Animus (Free Sample Chapters)

Like all readers, I also prefer reading more than just a blurb on a dust jacket before deciding if it’s a book I want to buy and finish reading. Therefore, I will be offering free sample chapters for all 6 of my novels, with a shortcut to the link in the event you would like to purchase it. Animus is available in E-Book format and paperback. Comments and feedback are always welcome. In fact, I encourage it!!!! Hope you enjoy these few chapters!!!

PROLOGUE

Friday, October 11th – 9:15 a.m. – Kendall Funeral Home

Patrice Cavanaugh pulled her dark blue four-door sedan into the parking lot of Kendall Funeral Home and selected an empty slot with “VISITORS” painted in black block letters on the curbstone, parallel to the front entrance.  She was tired and weary, perhaps even a little sad, but not grievous.  Her eyes ached from lack of sleep, a luxury she’d been denied since leaving the hospital earlier that morning.  With the car still idling, she adjusted the air conditioner vent so that the cold air blew directly in her face, attempting to fight off the nausea that had suddenly swept over her, lying as heavy as a boulder inside her chest.  Just when she was certain that she would pass out, the sick feeling began to subside, leaving her feeling weak and sweaty.  Leaning back against the headrest, she exhaled a puff of breath as she stared at the front door of the building, dreading what lay ahead of her.  “God, I hate funeral homes,” she said.

Gabby, her older sister, sat beside her in the front passenger seat, staring blankly through the windshield.  “I know,” she said softly.  “So do I, and we both have a good reason for that.”

Patrice glanced over at Gabby.  “Thank you for coming with me,” she said.  “I know you didn’t want to, and you really didn’t have to, but I sure do appreciate you being here.  It means a lot to me, especially considering your feelings towards Brad.”  Patrice knew how much Gabby disliked him.  Hated him was probably a better way of putting it.  And she wasn’t alone in those feelings.  Everyone who knew Bradley Cavanaugh hated him, including herself.

“You’re welcome,” Gabby responded, squeezing her sister’s hand.  “Come on, let’s go inside and get this over with,” she said, opening her door and getting out.

They walked the short distance on the sidewalk, pausing momentarily beneath a green and white striped awning that overhung the front entrance, its scalloped edges flapping softly in the light fall breeze.  “You okay?” Gabby asked.

Patrice nodded.  “Yes,” she answered, pulling open the front door, bells chiming above them as they stepped into the lobby.

The waiting area of the funeral home looked like a pine tree had suffered a horrible upset stomach and vomited, leaving in its wake a blanket of multi-colored greens.  Forest green carpet, matching lime green sofa and chairs with tiny pink rose accents, grass green throw pillows with yellow fringe – everything around her was green!  Patrice supposed the colors were meant to be cheerful for this otherwise sad environment, something to help the grieving cope with their losses and soften the hard blow of dealing with the reality of death.  But she found the variety of colors more than overwhelming, and frankly, quite sickening.  Almost as putrid as the smell of gardenia scented room-spray that permeated the entire lobby.  Paintings of serene settings decorated the two lobby walls.  In one, a lakefront with calm, still waters and a fisherman casting his rod from a canoe; a country cabin with a dirt path and quaint white cottage in the other.  Both were autographed by artists she had never heard of.  In the corner next to the front entrance stood an upright metal bookrack filled with flyers and pamphlets offering self-help advice on how to deal with grief.  Various magazines and newspapers were scattered across the glass-top coffee table that was placed in front of the sofa.  Organ music played softly from overhead speakers, reminding her of old Miss Petty, the church organist from her childhood, whose long pencil-like fingers plucked away at the keys while she rocked back and forth to the sounds coming out of the pipe organs.  “For crying out loud, turn off that funereal dirge and put on some good old rock and roll!” Patrice thought, feeling a bit guilty for having such thoughts while standing in her current environment.  Even so, she had to stifle a giggle at the thought of hard rock blasting from the sound system inside of a funeral home.

“May I help you?” asked the elderly lady at the reception desk, whose short hair was a light shade of purple that could only be obtained from using too much color rinse.  Her cat-eye shaped glasses sat perched on the end of her beaked nose and she looked over them when she spoke.

“Yes, I have an appointment with Mr. Kendall.”

“Your name, please?”

“Patrice Cavanaugh.”

The receptionist, (whose name she later learned was Gladys), picked up the phone and punched in an extension number.  “Patrice Cavanaugh is here for her appointment.”  She paused, listening to the voice on the other end of the phone.  “Yes, sir,” she said, hanging up the phone.  To Patrice, she said, “I’ll show you back.”

Patrice and Gabby were led down a short hallway that contained three doors, two on the right and one on the left, which had a restroom sign over the top of the door.  A faint odor of formaldehyde filled the hallway, causing Patrice to shudder.  For a moment, she wished she were back in the lobby smelling gardenias.  She was more than familiar with the process of embalming and what it entailed.  Not that she had ever performed or witnessed one personally, because she knew she could never do that, but because it had been explained to her and Gabby, at their request, by the funeral director who had handled the arrangements for their parents.  There really was no need for the procedure to be described to them, other than the fact that they wanted to know exactly what their mom and dad would be subjected to.  It was a decision they had both come to regret, because once it is described in detail, it created mental images that would forever haunt them both.

At the end of the hall were double wooden doors with silver thresholds on the bottom and matching silver push bars with an “Authorized Personnel Only” sign posted on the left doorway.  “I can only imagine what’s beyond there,” Patrice thought.  “Is that where Brad is?” she wondered.  “Lying on a cold morgue table waiting to be dressed and put into his coffin?  Good!  I hope you freeze your ass off in there!”

Gladys led them to the last door on the right, stopping just outside the office.  “Here we are,” she said, smiling and motioning Patrice and Gabby into the office.  Patrice thanked her and stepped through the door, where she was immediately greeted by a munchkin of a man who was as big around as he was tall.  She half expected him to start dancing and break into a chorus of the lollipop guild, but instead, he extended his pudgy hand with its sausage looking fingers and introduced himself.  “Mrs. Cavanaugh, I’m Miles Kendall,” he said smiling, revealing tiny, doll-sized teeth.  “Please allow me to extend my deepest condolences for your loss.”

“Thank you,” she answered softly.  “Mr. Kendall, this is my sister, Gabby.  She’s assisting me in making Brad’s arrangements.  I hope it’s okay that she came with me.”

“Of course, of course,” he beamed.  “It’s always nice to have someone to lean on, especially at a time such as this.”

He shook Gabby’s hand as well, and then motioned for them to sit in the two brown leather chairs across from his desk.  Gabby grimaced at his sweaty touch, wiping her hand on her jeans before sitting down, wondering if he had noticed her reaction.  If so, he showed no indications of it.  Instead, he began his spiel with Patrice about finalizing funeral arrangements.

“Mrs. Cavanaugh…” Miles started.

“Please call me Patrice,” she insisted.  She felt no need to tell him the reason why.  Frankly, it was none of his business.

“Very well.  Patrice it is then,” he said, shuffling through some papers on his desktop.  “Have you given any thought as to what type of service you’d like for your husband?  I have several plans that I can go over with you,” he said, opening a black notebook, its pages separated by colored tabs.  “Is there to be a memorial service or a funeral only?”

“Neither,” Patrice quickly responded, causing Miles to raise an inquisitive eyebrow.  “Something simple and inexpensive will do fine.”

Miles remained silent, glancing back and forth between the two women, completely perplexed by her statement.

“What my sister means to say, Mr. Kendall,” Gabby offered, as though reading his thoughts, “is that she and Brad discussed this type of situation in the past, as I’m sure most married couples do, and both decided on what each would want in the event of the other’s death.  Brad made it perfectly clear to Patrice that he did not want a funeral.” You can put him in a cardboard box and toss him in the ocean as shark bait for all I care! she thought.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say!  “He didn’t want anything fancy, expensive or extravagant.  He told Patrice that he didn’t want all that attention lavished upon him or people coming to gawk at him while he lay in his casket.  He was extremely adamant about it.  So,” she said, turning to Patrice.  “My sister doesn’t need to go into debt to pay for something that Brad didn’t want anyway.  I’m sure you can understand that.”

Miles appeared to be disappointed by her remarks.  She wasn’t sure if it were because of all the money he wouldn’t be making, or because Patrice’s request was such a strange one to him.  Whatever the reason, his displeasure was evident by the scowl that had replaced his smile.

Patrice reached into her purse, took out an envelope and handed it to Miles.  “His life insurance policy,” she told him.  “The face value is ten thousand dollars.  That should be enough to take care of everything.  He already has a pre-paid tomb at Greenview Cemetery, so there shouldn’t be a cost for burial.  If there’s any money left over after expenses, you can send me a check.”

Miles stared at her momentarily, said nothing, and then opened the envelope and removed the policy.  Quickly scanning over it, he said, “Yes, I’m sure this will be enough.  But shouldn’t we at least discuss the type of coffin you’d like for your husband?  I can take you to the showroom and show you…”

“No, no,” Patrice said hastily.  “I’ll trust you to make that decision, based on everything Gabby has told you.  Again, nothing overly expensive.”

Miles wasn’t sure how to respond to this request.  Most people he dealt with wanted the best for their loved one’s final farewell, but hers was quite strange, and more than a little unnerving.  He had been in the mortuary business for more than twenty years and had never been asked to do such a thing.  Family members generally took pride in choosing the right casket for their dearly departed – the right service, the proper music, everything.  Obviously, Patrice Cavanaugh wasn’t like most people.  She seemed to be a mousy, timid woman, and fragile, as though she might shatter into a million tiny pieces at the slightest of touches.  “Yes, I suppose I can take care of that as well,” was all he could think to say.

“And Mr. Kendall,” Patrice continued.  “I’m not sure whether the hospital staff told you when they released Brad to you, but I want to make it perfectly clear that he is not to be embalmed.”

“But, Mrs. Cavanaugh,” he protested.  “That’s simply not…”

Patrice held up a hand, cutting him off.  “I know it’s probably unorthodox compared to your previous clients, but it’s his request, Mr. Kendall, not mine.  All I’m doing is honoring his final wishes, which is exactly what I would’ve wanted him to do if the tables were turned.”  She supposed she could have lied and made the request sound more viable by telling him that it was for religious purposes, but she feared that God himself would strike her down with a powerful bolt of lightning for telling such an extravagant falsehood because Brad had never stepped foot inside of a church in his entire life.  She knew as she spoke the words to Mr. Kendall how strange they sounded, but Brad had made her promise on more than one occasion that she would not allow him to be embalmed upon his death because he was terrified at the thought of having sharp probes punching holes in his body to drain him of his blood, although she had assured him that he wouldn’t feel a thing.  Yet he was adamant about it, and she had kept her word like any good wife would.

“I see,” he said, nodding.  But he really didn’t. This lady is nuttier than a fruitcake!  What kind of a person doesn’t want their loved ones to be embalmed?

“Is there a problem, Mr. Kendall?” Patrice asked.  “You seem somewhat unsure of my request.”

Miles stared fixedly at her, his mouth agape.  “It’s just…” he began, but Patrice cut him off before he could go any further.

“I can take my business elsewhere if there is.”

“No, Mrs. Cavanaugh.  That won’t be necessary.  I’ll honor your husband’s wishes.”

“Good,” Patrice stated.  “Then that’s settled.”

“Yes,” Miles stammered.  “I suppose it is.”

“I brought clothes for him,” she said, placing a brown paper bag on top of his desk.  “I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate being buried in bloody clothes.”

Miles stared thoughtfully at the bag.  Did this woman care so little about her husband that she couldn’t even take the time to put his burial clothes on a hanger?  A bag was all he was worth to her?  He didn’t want to think about it anymore.  All he wanted was to finish his business with this cold-hearted woman and get her out of his establishment.

“Mrs. Cavanaugh,” he began, refusing to call her by her first name any longer.  “I’m sure you understand that if there is to be no embalming, Mr. Cavanaugh will need to be laid to rest right away, for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to explain.”

“I understand,” she replied.

Miles rose from his seat and picked up the bag with Brad’s clothes in it.  “Would you like to see him so that you can say your last goodbye?”

“No!” she snapped, realizing that she had probably stunned him with her sudden and abrupt answer.  “What I mean is, I saw him this morning at the hospital, and that vision was enough to last me a lifetime.  I said goodbye to him then.”

“Very well,” he huffed.  “I assure you that I will handle everything accordingly and in agreement with your wishes, and with Mr. Cavanaugh’s wishes as well.”

“I appreciate that,” Patrice said.

“Thank you,” Gabby added.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Patrice said, reaching into the left front pocket of her black Capri pants.  “Can you please put this in his hand and bury it with him?” she asked, placing a bronze coin into his palm.  “It’s a token of good will to guide him on his journey into the afterlife,” she explained.  Or Hell, which I guarantee you is where he’s going!

Miles took the coin and cupped it in his hand.  “Yes, of course, Mrs. Cavanaugh.  I’ll see that it’s entombed with him.”

At the doorway of his office, Gabby turned to Miles and said, “Mr. Kendall, I’m sure Patrice’s requests and behavior might seem somewhat strange to you, but they’re really not.  Everything she has requested is exactly what Brad wanted.  Nothing more, nothing less.”  Pausing for a moment, she then continued.  “My sister is having a really hard time right now trying to deal with his sudden death, then having to make all these spur-of-the-moment decisions.  She’s extremely stressed, so please forgive her for any improprieties.”  If you only knew about all the bruises he gave her, every bone he’s broken, every bloody nose – then you’d understand.  Because if you did know all these things, you’d probably want to dump him in the ocean yourself!

“I understand, Gabby,” he said as he ushered her away from the door and into the hallway, where Patrice stood patiently waiting for her.

But that was a lie, because he really didn’t understand any of it at all.

Present Day

Chapter 1

The Mistress was ready for this.  Hell, she was more than ready.  Afterall, she had spent the past year planning and preparing for this most wonderful moment to arrive.  It would be something spectacular, a kind of coming out occasion for her, and she had planned every step meticulously.  It would be something to see, alright.  It was just too bad that she and Bradley Cavanaugh would be the only two people that would know about it.

She was both nervous and excited; somewhat worried, yet not afraid at all.  The thought of going through with what she had planned for that piece of shit was a level of courage she would have never in a million years thought she had.  Butterflies danced in her stomach, flitting and fluttering in spasmodic arcs, their tiny wings tickling her insides and sending a thrilling chill up her spine.  The feelings she had could only be described as ecstatic and tingly, like she felt sometimes when she’d indulged in too much chocolate, or how a teenage girl might feel when that special boy she has a major crush on finally asks her out on a date.  It was totally arousing, a complete rush of adrenaline, akin to the same feeling as plunging down that first drop on a roller coaster!

She giggled delightfully, clapping her hands together, pleased with herself for concocting such an extravagant plan without anyone knowing about it, because if anyone did find out, they’d surely render her completely insane and would most likely lock her up and throw away the key – and she would never go back to that place again!  No siree, Bob!

What she couldn’t deny was the fact that there had been moments when she’d been a little apprehensive about moving forward with her strategy.  However, when she focused on all the hurt, anger, frustration, betrayal, and pure hatred she’d carried inside of her for years, those feelings of uncertainty had quickly dissipated, and in their place was born a gut-wrenching desire for revenge against a man that she absolutely and totally loathed.

To be honest with herself, she wasn’t entirely sure that this was going to work.  She had never tried it on a human before.  But she had performed the exact same ritual on a cat and had been successful – well, sort of.

The little gray ball of fur had come into her possession courtesy of the local animal shelter adoption program.  He was a cute little thing, too, friendly, and affectionate, eyes the color of topaz.  If he hadn’t been meant to fulfill a higher purpose, she may have considered keeping him as a pet.  She did let it enjoy three days of freedom before sacrificing it, though, which she thought was nice of her, since he could possibly have lived out the rest of his life trapped in a cage.  And when the time had come for her to say goodbye to Mr. Kitty, she’d shown him mercy by making his death quick and painless.  She recalled being mesmerized by the tiny bubbles that had erupted from his nose and mouth as she’d held him under water and had even felt a little sad as she watched the life drain from his tiny body, his bright, golden eyes going dim.

Running her hand down his limp body, she had squeezed the excess water from his fur, and then had lain him out on the ritual cloth, preparing him for resurrection.

It took less than an hour for his rebirth.  At first, he seemed dazed, as though he had just awakened from a catnap.  But then he became violent, hissing and snarling at her; not the same sweet kitten she had drowned in the bathtub.  When he had lunged at her, ready to attack with claws and teeth, she realized she couldn’t allow him to live, and had put him down with one stab from her ritual dagger.  She saw no need to bury him; so, she wrapped his tiny body in an old towel, tied them both up inside of a plastic garbage bag, and put the bundle outside in the trashcan for the sanitation workers to pick up.

At the time she had performed the resurrection spell on the cat, she had no idea that she’d need to perform it again in the future.  She had only done it then to see if she could, to grow in her experience and enhance her craft.

But all of that was about to change.

More than a year ago, she had made up her mind that she was going to kill Bradley Cavanaugh and had everything planned out perfectly – how she would do it, where she would do it, how she would dispose of his body, all in a way that no one would ever suspect it was she who was guilty of the crime.  If any questions ever did arise about his whereabouts, the authorities would simply think that he had up and left without telling anyone.  That’s what liars, abusers and cheaters always did, right?  Walk out of a relationship without giving explanations why or screw every woman that said yes to their advances, always on the prowl, searching around for their next unsuspecting victim, wooing them, and showering them with gifts until he caught them in his web of deceit.  All her life she had known men just like him, and they were always the same – users and losers.

But just as she was ready to make her move on him by kidnapping him at gunpoint and taking him to her cabin, the stupid son of a bitch went and got himself killed in a car accident!  The nerve of him!  Who did he think he was to spoil her fun like that?  He wasn’t going to because she wasn’t going to let him.

Discarding her original plans because she couldn’t kill a man who’s already dead, she was forced to think of another way to fulfill her desire to annihilate him and make him suffer as much as he had made her suffer, and she had to think, and move, fast.

Coming up with a replacement plan hadn’t taken long.  She figured out the perfect solution and it was one that no one would ever figure out, because to know it and believe it would be admitting that the dead really can come back to life, and that wasn’t something too many people would be willing to agree on.

She already had everything she needed for the spell, having collected potions, herbal ingredients, and even bones and other body parts, over the years to stay in practice, and up-to-date, as a self-proclaimed witch.  Perhaps she could kill a dead man, afterall. It truly was a brilliant plan.

Raising her glass of Merlot towards the ceiling, she said, “Let the games begin.”

* * * * *

“Come on, Riley,” Frank Rowan said to his Labrador.  “Let’s go make our final rounds before we lock up the joint for the night.”

Grabbing his key ring from its hook on the kitchen wall, he headed towards the front door of his one-bedroom bungalow that he shared with his dog.  It was only six hundred square feet, but hey, it was home and they lived there rent-free.  It was just one of the perks that came with the job.  Landing the position wasn’t much of a competition, either.  It wasn’t like applicants were knocking down the door to apply!  Nope, this job wasn’t for the squeamish or faint-hearted, and most certainly not for someone who scared easily, because not just anyone could be a groundskeeper at a cemetery!  Frank had no qualms about taking the job.  How hard could it possibly be to walk around and check on gravesites, keep the grounds clean, and make sure no one accidentally got locked in after closing?  It did take guts and nerves of steel to walk through a graveyard at night, especially when there was no moon and it was dark AND quiet.  He understood why some people might be scared, especially if they let their imaginations run wild.  If they did that, they probably would see a ghost or two, or imagine that the hundreds of towering, looming tombstones bathed in silver moonlight may just be stone soldiers, erect and ready to do battle.

Standing six feet, five inches and weighing two hundred and fifty pounds, Frank Rowan did not scare easily, nor was he scared of much…except for spiders.  Those eight-legged freaks gave him the willies, especially the gargantuan ones, with their long prickly legs and gazillion eyes staring back at him.  Geez, how he hated those things!  Most people were intimidated by his size and tended to steer clear of him.  He had overheard some of the whispers from town residents and the names they called him – Digger, Weirdo, the tall dude, to name a few.  He had even heard the occasional “wow, you’re a tall drink of water,” when someone did take the time to speak to him. Frank had never responded or reacted to the name-calling, giving only a slight nod as he passed them by.  He never could understand why they called him Digger though, for he certainly didn’t dig graves.  And even if he did, didn’t the bozos know they had machines for that now?  Truthfully, he had no clue why they called him names at all, since no one really knew him.  He had only been in this town for the past year and had taken the groundskeeper job at Greenview Cemetery just a few short weeks after arriving.  He figured it was exactly what he needed after suffering through, and unfortunately surviving, his worst nightmare.  Horrible and tragic losses that he neither liked to think or talk about.  A quiet and secluded place seemed like the perfect medicine for a broken man.  Somewhere away from everyone and everything, where no one would bother him.  He figured it was easier for the townsfolk to gossip about him and believe what they wanted to believe rather than to know the truth about the man he was.  A small town had been exactly what he was looking for when he found Peach City.  Located about fifty miles north of the Florida state line, it seemed quiet and peaceful enough to settle down in, so he had.  From the few minor interactions he’d had with the townspeople, it appeared as though everybody knew each other and always addressed each other by their first names.  But no one ever bothered him or called him by his real name.  That was precisely the way he liked it.

Frank didn’t believe in ghosts, either.  He’d certainly never seen one.  And if there were such a thing, wasn’t he in the perfect place to see them?  He thought so.  He had always believed that when you’re dead, you’re dead, plain, and simple.  No Heaven, no Hell, no Purgatory, and certainly no lingering spirits that had a problem moving on to their next realm because they had unfinished business on earth.  He would admit, however, that on a couple of occasions, he had gotten somewhat spooked.  Like the time he had been making his nightly rounds and heard what he thought was someone whispering.  But since the entrance to the cemetery closed at ten P.M. and cars had no other way in except through the front gate, he knew that he was alone, except for Riley, who stood loyally by his side (and Riley couldn’t talk, much less whisper), so he concluded that it was the wind blowing through the leaves.  However, as he arrived at that rationalization, he got scared so badly that he had nearly peed his pants!  The bushes directly in front of him began shaking and rustling, and from inside the bush came a low, deep growl.  Approaching the shrub slowly and carefully, he squatted and shined his flashlight through the gap between the branches, only to see two glowing silver orbs staring back at him.  He half expected a ferocious mountain lion or a rabid raccoon to jump out of the bushes and maul him to death!  That thought had caused a ripple of fear to crawl through his belly, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight on end.  His attempt to get to his feet, along with a sudden emergence from the bush happening simultaneously, Frank lost his balance and fell backwards onto his rear end.  It didn’t take him long to realize that he wasn’t being attacked by a mountain lion or a raccoon, but by a wild, feral cat.  It lunged straight onto his chest, burying its claws into his skin, hissing and growling, breathing its rotten, foul breath directly into Frank’s face.  The smell had been overwhelming and suffocating, nearly making him puke.  Grabbing the cat tightly by the nape of its neck, he yanked it from him, feeling his skin rip as the cat’s razor-sharp claws tore loose, taking out chunks of his flesh.  He quickly got to his feet, gasping for breath, his heart pounding, and hoping with all his might that the cat wouldn’t pounce on him again. It hadn’t.  Instead, it hissed at him, let out a guttural growl, and then took off running for its life into the woods, back to its filthy way of life and smorgasbords of decaying animal carcasses.

The puncture wounds in his chest had stung and burned like fire.  He had known he was bleeding because he could feel the wetness soaking through his shirt.  Picking up his flashlight, he turned to Riley and said, “Thanks for the help, pal.”

He could laugh about it now, especially when he thought about how he must have looked – a mountain of a man on the ground wrestling with a small, defenseless cat; however, it had certainly delivered some nasty injuries, and it wasn’t funny when he’d had to nurse all his wounds…including a slightly bruised ego.

Opening the door, he turned to Riley, who remained on the couch, glancing back and forth from Frank to the door.  “You coming or not?”

Riley licked his chops and answered with a whimper.

“What’s wrong, buddy?” Frank asked.  “You scared?”

Riley whimpered again, glanced momentarily at the front door, and then laid his head back down on his paws.

“You’re not going to make me go out there by myself, are you?” Frank asked as he knelt beside the couch.  Scratching the dog behind the ear, he said, “I don’t blame you, boy.  I don’t care for it much myself, but I must do it to make sure everything’s secure.  Come on.  I promise it’ll be over with before you know it.”

Without lifting his head, Riley cast a furtive glance at Frank, and then toward the front door.  Reluctantly, he left the safety of the warm couch and walked slowly toward the door, his tail tucked firmly between his legs.

“What gives?” Frank thought.  “Why the sudden strange behavior?”

* * * * *

The anticipation was killing her.  She hated waiting!  She was antsy and restless, eager to move forward, but she had to wait because the time to act had not yet arrived.  Patience was NOT one of her virtues and waiting for anything was a huge pain in her ass!  She felt like a kid standing outside of a penny candy store with a whole dollar to spend on anything she wanted but having to wait for the doors to open for business!

Looking at the clock for what seemed like the thousandth time, she saw that she still had a little more than an hour left before her ceremony would commence.  Downing the last of the red wine in her glass, she glanced over all the ingredients laid before her, naming off each one, conducting yet another inventory to make sure she had everything she would need.  She did.  There was a black candle for power; a picture of Brad for spiritual identification; gold dust to summon the dead; and Azan flowers for the actual resurrecting of his dead body.  Her own blood would be the final addition to complete the spell and seal her power over him.  She was satisfied.  Glancing at the clock once more, she discovered that only minutes had passed since she had last looked, although it seemed like it had been hours.   Mentally, she screamed “UGHHHHH!” at the top of her lungs, but aloud, she whispered, ““Patience, my dear, patience.”

As she waited, she reminded herself why she hated Brad so much, and to be honest, the reasons were endless.  It hadn’t always been that way, though.  There had been a time when she had cared a great deal for him.  When she had enjoyed being around him and hearing his laughter or hearing him tell his dull and corny jokes.  But her feelings had quickly changed when she had learned the truth about him.  About what kind of a man he really was, and the façade he had hidden behind all that time.  And learning what she had learned about him had not been an easy thing to accept.  She was heartbroken to learn of the things she had been told, to see the things she had witnessed herself.  To hold someone on such a high pedestal as she had him, only to have him fall from grace, so to speak, was a real gut-punch!  She believed that she had gone through the seven stages of grief, beginning with denial and disbelief, and ending with absolute, unadulterated hatred.

He was a strikingly handsome man, no doubt.  Tall, with wavy black hair and sea green eyes, he had been the envy of many men in town because of his good looks.  But the women loved and lusted after him.  The problem was, he loved and lusted them in return.  From what she had learned through town gossip, his infidelities were quite substantial.  Obviously, the institution of marriage and the vows that he had taken had meant nothing to him, and that alone was one of the main reasons she felt the way she did about him now.  But he was also a liar and a drunk, and he liked to physically abuse women when he was intoxicated, and sometimes when he wasn’t, and she knew that fact from first-hand experience.  Punching a woman in the face and stomach may have made him feel superior, but in her opinion, he was the worst kind of man on the planet, in a class lower than cockroaches.

Even with all his hatefulness and cruelty, there was another reason she harbored so much hatred towards him – and it was the most important reason of all.  He had taken her best friend away from her, someone who had been an integral part of her life since they’d been in elementary school!  A friend who had sworn that they’d be together forever, through thick and thin, no matter what.    He took all of that away, and Patrice stood by and allowed it to happen!  And because of that, she could never forgive him!

She didn’t completely blame Patrice for their separation because she knew that Patrice had no choice, given the threats that Brad had made against her.  And Brad didn’t simply make threats – he was known for carrying through on them.  It had taken several years to accept the demise of their friendship, to mend the pieces of her broken heart, and to put her life back together – a life void of Patrice.  But time had done exactly that.  The only thing that time had not healed was her deep-seeded hatred.  In fact, having the time to mull it all over through the years had only made her resent him more.

“I loathe you, Bradley Cavanaugh,” she said through clenched teeth.  “With every ounce of my being.”

With her eyes transfixed on the clock, she stated, “And it won’t be long now until you find out just how much.”

* * * * *

The hands on the grandfather clock were both positioned on twelve, confirming the moment she had been anxiously waiting for.  Midnight had finally arrived – it was time.

The blood red robe cascaded around her ankles as she stood before the makeshift altar, the cowled hood pulled over her head so that only her face was visible.  Her alabaster skin appeared pale and ghastly in the glow of the burning candles.  The ritual gown wasn’t necessary to perform the spell, but she preferred wearing it because it made her feel superior and important, as if she were the queen of the world!

All those long months of waiting were about to come to fruition, and hopefully, her deep desire for retribution sated and satisfactory.

She opened her book of Forgotten Spells and Magical Rituals to the page bookmarked with a blue sticky note and laid it down in front of her onto the round dinette table that she had converted into a shrine.  Resurrection Spell was at the top of the page, sprawled in large, black letters.  “Ritual must be performed at midnight on the third day following death,” was highlighted in orange.  And directly below that, also in orange, “If performed during the cycle of the full moon, the power of the spell shall increase thrice-fold.”  Although WARNING! was highlighted in yellow as well, she did not heed the advice and instead, crossed it out entirely.  Warnings were for novices and idiots…she was a pro and completely at ease.  Unlike some other mystics she was acquainted with, she knew what she was doing.  She had already performed the spell once.  What would make this time any different than the last?

A copper bowl filled with yellow Oenothera rested atop a black tablecloth with a red five-pointed pentagram painted in the center (compliments of her crafting paints).  The flowers were creatures of natural beauty, with four heart-shaped petals on each one.  She hated to burn them because they would make a lovely bouquet.  But, alas, duty called, and that meant that the flowers must be destroyed.  Atop them was a photograph of Brad, from happier times, when she had liked him.

Striking a match, she lit the five red candles that had been placed on each point of the pentagram, and then touched the burning flame of the match to the wick of the black ritual candle that she held in her hand.  As the candle began to melt, she dripped the wax onto the picture of Brad, allowing small black circles to cover his face, until they all ran together to form one large blob of melted wax.  Placing the black candle into a candlestick, she then picked up the sterling silver dagger from the table and drew the sharp blade across the palm of her hand, making a short, shallow wound just deep enough to draw blood.  She winced at the sting of the pain as she held her fisted hand over the mixture inside the bowl and squeezed, causing red droplets to fall on top of the hardened wax.  Lastly, she sprinkled diamond dust over the flowers, and then closed her eyes. 

Many years ago, she had trained herself how to meditate and put herself into a trancelike state.  It had been hard at first, because she could be so easily distracted by thoughts and the sounds around her.  But the more she practiced, the better she got, until she learned how to completely tune out all the noises and every single thought inside of her head.

Starting with deep breathing exercises, she inhaled and counted to six; exhaled – counted to six, repeat.  She then imagined herself at the top of a ladder, needing to descend to the bottom rung, then into the black abyss that lay beyond the ladder.  Inhale, exhale – take two steps down.  With each descent, her surroundings grew darker and darker, until she was engulfed in total blackness, her thoughts clear, her mind focused.

She began to chant.  “Ommm, Ommm, Ommm…Surgit, Surgit, SURGIT!”   With her arms spread wide, palms upward, eyes still closed, she began the incantation that would revive the body of the man she so desperately reviled.

“I call out to the prison walls that hold the body of Bradley Cavanaugh captive,” she intoned.  “I command you to listen to the sound of my voice.  I order you to crumble away and set him free.  Loosen your grip on him, mighty death chamber, so that he may be raised from eternal rest and live again.  Listen to the sound of my voice and obey my commands.  Spew forth that which you have confined.”

She paused for a moment and opened her eyes, then stepped closer to the altar.  “Surge sursus, iterum.”  (Rise up and live again.) 

Ego ad te, Bradley Cavanaugh…et resurgere a mortuis!” (I call to you, Bradley Cavanaugh, AWAKE and rise from your dead slumber!)

She touched the black candle’s flame to the flowers inside the copper bowl that were coated with diamond dust, instantly igniting them.  A hissing sound erupted from the flames as they grew higher and redder, licking at the photograph of Brad as though they were feeding on him.  The photo curled up at all four corners, devoured by the heat and fire, and then disappeared completely into the pile of smoldering ashes.

Ego proecipio tibi! Surge sursus, veni ad me!” (I command you, rise and come to me.)

“Surge sursus, Surge sursus, SURGE SURSUS!”  She commanded. 

Inhaling deeply; she breathed in the sweet aroma of burning flowers, photograph paper and dried blood.  The smell made her smile, because the scent was confirmation that she had followed through with the resurrection spell without any qualms or second thoughts.  Coming out of her trance, she exhaled with a sigh, blew out the candle and then placed it in the copper bowl across the pile of ashes that had once been stunning flowers.

The summoning ritual was complete.  Bradley Cavanaugh’s grave had been ordered to break away and loosen him from its death grip, and he had been commanded to escape from his burial vault and obey her commands and instructions to come to her. 

Changing from her ritual gown into a pair of jeans and black t-shirt, she knew that rest was what she needed now, but she also knew that sleep would likely elude her because she was too excited about the fun that lay ahead of her.  The joy she would feel when getting even with that prick for all the pain he had bestowed on her was overwhelming.  She recalled a favorite phrase of Brad’s, one that he used to say quite often to justify getting out of an engagement or an appointment, feigning tiredness for his excuses.  “Being an attorney in the corporate world is torture.”

“Jackass,” she said aloud.  “You have no clue what torture is, but you will soon enough.”

Thoughts about the tools and other devices she had purchased for the special occasion, and what she planned to do with them, danced around inside her mind.  All of them were downstairs on the worktable, concealed beneath a blue plastic tarp.  She didn’t want him to see all her toys right away and spoil the surprise.  How much fun would that be?

She also had Ketamine and other medical supplies, all of them either bought or stolen.  She liked to think that she “borrowed” them, but that would mean they’d need to be returned and she had no intentions of doing that.  Because then she would have to admit that she had stolen them afterall, and that might prompt another investigation, and she didn’t have the time to waste on such foolishness.  Much more important things were on the horizon now, things that would require her complete and devoted attention.  She did, however, intend to use all the supplies, but not all at once.  She hadn’t waited a whole year to exhaust all her fun in one day.  Oh no, no way!  Her plans would take weeks, possibly even months, to carry out.  She intended to get as much enjoyment out of it as she possibly could, no matter how long it took.  She was anxious to get started – but in no hurry to finish.

Because Brad had only been called awake from his not so eternal slumber several minutes prior, and the walk to get to her would take several hours, she had more than enough time to relax.  She imagined the trek itself would be quite a challenge for him, having only recently been reanimated.  It would be funny to see, like watching a toddler learning how to walk.  She couldn’t care less how difficult or painful it might be.  It didn’t matter to her whether he walked, crawled, or flew if he got there!  He was hers now, just the way she had planned it.

Yes, a short rest was exactly what she needed, because she would require all her strength and energy when he finally did get there.  For she had all kinds of good things planned for him and she would need all her vigor to deliver the goods and make everything extra special.

Lying down on the couch to take a nap, she fluffed and then placed a throw pillow beneath her head and shut her eyes, falling asleep faster than she’d expected.  With the nightmare still fresh in her mind, she bolted upright in a near panic, her dream a reflection of what had only crossed her mind one time as a fleeting thought, but now caused concern.

What if Brad wasn’t, well, Brad?  Would he arrive like a lion or like a lamb?  Would he be passive and obedient, or would he be aggressive and violent like the kitten had?  Getting up from the couch, she checked all the windows and both doors to ensure that they were closed and locked, just to be safe.

In the bathroom, she opened the medicine cabinet over the sink and took out a syringe and a small vial.  Turning the bottle upside down, she plunged the hypodermic needle into the plastic end cap of the bottle and drew out 2cc’s of Ketamine, then recapped the syringe and put the bottle back inside the cabinet.  The amount she had drawn out should be more than enough to sedate and sustain him.  If not, she had an ample supply and would keep injecting him until it did.

Returning to the living room, she placed the filled syringe down on the coffee table in a position that would be easily accessible.  If she needed it in an emergency, she didn’t want to have to struggle to obtain it.  She thought about putting it into the pocket of her jeans but decided against it.  All she would need would be for the cap to come off and the Ketamine to accidentally get administered to her!  She certainly had no intentions to take such a crazy chance as that!

Again, she checked the windows and doors, taking the time to peek out the front curtains and into the yard, but nothing, or no one, was there.  “Give him time,” she told herself.  “He’ll be here soon enough.”

She sat down on the couch, clutching the throw pillow tightly to her chest.

And waited.

* * * * *

Riley’s loud and incessant barking awakened Frank.  Rolling over in bed, he squinted at the digital clock on the bedside table.  12:30 A.M.  He had barely been asleep for an hour.  Throwing his head back onto the pillow, he groaned and shouted, “Riley, enough!”

Riley was agitated in a way that Frank had never seen before.  Not only was he barking, he was whining and whimpering, pacing back and forth in front of the door, standing on his hind legs, pawing, and scratching at the door frame, trying desperately to get out.  Something had him stirred up, and whatever it was, Riley wanted at it badly.

Getting out of bed, Frank crept to the front window.  Pulling the curtain back, he looked out, but didn’t see or hear anything.  “There’s nothing there, boy.”  But Riley wasn’t giving up.  He urgently wanted to get outside.

Frank could see the open-air mausoleum from his living room window, which stayed illuminated throughout the dark hours, thanks to a timer that kicked on when the sun set and remained on until daylight.  All was quiet out there.

“You probably heard a skunk or a possum or some other night scavenger,” he said to Riley.  “Guess I need to let you find out on your own,” he said, clipping Riley’s leash on.  “Or else you’ll never let me get back to sleep.”

Frank decided against the use of a flashlight, depending instead on the stream of light emitting from the mausoleum to guide his way.  He was only going there and straight back for the sole purpose of showing Riley that nothing was lurking in the dark.  The outdoor burial chamber was only a few hundred feet from his bungalow, so it would be a short, quick trip.

The dog nearly dragged him out the front door.  It took all of Frank’s strength to restrain him and keep him from running away.  But Riley wasn’t interested in anything around the house; he was heading straight toward the mausoleum.

“What the hell?” Frank shouted.  “Whoa, boy, not so fast.”  Riley was pulling hard against his leash, struggling to free himself, but Frank held fast to the handgrip, the plastic casing rubbing hard enough against the palm of his hand to form a blister.

They entered the catacomb through the entryway arch that was parallel to the front of the bungalow.  Although it was an open area, the sign posted next to the doorway clearly stated, “No Cars Allowed.”  Stone benches sat empty in the middle of the room, put there for visitors to come and sit with their loved ones, and for sitting space during graveside services.

Crypts lined the walls on both sides, twenty rows long by six columns high.  All front crypt seals were constructed of white marble and sealed shut with heavy-duty glue, concrete, and metal shutter plates.  All of them had miniature flower urns installed on the front, as well as brass nameplates.  Hardly any of them had flowers, fresh or artificial, but the nameplates of all occupied tombs had been engraved, courtesy of the funeral homes in charge of the burials, and because it was included with the cost of the crypt.  Only the most recent entombments were absent of the identifying grave markers.  The brass plates were there, but no names were on them.  Many times, Frank had thought how sad those images were.  It was as if they had been laid to rest and then totally forgotten about– out of sight, out of mind.  “This’ll be you one day,” he had told himself on more than one occasion. “Dead and buried, and no one to visit you, no one to care.”

Not all the crypts were occupied.  Some were waiting on their owners to move in and take up residence, like the one that moved in today.  His eternal abode had just been closed that afternoon.

“See, boy, nothing here.  Just you, me, and our shadows.”

Riley whimpered and looked up at Frank.  The dog was trembling, his shackles standing on end.  The glow from the fluorescent light spilling from inside the tomb made his black coat appear purple.  Ripples ran over his haunches as his muscles convulsed with spasms.  Clearly, the dog was frightened.  But of what, Frank had no clue.  Whatever it was must have been right here, near the walls of dead bodies.  And whatever it was could only be seen, or heard, by Riley.  His attention was focused on one of the crypts; the new one, in fact, the one that had only recently been sealed.

Frank slowly led Riley to the fresh tomb and let him sniff around to ease his curiosity, and to show him that he was having a hissy fit for nothing.  Suddenly, Riley let out a yelp, as though he had been struck and suffered great pain from the blow.  He turned from the vault and ran behind Frank, his head lowered, his eyes down.

Frank felt a cold wave of fear rush through him as he watched the dog’s behavior.  He had always heard that dogs had a keen sense of sight and smell, and that they could see and hear things that a human could not, which is probably what shook Frank the most.  Exactly what had Riley seen?  Or better yet – what had he heard?

“Come on, Riley, let’s go before we dosee something.”  Riley stayed on the side of Frank that was away from the crypt, keeping his distance, his head still down, refusing to look up as he walked.

As they reached the archway to exit the mausoleum, Frank froze in his tracks when a loud thump! startled him, causing him to flinch and Riley to whimper.  He spun around quickly, disturbed by the unknown noise, not knowing where it had come from.  He remained immobile as he scanned the entire area, up one wall of crypts and down the other, along the ceiling…nothing.  No bats, no birds, no monsters lurking in the dark.

When the next sound he heard came, he made a mental note to call the funeral home first thing in the morning and let them know that whoever had sealed that crypt had apparently sealed a rat or some other furry critter inside the tomb.

What else could have made scratching noises like that from inside an airtight chamber?

As he and Riley exited the mausoleum and stepped onto the dirt path that led to their bungalow, a bright flash of lightning spider-veined across the sky, followed by a booming crack of thunder that vibrated the ground beneath their feet.

“Let’s go, boy, before we get soaked, or fried extra crispy!”

* * * * * * * * * *

Even if Frank had not been sleeping, he would not have heard the commotion going on inside of the mausoleum over the torrential downpour of rain and continuous claps of thunder.

While he was nestled safely in his warm bed, the unthinkable was unfolding at the crypt located on row two, column six, along the wall that faced away from the bungalow.

As lightning ripped across the sky, a crack appeared in the top left corner of the marble plate that sealed the vault, zigzagging down the front until it connected with the bottom right corner, snapping in two as though it were as fragile as a saltine cracker.  Pieces of marble shattered onto the concrete floor, scattering in different directions, the bronze flower urn landing sideways atop the pile of rubble.  With the force of an exploding bomb, the shutter blew away from the chamber, making a loud cling! clang! clunk! as the sheet of warped and twisted metal hit the ground, rocked from side to side, then came to rest beside the debris.  The entombed coffin slid from the enclosure as if an unseen hand had pulled it out with the same ease it would take to remove a loaf of bread from the grocery store shelf.  The foot of the casket hit the concrete with a loud BANG! and then slid down and across the floor until the entire coffin was exposed.

From inside came the muffled sound of a man’s voice.  He was groaning and trying hard to scream, but all that came forth were grunts and pitiful whimpers.  Ripping and scratching noises emitted from inside, the sound of fingernails tearing at fabric and wood as they fought against the dark enclosure, trying desperately to get out.

The lid slowly began to crack open, the hinges creaking against the weight of the wood, now splintered, and cracked from the impact with the hard floor. 

Bruised and swollen fingers appeared in the thin crack, slithering from beneath like tiny snakes until they found the edge of the lid, grasping it tightly and pushing until the lid stood wide open, revealing what lay inside.

It was a good thing that Frank Rowan was fast asleep, or else he would have witnessed a nightmare that was much worse than any he had ever had. 

If he had been awake or still standing inside the mausoleum, he would have seen Bradley Cavanaugh rise from the dead, crawl out of his coffin, climb over the chain link fence, and stagger away from Greenview Cemetery.

But Riley knew that something bad had happened because he heard all the noises coming from inside the mausoleum, and the ruckus had terrified him.

Skulking, he returned to the bedroom and lay down at the foot of Frank’s bed, trembling uncontrollably.

Chapter 2

Dazed and confused, perplexed, and disoriented, he staggered like a drunkard, his mind a blank chalkboard.  Perhaps his brain had once been filled with tons of useful information, but his entire memory had somehow been completely erased, leaving a blank slate behind.  No thoughts, no memories, only nothingness.  He didn’t even know his name.

Some of the buildings and stores around town looked familiar, and although he didn’t exactly know why, they gave him a certain feeling of deja’ vu.  He felt totally out of sorts and out of place, a strange man in a strange land. 

Nausea overwhelmed him and a jackhammer was pounding at full speed inside his head.  Not a headache, but a constant swooshing and whirring sound, the kind that could be heard by putting a seashell up to one’s ear and hearing the ocean.  No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t walk without stumbling and each step he made took great effort.  Invisible lead encased his feet, making them heavy and hard to manage, resulting in him constantly tripping and faltering, so he slowed his pace and walked slowly and carefully, afraid that his next slight of step might send him sprawling face first into the concrete sidewalk.  He had no idea how long he had been walking, or why his journey had begun at a cemetery, because he had absolutely no reason to be in one.  And why had he been inside that box?  His shoes were caked with thick, red clay, with clumps of it stuck to both sides and the tops of his white sneakers.

A corner-placed street sign informed him that he was on North Cedar Avenue, surprising him that he was able to read it considering the emptiness of his mind and the fact that he could barely form a decent thought.  “At least now I know what street I’m on, but where am I going?” he whispered.

Various stores and other businesses lined both sides of what appeared to be the main street in town, their neon signs flashing rainbows of color onto the wet pavement.  Music echoed from a nightclub, got louder each time the door was opened, then returned to a vibrating hum when the door closed again.

As he passed an electronics store, he caught a glimpse of himself in the dimly lit window and gasped at the ghost of a man staring back at him.

His dark, wavy hair was wet and matted, small ringlets of dark brown curls adhered to his forehead.  His shirt and trousers were slightly wrinkled and stained with the same red clay as his shoes.  Dark bruises and cuts covered the backs of his hands.  His fingertips were shredded, his fingernails nothing more than jagged stubs.  Over his right eye, a jagged gash ran through his brow and was clotted with dried blood.  The entire right side of his face was bruised, swollen, and horribly misshapen.  The blackish discoloration beneath his eyes clashed against his pale skin, making him look like an evil monster.

The reflection staring back at him was a total stranger, someone he didn’t know or recognize at all.  Yet when he touched his hand to his face, so did the man in the glass.  With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knew that the man looking back at him was no one other than himself.

Suddenly struck by a wave of dizziness, he stumbled backward away from the ghastly man in the window, into a lamppost, and slid down the cold metal until he sat on the sidewalk.  With his legs drawn up, he rested his elbows on his knees, and then buried his head in his hands and sobbed as he desperately tried to recall something, ANYthing, that would help him to remember who he was and what was happening to him, but there was only a black emptiness.   

The door to the nightclub opened, followed by the sound of footsteps coming toward him.

He glanced up to see a Goth couple standing in front of him.  Both wore dark clothes and leather jackets, and each had the same equally black hair.  Apparently, they also shared the same love for multiple piercings and tattoos because both were covered in them.  The man had his arm loosely draped around the young girl’s shoulder while she stood with her arms folded, chomping loudly on a piece of gum.

“Mister, are you alright?” Goth Girl asked.

Glancing up at her, “What?” was the only thing he could say.  Speaking was a struggle.  His throat was dry and scratchy, and the word came out in a raspy tone.  He felt as though he hadn’t had a drink of water in days – or years.

Goth Girl flinched and took a step backward when she saw his face.  “Oh my God,” she proclaimed.  “You’re hurt!  Do you need me to call someone for you?  Maybe an ambulance?”

 “Dude, you must have really tied one on tonight,” Goth Man interjected, unfazed by his appearance.  “You look like you’ve been rolling around in a pig sty!”  He quickly added, “No offense.  I meant because of your clothes being so dirty.”

“Do either of you know me?” he asked them hoarsely.

They both stared down at him, bewildered by his question, as if he’d just asked them if they knew the directions to get to Mars.

“Can’t say that I do,” the girl answered.

“Me, either.”

Using the lamppost to pull himself up, he asked, “Can you please tell me where I am?”

The couple exchanged a quick glance, then shrugged.

“Dude, you really are drunk, aren’t you?  And judging by the way you look; I’m guessing you’ve been in a fistfight to end all fistfights.  I’d sure hate to see what the other guy looks like!”

“Yes,” he rasped.  “Can you please tell me?”

“Peach City,” the girl answered.  “You’re in Peach City, Georgia.”  The latter remark sounded more like a question than a statement.  Maybe she wasn’t so sure of the location herself.

“Home of the best boiled peanuts in the world,” her boyfriend chimed in.  “Or so they say.  I’m allergic to peanuts.”

Goth Girl offered her assistance once more but got no response.

Deciding that the bruised and injured man didn’t want any help, the couple walked away, whispering to each other as they did.  The girl took one last glance over her shoulder, then they disappeared around the corner.

Even more confused than before, he remained leaning against the lamppost, finding the support of the pole comforting and reassuring.  Without it, he was certain he would crumble to the ground in a heap.

He repeated the town’s name, Peach City, over and over to obtain some level of remembrance.  It sounded vaguely familiar, but he didn’t know why?  The reason totally eluded him.

He was abruptly overwhelmed with the feeling that he had somewhere he had to be, and he needed to hurry up and get there.

He could hear a woman’s voice beckoning him, calling out to him, “Come to me.”

Although he still had no idea of where he was going, he knew with certainty that her voice would guide him where he needed to go.

So, he began walking again, away from North Cedar Street and toward the opposite end of town, moving closer to the voice that beckoned to him.

* * * * * * * * * *

He was an automaton, a puppet, and somewhere, unseen, was the puppet master, pulling his strings, controlling his every move, guiding him into the unknown.

I must keep walking, I must keep walking,” he repeated over and over in his head. “I have somewhere I have to be, so keep walking…”

He felt as though he had trekked for dozens of miles, yet he still had not reached his destination.  However, he sensed, knew that he was close, drawing nearer and nearer to the voice that was calling him, closer to his puppeteer.

After exiting North Cedar, he walked to the outskirts of town, then onto County Road 130, a busy two-lane blacktop that led directly away from Peach City.  There were no stores out there, no businesses of any kind, and only a few scattered houses that sat far back away from the road, so it was unlikely that anyone living in any of them would see him, especially in the wee hours of the morning.  County Road 130 was a long and lonely highway, and the only road that led in and out of town.  Bright headlights of an oncoming car zoomed past him in a blurred haze, on its way into town.  He was careful to stay away from the road itself, either to avoid being seen by passersby or flattened by a speeding car, he wasn’t sure.  He was only doing as he was told and knew that he needed to remain in the grassy area and keep walking.

The jackhammer inside his head was still drilling and he felt like he was going to throw up, but every time he tried to stop and rest a bit, those invisible strings began pulling him, refusing to allow a lull in his journey.

Crickets chirped all around him, and somewhere in the distance an owl hooted.  “Who? Who?” it wanted to know, asking him the same question that he had been asking himself since waking up inside that dark box.  “I know my name is Brad,” he said out loud.  “That’s what she keeps calling me.  My name is Brad.”

Drones of unseen bugs continuously flew into his face and eyes as he walked through the tall grass, disturbing their nests.  Unfazed by the swarms, he didn’t even bother to swat them away.

Passing through a tall stand of dead grass, he felt a lump underfoot, then a pfffft sound, and realized with disgust that he had stepped on a frog, probably flattening it, just like the ones he had seen in the road that had been run over by cars.  “Don’t worry about the squashed frog, Brad, just keep walking and come to meDon’t stop…keep going.”

A horrible odor assaulted him, causing him to bury his nose into the crook of his elbow, but the smell was there as well.  The stench was atrocious, he could practically taste it on his tongue.  Spitting on the ground, he then wiped his mouth on the back of his stained shirtsleeve, but the smell lingered, adhering to his nasal hair.  No matter how far he walked, he was unable to escape it.  It was the scent of death, that same smell one gets when driving down a country road with the windows rolled down and the scent wafts right into the car, making one say, “What died out there?”  With dismay, he realized that the smell was coming from him.

He approached a dirt path and turned left into a heavily wooded area.  Trees covered all the land on both sides of the trail, which was barely visible from the road.  There was no street sign marking the location, not even a mailbox, so he had no idea what the name of the road was, but he knew he had finally reached his destination.

Ahead of him, a small log cabin stood in the clearing.  Smoke billowed from its chimney; pale yellow light spilled from its small windows onto the grass.  The voice was beckoning to him.  “Come to me, Brad….”

“I’m here,” he whispered.

* * * * *

A place for everything and everything in its place,” Brad’s mistress thought, humming as she tidied up the living room, fluffing cushions and placing them back on the couch, straightening books and magazines and wiping dust from the tabletops. 

She loved this little cabin.  It was so cozy and comforting and gave her such a great feeling of warmth and security.  She adored the sound of crackling wood as it burned in the fireplace, and the smell of the smoldering tinder as the logs sizzled and turned a bright shade of red.  The sound of birds singing their early morning choruses from the hundreds of trees that surrounded the property could only be described as harmonious.  Ducks and geese were a common sight in the pond behind the cabin.  Their quacking and honking never grew old.  She enjoyed watching them swim around, diving into the water in search of fish.  She found all of this to be quite soothing; nothing like the monotonous sounds of honking horns and sirens that city life brought.  Here, deer roamed freely throughout the wooded area, sometimes straying as far up as her quaint back porch.  She kept salt lick hung on a few of the trees for them and cut up fruits collected from her trees and left it in bowls for them to eat.  There were also bird and squirrel feeders, filled with morsels for the tiny little critters, but the squirrels constantly stole pecans and acorns from her trees.  She didn’t mind, though.  She certainly had no use for them, and they needed to eat like any other living creature.

Of course, the cabin wasn’t home, per se, but it felt like it whenever she was there.  She resided in a rented apartment inside Peach City.  People who knew her knew where she lived.  Not that it really mattered since she didn’t have many visitors.  And if casual conversation at work (before she got fired) ever brought up the question of what she did for the weekend, the answer was always the same.  “Oh, you know, hung around the apartment, ate popcorn and watched movies, read a book, napped.”  Which was totally a lie, since she spent every weekend here with absolutely no chances of being bothered.  The cabin was just a little something extra; somewhere to go to get away, to rest and relax, to be herself, her true self, not someone others thought she was or should be.  Here she could unwind, run around naked if she wanted to, and there was no one here to tell her that she couldn’t.  No one knew about the cabin, except for the real estate agent, which didn’t matter now because his business had folded, and the agent had moved away.  And, of course, the contractor who had built the underground room, but she had made sure that she hired someone from out of town to do the work because she didn’t want to take any chances of any Nosey Nellies meddling into her business.  Not that he’d asked, because he didn’t, but she’d told the contractor that she needed the basement as a safe room, in the event of a tornado or any other kind of threatening weather.  He hadn’t seemed to care one way or the other as long as he got paid for services rendered.   She had every intention of keeping the cabin a secret because she didn’t’ want anyone coming there, (well, except for one person in particular).  No one was going to invade her private space or disrupt the tiny paradise that she had created for herself.

She paid cash for the cabin from the moderate sized nest egg she’d built up over the years from working and the money she had received from her parents.  It hadn’t cost much, just a few thousand, because the interior had needed more than a small amount of work to restore it.  It had been filled with cobwebs, old and ragged furniture, and rusted water pipes. But with a little bit of hard work and a whole lot of love, she had transformed it from a dump into the perfect getaway.

Besides, even if anyone had known she’d bought the cabin, they certainly wouldn’t know about the secret room she’d had built in, an underground room that she used to concoct potions and practice her magic spells.  Hell, she practically had an entire lab down there.  She could probably conjure up anything if she tried hard enough.  But none of that mattered now because her secret room was about to serve a higher purpose – the one for which it had been built in the first place.

Surprisingly enough, she had fallen asleep and slept for a little over an hour, which was just enough of a nap to refresh her and give her a second wind.

The hot shower water felt good pelting against her skin, the pulsating jets relaxing the tension in her neck, the steam opening her pores and sinuses.  She felt more alive than she had in years – the past five years, to be exact.  It felt good to finally feel good again.  Losing Patrice had been devastating, leaving her feeling despaired and empty inside.  For the first time since their estrangement, she felt hopeful that she would again become a part of Patrice’s life and be as important to her again as she was before Brad came into the picture and ruined everything. 

Fresh coffee had brewed while she showered, engulfing the kitchen with its welcoming aroma.  After pouring herself a cup of the steaming brew, she grabbed a donut out of the box on top of the stove and sat down at the small dining table, thumbing through a fashion magazine while she enjoyed her breakfast.  It wasn’t anything she would normally read, but it was something to look at to help pass the time.  Quickly scanning through the pages, she laughed and made faces at the hideous clothes and stick-thin models with their fake boobs and heavily made up faces, all of them with eyelashes so long that it was impossible for them to be real.  Yet, the mascara ads wanted women to think that they could have lashes the same length simply by applying their brand.  “Bullshit!” she said, tossing the magazine into the trashcan.

Finishing off the last of her coffee, she rinsed out the cup and placed it in the drainer to dry.

In the living room, she sat in the old wooden rocker that she had inherited from her grandmother.  Green paint had chipped away over the years, leaving bare spots on the light-colored wooden frame.  The straw seat was tattered and sagging, but she still loved it, even if it did squeak with every movement she made, and even if her butt did nearly touch the floor.

A faint noise sounded from the front yard.  She stopped rocking and cocked her head, straining to hear.

There it was again…leaves crunching, a shuffling noise (he’s dragging his feet).  The sound was coming closer…closer…scratching…THUMP!

Startled, she jumped, surprised by the unexpected loud noise, and then listened quietly, ever so quietly.

The sound of shuffling feet on the front porch (he must have fallen), the squeaking of wet sneakers across the wooden planks…scratching at the front door (let me in).

Rising from the rocker, she tiptoed across the hardwood floor of the cabin.  Placing her ear against the door, she listened. 

Silence.

Then faint scratching, fingernails against wood.  She kept her ear pinned to the door.

BANG! BANG!

Fists pounded in her ear, startling her, causing her to recoil.

“I’m here,” he said hoarsely.  “Let me in.”

As she opened the door, she was taken aback by his appearance, a sight she had not been prepared for.  His broken, bruised, and distorted features startled her, and the pale glow from the full moon only exacerbated his macabre look, giving him an eerie aura.  It made her think about all those old cheesy B-rated horror movies she used to watch on Saturday nights as a kid.  The ones that scared her so badly that she couldn’t sleep without a night light on because she was convinced that one of the monsters was lurking inside her closet or under her bed, waiting for a chance to pounce on her and gobble her up. 

And now, one of those nightmare monsters had emerged from the deepest, darkest corner of her nightmares, and was standing right in front of her.

Clutching her chest, she gasped.  “Too late to turn back now,” she thought.  “Finish what you started.”

Swallowing back what felt like a golf ball in her throat, she opened the door wider.  “Come on in,” she told him.  “I’ve been expecting you.”

* * * * * * * * * *

He awoke sitting upright in a wooden chair.  Handcuffs bound his wrists behind his back.  Both ankles were wrapped with hemp rope and then tied to the lead that was wrapped around his waist, preventing him from being able to move at all.  A strip of black electrical tape covered his mouth.

Groggily, he lifted his head, looked around and moaned.

Wherever he was, it was pitch black and he couldn’t see a thing, not even a shadow or an outline.

A door opened and closed, the sound coming from above and behind him, followed by footsteps on stairs.  Turning his head towards the sound, he could see a small stream of light dancing across the floor as it drew nearer to him. 

A clicking noise sounded above his head, the sudden bright light blinding him.  He closed his eyes against the harsh brightness, and then slowly opened them again, squinting until his eyes fully adjusted.

She was bent over in front of him with her hands on her knees, smiling.  “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!” she said, and then slapped him hard across the face.

“You’re probably feeling a little sleepy right now,” she said, straightening up.  “That’s because I injected a sedative into your brain right about here,” she said, poking a finger into the fleshy skin at the base of his skull.  “Had to knock you out to drag you down here.  I have to tell you, Brad, you’re heavier than you look!”

The room had no windows, and the only door was the one at the top of the stairs that she had entered by.  Light was provided by a single, naked light bulb that was operated by a pull string.

He was seated in the middle of the room directly beneath the light, as if he were a work of art being put on display.  Other than the chair that he was sitting in, there was no furniture.  On the wall to his right was a pegboard filled with tools.  Multiple types of saws, wrenches, and screwdrivers were aligned in perfect order according to their size.  There was a long worktable beneath the pegboard, on which she had other things that were concealed.  Various shapes and outlines bulged beneath the blue tarp that covered them, but none of them were identifiable based solely on their form.

“Look what I did, Brad!” she said as she swept her arm across the room.  “And I did it all just for you!  Are you surprised?  Do you like it?”

He tried to speak but couldn’t.

She laughed and said, “Oh, silly me, I forgot.”  With a single yank, she ripped the piece of tape away from his mouth.  “Ouch,” she mocked.  “Bet that hurt.”

“Where am I?” he groaned.  “Who are you?”

The mistress clapped her open hand across her chest, feigning surprise.  “Why, Bradley Cavanaugh!” she replied in her best southern drawl.  “I’m appalled that you don’t remember me.  You will, though,” she said, returning to her normal voice.  “Because I’m going to be your worst nightmare!”  She slapped him again, hard enough to cause his head to roll sideways.  “Damn, that felt good!” she proclaimed, laughing.

“You and me,” she said, waving an index finger back and forth between them.  “We have a score to settle, and I’m just getting started.”

She hugged herself and twirled around.  “And we’re…well, I’m, going to have so much fun!” she cried with delight.  “Shall we begin?” she asked, taking a ball peen hammer from the pegboard, then standing in front of him with it raised over her head.  “I must warn you.  This is going to hurt like hell.”

Chapter 3

Frank stepped outside into the cool morning sunshine, a pleasant welcome after such a torrential storm.  If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn that a hurricane had come through there.  “I sure don’t miss those things!” he thought, remembering all the ones he had gone through.  Living in south Florida had its perks, like sunshine, beaches, and fresh orange juice.  But it also had its share of nasty storms.  It had always amazed him how complacent some people could be about approaching tropical storms and the warnings that came with them.  Some simply refused to heed any of those warnings, proclaiming that they’d been through enough of them to know how to handle the consequences, so instead of doing the safe and right thing, many took special trips to the beach to stand on the shoreline so that they could experience the force of Mother Nature and feel the power and rage of the storm surge.  Dummies should have been swept out to sea – that would have taught them! 

Behind him, Riley sniffed through the screen door, barked once, then retreated.

Frank glanced around the cemetery grounds as he sipped his coffee.  Fallen limbs, leaves and paper were scattered all around, but there was no real damage to speak of.  The lawn maintenance crew was busily cleaning up the mess and would have the grounds back in shape in no time.

Frank waved to Billy, the backhoe driver, who was in the process of digging a grave for their most recent occupant, due for arrival that afternoon.  No need to worry.  Cleanup would be done in time for graveside services.

Yawning, Frank was reminded that he hadn’t slept well.  Between Riley’s odd behavior and the roaring of the treacherous storm, he had been extremely restless and had gotten up several times during the night.  First to the bathroom, then to get a glass of water, back to the bed, repeat.  He had even taken the time to look out the window towards the mausoleum, still feeling uneasy, but didn’t see anything (thank God!)  And if there had been anything to see or hear, he probably wouldn’t have heard it over the heavy downpour and constant crashing of thunder.  He recalled that he needed to make it a priority to phone the funeral home and tell them about the noises he had heard coming from inside the vault.  He hated the idea of having to unseal a crypt, but if there were a rat or some other small animal trapped inside, it would be the right thing to do for the corpse and for the critter.

Marcos, one of the lawn maintenance crewmembers, was walking rapidly toward him, waving his arms and shouting, “Mr. Rowan, Mr. Rowan!”

Frank knew instantly something was wrong.  He could hear it in Marcos’ voice and see it in the expression on his face.  It was a look that Frank was more than familiar with.  It was one of pure terror.

Placing his coffee cup down on the patio table, he met Marcos in the yard.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Mr. Rowan, you have to come see this!”

“Come see what?”

Panting, Marcos replied, “It’ll be easier to show you, because honest to God, I don’t know how to explain it.  You have to see for yourself!”

Frank entered the mausoleum through the same entryway as he and Riley had done earlier that morning….

And gasped at the sight that lay before him.

For the first time since taking the job, he felt something he hadn’t felt before, and he didn’t like the feeling.  He didn’t like it at all.  Ice-cold fingers caressed his spine causing the small hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end.

His heart was pounding so hard that he could hear it thumping in his ears, loud and deafening; his mouth suddenly became as dry as desert sand.

Swallowing hard, he slowly took a step closer.

A crypt that only hours before had been tightly sealed now lay open, exposing its contents.

The front marble closure of the crypt lay on the floor, shattered into pieces, the flower urn lying on its side next to the rubble.  The casket was upended, half in and half out of the chamber, with the bottom of the coffin resting on the floor.  The lid was open, exposing the ragged and torn silk lining.  Strips of cloth hung by mere threads.

The casket was empty.

“What in the hell happened in here?” Frank asked in a surprised tone.

“Vaya con Dios,” Marcos said, crossing himself.  “I have no idea.”

“Who in the world would have done something like this?  And why, for God’s sake?”   Frank abruptly realized something else, something that he hadn’t noticed before, probably because of his initial shock at seeing such a macabre display.

The crypt that lay open was the same crypt that had piqued Riley’s curiosity and sent him into an agitated state and extremely peculiar behavior.

Was that just a coincidence, or were the two incidents somehow related?  Frank didn’t know, but he knew this had to be reported to the authorities.  Vandalism and grave desecration would not be tolerated at Greenview, not on his watch.  “Damn,” he thought.  “I must’ve slept better than I thought I did not to have heard this!”

Taking his cell phone from his pants pocket, he was surprised to see that his hand was shaking.  He hadn’t been this frightened or disturbed since…” Don’t go there, Frank,” he told himself.  “Don’t do it, now is not the time.”

Trying hard to push the memory of that horrible day and the series of events that followed to the back of his mind, he focused on the problem at hand and dialed 9-1-1.

* * * * * * * * * *

A brown and tan cruiser with Carter County Sheriff’s Office emblazoned on the side entered through the front gate and pulled up to the side of the mausoleum.  Frank walked over to the car to meet the officer.

He was surprised to see an overweight, robust man hitching up his pants as he exited the car.  The size of his belly made Frank think he might be training for a beer commercial, and doing very well at it, instead of being an enforcer of the law.   The buttons on his shirt pulled tightly against his size, looking as though they were ready to pop off and fly away at any given second.  “God help him if he’s ever involved in a foot pursuit,” Frank thought.  “Because the perp would more than likely outrun him, and without giving it much effort!”

Partially bald on top, apart from a round clump of hair above the middle of his forehead, he also boasted a thick and bushy brown mustache that looked as though it may have, at one time, belonged to a walrus.  Putting on his hat, the officer spoke into his shoulder mike, revealing a thick southern accent.  “Base, I’m at Greenview Cemetery.”

“10-4.”

“Mr. Rowan?” the officer asked, pulling on the waistband of his pants, and adjusting his gun belt.

“Yes,” Frank answered.

“I’m Sheriff Nick Dunn.  I’m here in response to your 9-1-1 call.  Can you show me what you called about?”

“Sure,” Frank said.  “Follow me.”  And I promise not to run.

Upon entering the mausoleum, Sheriff Dunn stopped as soon as he stepped inside, staring at the rubble and open casket with his mouth agape.  “Is this a joke?” he asked.  “Some kind of a prank, perhaps to get into the Halloween spirit?”

“I assure you, Sheriff, this is not a joke.”

“Good, because if it is…”

“It’s not,” Frank repeated.  “This is Marcos Sanchez,” he said, motioning.  “He’s one of the lawn maintenance guys, and the person that found this.  He came and got me right away after finding it.”

Turning to Marcos, Dunn asked, “You speak English, Amigo?”

Marcos nodded.

“Good,” Dunn replied.  “That makes it easy for me because I don’t speak Espanol.”

What a jackass,” Frank thought, slightly shaking his head.

“Is this EXACTLY the way you found it?” Dunn asked Marcos, hitching a thumb at the pile of crumbled stone.

“Yes sir,” Marcos answered, frantically bobbing his head up and down.  He held his green maintenance cap with both hands, nervously turning it back and forth, from the bill to the plastic adjustment strap, then back again.

“And you didn’t touch or move anything?”

“No sir.”

Glancing around the mausoleum, Dunn asked, “No security cameras, I see?”

“No,” Frank answered.  “Don’t really have a need for them here.”

“I see.  Any other damage besides this?  Any other…what do you call these things?  Crypts, tombs?” he asked, waving his hand in the air.

“Either.”

“Any others besides this one messed with, or appear to be tampered with in any way?

“No,” Frank said.

Dunn was steadily writing in his notebook as he questioned Frank, who noticed that the Sheriff had an uncanny habit of touching the tip of the pen to his tongue before writing a new entry.  “Did you see or hear anything last night, anything unusual?  See anything that seemed out of sorts, maybe someone hanging around, headlights or a car parked around the entrance, anyone trying to get in?”

Frank considered telling him about Riley’s weird behavior, but decided it probably wasn’t important enough to be mentioned.  “No,” he answered.  “Nothing like that.  We were…”

“We?” Dunn interjected, cutting him off.  “Does someone besides you live here?”

“No, just me and my dog.  I had him with me last night when I made my final rounds.  We walked through here, and everything was fine.  No people, no cars.”

“And what time was that?”

“Around ten thirty, a quarter to eleven.”

“Do you always come out here that late at night?”

“Yes, I do a final walk-through, you know, to make sure no one gets locked in.  I always double check to make sure no one’s on the grounds, and I also check the front gate to ensure it’s locked.”

“I see,” Dunn said, licking his pen, then writing.  “I know that the front gate is the only entrance for a car, but would you say that it’s possible for someone to climb the fence if they wanted to get inside.”

“I suppose they could,” Frank said.  “But why would anyone want to come inside a cemetery after hours?”

Raising one eyebrow and glaring at him, Dunn responded, “Well, the first thing that comes to my mind after seeing this mess is vandalism at its finest.  Probably a bunch of punk kids looking for something to do, trying to impress their friends, or doing it just for the pure hell of it.  Or it might even be an initiation thing, you know, like they do in college.”

“Vandalism?” Frank asked.  “So, what you’re telling me is that you think someone came in here and destroyed a grave for the pure hell of it?”

“I didn’t say that’s what happened,” Dunn stated matter-of-factly.  “I said it’s a possibility, especially with it being so close to Halloween.  Some kids have been known to pull stupid pranks like this for one reason or another.  You ask me, I think it’s a sick sense of humor.”  A large black fly landed on the tip of Dunn’s nose, flitted its wings, and then flew away before he could swat at it.  “Even a fly knows a load of bullshit when it hears it!” Frank thought.

Dunn continued.  “It’s also possible that it got struck by lightning.  We did have a bad storm come through here last night, you know?”

No shit?  “I have to disagree,” Frank offered.

“About the storm?” Dunn asked without looking up from his notepad.

“About your suggestion,” Frank answered.

“Why is that?” Dunn asked, cocking his head to one side.  “Are you a Meteorologist or something?  Know a thing or two about weather, do you?”

Ignoring his sarcasm, Frank explained.  “For starters, we are inside of a building.  I would have to say that it’s impossible for lightning to come through the open archway there,” Frank said, pointing.  “Then all the way up to the crypt here,” he said, indicating the now open vault.  “Unless, of course, it struck the ground first, ricocheted, and then turned in an upward arc.  I find that a little hard to believe, don’t you?”

“It could happen,” Dunn replied.  “Stranger things have been known to occur.”

“Okay, then.  For arguments sake, let’s say it did.  Then where are the scorch marks?  A lightning strike will most definitely leave behind a mark, either black or otherwise.  I don’t see any, do you?”

Dunn looked around the mausoleum, checking out all the other crypts on both walls. 

“Here’s something else for you to chew on,” Frank continued.  “Why is there no other damage?  Not to the roof, or the walls, or any other vaults.  Don’t you find that a little odd?”

“Perhaps,” Dunn said.  “We’ll see.  You got any other ideas or opinions, Mr. Rowan?”

“Not really,” Frank answered.  “None other than what I’ve already said.  I do have a question, though.”

“I’m listening.”

“If this was just a prank or vandalism as you’ve suggested,” Frank paused for a moment, making eye contact with the Sheriff.  “Then where’s the body?”

Dunn was ahead of him on that one.  He’d already been thinking about that, mentally assessing the situation as he questioned Frank.  If someone did, in fact, vandalize the crypt and steal the body, they would have had to climb over the high chain-link fence, dragging a corpse along with them, which meant there would have had to be more than one accomplice because that would be too much for one person to handle alone. And even if the perpetrator had a car, there’s no way he, or they, could have gotten through the locked gate, not without driving straight through it.  There was also no damage to the front gate or the brick trimming around it.  Which left only one unanswered question. 

“Mr. Rowan,” Dunn began.  “How certain are you that there was a body inside that casket?”

“What would be the purpose of entombing an empty coffin?” he asked, perplexed.

“Just answer my question.”

“I honestly can’t say with certainty because I’m not responsible for entombment or the sealing of the crypt.”

“Who is?”

“The funeral home.”

Speaking into his shoulder mike again, Dunn called his base station.  “I need two more units dispatched out to Greenview and make one of those units a K-9.  I also need a crime scene unit out here.”

“10-4, Sheriff Dunn.  Two more units and CSI will be enroute.”

“What’s that all about?” Frank asked.

“Standard procedure,” Dunn answered.  “I want this entire cemetery searched before I go any further with my investigation.  The CSI team will do what they do…take pictures, dust for prints, look for evidence that we may not see right away.  They have special equipment to do all that, you know?” Dunn stated, sounding like a child bragging about who has the most toys.

As he was explaining procedures to Frank, another cruiser and an SUV arrived within minutes after being dispatched.  The CSI van arrived several minutes later.  All the vehicles parked in a line alongside Sheriff Dunn’s car.

A German Shepherd wearing a lime-green vest with the word “POLICE” printed in black capital letters accompanied the K-9 officer.  His partner wore camouflage and combat boots, along with a matching camouflage long-billed cap.  He looked more like a soldier ready for combat than a law enforcement officer preparing to conduct a search.  The second officer was female, dressed in the same brown uniform as the Sheriff.  Her black hair was pulled tightly into a bun, her police cap sitting firmly atop her head.  She wore no make-up, and her posture suggested that she was badass.  Both officers joined Dunn at the scene inside the mausoleum, while the CSI team gathered their supplies from the van.  From where he stood, Frank could see them filling large silver cases with equipment.  He turned away, intentionally making himself not look, because the sight of them and the “CSI TEAM” embroidered on their jackets dredged up an extremely painful memory for him.

As they approached the rubble, the female officer asked, “What in the hell happened in here?”

Ignoring her question and reiterating what he had just told Frank, Dunn stated, “I want this entire cemetery searched, top to bottom,” he instructed them.  “Every nook, every cranny, every crack, I want them searched.  If there’s a rock to look under, lift it.  If there’s a door to be opened, open it. Do I make myself clear?”

“What are we looking for?” the K-9 officer asked.

“A dead body,” he replied.

Both officers glanced at each other, perplexed by his request.  “Sir,” said the K-9 officer.  “You do realize we’re in a graveyard, right?  It’s full of dead bodies.”

“Yes, smart ass, I’m aware of that fact, but thanks for telling me.  We’re looking for a missing dead body.  Or presumed to be missing.”

“Presumed, sir?” the female asked.

“Supposedly there was a body inside this casket when it was placed inside the chamber and sealed up,” he informed them.  “This,” he said, pointing to the ruins, “is what Mr. Rowan awoke to this morning.  I’m thinking it’ll turn out to be vandalism, but we need to make sure that the missing body isn’t somewhere inside this cemetery.”

Turning to Frank, Dunn asked, “Mr. Rowan, do we have permission to search your home?”

“Why do you want to search my house?” Frank asked.

“Do we have permission, or do I need to obtain a search warrant?” Dunn was obviously quite irritated.  He didn’t have the time, or the patience, for half-cocked remarks.

“Do whatever you need to do, search whatever you need to search.  I have nothing to hide,” Frank snapped, throwing up his hands.

“Thank you,” Dunn replied dryly.  “We will.”

Frank leashed Riley while his house was being searched and sat with him on the front porch.  From there, he could see the three CSI team members inside the mausoleum.  One was snapping pictures while the other two gathered evidence and placed it inside individual plastic bags, sealed and then labeled them with permanent marker.  Frank was curious to know just exactly what they were looking for, or what they expected to find.  

Once the search was completed, he and Riley were cleared to go back inside the house.  He knew the search wouldn’t produce anything, unless dirty dishes and laundry mattered, then they probably hit the mother lode!

Riley sniffed at the K-9 dog as he exited their home with his master, then went inside and laid down on the floor in front of the television.  He wanted nothing to do with the other dog or anything else outside.  “I don’t blame you, boy,” Frank told him, scratching his ear.

The officers’ complete exploration of the cemetery grounds turned up nothing, just as Frank suspected.

“Mr. Rowan?  Can you please join me and my deputies back at the scene?” Dunn asked, exiting the west side of the cemetery, and heading toward the mausoleum, motioning for Frank to follow him.

The K-9 dog was restless, pacing back and forth at the officer’s feet.  “Heel, Max!” the officer commanded.  Max sat, and then got back up, repeating his previous behavior, continuously sniffing at the inside of the casket, then pulling towards the archway that faced the front gate.

Carefully watching the dog’s actions, bewildered by his anxiety, Dunn said to Frank, “Mr. Rowan, can you tell me who’s supposed to be buried here?”

Because he had already taken the time to find out that information for himself, Frank immediately answered, “Bradley Cavanaugh.”

“And the funeral home in charge of arrangements?”

“Kendall.”

“I think he’s hit on something,” the K-9 officer said, allowing Max the leeway he needed.  “Go, Max!”  Sniffing the coffin again, Max exited through the archway and approached the front entrance.  There he began barking and jumping, wanting desperately to get over the fence and pursue whatever lay beyond.  “Good boy, Max!”  the K-9 officer commended.

“What’s he got?” Dunn asked.

“I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it starts over there,” he said, pointing back at the crime scene, “and ends here, at the gate.”

Dunn removed his hat and scratched his shiny, partially bald head.  Not sure what to make of the officer’s comment, he said, “Are you telling me that a dead man walked out of here last night, on his own? Is that what you’re saying that Max picked up a dead man’s scent?  Go ahead and tell me something stupid like that, something that makes absolutely no sense at all!”

The officer looked somewhat shaken, and more than a little nervous.  “What I’m saying sir, is that Max picked up on something around the coffin, and this is where it led him.  I won’t speculate on anything other than that because I don’t have an explanation.”

Dunn nodded and exhaled loudly, his red cheeks puffing out as he blew.  He didn’t have an explanation, either.  But something wasn’t adding up here, and he didn’t like it.  In his thirty plus years of being a cop, he had investigated many crime scenes, from homicides to car accidents to domestic violence.  Never had he responded to anything like this.  Who in their right mind would break into a cemetery, desecrate a grave, and then steal the body?  And for what purpose?  He had no idea what was going on here, but he intended to find out, one way or another.

“Sheriff Dunn!”  It was the K-9 officer.  “I need you to take a look at something,” he said as Dunn approached him.

From where he stood, Frank could see the K-9 officer pointing to different areas of the fence, but he had absolutely no idea what he was showing Dunn, who was shaking his head.  Obviously, he didn’t like what he was seeing.

“Mr. Rowan,” Dunn said, reentering the archway.  “Have you or any of your crew been anywhere near the fence this morning?”

“I haven’t,” Frank answered.  “Why?”

“What about you, Mr. Sanchez?”

“No, sir,” he replied.

“Standard questioning, that’s all,” Dunn answered.  “Nothing for you to be concerned about.” 

Red clay had been transferred onto several areas of the fence, ascending toward the top, as though someone had used it as a ladder to climb up and over the fence while wearing muddy shoes.  Which meant that whoever had done it had walked across the wet clay pathway that was located right outside the mausoleum; the same pathway that was used by cars coming into the cemetery.  And if footprints had been there before, they certainly wouldn’t be there now since he and the other vehicles had driven over it, erasing any evidence that may have been there.

Taking one last look around the mausoleum, Dunn turned to Frank.  “Let me repeat something, Mr. Rowan,” he said sternly.  “If I find out that this is a joke or a sick prank, and you had anything at all to do with it, there will be consequences.  Do I make myself clear?  Same goes for you, Mr. Sanchez!”

They both nodded, acknowledging his firm statement.

“I’ll be in touch,” he said, getting into his police cruiser and driving off, leaving a trail of dust behind him.  The K-9 officer and female deputy joined the three CSIs beside the van.  Heads were nodding and lips were moving, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying.  Frank figured they were probably comparing notes, discussing their findings, or complaining about what a total jerk their Sheriff was.  With their conversations and note sharing completed, all three vehicles left, one right behind the other.

Frank knew for a fact that he had absolutely nothing to do with any of this, and had no idea who might have, but he suddenly felt like he was a suspect, already deemed guilty for a crime that he didn’t commit.

Like what you’ve read so far and would like to read the rest of the book? You can purchase it by using the links below:

E-Book version: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TWFHW1S

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1077735723

gnp

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