Thursday, April 17, 2014

SHALLOW GRAVES (A Gravedigger Story)

Genre: Horror/Suspense 

SHALLOW GRAVES (A Gravedigger Story)
Daniel Skye

            Florida… The Sunshine State. The home of Disney World, Universal Studios, and other various money-gobbling tourist traps.
            And now the home of Sid Hodder AKA Charles Gein AKA the infamous Gravedigger. Gein was using the alias Patrick Downey until his latest victim was able to identify him. The jig was up and it was time to move on.
            Enter Sid Hodder, some poor schmuck who had the bad luck of using the same restroom that Gein was holed up in.
            Nobody knows what happened to the real Sid Hodder’s body. Probably buried in an unmarked grave somewhere between New York and Florida.
            Gein cut his hair shorter and dyed it jet-black, grew out a mustache and used a new picture to forge Hodder’s driver license and pass it off as his own. Their height, weight, and eye color matched precisely, so no one could question the stats. And they were around the same age too, so the date of birth was just something Gein had to memorize verbatim.
            His social security and credit cards were found in the wallet Gein had relieved him of. And the keys to his condo were attached to the set in his pocket.
            He had all the essentials required to start over in a new place. A new place to practice his sadistic craft. And as it had been a group of meddling slackers that discovered his latest victim and caused his sudden departure, he had his sight set on redemption. All he needed was the right group of vulnerable teenagers and the work could resume.
            And he was going to need a new workshop as Sid Hodder’s condo was not soundproof and the construction of his trademark coffins would attract too much unwanted attention. So he searched through the local papers and found a small factory for rent two miles from the condo. It was spacious, came well-equipped, and most importantly to Gein, it was isolated. Not another piece of property for blocks.
            He paid cash so as not to leave a paper trail and he picked up right where he left off in Westlake, Long Island. It was just like riding a bicycle to Gein. You never forget.
            And by the time Gein had acquired the factory, his five targets had already been selected.
* * *
            Gary Hawke. Rachel Dawson. Bret Shields. Nick Pullman. Jill Hayward. Collectively referred to as the Pyro Crew–a self-professed title for their group. Or the “Pryo Crew” as Nick had once spray-painted on the partition of a men’s room stall. The graffiti had garnered the attention of local authorities after the five of them had been caught setting bottle rockets off in Hester Park.
            It was a Public Safety officer who had apprehended them before turning them over to the real police. The cops were curious about the graffiti. Not mad about it. And they never even asked Pullman to pay for the damages.
            They wanted to know if the five of them were responsible for setting that same park restroom on fire three months before. Nick had forgotten all about the fire until the cops mentioned it, and naturally he denied it.
            But it wasn’t Nick who started the fire. It wasn’t any member of the Pyro Crew. And if they had known it was the work of Rodney Hughes and his crew, they would’ve confessed without the thought of merit. Seeing the cops bust Rodney Hughes would’ve rewarded them enough.
But alas, they didn’t know about it until Rodney confessed months later. He was smart enough to state it would be their word versus his, and they knew he was right. Too much time had passed and the cops weren’t concerned about torched restrooms anymore. They were wrapped up in the string of missing person cases.
Something awful was happening in the tiny little town of Hester. Awful enough to warrant an eight o’clock curfew for kids under eighteen. And by ten o’clock, the whole town shuts down. Open your window and all you can hear are the engines of patrol cars as the cops cruise the neighborhoods.
            But no curfew ever stopped the Pyro Crew from having a good time.
            They all returned home at eight o’clock to check in with their parents and after dinner, told their folks they’d be turning in early. Then they used the old climb out the window trick and rendezvoused at Hester Swamp.
            Gary Hawke brought a bottle of Fireball and Bret Shields brought an eighteen-pack of ice cold beer. Jill and Rachel brought flashlights. And Nick brought a bag of M-80s.
            Jill traded Gary the bottle for one of her flashlights and he led the way. It was a moonless night and the green of the swamp was virtually invisible. As was the water. The flashlights were their only means of visibility.
            Dead leaves crunched underfoot as Gary led them through the narrow trails of the swamp to their usual spot. His flashlight beamed across the tree where he had carved GARY AND MINDY 4EVER. This was the indicator that they had reached the spot. Mindy was a girl Gary had dated for two months, then dumped her for Jill.
            Their flashlights found the hollow log they used as a makeshift bench and they parked their asses as Bret started distributing beers amongst the group. Jill cracked open the bottle of Fireball and took a big swig before passing it back to Gary.
            Hawke took a swig and offered some to Rachel, who politely declined.
            “You know Rachel doesn’t mix beer and liquor,” Jill castigated Gary. “She’s the only one of us that has any sense.”
            “I just prefer beer over liquor,” Rachel answered for herself. “Beer I can swallow.”
            “Beers not the only thing I’ve seen you swallow,” Bret quipped.
            “Pervert,” she sneered. “Why are all men such gross pervs?”
            “It’s in our nature,” Bret explained. “It’s like an instinct all of us are born with. Some of us just use it better than others.” He looked directly at Gary while saying it.
            “What is that supposed to mean?” Gary asked. “Was that about me?”
            “Gary, you’re my bud. But you act like a gentleman and like you’re all high and mighty and above objectifying women, but deep down you’re a pervert like the rest of us. You’re just better at hiding it and using it to your advantage.”
            “Fuck off,” Gary spewed. “Just because you’re a hopeless pervert, doesn’t mean you have to drag me down with you. I show women respect and that’s why they prefer my company over yours. It’s that simple.”
            “Guys, cool your jets,” Nick said, but it sounded more like begging. “There’s no reason to fight. We’re here to have a good time. No need to spoil it with a dick measuring contest.”
            “Just one girls curiosity, but what is the definition of a dick measuring contest?” Jill asked. “Do guys actually whip them out and measure it to see who’s bigger?”
            “Nope,” Nick said, trying to contain his laughter. “It’s just a term used for when two guys are in a standoff while trying to prove their masculinity. Usually neither man backs down, and it gets ugly.”
            “It’s not going to come to that,” Gary assured the girls. “Bret is just being himself.”
            “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
            Before the brewing drama could escalate, the crunching of fallen leaves drew their attention in the opposite direction where three shadows were rapidly approaching. Rachel cast her light over the three shadows and Rodney Hughes’ face was briefly illuminated before she drew the light away.
It was Hughes and his two cronies, Belcher and Franz. Franz was a foreign exchange student who had been living in America just long enough to start sounding ambiguously American. But he didn’t quite have the lingo down yet.
“Lookie what we have here,” Rodney chimed.
“What shit is this?” Franz asked. “You gonna circle jerk yourselves?”
“Actually we’re waiting for your mother to get here from France so we can run a train on that fat bitch,” Bret fired back.
“I’m German, you ash-hole.”
“Well your ash-hole should’ve stayed in Germany,” Bret said as he got up from the log. Gary followed his movements, instinct carrying him to his feet, hands clenched into fists, ready for anything. Nick mimicked his actions, but kept a safe distance between himself and Hughes and his flunkies.
In seconds, Hawke and Belcher were face-to-face, as were Bret and Franz. Belcher’s lips parted and he did just what his name boasted–he belched right in Hawke’s face. The stench of onions hitting Hawke right in the face. It was worse than any punch Belcher was capable of throwing. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”
            “Or what?”
            “Or what? I’ll hit you so fucking hard your momma’s momma will feel it, bitch.”
            “Try it,” Belcher egged him on.
            A thunderous bang of what Hawke assumed was an ignited M-80 echoed through the swamp, and Rodney and company ran like scared rabbits. They went from being shadows to being blurs in the night to being completely gone from their sight in moments.
            “Way to go,” Bret said, turning around to applaud Nick. “That M-80 sent them scattering. They must’ve thought it was a gunshot.”
            “It might’ve been,” Nick shrugged. “I never set off any M-80.”
            “That noise, it wasn’t me. I didn’t see off any of my firecrackers. I was scared shitless. That thought never even crossed my mind.”
            “Um, guys…” Jill started but trailed off.
            “What is it now?” Bret moaned.
            “Rachel is missing.”
            “What do you mean, missing?” Gary asked.
            “Well, do you see her anywhere around?”
            Gary scanned the area with his flashlight and saw Rachel was nowhere in sight. “Rachel!” he called, the echo carrying throughout the swamp. But Rachel never answered those calls.
            “Do you think she got scared by that noise and ran off in the other direction?” Nick asked.
            “Only one way to find out,” Gary shrugged and grabbed the bottle of Fireball.
            “What, you want to go looking for her?” Bret asked, as if abandoning a friend was a viable option.
            “We’re not just leaving her behind,” Gary said and admonished him just for suggesting it.
            “What’d you grab the bottle of Fireball for?” Jill asked.
            “For the walk. Duh.”
* * *
            “Rachel!” Jill screamed until her throat was strained.
            “Give it up,” Bret sighed. “She’s not going to answer. She probably got spooked and ran all the way home. That’s where we should be right now–home.”
            “Let’s keep searching,” Gary insisted. He took a swig of the Fireball and passed it to Jill who nervously quaffed it down. She passed what was left of it to Nick who took a tiny swig and let Bret finish the rest. He figured the liquor might mellow Bret out a bit.
            As they walked, Gary’s flashlight grazed upon one of Rachel’s white flip flops. A few yards from that, they found the second flip flop. And just up ahead, they found Rachel’s torn blouse. Past that, her skirt. And past that, a trail of blood that sent them running in that direction
            The trails of the swamp ended, but the trail of blood continued to the wrought-iron gates of the nearby cemetery. The entrance was wide open, almost beckoning them to trespass.
            They crossed the threshold and continued to follow the trail with their flashlights. It ended where their flashlights discovered five unmarked graves, four of those graves still waiting to be filled.
            “Just one question,” an unfamiliar voice rang out through the dark. “How long can you hold your breath?”

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