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The Undertaking

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posted on Apr, 10 2007 @ 03:52 PM
Norman had jumped the fence at noon. Since it was a private cemetery, the gates were kept locked during the week. The same went for the little stone chapel just east of the graveyard itself. Yet the plots were well tended, as evidenced by the little green stripe at the base of each grave marker, mute testimony to the countless summer passes of whirring line from the groundskeeper’s weed-whacker.

He had assumed that this area of the county was fairly rural. But Norman found himself ducking behind headstones every minute or two as cars and trucks zoomed past on the paved road that abutted the property. He tried to carry his tools in front of him, so they wouldn’t be so visible to passing motorists; but a man carrying a shovel and a sack of tools into a graveyard is an arresting sight—or it definitely would be, if the police were called. He snickered at the thought of telling the police that there was no more natural place to dig a grave, than in a graveyard. The perfect spot for his undertaking.

He walked down the aisles of monuments, trying to find his quarry. The area by the road seemed to contain the oldest markers; giant granite slabs evincing the Victorian’s obsession with death. Here were little sleeping lambs, while over there were weeping marble angels and open books carved with terse epitaphs from a simpler time.

Moving north, he began to find the more modern graves. Basalt monoliths marked Vietnam casualties, while impossibly precise laser etchings of faces and artwork betrayed the birth of the computer age. Finally, along a paved service road, Norman found the name “Bockworth” carved into a black column, the largest in the cemetery. There was a small, white “X” chalked under the name, indicating that Pruitt had come this way, and found this particular grave, but hadn’t been able to do the deed before . . . before . . . before he lost.

The dirt here was still fresh, with that fluffy texture of till that has been turned over in the past month or so. The summer’s weeds hadn’t yet colonized the fresh ground, and so the digging started easy. As the pile of excavated dirt began to grow, Norman had to stop periodically and move it behind the imposing blackness of the Bockworth slab. Fortunately, the dark towering column was ostentatious enough, and far enough from the road, that the dirt wouldn’t be visible except to pedestrian traffic along the road to the south. And luckily for Norman, the day was too hot for that.

Norman stopped at two, and ate half of the subway sandwich he’d bought in town. He sat beside the black grave marker, where he could duck down when the occasional car passed. Just now, though, the traffic had ceased. He hadn’t noticed a car for at least 15 minutes. He sat and chewed on the spongy bread of his sandwich, washing it down with a swig from the canteen, as a cool breeze riffled his hair and stole the sweat from his forehead. Grateful for it, he looked around and found a shadier spot to sit while he surveyed his work. His hole was already knee-deep. Soon, he’d be completely invisible from the road. Still, the dirt in the grave was becoming more moist with every shovelful downward into the clay. It might be rough going if the dirt turned out to be water-logged. Norman began to wonder if he could finish his grisly work before nightfall.

The thought set off alarm-bells in his head, and up he jumped. Seizing the shovel with an iron grip, he began to throw dirt in every direction as he raced downward, inch by inch. Soon though, his pace slowed. His shirt dark with sweat, Norman’s arms began to feel thin and rubbery as the dirt did indeed become moist. Almost the consistency of raw dough, it clung stubbornly to the face of his shovel so that occasionally he had to stop and scrape it clean with the crow-bar. Even so, he pressed on, spurred downward by the knowledge of the awful price the world must pay if he and his friends failed.

He stopped at 5:30, and ate the rest of his sandwich standing in his hole. The sun was definitely sinking now, and he would have to race to finish the job, even exhausted as he was. He stood there for a moment, motionless in his work, and the thought flitted through his mind that perhaps he wasn’t digging Bockworth’s grave after all. What if he was actually digging his own?

The thought chilled his blood, like . . . like what, like someone . . . stepping on his grave? His mind was definitely playing tricks on him now, and he began to feel the tug of madness from below. The thing must be down there. Even though it was asleep in the daytime, maybe it was dreaming. Maybe it could read his mind, despite being trapped motionless within a wooden box under six feet of earth. Make that three feet now. How much dirt was between him and the thing? Three feet? No, the casket itself would take up some of the depth of the grave. A grave wasn’t six feet deep, once you put a coffin in the bottom of it. As soon as that thought entered his head, he felt the maddening sensation of the creature’s eyes opening down there, down in the darkness of the wooden casket, even through a yard of earth. . . . He definitely had the sensation that the creature was looking up at him. Looking up, and looking into his mind, despite the three feet of intervening clay. Make that two feet.

He glanced at his sandwich, now fallen from his hand. How long had he been standing here? He glanced to the west, as the sun was less than its own diameter from the hills on the western horizon. He threw himself into a last mad effort, a heroic struggle to dig down to the casket before sundown. Even as he switched to the pick, swinging wildly, a silent voice whispered deep within his skull that he’d never make it. Norman’s face twisted into a snarl as he threw the pick aside and reached for the canvas bag with the other tools in it. Rooting around in the bottom, he found the crucifix. He pulled it out and triumphantly clenched it in his fist, hissing down at the thing that must only be separated from him by a few inches of clay. That clay, how strong was it, would it collapse at any moment, would the boards of the casket split, and drop him into . . . into the coffin? If he didn’t hurry, he’d be overtaken. In the midst of his undertaking, as it were.

As he stood there with these thoughts spinning through his mind, and his pulse racing, he heard an impossible noise. The sound, the tiniest whisper below him. More of a sensation through his shoes than an actual audible noise, Norman sensed miniscule shifting of dirt below him, as if loose dirt were pouring into an empty void beneath his feet, as if dirt were trickling down into the interior of a casket, below somewhere.

He whipped his head to the west, in time to see the last liquid gold droplet of the sun’s disk sink irrevocably below the trees on the far hills. Had his mad swinging of the pick actually punctured the casket? The sun was down, now, officially. But when is sunset really? If you’re in a valley, doesn’t it come earlier? And how about if you were on a jet, headed west into the sunset—could you fly fast enough to keep up with the sun? Would a vampire on that jet ever get its darkness? Eventually it would run out of fuel. His mind fought for clarity like a soldier flailing around in quicksand. He had to act immediately, not just stand there like a statue. But he was in a cemetery full of statues, lambs, weeping angels, open books. The cemetery was like a library almost, humans ordered into ranks and files for the hereafter. Thereafter? Why didn’t they bury people in alphabetical order, anyway? Silly, because people don’t die in alphabetical . . .

Norman’s mind snapped back into crystal-clear lucidity, clearer than pure ice, at the sound of wood splintering. Without even looking down into the darkening grave, he knew the casket was breaking open. He instinctively stretched his legs so that they were on either side of where the casket must lie, and at the same time put leaned to his left to leverage himself out of the hole. What a complete idiot he’d been!—digging down to the creature! He had thought to end its life, but now instead, his work had actually liberated the thing! He heaved himself up, over the edge of the grave, trying to roll up onto the grass beyond the lip of the hole. He caught a glimpse through the twilight of a passing car as it turned on its headlights. Praying against all odds, Norman saw that it was a police car. But the driver hadn’t seen him, and continued on into the gathering dusk . . .

posted on Jun, 9 2007 @ 01:47 PM
Excellent story, Herr Doktor. The pacing is superb, tension nicely drawn out.


posted on Jun, 9 2007 @ 02:24 PM
I've thought about this scenario a number of times over the years. Haven't really pursued it, since sometimes it seems like the whole "vampire hunter" genre has been done to death.

When I wrote this, I wanted to explore a couple of ideas. One was that a vampire's most powerful weapon would be it's psychic powers. tradidionally, most vampires outside of eastern european mythology didn't actually drink blood---they drink the "life force." Like God commands the hebrews not to eat any of an animal's blood, "because the life is in the blood." It was actually Bram Stoker who gave us the hollywood obsession with blood-sucking. Much easier to portray on the stage that an evanescent "life-stealing." I wanted to reflect that ability with this story.

The second theme I wanted to explore is, how nuts you'd have to be, to actually go out and dig up a grave. I mean, even if you were convinced there was a vampire buried there, about to afflict the living . . . you still have to work up the cajones to go out there in broad daylight and dig it up. People who are capable of that sort of personal conviction might be almost as dangerous as the undead themselves.



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