Creepy Eyes with the title "Grave Digger" across one of them

Grave Digger

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“The graves are dug up again. I guess that’s no surprise. I always have to do my job twice. Bury the dead, then bury them again. Don’t worry. They aren’t coming back. This isn’t a story where the undead claw their way back to the land of the living. You don’t have to go running to your friends crying that the grave digger has an army of the dead at his command. I know what they say about me. The whole town has rumors about my family.”

The boy looked at me bewildered. Frightened. He couldn’t be more than fourteen.

“Let me rewind” I told him. “So you can understand what I want”

When I was a young boy my father took care of this graveyard, like his father and the ones before him. My ancestors found that the graves of the dead were always dug up the same night they were buried. After being buried for the second time they were never touched again.

Grave robbers they thought, yet no valuables were ever taken. The bodies were never tampered with. Curiosity filled some, fear filled the others. The ones that were stricken with fear decided to seal the graves with cement. They thought the dead were trying to walk again. The cement would be bored clean through; the graves would be dug up either way.

A party formed one night. They were to put an end to this.

Fog rolled in as my ancestors waited. They’d been delivered a corpse; they delivered it to the dirt. Most expected to come across a group of people playing some sick joke. Maybe grave robbers looking for something in particular. Others thought they would come across the dead.

They weren’t so wrong.

What they found as far as anyone knows isn’t living or dead, it just is. Something came in the night and dug up the grave. It was described to me by my father as a shadowy mist drifting ever so slightly above the ground, a dark widow’s veil swirled and twisted around it. A shovel chained to nothing, dragging along as it skulked towards the grave.

They watched as this figure dug up the grave and went in. Time passed slowly. It returned from the hole and drifted away back through the fog. From that point on it was not spoken of.

A silent agreement between us. It digs up the dead, we bury them again.

I first saw it as a young man. Ironically, at fourteen. Chills shook my entire being as I saw it wading past tombstones to a fresh grave. It looked like a blur to me. Like someone’s face censored on a TV, but it had a shovel and a widow’s veil.

I thought my father was simply trying to scare me with ghost stories at the time. I copped some beers from my dad’s mini fridge in the garage. Brought a cute girl named Beverly to the graveyard. She was older. I felt so cool.

It was a stupid idea. I told her about how my family owns the graveyard. I told her about the stupid stories that my dad told me. The ones about the graves being dug up. She loved it, wanted to go and see for herself. It was all a joke of course, banter. Neither of us thought we were really going to see a ghost dig up some graves.

A funeral was scheduled and I let her know. We’d be going out the night of the burial.

Oh how we laughed in the days leading up to it.

“A romantic date with the dead.” We’d joke when we saw each other at school.

I’m not sure what I expected to happen that night. A kiss, maybe. Maybe we’d fall in love in a graveyard. Maybe someone wouldn’t think my family and I were the weirdos of the town.

No one kissed. No one fell in love.

We ended up sitting next to one another awkwardly sipping warm beers. It was hard to talk. It felt weird being alone with her outside of school. Before we knew it the fog came.

I saw it.

We both saw it.

The thing is, anyone who sees it doesn’t live very long. She was dead in two days.

This doesn’t apply to my family of course. Whatever this thing does with these corpses, I’m not sure. It needs us. That’s what I think. That’s why we don’t die. We put the bodies in the ground for it.

I’ll never forget Beverly’s funeral. Seeing her grave filled knowing I would finish the job later that night. I owed her that much.

I did a lot of research after I buried her. I wanted to know what it was. I had to know what it was doing with the bodies. I believe what we have here is a Psychopomp. A being that guides the dead’s souls to the afterlife.

I watch it a lot these days. The feeling of terror left me after the first few times. It doesn’t even seem to register my existence. It does its work and leaves. A job well done.

No one in my family is left. I never found anyone after Beverly. I can’t after what happened to her. That memory haunts me nearly every night as I watch what I now call “The Pomp” dig up the dead.

My mother and father died the next summer, the one after Beverly. My mother got sick and it all went downhill fast. My father killed himself a few weeks later.  You think burying your loved ones once is hard? The second time is even harder.

I don’t blame my father. Being the keeper of this place will tear anyone’s mind apart. The nightmares of the dead calling out and begging you to help them come every night. You wake up, sheets drenched in sweat. For the slightest moment you can see The Pomp in the corner of your eye. It’s impossible to move. You’re paralyzed. You try to speak or cry for help. There’s nothing in your lungs. No matter how hard you try to scream nothing comes out of your open mouth. It stands in your room holding a shovel commanding you to bury more dead.

Finally, you break free from your paralysis, eyes darting across the room, looking to see if something is actually there. It’s gone. You’re left questioning yourself. Does it visit me every night, or am I dreaming?

“Do you understand?” I asked the boy

“Pl- please just let me go home” He’s stuttering. Almost crying.

“Do you understand what I want?” I ask again.

“No. I just want to leave. Please I didn’t do anything”

Gazing out of the small hut that I call a home, looking at hollow ground. A burial waiting to happen.

“You should have thought of that before you decided to impress your friends by running through ‘The Lunatics’ graveyard.” I said.

“It was just a dumb joke. A dare!” He sobbed.

A dumb joke. Look where that got me.

“I just want to understand what it wants. The Pomp. What does it do? What is it here for?” I said to him. More of a question to myself.

“I need you to do something for me. I am going to take you to a grave that I dug earlier today. I want you to bury me alive. I will never know what it is until I do that. I have thought about this for most of my life. I’m tired of doing this. I don’t want to do as my father did. If I’m going to kill myself, I’d rather die with questions answered.”

I could make no sense of the boy’s face. There was no response he could muster other than a low “No.”

“If you don’t do it I will take this pickaxe and shove it through your skull.” My hand found the pick. Scraping it across the wooden floor and up into my hands.

Blood ran away from his cheeks. “Show me the grave.” He said, still hesitating.

I didn’t think it would be that easy. I wouldn’t kill the kid of course. I need him alive. I can’t go through with the plan if I don’t have him. Still, I have to give the boy some respect, still thinking of right and wrong after being kidnapped by a man who clearly has no sanity left.

The grave wasn’t quite six-feet deep but it was close enough. An empty casket lay there, open, beckoning a new soul to be swallowed.

“Sorry kid” I said, picking up the shovel.

He fell hard. Didn’t even see it coming. The boy landed right in the casket, unconscious. I jumped into the ditch. Blood ran down the back of his head, splitting like a river at his neck. My fingers felt for a pulse. Still pumping, still alive. Slamming the casket shut and locking it I climbed out of the hole. Slowly, I filled it back in. The sun was setting; I didn’t have much time.

I was almost done when I heard muffled banging and crying from the casket. Looks like he’ll be awake for it after all, good. If it doesn’t kill him he can tell me what he saw. If it kills him, well, graveyards are for the dead.

So I waited, my heart racing. What would it do when it came across the living in a place for the dead? I was afraid it wouldn’t come at all. That it knew the game I was playing.

I was dozing off when the fog came. I looked at my watch. Two and a half hours had passed. The boy probably had enough air for another hour or two.

I heard a chain rattling. It was getting closer. Then it came from the fog and stopped at the grave, examining it. The Pomp, for the first time, looked at me.

“It knows” I thought to myself. I could feel my hand getting jittery, slowly arriving at full blown shakes.

It stared at me. Everything about it seemed so vivid, it wanted me to see it. Nothing about The Pomp was a blur. I saw the tattered black robes. A dark mist drifted out from its veil and sucked back in. Yellowish green eyes opened seemingly from everywhere inside that veil. My skin burned and itched from the gaze of thousands of eyes.

It was going to kill me.

Then it turned back toward the grave. A hand of mist swirled out of the veil and took hold of the shovel. The Pomp started digging and digging as it always did. When it got to the casket it couldn’t open it. It slammed at the lock as muffled screams came from inside. It could hear the screaming and pounding. It looked at me again, only the top of the veil visible from the grave. I could feel that it was furious. The thousands of eyes telling me I was dead if it found life in that casket. I prayed that the boy had suffocated in there. That he was actually dead by now. The urge to know what The Pomp does in those graves was completely gone.

The lock broke and the casket opened. The screaming stopped, The Pomp stared into the casket. The boy lay there, unfortunately still living. It left the grave and came right at me. I saw the boy climbing from the dirt and running for the graveyards exit.

Good luck kid, you saw it already. Tell your friends that the crazy grave digger buried you alive, if you live long enough to get it out of your mouth.

I pushed myself out of my chair and fell flat on my stomach. I couldn’t move or speak. I felt like I did every night, paralyzed, wondering if it was watching me from the darkness. Through the corner of my eye I could see a mist growing larger, closer. I gave every ounce of energy I had to moving my fingers. If I could get them working. If I could start crawling away…

They wouldn’t move. My mouth opened to yell for help and nothing would come out.

A shovel stabbed deep into my back. I couldn’t even scream in pain. I was dragged by it to the empty grave. A dark mist swallowed me and threw me in. The casket was warm. The Pomp climbed into the grave, hovering above me. My skin felt like it was melting away. Mist seeped through my eyes, flowed up my nose, through my ears and mouth. It seeped into every pore I had.

Every memory of my life flashed by in seconds. It was living them in my shoes. It wasn’t a Psychopomp. It didn’t bring the souls of the dead to the afterlife. It feasted on their souls. It waited until your body was dead and defenseless before it took you. It lived by consuming every memory you have, every memory I have, until there’s nothing left.

I felt myself fade away until I was nothing more than another pair of eyes.

Cover for the short story Lab Zero

Why I Wrote: Lab Zero

Edit 9/8/16: The promotional period for Lab Zero has ended. Please consider reading the story before this post as there will be major spoilers ahead.

If spoilers don’t bother you, feel free to read on.

A dent slammed into one of the doors, rattling the frames. A screw fell from a hinge clanking on the floor. Something was on the other side trying to get out. It screamed and howled. I was leaving. Fuck it. Fuck Lindsay. My curiosity about Lab Zero was completely gone now. I sprinted up the spiraling stairway to the first floor. Skipping four steps at a time. Each step a leap of faith. This is the part where I trip. I’m stuck on the stairs. The doors open slowly and something slithers out. The doors hinges cry and mourn for me. It wraps a tentacle around my ankle and pulls me into the basement. Never to be seen again. Feed another intern to Lab Zero.

-An excerpt from Lab Zero

Lab Zero is an interesting story to me considering I came up with the idea while interning at a National Laboratory. I had been interning there for nearly two years (which is much longer than most interns) before I started writing it. Interns were generally around for two or three months before they were done with their program/project.

Needless to say I saw a lot of faces come and go, which became a major theme for the story.

I won’t go into too much detail about my project but here’s a few pictures of things I worked on at the lab:

The left photo is a 90-liter glass reactor that mixes our chemicals together. The various solid chemicals mixed with liquid causes a mushroom cloud effect after it has been mixed for a short amount of time (I threw that in there because I think it’s neat). After it is completely mixed it will be as clear as water, which is shown on the top right. The final picture is a picture of myself holding a UV light up to the same clear liquid which causes it to glow a neon blue.

If you have questions about my research, feel free to ask. I just won’t go into the details in this blog post.

In my time at the lab I had explored the building quite a bit. It was a three story building. My lab was the third floor. The lab numbers went as follows: First floor was the 100’s, second floor was the 200’s and third floor was the 300’s. So naturally the basement would be “0”, right?

When I had first started my project there I had never been to the basement, so one day I decided to go down and have a look. When I went down the spiraling stairs to the basement there was no “0” painted on the wall. Just large steel double doors with a notice that only personnel with certain credentials were allowed to enter and a plaque over-viewing the necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) to enter.

Safety shoes were required.

Now at this point I was fairly new as an intern so I really didn’t want to get in trouble for going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what was behind those doors. Also, if you have read my blog “How Fiction Found Me: Why I Started Reading and Writing” you know how my imagination can run wild with these ideas. I thought about the basement a lot while I was doing my research.

I imagined a monster down there. I imagined all those faces of interns who were long forgotten. How they really were food for it to grow stronger. Or maybe they were the monster. It was a story I had to write.

I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted the monster to be at first but as I ran through the story in my mind a Chimera of some kind was what fit the best. I loved the idea of the missing interns being made into a terrifying creature and that the protagonist may just be the last piece of it.

Although I thought about the plot for this story a lot before I started writing it I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going with it. I didn’t know how to start or end it. When I finally found the inspiration to start writing I just wrote and let the story tell itself. It was really interesting because ideas I really liked seemed to not fit at all with the theme and never found a place in my story.

For example, I wanted Lindsay to be more of a main character but when I started to write it really didn’t seem to fit. Also, I didn’t want to make the story too long or feel like I was going too far in one direction just to turn it around and go another direction. I also feel I should say that Lindsay is a completely made up character.

In the story I purposely never gave description to the protagonist or expanded on what the relationship between Lindsay and the protagonist was like. I left that open ended so the reader can make their own image of whether or not they were friends or lovers (straight or otherwise) etc. The protagonist’s gender, name and features are never said for this reason.

This wasn’t an idea I originally had for the story, it just ended up finding its way in there.

One thing I knew that had to be in the story was some form of chemical reaction helping defeat the Chimera. I always worked with highly flammable chemicals that had to be stored in flammables cabinets like this:

Picture of two large flammable cabinets placed in the corner of a laboratory room.

Ethanol and methanol were used a lot on a daily basis and it seemed like a good fit for the story. When I originally wrote the methanol fire scene I wrote it as if it were a completely regular fire. After reading the first draft of the story I realized my mistake. Methanol fires are essentially invisible if there’s light. This was something that I had to do a lot of research on to make sure I was writing up the scene as accurately as possible to what would happen in a real life methanol fire.

The rest of the story panned out much quicker than I initially imagined it would. Everything that happens after the fire starts are things that I imagine I would do if I had to defend myself from this beast. The machine shop is the place i’d imagine there would be a decent weapon to use. The on-site fire department would arrive within minutes of the fire alarm sounding.

We actually had a day where the fire alarm was malfunctioning and went off 5 or 6 times when there weren’t any fires. The fire department had to show up every time and their response time really impressed me, so this part of the story isn’t exaggerated at all with how quickly they arrive.

To answer what was in the real basement, i’m sorry to say it’s pretty boring. It turns out my mentor had some chemicals stored down there. He asked if I could go find them and so I embarked on my first adventure to the basement. I was actually pretty excited and was really hoping it would give me more ideas for my story.

It was pretty much the same as the rest of the building, the only difference being it was underground. There were some parts that reminded me of the ending scene of Terminator 2. There were stairs going up to electrical boxes and whatnot that looked almost identical to the metal-grated stairs from Terminator 2’s steel mill, the ones the T-1000 kind of melts into.

Terminator 2's T-1000 terminator's feet melting into grated metal floor
T-1000 melting into grated metal for reference

As a final note, the stories main character holds a lot of resentment towards the people he works for and I would like to take a minute to let it to be known that I don’t actually feel that way about the lab I worked in. My mentor was wonderful to work with and I will always appreciate everything he has done for me. With that said, I did find that science was not for me and chose a different route in my life.

A picture of my standing in-front of a large distillator.
Bonus picture of me with our lab’s distillation apparatus. I had worked with this machine for months. I took this picture on my last day at the lab as a goodbye.
This picture is a bit of a joke and I have an actual picture of me standing in-front of it not being a goof.