March 22nd: What happens after death?
Murderer’s Grave
, by E.M. Sole

Marty hadn’t intended to go into shop of the psychic, witch and new age healer, who turned out to be a long-legged, tanned California blonde by the name of Serena, but he did. She’d said, before he had even spoken, that his brother’s ghost was suffering, still trapped in the world of the living, unable to cross over because of the traumatic way he died. Marty hadn’t been as impressed as he might have been. The shooting spree that had taken his seven year old brother and six others was exploited for all it was worth on the news for days afterward.

She also said that for a price she would tell him what to do to free Joey from the chains binding him. The murderer had escaped his eternal punishment, she said. He was being held to this world by the pain he’d caused his innocent victims, and when he was brought to justice in the afterlife his brother would be free to cross over to the great beyond, whatever that was.

He’d listened to her talk, paid the price, it had taken most of what he’d saved of his teenager’s allowance, and now he was kneeling in front of the grave of the man who had killed his brother and who had then been killed by the police a little later.

Marty mixed the plastic bag of herbs, they smelled terrible like onions and dead animals, with water he’d brought and a few drops of his blood in a special cup that looked like a cheap plastic Halloween decoration. It had cost enough to be magic though, and the herbs cost even more. He used a branch he’d broken off one of the cemetery’s trees to stir it up. Serena said he needed life to call up death, that everything in the universe needed balance. Then he put the blade of the special knife in the water. She sold him that too. It looked like cheap plastic, but the carvings on the handle were impressive, seeming to float shimmery above the brown plastic in the moonlight. As she instructed, he plunged it in the ground above where the casket had been buried a couple weeks before.

All that had to be done when the moon had just cleared the horizon, then he had to wait. When the moon was at its highest point in the sky the rest of the herb/water mix had to be poured over the grave. When he did that, she said, the demons of hell would rise up and drag the ghost of the murderer down to hell and his brother’s ghost would be free.

At least that’s what she said. She was very convincing at the time, but now, kneeling by the grave of the man who killed his brother, Marty felt like a fool. But, he’d put a lot of money into all this stuff and he was going to get his money’s worth, even if all he got was a night in a chilly cemetery doing things out of a horror movie.

The headstones glowed in the increasing moonlight. A hunting owl hooted a couple times. Even if nothing else happened, he was getting suitably creeped-out sitting there on the damp chilly ground, playing with the tree branch, keeping his fingers away from the part that had touched the foul water. The spookiness got boring quickly. Is this what it’s like being a ghost? Marty thought. No wonder they always seemed to be in such a bad temper.
Then a fog started to rise up from the ground of the murderer’s grave. The fog twisted coalescing into what looked like a hand and arm glowing faintly bluish. The arm pushed down on the ground and levered up a head, and then a body wrapped in chains came up out of the grave.

A pained moan was followed by a whiny voice saying, “What do you want? I was sleeping.” The ghost gazed curiously at his wispy form. “Is this what it’s like being dead?” The ghost shrugged. “There’s stuff in my head that wasn’t before. I know things, about death, about afterward, about hurting troublesome boys who disturb my sleep.” The ghost sat down clumsily on the ground a couple feet from Marty, who wanted to move away but couldn’t let himself.

“You killed my brother,” Marty said. He was finding it hard to breathe.

“What do you want? Do you want me to kill you too?” The ghost smiled.

“You can’t hurt me. There’s nothing there.” Marty waved the branch through the ghost’s body. “I want to know why you did it, and I want revenge.”

“Why? Cause they deserved it, the bastards, and besides I enjoyed it, but how can you get revenge on me? I’m dead and buried. Nothing you can do.” the ghost was looking lazily around the cemetery. “Nice place to spend eternity, not that I had any say in the matter.”

“My brother didn’t deserve it,” Marty said.

The ghost shrugged again. “He did or he didn’t, didn’t make much difference. He got in the way and died. The kid shouldn’t have been there anyway.” He poked at his headstone, his finger went through it and he scowled. “I was after those bastards that used me and fired me when they decided I wasn’t useful any more.”

“That’s no reason to kill.”

“Yes, it is. You’ll understand when you grow up and the bastards get a hold of you, except you aren’t going to grow up are you? I’m going to kill you. You should thank me for saving you, and your brother, from them.” The ghost’s eyes turned to Marty and stared unblinking “Besides I’m innocent. It was your brother’s fault. If he hadn’t been there, if he’d been home where he belonged, he never would have been killed.”

“There is nothing you can do to hurt me.” Marty said. He wished he believed it.

“Are you so sure?” The ghost reached out and brushed his hand against Marty’s cheek. The touch was very cold and left a sick feeling in Marty’s stomach. “Feel that?” the ghost said, then he quickly stabbed his hand into Marty’s chest. It felt like his heart was squeezed. “How about that?”

The ghost leaned back, pulling his hand away. Marty was left gasping. “Scared you didn’t I. I know things now. The more you are afraid the stronger I get. Eventually, I’ll be strong enough to kill you,” the ghost said. “But first, let’s try something.”

This time the hand plunged into Marty’s forehead. Marty tried to back away but the ghost’s other hand caught his shirt in an iron grip. The ghost’s fingers were painfully icy, colder than Marty ever felt before.

Suddenly Marty was in the place where shooting took place, the parking lot for a factory near where they lived. It was night, people were getting off the late shift, walking to their cars or huddled in groups talking. Joey was cutting across the lot weaving through the parked cars. Joey had just run away from Marty, from their fight. And in the thick bushes lining one side of the lot the murderer was waiting.

Marty saw as Joey heard the first shot and froze. Behind the bushes the murderer was shooting again. People were screaming, falling to the ground, running, hiding behind cars. As Marty watched, he could sense more than see as the murderer aimed at Joey and shot. Marty tried to run to his brother as Joey collapsed to the ground.

Before he could reach his brother the world spun around him and Marty gazed at the cemetery confused and disoriented. The ghost was laughing. He’d removed the hand from Marty’s head but was still clutching Marty’s shirt tightly.

“This is fun. Too bad I couldn’t do this when I was alive. I really could have made those bastards pay.” The ghost reached toward Marty’s head again. “That was so much fun let’s do it again.” Marty struggled trying to push the fingers away but his hand passed right through the ghost’s and the glowing fingertips hit his forehead and slid inside feeling even colder this time.

Marty was back in the parking lot, but this time he was near the center amid the parked cars. The place where Joey had been standing. He felt angry, betrayed and hurting. The emotions were dull distant like a memory like they’d been borrowed from someone else. Then he heard the sound of a gunshot followed by screaming. He saw a man hit, blood sprayed and he felt a panic like he’d never felt before. Then he heard his brother’s voice seeming to come from his own body call his name, call for help. It was like a dream where he had no choice except to follow the script laid out. Then a tremendous pain. Looking down, he could see the blood flowing from where his brother had been shot and the world turned black, but still he could hear, shots, screams, his own screams in his brother’s voice, calling for a brother who wasn’t there, who said he hated him, who said he never wanted to see him — Joey — again. The memories of the fight and the stupid things Marty had said echoed loudly in his — Joey’s — mind.

Then Marty was in the cemetery. “No, it’s all a lie. You can’t know anything about him. You just made it up to scare me.” And it did, Marty thought.

The ghost looked as solid as a real person now. “I know everything about your brother,” the ghost said as he pulled one of the chains wrapping him and another ghost was dragged from the ground tightly bound by the chain. It was Joey, squirming and crying out in pain. “I know a lot about a lot.” The ghost pulled another chain and another ghost emerged screaming soundlessly, and another chain pulled another ghost, until all the chains had been pulled on, each attached to a ghost. Seven of them, one for every victim of his shooting rampage.

“I don’t believe this is real. It’s just fake images you are putting in my head to scare me.”

“Can you be sure?” The ghost stood up from his crouch and picked Marty up with the fist still wrapped in his shirt. He lifted Marty’s feet off the ground with ease. “Prepare to die. At least you know it’s coming. Your poor brother didn’t know what hit him till it was too late.”

Marty kicked at the ghost hitting his stomach. Whatever the ghost was made of absorbed the kick with no effect except to get the ghost laughing.

Marty suddenly noticed the shadows were small. The moon was as high in the sky as it was going to get. It was time to pour the cup of vile water. Marty kicked at it, thrashing hard.

“Still fighting? Nothing you can do.” The ghost said his words mixing with uncontrolled laughter.

The ghost waved him around just enough for Marty’s foot to catch the rim of the cup and knock it over. The water spilled out into a dark stain, blacker than black ever could be, spreading across the dirt, filling the air with a noxious choking stink. A fog like glow rose up from the dark stain forming bluish, half-visible hands and arms with joints that bent the wrong way and had thorn-like shapes sticking out, more and more of them, all reaching for the ghost.

“Might not be anything I can do, but I bet they can do a lot.” Marty said. The ghost glared at him suspiciously and didn’t look until the first hand grabbed his ankle. It was quickly followed by more hands grabbing and arms wrapping tightly around his legs. Other hands grabbed the chains and snapped them. As their chains broke the ghosts faded into mists of light and vanished.

All of the chains were broken but one, the one fastened to Joey, all the ghosts gone except for Joey, and all the strange hands were holding on to the ghost of the murderer who used his free hand to fight to pull the hands away. He was being dragged backward toward the stain.

“No! I’m not going alone.” The ghost sounded scared. He had reached the edge of the stain and one foot was sinking into the ground quickly. The other foot passed the edge. Marty braced his legs and got a solid footing on the unstained ground but soon he was on his knees and the ghost was in the ground up to his chest. “You did this, didn’t you. Make them let go, make it stop, or I’ll drag you and your brother to hell with me,” the ghost yelled.

His grip on Marty’s shirt loosened and Marty pulled hard to get away. The ghost plunged out of sight pulling Joey partway into the darkness.

“Joey! Please I’m sorry.” Marty screamed. Joey looked at him for the first time. “I didn’t mean any of those things I said. I was being angry, stupid, selfish. I love you. I always have. I always will.”

The chain broke stopping Joey’s descent into the blackness. Joey smiled his shy silly smile and he waved at Marty as he vanished into a mist of light that faded away.

Marty sat back exhausted and crying a single tear. He wiped it away but refused to be embarrassed by it. The air was cold on his bare arms as he watched the moon and stars and waited until his head and heart caught up to what had happened. When a state of not quite calmness but close enough settled on him, he reached for the tipped-over cup sitting on the grave by the dark wet patch. It was still nasty smelling but no longer a hole in reality. “Goodbye, Joey. I better get home before someone notices I’m gone.”

*

E. M. Sole is a proud resident of Nebraska, living there with three jack russell terriers and a very confused cat. She was given the gift of the love of literature of all types by her grandmother, a gift that has grown in value through the years. Her short fiction has appeared in Mystic Signals, Liquid Imagination, and here at INfective INk.


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