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Buried On My Land

 

 

 

 

Buried On My Land

 

 

A Novel

 

 

 

by K. Massari

 

 

 

 

 

Buried On My Land

By Karen Massari

Copyright © 2015 Karen Massari

Shakespir Edition

 

This ebook is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. However, no author can deny a certain amount of inspiration. There is the story of Rosalia Lombardo, forever preserved by renowned chemist Alfredo Salafia. Furthermore, there is the haunting tale of La Pascualita, the Mexican bridal mannequin. Both served as sources in my exploration of the paranormal for this book.

 

 

Cover Design by

www.SelfPubBookCovers.com/Raffael

 

 

Formatting by

www.tugboatdesign.net

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“There,” Jesse said, pointing her cigarette in the direction of an old gray Victorian.

Willy chuckled.

“That?”

“Like I told you.”

“Old, empty and boarded-up?”

“He’s in there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, he’s in there. He doesn’t go anywhere.”

Willy slowed, opening a can of beer.

“Pile o’ shit.”

“What did you expect?”

Willy stared straight ahead, through the windshield.

“Now what?” he growled.

“Park the car.”

Jesse rattled the door until she was able to open it, while Willy was still driving, inching along. Jesse ran towards Tom’s house, as Willy nudged the car into a spot further down the street. Jesse hopped up the few steps gingerly and landed on the porch. She knocked on the front door. The paint was chipped and the doorbell hung loose. No one answered.

She rushed back down the steps and disappeared along the side of the house. Willy looked up, surprised. He had popped the trunk open and was lifting their bags and things out. He followed Jesse quickly to the back, not bothering to take in his surroundings.

Willy didn’t want to know who was standing behind the curtains, lurking, watching him, watching Jesse, thinking and planning. He hoped no one was home and Grandma was in bed.

In the yard, a hastily thrown-together toolshed stood leaning against a large barn. Both structures had seen a better day. Jesse dashed out of her hiding place, motioning him to come quickly. Willy had three bags slung over his shoulder. He complied. Together they entered the toolshed.

“So this is home now,” he said and spat on the dusty dirt floor.

“It wasn’t locked,” Jesse announced cheerfully.

“It’s never been locked, and I knew that.”

“What else counts as good news?”

“May not look like it, but they have money.”

“No, doesn’t look like it.”

“And … he had a crush on me.”

Willy said nothing. He threw the bags down next to a mattress in one corner.

“I’ll get a blanket from the car later on.”

“Let me have a beer, too.”

Willy handed her a can, as she lit a cigarette to give him.

“Careful with that.”

“So … when do we meet our landlord?”

“Later, after dark.”

“Did you find him on Facebook?”

“Yeah.”

“Did he answer?”

Jesse bit her lip.

“Give it time.”

Willy let himself down on the mattress.

“Right now I don’t care.”

“Yeah, this is shit, but it’s free.”

“Has he got a dog?”

“No, he can’t be near animals.”

“Family?”

“They’re all dead.”

“He’s weird, huh?”

“Weird weird.”

“What kind of weird is that?”

“Shy weird.”

“Can’t look you in the eye.”

“He never done looked no one in the eye, ever.”

“My kind of idiot.”

Jesse giggled and snuggled against his chest. Using the bags as pillows, they sat propped up, drinking and smoking slowly.

After a long time, when Jesse was just about to fall asleep, Willy added for good measure:

“Can we tie him up and make him do things?”

“Willy!”

“I can’t stand his guts … already.”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

With my rusty shovel, I pat down the earth. Done. A raggedy line of red-golden orange burns on the horizon, and I know I must hurry. I have been pushing myself all night. I can do this, I think. I have come so far.

 

I look down at the grave. It is square and large, not the traditional rectangular, lengthy shape. I am happier that way. And hell, I had to put them somewhere. I also disregard the assumption a grave has to be just for one. They need to be together sometimes, especially if they liked being together in life … I am mindful of such matters.

 

I lean on the shovel, hands folded on the handle. I stare into the dawn of a new day. (No one cares.) I care. I cared for her. Deeply. But she didn’t love me. Maybe she couldn’t, she was in so much pain. I could not keep her in the cellar with me indefinitely. I am sorry. I am sorry, Ma.

 

 

 

Willy woke up first; something or someone was scratching the toolshed door from the outside, desperate to get in. Willy had problems focusing, he was still too drunk and too tired to react. Must be a cat or a dog, he thought. A wicked voice in his head said, it’s not cat or dog, it’s much worse.

A bear? Wolf? Raccoon?

He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Jesse was snoring softly in a corner. Hell, she deserves better than this, Willy thought. No more money. Not even a motel room.

“Sh …” he hissed.

The animal outside stopped scratching, as if listening.

Willy repeated:

“Sh-sh-sh …”

After another pause, the furious scratching resumed. Willy grabbed a shoe and threw it at the door. Again, the scratching stopped.

“What?” asked Jesse, sleep drunk.

“A critter. Lives here.”

“A … what?”

“Tom will be here shortly with a gun.”

“Bullshit. Asshole. Leave me alone.”

The scratching continued. It sounded methodical and – determined. Will thought, the paws the claws belonged to would soon be through the wood.

Jesse sat up now, too. A fierce light shone in through the only window from the side of the barn.

“What are they doing out there, slaughtering the cows?”

“I have no idea.”

“I could use a shower.”

“I could use some whiskey.”

“Both.”

“Get your ass up and get in the house.”

“And the bear?”

“What bear?”

“Will, from the sounds of it, it’s a bear?”

“Fuck.”

Willy shook his head and laughed. He tried to stand, but faltered. Jesse shoved him up. Once on his feet, he considered his options. He found a rusty ax covered with cobwebs and went charging for the door. He thundered the butt end of the ax on it. Wood splintered. Then he kicked the door open. A dog went scampering back in the direction of the house. It was a large black Labrador, notwithstanding its gauntness and bruises.

“Sucker! Don’t you come back.”

He turned to look at Jesse and added:

“Your turn.”

“I’m going,” she said.

She was brushing her hair. Against the light, she smoothed her skin with her hand. When she reached for lipstick, Willy grunted.

“I said I’m going.”

“Go.”

She got up and left. Willy watched her walk unsteadily to the kitchen door at the back of the house. She tried the knob and opened it, not before staring in the direction of the bright lights coming from the barn. She shielded her eyes with her hand. Then she looked back at Willy.

“It’s not the barn. They’re doing something back there.”

He nodded, and motioned for her to hurry.

She disappeared into the house, which was completely dark, except for the occasional whisper and the occasional quivering shadow all too typical in old abandoned Victorian houses.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Her battery was low, and Jesse knew she would have to switch off her cell phone flashlight very soon. Not yet, not yet, an internal voice pleaded with her. She walked into intricate cobwebs, her face full of their sticky goo, while the house was creepy and deserted. Tom might be dead and decomposing somewhere, she thought, disheartened.

The refrigerator was not empty, but the food spoilt and thoroughly disgusting. Plates had not been washed in decades. Tom seemed to be something of a hoarder in the making. There were stacks of cardboard boxes everywhere, as if he had decided to move, and then decided against it.

Jesse needed to turn a light on. But that would be her coming-out moment as a trespasser. She didn’t want that. She didn’t want to live outside homeless, either. And she had promised Willy, this would be good.

Didn’t look too good, he was right. Jesse scowled. What hard-working people could do with a house like this … She entered a room with a large desk and boarded-up windows. A study? She gathered her inner strength and turned off her phone flashlight and tried to switch on the overhead light. The light stuttered, but then, much to her relief, stayed on.

Jesse was expecting a large moose head on the wall. The room was fairly modern. There was no air in it, though.

Jesse coughed. She heard another cough, somewhere in the house. She coughed a fake cough and listened. Nothing. My imagination, she mused, must be getting the better of me. She shook her head.

She sat down in the swivel chair, which protested loudly with creaking, farting and groaning noises. Jesse maneuvered it around.

“Hey, now I’m the boss!” she yelled, swiveling merrily.

There was a break in the layer of dust on the desk. Just large enough to mark the underside of a laptop.

“Aha,” exclaimed Jesse.

“Someone was playing Candy Crush here.”

Her surroundings were dismal. It would take weeks of cleaning and renovating to get the old heap of unhappiness shipshape again, if it could be accomplished at all. Jesse knew she was not that type of person. Neither was Willy.

With her finger, she drew flowers and f-words in the dust. Then the light sputtered and went dark.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

My heart is beating wildly as I stand behind the door. She walks past in the hallway, her footsteps barely audible. A human intruder. How dare she! She is familiar. I cannot for the life of me remember who she is.

 

I fight the urge to lunge at her throat, to strangle her for violating my privacy, for trespassing and wandering around in my house! Who does she think she is? Some paranormal researcher with a pathetic phone? I am boiling inside, red hot with anger. Go away. Go away!

 

 

 

A loud banging noise echoed throughout the quiet, lonely house. Willy was banging on the bannister with his flashlight.

“Jess’ girl, are ya up there?”

Jesse leaned forward on the third floor landing and called out to him:

“All’s clear. She’s empty.”

“Food? Money? Booze?”

“Dust bunnies.”

“Damn.”

“I’m coming.”

She flew down three flights of stairs, taking two steps at a time. When she reached him at the bottom, she threw herself into his arms and rewarded him with a long, wet kiss. With her legs wrapped around his waist, he moved her slowly towards a wall. They fumbled with their clothes and kissed some more.

The house, as if offended, moaned, a near-human sound, upsetting Willy and Jesse, whose eyes widened in horrified dismay. Jesse swallowed.

“What was that?”

“A dying dinosaur, I guess,” answered Willy, no longer interested in sex.

“Let’s just get out of here.”

“Yeah, we can do more exploring tomorrow … by daylight. Sunshine. Whatever.”

They hurried out, back through the kitchen door towards the shed. Willy led Jesse to the car, and they were off.

 

 

More exploring tomorrow?’ You crazy bitch, you won’t live until tomorrow! Mother, how can they do this? The nerve of some people! And I remember now who she is. She was in love with me, once. A long, long time ago. I briefly gave in to her pushy demands.

Chapter 5

 

 

Willy quickly regained his confidence when he was behind the wheel of his car and driving. Jesse checked her phone and told him when and where to turn to get to the nearest gas station and diner.

“How much do you have?”

“Seven dollars.”

“Not nearly enough. I’m starving.”

“We’ll need someone to help us out.”

Further back, in a dark deserted corner of the parking lot, an elderly couple had just made a stop. They were stretching, drinking coffee from a thermos bottle, folding rumpled jackets neatly. They were chatting amicably through it all. This pissed off Willy. Very much so.

He ran towards them. The startled man had no time to react; Willy hit him on the head with his flashlight. The elderly lady was too paralyzed with fear to respond. Jesse looped a rope around her neck from behind, seating her rudely back into the car. Jesse punched her while the old woman whimpered and begged for mercy.

Willy was dragging the limp old man to the trunk.

“Let’s go,” he hissed.

Jesse administered a final punch, pushing the now unconscious woman into a lying position, head on the driver’s side seat. She covered her with a jacket, so it would look like a fatigued driver napping.

Willy lifted the body of the old man into the trunk, covered him haphazardly with a blanket, looked at him one last time, then slammed the trunk shut. Jesse and Willy rushed towards the diner, shooting furtive glances in all directions to see if they were yet undetected.

The knuckles of Jesse’s right hand were throbbing. She would have to be careful about showing them to the waitress.

“We order to go.”

“Too bad,” Willy said, frowning.

“We went to all that trouble.”

“She had ten fucking dollars on her.”

“Good old girl. The dude was loaded.”

“How much?”

“Four hundred dollars in small bills.”

Willy grinned from ear to ear. Jesse’s mood lifted.

“Wow. The first good news in days!”

“Oh, yeah?” said a waitress in passing.

“Care to share?”

“None of your beeswax,” Willy said and pinched her cheek.

The waitress did not take kindly to his patronizing gesture, but said nothing. She looked at the manager behind the counter and glared. Willy chose to ignore them.

Jesse was immersed in studying the various kinds of pie in the glass counter.

“Hey,” she singsonged.

“We’ll bring some home for … Tom.”

“We don’t need fucking Tom right now.”

“Yeah, we do.”

“I’d like two slices of cherry, and one slice of cheesecake with whipped cream.”

“Coming up.”

Willy added:

“Four large cheeseburgers with large fries and all the mayo you have. Plus Coca Cola.”

“Have a seat and a cup of coffee on the house while you wait. It’ll only be a minute or two.”

“Thanks.”

Jesse and Willy sat down on the red vinyl seats, obviously not at ease. Jesse felt the patrons were watching her. Willy was sweating profusely.

“Where’s the old guy who ordered the grilled ham and cheese?”

“I dunno,” said the waitress.

“Go outside and check on them.”

“Are you kidding me?”

 

Chapter 6

 

I heard a car door slam. They have driven away. I am alone again with my thoughts and the whispers and the noises of this old house. The wind is my only friend.

 

Will they be back? I doubt it. If so, there will be more work at midnight. I have been through this often, and it’s not really my fault. It all falls into place, somehow.

 

I had to get water, I had to get food, and when I came back, she had stopped breathing. No one cared much for her. She was a bossy, cranky old woman. The few who missed her, well, I had to take care of them, too.

 

 

 

“Okay, then,” said the manager, wiping the counter and smiling weakly at the waitress.

“I’ll go out and check on them as soon as I’m finished with this order.”

Jesse squeezed Willy’s hand. He gave her a thoughtful look and tucked an idling strand of her hair behind her ear with a tender finger.

“I like it when you’re sweet to me, it’s really not too often,” she said and looked into his eyes.

“We’ve been through a whole lot together, girl,” he said.

“And we’ve always come out on top.”

The waitress scoured their table a little too vigorously.

“Thank you,” said Jesse, intimidated.

“Don’t mention it, hun. Your burgers will be ready any minute now.”

The guy behind the counter was putting the pieces of pie Jesse had ordered on small paper plates, wrapping them carefully and methodically. He wrapped the cheeseburgers and put them in a bag along with the fries.

Willy stood up abruptly and went to get the order and pay.

Jesse moved towards the door. Willy threw the car keys in her direction.

“Get it,” he muttered.

She nodded briefly and rushed out the door, breaking into a run. Willy juggled the Coca Cola, the pie and the burgers. The waitress held the door open for him.

Outside, it had started to rain. Willy stared up at the lights and watched the rain cascade down in their bright shine. Jesse maneuvered the car to a stop in front of him. Not a moment too soon; as Willy let himself down into the passenger seat, the waitress came out with an umbrella, searching for the elderly couple. She had been dispatched to go looking for them after all.

As Jesse drove out onto the road, Willy remarked:

“She might think they’re sleeping, at least the woman. And the guy went off to take a leak.”

“Hope so,” said Jesse, barely audible.

“Jerk wants to sell his sandwich. He’d make ‘em come back from the dead to pay up.”

Willy chuckled.

“Sooner or later, we’re gonna be outta options, you know that, don’t you, Jess’?”

Jesse said nothing, concentrating on the road ahead. In the cold car, only the rhythmic swish of the windshield wipers was heard. Back and forth, back and forth they went.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

Jesse suggested switching cars, but Willy declined.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Jesse,” he said.

“But I don’t think the house will work out.”

“Hey!”

“Fucker’s haunted.”

“You think so?”

“Got a bad feeling about this one.”

“No.”

“Tom’s dead or he’s left town.”

They came to the street on which Tom’s old spacious house stood waiting for them. Few of the other houses had their lights on. Jesse envied their warm living rooms and long driveways.

“Let’s eat in the car on the next street,” suggested Willy.

“Tom’s home now?” asked Jesse.

“Or the shed.”

“No.”

“Jesse girl, you deserve better. No. We are not going back into the shed.”

“Let’s go in and get it over with. What about the police?”

“Hard to say.”

“I don’t want to leave and not know what happened to Tom.”

“Here’s the plan: we park in front of the house. We get the stuff from the shed. We eat inside, lights on. We look for him. If he’s in there, okay. We introduce ourselves. If not, we go to bed. Real natural like. As if we belong.”

Jesse agreed and did as she was told. When she exited the car, she looked around nervously, but it was dark and raining, and most people were inside and leading their lives.

The backside kitchen door stood ajar.

“Jess’, did you leave it like this?”

“Sorry, Will, can’t remember.”

 

 

 

I lock the door behind me. There are so many bedrooms on this the second floor, they won’t be bothered by the idea one of them is locked. Some doors are locked in this house … They will be too spooked to go checking everywhere.

 

Or will they … they are brutish, after all.

 

I am so tired. I was up all night last night burying another nosy customer. The pillows look so soft. I will gladly lay my head down on them. Tomorrow I will deal with the new intruders – my way. Tomorrow, or maybe the day after … (maybe never), but for tonight I am through with them. Let them eat like pigs and drink and smoke pot and make love and whatever primitive things a skank and an idiot will do in a house that does not belong to them.

 

What if they do go through all the rooms? I’m tired of worrying. I am tired of giving it another thought.

 

Chapter 8

 

 

“Tom! TOM!”

“Anyone up there?”

Silence. Jesse and Willy were standing at the bottom of the stairs.

“We’ve got some delicious food here, and the back door was open!”

“Tom! Come on down and get it!”

They listened.

“No one home. Now let’s eat.”

Jesse nodded and turned on the light in what looked like a dining room. Repairs had been made, but the tools were still on the table. With a stroke of his arm, Willy swept all the things off the table. He sat down and unwrapped his food.

Jesse took a white plastic fork and picked thoughtfully at her piece of pie.

Willy, chewing on his cheeseburgers, said:

“Mmh. These are good.”

“Are we going to go from room to room?”

“This place is huge. From the looks of it, he isn’t here.”

“What if he comes out of his hiding place and finds us in his bed?” asked Jesse.

“Well, then he’ll just have to fuck us or kill us.”

Jesse giggled.

“I’ll put on my good dress tomorrow. For old time’s sake.”

“Did you check Facebook again?”

“My phone’s dead. He had a laptop upstairs, and wifi under the desk covered with layers of dust.”

“Seems we have the manse all to ourselves.”

“Are you just a little bit jealous?”

“Why would I be?”

“I’d be Tom’s girlfriend.”

“Just like that?”

She looked at him defiantly.

“You hit me.”

“You needed it.”

Willy was finished and lit up a cigarette.

“What if the neighbors call the police because they’re not used to seeing the lights on in here?”

“We’ll deal with it,” said Willy, blowing out smoke through his nose.

“I’ll go see if the showers work, and if there’s hot water.”

“I wouldn’t count on it.”

 

 

Jesse scraped together the trash and cleared the table. Willy was working on a bottle of whiskey, mixing it with the Coca Cola. Stretching, Jesse looked up the staircase, scanning for any sign of life. She jogged up the steps and searched for a bathroom. She found one at the end of the first floor hallway. Something was trickling down the walls. It looked like blood, dark red and thick. Jesse glanced at it and chose to ignore it.

She could not, however, ignore the red letters smeared on the bathroom mirror:

 

 

He will always be my baby.”

 

Chapter 9

 

 

Jesse found a sponge and wiped away the letters slowly and carefully. She dried the mirror with toilet paper, of which there was an abundance. There was hot water, too. She felt pangs of disappointment. She had secretly hoped the house would be abandoned, and they could stay, if only for a little while, and pretend it was theirs.

She was wary of the shower, stopping every so often and opening the stall to peek out, turning off the water and listening. She could have sworn she heard someone whispering. Another time she heard a slap, as if someone had slapped another person in the face.

Willy came to look for her and he dried her off. She pointed to the toilet paper.

“This house is a pile of shit,” remarked Willy.

“It has nothing. But it has lots of toilet paper?”

“Go figure,” laughed Jesse.

“So we should conduct a thorough search of the house? More likely now … he is hiding.”

“Please not tonight,” Jesse cooed, kissing him on his scruffy cheek.

“Yeah, let’s hit the sack.”

He wrapped the towel around Jesse’s shoulders. Then he picked her up.

“Good news is the bed sheets are fairly fresh, too …”

By the time he had reached the master bedroom, Jesse was asleep in his arms.

Willy left the lights on and took a little tour of the house. Before closing the bedroom door behind him (with satisfaction he discovered it could be locked from the inside), he called out into the hallway:

“Tom? Can you hear me, you wuss? Tomorrow is the day. It’s showtime. I’m a comin’ for ya! Don’t bother hiding. You can’t hide from me.”

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Willy remembered stretching his tired old bones all the way down to the end of the mattress and cocooning himself into the quilt that covered the bed, not caring if it left Jesse with only a thin sheet. He remembered the sensation of release, of finally being able to sleep in a real bed, in a real house, for free.

Later though, images started to flood his mind. He tossed and turned, woke up, fell asleep again. At one point, he had trouble breathing. Something was clogging his nostrils. It smelled fresh, and he knew the smell … It was all over. He was covered. He was covered with a quilt. No, he was covered with something heavy. A woman was lying on top of him.

“Jesse? Not now, hun,” he mumbled.

What was on top of him was not Jesse. She mostly smelled like bubble gum and menthol cigarettes, sweat and cheap deodorant. This bitch reeked of … earth?

The image of a flower pot came to mind, of flowers. He was … buried.

“You’re buried on my land!” a female voice hissed.

“You need to go!”

Willy felt all his alarm bells go off, he was on the verge of a panic. He remembered the voice, it had whispered to him before in the house.

“Sophie,” he said out loud.

Jesse turned and asked:

“What? Who is she?”

She was too tired to stay awake. She pulled the quilt over to her side, but she did not get much of it, Willy was tarped in it like a mummy.

In his dream and in reality, Willy tried to move his arms, but he could not. He screamed. Jesse sat up, rubbing her eyes.

On Willy’s stomach a specter sat, in long skirts and a corset. Jesse stared at her, then rubbed her eyes again.

With yellow, rotten teeth (most of them stained, many missing), the ghost grinned at her with a wild tormented expression in her emaciated face. Jesse would have screamed, but she could not believe what she was seeing.

“It’s a dream. A stupid dream,” she said, and turned over on her side.

Willy was fumbling furiously with the quilt, and in his dream he found himself tied with duct tape and plastic handcuffs. Masses of fresh soil weighed heavily on him; he had been buried in a shallow grave, but he had been buried well. He tried to scream again, this time, however, the nightmare was merciless, he choked on a mouthful of dirt replete with writhing worms and a substance he could only identify as feces.

“Wait,” said Jesse, sitting up again.

“I remember a Sophie …”

“Of course you remember Aunt Sophie,” the ghost cooed.

“You were a Halloween costume.”

“No! You foolish girl!”

The ghost of Aunt Sophie shrieked, cackling like a witch as she flew to the ceiling, and flew through the ceiling. Jesse shook her head.

“A dream. A really stupid fucker of a dream.”

Confident she would remember nothing come morning, she once again turned on her side away from the thrashing Willy and tried to get back to sleep again.

Willy was suffocating. His body undulated in utter horror like a caterpillar’s, growing more frantic by the second. Suddenly, he was ramrod stiff, as if having an attack or a climax, then he slacked again and began to undulate once more. The movements rocked the bed. Jesse, sighing, ran her fingers through her hair and realized he would not let her sleep.

“What is wrong with you, Willy?” she wailed.

His voice was muffled, the words came out muted and garbled. Jesse sat astride his stomach, as Aunt Sophie had. She tried to find the end of the quilt, tried to start freeing Willy. He was writhing, convulsing, and then she slapped him, left and right, and again. He started to relax.

Jesse grabbed him by the shoulders, lost her grip and put a hand on each side of his head. She yelled at him:

“Willy! Willy! Wake up!”

And then:

“Come back to me, baby!”

Willy’s eyes were suddenly open, staring at something awful in the distance.

“Sophie isn’t real. She’s just a costume, thrown on a mannequin doll.”

“Sophie?”

“I think I remember where Tom stores her for Halloween.”

Willy was still having difficulty with his breathing. Jesse got off of his stomach, and helped him sit up in bed.

“Oh my God!” he shouted.

He coughed and retched. A gurgling sound came up from the insides of his throat.

“What was THAT?”

“A nightmare.”

“No … it was so REAL.”

“Seems that way sometimes, baby.”

“That shit was real, I swear.”

“It’s just nerves.”

Willy took deep, grateful breaths of air, trying to regain his composure. Jesse rubbed his back.

“I … I … was … they … I … was buried alive!”

“Yeah, baby, now you’re here. I’m here.”

He looked at her with wide open eyes, as if he did not recognize her. The early morning light was a mellow mix of pink and blue and gray.

“You’re still alive, Will,” Jesse said and laughed.

“Guess so.”

He was slowly returning to normal.

“And that friggin’ bitch … sat on my … couldn’t breathe.”

“Aunt Sophie.”

“That was her name.”

“A family joke in this house.”

Jesse smiled. She was playing with her hair, braiding it, unbraiding it.

“Go get coffee,” Willy ordered, his voice rough and cold.

Jesse dressed quickly and left the room, hurt.

Willy held his head in his hands. He returned in his mind to the grave.

“Tell me about it, Sophie,” he said softly.

 

Chapter 11

 

 

So she has found the last of my coffee. It’s enough for one cup. When she sees me standing behind her, and I am inching closer … she will surely scream. She has been rehearsing this scene over and over in her head … when she finally gets to meet her new money machine. All the words she will use to spin her web, promising me an end to my loneliness and despair, just enough bullshit and cajoling so I cough up some cash.

 

There. She spins around, steaming coffee in her hand, and sees … the Tom of her dreams. Her face pales. No, no, no, she had … already written me off. Hoped I had left or died, and she could stay in the house, pretend it was hers. Fuck that stupid moron of a boyfriend of hers day and night, on my sheets, in my bed. In my rooms. Right next to my corpse?

 

Wrong house, my dear. Wrong family.

 

 

 

“Why Tom! There you are!” gushed Jesse.

“It’s good to see you! You remember me, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

They stand silent, frozen. Jesse sets the coffee cup back down on the counter, the top of which is peeling off.

“I’m sorry we just … barged in here and slept here and all …”

“Why did you do that?”

“We didn’t know where else to go.”

Tom takes a step back. They stare at each other.

“I’m not a hotel, you know.”

“I understand. We’re leaving after this one cup of coffee? Please?”

“I get the first sip.”

He took the cup she offered from her hands and their fingers touched. Jesse frowned. Tom grinned and sipped thoughtfully. He handed the cup back as Willy appeared in the door frame, dressed only in jeans.

“Willy?”

“That would have to be me.”

“Hello. I’m Tom.”

“Nice to meet you.”

They shook hands. The coffee cup went around, and they stood in the kitchen, the faucet dripping.

“How long do you intend to stay?”

“We’re moving on, no problem.”

Tom nodded. He moved to Jesse and put his cold hand on her shoulder.

“Thanks for making coffee.”

He cleared his throat.

“You guys have transportation?”

They nodded and said yes.

“Then do me a favor and run down to the store. There’s a big one six blocks down, you can’t miss it. Buy some coffee, breakfast for tomorrow, lunch and dinner for today. And sandwiches. Money is in the jar in that cupboard.”

Jesse and Willy smiled. Tom shook hands with Willy again and marched out of the room awkwardly. Jesse let Willy hug her.

Willy looked up at the ceiling.

“Thanks, Aunt Sophie.”

Snorting, he added:

“Jesus, this place gives me the creeps …”

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

Tom looked down on them from a first floor window as they hurried along the street to their old wreck of a car. When he was fairly certain they were gone, he turned grudgingly around in the dingy room and peered out into the hallway. The house was unusually quiet. Even for the daytime. He had to do it now.

They would be back soon, happy to have found a place to return to.

 

 

The gallery has never been moved. Not in all the time this house has stood on this very spot. Jesse and Willy will get bolder and noisier with every day they stay here.

 

I will have to make them leave, if Aunt Sophie doesn’t. Now Jesse, I’d like to have her for a little while longer. But not that ape. He thinks I’m weak, and he’ll try to take advantage of me.

 

I have been so very lonely for so very many long years. Inhumanly lonely. I so need the touch of another … the soft loving tenderness of a woman. At the same time, I know it would never last.

 

I am not made that way.

 

 

Tom bit down hard on his knuckles. He was getting soft. He could not allow himself to dabble in such petty emotions. He had to be strong. So much was at stake. He had to open the gallery and see for himself. Go there with a fresh set of eyes, so-to-speak, imagine he were Jesse or Willy. What would they see? So much work and toil had gone into the Gallery.

He ran out of the room and past all the doors in the hallway and up a flight of steps, then up another. At the end of the third floor hallway was a pull-down attic ladder. Below, a glass door led into the sacred display. Tom’s eyes were moist with tears. His mother was in there, too.

He knocked softly, reverently. He thought he heard someone whisper. Leaning against a wall, Tom tried to wrestle with his innermost fears. They won. He screamed. His face was eerily twisted and contorted.

 

 

 

What’s wrong with her?” I asked.

Oh, she’s fine,” Aunt Sophie had dismissed my question with a wave of her hand.

She’ll be living in the gallery now.”

Why?”

It’s cooler there.”

I cried and she wanted to spank me.

Why, you ungrateful boy!”

Uncle Umberto nodded solemnly.

So many children are orphans. They never get to see their mother again! Ever!”

 

 

 

Tom raised his hand and ran it across the glass door that led into the ‘Gallery’.

“Oh, I can see her anytime.”

He touched the glass door for a while, comforted by the certainty, and hoped he could gather strength enough to face what was in the Gallery.

The Gallery was an oblong room, with floor-length windows and heavy red velvet curtains. Amongst the marble statues and (now dehydrated) plants, tall-backed wooden armchairs stood, elaborately carved and decorated, and in these grand old-fashioned chairs embalmed corpses were seated. They were all family members of Tom’s.

He walked amongst them, greeting each one by his or her name. At the very end, on what seemed to be a throne, sat his mother. They all looked life-like and peaceful and in so many ways, so very much alive.

 

 

Bury me,’ a voice whispered.

Tom shooed the insect off his nose. But again, something tickled his face. He woke up, he sat up. There, on the edge of his bed, sat his mother, barely dressed, with black circles under her eyes in her pale face.

Bury me,’ she said.

 

 

Tom tried to push the armchairs. They would not budge. He thought of covering their earthly remains with blankets. Stupid Willy would look underneath. Jesse would be drawn in by the beauty of the room and the expensiveness of its furniture.

 

This room and the safe … are my vulnerabilities … thought Tom, once more clenching his right hand and biting down hard on the knuckles of his fist.

 

Why am I always forced to … do it again and again? he wondered.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

 

Jesse and Willy felt confident enough to park in front of the house. No one had seen them or their car leaving the diner. There were no security cameras locked onto the parking lot out in the boonies. Luck played a huge part in getting away with crime. Or something else was cooking. It gave them time, time to figure things out. First and foremost, how to stay and eventually, even profit.

A chill crept up Willy’s spine nonetheless when he saw a beautiful blonde standing on Tom’s porch, fiddling with the doorbell which clearly wasn’t working. She shifted her weight in a nervous giddy way from one high-heeled foot to the other, as if she had to pee.

“Ma’am, can we help you?” Willy asked, retrieving two shopping bags from the trunk of his car.

“Who are you?” the young woman asked and stared.

“Well, I’m Willy … and this here is Jess’…”

“Since when does Tom have anyone over?”

“Since now,” answered Jesse in a flat voice.

“Are you the new housekeepers?”

“We’re his assistants.”

Suppressing a laugh, the woman introduced herself:

“My name is Heather. Heather Rickerson. We own the factory. Rickerson – Retail Display LLC.”

Willy let out a low whistle.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said.

“Is Tom home?”

“Don’t know. Not his babysitter.”

“Please tell him I was here.”

“Sure, lady.”

Following Jesse along the side of the house, he called back:

“Now beat it!”

 

 

 

Jesse put her shopping bags down on the table in the kitchen. Willy came in after her and slammed the door. 

“Is she gone?” asked Jesse carefully.

“Hope so.”

“Don´t need competition right about now.”

“Tom´s a loner, obviously.”

“He was a very shy boy. Nice looking, though.”

“He still looks good in a manly sort of way,” said Willy, opening a bottle of beer.

“A little early, isn’t it, Will?” cautioned Jesse.

“Never too early,” said Will with a grunt and a fart. He drank eagerly.

Jesse nibbled thoughtfully on a piece of cheese. 

“Let´s take a tour of the house. It´s daytime.”

“He´s lurking around up there somewhere. It´s not like he has a job.”

“You never know, Will.”

“True. You can’t tell.”

“His folks ran the local funeral parlor, but they did stuff on the side, too, if I remember correctly. Which I don´t really. I was still a kid.”

“Funeral parlor? Well, isn’t that perfect for a creep, a recluse.”

“Hey, Will … let me clean up these things. Then we can take a walk through this old house. If we do run into Tom, we can ask him if we can use his computer.”

“Say, Jesse, have you heard voices in here? Like someone is whispering?” asked Willy, opening his second bottle of beer.

“No.”

“It’s my nerves, huh?”

“That stupid dream, Will. A nightmare.”

“Feels different. I know stoned, drunk, high, nightmare. This is … something else.”

“Oh fuck.”

Jesse took Willy’s hand and they strolled through the house. The house was beautiful and mysterious despite the layers of dust and the corners full of clutter boxes and junk. Tom had an obvious distaste for organizing. And no one from the outside came in to care and clean.

Jesse sat down on a velvet stool in front of the mahogany grand piano. She twinkled the keys but did not know how to play. The house came alive with the piano notes; the silence was broken while ghosts rose from within the walls to dance to the richness of the sounds. Willy heard someone whispering directly behind him. He jabbed at the back of his neck with an empty beer bottle, as if a mosquito had bit him there.

Jesse, ever in denial, did not want to believe what she saw: passionate spirits escaping the wallpaper. She slammed the hood on the piano keys and continued wandering dreamily through the house. She ran a finger longingly over the antique furniture. Willy grew restless, paranoid. He rushed up the stairs to the third floor.

Behind the glass door to the Gallery, he saw a dark figure slumped on the carpet. He started to pound on the thick sheet of glass.

“Tom! Tom! Are ya in there? Is that you?”

“Who else would it be?” asked Jesse.

“Go down to the toolshed, woman, and get me the ax.”

“Now yer talking like Will again!” she exclaimed merrily.

Willy glared at her, and she stopped chewing her gum. She turned and hurried down the stairs.

“Tom, hold on. I’m comin’ for ya.”

“Is he dead?” asked Heather.

“Now where the hell did you come from?” growled Willy.

Heather snuggled up to him, and seeing that Jesse was not anywhere near, she wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to give him a long, wet kiss.

Willy pried her arms off.

“Mother of god, what’s gotten into you?”

Heather laughed a happy upbeat kind of laugh which was out of place and more than slightly off.

Willy scowled. He looked at her sideways.

“You okay?”

“Yes.”

“Need a glass of water or something?”

“No.”

At that moment, Jesse reached the top of the stairs with the ax.

“How did she get here?” she asked, motioning at Heather with the blade.

“Must’ve followed us in when I told her to scat.”

He took the ax out of her hands, and was about to work on the glass door, when Heather caught his arm and shouted:

“Wait! Do you have to wreck the door? We could get a locksmith, or at least call the police.”

Willy tore his arm away from Heather; she was knocked off balance and fell against a wall. She went tumbling towards the stairs. Jesse did little to help, she simply got out of the way. Had Heather had enough momentum to go rocketing down the staircase, Jesse would not have intervened.

Heather held on to the bannister. She pulled herself up. She shot Jesse a dark look and rubbed her bruised thigh. Willy started to pound on the door with the ax. He was using the blunt end of the blade. With each blow, he was adding more pressure. Jesse and Heather moved back and out of the way instinctively. After the fifth blow, the glass shattered. A hole was formed.

Willy worked on the jagged edges of the glass jutting out from all sides of the door frame. Soon, these too crashed to the floor, and they had a view into the room. At first, the scene resembled a shopping window display filled with beautifully dressed mannequins.

On closer inspection, - Willy studying the hands of the dolls intently -, it became obvious, these were mummies.

“Fuck,” said Willy.

“These are his aunts and uncles.”

The embalmed corpses sat rigid and silent, all with a regal air about them. Further back, in front of what must have been the most beautiful and most important corpse, half sat, half lay Tom, slumped over, his head bowed, seemingly unconscious.

Jesse got to him first. She shook him, she felt his pulse. He murmured something and twitched, but did not come to. Willy kicked him. No reaction.

“I’m calling the police,” said Heather.

Willy whirled around and grabbed her by the hair. Heather screamed and tried to wrestle free. Willy only pulled harder.

“I have had it with you, bitch!”

“No, no, please, I will go.”

“Yeah, that you will.”

Willy dragged her by the hair to the stairs and pushed her hard. She went toppling head-over downwards, bumping various body parts and screaming and shouting Ouch.

“Ugh, good riddance,” declared Jesse.

She sat by Tom’s side, stroking his cheek and forehead.

“Got a feeling she’ll be back, though.”

“We’ll just seat her here with the whole family and see to it she stays put with some duct tape.”

Willy grinned.

“She’s a hot-looking woman, what’s she doing in a dump like this?”

“You’re right about that,” said Jesse, scratching her chin.

“There’s plan behind it.”

“The property?”

“Hide drugs here?”

“Or corpses!”

“These here don’t look too recent.”

“The house is big. So is the yard.”

“Something’s up.”

“And we don’t need it.”

Jesse and Willy high-fived each other, just as Tom’s eyelids fluttered.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

So it has happened once again …

 

The darkness invaded me, rendered me helpless. I could not fight it – although I really tried. And the whore and the brute came back … they found me, they found me alive in the Gallery! They came charging in here like wild animals! Why can’t they just leave me alone? Why do they torment me with their presence?

 

It is all coming to an end. Perhaps that is for the best – I will finally be out of it and the bodies will be laid to rest. Even given a Christian burial. No one will ever whisper ‘bury me’ again.

 

Again …

 

 

 

“Tom, are you okay? Tom, answer me!”

Willy and Jesse pulled him up, empty shell of a young man that he was.

Tom coughed. He averted his gaze.

“Tom?”

“I’m fine.”

They walked him to the door, but he resisted.

“Please! I have to say goodbye.”

“To the … dead people?” asked Willy.

“They are my family.”

“No, not no more.”

“Please!”

“Goodbye Grandma,” Willy mocked.

“Don’t do that!”

“Or what?”

Tom tried to regain full control of his drained body – flailing his arms, shaking his head, trying to rattle his way out of it.

“Whoa, Mr. T., watch it!” yelled Willy.

“Let me say goodbye, Will. This is like a graveyard, don’t you get it?’

“Except I just smashed the door …”

“They want to be buried,” Tom mumbled, the color back in his face.

“I can do that,” said Willy.

“But … they want more …”

“Burning them is also a good idea.”

“No! You’re impossible, Mr. Will!”

“I need air. I gotta smoke a cigarette or something.”

“That one,” Willy added, pointing at the most prominent corpse, “has been staring at me this whole time.”

“She is beautiful,” exclaimed Jesse full of honest admiration.

“I’d say someone went to great lengths, to keep them from rotting away. But this is fuckin’ sick. After all, they’re dead.”

Willy spat out. Tom’s eyes grew wide.

“Must you do everything to provoke them?”

“Meaning … they can be provoked?”

“He’s trying to tell you they are haunting this house because they have not been properly buried.”

Jesse looked up at Willy with pleading eyes. Tom nodded.

“Well, you can’t do that, because of the cops. You probably had no business keeping them here anyway, unless they requested it, while they were still alive.”

“We had an agreement – sort of,” explained Tom.

“But something went wrong.”

“What went wrong, Tom?”

Tom was silent for a while. Then he stepped up to the chair his mother was seated in.

“Isn’t that obvious?”

“They’re still here,” he added, barely above a whisper.

“I never believed in all that humbug,” remarked Willy, folding his arms over his chest.

“The crosses, the holy water. Not sure I believe in it now.”

“We’ll help you, Tom,” Jesse said.

“I want to get rid of them and lead a normal life …” Tom squawked.

“But I need to have them here as well.”

“How many people know about this?” asked Willy.

“Heather does now.”

“What has she got to do with anything? Do you sleep with her?”

“Heavens, no! Her father wants this land.”

“Rickerson?”

“He wants it for cheap.”

“You’re lucky we showed up. We’ll fix things, work for you. Go shopping when you’re not feeling right …” suggested Jesse.

“We’ll be good to you …”

Willy turned and let his hand do a sweep over all the corpses in the Gallery, saying:

“And we promise not to tell anyone about these …”

To his horror and utter dismay, the eyes of the mother corpse were now closed, he was sure of it, as if she had fallen asleep, though she had been staring straight at him the whole time. He grinned, flashed a broad smile even, to hide his thoughts, guiding Tom out of the room by the shoulders, Jesse following them.

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

Heather was sitting at the kitchen table, holding a pack of ice to her forehead.

“You’ll pay for this,” she hissed.

“What part of ‘get out of here’ do you not understand, bitch?” Willy spat back.

“I am looking for my dog …”

“Oh sure.”

Tom stood behind Heather and put his hands on her shoulders.

“I haven’t seen him in ages,” he said softly.

Heather turned and looked up at him.

“But you have seen him …?”

Tom nodded. He graciously accepted a glass of whiskey mixed with Coca Cola from Willy. A menthol cigarette Jesse offered him he declined.

“Put some more ice in here, Will,” he ordered.

“At your service,” Will responded.

“Can I have some?” Heather ventured.

“No,” said Willy, his voice firm, but not hostile.

“Well, if you see my dog … please let me know.”

“What kind of dog is it?” asked Jesse.

“He was a black Labrador, very thin towards the end,” replied Tom.

Jesse and Willy looked at each other.

“He wants to come home to me,” Heather said, her voice cracking.

“I have seen him in the yard, I remember it vividly,” said Tom.

“Thank you,” said Heather.

She had problems walking; with a limp she left through the back door.

Tom poured more whiskey into his glass.

“I’ll be upstairs,” he said.

Willy nodded. Jesse waved.

When he had rushed up the stairs and disappeared into a room, slamming the door for emphasis, Willy let out a sigh of relief.

“Our new home …” he said sarcastically.

“It’s free,” Jesse said and shrugged.

“And who knows, now we might even get paid on top of that!”

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

Ha! I’ve duped the fools. They’ll find themselves buried in the backyard and twisted into pretzels soon enough! My head, my head is exploding … A hacked-at, hacked-up watermelon, the juice all over the wall …

 

 

I dragged myself to my study (my other study), and opened the laptop to see if there were any … messages. I watch the Gallery at all times from all angles. Webcams serve me well. But to no avail. It usually starts happening when I fall asleep, when I am not paying attention.

 

Mother … I am sorry. Things just turned out the way they did. Someday, yes, someday, you will have a proper burial, when I am in prison, or when I will have left. Perhaps Jesse will get me drunk and sexed up often enough and I will run away, but how can I leave this land? I want to be buried on my land. I want to. Just like Aunt Sophie.

 

Maybe it’s all we have now.

 

 

 

Tom watched the close-up of his mother’s embalmed face on the computer screen. He studied her features, trying to recall what she had been like when she was still alive. All of his memories had been wiped away. He had spent many hours trying to ‘catch’ the corpses, in the act of utilizing their bodies, but they moved or were moved when he slept, when he got up for coffee or the restroom, or when he was otherwise preoccupied.

It was infuriating. There was also a beauty to it, and peace, and a conscious decision never to really deal with death or grief. Tom owned his mother’s face. Forever.

Jesse and Willy were rummaging around downstairs, but Tom did not care.

He had one more page to visit on the internet, but doing so cost him all of his inner strength and all of his courage. He nipped at the whiskey, slowly. He was not used to drinking.

Willy downstairs caused a bang after which he let out a barrage of curses. Tom scratched at his forehead while Jesse spewed forth an avalanche of words. Great housekeepers he had now, indeed! After the downstairs part of the house had quieted down (a whiskey bottle thrown at the kitchen wall, no doubt), he went to Facebook to look at what had been posted there.

 

 

 

The background is dark, as if in a cave or a tunnel. Seated in chairs (the same seating order as here in the house), a parallel gallery is shown. They are dead, too, and I know them well. They are buried in the yard, under the shed or the barn. They are shown in various stages of decomposition, with worms and maggots and other unspeakable creatures slithering freely around and through skeletal eye sockets and down arms, legs etc.

 

So, am I supposed to believe this is real? Someone has gone to so much trouble as to watch me dispose of them … only to unearth them, moving them to a place unknown to take pictures and video? Or is this a hallucination? Or are … the dead … showing me their power, all of what they can do?

 

I compare the gallery of embalmed corpses to the gallery on Facebook and count two sets of twelve corpses. Would Facebook not take down such a mockery of taste and Christian values?

 

Aunt Sophie and Uncle Umberto … they raised me, but they were cruel. And passionate. Do they feel ashamed of being interred outside, not in the airy room with the others? They want into the Gallery (in the house)? They are infuriated that I have murdered them and dumped them into a grave beneath the barn, with the animals? They feel mocked …

 

But that was exactly what I had in mind.

 

 

Chapter 17

 

 

Jesse and Willy were riding the road, Jesse driving, Willy smoking and stretching.

“Sure you’re not hurt?”

“Ever the nurse …” Willy muttered, showing his bloody hand wrapped in toilet paper.

“Could’ve at least been Bounty towels?”

“Nope. I’ve got style!”

They giggled and chortled.

“We’re passing the place now,” Jesse remarked.

Willy slid further down into the passenger seat, covering his head with a cap. Every now and then, he peeked out quickly through the window. They passed the diner and the gas station.

“Nothing.”

“No tape, nothing.”

“Shit.”

“They ate ‘em, what do I know …”

“Seriously creepy town. We’ll be on the table with an apple in our mouths soon enough.”

“I know, right?”

“Maybe we should pay them another visit …”

This was Willy, sitting back up, grinning at Jesse.

“… and order more burgers.”

“Stupid.”

“For Tom.”

“He doesn’t eat …”

“Sure he eats meat and burgers.”

“… that kind of food.”

“He’s not some kind of dream millionaire, Jesse. He’s flat out broke like us.”

“He’s got toilet paper.”

“And no coffee.”

“Hard to tell.”

“Proceed with caution.”

“Are we safe for now?”

“There is no safe.”

“Those dolls in his ‘Gallery’ are safe.”

“Fuckin’ shit. They actually come back.”

“Yeah. Hell.”

“One Halloween, we were wearin’ costumes and runnin’ around in the house …”

“Yeah?”

“I ran up there, I think.”

“And then?”

“The old bitch, I’m not sure was it his mother or his Aunt Sophie … started lecturing me ‘bout how they were all dressed up on account o’ Halloween, and how they were costume displays and props for the fine stores in New York City … she went out of her way to explain it to me.”

“She thought you were gonna tell.”

“I didn’t care. It didn’t register. I was thinking candy corn and fun.”

“And Tom?”

“I remember he just stood there holding the big one’s hand.”

“Like today?”

“Ahem.”

“Did you tell anyone?”

“Nope. Was living in foster care. But I think the old bitch warned me … before I was about to go home. It was dark. She told me I had seen the other side and I was part of the family.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, Willy. And she told me I could never leave.”

“But you did.”

“I’ve lived in so many places, Willy, I forgot a lot of it.”

“There. Those guys standing around. That’s it.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, let’s get our supplies. Maybe they got something to make Aunt Sophie look young and tasty.”

“Ha.”

Jesse exited the highway and drove through a town which resembled an abandoned group of buildings. A country road took them to a ridge where young people had gathered around their cars and pickups.

One of them was nodding in their direction, obviously waiting.

Willy and Jesse joined them, to listen to music and to buy drugs and liquor, drink beer, talk and hang out. Towards midnight, they made love with another woman. Jesse grew annoyed at Willy’s hunger for her. She threw his jacket around her shoulders and walked to a point where the whole forsaken town lay in full view in the valley. A man approached her.

It turned out to be the manager of the diner. Jesse took a step back in wide-eyed terror.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” he asked.

 

 

Chapter 18

 

 

Jesse lit a cigarette slowly.

“No.”

“Can I have one?” he asked.

“Sure.”

He took her cigarette to light his. He smiled.

“Oh, and I don’t mean serving you cherry pie. Way back when … you know. When we were kids.”

Jesse raised her eyebrows in surprise. She yawned.

“No.”

He nodded and looked out over the sleepy town which was covered by a sketchy layer of fog and looked quiet and beautiful under a silver moon.

“Tom knows.”

Jesse eyed him cautiously.

“Why didn’t you say so right away?”

“Cause I didn’t remember. You’ve changed, and all.”

Jesse nodded. It made sense.

“Where are you living?”

She was about to protest, especially seeing Willy stumbling towards them from the cars.

“We work for Tom.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes.”

Willy was drunk and mumbling incoherently.

“I’d better get him home,” Jesse remarked, weaving her arms under Willy’s to support him.

“I’m Nick. Nick Edwards.”

“Gotta go.”

“I’ll come visit!” he called after her as she headed towards the car.

Jesse eased Willy slowly down into the passenger seat and buckled his seat belt. Then she went around the car and got behind the wheel. In the rearview she spotted Edwards glaring at her from the side of his pickup. She waved.

“What the hell,” she said out loud.

Putting the car in reverse, she backed out and drove forward, careful to avoid the drunk and giddy youngsters.

That wasn’t the end of Edwards, however. He followed her, leaving the parking lot immediately after her. He was polite, but persistent. Jesse in turn did not try to shake him off. The confrontation had to take place sooner or later. He needed to put his cards on the table.

When she made a turn to leave the main road for Tom’s reclusive side street, he did not come after her, but honked and waved. This greeting she returned and even managed a weak smile. If he had wanted to hound them about the elderly couple, he would have already.

With her one free hand, Jesse reached for a handful of candy. What was up with that? She looked over at Willy, snoring beside her. If he stayed drunk and sleeping, she could find some time to be alone with Tom.

She got out of the car, and left without trying to wake Willy. One light was turned low but visible on the third floor. Jesse vowed to ask Tom for a set of keys sometime. The trip to the back of the house was tinged with guilt and fear. The kitchen door leading into the house could be locked at any time, casting them out for good.

It stood ajar. Tom must have been the one to leave it open just a little bit. Jesse smirked.

“Isn’t that just like him,” she said softly.

“Leaving a door open just a little bit …”

But he had left the door open, and he had left it open for her.

Jesse entered the house and smelled the sweet smell of baked potatoes and roast beef. With greens. She inspected the pots, the dishes and the oven and felt delighted. Dinner for two. Tom had cooked! He was doing better …

And then suddenly, he was right behind her. She whirled around and he caught her; she was in his arms and they were kissing within seconds. He stopped to breathe, and held her at arm’s length, then resumed.

“My first kiss – that was you …” he whispered.

Jesse kissed him back, with a hunger and a vengeance.

“I had a dream about that just recently,” she said.

He raised his eyebrows and grinned.

“Yes.”

“Let’s have some food.”

When they were seated at the table, he added:

“And some wine.”

“Willy is sleeping in the car,” said Jesse.

“Good.”

“He won’t be waking up any time soon.”

“Is he drunk?” asked Tom.

“Drunk and then some,” answered Jesse and giggled.

“Drugs don’t work, though …”

“What do you mean?” Jesse was truly curious.

“I’ve taken all kinds of drugs,” said Tom, the sadness evident in his voice.

“Taking drugs doesn’t stop the dead.”

 

 

Chapter 19

 

 

It was dark, warm and quiet. Willy yawned and stretched. The buzz had not worn off yet, although his lips felt parched. He needed a glass of water. Ah yes, cold water. He was in his car, sleeping, that much he knew. He just wanted to sleep a little longer, it was so comforting. This time belonged to him. Not to the constant worries about where to live, where to work, when and what to eat next.

He was a hunter and he was hunted, there was no respite. When he drank, that all stopped, at least for a little while. Few precious hours. The car, of course, was not necessarily comfortable. He was lying next to something stiff and very cold. The jammed car door, he thought. Except parts of it felt like … a dress.

He chuckled in his sleep. His hands touched a ruffled fabric. His fingers rubbed the material, even though he was only half-conscious. Awakening, he tried to sit up; his head bumped into what he thought was the passenger side vanity mirror, in the reflection of which Jesse was forever reapplying her heavy mascara and her Goth makeup. But it felt more like wood (a coffin) or a vault made out of stone. ‘Oh no,’ his mind screamed. ‘I am in some alternate reality again – with a corpse!’

‘Bullshit,’ another voice in his head shot back to placate him, ‘it can’t be. There is no such thing. A nightmare is what it is (this voice sounded a lot like Jesse’s) – the booze and drugs are wearing off.’

The brand of dread he experienced told him otherwise.

“You are buried on my land …” a female voice said.

“Go away!”

“How can I leave when I am buried?” he asked, sure that this kind of nonsense only happened in dreams.

“You are No. Thirteen. There can be no Thirteen.”

“Why not?” asked Willy, his speech slurred, his terror real.

“Because …” – and here the female voice cracked and could not continue, overcome with emotion.

“Because?” asked Willy, straining to understand.

Willy did not fight in his second dream. He knew he was in a coffin, buried alive. He was drunk, and it did not matter. His life would end in an early grave, earth raked over his sorry existence in a potter’s field. No one to claim him, no one to say goodbye. Sooner or later, anyway. Better than a life in prison.

Willy touched the talking corpse again. He felt along her dress, until he came upon the slithering creatures. He withdrew his hand, batting off the clinging, writhing monsters, and then he realized he was having trouble breathing.

“Are you a ghost or a zombie, Ma’am?”

“Go back to him,” the female voice said.

“To Tom?”

“Are you a mummy?”

“He doesn’t know …”

“Know what?”

“That he’s being held … and we are being held.”

“Held?”

“Forever. In agony!”

“I don’t get it.”

“Why would you, you fool!”

“I have a headache.”

“You will join our ranks soon enough!”

“Don’t likely intend to.”

“Tell him, please!”

“I’ll try.”

With that, the images were gone and Willy sat up in his old clunker of a car, very much aware of the reality of his situation, freezing, on a cold night, alone. Real life set in, a depressing life with a gray, vague, sordid quality to it. He nearly felt deprived of the images from the other world which were now blotted out and which had provided a kind of spice and mystery to the monotonous day-in and day-out of Willy’s petty criminal misery. He rubbed his arms with his hands, trying to get warm.

“To hell with that though …” he said out loud, still wondering.

“Jesse?” he called, although he knew she was nowhere near. Knew she had abandoned him in the cold car.

“The bitch just left me out here …” he muttered, still rubbing his arms, his lips blue now.

“She could’ve at least gotten a blanket or something. Covered me with my jacket. Not left me alone with the zombie mummies of this crazy town.”

“JESSE!” he yelled.

“You better get here fast, you bitch, or I’m a gonna beat the fucking shit outta you.”

His lips were now purple-colored, dry and cracked. He did not dare look at himself in the mirror. When he did, he flipped the car mirror for ladies open. There was dirt on his face, and splinters of wood were stuck in his cheeks. Dark circles were set deep and haunting under his bulging brooding gray eyes. Draped over his knees was a piece of cloth, made from a ragged blue fabric with white ruffles. He touched it, then brought it to his lips. He kissed it.

“Now I’m no longer alone.” he said, tears rolling down his gaunt and hardened cheeks.

“She’ll always be back.”

And he added solemnly:

“Now I’ve got family, too.”

He buried his head in his hands.

 

 

Chapter 20

 

 

It always took her an amazing amount of effort. A door opened, a new day, in another world. A world without a sun. She had so much time, and during this time, she needed to try. Even though it was probably useless. She could not communicate very well. But it was so important, she had to give it her all.

 

He had changed so much … but his inner beauty was still there. There was still time; if only she could convey to him some of what she had learned on her journey… If only he were open enough.

 

He was. He had noticed. Tom was watching. The little camera mounted on the ceiling, it was pointed at her, at them. The others, they were weaker. She was still strong, still holding on. Today was another day, well, a day in another world, but still. She had to try.

 

Tom! Tom! Look at your screen!

 

You will always be my baby …”

 

 

 

Jesse remembered the swinging motion and, drunk from the wine, she had giggled when her face bumped into Tom’s jeans-clad ass (he had been carrying her up the stairs into the Gallery). She had been draped, nude, over his shoulder.

He then flopped her down, not gently, onto the floor, next to the last mummy, seated in a richly carved and decorated chair, a cheap imitation of luxury, of wealth. Even in her state of half-consciousness, Jesse saw the chair and the embalmed corpse clearly.

She was more than drunk; Tom must have added something to the wine, she could not move her limbs. But euphoria was in the mix, too. She did not worry, she let it all happen. And when Tom knelt down to her, and brought his face really close to hers (he smiled the smile of a maniac), she laughed and marveled at the joy in her heart and tried to kiss him.

Nothing worked. Her face simply came a trifle closer to his, even the laugh was mostly in her mind; her lips could not muster a turning-upwards at the corners, so when he frowned and got up to leave, and it was the saddest thing for Jesse.

 

 

 

I bled her out (Heather, the blond vixen), and applied the secret formula myself. Jesse is next in line. They are both so beautiful …

 

A waste of time and a shame to throw Heather into the ground; besides, I don’t want Rickerson, her father, finding out about her … ummh, demise. It happened, the way it always happens. Willy on the other hand will go wild, but him I can control.

 

I couldn’t resist stroking the bitch’s fine long blond hair, I told her how sorry I felt for her that she had lost her dog. She turned and jumped on me, sex-hungry crazy woman that she was. We struggled and I fell over. She knocked her head on the sharp edge of a glass table, and so forth, and so on. This house is so full of death, how could it have transpired any other way?

 

That empty look in her eyes, it was unmistakable. I have seen death so very often. And when it is over, I so loathe myself. I look in the mirror and catch a glimpse of the haunted monster I have become. And what has happened to all my dreams and aspirations? I am simply an assembly line man now, I kill and then preserve or discard. The hind end of human life on earth. I am the trash collector of evolution.

 

And I will have to get rid of Rickerson, too.

 

And then what?

 

The whole damn town?

 

 

 

Willy wasn’t walking in a straight line when he headed towards Tom’s back door, but he was walking fast. And he was so sure that the door would be unlocked, he did not bother slowing down, he figured he would just barge right in. His fury of finding himself cold in the car and abandoned by Jesse was raging strong, so he slammed into the door and hurt his shoulder … because the door was locked.

Incredulous, he screamed:

“JESSE! OPEN UP, BABY!”

He started to pound on the wooden chipped-paint frame, fairly certain it would break, with its gray glass inlays. It held, though, and Jesse did not answer. A headache slowly formed in Willy’s temples, thrumming, then knocking, then pounding, same as his fists, same rhythm, same agonizing senselessness.

Willy listened. She should be coming down the stairs, she should be running towards him, why did he not hear anything? What was wrong? What had happened to her? He could not tolerate this; he was more than thirsty, and at the same time he needed to pee.

Slowly, he stopped, turned, and headed towards the shed. Of course getting the ax and breaking down the door could get him into the house, but it could also get him into serious trouble. Had Tom really locked him out … for good?

But he needed to get through to Jesse … that was the most important thing.

 

 

Chapter 21

 

 

As Willy entered the toolshed to get the ax (or to look for some other tool which might open the door with far less noise and damage), he was shocked to see the dead body of the diner manager propped up against the northern wall, the same man who had served him large tasty cheeseburgers not too long ago. Willy recognized him by his clothing, his flannel shirt. His face had been cleaned up, but it was … ruined. Next to the dead body stood a shovel, at attention and waiting.

“Oh, Tom, my man, what have you done?” said Willy aloud,

“And Jesse …” he choked up and then went silent, the pain intense.

His nerves were now on edge, adrenalin pumping through his veins. He just had to get into the house. He swung the ax, ready to go, when out of the blue Tom materialized behind him, smirking, his arms folded over his chest.

“What are you doing?”

“The door was locked.”

“As well it should be.”

“Where’s Jesse?” Willy asked.

“Sleeping.”

Willy grabbed Tom by the shirt and was about to lift him off the ground, when Tom punched him in the gut with astounding strength and resolve.

“You imbecile! You lout! You fucking idiot!”

Willy shuddered as Tom threw the shovel at him.

“Take this, bury him!”

Willy did not react.

“Place is nearly full. That corner there …” Tom pointed.

“Put him in the ground!” he growled.

Willy nodded. As Tom was about to leave, Willy asked in a weak voice, barely above a whisper:

“Is she okay?”

“As okay as a useless cunt will ever be!” Tom shot back and marched off.

Willy, at first dumbfounded, set to work with the shovel, although a part of him, the Willy-most part of him, would have preferred to go thundering after Tom with the ax. He needed Tom for now, though; Tom had money, a house, and this was … a sort of a job. And perhaps there was still time to save Jesse.

Willy’s shoulders slumped. He started to dig, but deep in his heart, he knew he could never dig fast enough.

 

 

Chapter 22

 

 

‘I must have slept,’ Jesse thought, as she slowly regained consciousness. Her immediate surroundings were covered with a dense white fog; she could only see her bare feet, and a part of the marble floor, but that was it. The floor was a clue to her understanding she was in the Gallery. She did not panic, she was far too drowsy.

She tried to wiggle her toes. Her mind registered that she was doing it – but the toes were not moving. She concentrated. After much effort, the big toe twitched and wagged to and fro. She felt immensely relieved. Jesse listened. There were strange sounds to be heard, bits of croaking, some grunting, even words!

Now fear set in. She tried to scream, but she couldn’t move. Behind her, from the direction of the mother mummy, a swoosh was heard, as if fabric (and lots of it) had rubbed against multiple surfaces …

‘Tom’s mother … stood up? All by herself?’ thought Jesse.

She tried to close her eyes, and that worked.

Reliving the past, for comfort, she tried to remember the day it was Halloween for her and Tom. Oh yes, there had been lots of candy and next to no supervision. They were allowed to roam all over the neighborhood and into other ‘turfs’. No grownup had really paid attention.

Tom’s Aunt Sophie and his Uncle Umberto had been drinking … drinking heavily.

Jesse squeezed her eyes shut, and it worked. It brought on a soothing darkness. Her right foot twitched, she could move it! Whatever Tom had mixed into her glass of wine, it was beginning to wear off!

Jesse said a silent prayer. ‘Please, dear God, if you exist, get me out of here!’

‘Who are you?’ a voice in her head asked. A voice she did not know.

One of the mummies barked. A lone, weak, whining bark. He tried again, but only managed a cracking sound.

‘She isn’t really dead …’ another voice said.

‘We will lose everything …’ the mother wailed, ‘he needed to stop at twelve.’

Now the others were trying to move and talk. One fell.

‘Did the mother fall?’ asked Jesse into the dark void of her mind.

‘No.’

‘She is still on her feet.’

‘It’s the best she’s ever done.’

‘I’m Heather,’ a voice said and then came a scream, a muffled scream.

‘Heather, what are you doing here?’

‘I can’t find my dog.’

‘He’s not one of us …’

‘He’s been looking for you outside …’

‘Where outside?”

‘Tom didn’t bother burying him.’

‘Rolled him up in a tarp, he’s behind the shed, under crates and wooden planks and things …’

‘It took me a week to walk to the window when Tom was in the hospital and I looked down into the yard. There he was. Wagging his ghost tail at me.’

‘Fine dog.’

‘So he doesn’t come here?’ wailed Heather in terror.

No one answered.

Jesse fought back the tears. She was obviously going to be the next victim of Tom’s embalming arts.

‘Don’t cry …’ the mother corpse said.

‘We have it nice here.’

‘We’re not as hopeless as the ones buried in the dirt outside.’

‘We can still be found!’

‘We are still beautiful, as if we were … still alive.’

‘They can even leave the casket open, so everyone can say goodbye …’

‘Alas, everyone has forgotten me!’

And they began to sob and to wail, it was an awful sound. Their mental voices were overlapped by their weak ability to communicate with their embalmed bodies, a cacophony of barks, grunts, moans and stifled screams were heard.

Tom barged in, his face contorted with a venomous fury.

“STOP IT!” he screamed.

“Or I will bury you in the dirt in the mountains where no one will ever, ever find you!”

‘Oh, Tom, how can you be so very cruel?”

Jesse cringed. She did not want to move or twitch. Tom marched through the Gallery defiantly, roughly seating the mummies back to their seats where they belonged. Not however, the mother. He hit her hard from behind, so that she fell flat on her face. Another corpse -already on the floor -, he kicked viciously, over and over again.

The collective moan of agony did not escape Jesse’s inner ear. She was perplexed by Tom’s sudden about-face.

‘Why can I hear you?’ she asked.

‘Because of that day you came and saw us. On Halloween.’

‘You are part of the family.’

‘And always will be.’

 

 

Chapter 23

 

 

“We’ll do the best we can to find her, rest assured,” Officer Chad Donovan told his old friend Rickerson.

The other man nodded solemnly.

“She’s never done this to me before.”

He ran a shaky hand through his grimy hair. A three-day stubble graced his cheeks.

“Heather ran all over town, all the time, but she … always came home.”

Chad looked down at the tips of his boots.

“She’s been looking for that dog,” he said.

“Just about the whole town knows that.”

Rickerson eyed his friend warily.

“Without evidence, I can’t get a search warrant for Tom’s place.”

“His family bought everyone off.”

“I’m going over to see Tom tonight.”

“Be careful,” Rickerson warned.

“He’s one hell of a crazy coot,” he continued, “but you know that. What you don’t know is that strays are living there now.”

“That so?” asked Chad, opening the door of his police cruiser.

“Man and a woman.”

“Linda, the waitress at the burger joint had me looking for a couple of newcomers, could that be them?”

“I have no idea. Why?”

“Just a hunch.”

“How’s Linda?”

“She’s a real fine lady. Always has my favorite donuts ready …” Chad smiled.

The two men laughed, as the police officer got into his Chevy. Rickerson leaned on the door, talking to Chad through the open window.

“I’ll check Tom’s new tenants out tonight,” Chad said.

“Fill me in, will ya?”

“Sure. And thanks for keeping me in the loop, too.”

“If you hear anything about my baby doll Heather, let me know immediately, day or night? Okay?”

“Of course.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

As Chad Donovan drove away, Rickerson watched the police car disappear into the horizon of a red-golden setting sun.

“Now for Facebook,” he muttered.

He threw a stone out into the driveway and turned around towards Tom’s barn.

 

 

Chapter 24

 

 

I sit staring at his face, or rather, at the abyss that was once his face. The brute buried him in the shed not quite an hour ago … and yet, here he is, in a video clip on Facebook. Oh, the marvels of modern technology!

 

He came knocking on my front door asking so many questions. Grinning from ear to ear, trying to get me to remember some long ago Halloween when we had gone trick or treating with Jesse, whom he had recently served cherry pie (pie!). I asked him to come in. I lead him up into the Gallery. And yes, he recalled the mannequins.

 

When he realized they were mummies, I hit him in the face with my shovel. My trusted shovel … I hit him again and again, until his face started to look like cherry pie. I heard my mother moan … Oh, mother! I am so sorry, dear.

 

But I am what I am. I cannot ask Jesus for forgiveness.

 

 

 

Officer Donovan stood leaning against his police car, sizing up the ancient, chipped-paint, gray and dark blue Victorian mansion Tom called his home. Ground floor and first and second floor windows were mostly boarded-up. Only the third floor windows (some locals referred to the place as The Gallery) had red elegant curtains and seemed to have been cleaned spotless most of the time.

If he hadn’t been searching for Heather, and on a mission to find out what the newcomers knew about the murdered and then disappearing elderly couple, he would have stayed as far away from the haunted pile of shit as he possibly could have.

He could still see her, even after all these years. Her fake red-colored hair, a wayward frizz about her face, her stained yellow teeth, resembling pointed fangs, and not human teeth. Her cold, cold hand as she pulled him inside.

“I don’t want to come in,” he had stammered, shaking.

“Oh, but you must!” Aunt Sophie had said, sporting an accent, which sounded fake and affected.

“Come in and humor Aunt Sophie – or you won’t get any candy.”

Chad had heard all kinds of stories and rumors. How Sophie and Umberto helped their funeral parlor along, when no one was dying … stories of dread and old country bullshit, how they had a secret formula that made the dead look better in their coffins than they had when they were still alive.

As the stories made their rounds, they became more and more embellished with odd-sounding details. Chad had been a skinny kid dressed as Batman’s Robin, and she had pulled him inside and slammed the door behind him.

He had fought like crazy. Uncle Umberto stood waiting behind the door; he grabbed Chad and swung him over a powerful shoulder. Umberto began climbing the stairs. Chad was screaming, he was praying, begging, and he called on Jesus to save him.

“JESUS, HELP ME! JESUS, HELP ME!”

They had arrived on the third floor landing; Umberto was panting. A tinted glass door separated them from the Gallery. Chad did not understand this, but he knew in his heart Sophie and Umberto were intent on hurting him, and he would never see his Mom and Dad again.

“Not Jesus,” Sophie said.

She was climbing the stairs behind them, lifting her colorful skirts, revealing green knitted stockings.

‘Perfect for a witch,’ Chad had thought.

“Umberto, not Jesus!”

“Twelve, right?” Umberto said, still breathing heavily from the exertion of carrying a boy up so many flights of stairs. Umberto was overweight.

“But … he would be twelve.”

“I’m not sure … and he is yelling Jesus already. Perhaps he’d be only Eleven-and-A-Half. Then they will all start moving and moaning and whispering. I can’t live with that. I can’t do that again. ”

“Okay. Okay.”

“God is such a watchmaker,” Aunt Sophie moaned.

“Everything has to be just so, and there can be no deviation. That’s what they’re all telling me.”

“Sophie … they’re dead.”

“You know they are still here.”

He had grabbed Chad by the wrist and forced him back down the stairs. Sophie and Umberto had thrown a handful of candy corn in a bag, shoved it at Chad and sent him out the front door.

No one had seen either Sophie or Umberto in many years.

Chad had not bothered telling his family about the incident. It had come back to him in nightmares for years (especially once he saw what he saw on Facebook). He had found Aunt Sophie sitting astride his chest in the wee hours of the morning, mumbling crazy shit like:

“You are buried on my land. You need to go.”

Which made no sense. But it did sting. It was unnerving.

So Chad hesitated before entering Tom’s property. He did not want to see the Aunt Sophie nightmares as being prophetic.

 

 

Chapter 25

 

 

Willy smacked his lips. He was dreaming about cheeseburgers, and in his mind’s eye, he saw the melted cheese and the onions. Something cold was creeping up his arms. Oh, no, he shuddered, not another dream of Aunt Sophie, wrestling her for burial space! Squinting, he recognized Jesse’s black nail polish with pink polka dots, the fingernails cracked, torn, chipped and dirty.

“Jesse!” he shouted, jumping up out of his chair.

“Hi, Will,” she answered, her voice tiny and slow.

Willy shook his head and slapped himself, but he was still drunk, on whiskey and sleep. He rubbed his eyes, but could not believe what he was seeing. As if Jesse could read his mind, she said:

“I’m okay. Really.”

“Jesse … what did he do to you?”

“Cooked me some dinner, put shit in my booze.”

“And then?”

“Found myself next to the dead dolls up in the Gallery.”

Willy fell silent.

“We gotta get outta here.”

“Where would we go…”

“Where is he now?”

“The mummies told me he has a high-tech office in the cellar.”

“The mummies told you …”

“Yes.”

When he stared at her incredulously, she added:

“They are still here not only as bodies, but also as spirits. They have not received a proper burial. So their souls cannot move on. Meaning, they still have access to their bodies, if only a very limited kind of access.”

“Fuck. What did that monster put in your booze?”

“I couldn’t move, but I saw and heard everything.”

“And you still think it’s a good idea to stay?”

“Where are we going to go … why do we keep running?”

“This is shit.”

“Let’s stay a little longer.”

“Pack up and drive away, really fast.”

“Aunt Sophie will follow.”

“She stays on her land.”

“Ha! She stays in your mind.”

 

 

 

I overheard their stupid conversation. I had it on audio. The ‘mummies’ told her most of their secrets. How sweet of them. But some things still don’t add up, in fact, a lot of things do not add up. For example, who digs up the bodies buried in the yard, the barn, the shed, and seats them in chairs to make video clips to post to my Facebook wall, clips in which the bodies are already decomposed?

 

Oh, the mannequins have talked to me, too, or tried. And Aunt Sophie rides me in dreams the way she rides everyone else. The only one who ever really gets my attention, though, is the big one, Mommy. Mommy Mummy. She is the most beautiful, she is also the strongest. I need to clean her up, soon.

 

I will prepare the serum and recreate her face. No! Yes. No!

 

Torn is what I have always been. And torn is what I will always be.

 

 

Chapter 26

 

 

“Jesse!”

“Will?

“Can you make me some coffee? Really strong black coffee?”

“Sure.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Thanks for asking.”

Willy sauntered to the kitchen sink and splashed cold water on his face, not once, but dozens of times.

While he was toweling his face dry, he felt his heart sink at the sight of Jesse’s emaciated back. When had she lost so much weight? Her ribs were clearly visible underneath a tight, supremely threadbare T-shirt.

“Here you go,” she said, handing him a steaming cup of hot, black coffee.

Willy took two quick gulps, nearly spitting it out. He forced himself to swallow, the pain roaring down his throat. But it cleared his mind. And with an enemy like Tom, he could not risk a second of inattention.

Jesse looked at him with wide-open eyes.

“Want me to get the ax?”

“Not alone.”

“Let’s take at least a knife …”

“One of the guys who sold liquor and drugs, sold guns, too.”

“We’re dealing with a whole new dimension here, Will. Believe me, the ax is best.”

Willy chuckled. He laid his arm around Jesse’s waist.

“Are ya going to kill him?”

“His family – they don’t die.”

“They live on in horrible ways.”

“This is it. We stop running.”

“Okay, Will. I’ll go with you.”

Willy walked through the house, hand in hand with Jesse, and listened and strained to hear. It was as if the house were holding its breath, tricking them with silence and normalcy. Before leaving through the back door, Willy said:

“So it’s two sides, those buried outside in the earth, and the ones unnaturally kept sitting up as dolls and mummies. Both sides are miserable.”

“Most of them were murdered.”

“So why aren’t the police crawling all over the place?”

“We should’ve been in jail for those old folks long ago.”

“Something else is up.”

“The mother mummy said many faces were staring back at her, and she wanted to be beautiful only for Tom. Her face was a mommy face, and it had been turned into something filthy.”

“I saw cameras in the Gallery.”

“Tom watches them.”

“Only Tom?”

“You mean?”

“The internet …”

“Who would wanna watch a corpse all day?”

“Jerk-offs, I guess. And perverts.”

Jesse shook her head incredulously.

“Because they move. That’s the thrill.”

“And there I thought we were the lowest scumbags in town.”

Willy tugged at her arm. She followed him to the toolshed. They went in warily, Willy sure there would be another dead body propped up against the wall. Not this time.

He grabbed his trusty ax. Jesse took a hammer. When Willy looked at her, she said …

“I think I can hit someone with it, better than a knife.”

“Okay.”

“Let’s take some other tools.”

“Gotcha.”

Willy slid a long screwdriver into his back pocket. Jesse opted for a smaller ax. When they heard a noise, they froze. Through the dirty, dusty shed window, they saw Rickerson prowling around Tom’s property. At first he was pensive, but then he began lunging to and fro.

“What the hell?” whispered Jesse.

“Remember the scratching?” Willy whispered back.

“It’s Heather’s dog. It haunts the yard.”

“And it can’t stand Rickerson.”

“It seems to hate him a lot more than it hated us.”

Rickerson’s head was becoming increasingly bloody. He was fighting an invisible enemy, and this enemy was clearly an animal. After a moment’s hesitation, Willy came bounding out of the shed.

He waved the ax in the air, but quickly put it down. Rickerson practically fell into this arms, smearing him with blood. Willy stepped in front of him.

“Down, boy. Down!”

He heard a growl, then a bark, and out of nowhere, in front of him, a thin, abused black Labrador materialized, then quickly vanished.

Willy continued talking to the invisible dog ghost.

“I will get Heather for you …”

The black Labrador started to whine and from the rush of air, Willy understood he was restless, jumping around in anticipation of seeing Heather again.

Rickerson, clinging to Will’s back, coughed and said:

“So you know where she is.”

“I do.”

“Where.”

“You know, too, my man.”

 

Chapter 27

 

 

The kitchen was empty; pale rays of amber sunlight poured in through the country-style windows. Frilly white curtains still hung to the sides, even if they were in tatters after so many years of abandonment. Jesse ran a sad finger along the window pane, freeing it from an unhealthy layer of dust. She dared to dream of living in this house for long, and of one day, getting around to cleaning the windows.

Willy was relieved to find the kitchen empty. Rickerson rushed to the sink, to tend to his bloodied face and parched lips. Jesse handed him a towel and started searching for bandages and scissors in the drawers. Willy held his ax high, and his hunch was right. Behind the next door, Tom hurled himself at him, brandishing his shovel.

Quickly, with the dexterity of a man who had been in many fights, Willy let go of the ax and grabbed the shovel by its long side and held it in an iron grip. Tom tugged at it furiously, yelling ‘Let Go!’, but Willy knocked him unconscious by head-butting him. Jesse and Rickerson cheered him on.

“Way to go, darlin’!”

Willy turned to her and grinned.

“Oh, Mr. Rick?”

“Ya, that’d be me.”

“We bought duct tape and string and all manner of goodies … they’re stored in the car. Jesse’ll get’em. Can you tie this fine Prince of Doom here up real nice, so he’ll stay put in the Gallery.”

“Okay, but not in the Gallery.”

“Why?”

Rickerson shifted his weight from foot to foot restlessly. He did not want to say more.

“But you are gonna tie him up …”

“That I will do, gladly.”

“Okay, so we can agree on that.”

“Just on more thing …” Rickerson said.

“What’s that?” growled Willy.

“Puppy is out there.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”

“And now?”

“Wait until I have Heather. If Tom comes to, hit him one more time with the shovel. … But do not, I repeat, DO NOT kill him.”

“Oh, and Jesse?” added Willy.

“Hmmh …?”

“Make some more coffee, sugar and cream this time.”

“Sure.”

She smiled. It was a ghastly smile. The past hours had taken a toll on her.

He was off. He took the stairs two steps at a time with renewed energy and resolve. When he came up to the Gallery, he paused. He listened.

At first, he heard nothing but his pulse drumming in his ears from running up the stairs, but as he breathed and calmed, the whispers started, and he could see blood oozing down along the walls. He grinned.

“Fuck, I never believed in this shit. It’s a sight to see.”

He walked into the Gallery, head bowed. When he came upon Heather, he was sure he saw a twinkle in her eye. He put one hand underneath her thigh and one hand behind her neck. He imagined her wrapping her arms around him and helping him carry her. No such luck. She was stiff as a rod. And she was heavy. Heavier than Willy had expected.

He pulled her out of her chair and managed to get her over his shoulder, but it was a struggle. He nearly lost his balance.

“Bitch, you were trouble in life and now you’re trouble in death!”

He headed towards the door. He paused. Then he turned.

The largest mummy, Mommy Mummy or the regal Queen of Mannequins, stood on display at the end of the room, in the largest, most adorned chair. He thought he would catch her staring. She had her eyes closed and her face had taken abuse from the fall. Her great beauty, however, was evident nonetheless. Next to her stood a small table, with assorted syringes and glass bottles. Tom had been hoping to restore her features.

“Aha,” said Willy out loud.

“The secret formula.”

“But I don’t have time for this right now,” he said out loud, twitching slightly when he heard a scream.

“Aunt Sophie!” Willy growled.

Another bloodcurdling scream echoed throughout the hallway outside of the Gallery.

“What happened?” Willy mocked her.

“Are you stuck in the economy class of death?”

As he stepped out of the Gallery – careful to avoid the many glass shards -, he saw a ghostly figure briefly, with wild red hair and a mass of old-fashioned petticoats, standing on the top step of the stairs, leering at him. She (the ghost was decidedly female, though not in an attractive way) grinned at him with horrible teeth before she summersaulted backwards out of view.

“Hot damn,” muttered Willy.

He heaved his heavy charge down three floors and into the long hallway leading to the kitchen. Jesse and Rickerson were standing guard over Tom’s unconscious body. Rickerson tried to conceal his feelings when he saw the lifeless, embalmed body of his only daughter. But there was a pained look in his eyes, the corners of which were moist.

“Can I look at her for a bit?” he asked.

“Hold her maybe?”

“No time,” Willy barked.

“Gotta get the critter out of the way.”

“She’ll always be yours,” Jesse added.

“I’m no expert in mummies, but she might last a long time … and you can always look at her, and be with her like.”

Willy frowned at her.

 

Chapter 28

 

 

“Open the door, so I can get the mummy out, stupid bitch” he growled.

Jesse let out a sob, as if physically hurt by his words, but she complied, holding the kitchen door wide open.

“Let me help ya?” offered Rickerson.

“Dog might not take kindly to you …” Willy said.

Rickerson faded back into the shadows of the house. Jesse and Willy watched him step over Tom’s body, no doubt searching for bandages or going for a breather.

Willy was cradling Heather in his arms. She was stuck in a sitting position, stiff as a dead person could be. Willy stepped out into the bold sunlight, straining to hear the faintest sound.

Jesse stood leaning on the doorframe, her arms crossed over her meager chest. Willy turned and motioned with his head.

“Get back inside,” he ordered. And in a softer voice:

“Might get ugly.”

“I’m not going, Will. You can’t always tell me what to do.”

“Have it your way. So get the shovel or the ax.”

“It’s an animal ghost.”

Willy turned again, annoyed.

“So tell me, Jess’, how do we fight an animal ghost? With pepper spray? Or garlic?”

“You have no heart, Will. The dog is trying to tell us something …”

“That it misses Heather.”

“And that it wasn’t buried.”

“Dog’s don’t care, believe me.”

“It was guarding her, against all the ghosts.”

“That is more likely.”

“It was protecting her against Aunt Sophie, and all the spirits that couldn’t pass over into the light because they were murdered and not properly buried.”

From the side, Willy heard a whoosh! Cold air rushed by. He set Heather down in a lawn chair, white and dirty. He sat in a chair next to her, holding her hand. He heard panting, as if a dog were close by and breathing hard.

“There, boy, good boy,” he comforted.

Then he heard the ghost dog whine. It was an awful sound.

“I’ll put her in the barn, and you can visit her anytime.”

The dog growled. Willy sighed. He continued stroking Heather’s hand, holding it, kissing it, cherishing it.

“I guess I done the woman wrong.”

He sighed again. The dog was closer. Willy remembered its scratching.

“I will put her in the Gallery. And I will look for your remains …”

From close by, sounding very muffled, a dog bark was heard.

“That’s what he wants,” Jesse said, risking a few steps into the yard.

“Damn,” Willy hissed, a tear forming in the corner of his eye.

“Follow your heart, Will.”

“I didn’t know I had one,” Willy coughed up, his voice cracking.

He moved Heathers’ stone-cold hand slowly to his lips and kissed her knuckles one last time, then he got up and swept her up into his arms.

“I’ll do my best, buddy,” he said to the ghost dog.

He took Heathers’ body back into the house. Jesse closed the door behind him.

 

 

Chapter 29

 

 

I have been awake for quite some time. But I am most certainly not letting THEM in on it. Bastards have taken me hostage in my own house! How dare they! Oh, may they dread the moment I have the upper hand once again. I will butcher them … I will throw pieces of them into the river, I will feed pieces of them to the pigs!

 

Mother, I must get back to Mom, or her face will never be the same … (sobs). Her beautiful face is the only good thing in this world. I cannot hear her … no whispers of “bury me, bury me’ down here in my high-tech command center. This cellar, for some reason I have never understood, is free of all the freak show circus hauntings Aunt Sophie imposes on this house. It was blessed by a priest when a family member was dying, or some other mantra was spoken.

 

I had lived here with my first mistress, and we lived well. I inherited a fortune, the interest of which was more than enough … we drank wine and tried drugs, we had sex many times – day and night. I felt free. Then she could not stop wandering through the house. She could not stop imploring me to do something about the Gallery. She felt so sorry for the poor souls held captive up there … forever.

 

And so it happened. I choked her, to silence her words … and she became the fabled ‘No. Twelve” …

 

It did not end there. The dead were not happy. The dead are never happy.

 

 

 

“Tom?”

Jesse had ventured down into the cellar after a lavish meal with Willy and some movies on one of Tom’s laptops. When Willy drove off to buy some drugs from the young people hanging out on Lover’s Lane, she thought the time was right to finally wake Tom up.

“Tom? Can you hear me? Are you hungry?”

She ran her fingers through his hair; he did not move. She caressed his cheek, and planted a kiss on his mouth. He did not move.

Irritated, she then jabbed at his hand with a fork. Again, he did not budge. When she reached under his arms and wiggled her hand to tickle him, he grinned.

“Hey, there you are! I knew it!”

His eyes snapped open. His mouth twisted and his face scrunched together. There was loathing in his every move. Jesse recoiled.

“Don’t like being tied up, huh?”

“Bitch!” he muttered.

“I haven’t peed in a century. It’s gonna come out any minute now.”

“I’ll get a bucket, and you can pee in that.”

“What the hell!

“Willy said you have got to stay put … and suffer a little.”

“Is that what he said?”

Jesse nodded innocently. Tom grinned again, bowing his head.

“Look,” he said gently.

“You were in the Gallery when Mom fell …”

“She fell ‘cause you pushed her.”

“I have got to repair her face.”

“How can I ever trust you again? You were so mean to the mummies … and to me.”

“I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Please. I have to go to the Gallery.”

“Last time I checked, her face was fine.”

“When was that?”

“While you were sleeping.”

“There were syringes on a small table next to her.”

“They’re still there.”

“Rickerson?”

“I watched.”

“How can he know?”

“He said he learned a thing or two growing up around your Aunt Sophie.”

Tom was growing restless. He tried to rock the chair he was bound to back and forth.

“Stop! Wait until Willy comes back.”

“This is my house. You can’t keep me a hostage here!”

“Aunt Sophie says we are all going to be held here. Forever.”

“And … what is it this time?”

“What do you mean?” asked Jesse, brushing back a strand of unruly hair from his forehead.

“First, there had to be twelve mummies in the Gallery. Then everything would get better. Then, there could be no more than twelve. Or bad things would happen. It stays the same, no matter the number.”

“You can’t kill everyone you meet, Tom.”

“Why not?”

“Sooner or later, they’ll find you.”

“I was hoping for that, but it never happened.”

“There is a little something wrong with the cops in this town.”

“Rickerson buys them off.”

“And why?”

“So he can run the place like God.”

“There must be more to it.”

She helped Tom drink water from a bottle. He drank greedily. Jesse poured some water over his eyes, his face. He looked deep into her eyes. There was love there, even after all that had happened.

Chapter 30

 

 

Willy came thundering down the wooden cellar steps. He had a pack of cigarettes in his hand. He stood in the shadows, watching Jesse and Tom interact. They hadn’t heard him coming.

“Hello,” he said.

“Oh, Willy, are you back so soon?” asked Jesse.

“Am I interrupting your conversation?”

“You are,” growled Tom.

“There is more going on,” Willy said, grabbing a chair and turning it backwards, sitting down with his arms folded over the back of the chair.

“Do you earn your money off of your mother’s moves?” he asked aggressively, “or are you gonna act like you don’t know what I’m talking about?”

“My mother?”

“Done saw it myself. She can open her eyes. She can make faces.”

“Yeah,” added Jesse thoughtfully.

“She can even get up and walk around. But she’s in a lot of pain then.”

“Folks who sell marijuana over on Lover’s Peak say there is a thing called ‘Balm-Cam’. Say it has millions of viewers.”

“That’s bullshit!” snorted Tom.

“Wouldn’t surprise me none if I heard you’re running it.”

“Yeah, Tom, how do you make your money?” asked Jesse, her hands on her hips.

“I am the heir to Sophie and Umberto’s million-dollar fortune.”

“Funeral parlor don’t bring in that much. Unless it’s a Mafia funeral parlor.”

“There was the secret embalming fluid,” said Tom.

“It does the trick, doesn’t it,” said Jesse.

“It’s amazing.”

“And you didn’t know about ‘Balm-Cam’, did you?”

“I knew something was wrong, and I knew someone was meddling in my business, but I could never put a finger on it.”

“Rickerson, you think?” Willy asked, drawing the chair closer.

“Possible. You saw how Heather and Rickerson walk all over the place. He always said he wanted to buy the land. As an excuse to contact me again and again.”

“He has a mannequin factory?”

“The irony of it is not lost on me,” Tom said.

“The perfect decoy operation, hiding in plain sight.”

“He had the cameras rigged. I thought only I was trying to catch the corpses moving.”

“I might not be inclined to believe you,” Willy interjected.

“But you are not a good man, Tom.”

“Coming from you, you bastard?”

“Look, here’s the deal,” said Willy, while Jesse nodded.

“We will keep you locked up down here. We’ll treat you right. You share your money with us.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Then you die a slow death, a very slow, very painful death. Say we pump only half the embalming fluid into your body … Or we bury you next to Aunt Sophie.”

“You don’t know where that is!”

“I’ll ask her,” Willy said bluntly.

“She likes to visit me private like, when I’m sleeping or in bed.”

“Motherfucking son-of-a-bitch!”

“Coming from you? Why were you watching the Gallery?”

When he said nothing, Jesse leaned in close to his face and said:

“We need to know about the ATM. We need you to share your money with us.”

“Fuck you!”

“Wait till he’s hungry or he needs to shit.”

Tom strained against the ropes and plastic handcuffs, against the duct tape around his chest.

“Don’t bother,” Willy hissed at him, slapping him.

“You’re wrapped up real good, fucker. And it’s gonna stay that way.”

 

 

Chapter 31

 

 

Jesse was cruising along, listening to music, when she saw the diner next to the gas station where Nick Edwards had displayed those tempting pieces of pie. Determined to risk her luck and curious about the goings-on of her mysterious new hometown, Jesse exited the highway and parked in front of the diner’s red door.

She hopped out of the car. Immediately, she saw the dark figure of the waitress looming inside the burger joint, as if ready to pounce should she dare to enter. Disheartened, Jesse wanted to just get back in the car and drive off. As if she could read Jesse’s mind, Linda, the waitress, hurried outside.

“Hey, young lady!” she called.

“Hi,” said Jesse in a very timid voice.

“Aren’t ya coming in? More of that cherry pie you like so much? A big scoop of vanilla ice cream with whipped cream on top, sprinkled with cinnamon?”

Jesse stopped, listening.

Linda was right in front of her now. Jesse could see her fake eyelashes and how her lipstick had been swallowed and licked off since morning.

“What’s it with you, honey?” Linda asked, pushing herself into Jesse’s face.

“Just passing through?”

“Well, you’ve been here awhile, haven’t you?”

“I’m sorry about what happened to Nick.”

“Well, what happened to him?”

Jesse shrugged.

“I thought he passed away.”

She bit her lip. Other customers were walking towards their cars and watching them.

“He disappeared. He ran off. We don’t know where he is.”

“Oh.”

“Why did you think he died?”

“It’s what I heard on Lover’s Peak,” Jesse lied.

“Goodness, those darn teen bum junkies!” Linda said and howled with laughter.

Jesse said nothing, just stared at Linda.

“Okay, so you have a new manager? Can I come in and have some pie after all?”

“I got promoted. I’m filling in, well, at least until Nick comes back.”

“I see.”

“I don’t like your attitude.”

“Okay, so no pie.”

Linda shook her head and waved her hands in the air.

“Oh, go fuck yourself!”

Jesse giggled and followed her inside the diner. Chad Donovan, the police officer, was seated at the corner table sipping coffee. Linda raised her eyebrows twice, giving him a sign. He nodded once.

Jesse rushed to the spic and span counter, eying the pastries and pies on display greedily.

“You want us to fry up some cheeseburgers for your sweetheart? Do you now?”

“Not necessary, I cooked for him.”

“Aha. What was his name?”

“Will.”

“And the two of you work for Tom.”

“Do I remember you? Did we go to school together, too?”

“I don’t think so, honey. I’m a bit older than you are.”

“I was just thinking maybe you’ve been in Tom’s house on Halloween?”

“Halloween? I do remember his Aunt Sophie. She was something else!”

“Why?”

“Oh, the red hair and the personality. Very strong personality. Spitfire. And, of course, she liked to spend money. She was good that way. Got people to do whatever she wanted.”

“Give me a piece of that pumpkin pie.”

“Sure.”

“Mind if I join you?” asked Chad.

Jesse flinched at the sight of his uniform. Chad smiled.

“No.”

“How is Tom?”

“He’s better.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Why is that?”

“He has someone looking after him now.”

“You?”

“I can cook and clean and take care of people …”

Linda gave her a stern look. Chad nodded.

“Mind if I come over and ask a few questions?”

“What reason would you have to do that?”

“People have been disappearing.”

“Suit yourself. Come on over. Ring the doorbell.”

“I will.”

Jesse started to pick at her piece of pumpkin pie.

“Would you like some coffee to go with that, sweetie?” Linda asked.

“Mmh … yes.”

“Coming right up.”

Chad got ready to leave and smiled at Jesse, winking. She attempted to smile, but averted her gaze.

“Ma’am, I’ll be seeing you.”

“Sure. Have a nice day, officer.”

Jesse smirked as he came too close. He touched her back briefly, nodded at Linda and was out the door.

Chapter 32

 

 

Jesse drove back to the large old Victorian house she now called her home, but not before detouring briefly to Lover’s Peak for a refill of her favorite candy. When she got back to Tom’s house, she could find Willy nowhere. She called and looked everywhere. Tom was in a construction of a cage in the cellar, chain-shackled by his foot to the wall. Rickerson had been thrown into the cage with him, as Willy said, so he had time ‘to sober up and think’.

She ran up the stairs to the Gallery; the mummies were all seated, still and stoic, with the mother mummy having her eyes open. Jesse thought she detected a weak smile on her lips, but perhaps, it was only the way the light slanted into the room and fell on her.

Jesse finally found Willy behind the shed, throwing around clutter, old boxes, and planks that had turned rotten while left out in the rain. He was sweating; his T-shirt clung to his body. Jesse stared awhile, admiring how his muscles worked.

Eventually, he felt watched and noticed.

“How long have you been there ogling me?”

Jesse laughed.

“I love you.”

“Oh, hey!”

He threw down a plank and wiped his hands on an old rag. He eyed her curiously.

“Where ya been?”

“The diner …”

“Brought me some cheeseburgers?”

“Thought you might not like them, they might get stuck in your throat.”

“You should know me by now, Jesse, I’ve got a great stomach, and I can eat right after a kill.”

“Like a bear,” Jesse added and giggled.

“We are hunters.”

He stood before her, one hand on the shed, and his face came closer. She offered her mouth for a kiss.

“I also know a thing or two about dogs,” he said.

“Growing up on a farm …”

“That’s right, Jesse, I grew up on a farm with a big ole dog.”

“Lucky you. I was made to go from place to place.”

“Didn’t feel so lucky. Only real friend was the dog. So as much as I was annoyed with Heather, I did understand her relationship with her dog.”

“You find it yet?”

“No, still digging. So much clutter, so much junk.”

“He’s wrapped in a tarp.”

“Bet Tom hid him real good,” Jesse remarked.

“Yeah, Tom’s good in many areas …” Willy said and they laughed.

Willy did kiss her then. She leaned into his body, clutching him tight.

“I’m glad we’re friends again,” he cooed, grabbing her ass.

Jesse kissed back, with her eyes closed, passionately.

A sudden wind, very cold and very intense, nearly knocked them off their feet. Willy, when he had regained his balance, rubbed his nose against Jesse’s.

“I need to work.”

“Okay.”

“What about you?”

“I’d like to find ‘Balm-Cam’.”

“Bet you have to pay a fortune to get in that club.”

“What do you think?” added Jesse thoughtfully, patting an imaginary dog.

Further away, a whining was to be heard. Then a bark, and another one.

“Are we going to be buried in the yard or the shed, or do we get to sit in the Gallery?”

“You get the Gallery, for sure.”

“I get to stay on a while as the gravedigger,” Willy added. “But at any time, he’d kick me into the grave just with ‘em from behind.”

“Tom was … different once.”

“Growin’ up in this mess, how’s he supposed to be normal?”

“There is no normal,” she said, still stroking an imaginary dog.

“Come on, Puppy,” she said.

“Let’s go visit with Aunt Sophie …”

“No!” wailed Willy, grasping at his heart.

“That one has a fuckin’ crush on me.”

“Maybe we’ll be buried on her land. We might as well become acquainted.”

Willy frowned, as Jesse walked back into the house. In a window on the third floor, Willy saw a white figure. He stood, transfixed, as claws appeared out of thin air and scratched at his arm. He clutched at the marks which were deep and painful. He thought he saw a white figure moving around up in the Gallery behind the curtains. If only a bit. A waving of a white hand, maybe. Willy could have sworn it was Heather.

 

 

Chapter 33

 

 

I am shackled in a cage in the cellar like a dog. I have no words to describe my anger and frustration. I am beyond humiliated. Rickerson is here with me. In this cellar, there are no ghosts. And now I find myself missing them, the spirits, and most of all, the mummies …

 

No one whispers ‘bury me, bury me’. I am left with the living. And the living are a disgrace. At least the ones I must deal with. Damn … if only I had hit them on the head with my trusty shovel that very first night when they had the nerve to trespass. A swift kill – is what works best. I am not good with the living. I am not good.

 

 

 

Tom grinned at Rickerson, who cowered in a corner on the floor.

“At least you aren’t chained to the wall.”

“Small comfort.”

“Are they listening in on what we’re saying? Are they that smart?”

“They’d just go ahead and kill.”

Tom nodded. He looked down at his dirty hands, his torn shirt. He hadn’t had fresh clothes for a week. Rickerson had not shaved, either. Rickerson held his head in his hands.

“They might let you out …”

“My boys be coming for me,” Rickerson said solemnly.

“Your boys.”

“The men who work for me.”

“You hope.”

“And I talked to Chad Donovan.”

“The cop.”

“Yeah.”

“Hell, he’ll be buried with Aunt Sophie.”

Above their heads, a door squeaked open. Amber light flooded into the cellar. The various computer screens popped on.

“You had a place like this, Tom, and you didn’t realize I was runnin’ ‘Balm-Cam’?”

“Why would anyone care about mummies? There aren’t that many jack-offs.”

“Oh, but they move …” Rickerson whispered as Jesse and Willy slowly descended the stairs, bottles of cold beer in their hands.

“Hello!” yelled Willy, visibly drunk.

“Hello,” said Jesse.

They stood outside the cage peering in. Rickerson shifted uncomfortably.

Jesse ran her bottle along the cage, making clunking sounds. Willy slumped into a chair. Tom glared at them. One computer screen popped on, revealing the mother mummy, seated at the head of the Gallery serenely.

“Hey, Mom,” whispered Tom.

“You will always be her baby, you creep,” babbled Willy and burped.

On other screens the Gallery popped up as well, showing all the members. When the camera zeroed in on Heather, Rickerson gasped.

“I don’t buy that,” said Jesse.

“I don’t think you cared that much for your daughter.”

“Did you find the dog?” asked Rickerson.

Jesse said nothing. Tom closed his eyes. Willy was obviously asleep.

“Do you dig them up and post those videos to my Facebook wall?” Tom asked Rickerson.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s another ‘Gallery’, and it can only be you.”

Rickerson stared straight ahead. Jesse gulped down her beer and watched him.

“Answer Tom, is there another Gallery?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Oh fuck, he wouldn’t be telling the truth,” Jesse said swiveled in her chair.

“What’s the matter?” Rickerson asked.

“Was Willy-fart too tired to fuck?”

“Shut up.”

“The people I kill and bury outside, someone digs them up and seats them down, twelve at first, more later on, in chairs. Makes a video of it and posts it to my Facebook wall.”

“Well, disable that. Make it so no one can post anything to your page.” Rickerson sneered.

“Simple as that, huh?” laughed Tom.

“Simple as that.”

Tom hit himself on the head.

“Fuck, why didn’t I think of that?”

Jesse laughed. She offered Tom a sip of her cold beer through the bars. He went for it immediately.

“Because it’s … fascinating. I have to watch it,” Tom said.

Rickerson nodded. He licked his lips.

“Tell me more about the other Gallery.”

Tom drank greedily, slurping up all of the beer up as Jesse tilted the bottle. He looked at her through the cage with large angry, but beautiful eyes.

“You get some, too … later. If you behave,” Jesse said and glared at Rickerson.

“Who knows how many other ‘Galleries’ there are by now …” Rickerson said and grinned.

“Jesse told me you knew how to fix Mom’s face?” asked Tom.

Rickerson watched Jesse closely. Willy had started to snore.

“Go on, tell him what you told me. How you learned from Aunt Sophie when you were a kid.”

“That’s a lie!” Tom spat out in disgust.

“He was never around then. He moved here only a few years ago.”

“So he’s been watching you on the cam.”

“He’s behind all of it. He betrayed me!”

“So …,” Rickerson sneered, “I betrayed a monster.”

Tom tried to lunge at Rickerson; he was, however, chained to the wall. He went as far as the chain would let him. He hissed at Rickerson like a snake.

“How much do you earn, you son-of-a-bitch?”

“Oh, I can’t complain.”

“And what do the dead think of this … betrayal?” asked Jesse thoughtfully.

“What’s it to you, you’re a homeless whore.”

Jesse sighed. She sat down listlessly in the swivel chair and stared at the computer screen. She was fairly certain, the mummy she had been watching, was in a different position now.

“You can fastforward and actually see them move.”

“I … I’ve seen it,” muttered Jesse.

“Let me out and I will show you.”

“Nice try,” said Jesse and chuckled.

“Tom?” she asked.

“What?”

“Is there something special in the embalming fluid to make them look so beautiful, so alive, after so many years …”

“Like I need to tell you … But yeah, there is.”

“It sells well,” added Rickerson.

“You took that, too, and made money off of it?”

“Heather did. She took it. Brought it home to Daddy.”

“When? How?”

“Man, you were usually hiding in your cave.”

“Tom, he has a point. You do not believe in locking your back door.”

“I thought with Aunt Sophie around …”

“That just adds to the thrill,” laughed Rickerson, with an earnest face.

“And the corpses smell great, too.”

Tom’s eyes were wide, they burned with passionate emotion.

“So, the Gallery … the secret embalming serum … you’ve made that all accessible to … what … millions of people?” he asked, not bothering to turn and look at Rickerson, who was standing next to him, hands in pockets.

“There were positive e-mails, people telling me they had lost their loved ones, but they were still with them … it was a first step in conquering death as we know it altogether. Works beautifully on pets. That brings in the most money. Kids love it when they can move a little. At least a little.”

“Aw, how sweet,” said Tom sarcastically.

“Tom!” Jesse said.

“Your mother is still here. You know that.”

“Okay. I had a little bit of mother left. Good point.” He waved a hand in the air.

“One of them hasn’t moved in years …”

“I wouldn’t want Willy to leave me.”

Jesse played with the empty beer bottle. She clicked on Tom’s Facebook page.

“I don’t have anyone else in this world.”

On the computer screen, a dirty face appeared, badly beaten, attached to the half-decomposed torso of Nick Edwards, the man who had sold Jesse cherry pie.

Then all the lights in the cellar went dark.

 

Chapter 34

 

 

The mother mummy was standing on her own two feet, holding her chair with one hand. She presided over the others; they risked a glance in her direction when they found the strength to do so.

“The sad one moved last night,” a mummy said with her internal voice, very timidly.

“He hasn’t moved in many years,” remarked the mother mummy.

“Why … why … is that?” the younger female mummy said.

“Do we just … fall asleep?” she continued, obviously stressed out.

“No, no …” the mother mummy comforted her, as others barked and moaned.

“The one that never moves is not a family member. He was taken when no one claimed him. He was the first dead man they tried the new special formula on.”

The others gasped.

“What they did to him was not right.”

“I think that is why he does not move,” she added, a small tear rolling down her porcelain cheek.

“There is no family around from whom he can draw strength.”

“Well, if he moved, that would mean …”

“It could mean one of the old country relatives is close by,” the mother mummy said thoughtfully, “but I have my problems believing it. He had no family, he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.”

“Poor people,” one distant cousin remarked.

“Yes, perhaps they were poor, very poor. It doesn’t mean they have no love … ”

The mummies were silent. Someone was coming up the stairs. They did not recognize the man dressed in black with a gun who came rudely crashing into the Gallery. His face was hidden behind a black ski mask, with only his eyes showing. Where the hole for his mouth should have been, the wool was sewn shut. He marched aggressively towards the mother mummy, inspecting her carefully; he came very close to her face. He looked into her eyes, trying to find evidence of fakery. He pinched her cheek, probing, feeling the skin. He stood back, admiring the work done.

The other mummies were whimpering with their mind voices, worried the strange man would become violent towards the mother mummy. Striding with wicked elegance, the masked man rushed towards the windows and looked down over the yard. Just then the first stone flew at the house. The house was then bombarded with stones, large, heavy stones. One of the mummies let out a high shriek. The masked man pretended not to notice. A lone stone flew at the window where he was standing, dropping off the pane limply. The man gave the henchmen down in the yard hand signals to stop throwing up that far.

When he tried to leave the Gallery, he was met with a snarl.

‘Oh, thank you, Heavenly Father, for sending Aunt Sophie.”

‘I don’t think Heavenly Father sends that one …’ chuckled the mother mummy.

The masked man was thrown against a wall and then picked up high. He was thrust over the bannister into the depths below. He screamed, his mask lifted, his face scratched beyond recognition, while he was still in mid-air.

“What is that crackling noise?” one of the mummies yelled with his internal voice.

“It’s fire,” the mother mummy said solemnly.

“They are setting this house on fire.”

 

 

Chapter 35

 

 

I can imagine they are shrieking. Rickerson’s thugs are turning this beautiful old Victorian mansion into kindlewood. So that Jesse and Willy will let Daddy Thug go. He sits next to me, Rickerson does, despondent. He is not sure he will survive.

 

Willy’s eyes have just snapped open. For once, he has slept without the ghost of Aunt Sophie haunting his dreams. Now he must fight. And he must let me fight with him. Then we will bury them all in the yard. It will be a lot of work. Soon they will be missed by their families. And then more will come.

 

I always liked burying them. I worked all night, and when I was finished, I would watch the sun rising to greet a new day. I would admire the colors coming up ever so slowly over the horizon. As slowly as Mother Mummy raising her arm and her hand to touch my cheek. It took her forever. But she still loved me so much, after all these years, she shunned no pain to achieve her end. She wanted me to know that. She wanted to show me, that love is not for this world, or for this time, it is for eternity.

 

 

 

“Willy, please wake up. I need you.”

“I’m awake, just blurry,” Willy said.

“Rickerson’s men are crawling all over the house!”

“So let him out,” Willy drawled.

Rickerson came up to the bars of the cage. He rattled them.

“You think?”

“Sure.”

“He will kill us.”

“I think they need Tom.”

Jesse tried to find the right key, but her hands were shaking so badly, she dropped all of them. Tom screamed. Smoke was flooding into the cellar from the door further up.

“Hurry!”

“They need Tom. He’s a performer. They saw him kill a man with a shovel.”

“Shut up,” hissed Rickerson, eager to get out.

Jesse finally managed to unlock the cage.

Rickerson’s thugs came crashing through the cellar door. They started to run down the stairs, but Rickerson was running up. They turned.

“Kill them!” Rickerson called.

The thugs turned and shot downwards, at Jesse, Willy and Tom. They went diving for cover. Satisfied, Rickerson and his men ran off into the billowing clouds of smoke.

“Will!” yelled Jesse.

“We’ll never get outta here alive!”

“There’s another way out of here, come on, follow me!” called Tom, already retreating further back.

Jesse and Willy followed him, Willy had been hurt by a grazing bullet, his thigh was bleeding.

“I’m okay, keep going!” he yelled.

The three of them fled through a tunnel leading from the cellar to the barn. The door to the cellar Rickerson had gone through minutes earlier was slammed shut with great force, as were other doors, cutting the men off from the outside and from other floors of the house. A female voice cackled loudly as a misty apparition pointed long, feminine fingers here and there; hellish flames, orange and dark red, began following her commands.

“This is my land. You are intruders. I will punish you,” Aunt Sophie hissed.

The mummies in the Gallery had all gone back to their seats, with the exception of the sad mummy who had only moved a little bit. The mother mummy was still standing; she was looking out the window, at the smoke, at the occasional flame that leapt up the side of the building to the third floor.

“We will all melt like wax,” said one of the mummies fearfully.

Aunt Sophie flew past the entrance to the Gallery. She shrieked and laughed hysterically in passing, but was gone in an instant as well as was the smoke.

“She always protects us,” Mother Mummy said, whispering.

“I wonder why.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked the sad mummy, as all the other mummies trembled inwardly and gasped at hearing the unfamiliar voice.

“You are her family, and she wants you to go into the light with her.”

 

 

Chapter 36

 

 

Tom coughed; his lungs were filled with smoke. Jesse came up behind him, followed by Willy. The wooden door they had just passed through would not contain the smoke for long.

The barn was cool and quiet. Suddenly, the smoke from the fire was sucked back, it vanished. Tom stopped coughing. He hugged Jesse, laying his head on her shoulder. Jesse was crying and laughing at the same time.

“I think that was Sophie,” she said gratefully.

“She’s something,” added Willy, eying his surroundings suspiciously, uncertain where the next danger and attack would come from.

A window, full of dust and dirt, caught his attention. Through the panes, he could make out another fire, burning on Rickerson’s land. With his shirt sleeve (and a little saliva), he rubbed a square of the glass clean.

“Rickerson’s place is going up,” he remarked.

“They will find his charred body there,” said Tom.

“And the remains of his men.”

“Good for us,” he added, “less work burying them all.

“They won’t be buried on Aunt Sophie’s land that way, she’ll have more peace, too.”

Willy sat down on the only chair in the barn. Jesse went to him and sat on his lap.

“Does your thigh hurt?” she asked.

“Not when your soft butt is on it,” Willy lied.

“That ends ‘Balm-Cam’and the serum business,” said Tom.

“They’ve copied it by now.”

“I doubt the dead will allow it,” said Willy, sounding unusually mature.

“They have power in this world. They don’t want death turning into a neverending circus.”

“I’d say we leave town, with Tom,” said Jesse.

“A lot of them may be involved and bought off, there might still be time to run. While they’re covering their tracks.”

“I can’t leave my family,” said Tom.

“Heaven knows I’ve thought of it every day for years now.”

“But I don’t think I can go,” he added.

“The mother mummy, right?” asked Willy.

“Right.”

“I’m sorry I made fun of you, I was drunk.”

“We should get back to the house.”

“We should go the way we came,” Jesse suggested.

“This time, they might really be sending the police.”

“Yeah, their money is involved.”

“Okay. And I promise to lock everything up and give you keys.”

“Thanks. We’re been hoping for that.”

“Or maybe I should put you in the cage for a while.”

“Let’s fight this fight together,” said Willy.

Tom nodded, but did not look Willy in the eye.

“Good enough,” said Willy and opened the wooden door leading back into the tunnel.

 

 

Chapter 37

 

 

Linda washed her hands slowly in the sink and paused before looking up. She ran the water again, buying time. She had closed the diner for the night, half an hour ago. She was alone, had done some sweeping. Pulling a paper towel out of the dispenser, she forced herself to stare into the mirror.

At first, she saw only herself. Her tired eyes, her blown-apart hairdo. Then slowly, out of the shadows of the diner restroom, a spirit emerged, very old at first, then turning into a younger man. This was Uncle Giuseppe, ‘the unfortunate one’. Linda held her breath, and let her soul wander into the depths of the reflection. The fear of losing control was great. If she did not confront that fear, the specter would follow her again and again, appearing in her car rearview, in every shiny surface. In rain puddles.

“What do you want?” she asked.

The hazy apparition said nothing. He was handsome. She only had one frayed photograph. Her imagination took that photograph and concocted a hallucination. But it wasn’t so. She did not have that much of an imagination. Linda tried to concentrate on her earliest memories, of her grandmother from Italy teaching her words. When she thought of those early words, Uncle Giuseppe smiled.

“You want your peace, don’t you?” she whispered.

She had seen the Gallery many times, on people’s phones, on their tablets. She had no clue how to get there on her own computer. Uncle Giuseppe was their experiment. His corpse had been taken, drained and processed, then it had been shipped to America as proof of the revolutionary embalming product’s success.

“Do you want me to go there … to the house? Is that what you want?” she asked the ghost in the mirror.

Uncle Giuseppe nodded. He showed her scenes of his life, his childhood, his first love, his hard work, his poverty. She watched, mesmerized. She also felt a dread of unknown proportions. Wealthy men were involved in this, Rickerson controlled half the town at least. It was better than marijuana; the secret embalming fluid was exported all over the world, to places as far away as Russia. It worked especially well on pets. It worked nicely, even if the person in question was not really dead.

Linda shuddered at the thought of the horrors going on, without any one of the people committing such horrific crimes being brought to justice. The need to make death sweeter was just too great. No one wanted to deal with dying. You bought the embalming fluid, and social security checks kept flowing into your joint account. Oh, the stories she had heard …

Some of the embalmed went from mummy to zombie and even learned to talk again. The embalming fluid kept them beautiful for years, even for decades. They did not need to eat. They did not really move on.

“I will drive over there, but I’m not sure they will let me in,” Linda stammered.

The ghost nodded again. He disappeared, and she felt a tremendous sadness wash over her. She had always known she was Italian, but she had not known her whole story. Aunt Sophie had paid for her for many years. Brought her to America, perhaps because she felt guilty for having used her Uncle Giuseppe. There was a rumor, the diner had belonged to Sophie’s trust, and now belonged to Tom.

Linda took off her apron. She did not care much for the vagrants, Jesse and Willy. And she was sure they had callously killed those old people for a meal and a drink. Unlocking her phone, she called Chad Donovan, the police officer, and asked him to meet her at the Victorian mansion where Tom lived. He told her he was already on his way there. It had been torched, and was burning to the ground as they were speaking.

 

 

Chapter 38

 

 

Chad Donovan squinted behind his Ray-Bans. There was the sting of smoke, and a minute ago, leaving the highway, he had been sure he had seen smoke rising from Tom’s house. Now, after having made the turn into the right street, he ascertained the house was untouched, – blazing orange flames licked up from the direction of Rickerson’s mannequin factory – behind Tom’s house. Chad gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. There was a sour feeling in the pit of his stomach.

How often had he driven past these same old houses, vowing to place a call to the FBI, vowing to tell someone about what was happening in this, his home town? How many times had he brushed the thoughts aside, sure the Feds were somehow already in on it, they had to be. The internet was carrying this hot paranormal shit out into the world.

Even as a boy, he had heard the rumors, Rickerson’s beautiful mannequins were corpses, of girls, of prostitutes picked up on the highway. He cringed. He had heard about it, he had done nothing, had never checked to see what was real. Well, he had become a cop. But a fearsome cop. And anyway. He could always blame it on the system.

But as he drove closer to the house, - indeed Rickerson’s home and factory were on fire -, it became painfully clear to him, that he was nearing the moment when he would be out of excuses, when he had to face the truth, when all the dead people had to be dug up, or taken out of the mannequin displays and ‘galleries’.

It would be a nightmare crime scene of epic proportions. Even in slowing the vehicle, his mind raced to forbidden places, trying to find ways to avert the inevitable.

He parked in front of Tom’s house. He looked up at the eerie Victorian mansion with the taste of puke in his mouth.

“Bitch, I am coming,” he muttered.

He marched right up to the porch. At the front door, the doorbell was hanging loose and the paint was badly chipped. He knocked, no, he pounded on the door with his fist.

No one opened. He pulled his gun out of the holster and yelled:

“Open up! This is Officer Donovan!”

As he was about to kick the door in, it opened with a swoosh! And there stood Tom, in a suit, all dressed up.

“Welcome, Officer Donovan. So glad you could come.”

Chad put the gun away and glared at Tom.

“We have gotten so many prank calls about you … when there was word about a fire, hell, no fool of ours wanted to come on over here – or even believe it.”

“So you would let his house burn to the ground? I hear sirens approaching from the other end. I think it’s Rickerson’s that is burning, and it is no prank call. Aren’t you informed, Officer?”

“How many, you monster? A hundred? Even more? This is going to be the worst crime scene in the history of our fine state …” Donovan whispered, the exasperation evident in his voice.

“So come in.”

Officer Donovan entered Tom’s house warily. Tom shut the door. Jesse and Willy were standing in the hallway, leaning against the bannister.

“Show him,” Tom ordered.

Jesse and Tom turned and started up the flights of stairs leading to the third floor Gallery. There was another knock on the door.

“Busy day,” sighed Tom, rolling his eyes and opening.

There stood Linda, the waitress.

“Hello.”

“Hi,” said Tom flatly.

“You don’t know me. But what’s beating around the bush? I only recently found out about my entire family history. One of your mummies, he’s called ‘the sad one’, or ‘the unfortunate one’, he is up there in your special room. He was the first lab rat, so-to-speak, your family tried the secret embalming fluid on. I would like to have him back. He is my Uncle Giuseppe.”

“He has reached out to you …”

“Yes, he has.”

“Then I will respect his decision. Come.”

With his index finger, he motioned Linda up the carpeted staircase.

“It’s on the third floor. Officer Donovan will be up there by now.”

Linda nodded. When he was sure she was busy climbing the stairs, Tom quietly walked out the front door without another glance, and quickly shut and locked it. He walked to his rusty pickup, got behind the wheel and drove off.

 

 

Chapter 39

 

 

The highway is spread out before me in the noonday sunshine, like a beautiful whore in a motel room. I think I’ll get me one of those before long, and lots of whiskey to go with the sex to forget … For now, I am just in love with the road. I am one to work with the shovel; but Willy, – Willy prefers the ax. Has he split Chad Donovan’s head in two yet? I wonder.

 

I don’t know how long I have before I am thrown in jail.

 

All I know right now is I am finally free, I have left my mother’s dead but beautiful body, my family, my land, for an unknown future, running from the law. I do not care to think about what happens when they will arrest me. Every minute of freedom is a gift. Mine to keep.

 

 

 

Chad was raising his phone to speak. Willy blocked his arm. Chad did not take kindly to the gesture.

“It can wait, don’t you think?” asked Willy.

“Yeah,” said Jesse.

“The fire is back there.”

Linda stepped in. They all turned, surprised by her visit. It did not take her long to find ‘the unfortunate one’. She ignored the others – both living and dead -, and knelt before him, crossing her arms on his knees. He was perfect, doll-like, tranquil, without blemish, without wrinkle.

Chad Donovan shut off his cell phone and put it back in his pocket. He jogged towards the door. The sun illuminated the room, through red velvet curtains and half-drawn shades.

Jesse gave Mother Mummy a kiss on her cool cheek. Willy sat down on the floor. Voices could be heard, shouting, as men and women labored to get the fire on Rickerson’s land under control. But there were also whispers in the room, voices of the restless dead.

Jesse signed wanting a cigarette, and Willy only shook his head. She left. Willy and Linda were alone with 13 embalmed corpses.

The afternoon wore on. Linda fell asleep; Willy was lost in reverie. Later, when Linda stretched, she looked up and saw her Uncle Giuseppe looking down. In the time that passed, he opened his eyes and focused them on her. She was not afraid. She smiled up at him.

“You get used to it,” remarked Willy.

“I never believed in God, or in life after death, or in anything.”

“This place changes you,” he added, attempting to smile.

“I have seen the Gallery on people’s phones,” Linda said.

“I would pour some coffee in their cups for a refill and they would gush about how the mummies had moved. I thought it was just another stupid trick.”

“It’ll go down as one. But we know better.”

“Yes, now I know better,” Linda said.

Willy shifted uncomfortably. He was still sitting on the floor.

“You know we killed those people, don’t you?” he asked.

“I’m pretty sure you did it,” said Linda.

“But it doesn’t matter one way or the other. I saw them dead in their car. But by the time I got Nick Edwards to leave his hamburgers frying to come outside with me, they were gone.”

“What?”

“Not the car. Just the corpses.”

“Rickerson’s men?”

“I guess so.”

“The junkies up on Lover’s Peak tell me lots of people here disappear.”

“Rickerson’s mannequins.”

“What?” said Willy, persistent, “they end up in Macy’s store windows or where?”

“I do not know. So we did not call the police. And you are not guilty, except you are.”

“I kill, honey. I do.”

“My immediate concern is burying Uncle Giuseppe.”

“Chad will be back.”

“If Rickerson doesn’t kill him, you will?”

“It stops here. These people need to be buried, and we all need to move on.”

When Linda looked up at her uncle, one of his fingers was twitching. She sat back, nearly losing balance, horrified and fascinated.

“Come on, woman, take his hand.”

Linda pried her uncle’s dead stiff hand from his thigh. She took it lovingly in both her hands, and kissed it. Willy nodded, seemingly.

“Dead people,” he said.

“They’re only human, you know.”

Linda had tears in her eyes. They sat that way for a long time. The noise from Rickerson’s smoldering home and factory soon ended. Night fell, after a mellow red dusk.

“Where’s Jesse?” asked Linda.

“She likes to hang out on Lover’s Peak with the junkies. She came close to being a housewife here in Tom’s house, but I’m not sure she’s gonna make it now.”

Linda laughed bitterly. “Guess not.”

Officer Donovan arrived with backup. They arrested Willy, and he did not offer up any resistance.

“It was nice meeting you,” Linda said.

“This guy?” asked Donovan.

“Yes, this guy.”

“He locked Mr. Rickerson in a cage and burned down his home?”

“Bullshit,” muttered Linda.

She watched as they led Willy away. When she looked back up at the mummies, she realized her Uncle Giuseppe had turned his head. He was looking at the stars and a beautiful half-moon, as night had fallen, with tears in his eyes.

 

 

Chapter 40

 

 

I stand over the body of a woman in the moonlight. It is done. After a fierce beating, while she was still breathing, I had to get the knife. I didn’t really want to do this. She just made me do it.

 

Now that I no longer have a home, I no longer have my favorite burial sites. No barn, no shed, no yard. A motel room – and a parking spot. How inconvenient … I look about anxiously. How do I to get this mess into my pickup truck? Perhaps I should go back to Mother and Aunt Sophie. Perhaps.

 

But no, I cannot do that. Willy has been arrested. Now he won’t get around to finding the dog’s body, he won’t get around to burying the freak. Heather will be tormented. But after all, she tormented me, too.

 

So I stand in the moonlight, exhilarated by the kill …

 

 

 

Jesse lit a cigarette and inhaled the smoke with deep pleasure. She set the vodka bottle to her lips, waiting. Her new friend, the guy who owned a fine car, encouraged her to drink.

“Go on, try some,” he said.

She giggled, and some of the vodka splashed past her mouth and down her chin, making her white blouse wet.

“Your boyfriend’s down at the station,” the young man said, eying her breasts and licking his lips.

“He won’t be back too soon.”

“So I heard,” said Jesse, relaxing.

“Worried?”

“You could say that,” said Jesse.

“How long have you the two of you been together?”

“Four or five years.”

“Where are you staying now?”

“Have to go back to Tom’s house, get my things.”

“I can come with you …”

Jesse sucked on her cigarette. She liked the way her new friend fit into his jeans.

“Okay.”

“Let’s go admire the view into the valley … shall we?”

Jesse suddenly had a sour expression on her face. The young man ran his fingers over her bare arms.

“I know you’re worried. But you’re gonna have to get used to the fact they’re putting him away.”

Jesse threw her butt to the ground and crushed it out with her boots. She immediately lit another. Her new friend pushed her arm aside and gave her a long, lingering wet kiss. After that, she drank greedily, her eyes shiny and her lips curled up into a sweet smile.

“You think?”

“Yes, Jesse, honey. We both know that, don’t we?”

She let him lead her around the many parked cars and the lovers and the drinkers making out – to Lover’s Peak, where the town lay before them in the valley, the moon and the stars above. He put his hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him.

He kissed her again. She kissed back, this time passionately, grabbing at his clothes.

“Let’s go to my place,” he suggested.

“Okay.”

“We can talk about how we can help Willy …”

“That would be great.”

She hopped in his car on the passenger side, and he slammed the door shut a little too quickly. Jesse quivered. It was getting dark and cold. She looked at the moon through the windshield and said:

“Good luck, Will.”

And then the new man in her life got in behind the wheel of his pricey sedan sweating and eager, his eyes bulging, his hands shaking only slightly.

 

 

 

Chad Donovan took the call. It was Linda, the waitress from the diner. She began to chatter almost immediately. How she was making arrangements for Uncle Giuseppe’s funeral, at last, and how very grateful she was. Chad thought her terribly annoying. He had a very beautiful mannequin on his lap, a girl he had lived with, before she up and left him. But she was all his now.

“Thank you so much for your call, Linda,” he said.

“Stay in touch, okay?”

He threw his cell phone on the couch. He looked up at the girl, at her stoic expression and her exquisite beauty. He had caught her on the highway, when her car broke down and she stood there, anxious and hitchhiking. He had her ‘fixed’ by Rickerson. Chad sometimes wished she had been made more pliable. But he was happy to have her, anyway.

One morning, when he had gone into his special room, he had noticed she had fallen to the floor. Another time, she had a glass in her hand he could have sworn he left on the TV. So, she was moving. She was still “in there”. Chad had a chuckle deep in his throat for such things. Aunt Sophie had broken him in, so many years ago. He helped with many a ‘Gallery’, and had tormented Tom and Rickerson with a ‘Parallel Gallery’.

But the spooks had never gotten to him. He didn’t let them. So he would go to hell. Chad thought life was hell already. And there was no heaven; besides, he did not need it. He would always find a way.

He kissed his mummy gently goodbye, as he left early in the morning for work. She would still be there when he came home, didn’t matter when that would be. She would wait, and she would be there. For him. Always.

Epilogue

 

 

Many months later, Willy was in prison, sleeping in his cell. He twitched and tried to turn, but there was not enough room on his cot. He heard Jesse scream, and at first, he didn’t really remember who she was, only that a long time ago, he had often had sex with her, had bought drugs with her, eaten with her, murdered with her, and he also remembered that he hit her.

“Oh, yeah, Jesse, that’s right …” he muttered, scratching his arm.

He fell asleep again, snoring loudly. Jesse, in his dreams, screamed again. She was trying to get out of a really fine sedan, but the man she was with, he was grabbing her by the hair, he was forcing her to kiss him.

“Wait for me, Jesse,” Willy said.

“I’ll be there in a minute, I’ll be there to help you.”

While asleep, in his crazy dreams, a thought came to him, why she had never come to visit him as he was incarerated, and why he had never thought about it, or even heard about Tom. He had never considered something had happened to her. In his nightmare, he saw her struggling, saw her being raped. Aunt Sophie appeared, pressing her face against his dream’s landscape, scolding:

“You are buried on my land …”

“Go away.”

“Bitch,” he hissed, “you are batshit crazy!”

“I’m here in prison,” he continued, “I’m not even dead yet.”

“You will be free one day. And then you will die. A miserable death! I’ll be waiting.”

“You’re just a … a cunt in a fuzzy dream!” Willy yelled, flailing his arms, pushing her image away.

“Look!” Aunt Sophie said, satisfied, “look what they did to Jesse!”

And Willy saw his former girlfriend, beaten and bruised, in a ‘Gallery’, but no one had thought about holy crosses and Jesus, no one had wanted anyone to repent, there were no twelve corpses, there were at least 20, most of them in horrible positions. Into this stack, someone had embalmed and thrown Jesse, after raping and killing her.

“Oh, God, Jesse,” whispered Willy and began to cry.

Then his mind conjured up other memories, of her sitting next to him in their car, the wind in her hair, her smile contagious, as she laughed in her pink tank top, her painted lips parted, her wild and pretty hair loose around her bare shoulders.

“And I forgot her!” Willy exclaimed.

“So I never had to deal with the pain.”

“Willy …” a faint voice said.

“Jesse,” he answered.

So a part of her was still in this world. He would find her one day, when he was a free man again. He promised.

 

 

THE END.

 

 


Buried On My Land

They won't stay dead .... Who will survive the encounter? Jesse and Willy are violent people, criminals who drift from city to city, one step ahead of disaster. Jesse has a dream reminding her of a boy who once fell in love with her, a boy named Tom whose family was wealthy and generous, living a carefree lifestyle. Jesse persuades Willy to drive her to Tom's hometown with the last of their money. She is convinced the images in her head mean something and their luck will change. Willy could not care less one way or the other. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into. Tom has gone from being a shy, but beautiful boy to becoming a hostile loner with murderous intentions. He harbors in his house an ugly, devastating secret. A secret which is the source of great wealth, but also the source of immeasurable pain ... Their paths cross ... and the dead rise from their graves ... who will survive the encounter?

  • Author: K. Massari
  • Published: 2015-10-29 22:05:14
  • Words: 25902
Buried On My Land Buried On My Land