Stealing from the dead isn't a terrible way to make a living, it just takes a little getting used to. But what happens when a grave tries to STEAL YOU in return?!
Grave Consequences by Killian Crane
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Dennis’ shovel bit into packed dirt. Years of practice told him he’d passed the five foot marker. Only a few more inches and his blade would strike the coffin lid. This was one of the good cemeteries. It was off of a main road, but the town was sleepy and there were no lights. No lights meant he could park damn near on top of the grave. He wouldn’t have to lug everything from a block or two away. As an added bonus, the night dripped with a heavy fog. It would be impossible to see his electric lantern from a distance. Mr. Pyles told him to look for an old money tombstone, and he wasn’t kidding. The once lavish tombstone had a statue of a weeping angel wielding a sword staring down at Dennis as he worked. At the angel’s feet read “Here lies Vanya Mills.” Her birth year was worn away, but she died in ‘62. Chances were, anyone coming to check on dear old Vanya was either an old fart or buried close by. He dug faster, feeling sweat drip down his chin. He learned long ago to keep plenty of sweat rags handy for long nights, and there was a fresh beach towel already waiting for him in the driver’s seat of his truck. He had a change of shoes in his covered bed, where he’d place his muddy boots and tools of the trade in one large trash bag and his haul in another. If it was too big, he’d just wrap it in painter’s plastic and tape it up. Once upon a time, Dennis was something of a jack of all trades. A pipe fitter when he could pass a drug test, a construction hand when he couldn’t, and a thief in between. It was a stroke of genius that he found his favorite form of larceny; grave robbing. Many homeowners were getting home security systems. The ones with anything worth stealing, anyway. The same was basically true of people. You’d never guess who all was packing across the country. Sure, some places had hinky gun laws, but that didn’t stop granny from carrying a .45. Dennis knew that from experience. Several years ago he held up an old woman and she pulled heat on him. Luckily her hands shook something fierce. The .45 rang his ears, but didn’t ventilate him. Dennis had enough gumption to snatch the revolver from her hands. He retaliated, stomping granny’s ass into the ground. She had just been protecting herself, but she damn near killed him. To teach her a lesson, Dennis made sure she had the ass whooping of her long life. When he found the only thing of value she had was the revolver and a coin purse with a whopping $5 in change, he decided that robbing people was just too much drama. That night, he used the $5 to get a coffee at a local diner. The night had been rough, so sweet thang at the counter wasn’t getting a tip. The local paper was on the counter, opened to the obits. One in particular caught his eye. A local heiress, pretty little thing, probably in her forties, had kicked the bucket. She wore something intricate around her neck. The black and white picture didn’t do the thing justice, but he could tell it was gold and diamonds. It was then he had an idea. While he waited for her to be buried, Dennis pawned the .45 for $300, then went to the hardware store for the things he thought he’d need; a shovel, crowbar, mallet, good rope, bolt cutters, flashlights and a lamp, towels and large trash bags. It all came out to just under $200. Another $85 went to a shit hole motel nearby, and the last $15 to his name went to a good hot meal. He had a full night’s work ahead of him, and needed to have his strength up. Once he was at the cemetery, he realized just how brilliant his plan was. Graveyards were empty at night. The dead made people uneasy, except goth kids but they were easy to scare off. Another plus, there were no pigs on patrol. Small town pigs couldn’t be bothered that late when there was a car to sleep in or donuts to suck on. Best of all, graves didn’t call the police or shoot back. They were buried treasure, waiting to be plundered. As he dug up the heiress’s grave, he had this feeling of destiny. This was what he was truly put on the earth for. His shovel bit greedily into the dirt. Like a first date, he was both nervous and excited to meet little Miss Money. When he finally felt the thunk of his shovel on her coffin lid, he scraped away enough of the dirt to put his hand on bare wood. He gave the coffin a little knock. “You in there, sweet thang?” No answer. “Don’t you worry. I’m on my way.” He cleared the dirt away from the top and the sides, and slid his crowbar under the lip of the lid. It was like he was at the casino pulling the handle of a slot machine. Would he hit? Would he bust? He pulled the crank, and the lid popped with a hiss. She still smelled sweet, like flowers. He turned away, caught in a sneezing fit. Anything scented always did this to him. Well, damn near anything, really. He had a sensitive nose. He sniffled, embarrassed that she saw him like this on their first meeting. But that embarrassment evaporated when he saw gold chain encrusted with diamonds around her pretty little neck. Jackpot. He took the necklace off her. She didn’t seem to mind. As he stared at her, he had another bright idea. She wasn’t doing anyone any good laying in that coffin. But maybe she could still be good to someone out there… He threw the heiress over his shoulders and loaded her into the backseat of his sedan. It took a little doing to get her seated, on account of her being so stiff, but he got it done. Dennis buckled her in and covered his work. In the drivers seat, he wiped his forehead with an old bandanna. He saw her through the rear view mirror, staring at him. The glue holding her eyes closed had come undone. It freaked Dennis out a little, but she was just a stiff. Nothing she could do anymore. “I know this car ain’t what you’re probably used to,” he said, giving her a bashful smile, “but I hope you enjoy the ride.” He threw the sedan in drive and crept out of the cemetery. To Dennis’ surprise; it didn’t take much searching to find a buyer for the heiress. Down a dirt road that the sedan didn’t like, he found the old ranch house of a Mr. Pyles. He was an old man with a look in his eye of terrible intelligence. He and Dennis shook, and he explained that he was a sort of… artist. After viewing the heiress and seeing what he liked, he paid Dennis $2,000 for her in cold hard cash. He was floored, like a kid looking at the ocean for the first time. Before Dennis could leave, Mr. Pyles fetched two glasses and a batch of moonshine from the cabinet. “You got time for a drink?” the old man asked. “I got an offer you might like to hear.” Dennis never was one to say no to good money, so he stayed for the drink. “I been looking for someone like you,” Mr. Pyles said, “been looking a long while. You know, in the right hands, a dead body can be spun into gold.” He poured two shots of moonshine, and slid one to Dennis. “How would you like to make this a regular thing?” Dennis stared at the shot of moonshine, reminiscing about the thrill of the dig. He flexed his fingers, remembering the tension of his crowbar under the lid of the coffin... For the sake of formality, had to ask. “What’s the pay?” Mr. Pyles smiled. “Same for her, $2,000 a stiff. Anything on their person is a bonus for you, unless specifically instructed otherwise.” For Dennis, it was a no brainer. They toasted. The moonshine burned on the way down, and their pact was forged. Mr. Pyles gave him a burner phone, a name, a photo of a gravestone, and an address. Dennis set out immediately. Things went that way for three good years. Since then, Dennis sold the sedan in favor of a four wheel drive truck with a long bed and a hard cover. An eight foot bed meant he could put a basketball player in the back if need be. His new profession took him all across the country. He found that northern dirt didn’t give like the ground in the south, and the more rain a place got, the better for the older graves. Wet ground meant the coffins weren’t busted when he got to them. He wasn’t sure why that was, he just knew it meant he had to do less work. A busted coffin meant playing archaeologist, and on more than one occasion it resulted in a bust. Despite his love of southern coffins, southern air played hell with his allergies. They were bad enough as it was, but the south really let him have it. He caught a sneeze in the crook of his arm for probably the tenth time that night. The angle looked down at him scornfully. “Bless me,” he said, blowing a snot rocket at her feet before he kept digging. Most of the houses near the cemetery looked like old money. Chances were, Vanya was probably a trophy wife for some local millionaire when she was alive, meaning she carried some trophies into the afterlife. Dennis hoped, anyway. He wondered if Vanya was feeling lonely down there. Maybe she was looking forward to finding a new friend in Mr. Pyles. He wasn’t sure what the old man did with any of the bodies. Dennis brought him all kinds of people at various stages of decay. He learned that graves over 50 years old were usually just the frame. He enjoyed those graves the best. Bones were easy to pick clean and load in the truck. As he bit into the dirt, the shovel jolted with a thunk. “Thar she be,” he whispered with a smile. He cleared away enough dirt to touch the coffin lid. If that little bit was any indication, Vanya’s coffin was a good looking one in it’s heyday. Finger’s crossed for a bonus, he gave the lid a little knock. “I’m comin’ for ya, old bitty. Ya better be decent.” He cleared away the dirt as he had so many times before, and grabbed his crowbar. If the lid wouldn’t act right, he’d have to grab the mallet and force it open. But he wasn’t worried about that. Vanya was gonna be a good girl. She wanted to feel the air on her old cheeks again. And, if she played her cards right, she could leave with Dennis… Like a good southern coffin, the crowbar slid under the lip with no resistance. Gripping it in his hands, feeling how ready the lid was to pop, Dennis wiped excited sweat from his brow. Would he hit? Would he bust? All he had to do was pull and find out… The lid popped with a hiss. Dead air swelled into the night sky, and Dennis found himself in another sneezing fit. Allergies and the dead didn’t mix well. “It’s okay, old gal,” he said once he could breathe again, “we’ll get you out of that stinkin’ box.” Lid up, Dennis leveled his lantern, not understanding what he saw. Where Vanya should have been, there was a ragged hole leading somewhere below ground. Dennis lowered his lamp, trying to see past the dark. Uneasily, he realized that wherever the hole went, it went deep. From the depths below, a screech shattered the silence of the night. Dennis tripped face forward. Before he could grab for anything, he was falling through the coffin into nothing. As he slid, the dirt scraped painfully into his stomach. Then he stopped sliding and started falling, spinning in the air. Something not dirt broke his fall. A jolt of pain shot from his ankle as he landed wrong, and his lantern went out. Above, he heard the coffin lid slam shut. He was left in total darkness. Instinctively he reached for his leg, but he was waist deep in something slimy and dense. His heart pounded in his throat as pitch black pressed in on him. The smell was unbearable, making him vomit on himself. He tried to be quiet about it because somewhere someone was crying. He fumbled for his lantern, fingers trembling as they dug into slime and something else. “Please,” he whispered, the sound of his echoing voice terrifying him. After what felt like an eternity, he found the lantern. He pressed the button, but it wouldn’t come on. “No,” he hissed, “no, no, no.” He jammed the button madly, but still the light wouldn’t activate. He felt himself sinking deeper. Liquid drenched his clothes and wet his skin. Whatever it was, it felt disgusting. “Please!” he cried, terror almost drowning him. After an eternity, the lantern blessedly came on, and the echoes of someone crying stopped immediately. Despite its blinding effect, Dennis held the light close to himself, thanking the powers that be that it wasn’t dark anymore. But as his eyes adjusted, and he saw what it was he’d fallen into, realized what it was that he smelled, he wished otherwise. He was in a large cavern. As he squirmed, he sank deeper into a pile of bodies, each of them at wildly different stages of decomposition. Through the muck he could see they were missing parts. Faces ripped off, hands missing, bodies torn in two. He tried to wriggle free, only succeeding in falling further into the pile. The dead weight began to press on him, and with the little air he had left in his lungs, he screamed. From the single rough entrance to the cavern came a faint light, accompanied by wailing. Whatever the crying thing was, it knew he was near. He tried to turn off the lamp, but the button was jammed. The glow beyond the cavern grew brighter as the patter of bare feet and wild shrieking closed in on him. He was out of time, and only saw one option. He flung the lantern away and played dead. The crying thing stepped into the cavern, having to hunch over. She was tall, with long red hair and impossibly long arms and legs. She wore a ragged black dress that was much too short for her skeletal frame, exposing her bony legs to the tops of her thighs. One slender hand held an electric lantern, bathing the room with questing light. With her other hand she held her face. Tears streamed between her fingers and down her forearm, where they dripped from her elbow. Peeking between her fingers, Dennis got a look at her eyes. They were puffy and impossibly red and searching for him. It took everything he had to keep up the act. Her hand, which ended in jagged nails covered black with grime, dropped from her varicose face, revealing crude makeup that ran down her cheeks. And cracked lips dribbling the same black grime on her fingers. What that grime could possibly be, Dennis didn’t want to know. Snot flowed from her nose and a fresh line of drool leaked from her mouth. She looked like she was always trying to say something, but the tears only allowed hitching sobs. Her cries reminded him of his mother’s the day his baby brother was put in the ground. That memory in this strange place sent cold sweat trickling down his spine. He wanted to look away, but he didn’t dare move. She put her lantern down and reached for the one Dennis had flung, picking it up with two spindly fingers. She sniffed at the handle, licking it with a long dirty tongue. Tears streamed down the lantern, glistening in the light. She gently placed his lantern on the ground and sniffed at the air. Her nose danced in his direction. With a sad grunt, she worked both hands into the pile of bodies. She fished out the bottom half of a corpse, her other hand still searching the pile. Her sobbing mouth worked around a bloated thigh, every bite a struggle as her teeth sank into decayed flesh. Black goo bubbled around her mouth as her slender neck flexed and pulled. The sound of old thigh meat tearing from bone made Dennis sick again, but he kept his face stone dead. His eyes begged him to blink but he didn’t dare. As she chewed and swallowed, he could feel her other hand questing the muck near him. The dark liquids oozed down the length of the half corpse, mixing with her tears into the dirt. Even as she ate, she sobbed. Her fingers prodded his foot. His heart jumped in his chest as she grabbed him by the ankle, testing him. As she pulled his leg, he grimly thought of his crowbar against the lid of a coffin. Would she hit? Would she bust? She squeezed, shooting fresh pain up his leg, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt his ankle was broken. Like her, he began to cry. The tears rolled down his cheeks, but somehow he kept himself from blinking. Back and forth she worked his leg, forcing Dennis to use willpower he didn’t know he had to stay absolutely still. There was a rumbling in the pile. Her questing had disturbed some precarious balance, and the meat shifted in response. Dennis became even more entangled, only his head above the pressing corpses. The mourner squealed, her hand darting from his ankle and to the shifting. She thought she had him. This might be my chance, he thought. It was a slim one, so impossibly slim, but maybe if she didn’t find anything, she’d move on. It would be terrible, but maybe he could wait her out. There had to be another way out of this cavern, she got down here somehow. He wasn’t sure yet what he’d tell Mr. Pyles, but he’d burn that bridge when he got to it. Right then, he just had to stay calm. As the pile shifted, the body of an ancient woman whipped around to face Dennis. Around her bony neck was a solid gold necklace sparkling with fine emeralds. He was face to face with Vanya Mills. He didn’t know how he knew, but he did. This night had already been the craziest of his life. He was terrified, and he should have been screaming. But all he could do was look at that necklace. Jackpot. It was beautiful, easily the most valuable thing he’d ever seen on a dead person, easily worth more than the bones wearing it. Dear old Vanya was just another skeleton, begging Dennis to pick her clean. Mad glee threatened to creep into his stone face. He flexed his fingers, fighting the urge to grab the precious jewelry. The mourner wailed in anger, grabbing a body and flinging it into the cavern ceiling. It exploded up there like a party favor, and parts rained. An arm struck Dennis in the head. He couldn’t scream now. He had to have that necklace. This thing thought she had him licked. She didn’t. She didn’t have any idea who Dennis was, what he was capable of. He was in his element. He understood then the intoxicating thrill he felt the night he stole the heiress. His entire life had been building to this very moment. He breathed careful, shallow breaths, reveling in how the dead made him feel alive. Vanya must have been able to read his mind, because as he stared into her empty hollows, she gave him a tight, knowing smile. He wanted to smile back. No, Vanya, he thought unblinking as his vision began to blur, you won’t get me that easy. I’ll be getting out of this one. And that necklace around your scrawny neck will be mine! The mourner collapsed, pulling at her hair, ripping it out in clumps, and pounding her fists into the ground. The thuds made Vanya’s head tilt to one side. Now she was questioning Dennis. She thought she had him licked too. She and the mourner were in this together! He might take Vanya’s head as a souvenir, just to spite her. Take her on a vacation paid for with her necklace. That would show her. That would put her in her place. Who did she think she was? She thought she was a match for Dennis? He’d robbed hundreds of graves! Hundreds! All of them preparing him for this, his masterpiece! You can’t stop me, Vanya, he thought, no one can! I’m getting out of here! I’m gonna win! Vanya laughed at him. Not out loud, but in his head. As she did; her head whipped back and her jaw fell open. Dust spewed from her skull into Dennis’ face. The kiss of death hit him just right. He wanted to cover his face, but he was thoroughly trapped by the dead. His grand plan to steal the necklace and Vanya’s head evaporated as he let out a loud sneeze. The mourning lady stopped pounding the ground, and their eyes met for the first and last time. Terrified, Dennis realized he knew that look in her eyes all too well. Jackpot.
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