In her more self-pitying moments - usually after finishing a bottle of wine - Penny Flame found she possessed a remarkable ability to blame just about everything that had gone wrong in her life entirely on her parents. Her mother had the uncanny knack of finding fault in absolutely everything she did from her Christmas nativity performances to only getting a 2:1 in her degree. Her father on the other hand; a serial womaniser, had been absent for long periods of her childhood. He had at least three affairs that she knew of before her mother finally threw him out for good.
A therapist had once pointed out that she was still searching for that father figure in her life. Perhaps she was? She only really fancied older men, usually ones twice her age. Also, there was something about sleeping with a married man that really attracted her for some reason. She had enjoyed many guilty flings with men who complained their marriages were dead but in the end they always went back to their wives, leaving her alone and rejected. Each time it got more painful. Although she hated to admit it, she had a real fear of being alone and dying alone.
Clive was the latest lover to be consigned to the ever growing list of failed relationships. She had, naively, thought he could have been ‘the one’ but he had ended it quite recently and gone back to his wife again. His absence still felt very raw and the only way Penny could deal with the rejection, until the next conquest to come along, was to throw herself fully into this assignment.
This wasn’t an official piece of work but something she was pursuing in her own time. It was a little more interesting than covering the school fetes or farmers markets that her sleazy Editor, Derek Charming had her doing these days. He gave her all the dull uninteresting assignments ever since she’d rejected his advances at the paper’s annual barbecue last summer. Sleazy Derek had told her to find out all she could about Alderman and Son’s Funeral Services and report back to a more ‘senior’ reporter who was working on a potentially ground-breaking exposé. Sleazy Derek hadn’t even seen fit to reveal the nature of the story to Penny. So, humiliated but always willing Penny had started her research.
Obviously she was better than this and her skills were being wasted so she decided to take some initiative and start her own mini investigation into the ‘Dodgy’ Funeral Director; Guy Alderman. Perhaps if she could dig up more dirt on him she could impress her colleagues enough for them to start taking her seriously for a change instead of viewing her as a mediocre journalist / office slapper.
Recalling the basic techniques of following someone; she ensured she had kept the recommended ten meter distance from him, wore a variety of nondescript clothes and accessories so he wouldn’t recognise her, and she moved within crowds to avoid detection. This shady investigative work was one of the few areas she believed she truly excelled in. She had successfully used these techniques to stalk one of her lecturers at university, before eventually shagging him. So applying those techniques to this creepy old man had been easy. After three weeks, Alderman was still completely unaware of her. One of the things she’d learned was that every Tuesday afternoon the ‘Dodgy’ Funeral Director would visit the local vicar in the village of Wellby. Despite the weather, this was where the young determined reporter found herself now; freezing her frigging tits off in the snow covered churchyard next to the vicarage.
Snow was falling again in swirling flurries. A kaleidoscope of shifting white shapes softly tumbled from the grey sky overhead. All around her rows of headstones of differing shapes and sizes leaned at various angles. Some were in better condition than others. Encircling the graveyard, skeletal oak trees towered over smaller fir trees whose branches where decorated with glittery white snow. It was under one of these fir trees, nestled up against the grey stone wall that Penny had secreted herself. Almost an hour had passed since she arrived here. The fir tree and the wall were helping to shelter her from the biting winter breeze chilling the graveyard. Her frosty breath plumed up before her reminding her of the last time she had been hiding in a churchyard like this: Back on that particular night she hadn’t been alone. And she’d had had a lot more fun!
There was something about graveyards that had always unnerved her and the little voice of doubt at the back of her head, which sounded an awful lot like her mother’s voice, told her she should go home. But what kind of investigative journalist would she be if she snuck off every time she missed her home comforts? Still, it wasn’t just the cold or the fact that she was alone in a graveyard that was bothering Penny, there was something else in the air; a tension that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It was like a cloying silence that crept unseen amongst the graves. The snow beneath her feet crunched as she shifted her stiff legs to get the blood moving again.
What if there was someone else here and they’d just been alerted to her presence? They could be dangerous! She resisted the urge to look back over her shoulder to check she was actually alone because that would make her feel even worse. Why did she feel so jumpy this afternoon?
It would be getting dark shortly.
Shut up. She told herself firmly, no longer able to resist the urge to look behind her. Obviously there was no one there but the voice of doubt persisted. Perhaps following Alderman wasn’t such a good idea after all?
No! She had no other plans this evening; nowhere to go and no friends she could just pop in to see. She may as well stick it out here. If she persevered long enough the story would eventually reveal itself. As she settled back down she noticed again how quiet everything was. Usually there was a flock of crows that lived in the surrounding trees. Their harsh caw’s added something to the area and their absence felt unsettling. They were probably taking shelter from the cold weather; Penny reasoned miserably, flexing her fingers to keep the blood flowing.
More snow crunched and her foot sank a few inches. Penny moved back a step, still keeping low below the wall. Snow shifted again where she had been crouching. Sometimes as coffins rotted and broke down they collapsed into themselves leaving a small impression in the ground. She watched in fascination as the ground where she had just been ducking down bowed again and then sank in on itself. Penny was aware of the voice of doubt yelling its warning in her head but she didn’t catch any words until it was too late. Transfixed by the strange event, she watched as the ground began to rise like a miniature volcano erupting, piling upwards in a white cone of freshly fallen snow. Penny stared in dumb curiosity. Then the smell hit her. A putrid stench of trapped grave gasses whooshed up at her. “Ah, god” she staggered backwards gasping, waving her gloved hand franticly under her nose almost dropping her camera.
Then the nightmare broke. A black claw-like hand burst out from the frozen earth, scrabbling at the falling snow. A second arm appeared. She gasped in shock. Her mind refused to accept what she was seeing and she felt the flesh creep on her spine and shoulders. Someone sat up in the grave. No. Not someone, some-thing. Its festering rotting flesh had sloughed away in most places exposing bones blackened with decay. Long stringy grey hair still hung in thin lank strands from the empty skull. Penny looked on in frozen horror as the hideous corpse slowly turned its head to look at her through the dark vacant sockets in its skull. The creature’s jaws were drawn in a rictus grin of exposed cartilage and bone. Dressed in its tattered burial clothes the thing slowly stood up in monstrous animation. It took a jerking step towards her.
It shouldn’t be doing that! Penny thought dumbly. It‘s dead! It shambled forwards reaching out towards her.
“Oh-my-god. Oh. My. god. Oh… My… god…” Penny’s chest tightened. She couldn’t breathe. All notions of stealth forgotten, she scrambled backwards babbling incoherently before she realised she could go no further. She was up against the prickly fir tree. Cold snow fell down the back of her neck. She was cornered. Penny could do nothing but look on in abject terror and disbelief. It made not a sound as its grey fingers, only inches from her face, reached out through the swirling snow. Penny screamed. The piercing sound energised her limbs and she scrambled to her feet. Running, slipping and bumping into branches and headstone she scurried away from the looming corpse.
The snow and her own panic conspired to disorientate her. She knew she was at the far end of the graveyard and her car was out on the road, some distance away. Snowflakes were tumbling thicker and faster. It has difficult to make out the gate marking the entrance to the churchyard. The snow blinded her eyes. Still she knew roughly where she was going and hurried in that direction, not daring to look back. Her flight, however, was quickly arrested as she saw what else waited for her in the winter wilderness.
From out of the white swirling haze more crumbling dead men, women and even children were prowling the churchyard. Eerily silent they flapped and plodded out of the ground and between the graves towards the terrified journalist. Not even their footsteps made any noise in the colossal silence they bought. It was actually the quietness that disturbed Penny more than the sight of the unnatural things.
These people are all dead!
Penny screamed again. Surely someone would hear her soon. The vicar was just a few meters away. But the wind picked up again, howling between the graves and drowning out her desperate cries for help. At that moment she backed into another tree. Only it wasn’t a tree, Penny barely registered in her rising panic. Something else wrapped itself around her arm. A putrid black hand curled around her forearm. She screamed again this time tasting the foul overpowering reek of rotten flesh at the back of her throat. It was worse than bile. She wanted to screw her eyes shut but she couldn’t look away. More of the scarecrow-like men and women silently emerged all around her grinning savagely through the billowing snow. The sharp digits of their hands dug into her shoulders, her arms, her legs. The stench was overwhelming. The mob of rotting corpses fell upon her knocking her to the ground. Penny managed one more scream before her consciousness fled.
Penny awoke a few moments later in a crawling panic. Cold earth rose up on all sides and she realised she was lying down in a dark narrow space no bigger than a coffin. She couldn’t move. The ground was hard and lumpy and moving. She recalled the state of the decomposing corpses and immediately pictured a writhing nest of maggots burrowing their way through dead rotting flesh. Her sudden frantic attempts to struggle free ceased as the dead man lying next to her tightened his grip, holding her in an eternal embrace. Penny gibbered uncontrollably. Her sanity was lost as they revealed what they had planned for her. More decomposing bodies of men and women swayed over the grave as they shoved earth down upon her. Just before her screaming fell silent, one final coherent thought managed to surface through the roaring terror in her mind. At least, she thought curiously; I’m not alone.
I have had stories published with yourself as well as on Microhorror, Popcorn Horror and local magazines. I also run a website entitled Black Cat Tales (blackcattales.weebly.com).