By the end of the day, Saturday, September 21, Jim and Janet Bristol were settled into their new home.
Things had gone surprisingly well, considering Janet's objection. The truck driver, Bill Mason, even helped them wrestle their furniture out of one house and into the other. It looked pitifully scant in the big house. The only payment he would accept was a sandwich and a cold beer. He wolfed them both down in a hurry and as he pulled out of the gravel driveway in the late afternoon he stuck his head out of the truck's window, waved and said, "You folks be careful, hear? Be careful."
"Wonder why he said that," Janet asked? Then she turned and looked up into Jim' eyes, worry showing in her own.
"Don't even think it, babe. Its just an expression, not an omen. There's nothing in a cemetery that can hurt you. Nothing."
Janet had an irrational fear of cemeteries and it was a monumental sacrifice that she finally agreed to uproot their young family and move with Jim to New Conakilit. Unemployed for over a year, Jim's new job came at a time when his marriage with Janet was at its most tenuous. The job was a miracle, really, it saved their marriage and it came, seemingly, from out of the blue.
Jim had toured the cemetery grounds once before, during his job interview, with the Mayor, a council member of New Conakilit Rofs and Reverend McVie. Surprisingly, his hosts on the tour didn't seem to know anything about the job and even less about the layout of the 28 acre cemetery. Content to ramble up and down random rows of headstones, talking about anything else but the job, but when Jim coaxed the conversation around to his duties as caretaker of Warden Woods Cemetery, he was assured he'd take to the job like a duck to water.
But I've never operated a back hoe, he admitted.
Nothing to it, we'll call up old Bill Mason, he'll give you a lesson.
I'm really a writer, you know? Oh, I've had lots of other jobs, I've got experience in retail sales, computers and last year I worked in a slaughter house outside of Tweed.
Well, with all that varied experience, this should be well within your abilities. We have every confidence in you Mr. Bristol.
They meandered to the crest of South Hill and the walking interview abruptly ended as the close group hustled Jim back to the cemetery parking lot and said their good-byes.
Jim spent much of his first two weeks on the job wandering the grounds at night. He told Janet it was just part of the job, and maybe in those first days he believed that was what brought him out at night. But, slowly he began to realize it was because of the sense of peace and harmony it gave him. No time clocks to be punched, no bosses breathing down his neck at the plant, no wild-eyed animal stares and none of the smells of the killing floor.
When he wasn't maintaining the grounds during the day, he was flicking away at the keys of his typewriter, downstairs in his "office." The screenplay was bursting from his fingertips. A horror story, with a twist. Something entirely new that Jim knew would be snapped up as soon as he mailed it off. He just had to find an agent. After sunset he was out most of the night, patrolling like a jealous phantom, working out scenes in his head, soaking up the night. The only time Janet and the three kids saw him was when he sat down long enough to eat. He was becoming a stranger. (No, he was becoming his own man.)
It might not be so bad for Janet if they had visitors, but none of their old friends would come to the house. They'd joked that the place was haunted, and anyway seventy miles was a long drive for a weekend get together.
The only people who had visited were the Reverend McVie and his wife. Jim had met McVie at the original interview and it was McVie who had asked a series of intimate questions about his family history that left Bristol wondering what that had to do with the job.
One evening in mid-October, the Reverend and Iris came to tea, as they liked to call their visit, and the conversation turned to the original owners of the house on the edge of Warden Woods. Iris spoke while the Reverend sat quietly on the couch looking resigned to the fact that nothing would sway Iris once she got started. She loved her history.
She related how the Bristol family now occupied a house originally owned by Hugh and Amanda Carroll, relatives of the family linked to the slaughter of the "Black Donnellys, outside of London, Ontario in the 1880's. According to Iris McVie, the local Carrolls were no better remembered than the infamous Donnelly's, leaving Ireland under a cloud of dark suspicion and just steps ahead of the hangman. They had been suspected of cannibalism during the famine years. It was widely believed that they were murdering travelers to supply the succulent meats served at their tables while the rest of the country starved. A search of their Inn's cold cellar subsequently uncovered the butchered and partially denuded carcasses of what the police surgeon testified were the remains of individuals unknown within the immediate community. The Inn was burned to the ground and the ground salted, the bloodied butcher's block the last to be consumed by the angry flames. So the story goes.
Iris spoke with glee of long-remembered tales of the Carrolls feuding with every neighbor they had truck with in their adopted land, disputes over water rights, land boundary disagreements that escalated into fist fights or worse. Browbeating by Hugh and nose lifting snubs delivered by Amanda. But always the stink of what may or may not have happened in the old country followed the Carroll's boot heels into the new world.
And then Iris recounted a time when Walter Brock accused old Hugh Carroll of making off with his only bull and slaughtering it for winter stores. Hugh Carroll stalked away from the wire fence, the gathered crowd, the argument and the whole heated mess, and returned a full half hour later with his old shotgun and, cold as a corpse, he blew Walter Brock's head into red mist. Hugh Carroll spent not a moment behind bars, for the judge of Hastings county was his uncle from the old sod and a Carroll by marriage to Hugh's aunt.
It was when two youngsters went missing, and were feared dead after a long absence, that speculation turned to the Carrolls and their constant, unpalatable reputation. The dark shadow they preferred to cloak themselves within had always separated them from their community and had also assured them privacy from it. But rumors are powerful things and can bridge all chasms, cut through all niceties, jump to any conclusion.
And so when a search was conducted of the Carroll farm and articles of clothing said to belong to the missing children were found in the root cellar, along with the butchering knives Hugh undoubtedly used for dressing meat, there was no doubt as to the disposition of the young angels. The Carroll's had had them just as surely as they'd had Brock's bull. And they were not about to escape by means of an uncle in the judiciary.
On the morning of October 21, (why that's next week isn't it?) 1888, in the town of New Conakilit Rofs, a band of vigilantes marched a beaten and bloodied pair of luckless souls past Judge Nobel's street front courthouse and onto South Hill, just past the cemetery proper. Barricades were jammed against the judge's doors preventing him egress, but he could squint out of windows into the growing light of the morning and make out the drama unfolding. The Carrolls were tied neck and feet with heavy rope and the longer ropes, those tied to their necks were passed over a strong young oak, while the ropes at their feet were fastened to millwheels of no small size.
It was a moment of sparse talk, save a passionate curse against their persecutors from the Carrolls, and no real time until the two were hoisted so that they were suspended between the stretch of the oak's bough and the drag of the millwheels. A big, old Percheron was backed onto the foot of the hill and its harness was fixed by the taut ropes looped around the darkening necks of Hugh and Amanda Carroll. A sign was given by the leader of the vigilante group and the horse was soundly whipped.
Judge Nobel had no legal recourse against the perpetrators of the lynching since the light was poor from his windows and none he suspected would give testimony against the others and none, later, would so much as admit to knowing the Carrolls. But Judge Nobel made a list of attendees nonetheless. He made a list of the ones responsible for the death of the Carrolls.
And, funny as it sounds, the two missing children turned up later at their grandmother's farm in Tweed, seventy miles away. They were never in danger and they never were missing. Fancy that?
Janet didn't appreciate the history lesson and she let it be known, politely. Jim should have mentioned her dread of cemeteries and her irrational fear of ghosts before Iris launched into the entertainment, but he was so thrilled to hear any background that might add to his screenplay he said nothing. It was certain Janet endured the cemetery at her back door only at Jim's powerful insistence, but there was nothing to worry about, really. Legends are make believe and life is a hard bitch who demands all your imagination. Why not have a little fun?
The Reverend McVie apologized for his wife's enthusiasm and assured Janet all the tales were well within the realm of folklore and not to be taken seriously. These kinds of stories follow the history of every town in every county and countryside throughout the world. How else do we find our little thrills? Jim, offered another round of drinks. The Reverend and Iris demurely refused and left, thanking Janet for her hospitality.
The next afternoon it began. Laura came running into the kitchen, the tracks of fresh tears glistening on her chubby cheeks, heaving great ragged sobs. Janet closed the dishwasher's door, pushed the "on" button, then turned and knelt to embrace the six-year-old.
"What's the matter, honey? What put those nasty old tears in your eyes? C'mon, it's okay, you can tell Mommy."
Laura's small body shook with a renewed wave of sobbing, then with an exaggerated expression of control on her little face she sighed loudly and said, "Jimmy and Timmy went for a hike to their secret place again. They promised me I could go with them next time if I didn't tell. This is next time and they still won't let me go. It's not fair, they promised!"
"Oh, don't worry, honey. You know boys are like that. They're just real mean to little girls, sometimes. I'll tell you what, we'll make cookies and we won't give them any, okay?"
"Chokit ship cookies?"
"Yep, chokit ships."
While the two were busy mixing the batter, Laura asked, "Mommy? Is it okay if I tell Jimmy and Timmy's secret? They broke their promise." She looked up from licking the goo from her spoon, "And they said they'd let me go if I didn't tell, but they didn't. The worms won't eat my eyes, will they?"
Janet was stunned. Worms eat her eyes? Who would scare a little baby with images like that? What kind of nightmares must Laura have had with a threat like that on her mind? If Jimmy Junior or Timmy had laid that on her, Janet would give them the spanking of their young lives. Her anger must have shown on her face, because Laura began whimpering, thinking she'd said something wrong. Janet caught herself quickly, before Laura could start crying, smiled sweetly and said, "Oh, sweetheart, fair is fair, right? Sure you can tell me their secret." Janet was not prepared for what came next.
Castle Dracula was somewhere above the tip of the oak, in the cliffs of the Borgo Pass, and the hollow was where Dr. Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker awaited the Master Vampire each day just before dusk. Naturally Jimmy was Van Helsing and Timmy was Harker.
Together, they schemed and planned the best means of surprising and trapping the Vampire King as it made its nightly visits to the village below. Sitting on two obscure and crumbling markers, the vampire hunters fashioned crude wooden stakes with Jimmy's pocket knife and stuck them in the soft dirt at the mouth of the hollow. Even as make-believe implements of death they were formidable weapons. They were sharp enough to kill a vampire.
Jimmy had discovered the hollow one afternoon their first week in the house, while returning home from school through the "boneyard." Since they were much closer to school now, their mother didn't have to use dad's car to pick them up. And the shortcut through the cemetery made it even shorter getting home. He was well aware of his mother's feelings about the cemetery, (she'd even threatened their father against letting them walk with him on his rounds-even in the friggin' daytime). What was she so afraid of, anyway? Hell, he was twelve. He'd seen graveyards before, they all had. Why was she acting so jerky about this one? He guessed her reasons didn't matter, the fact that the place freaked her so much was reason enough for him to keep silent about ever having been inside. If she ever found out, there'd be hell to pay, then, boy.
Jimmy wasn't even going to tell his brother, except Timmy had followed him home one day and found out he was cutting through the cemetery. He had to let him in on it then, or Timmy would've opened his big mouth. No problem, they could share the secret. But, when Laurie found out he had to put his foot down hard, as his mother would say. And put it down he did, where it hurt the little girl most-on her imagination.
"If you tell on us," he whispered to his little sister, "the worms in this graveyard will suck the eyes right out of your head. They're hungry, these here worms, and they like little girl eyes the best. And you can't come in here alone or they'll getcha. I gotta get rid of the ghouls and vampires and I gotta make sure the worms are all asleep before you can come through," he told her.
"That's right," said Timmy. "Jimmy knows how to talk to these worms, an' he can tell them to getcha if you don't keep quiet. We'll let you come with us next Time, won't we Jimmy?"
"Maybe, maybe not," Jimmy said, with an air of calculating an important decision.
And then, when she couldn't see anymore, the bad man she had seen from her bedroom window, the tall, skinny, naked man who followed her father around the cement-tree at night, he would come and take her back down into the ground with him. Back down that big hole she had seen him climb out of last night when her Daddy was making his rounds. Laura knew the bad man lived in the part of the cement-tree her Daddy never went to, the part with the long brown grass-just in that dark place under the bent old scary tree and the side of the hill. She thought it was called a holler, or something, but that's where he lived.
And Laura knew her big brothers could protect her from the bad man, too, that's why she was so upset. They'd been sneaking out to their fort for nearly three weeks after their promise to her and they still wouldn't let her go with them. So she told her mother on them. She was even going to tell her mother about the naked man from the ground in the holler, but her mother looked so mad, she dared not. Maybe Laura wasn't supposed to know about the man. Maybe her mother would get mad at her if she did.
She would keep quiet about that part, but she delighted in telling Mommy about the worms and what they looked like and what they would do to her if she went into the cement-tree all by herself. It was good to share that part with Mommy, because when she talked about it out loud, with Mommy holding her, it wasn't so scary any more. But, she could tell Mommy was real mad at Jimmy and Timmy, so mad she looked like she was going to cry. And she was saying those "F" words her Daddy hated.
Janet was outraged. She was alternately frightened for the boys' safety and filled with burning anger at what they'd done to Laura. How could she have raised them so badly? What had she done wrong that they should have grown into such bullying monsters. And Jim, that bastard. Where was he? Why didn't he know the boys were in the cemetery against her strictest orders. For weeks he hadn't paid the least bit of attention to any of them. Less than a month in this place and her children were already being warped by its evil presence.
The boys knew they had done wrong and they were sorry, even if Laurie hadn't told on them, they were sorry. But they both knew it was too late for sorrys. It was the guilt as much as the anticipation of what was to come that kept them rooted within the hollow, Timmy sobbing and asking, "What're we gonna do, Jimmy? What're we gonna do?" Jimmy sat on the soft damp earth in silence. He didn't know what they were going to do, but what they weren't going to do was go home until he thought his mother had calmed down a bit. By then their father would be home, too. Dad was okay, he'd understand they didn't do anything wrong by going into the stupid cemetery, kids did things like that all the time. They'd just wait until he got home.
During his short tenure as groundskeeper at Warden Woods Jim hadn't once been called upon to dig a new grave. The back hoe lay dormant in the tool hut beside the house, silently uninterested. He had precious little contact with the people who hired him, save for the outrageously funny Reverend and Mrs. McVie. It seemed to him that nobody cared what he did or didn't do, as long as there was someone present on the grounds. He thought again about how lucky he'd been in getting the job. Like it was planned that way, almost. Aside from mowing and manicuring the lawns, pruning a few overgrown hedges and his regular night patrols, Jim found himself with little else to do but sit out in the late autumn sun and write his movie notes. It was as if they wanted him to be left alone, he thought on the way back to the house, leave him alone with the cemetery and forget either even existed. Lucky man.
Unlike Janet, Jim ate up the stories about his house and the Carrolls who had lived in it for so many years. He'd heard of the fear most people in town felt for the cemetery. How many people disappeared during the Carroll's lifetime in the town? No matter, Jim didn't believe any of the wild rumors about their cannibalism. That's why he'd laughed at Iris McVie's story, or rather, at the fact she really believed what she was saying. And the vengeful ghosts of the Carrolls? They were pathologically shy as far as he could see.
He was thinking this when he entered the house through the kitchen door. He was excited and eager to tell Janet that he finally had the perfect ending for "Darkly Abide the Dead." But, before he could speak his first words, Janet sprang out of a kitchen chair and was on him like a madwoman, flailing her clenched fists in his face and screaming. Jim tried to hold her off at arms length, but she was suddenly very strong-desperately strong. A string of obscenities exploded from her twisted mouth, and a few became distinct through her hysterical onslaught.
". . . don't care, do you, you bastard? They could be hurt or dying for all we know...should have been home hours ago...doing in that goddamn cemetery, anyway?...supposed to be their fucking father!"
Jim swung his right arm with force and slapped her with the palm of his hand. His fingertips stung. Janet went dead still, staring at him with a mixture of shock and hatred, her fists still poised to strike. "I hope you die," she whispered.
Jim felt a prickling sensation at the base of his skull. He felt like he was acting out some surrealistic play in Hell's own amphitheater. He didn't know this woman. This was not his wife. Those were not the words she would ever use. He knew this. And it couldn't have been his hand that struck her. He knew this, too, because he would never raise a hand against his wife. But, like an actor in a play, he said his lines and followed stage direction, his mind rebelling at the alien nature of the thing.
"Now, tell me what's happened," he said, voice tight. "I don't want you to raise your voice, I don't want you to get upset, I don't want you spewing any more filth from your dirty mouth in front of our daughter. Just tell me what's wrong."
Janet dropped her hands to her sides, her eyes burned into his and the left side of her face was a pale canvas for the vicious red outline of his fingers. She began softly, almost inaudibly, confused as much by the pain as by his actions.
"The boys are out in the cemetery somewhere," she began. "At first I was only angry that they disobeyed me and angry that they scared Laura. They've been going in there for weeks and I warned them not to. They have some kind of fort or clubhouse in there. But, Jim, they've been in there for hours, now and I'm scared something's happened to them."
"Do you know where they are?" His voice had lost its tightness.
"Not the exact spot," she answered, a tremor sneaking into her voice.
"Then how do you know they're even in the cemetery?"
"Laura told me. She knows they have a place they play in after school, but she doesn't know where it is. They wouldn't tell her. They wouldn't let her go with them, that's how I found out. You see, they had a deal with . . ."
His daughter looked up to him with teary eyes and bobbed her chin, "They're in the cement-tree, daddy."
The sun had set fast, sending long shadows stretching like bony fingers to surround the fort, caressing the wild, weedy grass and crumbling gravestones with darkness. The fort itself, always in the shade of the misshapen oak, was now just a black hole on the face of the cemetery. The boys were frightened, they had never been in their fort at night, in the cemetery, with the dead things. In the light of day their imaginations were a gift, an asset, but now they were the enemy; prodding and taunting and daring them to close their minds to the night.
Every rustle in the wind became the shrouds of the walking dead, flapping against skeletal forms. The scraping and cracking of tree branches against one another became the clacking of bones as the monsters shuffled toward them. The scurrying noises of small rodents were the decomposed hands of hundreds of ghouls scratching and clawing at the buried wood that was their prison. Climbing from their graves with one purpose-to find Jimmy and Timmy and murder them. Fingers clawing rotten wood and moist soil. Reaching. Finding. Tearing. Both boys felt it and each was silently listening to his own death, terrified by the images offered up by wild imaginations.
Each was preoccupied with his own personal nightmare, each deep in his own hideous thoughts. And the scratching sounds continued-continued beyond their imaginations. Neither realized that what they heard was real. Neither knew that the noises were not within their imaginations, but directly behind them both.
Sitting with their backs well away from the markers inscribed with the strange prayer, "God grant that they lie still," they were too wrapped in their own terrors to see the earth was shifting and pouring in on itself, as first one, then another mummified hand broke through the soft earth and spread groping fingers wide to the night-then a third and a fourth. Both Carrolls were fighting free of the clinging loam, not just Laura's "bad man" alone this time.
Jim could see that Janet was becoming panicked, her every movement showed she felt caged and helpless. She couldn't simply wait for the boys to return without making an effort to go out into the twilight and meet them on their way home. Yet she was still too frightened to go into the cemetery, even with Jim-and too frightened not to go. And Jim knew his going alone wouldn't ease her fears, so he lifted the phone and extended it to her, knowing that she had to call somebody else for help. Janet rushed to him and took the phone out of his hand. She managed to reach Iris McVie on the second ring.
Of course, they would come right over. No, there was probably nothing to worry about, but better safe. Just stay calm and she and the Reverend would be right there. And Iris would even call Bill Mason, the man who helped them move. If the boys were lost in the cemetery, Bill was the man to find them. After all, wasn't Bill the groundskeeper before Jim got the job?
The scream went on and on, like a stuck siren, high pitched and painful to hear. Timmy's left arm was outstretched toward Jimmy and his right pointed to something moving behind them. Jimmy felt his little life shrinking into itself and a warm dizziness in his head as his eyes followed the direction of Timmy's pointing finger to the two dark figures struggling to free themselves from their graves. For a single heartbeat, which seemed to last forever, Jimmy sat motionless, his brain absorbing the monstrous details of the demented picture.
Then he bolted. Grabbing Timmy's arm and roughly yanking him to his feet, he ran, tugging his still screaming brother behind him. With every pumping motion of his young legs he mechanically repeated a litany of raw horror, "Momeee! Dadeee! Ohmygaawd! Momeee, Dadeee, Ohmygod, ohmygod!" sounding like the laboring of some alien engine. He ran, pulled, dragged Timmy behind him, all the way up and over the crest of South Hill and along the path to the house. "Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God. Momeee help! Dadeee help. Pleeease!"
Janet looked up at Jim, "Timmy? That was Timmy! Oh, Jim where are they. What's happening to our boys?"
Jim was beside him and then out the door before the older man. Janet ran to the open door a second later and followed her husband and Mason out into the deepening night. She thought Timmy's scream would never end as it cut through the darkness like a beacon. Rivers of fear ran through her veins, washing away any thought of her own deep phobia, her mind manufacturing wild pictures from the sound of Timmy's voice. She ran hard, but Mason and Jim were easily outdistancing her, lungs burning she pushed herself harder. She must reach her sons, she must save them from whatever danger caused that scream.
Hugh Carroll pivoted and turned toward his wife, still thrashing to be rid of the damp earth that held her. He bent and grasped her sharply angled arms and made to help her, for he was still stronger than she. He had worked free of his own grave many times over the past nights while the energies grew more pronounced and his hunger more acute. As he reached and stooped to grasp Amanda's searching arms, his head fell forward and to the left on a neck long before broken by the hangman's knot.
"No, Iris, I prayed it was not . . . "
"Liar! Did you pray for yourself as well? They're not just legends, are they? Are they?"
But, before she could reach the front door, it exploded inward and the two terrified boys literally fell into the living room. Then the wailing began.
"Monsters! Mommy, Daddy, monsters! Out in the graveyard! They're not dead anymore. They're not dead!"
It was Jim screaming, Timmy sat on the carpet where he'd slumped, not moving, not seeing, and hearing nothing of what his big brother said. Glassy-eyed he sat.
"Laurieee, where's Mommy and Daddy? Where are they? We gotta get outta here. The monsters are comin'," hollered Jimmy. At the mention of monsters, Laura remembered the "bad man" she'd seen, following her Daddy around the cement-tree and she, too, cried. Iris wasted no time marshaling the children out to her husband's car.
Isaac McVie only stood in the middle of the living room trying to think, trying to make sense-trying to believe it was really happening. He fought to understand how a century-old curse could possibly be fulfilled, could come back to haunt The Rofs. Trembling, he dropped to his knees and prayed. He prayed that it was all a mistake.
It looked like Jimmy was helping Timmy out of an open pit. Attaboy, Jimmy, take care of your brother. Timmy must have hurt himself when he fell in, that's why he screamed. Jim shook off Mason's restraining hand and ran down the hill toward his sons. Faster, faster. Timmy was in pain. Faster. Have to help Jimmy with his brother. Can't do it all by himself, still too young. Faster. Jim was a streak of color moving down the slope-then was lost to sight. He'd caught his foot on an outcropping of exposed root, and he was pitched violently forward. As he sailed through the night air, he saw the two figures turn to look at him. My sons?
Suddenly, he felt an unnatural coldness in his throat, chest and abdomen. His face was pressed deeply into the soft earth at the rim of his son's fort. Jim felt dizzy, disoriented, and he thought he might have peed himself and emptied his bowels into his pants. When he tried to lift his head to check, a ripping pain shot through his neck. He wanted to cry out, but his voice was gone. He found it hard to breathe.
Jim tried to push himself off the ground with his arms, but something was pinning him solidly to the earth. He heard Janet's scream from somewhere high above him. Then bony fingers were twining in his hair and groping at his clothing. As he was lifted he could see small, sharpened sticks, like a kid would carve with a jack knife, sharpened stakes which glistened darkly in the moonlight. And there was something dark dripping from his shirt front.
Who was lifting him, Mason? He raised his eyes to see. The grinning, rotten skull of Hugh Carroll was just inches from his face and as it moved closer, Jim could make out another skeletal face beside the first, both with mouths opened. Again, Jim tried to scream, but the stake had torn through his vocal chords, as the other two had ripped through his right lung and stomach, filling his chest with blood and bile. Strange, he thought, if I'd only come down once in a while to cut the grass and clean up the garbage, I wouldn't be here now. Jim was dead before the teeth came together to masticate the flesh of his face.
Mason stood immobile, watching the Carrolls tear at the body of Jim Bristol. Amanda Carroll opened the hole in Bristol's abdomen and pushed her bony hand deep into the cavity. When she withdrew her hand it grasped what might have been Bristol's liver. She put it to her gaping jaws and began to eat. Mason dropped beside Janet and vomited.
The sound came from her left, near a deep hollow. God, that's the South Hill, she thought. So close to the house? The four-cylinder engine grumbled as Iris sat with her feet on the break pedal, debating with herself, not sure whether to follow in the direction of the cry. What if they need my help? She sat, white-knuckled hands on the steering wheel, not knowing what to do.
Mason got weakly to his feet and tried to lift Janet, but her unconscious weight was too much for him to bear alone. He suddenly realized they were both going to die. He could still save himself; make a run for town to get help, or just make a run for it, but he couldn't leave this woman to die like her husband. He had gladly given up his job when the Mayor approached him with its plans. "I'm not firing you, Bill. It's a paid leave of absence. Think of it as a vacation. I just want Bristol to take over for a few weeks."
But, none of that mattered, now. This was real and it could have been Mason dead instead of Bristol. The goddamn legends were true and the Mayor was counting on that. He couldn't leave the man's wife alone. He draped himself over her body and watched as Carroll moved slowly closer, grinning his dead grin and swinging Bristol's head up to his mouth.
Timmy, stunned into silent paralysis since seeing the Carrolls tear themselves from their graves, shot forward in the seat and yelled, "Daddy! What's he done to you. Dadeee!" Iris snapped her eyes back to the path and saw Hugh Carroll lumbering to the top of the hollow, and right in front of the careening Renault the two prone bodies of Janet Bristol and Bill Mason. She hit the brake pedal again with both feet, felt the brakes catch for a heartbeat, then heard a thumping grind as they failed.
Mason heard the child's voice and then he heard the sound of brakes grinding and slipping. He looked over his shoulder in time to see the small blue Renault jerk to a near stop and then shoot off to the right and crash into a row of crumbling headstones.
Then there was only the silence of the night, marred by the sound of Hugh Carroll's shambling footsteps. He was just twenty feet from where Mason and Janet lay. Mason knew then, as certainly as he would know anything in his life, that he and Janet were dead. The brief moment of hope when he'd heard the car speeding toward them was now shattered in the sounds of the car crashing into marble and granite. And, as if sensing the same, Carroll threw back his head and laughed in silent triumph.
But, Janet had heard her son's terrified voice and it acted like a stimulant, pulling her up from the depths of her safe somnolence and shocking her into full wakefulness. Her children needed her. They were in danger! She tried to move, but something heavy was holding her down. She tried to find her voice to scream, it was difficult, but she fought with all her mothers' protective instincts and finally called, 'Timmy, Jimmy, Laura, Mommy's here. I'm coming."
The moment Mason felt Janet's movements beneath his weight he was galvanized into action. There was still a chance for escape. But, reading Mason's thoughts, Hugh Carroll threw Bristol's severed head aside with savage disdain and redoubled his effort to reach them. The head bumped and rolled back down the hill to where Amanda Carroll remained engaged in her carnal pursuits. She looked up and seeing her mate so close to his prey, but in danger of losing it, she dropped the ravaged torso to the dampened earth and stood to follow him. She moved more slowly than her husband, her steps tentative and hesitant, climbing the slope like a badly handled marionette.
Hugh Carroll was within one arm's length of grasping Janet's coat, but as he reached, his forearm was brutally smashed from its elbow and went spinning away into the shadows of the night. Iris McVie stood bleeding and terrified, a heavy branch held loosely in her trembling hands. She told Janet and Mason to get in the car. They backed away, still watching Hugh Carroll, then made for the Renault's open door. Carroll looked down to his shattered arm, then slowly up into Iris McVie's frightened eyes. Then he shook his crooked head and snapped his jaws in a gesture of rage and defiance and lunged at Iris. She swung the branch with all her strength and Carroll's body cracked in two at the base of the spine, crumpling to the ground like so much dry rot.
Janet pounded on Mason's shoulders, demanding he get out and help Iris. He didn't stop her, but neither did he make a move to leave the safety of the car. He knew it was too late for Iris, she was dead. He watched in disbelief as Hugh Carroll dragged his half-body closer, hunger and satisfaction filling his shriveled eyes, to the woman being ripped open and steaming in the cold air. Mason turned the key and started the car.
The two vehicles converged in the chapel's parking lot just inside the gate and the men got out, waiting for the Mayor's signal. He scanned the nervous faces. It was evident none of the men really wanted to be there. "Search every square inch of this place, every row, every stone if you have to. You know what to look for."
In a moment they circled the cooling remains of Iris McVie. Two men rushed away to the cover of thick brush, the rest looked to the Mayor, waiting. The stillness was finally shattered by the sharp crack of splintering wood. It could only come from one place.
With that, Isaac took up the two blazing oil lamps from the carpet and flung them at the approaching figures. Then he quickly pulled a gallon container of kerosene from behind him and poured it over himself "Welcome to the temple of damnation, you heathen pricks."
The next day when the fire burned itself out and the ashes were cool enough to rake, the township medical examiner informed the sheriff they had two additional corpses, both male, aside from the ravaged bodies in the cemetery proper.
"What're you talking about," asked the Mayor?
"What I'm talking about is two skeletons. Two males. One considerably older than the other and missing a number of bones."
No suspects and no evident motive for the massacre. Another crime, another mystery, the Rofs were becoming noted for mysteries and missing persons.
The sheriff and his men had long ago left the cemetery and the smoking ruin of the house. Mayor Edward Noble located and carried the body of Amanda Carroll from where she had taken refuge in a crawlspace under the tool shed and placed it on the bed of a pickup truck. She lay quietly, now, sated. Her eyes milking over with a yellowish glaze as she watched the man handle her twig like body. Her jaws made near attempts to close on his hands, but only as an instinct, not as an act of purpose. The Mayor stroked her decayed cheek and made comforting sounds.
In the truck were the implements needed to re-inter Amanda Carroll. Mayor Noble had also arranged to secretly collect the charred remains of Hugh Carroll from the hospital basement and they were bundled in a rubber morgue sheet beside Amanda's head. She let her face roll to her left to allow her closing eyes one glance at her husband as he stirred, stronger now, beneath the rubber sheet, while the truck drove deep into the cemetery toward South Hill.
Following a morning of easy work, the two were buried in their original graves. Mayor Nobel walked back to the pickup truck and sat in the driver's seat. He wiped his face on a handkerchief, drew a long pull on a bottle of Beefeater Gin and took a tightly wrapped package from the glove box.
He untied the wrapping and exposed a leather-bound book of old, hand bound parchment. Opening the book, he withdrew a fountain pen from his suit coat on the seat beside him and unscrewed the lid. Edward Nobel then located the name "Bristol" on a page of parchment with the notation "leader" and drew a heavy line through it.
There were four names before "Bristol," all with faded ink drawn through them. There were only two names after "Bristol" in the ancient book and Nobel crossed one off the list, "McVie." Mayor Nobel blew the ink dry, closed and re-wrapped his great-grandfather's diary and took another healthy swallow of gin, thinking of the future. Thinking of his history.