Keep out of reach of children

Consider the following statement: Keep Out of Reach of Children. This conjures up images of rat poison or drunken mothers with coinciding drug habits. Does her bottle of prescribed OxyContin really need to state this? She takes enough of it to know that she shouldn’t offer it up to her child. But I digress. This is not a treatise about your mom’s opiate addiction. In a world of keen insight and heightened, altered realities, a child’s safety is usually a priority of all parents. This is also true in my case. Perhaps more so. Allow me to explain…

My daughter Olivia has…well how should I say it, powers. Even as I write that I realize how completely fucked up that statement is, but I feel the urge, no, the outright obligation to inform you that I am all too truthful. So it is with extreme care and trepidation that I relate my story to you.

Now, it didn’t happen overnight to be sure. Her mother and I came to the understanding that little Olivia (then only five years old) was special, one morning during breakfast. She had already had two bowls of oatmeal with chocolate chips. My wife instructed her to rinse our her bowl and go brush her teeth, but Olivia stayed seated.

“I want more.” She exclaimed.

Her mother had told her no. It was then that Olivia’s demeanor changed. It was as if (this is hard) she became something or somebody else. At first, we did nothing. I simply shrugged it off as a temper tantrum. But when she floated up and across the kitchen to the cabinet where the oatmeal was kept, opened it and hefted out the box with ease, we took notice. The spoon and the bag of chocolate chips appeared in her hands as if she willed them to be there. I had to lift my wife off the floor after pouring a glass of cold water on her face. I was shocked certainly but relatively calm; calm for a man that just saw his five year old daughter levitating across the kitchen. Personally, I don’t think that oatmeal is that good to require such insistence, but who am I to judge. After the performance and certainly after my wife had regained her composure, Olivia sat and ate; looking at the colorful box of oatmeal as if what she had just done was okay with the world.

“I have to head out.” I told my wife. “Sam has got a shipment coming in and he wants me to inspect it.”

My wife glared at me as if I had just threw up on her. I had my bag around my shoulder and stepped towards the front door. I wasn’t able to comprehend this now. My wife was the more down-to-earth of the two of us. She would analyze this and find an explanation. I, on the other hand, would forget it ever happened. I would sit in my office and go threw the paperwork from the day’s shipment. Cross-reference buyers and sellers, phone numbers, and selling prices. Then once that was complete I would take a leisurely stroll through the warehouse to inspect the new acquisitions, safe in the knowledge that my daughter Olivia was possessed by Satan. I sent a text to Sam to inform him he was on his own for the day. I was embroiled in family matters.

Today, at the tender age of twelve, Olivia keeps her “special activities” mostly to herself. Unless of course she needs oatmeal or some boy in class needs his nose broke and she doesn’t want to get her hands dirty. We made the unwise decision to take our daughter to a therapist. I say this is unwise because the doctor thought we were crazy. Olivia did nothing to prove his theory to be incorrect. Olivia’s best friend Maria is the only other person that knows of Olivia’s gift. Let’s talk about this special gift shall we. My beautiful, young Olivia is of course able to float, or fly or whatever. You know that already. But that’s just the beginning. She can do things by just thinking about them. In many ways she attempts to brighten our lives. In the winter she warms my car before I leave, and makes sure all the roads a free of ice. But she can also be a pain. She will change the television channel if she chooses to, even if she’s in her room, just to be funny.

Another form of Olivia’s special gift, and the one aspect that her mother and I are must concerned of, is her ability to cause intense calamity. At twelve, my sweet Olivia has been going through some physical changes if you know what I mean. So once a month the house erupts in flames. She’s able to put it out quickly enough but it’s impossible to keep the carpet clean. On one particular afternoon at school. Olivia witnessed her best friend Maria knocked down by a gangly 8th grader by the name of Beatrice. Maria’s books scattered to the ground and Olivia stood rigid while Maria dusted herself off and look at her friend. I can handle this, she told Olivia and Olivia watched as the two grappled and pulled on each other’s hair. Maria was able to gain some balance and she threw a right hook at the older girl who dodged but the punch landed at her chest and she stumbled back slightly. Beatrice wasn’t strong but she was tall and awkward. Her extra long reach landed square on Maria’s chin, throwing her body back on to the grass of the playground. Olivia felt a shudder go through her like a bolt of energy. She stood in place waiting for a cue from Maria. But Maria was on her back, struggling to get up. Beatrice saw this as an opportunity and placed her inappropriately large foot on her neck. Maria’s eyes widened with fear as she fought for air. Olivia took a giant step forward.

“And what are you gonna do, retard?” Beatrice said with malice in her eyes. Olivia took another step forward and closed her eyes. The crowd of children that had gathered around them gasped in horror and ran away when the heard a crack and Beatrice fell to the ground. Both of her legs snapped forward awkwardly at the kneecaps. Olivia, as if it were nothing at all, lifted her friend off the ground and the two of ran home.

To be continued…

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

This book is fucked up! I mean that in every possible way imaginable. My reading preferences tend to vary but I usually stick to the themes that I enjoy. I have a tendency to focus more on the fantastic. What I mean is that if the story is so unbelievable, then I like it that much more. This story checked all the boxes. There’s a which with a curse, a New England town suffering from that curse. The human factor of this story hits you in the gut repeatedly. Go get it.

You had to be there…

As many of you may or may not know, I am a musician; a drummer. My band: Whiskey Road, played a show this last Saturday to a roaring crown of eager fans. This was our return to the stage from the lockdowns caused by COVID-19. I was nervous. Rightfully so because we had sold out the venue. I guess you could say it was nervous energy. I was excited to play; to be back on the stage with my brothers and sisters (not literal but more fraternal).

I was ready, to say the least. I arrived an hour ahead of schedule because I had a new set up in mind and I needed to have enough time if the set up didn’t work.. I lugged all my gear in (I need a roadie desperately) and began organizing the hardware on the riser. My back began to give me some trouble so I ordered a whiskey, cheeseburger and fries, and sat down for a moment. Let’s fast forward a bit…

With 15 minutes before we went on, I got dressed. My ensemble was black jeans, faded grey shirt, black leather vest, and an American flag scarf. I can tell you right now with all the humility in my heart, that I do not look good in leather. But the show must go on. We rocked the place. Other than a few minor problems that went unnoticed; it was really a remarkable show. Currently, my hands look like chewed hamburger. I should use that imagery in an upcoming story.

Later…

Sky Frogs (based on actual events)

I don’t believe in aliens. Let’s get that outta the way right quick. But when them frogs were fallin outta the damn sky, I lost my shit. Some idiot said it was some kinda weather thing. No sir! Them frogs were real and fallin from the friggin sky! Aint no weather can do that. I jumped out the truck and scooped five or six of em an threw em on the seat there. Whatcha gotta know is that these frogs here aint no normal reptiles. How do I know? Cause they friggin talk to me, that’s how I knows they aint no normal friggin frogs. The proof is there on the inside. Tommy Pistil came over last night an set about cuttin one open. Now, I aint what you call smart, but I know a real frog from an alien frog, an I’m tell you for sure that these frogs are settin to work some kinda magic or somethin.

Tommy grabbed a blade that I once used to peal somethin off my foot an set in to cuttin one open. Right down the friggin middle of it. He went to school an all so he’s knows all about frogs an shit. After he’d cut a big hole he showed me all the regular frog stuff like the guts an shit. He told me that it was a normal lookin frog. But the hell I say! That’s just what these frogs want us to be thinkin. If’n you was a frog from space, you’d be makin yourself look normal too. Tommy lost his shit an went inside to grab a beer. That’s when the friggin thing sat up and started in to speakin. I tell you right now. You don’t ever want to listen to frogs when they got that talkin shit goin on. Tommy came back out and I told him what was goin on with the dead frog and he laughed like he’d been listenin to one of them funny people on that you tube. I told him it was real and he fell back on a chair an opened his beer with his one tooth that points kinda outward like.

Ma came out an set about yellin somethin fierce. Why were we messin with all these frogs an shit? I told her they was from Pluto or some place like that an she lost her shit too. Everybody’s losin their shit over frogs that aint normal. I put the rest a them frogs in a shoe box my old man had left me in case any a them frogs fell outta the sky and I went inside. Aint nobody gonna tell me that sky frogs are like normal frogs. Now, I sleep like a baby or some shit like that. But that night I couldn’t sleep at all. I kep hearing that frog talk comin from the box, an there was a little shinin too like the moon had been in the box with em. I sat up an looked inside that box and you know what, those frogs were playin poker. Not hold ’em, but regular poker, like draw or some shit. They all looked up at me with that froggy look and told me to go the fuck away. An you know what I did? I kicked them friggin frogs in the friggin teeth. Aint no sky frog gonna mess with my sleepin. No sir.

Coming soon to your bookstores and bookshelves!

In a cold, dark basement a 13 year old girl sits on an uneven bed; cold and afraid. Unfortunately she is not there because she wants to be. She has been kidnapped. Taken by a man wearing a mask and disguising his voice. The man hasn’t hurt her but she knows that if she doesn’t do what the man says, he will. She is unaware of how long she has been there. Her only hope of survival lies with the man that took her. Eighteen years later, Charity Daniels suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome. She has no recollection of the ordeal. All she knows is that she isn’t well. Has she ever been well? With help from her therapist, Charity begins to remember things; small things at first. As her past comes back to her, Charity comes face to face with the knowledge of why she was taken, and by whom.

Do I know you?

You’re watching me. I can see that you’re watching me. I saw you the moment I stepped on the train. The puzzle here isn’t necessarily that I know that you’re watching me, but that you know that I know. What is it about me that makes you so interested? Is it my hair? I did just have it cut recently. When was that? Tuesday? Is it the way I walk? I have a slight limp on my left foot from slipping on the ice just this morning. Perhaps it’s my eyes. Yes, my eyes. I get complimented all day long on my eyes. They are grey if you must know. No, I do not believe it is any of those things. I get a sense that you are watching me because you are following me. Yes, you were there when I came out of my apartment this morning on my way uptown. You watched me as I entered the bookshop for some light holiday reading. You followed me too close as I entered the parking garage. I heard the door open and close while I was walking up the stairwell. Was that you? Of course it was. You saw me enter her apartment. Then you watched as I left and followed me here to the train station. But what you didn’t see, my friend, is what I did to her; while she slept. After I sliced her from from her neck to her ribcage, I took her eyes. I fed them to the pigeons outside her window. She was watching me as well. But not any longer. So, my friend, my advice to you is this. Keep watching me.

Business as usual.

The man in the dark grey suit entered the hotel lobby and made for the elevators. Rom 407, he was told. The hotel was bustling with tourists. The man couldn’t care less. His job kept him away from such tawdry elements of society. He seemed to go unnoticed as he pushed the button to bring the car to the lobby. He waited patiently, controlling his breathing. Looking to his left, he spied the hotel’s bar. He made a mental note to have a quick drink after the job was over. Perhaps some soft company to go with it.

The bell announced that the car had arrived. The door opened and he stepped inside.

“Hold the elevator, please!” Shouted a portly man with greasy balding black hair.. He was wet from the use of the hotel’s Olympic size pool. “Thank you.” He said. The man nodded and pressed the button for the 4th floor.

“How convenient.” Said the man in the grey suit as he smiled at his good fortune.

“What’s that?” The fat man said, looking up at him through fogged black rimmed glasses.

“I won’t have to break into your room to kill you.”

The fat man smiled nervously at what he assumed was some kind of a joke. He didn’t notice the knife grey suit had slipped out of his pocket. He certainly didn’t notice when it was plunged into his neck. He was dead before he had the opportunity to resist. The man in the grey suit continued his ride to the 4th floor. Exiting quickly, he ran to the stairwell and traversed to the building’s rooftop, taking the stairs two at a time. Using the suitcase placed there for him, he quickly changed clothes and calmly strolled down to the hotel bar. She was blonde. They were always blonde. He liked them that way.

A Slice of Death. A small excerpt from a current project.

My fingers tingled as I touched her skin. I thought this would feel a bit odd but I was s wrong; it’s incredibly odd. She had only fallen asleep but an hour ago. She will sleep longer now. Much longer. I had come for the book but was quickly distracted by this slumbering angel. I quelled an inner turmoil that raged inside me to reveal my self to her as she strolled about her home unaware of my presence. I hid behind an antique armoire until she was fully asleep. The dream she is having now will be her reality for all eternity. Pity, I would like to have known her. She wasn’t supposed to be home. I cursed myself for not being prepared for this mishap and stuffed the book into my bag. There was a half finished glass of warm whiskey on her night stand. Seeing this made me somewhat sad. Had her life been so terrible that she required this to dull some unknown pain? In her honor, I finished it for her. Bourbon, nothing exotic. It was then that I noticed a framed photo set on top of her dresser and moved closer to view it. She was smiling under a cold winter sun, next to a man I knew nothing about. They seemed happy enough then. I went back to sit beside her on her bed. She was still warm. Some other unworthy individual might be so inclined to perform some repulsive act. Not me. I wished to keep her. He skin glistened with a iridescence that seemed to illuminate from within. She may be gone, but she wasn’t coming home, not tonight anyway.

The Blood Red Box has arrived

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. I’ve had a few minor medical issues but all is well. But all is not well with our friend Walter Kirk. He has stumbled upon a world unlike anything he has seen before. A mid level attorney at a prestigious law firm, Walter stumbles upon a mystery that takes him to the far corners of his own perceived reality. At the center of this mystery is a box. Walter must choose whether the box contains his salvation or his ultimate demise.

Here’s a sneak peek at my new project The Coffin Bell.

            In 1829, in an effort to combat a rampant scourge of misdiagnosis of death; Dr. Johann Gottfried Taberger invented a device that would allow the unfortunate not-so-dead corpse to signal those above that they were, in fact, alive.  A bell, affixed to a wrought-iron bracket, would be attached to the finger of the alleged corpse in an effort to be saved.  At first, the doctor was on his way to not only becoming the world’s first millionaire inventor, but he was certainly on the path to potentially save lives.  Many lives for that matter, because the paranoia of being buried alive or in fact, burying a loved one alive, had spread across all of England; not unlike the black death.  However, it was later discovered that many of the victims were actually in a coma and therefore unable to ring the bell to save their own lives.  Thus, Dr. Taberger halted the production of the bell and fell into poverty.  He died from an overdose of arsenic at the age of 57; buried with his own bell attached to his gravestone.

1854

2:32 A.M.

Reginald

            Reginald Winslow sat, bored and miserable on a rickety wooden desk chair; hollowed from termites and weak with age.  The cream-colored stain having long since worn from the seat.  He had debated to himself several times whether or not he should toss it into the fire, but Mr. Phelps might not think too highly of it.  He was allowed to burn only one single log an hour.  This rule did not include the only settee in the entire 20 by 20 square foot caretakers shack.

            He sat, breaking up the dried earth from his boots while his wool socks warmed on the stove.  He had been walking for most of the evening.  Sometimes on the path and sometimes not.  He carried a gnarled stick to fend off wolves; and the occasional grave robber; bent on pilfering jewels – buried along with London’s wealthy dead.

            A wolf howled from beyond the hills and the moon shone through the single small window – smeared wet with mist.  He picked at his teeth and attempted to relight the dottle in his pipe.  Other than a few flakes of dust, his pouch was empty.  A thick fog moved in; creating a dense, choked atmosphere.  Quickly, he became aware of something.  He bristled and instantly sat up straight.  He dropped the lit match into the fire and stood – placing his ear against the door.  He heard something; he was certain of it.  It rode along with the fog like a voice across the water.  At once he assumed it was Mr. Phelps coming to check on him.  The man loved to whistle.  Reginald promised him that he wouldn’t drink on the job any longer.  It was disrespectful to the dead to wander about the graveyard toting a whiskey bottle.  This was a lie, of course.  His whiskey was secretly warming in a flask near the fire.  It was the whiskey that helped him keep warm on those long lonely nights, especially when the dole of logs was getting low.  He opened the door and peered out into the fog.

            “Mr. Phelps?”  Mr. Phelps did not answer.

            The sound increased in volume and Reginald became aware of an uneasiness.  A dreadful feeling that poked and prodded at the back of his neck.  He stepped out further into the fog and directed his hearing towards the western gates.  Mr. Phelps continuously instructed him, every day prior to the beginning of his shift, to ensure that the gates were smartly locked and secure.  He turned his slightly misshapen ear towards the north.  The sound was an echo; a stone cast into an empty chasm.

            Retreating into the shack, Reginald pulled his socks and boots on and hoisted the leather rucksack over his shoulder.  On the trail towards the western gate; he leaves the shack with a shiver and pulls his cap tighter.  Thirty yards ahead the first group of graves came into view.  Martin Albright, Frederick Thompson, Angelina Sams – they were there to greet him as usual.

            Martin Albright had lost his life suddenly when he had stumbled off the west bridge and into the river.  Being too drunk to realize that he was drowning, his body let go of all interest.  His estranged wife had identified the body but said that it was only possible that it was her husband and she was glad he was dead.  Fredrick Thompson had been driving his handsome a bit later than usual when a man in dark clothes with a dark hat and a dark bag hefted himself into the cab with an even darker purpose.  He pulled a knife on Mr. Thompson.  Unfortunately, Mr. Thompson had but a shilling to account for.  Because of this, the knife entered his heart.  Angelina Sams died from the noose.  Justifiably so.  She had taken a candle from her dining room and lit her husband on fire while he slept.  Rumor has it he was having an affair.  This rumor has yet to be substantiated, but before his skin caught fire, the woman had severed his manhood and gave it to the family dog as a table scrap.  Reginald could recite from memory the cause of death for each of his departed friends, somewhat of a tour guide for the dead.  It was a skill that Reginald was quite proud of. 

Reginal tipped his cap and turned towards the pond and stopped quickly in his tracks.  He strained his neck somewhat and eyed the whitewashed grave of Walter Badlove.  Walter passed away at the tender age of 13; his young body destroyed by tuberculosis – or so the doctor’s thought.  His parents, well, mostly his emotionally delinquent mother, had believed that the doctors were wrong.  Her son was alive and merely sleeping, and she would tell them as such, as often as they would listen.  Though after twenty-two days, she conceded that it might be likely he was not.  In order to appease the woman, a Taberger bell was attached; in the off chance that the boy truly was alive.  However, that was fifteen years ago.  If he had been misdiagnosed and was buried alive, he wasn’t alive any longer.

            Even so, the noise that had brought Reginald from the warmth of the stove, was the bell attached to little Walter’s headstone.  It was ringing – not aggressively of course; like the bell on Witches Bridge.  That bell rang like a church bell under the slightest breeze.

            Reginald turned and faced Walter’s grave.  The small bell hung from rusted wrought iron.  He stepped closer.  The hairs on his arm stood upright.  There was the slightest breeze wafting through the glen.  Surely that’s the source.  Or perhaps it was all his imagination.  He stood – planted in place; watching the bell as it didn’t move.  It was at that very moment, somewhere behind him, that the sound of another bell was heard quite clearly.  Then another, and another.  Reginald turned back to young Mr. Badlove’s grave just in time to witness the bell ringing, louder then he thought possible. 

            Without another thought, Reginald Winslow ran.  He ran towards the front gate; faster than the rats he chases down Berkshire Lane.  Once outside the cemetery walls; leaving the gate open of course, he kept running; through the park – towards Whitehall – towards London, where Mr. Phelps slept soundly next to his wife – unaware that there could possibly be anything out of the ordinary.

            William Phelps slid across the wooden floor in slippers too large for his feet, his bedclothes wrinkled from heavy slumber.  He took a match and lit the candle nestled in the small alcove next to the bedroom’s door.  The knock upon the front door was startling enough at any time of the day, but at 4:30 in the morning, it was especially alarming.

            “Who’s there?”  He yelled from the inside.

            “It’s Reginald, sir.”  The caretaker’s voice was muffled.  “There’s a problem at the cemetery.”

            Mr. Phelps’s head tilted.  A problem at the cemetery?  He thought to himself as he grasped the door handle.  In truth, there was never a problem at the cemetery.  It was the one thing that he could actually count on.  Dig a hole.  Put the body in it.  Cover the hole, then leave me alone.  Those were his rules.  Along with locking the gates and staying sober, William Phelps cared to know nothing else.

            “Reginald?”  He opened the door and noticed a strange odor emanating from the gangly caretaker.  “What in the bloody hell is that smell?”

            Reginald instinctively checked his current condition then shrugged. His hygiene was not important at the moment.  He removed his cap.

            “Mr. Phelps, sir”  He bowed somewhat.  “I’m sorry to wake you at this hour but I had no other choice.”  Reginald, while having trouble catching his own breath, explained to Phelps what he had witnessed at the graves near the western gate.  William stomped angrily away from the front door; fully aware that he would have to investigate the situation himself.  He would not alert his wife.  Elizabeth would not be interested in the least.

            “Reginald, how many times have I told you?  The more you insist on abusing your body with that poison, the more likely you will experience hallucinations such as these.

            “Yes, sir.  I understand sir.”  Truth be told; Mr. Phelps never once offered Reginald that advice.  Mr. Phelps was not one for advice: sound or otherwise.  “I would agree with you on any other occasion sir but…”

            “But what?”  Mr. Phelps shouted.  “Out with it!”

            “I haven’t touched a drop this evening sir.”

            Mr. Phelps smirked at his subordinate, not knowing whether yet to believe him.  Either way, he needed to investigate.  He pulled on his boots and wrapped a wool muffler around his neck.  It wasn’t all that cold but he hated the cold – the bleak stiffness of the never-ending rain.  It soaked into his marrow and made him forever chilled. 

            The two left the warmth of the lavish dwelling and stepped into the rain.  Without hesitation, a calash pulled up; driven by a large black man Reginald only knew as Moe, and they jumped in.  Reginald hated riding in cabs.  The speed unnerved him so.  He held onto his cap as they turned one corner after another until they arrived at the west gate of the cemetery.

            “How many times have I told you to lock the gates at night?”

            Reginal rubbed the scruff of his chin and reflected upon the logic of this statement.  He thought better of responding and followed Mr. Phelps out of the handsome.

            “Yes, Mr. Phelps sir.”

            At the entrance, Reginald listened intently – with both ears, taking each step as lightly as he could.  The loose gravel would not make that a very easy task.  As quiet as that was, he took notice of nothing out of the ordinary.  No bells were ringing.  They reached the intersection at Walter Badlove’s grave and stopped.  Reginald looked around as if something had quickly been lost.  Mr. Phelps was not pleased.

            “I swear to you, sir.  All these bells were ringing.  If I had to guess, I would say that every grave was ringing sir.”

            “Mr. Winslow.”

            “Sir.”

            “If it is your intention to drink yourself to a point of hallucination every evening, that’s fine with me.  Our customers don’t care.  Just please do me a favor, would you?  Leave me out of it please.”

            If there was one thing that Reginald knew about Mr. Phelps, it was that one could not impress upon him a matter that which he was not familiar with.  Despite this complication, it would be in Reginald’s favor for William to witness the ringing first hand.  Frustrated, Reginald reached down and retrieved a loose stone from the trail with the intention of tossing it at one of the previously ringing headstones.  As if on command, the menacing sound of a bell’s jingle could be heard from the grave of Felicia LeClair.  She had died at the hands of her abusive mother when she was 17 years old; exactly 22 years ago.  The bell on her headstone was ringing with some ferocity that could not be attributed to the wind.

            William Phelps turned his face to the sound.

            “Is that what you woke me for?”  He sneered at Reginald.  “The wind and rain are to blame you fool.”  The caretaker put out his hand and felt not a drop.  Phelps was not blind to this observation.  They both quickly noticed that there was only a slight breeze.  Phelps pulled his coat tighter then instantly snapped his focus to the gravestone directly to his right.

            Kathrine Nichols had been walking down Savile Row on her way home one cold afternoon when she came upon a man sitting upright against a cold door leading to Wellshire’s Butchery.  He was holding his ankle and had a grimaced look upon his face.  It appeared that he had dropped a stack of books as well.  Kathrine stopped to help the man to his feet when she felt a burning pain in her abdomen.  She doubled over and screamed at the dagger stuck in her liver.  She looked up to find the man had vanished.  She took his place in front of the butchery and bled to death.  She was only 30 years old.  She and her sister Martha had owned a dress shop four blocks away.  She had been dead now for a mere 4 years.  Her headstone was one of a handful that was not outfitted with a bell.  Clearly, she would not be found buried alive.  However, the obvious sound of a coffin bell was coming directly from the ground in front of the stone that bore her name. 

            William Phelps took a frightened step back; visibly shaking.  Before either of them had an opportunity to understand the situation, the cacophony of bells could be heard from all directions.

            “Reginald.”

            “Sir?”

            “Run and get Constable Hildebrandt.”  Reginald cocked his head slightly but remained in place.  Phelps expressed his urgency.

            “Reginald!”

4:47 A.M.

Quintin Phillips

            The always sharpened blade of Quintin’s shovel penetrated the cold earth like melted butter.  He was not very bright, but his utility services could certainly be counted on.  Luckily, his was not the lone shovel at work.  Twenty men of varying size and ages dug at the ground of several graves.  The bells had oddly stopped ringing.  The silence was music to Mr. Phelps’ ears.

            The name engraved on the plaster headstone atop the grave that Quintin Phillips was currently disturbing was Wilhelmina Horvath.  The cause of her death 7 years ago is unknown.  She was found naked floating in the Thames.  It was assumed she had drowned, though there was no sign of foul play. 

They were to simply discover evidence of death; whatever that meant.  Quintin thought that there was evidence of death all around him.  The smell of death rolled towards them on the wind – on the very hills themselves.

“Q” as his mates referred to him, has been a gravedigger as long as he could remember.  He carried his shovel as early as seven years old.  He learned the trade, along with the drink, from his father; an abusive drunk that placed the well being of the dead far about that of himself and his mother.  But still, digging a hole in the earth alongside his father made him happier than anyone.  Now he wished his father hadn’t taken a knife to his mother.  He wouldn’t have had to wrestle that knife from him; that same knife that he plunged into his father’s neck.  Quinten shrugged as he usually did and threw another shovel full of cold dirt to the side of Ms. Horvath’s grave.

His frozen hands blistered and bled as the shovel finally struck wood after an exhausting hour of digging.  With instructions from the ornery constable, who had been standing near the grave the entire time, they were to only open the lids.  There was no sense in bringing the box up if they were truly dead.

“Bleedin waste of time if you ask me,”  Quinten said to his fellows.  “Once you’re off, no comin back from it.”  Nimbly, he jumped and lands square on the top of the wooden casket.  With a pry bar and some extra effort, he opens a portion of the box.  Without any hesitation, he climbs out of the hole; his face white with fear.  His coveralls muddy with dirt and death.

“What is the problem now, Quinten?”  Asked the constable.  But he chose not to wait for an answer.  He removed his cap and peered into the grave.  The gasp that was produced from the copper’s mouth was loud enough to be heard on Church Street.  The lid had been pried open haphazardly and was left in splinters.  Quinten had fallen and he crawled away from the hole.

“Never gaze into an empty grave.”  He said out loud.

Quinten ran up the lane and out of the cemetery; never to be seen again.  Reginald took a step toward the void nervously.  The other diggers toiled away impervious to such distractions.  Mr. Phelps elbowed Reginald aside and glanced down into the broken coffin.

“Empty?”  He looked around at everyone yet no one at all.  He then turned in bewilderment to officer Hildebrandt, who was just as frightened.  “Whatever does this mean?”

In a fury of unbridled haste, Mr. Phelps instructed the other diggers to hurry.  And one by one; all the caskets were opened, and likewise, all the graves were empty. Seven graves in all; the previous occupants: missing.  Truth be told; perhaps missing wasn’t the correct word, as William Phelps was never in attendance during internment, so how could he possibly say for certain that the departed were actually placed in the coffin at the moment of burial.  He scratched at the balding area on the crown of his head.  Reginald did the same.  He always looked up to Mr. Phelps and was confident that he should follow his direction in all matters regarding life and business.  He chose not to mention the whiskey.   

10:15

On the following Thursday evening,

Susan

            Susan Donahue walked briskly through Kennington Park on her way to Cooks Road.  London was wet but not raining.  The wet hung in the air as a mist, turning her bonnet into a soppy napkin.  Her handbag clenched in her gloved hands as she lost her footing and slipped on the wet cobblestones of Cooks Road.  She most certainly would’ve fallen directly on her face had a hand not grasped her delicate arm in time.  She righted herself and immediately turned to see the frail old gentleman that had assisted her. 

            “My dear,” the man exclaimed.  “Are you alright?”

            Susan addressed the slight man.  “Yes, thank you.”  His hand still held her arm.  “I thought someone had pushed me.”  The man, who had introduced himself to her as Charles Beakon, escorted her across the slippery road and inquired.

            “What is a lovely lady such as you doing out at this time of night, in this weather, and in such proximity to the park?”

            “I was leaving the theater and unfortunately, there wasn’t a single carriage available.  I chose to walk.”

            The man named Charles was old but not ancient.  His suit, dark gray with a crisp white shirt front.  His bowler smelled of fresh linseed oil and sat comfortably on a slightly messy head of unkempt silver hair.  There was a fresh growth of stubble on his chin.  Susan had never seen this man before and yet she felt comforted by his presence and welcomed his request to see that she made it home safely.

The man was silent for a block and a half before he asked Susan how she liked her tea.

“Tea?”  She asked, surprised at the notion.  “At this hour?”

“I have a special blend that I keep in a flask for just an occasion.”

The old man unscrewed the top of an antique flask and handed it to her.  She was wary at first; being not much of a drinker and she didn’t think too kindly of drinking from a stranger in public.  She had stopped beneath the glow of a burning streetlamp and glared at the man.  He was at least six full inches shorter than her.  She held the flask to her nose.  This was absurd, what harm would a small sip of tea do to anyone.  It smelled of black licorice and orange peel; very inviting.  When the warm liquid reached her tongue, she was surprised at how delightful it tasted.  She smiled at her small companion and he smiled right back; indicating that he agreed to allow another sip.

Susan handed the flask back and the two continued up Cooks Road.  The mist that was only somewhat heavy had thickened and turned into a solid fog.  So thick, in fact, Susan could barely see anything in front of her.  She stopped, afraid.

“Sir?”  She called out for the old man.  “Charles?”  No answer.  She began to feel something strange on her skin, much like oil, as if the fog were spreading it.  An odd taste traveled to her throat; a taste she was wholly unfamiliar with.  Now, the fog had become so thick she could no longer see.  She panicked and dropped to her knees.  She called out again but was met with only silence.  The last thing she saw was the white glove that was placed over her mouth.  The lights went out.  Forever.