Hiatus

Dear Cemetery Guardians Readers, Writers, & Artists,

I am taking a hiatus from publishing Cemetery Guardians this year due to overextending myself. I will be going back to school this year to get my Masters in the Library and Information Sciences and hope that when I graduates, I will be able to get back to publishing fantastic horror.

Thank you for your understanding,
Jeanine Marie Vaughn

Advertisements

STRAYS by Brendan Detzner

Just so there’s no confusion: Crosses are nothing. Garlic is obnoxious, but that’s all. Mirrors don’t work, cameras don’t notice. Sunlight hurts. Fire hurts. A wooden stake would presumably hurt. Dogs don’t like me. I’m a hundred and twenty years old and look forty. I looked thirty-five half a century ago.
All I need is about half a coffee mug’s worth a week and I’m fine. Anything more than that is just for fun.
But I like fun.
All set? Good. Let’s talk prom.

Prom itself is obviously a no go. I don’t like crowds. When it’s just you and one other person, they’ll meet you in the middle. I look like a bag lady and I’m smaller than most of the people I approach. If it’s just me and them, even if it’s me and them in the middle of a parking lot late at night, no problem. When it’s a couple of people, maybe the other one pulls on the first one’s sleeve and tells them hey, they don’t like this, something’s feels wrong, maybe we should just leave. When it’s three people, four people, they close ranks.
Also, I don’t like to be indoors.
The reason prom is good news is not that prom itself is good news, it’s that not everybody goes to prom, and even those that go don’t necessarily stay all night. Mike and Crystal have been on my radar for a while now. They cut out early. They’re juniors. They’ve been dating. They’ve been coming to the cemetery on Friday nights, just to talk. Mike is vegan and avoids processed sugar. Mike smells great. I want to drink Mike’s blood. I’ve been restraining myself. Things are better when you wait for them.
Crystal is just a bonus. It makes things a touch trickier, that there are two of them, but tonight they’re sure to be alone. The cops will be split between watching the school and patrolling all the local motels. Prom is a big deal in a small town.
There are three big trees in the middle of the cemetery. Mike and Crystal sit on the grass in between them, which is as close to real privacy they can get without breaking into a tomb. They’re making out. They’re not quite sure how this goes. They’re closing their eyes, trying to get into it.
I indulge myself. I let them see me coming, the real me. Fear makes the heart beat faster, warms the blood like chocolate syrup on a Sunday. They both notice me and both run. I let them go, just so that I’ll have the fun of chasing them.
They make it to the sidewalk that circles the edge of the cemetery. Mike hesitates when he reaches the fence. He’s thinking that maybe he can climb, and maybe he can squeeze through the bars, and he’s not sure what to do, so he just stands there in his suit and his blue silk tie. Crystal is smarter than he is, or at least more decisive. She just runs. A flower falls from her dress and lands on the sidewalk. The petals scatter on the concrete.
I stop everything else I’m doing, kneel down and start counting the petals. One petal, two petal, three, four, five. I make a little pile of the ones that I’ve already counted, so that I don’t repeat myself.
Mike and Crystal stop for long enough to convince themselves that I’m doing what I seem to be doing, and then they run back the way they came, through the trees to the exit. They’re out by the time I finish. I could chase them, but I see headlights.
I am still alive because I am careful. I let them go. I disappear.

Crystal comes back the following night, alone. Her dress was unusual. She’s a ripped jeans and band T-shirt girl, and that’s how she is when she returns to the cemetery.
I’m there. I sleep nearby, and she shows up just as the sun goes down. I’m hungry, and mad about what happened yesterday. I run at her. I am not subtle. No one is around except for the two of us. There’s a chance that a patrol car will swing by now that it is no longer prom, but it’s a slim chance.
She hears me, turns around, sees me, and drops a handful of pennies on the ground. I drop down and start counting, shaking in frustration.
I don’t need an invitation to come into your house. I don’t care if you are a virgin. Running water doesn’t bother me. But this is a problem. It is actually my main source of recreation, when I’m not hunting. I count streetlights, parked cars, cans of soup in twenty-four hour convenience stores.
But this is different. There are enough pennies that I can count them all easily before the sun comes up, but I’m still stuck out in the open with this person I don’t know, who’d been my prey.
She doesn’t say anything, she just watches me. She leaves when I’m about halfway through, and she doesn’t even bother to run. She’s still long gone by the time I’m done counting. Three dollars exactly.

She comes back a week later. I’m careful. I watch from a distance, from the dark where she can’t see, and when she turns her back I run at her as fast and as quiet as I can. I’m close. She sees me out of the corner of her eye, screams, and throws something on the ground.
Uncooked rice. I stop and crouch down. My teeth ache, I want to hurt her so badly. And I’m afraid. The pile of rice on the sidewalk is the size of my fist. I’m not going to finish before the sun comes up.
Stop counting, I tell myself. No, is the answer I get.
And again, Crystal watches.
She asks me about crosses and garlic and sunlight. I can sort of understand what she’s doing. It’s been a long time since I was curious about things that don’t matter to me. Since there was a difference between “things that don’t matter to me” and “things that don’t matter”. Since I was human.
I consider not saying anything. I consider lying. If she doesn’t do something about this endless pile of rice in front of me, I will probably die. I consider telling her the truth, just to see what happens. I consider begging. Pride is another thing I only dimly remember.
I don’t beg, and couldn’t say why. Maybe it’s been long enough that I’m not sure how to put the words together. I answer her questions. Sometimes I lie, and sometimes I tell the truth.
Before she leaves, she crouches down next to me and picks up most of the remaining rice with both hands. Her neck is right there. It’s hard not to go for it, but if I bite I know she’ll drop the rice again.
She wishes me goodnight as she leaves. The remaining pile is just small enough that I’m able to finish it just as the sun creeps up over the horizon. I run back to the place where I sleep. I drag the dirt on top of me as quickly as I can. I’m still hungry.

Next time, I don’t bother trying to sneak up on her. She comes to the cemetery. I show myself, once I know that we’re alone. I don’t want her to get in the habit of coming to look for me.
She’s holding something in her right hand, probably more rice. In her other hand, cradled against her body like a baby or a small pet, is a white plastic container. She puts it down, removes the lid, and steps away. It smells like blood. I get closer. It is blood, a fair bit of it. I drink until the container is dry, leaving two neat holes punched into the bottom. Crystal watches me drink. No questions tonight.
She probably got it from a butcher shop. Blood is blood, I don’t care. Human beings just happen to be the easiest to hunt.
When I’m done drinking, we have a moment. Maybe I could cross the open space between us and reach one of Crystal’s veins before the rice hit the ground.
But she just fed me. I don’t why. Maybe she’ll feed me again.
It’s confusing.
That’s what’s on my mind. I don’t know what was on her mind. I don’t know anything about that.

Crystal feeds me again a week later, and again a few days after that. I get in the habit of seeing if she’s there when I get up at night. I wonder how much it costs her to keep buying those little white containers. I wonder, because if it’s too expensive she might stop.
She talks while I drink. Mike broke up with her. He’s going into the army. She doesn’t seem too choked up about it. I get the sense that they were each a lot for the other to handle. Still, she’s sad because she’s worried she’ll never have another boyfriend. She also feels sad because she feels like her aunt doesn’t care about her. Crystal lives with her aunt. She doesn’t say anything about her parents.
She doesn’t ask my advice. I think she likes having someone to talk to who only listens.
It’d be easy to get the wrong idea about how I felt about her. Mostly, I want to eat. She fed me. That’s a big deal.
It didn’t go any further than that. But it did go that far.

I didn’t notice at first, when she stopped bringing the rice along with her. I didn’t feel too strongly about it one way or the other. It was a thing to know.
One night, late at night, she invites me to her house. Her aunt is out of town. We walk past rows of quiet front porches on a quiet sidewalk on a quiet street. She has the smile on her face young people have when they’re doing something stupid for it’s own sake, doing drugs out in the woods or jumping a fence.
Something tells me to run when the front door opens. But I’ve had so much to drink over the last few weeks. There could be blood in there. In the refrigerator, or wherever she’d keep it. I have only a dim picture in my mind of what a home refrigerator looks like, but it’s enough to make me salivate.
I go through the door. The door closes behind me. There’s a collection of Hummel figurines on a little table in the breezeway. I count them. There are shoes piled up near the back door. I count those. There’s a little stained glass window hanging near the back door from a little brass chain. The window is a set of stain glass fragments fitted together into a mosaic. I count each piece, and at that point I’m so far gone that I count the links of the chain.
This is why I don’t go into people’s houses. Outside, there’s less to filter out. Things aren’t so neat, they don’t stand out as much. You can try to count the clouds, but they just flow into one another and you give up, and eventually you learn not to try. Indoors, everything is corners and straight lines and little brightly colored things against white backgrounds.
I keep moving from one set to another. It doesn’t take long for Crystal to get bored. She stops talking and glares at me. She gives me the raw, unmediated teenager-who-thinks-this-is-stupid. It doesn’t make any difference to me until she tells me I have to leave. And even that only makes a very small difference. There’s a bookshelf, with books on it. Each of the books has pages. I can’t read any more— I’m not sure if I ever could— but there’s a number in the corner of each page, and that I recognize.
Crystal tries to put her hands on me. I backhand her without thinking and she bounces off the refrigerator. I see her looking around for something— a weapon, probably— and that’s enough to get me to look up for a little while.
I was hungry anyway.
It goes that way for a long time. The sun comes up, I pull the shades closed and keep counting. I get hungry, I drink. By the time the sun sets again, I’m tired and I’ve counted everything in the house. I don’t even know how long Crystal has been dead, only that she’s dry now.
Even the way I am, drunk and exhausted, I know that I don’t want to leave the house like this. People can’t ignore a crime scene. They will look, they will wonder who’s responsible. I have no idea when Crystal’s aunt will come home. I don’t know when the girl scouts will knock on the door to sell cookies, and notice the smell, and call the police.
Fire isn’t my favorite, but I can deal with it when I have to. I throw a copy of the newspaper and some other stuff in a heaping pile on top of the stove and light it up, then I leave the house right away.
I don’t wait around and watch it happen. I walk. I don’t walk so fast that I’d stand out, but I don’t stop.

Up until then I’d been doing what I had to do. I wasn’t thinking more than one or two steps ahead. Once I was done walking, out in the woods, far from any road marked with a sign, I started thinking.
She’d been feeding me. She’s dead now. She won’t be feeding me anymore.
I have to go a long way inside myself, to feel anything for another person. I remember my mother, the way she looked when I was very young, when she towered over me and had to wipe the corners of my mouth with a damp cloth.
In the dark, the silhouettes of the trees all blend together. There is foreground and background, nothing else. Nothing with a face.
Or almost nothing. The wind shifts, and I smell deer. Deer are fast, but not as fast as I am. And they don’t eat junk food.
I’ll stay out here for a while. Not forever. At least until the winter. When I start to dream about how things used to be, I’ll wait. I’ll savor the anticipation. I’ll let my memories break down into less complicated pieces. And when the pictures in my mind have become fat and ripe, I’ll come back to town.

THE ADULT THING TO DO by Sheila Johnson

Everyone told Carmen that it would get easier with time. All that time did, however, was present her with more moments, more scenes, that she could use to frame her grief. Here she was in the produce aisle – Jun would never get to taste foods like acorn squash or broccolini and find out if he liked them. There she was driving past the middle school athletic field – Jun would never get to try out for track. Carmen’s life was a dark, quiet hallway in a gallery, and she was painting Jun into every picture she passed.

Autumn only made everything worse. Around her, the trees were losing their leaves while the cold sunk into their branches; it wouldn’t be long before the cold took over her limbs, too. And each day, the neighborhood kids would head off to school in their jackets, little bundles of primary colors, their parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles holding their hands all the way to the bus stop, while Carmen’s hands sat empty, like hollows in a rotting log.

Maybe the morning and afternoons spent watching the children were what made her decide to finally visit Jun’s grave; maybe it was dealing with the thought of him anywhere and everywhere else she went. Maybe it was because she was tired of telling the support group she was fine, you know, as fine as can be, a little better each day and feeling the words scrape her throat raw each time. It was October 21 when Carmen went to Jun’s grave for the first time, roughly five months after his funeral; it was a late Saturday afternoon, nothing special. All this she knew for certain, as certain as she knew Jun’s voice when she heard it behind her, while she was tracing the letters on his headstone.

“Mom! Hi!”

His skin was still as grey as it had appeared under the makeup on the day of the wake; his lips were still a deep bluish-purple, just as they had been in the hospital when his lungs finally surrendered. He was wearing the jeans and the red race car t-shirt that Carmen had dressed him in for the afterlife. The difference now was that he was smiling. And his eyes were open. And he was waving at Carmen like a child who loved her.

“I didn’t know you were going to come. They said you might not come, like, ever.” Carmen wanted to hug him back when he threw his arms around her. She couldn’t. His entire body felt cold, yet she was the one who was frozen. He smelled like soil laid fresh in a garden.

“They—” she spluttered.

“The teachers at school. I’m late,” Jun said, pulling away. He began running, but he caught himself and turned back toward her after several steps. “Will you come back and visit me?” he asked. “After I’m done?”

“Done?” Carmen was nothing but gasps and syllables. “When—”

“Sunrise.” Jun’s smile was a sheepish one. “We stay up late here.” Carmen suspected she knew why Jun looked so embarrassed. She herself was remembering all the times she’d had to struggle to get him to turn off the computer and go to bed, and how since he had died she’d regretted every single night she didn’t let him stay on the couch with her just a few moments longer.

In the far corner of the cemetery, nestled in the space where two sides of the chain link fence met, stood an oak tree, wide and proud. Carmen watched mutely as Jun ran toward it, tapped a specific rhythm onto its trunk, and ducked, as quick as a heartbeat, into the gap that appeared and then disappeared the second he stepped through it. The gap wouldn’t appear for Carmen. She determined that eventually, after she spent an hour clawing at the tree’s bark and pounding on the trunk until the sides of her hands were scraped raw. She stopped only when an old woman approached a grave nearby and looked at Carmen as if to say, “I know.” Carmen was sure that she did, even if not in exactly in the same way.

* * *
“They teach us lots of stuff,” Jun said, plucking an earthworm from the grass and setting it down on his headstone.

Carmen hadn’t slept at all that night. Instead, she had browsed the Internet for stories of children returned from the dead, stared at the phone imagining all the things her counselor would say if she called, and ultimately resigned herself to walking laps around her living room. She’d left the house as soon as the sky had begun to lighten. When she arrived, Jun was waiting for her, sitting cross-legged on his grave, cleaning dirt from the treads in his sneakers, waving the moment his eyes met hers. It was terrifying.

“What kinds of stuff do they teach you?” Carmen was kneeling in the grass to the side. She couldn’t bring herself to sit on top of Jun’s plot, even though he was doing so and she was looking right at him.

“We’re just starting shapeshifting,” Jun said. “We’ve been working on making ourselves go through things. I’m pretty good. See?” He plunged his hand into his gravestone without any hesitation. It disappeared into the granite all the way up to his wrist. He held it there while he turned his head toward Carmen and grinned. He still had the space where his right upper canine, the last of his stubborn baby teeth, had fallen out.

“That’s very nice, Jun,” Carmen said, her fingers interlaced so tightly that they lay white-knuckled in her lap. “How long will your, um, your lessons last?”

He shrugged. “Until I’m ready to go haunting, I guess.”

“And who will you be haunting?”

He blinked when he looked at her. “Bad people.”

Because it was a Sunday morning, there weren’t many cars traveling the road nearby yet, but Carmen was aware of a few in the distance. She wondered how all of this worked, if the people inside would be able to see Jun when they passed. She wondered, if she needed to be rescued, if they’d be able to see her. “Jun,” she whispered, “is that what this is?” Inside, the thoughts sped through her mind like the blood speeding through her veins: if only I’d called the ambulance a second sooner, if only I knew CPR, if only I’d saved my son. Outside, they manifested as one simple, fragile question:

“Am I being haunted?”

But Jun groaned, rolling his eyes, shattering the delicate stillness the way only a child can. “Mom! No. Geez. This is just, like, you visiting your kid, okay?” He stood and approached her, and quite unlike the day before, Carmen was surprised by how comforting she found a hug from her dead son to be.

“I have to go to sleep now,” Jun said. Carmen could see his dark hair catching golden sunlight. “We have school every night. Will you keep coming to visit me?”

Carmen swallowed. “Of course I will, baby.”

He smiled, stepped back, and lay flat on his plot. In a second, he was gone, and Carmen was left kneeling beside and empty patch of grass, idly drilling her finger into the ground. She knew there was no reason to imagine digging him out; she knew that her hand couldn’t slip through the cold, solid ground the way Jun’s probably could. She tried not to think about it, but there it was, this idea that even though Jun was back in her life, in some way there might be more distance between them now than what the grave had placed between them months before.

* * *

She didn’t tell her counselor or anyone in her support group. At work, she continued to process payments and update accounts just the way she had before (though sometimes, in the moments when her mind would wander like an untethered balloon, she would allow herself a few minutes to read ghost stories in an incognito browser window).

Now every morning, though, Carmen stopped at the cemetery before heading to the office and listened to more about her dead son’s new life. They came and met from graveyards all across town; they had cliques; they progressed in their studies at different rates, just like students at any other school. Jun thought there might be some adult students, but he couldn’t figure out the ages of a few of his classmates from the way they looked in their natural states. For all of the differences between the new life and the old one, several details remained oddly the same. Jun still liked peanut butter sandwiches. He missed eating them, so Carmen brought him one every time she visited. He always sniffed it and said thanks, but he never took a bite. Carmen didn’t ask if he ate at school.

One morning, Carmen was particularly curious. The cemetery was small, situated at the intersection of two relatively sleepy roads, and low on the security company’s list of priorities as far as she could tell. She pulled up to the curb with her lights already turned off and parked in the rose-tinged darkness. She climbed the fence and took a seat by Jun’s grave, waiting to see whatever there was to see.

It looked almost no different when Jun stepped out of the tree than it did when he stepped into it. A gap appeared, as if someone inside the trunk had ripped open a zipper, and there was Jun, walking away, his head bent low beneath the pale dawn light. Then there appeared another boy behind Jun, staring at him with a look cast in ice and leaving the tree heading the opposite way.

“I didn’t know one of your classmates was here,” Carmen said as Jun sunk to the ground and lowered his chin to his hand.

“Yeah.”

“What’s his name?”

“Paul.”

“You don’t like him?”

“He’s awful.”

Carmen could see why Jun felt that way; it wasn’t just because the left side of Paul’s face, including the eye socket, had caved in like a sinkhole in sand. Something in the way Paul had looked at Jun before – was looking at the two of them now from across the yard with his one good eye – struck Carmen as feral. His was a gaze with sharp edges. Carmen wondered if this Paul was the kind of student who liked to take his lessons home with him.

“Now, Jun,” Carmen said, stroking her son’s hair while she stared at the other dead boy in the cemetery with them, “unless he’s hurt you, we can’t judge him. We don’t know what kind of life he’s had. Or death.”

Because dead or not, Jun still was Carmen’s son, and it was never too late for a mother to set a good example.

* * *

By all the accounts that Carmen read later that day, Paul Odemeyer had had a terrible death. Not until she saw Paul’s picture on a local news site and skimmed the accompanying article, however, did she remember that she had known about it, had heard about what happened months before. She just hadn’t known Paul by name. He was simply that family tragedy a few towns over, the stepson of a widower who couldn’t stand being reminded of his dead wife, even years after she’d passed. Given the nature of the boy’s death, which had come for him in the form of a table lamp that his stepfather had swung at his head, Carmen had to assume that Paul’s life hadn’t been great, either.

The next day, after Jun had wished Carmen a good morning (which he giggled doing, since it now replaced saying “good night”), Carmen crossed the cemetery. The few cars out on the road passed quietly, and the low-lying clouds, already thick in the sky and mottled grey like dirty cotton, crept along slowly, as if trying to eavesdrop on anything that anyone in the graveyard had to say.

“Hello,” Carmen whispered once she was standing next to Paul’s grave. “I, um, I read about how you died, and I just wanted to say that I’m sorry. No child should have to go through that. It really – well, it’s terrible, you know? I mean, of course you know.”

She cleared her throat. “My son’s a nice boy, even though he’s dead, but you’re dead, too, so never mind. I’m not your family, I know that.” A sigh. “But if you ever want to talk to anyone, or just be with people, we’re here. I’m here. And I’ll do what I can to help.”

Carmen listened. There were the sound of cars moving smoothly over pavement and the sound of a calm but steady wind nudging the late leaves out of the trees. A faraway crow signaled the morning with a single caw, then let it be. That was fine. Part of a mother’s job, after all, was not expecting anything in return.

Another part was taking care of herself so that she could take care of those who needed her. So Carmen went to work, and punched in, and smiled, and earned her keep. She had a reason for living, maybe two now, and should it really matter to her or anyone else if both of those reasons happened to be dead?
* * *

She was at Jun’s grave early the following morning, carrying a Thermos full of coffee to warm her hands and lips and two peanut butter sandwiches in the bag this time, just in case. It was because she’d arrived early that she was able to catch what happened between Paul and Jun.

The tree peeled opened as usual, and out came Jun in front, with Paul shambling closely behind him. For a moment, Carmen thought it meant that Paul would be joining them, and she cursed herself for being selfish and not filling the Thermos with something like cocoa instead. Boys like cocoa, she thought.

Then Paul shoved Jun’s shoulder. Hard. Hard enough to make him stumble. Carmen suddenly found herself glad she hadn’t brought hot chocolate. As she sprang to her feet, she saw Jun, still crouching where he’d broken his fall, turn to look behind him. Now they both were facing Paul, and Paul was facing them, and before Carmen could fully process it Paul had dropped his jaw to an inhuman length. It left his chin dangling down past his knees, revealing a mouth equipped with rows of needle-like teeth. I would’ve brought you marshmallows, Carmen thought, running, wondering if she really had it in her to swing her Thermos upside young Paul’s already broken and thoroughly deformed head if it came to that.

The sight of Jun gave Carmen her answer – Jun, wide-eyed, pale beneath his skin’s grey cast, shaking with fear like a boy who had never died. She dropped her Thermos and ran to him instead, sweeping him into her arms as her knees skidded across the grass.

Then she turned to Paul. “What is the matter with you?” she spat. “Don’t you ever touch my son, ever. Not with demon hands, not with ghost hands, not with regular hands. You have a problem with him, you come talk to me. Is that clear?”

Paul stood for a moment, his mouth open wide like a tunnel to Hell. Briefly, it occurred to Carmen that she had no idea exactly what Paul was capable of. But then Paul’s jaw snapped back into its usual position below his sunken cheeks, and with his one good eye he glared at them both before turning to trudge home to his grave.

“Are you okay?” Carmen whispered into Jun’s cool ear.

“Yeah.” Jun shook himself free and started walking toward his own headstone, leaving Carmen to trail him.

“You want to tell me what this is all about?” she called.

Jun shrugged and dropped to the grass above his grave. “He just hates me. That’s it.”

Carmen sat next to him. “Any idea why?”

Another shrug. “I’m better at what we’re learning than him.”

Carmen hesitated. “You mean… better at haunting people? At the shapeshifting stuff?”

Jun nodded. He blinked and, for a while, seemed content to let the silence of the graveyard speak for him. “He hates me because of you,” he finally said. “He says that only babies still have their moms visit him when they’re dead.”

Carmen inhaled the chilled air sharply through her nose. In the distance, she could see that Paul wasn’t resting yet; he was kneeling on his grave, staring right at her while she rubbed her son’s shoulders. “Honey, you know that’s not true, right?” She continued to watch Paul from the corners of her eyes. “People of all ages visit their loved ones all the time. It’s why cemeteries exist.”

“I know.”

“Paul…” Carmen sighed. “Paul’s angry right now. I don’t know where his mother went after she died, but I don’t think she can visit him, whatever she’s doing.” She gave his shoulders a squeeze. “It’ll be okay. Just tell your teachers or whoever’s in charge. We won’t let anything happen.”

“Mom, I’m dead. It’s fine.”

Carmen shook her head, as if that would help the weight of Jun’s words settle more easily inside of it. “Just ignore him for now, if you can.”

“I know, Mom,” Jun said, his words now sharp. “I’ve got this.” He spoke at the same moment that Carmen hard and small hit her cheek. She touched the skin and glanced down, expecting to find a pebble. Instead she found something unmistakably cream-colored and smooth  lying in the grass, flecked as it was with specks of yellow and hints of grey decay. She picked up the tooth and looked to her right, toward the spot where Paul was still kneeling, grinning at her with what appeared to be a gap in his smile.

“I know you’ve got this,” Carmen said, even though there were some things she felt she knew better. She knew, for example, that at some point, everyone needed a little help from Mom. She also knew that the help from Mom that some kids needed most involved her being the person who kept their asses in line. Sometimes, a stern, no-nonsense presence was the best gift a mother could offer.

Fortunately for all involved, Carmen considered herself a very giving person.

* * *

She’d taken half a day off from work, but by sunset that evening, Carmen was ready. She arrived and sat a short distance from the tree in the corner with all the supplies she’d been able to find: salt and breadcrumbs in a plastic bag; a silver pendant around her neck; a bell to ring and a brass key to throw, in case Paul came too close to either her or Jun; and the piece that had been the hardest to find, the one she least wanted to use, a foot-long bar of scrap iron to lay across Paul’s grave or, failing everything else, to ram down his throat if he tried to do anything with his wide-open monster mouth.

For all her preparations to deal with Paul, however, Carmen realized too late that she wasn’t event remotely prepared to deal with Jun. Jun rose from his grave that evening already sprinting toward the tree, but Paul was faster. He was on Jun’s back before Carmen could close the distance, leaving her to curse herself for sitting by the tree instead of Paul’s grave, just because she’d wanted to give the beaten boy a chance to prove he could behave. She threw fistfuls of salt and bread ahead of her and flung the key as well, but her aim was bad, almost deliberately so; she wanted to disable Paul but couldn’t risk hurting Jun at the same time.

Instantly Paul’s mouth was gaping open, and Carmen was aware of the iron bar in her hand. She stepped closer to swing it but then just as quickly stepped back. She had to in order to give Jun’s new shape room.

He was huge, a tower, taller than the corner tree. He didn’t look like a tree or a tower, though. No, he looked like a man – a gnarled, twisted version of a grown-up man, except that he was enormous, of course, and instead of a hand or a forearm, his right arm ended in what looked like a tabletop lamp stand attached to his elbow.

Jun bent over until his giant face was inches away from Paul. “You go to school, and you leave us alone,” he said, “or I will do this to you every time you get up.” He was speaking in his own voice, his child’s voice.

Paul shut his mouth without saying a word and ran away into the tree.

Before Carmen could blink, Jun had returned to his usual size and shape and to the grey skin that, for him, was now normal. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

Carmen let her arms hang like broken branches. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I have to go take a test now.” Jun grinned. “You know, if I did that on my test, they’d give me a big F.”

“For that? Why?”

“You’re only supposed to haunt bad people,” Jun said. “I know Paul’s not bad. He’s just mean and stupid and I hate him. But it’s not his fault.”

“I know,” Carmen said. She held up the iron bar. “You want me to use this?”

“To shut him in his grave?” Jun shook his head. “He’ll be okay, I think.”

And Carmen knew he was right.

So she wished her son good luck on his exam, gathered her remaining supplies, and left the graveyard for the evening. She went home, turned on her tablet, and spread her bills out on the kitchen table. She paid the hell out of those bills. That was what grown-ups did, she told herself: they took care of matters. She paid the gas, the water, and the electric. Then she looked into scheduling payments for the months ahead. It was, after all, the adult thing to do.

RATTLES AND THIN AIR by Shawna Flavell

Follow Rt 16 clear out of town then turn left at that gravel road that leads out to the ole Miller farm. There’ll be a row of tree stumps right ‘fore ya turn. Up til a few years ago, those were big magnolias. If ya could bottle the smell of magnolias in the summer, you’d be a rich sonofabitch, I tell ya what. That smell is more intoxicating than that fancy Chanel No. 5. Women pay good money for that stuff. Those new people though, they come along and just hit those trees with a chainsaw. Said they was cutting into their cropland. Now, instead of magnolias all you smell is the pig shit from Crawford’s place.

Ya keep a-heading down that gravel road bout five miles and on your left you’ll see some thick as sin thorn bushes. They block most of ole St. Augie’s cemetery from the road, but mark my word it’s back there. Don’t know if the place ever had a groundskeeper, if it did was before my time, and I couldn’t tell ya the last time someone was buried out that way. Don’t be surprised if all ya find is a bunch of weatherworn tombstones and some overgrown clovers and dandelions.

That there cemetery used to just be a small plot. Belonged to a family by the name of Waters, I do believe. They were wealthy, one of the wealthiest families in the tri-county area. Only ones round here who could afford slaves. Even then had maybe twenty at most. When the Union come marching through, that Waters house was one of the first burned to the ground. They must of had an inkling of what was coming down the pike. They weren’t nowhere to be found when the torches touched the front steps and no one saw hide nor hair of them after.

Slaves up and left too, all cept two black men. Rest might of gone with the Waters or might of set their sights for freedom up north. That’s as much a mystery as why those two men chose to stay. Not clear if they were father and son or brothers or of no relation atall. The only thing anyone knew for sure was that they were slaves and, regardless of kinship, they were close. There was a number of shacks on the property that the Waters used as slave quarters. Most were close behind the main house. Them two men though shared the pump house beside the Waters’ family cemetery plots. Was space enough inside for a single hay mattress, a small table, and two chairs. Wasn’t even a stove for winter, but that’s how they chose to live.

Not one person knows what happen to them neither. They were there for decades, lived in that pump house and tended to the tombs. After the house was gone and no one came back to claim the land, someone just decided to turn that whole piece of property into a big ole cemetery. Still, the men stayed, basically working as groundskeepers free of charge. Never tried to leave and, far as I know, no one asked em to go neither. According to the tale, just one day they up and disappeared. Both gone at the same time. Didn’t take nothing, poof, just rattles and thin air.

Ain’t never seen it myself. When we was kids used to be tales told of how the statues in that place would wake just after sunset on the night of the new moon. Anyone caught wandering the grounds got turned to stone. I was the biggest fraidy cat you ever seen when I was younger. By the time I got old enough to realize it was just a hoax, I was too caught up in girls and work to go pokin around in cemeteries. Might want to check out this year’s Farmers’ Almanac just as a precaution though. Don’t want to be a-reading about the disappearance of an out-of-towner in this week’s paper.

It isn’t that Greg didn’t want to listen to the old man talk. It is that he didn’t ask the old man for anything more than directions, forgetting that people from the south tell tales longer than they are tall.  

“So, I’ll take Rt. 16 out of town, head down the road to the Miller place and I’ll run into the cemetery?”

The old man squinted from the shadow of his old Pioneer Grain hat, his whole face constricting like a car caught in the steel teeth of a compactor. Greg was already one leg back in his car by the time the old man started to nod. It didn’t matter one bit that he had no idea which gravel road led to the Miller place. As luck would have it, it was easy for him for figure out once the promised ripe smell of acres of pig shit came wafting through his unrolled windows. Sensory details like that are the ones that stick with a person.

The bramble and vines were thicker than thieves down most of the spur road, conspiring together to keep the wandering eyes of passersby wandering anywhere else but here. The needle on the speedometer dropped to 15 as Greg strained to catch a glimpse of granite or marble rising from the concealed acres.

He had a debt to settle. Sometimes what defines a good man is the work he puts into righting his family’s wrongs, and Greg had a lot of repenting to do for his family’s sins. This trip though; if you’re a bible-fearing man than this trip was the equivalent of washing himself in the waters of Jordan. Once he was done here, he could go back home and rest for a spell.

Greg had heard the stories about the Saint Augustine Cemetery and he dug to fill in the craters that others left gaping open. The two men who worked the cemetery grounds and were now characters in local folklore had indeed been slaves that belonged to the Waters family. What no one else knew, or what no one else cared to sort out, is that the men had names and they had stories and those things didn’t disappear when the two of them vanished.

Joe Buxley had been with the Waters since he was old enough to split wood. His shoulders were broad as an ax and he could carry more weight on his back than a mule. He’d have been a force to be reckoned had it not been for the fact that any sort of rebellion or fight he might have been born with had been whipped, humiliated, and burned out of him long before the Civil War came to its end. He was a model slave; kept his eyes cast on his work and never did anything without proper permission. His responses were all “Yes, Mam,”s and “No, Sir”s and he’d never once tried to run.

Wesley Norris had grey at his temples and a hunch to his shoulders. Across his back was a net of scars woven together piece-by-piece each time he tried to run or a master made an example out of him. The moment he belonged to the Waters they too made him an example. They knew his history and within an hour of his arrival they had their blacksmith sear off both of his big toes with a freshly forged blade still orange from the forge. It made him too slow for outdoors work, but since they didn’t need to worry about him taking off with any belongings they put him up in the house to shine boots and scrub floors.

There wasn’t much Wesley and Joe had in common: not their age, not their origins, not their jobs. They did share a weakness though. And that weakness put them in the places they are now.

There wasn’t much in the way of good that any black man, woman, or child could say about the Waters. They did not hesitate to lash, maim, confine, or persecute anyone of color the instant they could. As was the case across the south, this tyranny impacted any romantic relations their slaves might build. The Waters did nothing to stop relationships among those in their possession. The opposite was true; they encouraged them. Couples on their property were given small privileges that others were not afforded. Things like rags they could use for curtains and a few extra ounces of meat in their monthly rations. It was no secret that their motive was not kindness but money—they hoped for babies they could sell and never hesitated to auction off one half of a couple to someone out of state if it benefited them.

Every slave couple in every state knew that forming a bond with someone was setting yourself up for heartbreak, but the allure of human connection in inhumane circumstances was impossible for most to pass up. So was the case with Joe and Wesley. Each man took a wife and, as luck would have it, both were due children as the Union Army reclaimed the south.

With no other slave villages for miles, it took longer for the freedom proclamation to travel to the Waters’ place than it did plantations and farms that sat in clusters. The moment word hit though those who could run ran and those the Waters could shoot were shot. Wesley tried talking his wife into running, “Now your chance. Go on, get on up n outa here,” but she knew she wouldn’t make it against the team of hounds she heard baying from the west every night since they learned of their impending freedom. Joe, ever obedient, waited with his wife for permission to leave.

The Waters caught rumor of Union Soldiers still taking prisoners, even though the war was over, as they marched through and freed slaves. When they could see the smoke of burning houses rising along the horizon, they hitched up their mules to two wagons. While one was for the family to ride in, the other was loaded with essentials, valuables, Mrs. Buxley, and Mrs. Norris.

Four Waters’ generations were buried in their family plot. While not particularly religious, the Waters were not about to let their family name be reclaimed by Mother Nature if they never found their way back home. And so they tied up the women in the wagon and drove the men to the pump house at gun point. Along the route, promises were made. The men were told the Waters were leaving for just a short while, that there would be a chance they could return before either baby was born, that once they returned the men would be reunited with their wives. They were told that all they had to do was live in the pump house and make sure the cemetery remained untouched by anyone but them. The two men, possibly because they believed the Waters, more likely because they were terrified for their wives’ lives, didn’t put up a fight. They stood next to the wooden, windowless building they would soon call home and watched their women and unborn children bounce along on the floor of a wagon while the nice silver and the potato crate sat on the wooden bench seat.

It is after the Waters left that Greg’s version of the story, while the most complete, is a little fuzzy around the edges. Joe and Wesley kept their forced end of the deal, tended the family’s gravestones, but for just how long is unknown. The Waters never returned, that’s for certain. When the land was bought from the county Joe and Wesley were still living on site, but that’s the last moment anyone can recall with any sort of reliability that the men were there.

There are a handful of tales floating around about what happened to the men after the cemetery was bought, but the story Greg believed to be true, the reason he parked his car along some ditch beside a gravel road in West Virigina was this:

The two men watched with some satisfaction as the flames crept up the sides of the Waters house. Even from as far back as the cemetery, when the entire house was ablaze they could hear the crackling and the heat could be felt across their faces. One fire will steal energy from another until the smaller is consumed however. As they watched the first floor of the house slowly devour the second and as the fire’s fuel started to wane so did their hopes of being reunited with their families. The men knew it was easier to start over than it was to try and rebuild, that without a house to come home to the Waters really had no reason to return. But the embers of hope remained stoked for several years; they didn’t feel they had another choice. The men feared the punishment that would fall on their wives if the family returned and they were gone. They didn’t know where to start looking for their families other than to turn left at the end of the drive. They agreed that their best option was to wait, to tend to the cemetery as they had been told, and to pray.

As the years compounded, Wesley started to get sick.  It was a slow illness, the kind that gradually eats away at something on your insides, something you don’t know you have until it starts to hurt and deteriorate. On his good days he had his morning cup of coffee and went along with his day; but he had bad days too, days where he laid in bed covered in sweat and retching bile into a bucket. It was when the bad days started to outnumber the good that the men decided their prayers were being heard by the wrong God. A malicious God. A God who would never bring their babies back to them.

Together they decided to turn to different Gods. Gods who asked more from them than just prayers. Gods who required rituals and sacrifices and late night communications. Gods who demanded that you work for your reward. No strangers to work, Joe and Wesley committed their time to appeasing these Gods, to figuring a way to meet their children.  

What they settled on was a way where nothing, not even death, could move them from their post. Their wives knew where they were, surely their children had been told too. If they wandered, there was a chance their paths would never cross theirs. It wasn’t the waiting that bothered them, it was the thought that they wasted time waiting. The only way to keep from feeling like they should have done something else was to keep doing the thing they had always been doing.

And so, the men set to seal their fates. On the night of the new moon, they stood on either side of the cemetery gate. The moon was a shard amongst the stars and darkness circled them, creeping in closer as they got deeper into the night. In one hand, each man held a rabbit by its hind legs, the animal thrusting its body in an attempt to escape as it dangled upside down. In the other, each man held a sharpened stone. They had practiced the ritual nightly for a month. They had been unable to find anything that would allow a person to bind himself to a place. The only way they were going to make this happen was if each man bound the other. This meant that each man was working to seal the others fate and that timing had to be perfect. A second’s mistake would leave one of them eternally on the lookout until his family released him while the other had to deal with mortality.

Shrieks,
Smooth slices across rabbits’ flesh
Blood pooling at each man’s feet.
Chanting: rhythm and repetition.
Staring, waiting, hoping.
Fear echoing louder than any other night air noise.Silence.
***

Greg closed the trunk of his car, looked both ways, and then crossed the road. He could tell it had been some time since anyone tried walking into the cemetery from the path that lead up to it. Brambles hadn’t had time to take over yet, but the vines were overgrown and require some light tugging to move through. About an 8th of a mile in front of him were the gates to the cemetery, put in some time after it became more than just a family plot, and two stone statues.

Behind the gates, moss coated tombstones rose out of the ground, many of them looking like they were struggling to stay upright. Greg was never able to find anything that substantiated the rumors that Joe and Wesley turned cemetery trespassers to stone. There wasn’t a single spell or hex he ran across in his research that turned your victim into stone while also giving them the ability to turn others on the one night a month they were allowed to wake. Here now, he could see where that belief originated. Statues seemed to walk among the dead here, their placement not following the row by row pattern deemed suitable for burials. No two were alike, at least not that he could see. Each possessed a different expression, many of them easily interpreted at terror, and a unique stature. There was a girl stooped over, as if picking something up, only her hands were atop her head. Another was a girl caught in the middle of looking over her shoulder, her eyes wide and wild. The thought that Joe and Wesley could have spent over a hundred years turning children to stone because they were reaching out to see if any of them were their own was enough to give Greg pause. He reached into his pocket and stroked a swath of fabric before continuing forward.

There was no knowing for sure if the statues at the gate were Joe and Wesley, but it was undeniable that they were made in the image of men with African heritage. The cheek bones were bold; the noses, despite the one on the left having a chip, were broad; the hair was taut curls; and both bore a look of determination that only comes from years of someone or something trying to destroy you. They were also dressed peculiarly for cemetery guardians. The clothes they were carved were bedraggled scraps of fabric, Greg could see the patchwork along the pants and the crude stitches that held the sleeves on the shirts.

Those details were all Greg needed.

He had no way to know with certainty which statue was which man, but the one on the left side had sallow eyes and its face drooped, either from age or illness. From his pocket he pulled that swatch of fabric, a blue gingham print square that had been faded by the sun. He’d found it in a chest in a New York City attic. It was the only item that Greg had been able to trace back to Evelyn Norris. Evelyn had worn that scrape of fabric on her head as an infant. After she lost a battle with the chicken pox when she was two, that fabric square was the one thing her ma kept because it smelled like her baby’s scalp. Greg placed the fabric square across the outstretched fingers of the statue he guessed to be Wesley and then walked to the statue on the right.

From his back pocket, Greg pulled an envelope debossed in gold with the words Vital Records. That envelope held two death certificates that bore the same date, one for an Antony Buxley and a fetal death certificate issued to a Jane Doe. Greg looked at the envelope briefly, tapped its edge against his palm twice, and then knelt down to place it at the feet of the statue he believed to be Joe Buxley.

He made the symbol of the holy trinity as he stood. The sun was making its way over the western tree line and soon the new moon would be a quick cut in the night sky. The temptation to witness folklore come to life, if indeed it was factual, wasn’t enough to keep Greg around longer. His work there was done and he turned to start his journey home.  

PROTECTORS BY MAHA RAKTA

They never think of us, or thank us. We sit among femurs and rib cages in burial grounds with matted hair and pointed teeth. We tilt our noses toward funeral pyres, fill our lungs with melting flesh. We carry hooked knives, split skulls horizontally and drink from them like cups.

Our eyes flash lightening, we set forth wild dogs foaming and snarling. We stand on beds of corpses and weave the hair of the dead into necklaces so that their skulls rattle against our chests.

We dangle decaying limbs, pieces of skin still peeling from bone. Our bodies the color of dried blood, fill the spaces between graves… and still no one thinks of us.

Here in our garden of ash, we shake bones until spirits seep out. We shake bones until they let go and move on. We wrythe with wrath and cast out those would disturb the spirits still clinging. We swing our hooked knives at haunted specters until they have nothing to grab onto. We roar and thunder as reminders that they no longer belong to this world. We eat their bodies and wear their skin so that they have nothing to come home to.

We set spirits free, shatter ego.

It is a thankless job, protecting the charnel grounds.

In this moment, I sit and simmer. With two legs and four arms, I gaze into the horizon as the sun slowly slips into twilight. I watch the serpent like river as it coils itself along the borders of our grounds, glimmering in the last rays of daylight.

The other protectors rustle among the bones, faithfully upholding their oath. Yet something keeps me.

I flare my nostrils for the scent of the living. They come here on tests of courage having heard of demons. Others come to steal from the dead, to use limbs and hair for magic.

I can smell her beyond the hill where the Earth slips into the water. I can hear the soft jingle of her jewelry. There, pale and dark haired with giant black eyes, she appears. She stops at the very top, looks out as if she can see us, and pulls from under her blue and white shawl, a large red satchel made of wool. In a movement made of water she slips off her shawl and folds it neatly on the ground in front of her.

Intrigued, I stroke the skulls at my chest with my bottom right hand.

“What is she doing?” The loud one asks, her single breast hanging beneath the still rotting heads of her necklace.

The introspective one quietly squats next to me. Tilting his head, his three eyes blinking, he responds, “She is going to pray.”

“PRAY!” The loud one flashes her fangs, “no one comes here to pray anymore.”

“The ancient ones used to.” the introspective one twirls a rib in his hand.

“She is no ancient. If she steps into our ground I will eat her soul and sling her body into the river. The snake shaped beings will keep her.”

We watch, as she pulls a small hand drum from her satchel and places it on the her shawl. She digs further and retrieves a golden incense burner, digging further still she brings out dried herbs to burn. Holding the white leaves pinched between her fingers and thumb, she looks straight into my eyes and says, “Guardians and guides, protectors of this land, givers of wisdom and grace; I ask you to bless me with your essences. That you bless me with your compassion, so that I may offer the spirits of this place song and drum.”

“Guardians and guides, protectors, I offer you my heart through these songs that you may find joy in their melodies.”

We stay still in her gaze, unsure that she can see us, or merely sense our presence. She angles her head as if listening. I nod slowly, the introspective one bows in his squat, even the loud one tilts her head.

The black eyed woman, brings the leaves to heart before lighting them on fire and placing them in the burner. I close my eyes surprised by the scent. It has been a long time since I smell something other than rotting flesh.

With eyes still closed, I listen to the wind as it sifts through the ash. I listen to the waves of river, the grass as it rustles, the spirits that linger among their bones. I feel the sun completely disappear… and then suddenly find the air shaking with the sound of the drum. The loud one cackles as I open my eyes to find her tossing her head back. Her matted hair flinging in the darkness.

She dances, flames erupting from her skin, “Let us eat.”

The introspective one smiles, flashing his sharp teeth, his three eyes wide. “She wakes the specters, look at them glowing above their bones.”

Our charnel ground becomes a garden of ethereal fireflies. The orbs cautiously hovering as if peeking for a better look.

The dark haired woman, closes her eyes, and sings. I watch as the song escapes her mouth in a blue glowing plume of breath. The snake beings slither out from the river bed, holding their human heads high enough to view her.

The loud one dances and cackles through the charnel ground, swallowing orbs as she laughs. The specters dash back and forth throughout the grounds. Some even dangle above the woman’s head, spinning in circles as she sings. The introspective one claps, until he too joins the loud one, dancing through the bones and corpses. I stay seated shifting my weight, allowing the songs to enter my core. I close my eyes to find her voice in the center of my being, love and joy, and fire emanating. I find myself clapping, stomping my feet into the ground.

We dance for what seems like hours. The incense fades. The drums slows, and the voice gently leaves my center. I come to a rest, my foot on top of a decomposing hand. The woman sits with her eyes closed, a peaceful smile, drum held at her heart.

We come to sit as well. The three of us showing our pointed teeth. The woman bows her head, her dark hair falling over her face. Beyond her, peeking above the eastern horizon, is the first glimpse of the sun.

“Thank you Guardians and guides, protectors, givers of grace and wisdom. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The introspective one taps my shoulder, “Many of the spirits have left.”

I bow to the woman, “Today our burden is less.”

The loud one groans, “I WOULD LIKE TO KEEP THIS ONE.”

The woman gently places her drum and incense burner in her satchel and covering her shoulders with her shawl; stands after bowing deeply.

“I offer you my heart, my love, my undying gratitude. I pray that you fill me with guidance and strength at my time of passing, that you will remember my devotion sweetly.”

As she stands she pulls a small knife from her satchel, the snake beings slip back into the river. The loud one widens her eyes and licks her fangs. “She is going to make a blood offering!”

“Oooh,” the loud one squeals, “It has been centuries since I’ve tasted living blood!”

The woman stabs her palm, squeezing the blood with her fingertips, leaving it to collect at an abalone shell at her feet. With that she turns toward the dawning sky and disappears into the hill.

We pass the shell among us, full with song and sweet blood.

PLEASE DO NOT LET ME DIE HOW MY TíA DIED by Carlos Hernandez

I am killing you. Right now. Right now I am killing you.

It’s hot in you. Slimy and writhing. You only think of your exteriority, the fluff of your hair and the moisture of your skin. Oh, a dry-spot; better add cream. Teeth are stained: less cafecitos, more baking soda. What dress to wear over my body?

But most of you is inside you. The muffled, murmuring borborygmi of your liquid self, the dismantling of last night’s dinner by a bath of exact acids. The highways of veins and arteries, quiet marrow stockpiled in your bones. The pus and phlegm congealing in the lightless depths past your throat. You’ve had a sore throat. You think it’s nothing.

And you’re right. That’s nothing; that will pass. I am killing you in another part of your body.

Pain. Your body is supposed to tell you when something like me is killing you, and pain is its language. Considering the system-level wreckage I am causing, you should be wracked. Doubled over, nearly immobile, vomiting, unable to keep anything down. Weeping and weeping. You should be praying for death right now, the pain should be so great.

But you would know to seek me, at least. They would hospitalize you, run tests–blood and x-rays and cone biopsies. And when they could do nothing more, they would dope you up and ease you out of life in an opioid fugue that would leave you too stupefied to say proper goodbyes. But the pain would be less; there is that.

You feel no pain. Not yet. By the time pain arrives–it will come on with sudden violence; it will astonish you with its cruelty–the initial tests will shock your doctors. “Why did you not come for treatment sooner?” they will ask. They will not believe you did not know. They will think you were scared of being deported, even though Cuban and you’ve been a naturalized citizen for decades. You won’t be in any condition to reply by then, though. By then pain will rule you: rule your mouth and your movements and your every possible thought.

But for now, nothing. Consider it a mercy if you wish.

Could I be treated? Assuming an early diagnosis–impossible, I promise, but we’re playing pretend here–could your life be prolonged? I am, you see, so very deep within you. So interwoven. Oh, all the needed meat I would take with me if you tried to cut me out. One look at me and your doctors would start using phrases like “making you comfortable.” It’s idiomatic, a  English euphemism, but you’ll cotton on quickly enough.

Meanwhile, there is today. Your throat is a little scratchy, but that’s nothing. You make a hot gargle of salt and lemon and honey that your Mami used to give you when you had a sore throat as a girl. Always does the trick! And now you’re ready for the day. Not that you will do much; you work cleaning businesses seven days a week, but today you were feeling unwell and stayed home. You drink soup and watch soaps and will make dinner for your husband Javier a little later on. You spend the morning cleaning the house which is clean and doesn’t need cleaning. You fall asleep in a chair when Florida’s at its hottest. The little window air conditioner that smells like urine struggles with all its mechanical might to keep the living room under 85. It fails. But you’ve slept sweaty all your life, and hell, maybe sweating has even helped you, for when awaken in the fabric recliner, you feel better. You heat some rice and garbanzo soup from last night and think about which of your friends you might be able to call. Alas, they’re all at work. You remember your son, Osvaldo. Your dead son. Your spoon stops thoughtfully over your soup. After a short, debilitating sadness, you take your bicycle to the cemetery and, among all those headstones wavering in the heat, reaching like gray-white flames to the sky, you tend to your dead son’s grave the way you hope someday someone will care for yours. It won’t work out that way; Javier will have you cremated and pour you out somewhere. He won’t remember where; your death will derange him more or less forever. He will remember pouring you out over a bridge over water. But there are a lot of bridges in Florida. Lots of water.

You will never know about any of that, however. No need to concern yourself. It’s natural enough when weeding a grave to ponder your mortality, but it’s meaningless. You care now, sure, but death is the death of caring. I am emptying you of care. Right now you are being emptied.

MARY’S PARAKEETS by Michael Penkas

Frank shouldn’t have hit his wife nearly as often as he’d done. He was a big enough man to admit that to himself, but he had trouble admitting it to Mary, on account of his being dead.

Not that he hadn’t tried. Within the first year of his death, he’d figured out how to extend himself beyond his earthly remains and actually walk about in a ghostly form. It was trickier than he would have imagined when he’d been alive and mostly depended on his understanding that his thoughts were no longer confined to his head. Still, the further he moved from his remains, the more difficult it was to maintain a clear line of thought.

Fortunately, he didn’t have to go far to find his wife, since she’d buried him under a garden in their backyard.

Near as Frank could determine, all dead people could talk. The problem was that they spoke very softly. But if a living person was very quiet, left the television off, and was in the right place, they could hear the dead. And Mary had always been a very soft-spoken person, so it had been easy for him to speak to her … at first.

He’d spoken to her when she was cooking, when she was reading, when she was folding laundry, and even when she slept. He’d never actually apologized, technically, but he had admitted that he shouldn’t have hit her as often as he’d done. A lot of those incidents had, he’d admitted, been overreactions. And really, that last time he’d hit her, after she’d asked him how they were going to pay their bills, had been his mistake. He’d thought she was blaming him for not being able to find a job, when in fact she probably was just looking for his input on how they were going to deal with all of their bills.

He would even admit that, after he’d hit her, the way he’d threatened her, she was probably right to smash that iron into his skull. In any event, it had surprised him how little having his head bashed in had hurt and how quickly he’d died. And, really, he didn’t mind being buried out in the yard. Sure, a cemetery would have been nicer, what with the other dead people nearby to keep him company, but Frank had always been more of a solitary soul. Mary had been one of the few people he’d allowed to share his life and even then, well, he wasn’t so good at sharing, even with her.

Obviously, Mary had set up the garden initially to conceal his corpse. It was so obvious that he couldn’t understand why the police didn’t question her about it when she’d reported him missing; they’d certainly been full of questions whenever they came out on those domestic dispute calls, but when it was a missing person, they didn’t seem nearly as invested. Her sister was the same way, always quick to notice every bruise and limp (even the ones that hadn’t been his fault), but never a word about the garden. In fact, sometimes that bitch would just stand beside his resting place and smile, like she knew.

In any event, being dead had made Frank a much better listener. Mary would sometimes spend an hour or two tending the carrots, tomatoes, and other vegetables, humming songs she heard on the radio and sometimes talking to him in that same soft voice that used to bother him so much when he was alive. He never recognized the songs, as she still listened to modern music, even forty years after he’d died. And as for the things she told him, he barely recognized any of that either. At first, he’d thought that Mary was changing, becoming a different person now that she was a widow. But he’d eventually realized that she was simply becoming more honest about herself, her dreams, where she wanted her life to go … things he might have noticed if he’d been as good a listener when he’d been alive.

Of course, he was often tempted to answer her, to engage in a true conversation rather than this one-sided listening. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t being dead. It wasn’t that she was a bad listener. It wasn’t even that he was afraid to admit he’d been wrong.

It was the parakeets.

Shortly after he’d managed to re-enter his house, shortly after he’d begun speaking with Mary again, his wife had purchased a parakeet. It was a little blue and white budgie named Sam. And Sam had hated Frank. And every time Frank walked into the house, Sam would start his squawking and screaming, repeating the same dozen phrases Mary had taught him over and over again.

It was six years until Sam finally died … only to be replaced within three days by a green and yellow budgie named Kermit. And Kermit had hated Frank too and did the same screaming and squawking.

And the worst part of it was that Frank hadn’t even been able to take any satisfaction over Sam dying because his wife had buried that bird right beside the garden he rested under. And now every time he strayed from his resting place, the feathered bastard would follow him, pecking and repeating those same phrases over and over again, albeit in a softer squawk.

And when Kermit died, he was buried next to Sam and replaced by Gonzo, who eventually died and was replaced by Scooter, who eventually died and was replaced by Fozzie, who eventually died and was replaced by Beaker, who eventually died and was replaced by another bird, then another and then another. Apparently all of the birds were named after characters on some television show that had come on after he’d died. And when each of them died, they were all buried around his garden. He was certain that Mary had intended for them to keep him company, but all they managed to do was prevent him from keeping her company.

Mary had never re-married, which he liked to imagine meant something. Maybe only that she knew he’d loved her, even if he hadn’t been so good at showing it all the time. She’d also never moved out of the house, although she no longer lived alone, having long ago converted the top floor into a pair of apartments that she rented out to college students. Even surrounded by so young people, his wife never seemed to grow old. Her white hair only looked like the same old blond with sunlight glaring off it. Her wrinkled skin just made her look more alive than porcelain flawlessness. Her eyes were the same, deep blue and still sharp. And maybe she moved a bit more slowly and maybe she sometimes stepped outside and forgot why she’d done so, but to him she was more the woman he’d married than when he’d married her … if that made sense. Which it didn’t have to.

But every time he tried to speak with her; every time he wanted to tell her how much he still loved her; every time he wanted, finally, to say he was sorry for all of it; the dead parakeets would rise from their tiny graves and start to peck and squawk, making it impossible for him to focus enough to speak. Every time he forgot why he was dead, the parakeets would remind him with the one phrase Mary had taught every one of them.

It was the reason she kept buying parakeets. It was the reason she couldn’t stay there for more than a couple of days after one had died before buying a new one. It hadn’t been a coincidence that she’d bought the first one shortly after Frank had begun entering the house again. She’d taught every parakeet the same phrase and, whether or not she believed in ghosts, there was no question who those three words were meant for. They were the last three words she’d ever spoken to her husband before he’d died and, even in death, the parakeets would repeat those words whenever he tried leaving the garden. Over and over again.

“Shut up, Frank!”

Sister Sentinel by Jeanine Marie Vaughn

Sister Sentinel

Sister Sentinel

by Jeanine Marie Vaughn

Sister Sentinel watched from atop her own grave-marker as they lowered her sister into the ground. There was no ceremony, just their mother, the undertaker, and two diggers. Their mother’s eyes were full of tears. But Sister Sentinel did not cry nor did she stay long.

“I’m so sorry,” she said as she departed.

As soon as the other living had performed their duties, they left too. Sister Sentinel stood alone. After a while, she picked up the shovel and held it upside down. She rubbed the dirt off of it until the gray surface was shiny. Staring into the the reflective metal, she saw only the grass and gravestone behind her.

“Hello, my friend.” The breath she exhaled frosted the concave surface. The shovel said nothing. “She has come back to us. Did you see?” The shovel stayed silent.

With her head tilted back, Sister Sentinel closed her eyes and inhaled the windy dusk. After hugging the shovel to her chest, she lay it gently on her sister’s grave.

Kiernan, the sister of Sister Sentinel, awoke inside her grave. She felt a weight upon her chest. It reminded her of her cat, Ginger. Such a tiny tabby, yet so weighty in sleep. She pushed against it, but it wouldn’t move.

“Not a cat,” she thought. “More like a rock, a stone, the earth…”

Sister Sentinel watched as Kiernan struggled beneath the dirt against the shovel resting six feet above her heart. After several hours, Kiernan’s ghost gave up and cried beneath the soil.

“Now we wait.” Sister Sentinel hopped off the tombstone. She sat cross legged beside the shovel, stroking its face. While she weighed nothing, her presence added a burden to her sister’s chest. Sister Sentinel closed her eyes as the remembering began.

The first remembering was of her death.

She’d only been nine years old for an hour when she fell down the icy steps leading into the backyard. The tumble shouldn’t have been fatal, but her mother’s skate had slipped from its hook the night before and lay blade up at the bottom of the steps. It sliced her throat and the pain of breathing in blood was something she remembered even in death.

Sister Sentinel shivered as she lay on the ground, her arms wrapped around the shovel. She didn’t want to remember how she died. She wanted to recall her life. But it had been so long that her own remembering had been lost. She didn’t even remember her own name. The only memory that stayed with her was the dying one. She needed her sister’s memories.

A moan drifted through the ground as the full moon set and the sky grew light. Sister Sentinel closed her eyes and smiled.

“It won’t be long, dear sister.” She rolled away from the shovel and pressed her face against the dirt as if it was glass she could see through. She blinked, her spectral eyelashes fluttering against the grass as thoughts drifted up through the dirt.

The second remembering was a vision of her mother.

The smell of sage and auburn hair streaming behind a narrow face much younger than the crone who had just buried her second daughter. In this memory, the woman knelt by the grave of her freshly buried first daughter. A young, very much alive Kiernan stood behind her, four years old and ashen. Her braids were knotted, but her black dress was well pressed as was her mother’s. The mother tossed back her head and let out a keening wail. She pounded her chest as tears streaked her dark face.

“Mi culpa! Mi culpa! Mi culpa!” She cried, letting out another wail. She threw herself forward onto the freshly turned earth.

The girl standing behind her mother rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

Sister Sentinel sat up and wished it gone. These were not the memories she needed. No. She needed what came before and what came after. She needed the memories of the newly dead. She pressed her ear against the ground.

The next memory was not her own. It drifted up through the earth. Kiernan was even younger, three maybe? She was hiding in a closet watching their dad hurriedly pack a suitcase while their mother was out. When he saw her in the closet, he looked so sad.

“It’s not you, little one. Neither you nor your sister are to blame. Please be good for your mother. She’s going to need your help.”

He hugged her then picked up his bags and left.

Sister Sentinel blinked hard. She wasn’t going to cry. She hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to her father and always thought it was her fault. She had needed those words more than her sister had. It wasn’t fair.

The darkness rose with a sky full of clouds. The wind shrilled through the small spaces in the statuary, as if the praying saints and guardian angels were singing a discordant song. Sister Sentinel felt that this was evidence of the statues whispering and plotting against her.

“I can hear you,” she rasped. But instead of railing at them as she’d always done in the past, she smiled and stroked her shovel. To the shovel, she said, “they don’t know our secret, do they?”

The air stilled around her as moonlight bathed the cemetery. Instead of laying on the ground above her sister’s coffin, she sat upon her own gravestone. The earth beside her grave was unturned.

Frowning slightly, Sister Sentinel clutched her shovel. She didn’t know this memory. She squeezed her eyes shut remembering more as the thoughts floated up from under the earth.

Three kids that were almost teenagers were walking towards her grave. Her sister followed behind them. When they reached Sister Sentinel’s grave, Kiernan opened the bag she was carrying and handed out supplies. They set four candles around the grave, one at the foot, two on each side, and Kiernan set the last one on the gravemarker. Kiernan lit each candle with great ceremony, casting stern looks at the two boys and the girl who kept giggling. They smelled of decomposing lilacs. After three ties at lighting the candle on top of the gravemarker, Kiernan moved it to the base of the headstone and lit it.

Kiernan took four bottles out of her bag and handed three around, keeping one for herself. They each stood by a candle. Kiernan spoke and they each poured the contents of their vials into the earth above the Sentinel’s coffin with Kiernan pouring her bottle last. The wind blew and all the candles went out. The four almost teenagers watched the ground in great anticipation, but nothing happened. The Sentinel knew that deep below the earth her past self was beginning to wake. But humans have not the patience for the dead. Desperate, Kiernan lit all the candles again and said a garbled incantation. After another hour or so, her friends departed. Kiernan stood alone as dawn fell on her. Angry, she kicked the candles and left.

She was not there to see the fall leaves ignite. She was not there when the moon was truly full, though unseen through the dawn light. She was not there to see the trembling specter of her sister rise from her grave. She was not there to hear the keen that permeated the cemetery as the ghost blazed.

Sister Sentinel quaked. “You did this to me,” she hissed at the grave, touching the scars along her ethereal flesh. She hadn’t known that ghosts existed much less could burn before that night. Below her, Kiernan could not hear the words, but she felt the hatred. Sister Sentinel, satisfied with the scent of dread wafting from below, sat back and caressed her shovel. “Just one more memory before the moon is dark.”

It was several years later and she saw herself wandering the edges of her graveyard. Her graveyard was how she’d come to view it. She had great power here, even though it was her prison. She could not leave, but no ghost dared enter without her say and no human stayed long if she deemed their presence harmful. The ghosts called her the Sentinel while the humans made up all sorts of names for her – the Falling Fog, the Wail of Blood, Resurrección de Maria, the Gray Mother – and with each name came a story. She’d given up trying to find out who she was or had been and had just about forgotten everything of her living life when she saw Kiernan again.

“Kiernan, which of these lovely markers is your sister’s?” A boy, who was prettier than any girl Sister Sentinel had ever seen, swooped past the hooded figure of her sister to look at the grave markers. His charcoal lined eyes were greener than a hummingbird’s wing and his mouth was a richer red than a swallow’s tongue. The Sentinel frowned. Maybe it was the way he swooped his purple cloak that had her thinking in birds. “Is it this one here?” He stood before the largest monument in the cemetery. It was a crumbling statue of an angel whose mouth formed a reverent O to the sky. The boy fell to his knees and stared up in adulation. “She’s so beautiful!” He kneeled and touched his lips to the rotting stone of her toes.

Ignoring him, Kiernan went straight to Sister Sentinel’s grave. She crouched down and stroked the stone. “I will be buried here, alongside my sister.” Her words smelled of decaying bones.

Kiernan slipped the hood from her face. The boy’s birdlike beauty dulled in contrast to Kiernan’s auburn hair and crow black eyes. She once again set the candles all around her sister’s grave. Before lighting them, she crooked a finger at the bird boy and he came to her. He knelt in the center of the grave as Kiernan lit the candles and drew a circle with a knife then filled the shallow divot with salt. He crawled to be at Kiernan’s feet as she spoke words of incantation. The Sentinel understood that her sister trying to raise her from the grave. Kiernan, falling silent, stared at the boy. She pushed him onto his back with her boot causing his cloak to fall open.  Underneath, he was naked and aroused. The Sentinel, still innocent, looked away. Kiernan threw open her cloak revealing that she was also naked. She sat on the gravestone and crooked her finger at the boy. Still on his knees he crawled to her and hugged her knees. Kiernan hummed and swayed as she spread her legs. He pressed his face between her thighs. Her song became more and more impassioned until she climaxed.

The boy smiled, smearing his black lipstick as he wiped his face. “Now me,” he panted. She petted his hair and shook her head. He glared at her, then grabbed her hand and pulled her towards him.

“No!” Kiernan slapped him, stumbled backwards, and extinguished one of the candles.  “Now look what you’ve done.” She growled. With her back to him, she knelt and tried to relight the candle.

“Fine!” He snarled, jumping up. Jerking off, he spread his sticky slime all over the Sentinel’s headstone. Kiernan laughed.The boy swore at her and stormed out of the cemetery, kicking over two more candles. Kiernan howled, ran at him, and tackled him to the ground. They rolled around, knocked out another candle. He flipped her off of him, cracking her head against her sister’s grave stone.

“Oh shit!” He swore, scooting away from her. His head jerked all around. Seeing no one, he ran out of the cemetery.

“And now you are here,” said Sister Sentinel, petting the shovel then putting it on her sister’s grave. “When the moon finishes her cycle and is full, I will remove the shovel so you can rise from your grave as I did.” Sister Sentinel smiled up at the starless, moonless sky. “See you soon, sister.”

WILD oVEr toMbS DoES GroW

by CSE Cooney

for Patty Templeton

In the early days
Sacrifice is required

When the winter months are lean
Mothers leave their babies on the hills
Or in the open window sills
Mostly girl-children, it’s true
But in the drowns of night
When the distant reaches are all sunk in white
A young boy might do, too

Years quicken, mud blossoms
Winter habits wither
The elders gather in the village hall

“Are we apes?” asked one
“To give our babies to the grave
Dangling their bones from the willows
As bait
To save ourselves?”

Someone else – a thin man – said:
“We require these deaths
Lest the Tall Ones come again
As wolves and ravens walking in the skins of men
Each in his saffron rags
With a light upon his shoulder
And a rose burning in his hand.”

Another said:
(She was – or had been – a mother)
“They come because we feed them
Something sweet and rare.”

They all decided there
That what they needed most
Was a place –
Some safe distance from their homes –
Where they might house their dead
And keep the bones

The graveyard was designed
By the finest minds of that time
Two hundred acres wide
With gates of iron
It would be blessed, of course
By Pastor Fell, and guarded
From the fiends of Hell
By some brute beast
Mute – but loyal
Clever and without a soul

This would be the final sacrifice:
First blood spilled
First grave dug
Of that ground

They chose for the task a dog
Who belonged to Soosa Rhymes

Soosa Rhymes was four years old
So was Brack, her big black dog
They had shared the cradle
And what little milk the cow could spare
Watered down
Soosa ventured nowhere without Brack
And everyone knew
Brack would die for his Soo

The perfect guardian

So, Goody Rhymes one night
Drugged the stew
And carted Brack by wheelbarrow
To the consecrated site
Which Pastor Fell had roped off
With pegs and miles of twine
Having blessed the soil already
With salt and holy wine

In the middle of the field
There was a large fl at stone
Goody Rhymes went over
Where the men were standing
To dump the contents of her wheelbarrow
Three men held Brack down
While she stretched his neck to the sky

Pastor Fell stood gray
In the cloud-light
His mustache lay like worms against his mouth
He did not believe
Reluctance was a Virtue
He thought it best to get this uncouth business done
As soon as possible

And so
It was his hand – unchecked –
That dealt the death of Soosa Rhymes

It was an accident
(At least, no witness left alive
Confessed it otherwise);
There was a little girl who
Waking up betimes
Had followed mother and beloved Brack
So close behind
Had seen the field, the stone, the gray man in the moon
Had watched the Pastor lick his lips
And heft the hatchet high

Perhaps Pastor Fell had not seen her
It was dark, after all
And sudden
When it was done – everyone was silent
Even Goody Rhymes just thinned her lips
Keeping quiet

Brack began to stir from sleep
With groans and tremblings of his paws
Knowing in his dreams the fl aws
That warped the night
So Pastor Fell let fall his hatchet
Once again
With all his might

Soosa and her big black dog
Lie tangled in a single grave
Unmarked and faithfully ignored
Their names were forgotten
By the next burial
(Pastor Fell presiding)

But down there in the dark
She turns and whispers, “Brack.”
And down there in the dark
He whispers, “Soosa,” back

What follows are desolate centuries
The woods are stripped
The oil bled from wells
The graveyard filled
The village rose and fell
Until nothing was left
But a place to keep the bones

Brack and Soosa Rhymes
Find this arrangement fine

Soosa spends her days making gardens
Out of skulls and bony thighs
Planting tansy and teasel
In the sockets of their eyes
Ginger in their grins
Lungwort in their ribs
And honeysuckle creeping up a trestle of their limbs

Brack, meanwhile
Is learning to transform his shape
Black wolf, black rooster
Black weasel and black crow
Black goat, black horse, black lamb
He hopes one day
To ape the shadow of a man
And claim Soosa for his bride

In this way, they were occupied
Not quite content –
Nor yet quite dead – but biding time
Until that final winter
When the Tall Ones came again

At last
One chill gloaming
Th in from a thousand-year fast
In ragged saffron parade
They came
From thorny hills and barren land
White lights on their shoulders
Burning roses in their hands

They sent an emissary
Their diplomat and clown
A Tall One of renown
Known to everyone who asks
As the Flabberghast

He was slim as salmon
With a graceful greasepaint face
Lips like berries, teeth like diamond rings
A peacock for his top hat, a coat of sequins
And a belt of lizard-skin
Soosa thought he smelled of strange perfumes
But Brack did not like him

Soosa stood inside the cemetery gate
Hands on hips
She had grown since her death
She was almost as tall as a Tall One now
And no matter how he smiled and bowed
The Flabberghast failed to move her

“What do you want, old thing?” she asked
“One more fiend in fancy dress
Looking for a handout
Your way of strutting like you own the place
Doesn’t please my dog
He thinks you’re dangerous.”

“Just a lick,” begged the Tall One
“A tailbone – a toe
You can grow your herbs anywhere
The dead will never know
Let us in
Let us eat
Let your guard down at last
And we will make you one of us,”
Promised the Flabberghast

Soosa gazed across her garden
Her grandfathers, their sons
The daughters of her cousins
And all their little ones
All dead, all gone
All thyme and tarragon
And she a slave to their graves
Though they had betrayed her
And her only love

The black mink
Draped about her shoulders
Gently licked her ear

“Why not?” asked Brack
“Why not indeed?” said Soosa Rhymes

“So we are agreed!”
Cried the Flabberghast
“The past is past.”

The Tall Ones palavered at the gate
Slavering, as Soosa took
A great gray key
(Made of Pastor Fell’s left knee)
And fit it to the lock
She undid what needed undoing
Unglued what needed ungluing

And Brack, without ado
Became the big black crocodile
Who ushered them through

The Flabberghast was last
To pass the gates
He and Crocodile Brack stood back
To face each other
Brack lashed his armored tail
While the Tall One smiled

“Dear Guardian,” he said
“I want nothing but the marrow
You have hoarded –
Beg your pardon – warded
All these years
These bones you have here underground?
Enough to go around for centuries!
Now, Brack, stand up
Walk on two legs like a man
Shake my hand
Let us be companions
In the twilight of the world.”

Brack reached within
To rearrange the darkness
And midnight changed
And grew a human skin

That night among the tombs
The Tall Ones
(Dreadful and well fed)
Danced around a wedded pair
Who each wore bridal robes of saffron
White lights upon their shoulders
Bone and bramble in their hair

And when Soosa bent
To kiss Brack’s open palm
A burning rose bloomed there

“Wild Over Tombs Does Grow,” originally published in Cemetery Guardians in 2006, can now also be found in CSE Cooney’s poetry collection HOW TO FLIRT IN FAERIELAND AND OTHER WILD RHYMES, published by Papaveria Press.

The Turnip

The Turnip

The Turnip

by Allison Lake

Pumpkins are not native to Europe, so the first jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips instead of pumpkins. -Box of cheap pumpkin spice tea

Original Irish Jack-o-Lanterns were truly terrifying and made of turnips ~ A more reliable source

The last warm night of Indian summer, red leaves fell like confetti on the classic horror film festival of Mistress Portia and Balthazar the Pain Clown, held at the old cemetery in Crown Hills.

The town’s spooky elite huddled on skull print blankets between graves, passing brown-bagged bottles back and forth.  All were clad in variations of black upon black.  In the background played something by KMFDM that everyone’s heard a million times.

The music stopped and the crowd fell mute when she stomped on stage.  The height of her boot heels would be the envy of any stilt performer.  Ropes of long black hair whipped at her thighs.  Cleavage blossomed from her apple red corset dress.

She blinked regally as she spoke, “Hello all.  Welcome to the Crown Hills Cemetery classic horror film festival.  On behalf of myself and Balthazar the Pain Clown, I welcome you.  As you know, I am Mistress Portia.  That’s Por t-i-a, like the spider, not the car.”

She gestured behind her to the DJ table, “Let’s all give it up for Ivan Mannhard, Crown Hills’ premier industrial DJ!.”

The crowd clapped.  The fellow behind the DJ table shook his weave dreadlocks.

Mistress Portia continued, “Our first film tonight will be the 1973 cult sensation Cheerleader Killers From Mars.”

“Ooh… I’ve never seen that one,” said one Goth.

“So obscure,” said another.

“I’ve seen it like, five times,” said Shelley the blue-haired terror.  The one who’s infamous for making out with your boyfriend, and renowned for her tattoo designs, though she’s much too wimpy to ink anyone herself.

“Five times?  Like hell you have!” said Squeak Monroe, kneeling by Shelley on a skull print blanket between two crumbling grave

  1.  Though Squeak had a nose like a pelican, and his black fishnet shirt reeked strongly of BO, Shelley still had a giant girl-boner for him.

Shelley boasted, “I happen to be the owner of Crown Hills’ largest and scariest horror film collection.  I’ll let you come over and watch a few, if you’re lucky.” She tossed her blue hair and thrust her chest out, but Squeak’s eyes were elsewhere, fully fixed on Mistress Portia as she loaded film into the vintage 70’s projector.

Balthazar the Pain Clown, in his white-faced glory, wheeled a screen across the stage and unrolled it.  Though it was a mild October, he wore a fitted vinyl shirt with long sleeves to conceal the slug-like ripples of knife wounds layered for years upon his flesh.

The film began to flicker as fall’s first cold wind blew on the cemetery, causing the Goths to huddle closer.  On a skull print blanket, Squeak Monroe put his arm around Shelley, and she did not remove it.

Legend states that the first or last one buried in a cemetery is stuck with the job of cemetery guardian, bound to keep eternal watch over their neighbor dead.

The first one buried in the old cemetery in Crown Hills was a crooked mayor called Straussman who didn’t look after his people in life, and certainly wouldn’t do so after death.

And the last one buried there was a turnip.

On screen, a gooey alien chased a cheerleader down a flight of stairs, and into a dingy basement, where he proceeded to chop at her with a laser space ax.

Just as the cheerleader’s head disconnected from her buxom frame and rolled in a bloody trail across the basement floor, the audience saw it: the glowing orb against the projection screen, almost a heart shape, with leaves and a stem, and a glowing lantern face carved of geometric shapes.

It was the Turnip.

“Goths behold: I am the cemetery guardian!” the vegetable spoke, spitting seeds into the crowd.  Several vampiric princesses fainted.

A dominant female voice called over the speakers, “Attention my esteemed guests.  This degenerate turnip will not ruin this classic horror film festival!”

The Turnip’s lantern face glowed red.  Mistress Portia stood before it, flung her arm back and whipped it the way she whips only the most insolent slaves.

“Huh huh huh!” the Turnip laughed.  “You cannot whip the ghost of a dead vegetable!”

Balthazar the Pain Clown appeared on stage with a suitcase of daggers he sticks into his own skin during his pain show.  He tossed the daggers in handfulls at the offending Turnip.  They sliced through the transparent orb, through the crunchy October air, landing on the grass.

“Huh huh huh!” the Turnip laughed.  “You cannot puncture the ghost of a dead vegetable!”

One flying dagger plunked firm into the Mohawked scalp of Squeak Monroe.  Bright blood ran down his forehead, to his pelican nose.  He let out his characteristic squeak, and in an uncharacteristic act of bravery, yanked the blanket from beneath Shelley and and charged towards the Turnip.  With a parachute sweep of his arms, Squeak tried to catch the Turnip inside the blanket.  Like the daggers did, the blanket sailed right through the transparent orb.

The Turnip’s lantern face glowed red once again as it let out a high-pitched rodent chitter.  An army of undead squirrels and raccoons rained from the cemetery trees to do the Turnip’s bidding.  With eyes red and mouths foaming, they ravaged the remaining Goths, chewing through velvet capes and vinyl pants.

On screen, another cheerleader was hacked to bits by an alien space ax.  In the cemetery, the Goths were a similar mess of shredded tattooed skin, helpless beneath the fangs of the zombie rodents.

Squeak Monroe seized a package of cookies from the skull print blanket where he’d sat with Shelley, and scattered them onto the lawn.  A pair of squirrels untangled themselves from Shelley’s purple hair, dashing towards the cookies with a vicious chitter.

“You saved me!” Shelley swooned and fainted into Squeak’s arms.  His toothpick legs buckled in their boots.  The two Goths collapsed together in front of a grave with a weeping angel on top.

But cookies were not enough to divert the entire undead rodent army.  The world’s largest raccoon was attempting to wrestle Balthazar, cleverly avoiding each jab of the pain clown’s daggers.  The world’s tiniest raccoon was swinging from DJ Ivan Mannhard’s weave dreadlocks, with the DJ swatting at it frantically.

Squirrels chewed through the movie projector cords, causing the slaughtered cheerleaders on screen to bend in funhouse shapes and scream with distorted voices.  Small fires erupted around the stage as more and more squirrels attacked electrical equipment.  

“Rain!  It’s the only thing that could save this burning horror film festival,” exclaimed Mistress Portia.

Thunder drummed in the heavens.  Lightening flickered like the projection screen.  Raindrops tapped the gravestones.  The Turnip’s army of zombie rodents sizzled and melted as the rain wet them.    “Mistress, you have summoned clouds!” Balthazar cheered.

“No, boy of dough, it was me.  Mayor Straussman, the first to be buried here at Crown Hill Cemetery, and thereby the true Cemetery Guardian.”  The voice came from a statue of some bearded old-time jerk just to the right of the stage.

The mistress answered, “We heard you didn’t care about your people while you were mayor, and made selfish decisions that left them with bad living conditions.”

“It’s true, I didn’t give two tiddlywinks about anyone while I was mayor of this cow town, and I don’t give two less than that now!  So resume your celebration.  I honestly don’t care.”

“Over my dead vegetable body,” growled the Turnip, flashing each time the lightening struck.  “I am the Cemetery Guardian, and I declare no intruders are to screen sub-par horror films here.”

“It looks like the Turnip needs light in order to take physical form,” the Mistress noticed.  “Stop the lightening, Mayor!”

The lightening stopped.  So did the thunder, the rain and the Turnip.  But it was a victory overdue.  Platform boots squashed puddles of molten rodent goo as Goths stampeded toward the light beyond the iron cemetery gates.

Mistress Portia cried to the crowd, “Wait, everyone.  Don’t leave!  The Turnip is gone!  We can resume our festival.  By order of the mistress, return to your skull print blankets!”  No Goths turned around.

“I think most of them are kinda bloody, like from zombie raccoon bites.  We can try again next Halloween,” Balthazar the Pain Clown reassured, placing a scarred hand on Mistress Portia’s corseted back as the two of them wove around graves to the light just beyond the gates.

 

Bad Luck

Bad Luck

 

Bad Luck

by Frank Stascik

 

I figure some people just live and die. Others live, and then die, and then try to get some lesbian love, and them finally end up unleashing the living dead upon an unsuspecting world.

Let me tell you about luck.

Back before I got me an up-close with the business end of a satanic goat-slicer and wound up chained to a barren field somewhere in the Kentucky Mountains, my daddy used to say that luck was a concept born of ignorance.

I remember being five and going to the mall with him, and since it was the beginning of December there was a giant Christmas tree on display with Santa Claus sitting right underneath it. Of course I want to take a picture with Santa, but instead of getting into line my daddy knelt in front of me, looked me in the eye and said, “Son, Santa Clause is a character from Dutch folklore. He’s based on a real life man named Nicholas of Myra, a 4th century bishop who was also the patron saint of sailors. Now, all accounts have this man dying sometimes between the years 342 and 352 A.D., so the chances that he’s here at the Shepperton Mall today are extremely slim. No, son, the man sitting in that chair is quite obviously Lonnie Barker. You know, the fellow who sleeps behind the A & P and rummages through our trash for glass bottles. I really don’t think I approve of you sitting on his lap.”

“But maybe if I’m lucky he’ll make me a sailor!” I exclaimed. I guess from an early age I’ve always had this ability to only hear the things that I want to hear.

My dad narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “Luck, Tommy? The sooner you wise up the better it’ll be for you. There is no God. There is no Devil. There is no gentle force that grants you wishes if you’re good, and no evil power that menaces bad little boys in the middle of the night. There is no luck, son. There is only the magnitude of effort. Everything else is an excuse for failure.”

Thirteen years later I was jogging down Maple Street when in front of me the door to Axley’s Astounding Antiques opened up, and a small nervous man stepped out onto the sidewalk. He was a local business man, and budding Satanist, named Charlie Higgins. Apparently he’d heard that young girls liked to get naked and perform black masses in the local graveyard, and recently-divorced Charlie Higgins, well, he wanted in on that action. So Roger Axely had sold him something called “The Eternal Dagger of Astaroth”. Supposedly it had been used in countless Satanic rites throughout the centuries, and its very presence would assuredly cause the brides of darkness in the cemetery to gush with uncontrollable lust.

Turns out that it wasn’t, in fact, “The Eternal Dagger of Astaroth” after all. No. It was “The Recently-Forged Dagger of Lou Danvers”. Lou Danvers was a failing farmer who, after getting drunk and watching “The Devil and Daniel Webster” o the late late show, had crafted a dagger, stolen a goat, and tried to summon Lucifer in an attempt to sell his paltry soul for a helluva lot more than it was worth. Problem was Lou Danvers couldn’t forge a knife worth a shit. He tried to cut the goat’s throat, but the damn blade was too dull. Still, maybe for the first time in his often-hazy life, Lou didn’t give up. He just kept sawing back and forth at the animal’s neck until the thing got pissed off and head butted him in the throat, crushing his windpipe. Lou died, the goat wandered away, and Roger Axely bought the dagger at an estate sale.

But back to me minding my own business as I was jogging down the street, when out came Charlie Higgins admiring his ticket to a wonderland of underage snatch, and he was so transfixed by it that he turned into me and I saw him, and I saw the blade pointing right at my chest, and I tried to swerve out of the way, I tried as hard as I fucking could. But I guess the magnitude of my effort was lacking.

Goddamn bad luck.

It wasn’t long after that I realized my daddy had been wrong about a lot of things.

 

Two ladies walk right past me. The taller one is easily over six feet; a regular Amazonian goddess. I think I’ll call her Stretch. I put her in her mid-thirties, but damn is she holding up well. She’s got this wavy, jet-black hair that cascades down her neck and tickles her shoulder blades. She’s got these dark, secretive eyes that know so much more than they’re letting on. She’s got this… ah screw it. Look, she;s got huge tits. There, I said it. Enormous, firm tits. They may be plastic, I don’t really care.

But I’m not so much a boob guy, which is why I like the other one. Let’s call her Slim. She’s about a foot shorter and a decade younger than her willowy friend; whip-thin but owning it. She’s dressed in shredded black and through all the rips and tears in her tight clothes I can make out a tangle of tattoos that twist around her arms and down her back. What little clothing she’s wearing obscures most of the detail, but that’s all right. I have a feeling I’ll be getting a better view in a few minutes.

See, Charlie Higgins was right. I can tell by the way that Slim is flitting around her friend; laughing, brushing her fingers against Stretch’s arm. I can tell by the way she tilts her head down and looks up at Stretch through strands of painted yellow hair. They may have a camera, but these ladies haven’t come to Holy Resurrection Cemetery to take pictures. Not really.

They’re standing at the edge of the clearing that I call home, not yet crossing that first line of tombstones that marks the beginning of the graveyard. I stand a few feet away from them and hope they keep it that way.

“I love old, crumbling grave markers,” says Stretch. “They remind me that nothing lasts forever.” I move close enough to see a pale circle around her left ring finger. I’m not exactly saddened by the sight, cuz she’s also wearing this glittering diamond bracelet around her left wrist.

I’m guessing she gave the ring back as a token of her independence, but kept the bracelet because hey, independence doesn’t sparkle when you hold it out and jiggle it in the light.

Slim licks her lips and winks. “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll cheer you up. C’mon, take some pictures of me.”

Slim presses the camera up to Stretch’s chest and just sort of holds it there. Stretch raises an eyebrow and asks, “Are you giving me the camera, or are you just trying to touch my boobs?”

“Well now.” purrs Slim, “doesn’t that just sound like the sweetest invitation I’ve ever heard.” Then the camera hits the ground and her hands are all over the Amazon’s tits. Even though she’s wearing these thick, monster boots Slim is suddenly up on her toes and her face is buried in Stretch’s neck.

Stretch throws her head back and with one hand she digs her fingers into Slims hair, and with the other hand she goes roaming down the inside of her friend’s tight pants.

I’m ready for the fireworks; ready to initiate my part in the festivities, when suddenly Slim is pushing and Stretch is pulling and the both of them are moving backwards toward the tombstones. And I try to jump forward, but they were just too close to the edge to give me enough time.

They cross over into the graveyard. I hit the wall and shout at them to come back. But I’m dead and they’re alive, so they can’t hear a goddamned thing I yell.

 

Time for a history lesson:

Seems that a few hundred years back there was a deformed man who lived in a town nearby. Folks said he could speak to spirits; some even claimed he could shape shift. When he died, he was buried in an isolated field, far from the town which feared and despised him. But small towns have a way of creating outcasts, and it wasn’t long before there was another body that couldn’t be buried  next to decent folk. So up into the mountains it went, right next to the first one.

This continued down through the years; slowly filling up this plot of land with the bodies of witches and demons. Some of them were innocents, but many of them were exactly what they seemed to be. Hell, the scariest thing about a mob full of angry villagers wielding pitchforks and torches and chasing down monsters in the wee hours of the night is that sometimes they’re doing the right thing.

They stopped burying people here in the early 1900s. For about sixty years the cemetery sat unnoticed; forgotten. Then sometime in the late sixties, stories started to pop up, mostly campfire tales told by local teenagers about ghostly sightings in the woods near where the cemetery was hidden.

By 1979 the place had become a hangout for drunken kids and ghost hunters alike. Grave stones were knocked over and broken. Bodies were dug up and scattered.

But small towns have a memory, and some run longer and deeper than others. There are things buried in Holy Resurrection Cemetery – things that shouldn’t be dug up. Making a fuss about it would only have made folks more curious. So instead, over the course of a couple of days in the middle of winter, during a cold snap that lasted more than a month and kept everyone indoors, some of the town’s finest came by, pulled up all of the gravemarkers, and moved them a few hundred yards down.

Cold snap ended, kids came back. Not one of them noticed the change. Goddamn ghost hunters dug and dug, and when they found nothing but dirt  it’s not like they were going to file a complaint. Grave robbing ain’t exactly legal.

I don’t know what the hell kind of ghostly spirit used to stand guard over Holy Resurrection, but I can tell you two things about it. One, it did a piss poor job of keeping the annoying kids and nosy mystics out, And two, it took the advantage of the fact that in changing the parameters of the cemetery, the townsfolk had in effect created a new cemetery. Putting the headstones a few hundreds yards further into the field had changed Holy Resurrection just enough so that the guardian could claim its given word no longer existed.

So it bolted. Right at the moment that that hundreds of miles away in the sunshine and warmth of southern California, a dagger plunged into my heart.  A cheaply-made dagger, yes, but one that was nevertheless used in a Satanic rite which had technically ended in the death of a man. So in effect, I was killed by a cursed blade. Kinda, Just as a vacant slot for a cemetery guardian opened up.

 

The only prerequisite to becoming a cemetery guardian, other than being killed by something cursed, is that you have to be a virgin, This explains why so many folks claim to hear wailing children near graveyards; most guardians tend to be kids.

Now, up until the day my insides were emptied out onto the front of a shocked Charlie Higgins, I had been the star quarterback of my high school football team. And what with my strict diet and exercise routine, I was in prime physical shape.

Yet despite my boyish good looks and coveted school status, when I died at eighteen, I was still a virgin.

Let me tell you a little more about bad luck.

At twelve years old, out of the blue, I decided to have my first go at myself. You know, I wanted to toss one off. I hadn’t done it before, at least not full on. Sure I pushed and pulled at my jingle bells from time to time while flipping through a dirty magazine my friends and I had found in a garbage can, but that was about as far as I’d gone. Thing is, a boy can only fiddle around so long before he feels the itch to go for the gusto.

“You gotta use cream or something”, Dougie Jarrett told me. He’d been my best friend my whole life, or at least since we had a bloody Shasta-fueled knockdown drag out fight in the second grade over which was cooler – Mars or Jupiter. “If you don’t use cream you’re gonna shred your shit up,” he said.

I most definitely didn’t want to shred my shit up.

So when I finally felt it was time for me to have my magical moment of meat mashing magnificence, meaning the first time I got home from school to find that my parents were both still at work, I found myself standing in my bathroom with my pants around my ankles, trying to decide what the hell Dougie had meant by “cream”.

I could see just fine, even though I didn’t have the light on. My mom had always been into crafts, and that year she was obsessed with making candles. Every goddamn room had five or six of mer giant multicolored pillars blazing away. Even in that tiny bathroom, there was one on the sink, another by the shower, and another on the magazine stand across from the toilet, That’s right, there was an open flame sitting on a pile of magazines. It was ridiculous. But I figured what I was planning on doing would be better off confined to the shadows anyway, so I left the candles lit and the lights off, and finally settled on the ever-popular Vaseline as my cream of choice.

Here’s the first thing I didn’t know. Earlier in the day my dad had dropped his jar of hair gel, breaking the jar and spilling the contents all over the bathroom floor. Instead of accepting the loss, though, the penny-pinching bastard had scooped up the now-grungy gel into an empty receptacle so that he wouldn’t have to feel bad about wasting a buck twenty-five.

Hey, guess what that empty receptacle was?

So I folded the dirty magazine open to my favorite picture; two words – ‘roller skates’, and I dipped my fingers into what I thought was Vaseline and then I started working on myself. It wasn’t long before I realized that something was wrong. MY hand was getting all sticky; my dick was getting all sticky. Much too soon.

What the hell did I know? I’d never done this before. In one irrational moment, I suddenly convinced myself that I was jerking off in some horribly incorrect way and as a result my hand was going to become stuck to my dick. It was a stupid thought, and in another moment it would have passed completely out of my mind.

But then the mailman walked past my house. The family German Shepherd, Poncho, who was normally a friendly, even-tempered animal, started barking his ass off. I was already freaking out, and when that damn dog started yapping I thought my parents had come home and I panicked. I turned around to grab a towel from the cabinet next to the magazine stand, and I forgot all about the candle that was blazing away behind me.

Right about crotch level.

Here’s the second thing I didn’t know. Certain types of hair gel are flammable.

Goddamn bad luck.

Even the captain of the football team can be a virgin at eighteen when half of his penis is scar tissue.

 

I’m trapped in a giant box. In each direction, I can go as far as the corpses do and no further. What am I watching for? Who the hell knows. I sure don’t. Even if something were to try to invade the cemetery, it’s not like I could stop it. I have only one thing that I can do, but it’s pretty useless. It’s like a crappy version of possession; I can hitch a ride inside of something alive while it’s in my domain, but I can’t take any sort of control and I get kicked out as soon as it hits the edge of where the bodies are buried. Still, at least it’s something to do every once and a while to break up the monotony.

I mean, I suppose it is kind of neat in a way. If I jump into a jackrabbit, I feel what the jackrabbit feels. I see through its eyes, smell what it smells. I get to experience senses again. It works with people too. Problem is that most people who come up here make right for the tombstones and it’s pretty pointless hitching a thirty-second ride with someone just to get from one side of this field to the other.

But what really stings is that cemeteries are where the cool kids come to fuck. At least once every few days some leather-clad, black-lipstick wearing vixen stumbles past me with a lucky guy or girl in tow. I once heard a young trollop utter the line, “This misty world of the dead is the only place I truly feel alive.” The stud she was with just about shot his load on the spot. I yelled, “There hasn’t been any goddamned mist up her for four years, you dime-store slut!” She didn’t hear me, of course. She just knocked the guy onto his back, draped his head with plastic wrap, and then crapped on his face while cutting into her arm with a razor blade.

I guess sex has changed a bit since I passed on.

Okay, so I’m a little bitter. It’s just that I’m still a virgin. A dead virgin, yes, but that’s beside the point. I can jump into bodies. I can feel what people feel. I should be able to experience the joys of the Great Three-Legged Donkey Race hundreds of times over! But nobody ever plans a sexy jaunt to a cemetery just to get it on in the empty field next to the cemetery. Or at least nobody has in the fifteen years I’ve been here standing guard against a threat that never comes.

But hey, maybe my luck is finally starting to change.

Slim and stretch are turning Holy Resurrection into the hottest pinball table ever. They’re still wrapped around each other; bouncing from tombstone to tombstone like they’re trying to earn a free sexy game.

And then they fall to the ground. Right in front of me. Stretch straddles her younger friend, and when she pulls her shirt off, Slim cackles in delight.

I try to will them to start rolling. A few feet is all I ask for. One rotation, maybe two, and they’ll be across the barrier. One little game of “I’m on top. No, I’m on top,” and maybe I can finally get in on some action.

C’mon you gorgeous slut,” Slim yells playfully, “Unleash those things so I can get my mitts on ‘em!”

Stretch reaches behind her back and unhooks her bra. I swear the thing nearly shoots off her chest from the built up pressure. Her tits are perfect. Too perfect to be real, but that doesn’t seem to bother Slim. The kid reaches up and Christ, does she start to go to town. Stretch loves it. She moans, arches her back and starts grinding her hips.

I stand three feet away and focus my will on Slim. I utilize the fullest magnitude of effort that my ghostly form will allow to force her to say the words that I am just aching to hear.

And for once in my life, it actually works.

“Screw this,” says Slim. “Time to quit fucking around.” She rolls Stretch, rolls her right over the barrier, so that she’s on top now.

I don’t waste any time. I slide myself into Stretch’s body and suddenly I’m looking up at Slim. Stretch’s insides are hot and shuddering and I can feel her need and I can sense her desire, and it is exhilarating.

I watch as Slim pulls off her ripped up shirt. Underneath, there’s no bra, just pale skin and black ink. Now I’ve seen plenty of tattooed girls up here, but Slim has got them all beat. Her stomach is a pit of snakes. Her ribcage is bursting with bizarre, alien insects. Her arms drip spiders and scorpions. And her collarbone is lined with cracked and broken skulls.

“Why me?” I hear a lusty voice ask. I realize Stretch is speaking. “I’m old, I’m ugly. Why did you pick me out when you could have left with anyone you wanted?”

Slim smiles, and even though she has some fucked-up tattoos, at this moment she is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

She reaches a hand behind Stretch’s neck, pulls her head up and kisses her deeply. I’m along for the ride, and I don’t know what that little girl is doing with her tongue, but me and Stretch are getting lightheaded.

Slim breaks away and stares into my eyes. Well, Stretch’s eyes, but I’m not arguing. She wets her lips and says, “Because I liked your bracelet,” and then she stands up and backs away.

Stretch is sitting up now, and for the first time I feel this tremendous weight on her chest and I think to myself, God, these plastic tits must really be hell on her back!

But then Stretch looks down, and through her eyes, I see the knife.

Goddamn it! What the hell? Twice? Twice I get stabbed? Are you kidding me?

I’m so stunned that I don’t notice Stretch has gotten to her feet. The confusion flooding through her brain is mixing with my own, and I can feel her gagging and gasping, and I can taste the blood that’s welling up in her mouth.

Jesus, this feels familiar.

Slim pulls her shirt back on and she’s got this bemused expression on her face as she watches Stretch stumble backward, with me still in tow. And that’s when things really go to hell.

I don’t know if it’s because Stretch is dying. I don’t know if maybe Slim used a cursed blade. I don’t have a clue about the why of it all. What I do know is that suddenly Stretch is standing outside of the cemetery boundary.

And I’m still with her.

For the second time in as many minutes, I find myself unable to comprehend what is happening, Slim has her hands on her hips a few feet away; she’s just watching Stretch die. When Stretch falls to the ground. I let her fall away from me. I stand there, looking over at the patch of land that had been my prison for fifteen years. I lift my arm and try to reach across the boundary, and I hit the wall. It doesn’t look like I’m getting back in. Not that I’d want to, but I still find it unnerving.

Suddenly I notice that Slim isn’t looking at Stretch anymore.

She’s looking at me.

“Where the fuck did you come from,” she asks. “And why are you naked?” The weird thing is that she sounds genuinely curious. It’s really disarming.

I’m about to answer, when I hear a strange sound. It’s coming from behind Slim. Behind her, and down.

I realize something. There is currently no spirit guarding Holy Resurrection Cemetery. I’m trapped on the other side of the wall. And while I’m stuck here, there’s nothing standing watch over the bodies that are buried underground.

The bodies of witches and demons.

Oh, goddamn it, I was looking at it wrong the whole time, wasn’t I?

The sound grows louder; it;s the deep rumble of shifting earth. Slim hears it too, now, and she turns and watches as ten feet behind her the earth swells up, and an arm bursts out. Maggots spill from gray, decaying flesh as the arm comes down and slaps the dirt, looking for something to grab onto.

Slim turns back to me, and her eyes are wide with wonder, She points at the flailing arm and asks, “Is that a fucking zombie?”

“Kinda,” I answer, and it looks like she hears me. “Whatever it is, I have a feeling it isn’t going to be the only one.”

She squints, then asks, “Do you think it likes to sink its ‘kinda zombie’ jaws into some warm flesh every now and again?”

“Probably,” I answer. I’m wondering how much otherworldly trouble I’m going to get into for this, so I’m only half paying attention to the girl.

She barks a short laugh, and then says, “Good. Less clean up for me!” She walks over and kneels in front of Stretch. I’ve got visions of my eternal soul roasting on a spit running through my head, so I don’t move out of her way. I just stand there while she goes about her business around me.

First, she pulls her knife out of Stretch’s chest and tries to jab it into my stomach. When her arm passes right through me she just shrugs and says, “Nice trick,” and then wipes her blade off on her jeans and slides it into her boot.

Next, she pockets the diamond bracelet.

The she lifts her head, and I finally come back from thoughts of a potentially horrifying future to find her staring intently at my crotch. She points at it, then looks up at me and grins. “Damn,” she says, “I’ve seen erotic scarring before, but that is some wicked shit. You are hardcore, my man. If your slow-ass doesn’t get eaten by the ‘kinda zombies’, you should track me down sometime. Maybe we could have some fun.” The she grabs Stretch by the legs and pulls her over to where the undead thing is trying to pull itself out of the ground. She takes hold of the creature’s hand, and sets it down on one of Stretch’s enormous tits.

I stand quietly at the border of the graveyard and listen to the earth rumble again, this time much louder than before.

Slim stands, waves goodbye to me in a five-year old sort of way, and saunters into the woods. I sigh.

Goddamn bad luck.

Cinema in a Cemetery!

Looking for something to do this weekend? Well, if you like the movie Hocus Pocus and hanging out in cemeteries, this will be a treat! Saturday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Irving Park Cemetery at 7777 W. Irving Park Rd. Gates open at 6:30 p.m

“An Irving Park cemetery is getting ready for its annual role as a spooky fall destination by hosting a free, nighttime screening of Hocus Pocus this weekend.”

Hocus Pocus

There’s even a Facebook Event page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/952901791437889

What Is A Cemetery Guardian?

Cover of the original Cemetery Guardians 'Zine
Cover of the original Cemetery Guardians ‘Zine from 2006

If you wander through a Cemetery, you may notice a statue or a monument that stands just a bit taller than the others. It can take the form of a person, an angel, a dog, or any other creature. This is the appointed Guardian of the Cemetery. This is the soul who is left behind to protect the grounds, keep out evil forces, and protect the souls laid to rest.

But do they always?

These and other creepy things are what the stories in Cemetery Guardians explore.