard “Nine Fingers” Broach, that the corpse’s eyes were wide open.

* * * * *

Max’s house was little more than a shanty, the paint peeling and the floorboards creaking, but the refrigerator was filled with cool beer and that was enough. A pile of discarded tall cans later and the grave digger was feeling A-OK. The TV, with its blurred picture, was off, but the radio bleated a bluesy tune and a newfound sense of possibility flared in the soon-to-be-former grave digger.

Max pulled out the ring and fingered his prize gently, marveling at the uncanny smoothness. Despite the glow of intoxication slowly enveloping him, something didn’t set right about it, and Max knew it wasn’t pangs of regret. There was definitely something off about the ring, and its ruby inlay, but Max couldn’t pinpoint it, and furthermore, he didn’t really care. It was his ticket out. The money it would fetch at hawk would set him up for a while until he could find something better. Tossing a discarded can to lay with the others, Max searched for another beer. Finding it, he popped the lid and spilled the drink all over himself as he heard a voice.

It was old and hollow, as if from a great distance away, calling out to him, “My ring.” Max shivered, glancing around frantically. He was alone. Or so it seemed. He tried to tell himself it was just an overactive imagination and too many graveyard stories, but he wasn’t convinced. Trying to salvage what was left of his beer, he came up with only two shallow sips. He definitely needed another one.

Max made his way to the kitchen, flicking on the light switch as he went. A little illumination and a fresh can of beer did wonders to ease the mind. He was already halfway to feeling normal again when he saw it. Muddy footprints. And definitely not his. Following the dirty trail led a bewildered Max back into his living room.

Sitting there patiently was none other than Mr. Howard “I’m Buried” Broach. A sickly pallor coupled with dirt stained his clothes.

“What… what… the.…” Max could barely voice the words, taking a tentative step back as he spoke them. “What… what… do you want?”

Howard chuckled, an animal-like cackle. “What do I want? Hmmm… now let me see?” As the unreality of it all set in, Max suppressed a scream. “Well, a coffin would have been nice.” Again that horrid laugh. “Maybe someone who wouldn’t have tossed me into the dirt. Yeah, you thought I didn’t see, well I was watching. But you know what I really want? I want my finger back.” That same humorless smile never leaving his face, Howard held up his mangled hand, short one digit.

Max took another step back, his mind unable to handle the unreality of it all. He searched frantically for a weapon but found nothing promising. “Forget it. What’s a little finger between friends, right? But you do have something I really want back, Maximillion. My ring. It’s special. You like the ruby pattern? The ancient Byzantine symbol for immortality? I know I did. It called to me Max, like it called to you. I knew from the second I saw it on that gypsy’s finger. I knew I’d kill for it. It speaks to you, Max. But you already knew that didn’t you? I feel its voice waning in me. And I need it. It does things Max… It’ll bring me back. Forever.”

Despite his fear, Max realized just how much his own future rested with that ring. It was his, and nobody was going to take that from him. If it truly was that powerful it would be priceless. Max stalled for time, “What ring?”

“MY RING!!! My ring now!”

Max took another backward step, running into a wall, his hands going up protectively. “It’s my ring now.” His eyes closed despite himself and he waited for those cold hands that never came.

Instead there was just horrid laughter. “Over your dead body, right?”

After several moments passed and Max found himself still alive, he mustered the courage to open his eyes. Nothing. He was alone again. Utterly alone this time. He checked his pocket, the ring still nestled safely inside; his eyes catching on the pile of discarded beer cans. Had he really had that many? He didn’t feel drunk, but he knew he probably was. He tried to rationalize. It had to have been a hallucination. Stress and alcohol, never a good mix. That was the only explanation. And nearly an hour later, after a few more tall ones, as Max slipped into sleep, he had a good long laugh about the whole thing.

* * * * *

Sleep didn’t last long. The peal of thunder awakened Max in a cold sweat. He was still in the throes of a waking dream, the vision earlier still all too real. For the next hour he tried to fall back asleep, but with little success. The storm had abated somewhat, but he couldn’t shake what he had seen. Every time he shut his eyes he could see cold dead hands digging their way towards him. Another two hours of restless waking, debating on the reality of his encounter, and a full bottle of Jack Daniels later, Max reached a conclusion: he knew what he had to do.

* * * * *

The rain beat down on him like miniscule needles. Max would make sure it was just his mind playing tricks on him and then he would go home reassured. He was thoroughly soaked by the time he reached the grave. It was deserted, as he had expected at this time of night, and though he had tried his best to skirt the houses adjacent to the graveyard lest someone call the cops, he couldn’t help but feel someone was watching.

There was scant illumination from the lightning, and Max was thankful for the darkness, making his secret job that much easier. Placing a small flashlight on the ground, he hefted his shovel and began to dig, taking one patch of freshly tilled soil from the ground after another. Max emptied the grave which he had just filled, aware of the lunacy of it all, constantly assuring himself that at the bottom he would find exactly what was to be expected, one very cold, very dead, Howard Broach. And then he would sleep. He would sleep the sleep of the dead, assured in the knowledge that there was no body after him.

But as he got closer and closer to unearthing, what he fervently hoped would be a corpse, Max’s uncertainty increased tenfold. And as he removed shovelful after shovelful of dirt where he was sure that he should be striking flesh, his uncertainty manifested into full on terror, complete and abject horror because the deeper he dug the more certain he became: there was no body.

Suddenly, he felt a hand upon his shoulder. Max could not even venture a scream as the hand forced him around to stand, face to leering face, with the dead Howard Broach. “MY RING!!!” the dead man spat at him. Max was gripped by panic, unable to move, confronted by a man who should by all rights be lying in the cold ground. Max’s mind reeled with the implications, the unreality of it all cascading over him.

A stroke of lightning split the stormy night sky, illuminating Howard in all his grizzly glory. The dead man did not hesitate, instead pushing Max, still clutching his shovel, into the grave. Howard followed, landing with a thud right next to him.

Max barely had time to sputter and choke, before he felt a four-fingered hand pressing his face into the mud. Relying on nothing but instinct, Max seized a handful of earth in his hands, and in a quick motion ground the soil into Howard’s eyes. Not pausing to think, seizing the opportunity, Max grabbed the shovel and swung. He connected, the blow smashing the side of Howard’s head with the sharp trowel blade. And then as quickly as it had begun, it was over.

Howard didn’t move. But that wasn’t enough for Max, not nearly enough. Howard had been dead once before. Max had to be sure this time, so he brought the shovel down, again and again, striking with unrelenting fury. He didn’t stop. Like a man possessed, he pounded Howard’s corpse into oblivion.

Lost in his rage, Max almost didn’t notice the voice of someone approaching. And even when he did, it took him a minute to pin down the sullen oaths and repetitious swearing, but as soon as he realized just what was going on, he scrambled from the hole. Taking a hiding place behind a weather-worn granite crypt, Max tightened the grip on the shovel. He had company.

Max watched as the old man stood beside the hole with a somber look of bewilderment. It was clearly not what he expected to see. Putting it all together with the pick-axe, saw, and shovel in the man’s hand, Max chuckled, stepping out from his hiding place. “I know what you want, and its mine.

“What… what?” The old man stammered, taking a step back.

“I know what you were trying to do. And I’m telling you, you’re too late. I already got the ring.”

“Max?! Is that you?”

“In the flesh.” Max advanced on the startled man, his shovel held behind his back. “I’m sure you’re a little surprised at seeing me here, huh, Uncle John?”

“Well… yes I was…” He stalled for time, his hands reflexively grasping his pick-axe. “I got a call about a grave robbing.”

“You call the cops on yourself? Is that it?” Max laughed at his own cleverness. “I know what you really want.” He approached until they were both within striking distance. “You want my ring.

“It’s my graveyard, my ring.”

“I found it first.” Max prepared for his swing. Just a little provocation and it would all be over. That was when he felt the hand. From the look on his uncle’s face he could tell that the old man was likewise startled. However, that brief moment of surprise quickly turned into abject terror when realization struck, as cold clammy hands reached out from the grave, that utter chill and fear the last thing the pair felt as they were dragged down, screaming, into the earth.

* * * * *

The town sheriff was perplexed when he saw them. Two very dead gravediggers piled into what appeared to be a cemetery battleground. The lawman stared long and hard at those two familiar faces, now so horribly distorted in death, and thought. I always wondered when those two would do each other in. Never did like each other much. Finally he shrugged impassively, telling himself to make a note of it. Guess it’s time to put out an ad for a new caretaker and grave digger. With no further ado, the sheriff picked up the shovel. County jobs, he thought bitterly, and started the arduous task of filling in the grave.