Original dark fiction and horror stories, authored and illustrated by myself, Timothy J. Whitcher, as well as updates on my creative projects. Also contains my musings on writing, both fiction and non-fiction, movies, comics and the paranormal... and anything else I damn well please.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
"Grave Digger" from "Ten Little Terrors" by Timothy Whitcher, Kindle Edition
Daniel pulled the near-new Ford pickup into the
drive of the modest ranch style home and waited. He didn’t bother tooting the
horn. His brother Gabriel would know he was there, like every workday morning.
He surveyed the front lawn in mild disgust. Plastic toys lay abandoned for days
by Gabe’s two girls. The yard more weeds than grass, needed mowing. It was
embarrassing. At least Gabe’s wife June kept the house neat and the girls
behaved. Just as Daniel was about to lose his temper, Gabriel made his appearance.
With one hand holding open the aluminum screen door and the other holding the
knob of the front door, Gabriel obediently took instructions from June; his
pudgy six-foot frame towering over her petite stature. Just as Daniel was about
to toot the horn out of impatience, Gabriel leaned in for the kiss. Daniel
shook his head as he read his brother’s lips: ‘I love you.’ This scenario
played out the same nearly every day, but this morning it annoyed him more than
Gabriel lumbered around the back of the pickup,
opened the passenger side and hoisted himself into the cloying warmth of the
cab. Daniel looked at him hard, and though not the first time, thought of looking
into a funhouse mirror. Gabriel was Daniel’s identical twin, however, where Daniel
was fit and trim, somewhere along the line in thirty years Gabriel had put on
an additional fifty pounds. Where Daniel still had his hair, Gabriel’s had
decided to recede with a vengeance a la Richard Nixon. Gabe’s wardrobe was a
mix of old and new: old blue-jeans stained near black in spots from hydraulic
fluid, plaid shirt repaired with patches at the elbows, brand new tan leather
high-top work boots bought by Daniel himself as a belated birthday gift; as
opposed to Daniel’s neatly matching denim work shirt, pants and jacket,
finished off with new work boots, kin to the ones his brother wore, the second
half of a two for one sale. To top it off, Daniel thought, Gabriel wore a
dirty, blue nylon down vest.
Daniel powered down
the window despite the cool damp air, letting the rush of the wind fill in for
idle conversation. He was put off this morning and really didn’t give a damn to
hear what his brother had to say, which usually wasn’t much anyway. Within
minutes they were pulling into the gated drive of Pine Woods Cemetery, the
largest cemetery in their sleepy little town. Daniel was careful to stay on the
narrow asphalt path that wended its way through the myriad of grave markers,
many well over a century old, as the ground was as wet as a sponge from the
heavy spring rains. Daniel sighed as Gabriel droned on about nothing; Daniel
guessed just satisfied to hear himself talk.
of last night’s reality TV show came to an abrupt halt as the tranquil view
yielded to chaos. At least a dozen headstones had been toppled in the oldest
section of the graveyard. Daniel cursed, Gabriel gaped in silence as they
looked over the carnage. This was the third time in so many months that vandals
had struck. It had been Daniel’s fantasy to catch them in the act and beat them
to a bloody pulp and he felt he’d been denied the opportunity once again.
This is all we need. It’ll take a good day’s work to reset these. At least it’s
not the newer ones. People get real up in arms when it’s the newer ones. As if
the poor bastards in the old graves aren’t just as dead,” said Daniel.
“Geez o’ Pete, they’re
all worthy of respect, Danny,” said Gabriel, quietly.
for the living, Gabe. And few of the living get my respect.”
Gabriel kept silent. He could feel his brother’s
anger simmering just below the surface.
“So, we’re finishing up the Winkler plot, right?”
Gabriel said, as if his brother needed reminding.
“Yeah, genius. Better get to it. Calls for rain
this afternoon. Goddamn, ground’s wet enough already. Rained nearly every frigging
day the last two weeks. River gets much higher, it’ll be pulling vaults from
It had happened before. Burial vaults pulled out
from the eroding shoreline. Some graves so old that their caskets had rotted to
nothing, earth stained skulls and bones having to be retrieved from the Pine
River, and then cremated. That was a job that Daniel knew he’d assign to Gabe,
when or if the time came.
brought the lumbering pick up to a stop just past a stand of pine trees, which
revealed the plot they would be digging. The day before they’d had just enough
time to measure the plot, lay out plywood sheeting, remove sod, cover the sod
with tarp and move the Cat backhoe
into place before the sky let loose; a torrential rain driving them from the
site. Daniel had stewed all the way to Gabe’s, while Gabe spoke with pride
about attending his twin daughter’s dance recital that evening, totally
oblivious to his brother’s agitated state. Daniel had spent the night drinking
in his extravagant yet lonely home set deep in the countryside, cursing the
weather. Well, today wasn’t going to be a pleasant day either, Daniel thought,
but damn it all to hell, he was going to get the job done. The deceased in the cement
vault sat waiting for its internment on plywood sheeting, the family already
deprived of a proper funeral. If that wasn’t bad enough, the vault was
vulnerable to vandalism and they’d been lucky that the vandals hadn’t noticed
it last night. Daniel guessed that the stand of pines must’ve hid the vault
from sight. It would’ve been pretty hard dealing with the City Commisioner if
they’d found it desecrated this morning.
Daniel fired up the Cat and began digging as Gabe
stood to the side, shovel at the ready to keep the growing pile of earth spread
neatly on the plywood, as always. He never ran the backhoe. Danny had always
been too impatient to show him how. Gabe was glad. He knew if anything were to
go wrong with it, he’d be blamed, somehow. Daniel hollered at Gabe every so
often, with increasing agitation, for Gabe to stay off the grass; Gabe’s boots
damaging the muddy turf. Gabe was doing all he could not to. He could never
understand why his brother always had to be so critical of him, to lose his
temper. The weather wasn’t his fault, and he wanted the job done as much as
Danny did. Gabe hoped that no one from the deceased’s family would show up. He
knew it would be up to him to be the level-headed one. The diplomatic one. If
they were to show up, Gabe hoped Danny could control his anger. At least Danny
was sober today.
“Gabe! Don’t make me tell you again! Keep off that
goddamned grass!” bellowed Daniel from the backhoe.
Gabe gave him a weary look.
“Let me measure Danny,” called Gabe.
He measured the hole for depth. Two feet to go.
Now came the hard part. Gabe knew they’d need to dig the rest by hand. If they
tried to dig further with the Cat, it
was possible that the lip of the hole would collapse due to the dampness of the
“Four feet,” said Gabe.
“Measure it over. I’m not getting back on this
“Four feet, four inches, okay?”
Without another word, Daniel jumped off the
backhoe, slipping and tearing a deep three-foot-long gouge into the muddy lawn.
Gabe watched with neutral expression as Danny’s face
became redder and redder; Gabe looking away as his twin brother flew into a
rage, expletives flying thick as mosquitos in July. He’d heard it all before
and was just grateful that it wasn’t aimed at him. Gabe was just as grateful
that his twin girls weren’t here for the barrage, like they had been Easter
Sunday. After five minutes of tirade, Danny suddenly stopped, took a deep
breath and began unloading the equipment they’d need from the back of the
truck, as if nothing had happened. Gabe wanted to shake his head in amazement
and disgust, but feared to. Gabriel just pretended nothing had transpired as
They went to task. Gabe retrieved the step ladder
from the bed of the pick up after Daniel’s prompting, Daniel setting up the gas
powered generator and sump pump to pump out the five or so inches of water that
had seeped into the four foot hole. He set the ladder in, and with Daniel’s
reminder, stepped off well from the edge of the hole as not to cause the wall
to cave-in. He was about to ask Danny why they weren’t shoring up the walls of
the grave with plywood, but thought better of it. He knew that Danny would
either berate him for the idea, or would take off in the truck in anger to
retrieve the boards. Gabe just wanted to be done with it.
Gabe’s boots sank into the sodden earth up to the
laces; muddy water nearly at the tops. The sump pump ran noisily. He grabbed
the hose from Danny and fed it into the water, careful not to let mud clog the
“Don’t let mud clog that hose again,” said Daniel,
supervising from a squat, balancing with the dirt caked shovel.
Gabe had let it clog the first time he’d used it.
That was a good dozen times ago, Gabe thought. Danny couldn’t let anything go.
He kept silent, concentrating on the job.
“It’s Friday. You and Sandra got plans?” Gabe realized his
misstep as soon as the words escaped his lips.
to be funny, Gabe? You know I dumped that bitch. Is that your idea of a joke,
Mr. Family Man? You’re a real piece of work. Then, I didn’t marry the first
piece that bothered to look my way, did I? Nope. My dumbass brother threw it
all away right out of High School. Bet you wish you were me every night, don’t
you? Tied to the old apron strings, just like our ol’ man,” Danny ranted.
“Geez, I forgot she left, okay?” said Gabe,
concentrating harder on the end of the hose, unable to move, his feet cast in
thick mud like wet cement.
“Left? Holy fuck. Is that what that wife of yours
“No,” said Gabe, trying to think of something to
say, something that would diffuse the situation, but instead, he blurted out
what was running through his mind in a loop.
“How’d she get that broken arm, then?”
all the courage he could muster, Gabe turned to look Danny dead in the eye.
Daniel’s face was deep red, veins bulging from his forehead, lips tight as a
stretched rubber band, nostrils flared; Gabe could hear the rush of Danny’s
breath in and out. Then deep from Danny’s gut rose a bellow of rage that even
through all his years of torment Gabe had never heard from his twin brother
before, shattering the quiet of the cemetery air; Daniel still in a squat, both
hands now gripping the shovel handle which rested across his knees. In one
swift, savage motion, Daniel swung the shovel with all his might, the blade
connecting with the side of Gabe’s head. Gabe’s whole body torqued from the
force, his head twisting on his neck then recoiling back as if spring loaded. A
pain like the sting of a dozen hornets blossomed in his brain. A fierce buzzing
like a giant tuning fork had been struck, just like the times Danny used to
throw him hard onto the cement slab kitchen floor when they were just kids. Gabe
bounced off the far wall of the grave, hitting the muck face first.
stood, shovel still in hand, his chest heaving, and looked down at his twin. He
watched as Gabe tried to sit up, grasping at the air. Gabe shook his head.
Blood splattered against the aluminum ladder. He grabbed hold of the ladder and
brought himself up to a kneeling position, then sat back on his calves. Danny
watched as blood flowed onto Gabe’s mud covered down vest. The blood looked
surreal, almost fake on the bright blue material.
“Kripes almighty! What was that?” said Gabe,
Within seconds, Gabe knew what had happened. He
looked up at his brother with an expression of disbelief.
“Help me out, Danny. Think I’m hurt bad,” said
Gabe, attempting to stand.
Daniel stood still, silent, a cold hard look on
his face. He knew he’d fucked up royally. He was screwed. Gabe wouldn’t lie for
him this time. This wasn’t a punch in the gut, or a bruised or cracked rib.
Shit, Gabe might even die, thought Daniel. He’d lose it all. The business. His
house. Hell, if Gabe died, his freedom. His brother had held him back all these
years. He’d have made twice the money if he hadn’t had to split everything with
Gabe. He’d been cornered into that agreement by his Father’s will. If he wanted
to inherit the business, Gabriel would be in it for half. Without another
thought, Daniel raised the shovel, and with machine like precision, brought the
shovel blade down again and again, the shovel ringing with every blow. He
didn’t know how many times. It was the lightning strike and roll of thunder
that brought him back to reality.
Gabe lay crumpled at the bottom of the grave.
Daniel had a lot of work ahead of him. Dark work.
Daniel tossed the shovel into the hole and climbed
down the step ladder. He gazed up into the sky, watching the storm clouds in
the distance. Another flash and peel of thunder made him jump. He stepped back
onto his brother’s hand. A hand that looked identical to his own. Danny
gingerly repositioned his feet, trying hard not to touch his brother. He was
determined to not look at the body, but it was impossible not to. Even his
peripheral vision betrayed him. He realized he was hyperventilating. He knew he
needed to get a grip if he were to get through this. He took in long deep
breaths; the first through his nostrils, the sharp tang of fresh blood made him
gag. He counted. Fifty deep breaths. He felt better. His mind clearer. He
looked at his watch. How long had he been in the hole? A cold realization
flowed through him like ice water. The longer this took, the more likely he’d
be caught. Gabe’s wife could show up. A visitor to the cemetery. Hell, even a
cop. He began to dig. Danny dug and dug. The brown muddy earth didn’t give up
easily. Muddy clay and water sucked at the shovel and his boots. Pushing
himself harder, he struggled with each sodden shovel full, which he had to pitch
out of the grave and onto the pile above. At first he was careful not to sling
the mud haphazardly on the grass, but as each scoop became more difficult, each
sling more frantic, the turf above was splattered with a thick layer of clay.
It started to rain. Just a light drizzle. Daniel
welcomed the cool comfort of the water on his red, hot face. He looked skyward
for the first time in what his watch said had been over an hour. He’d made some
progress. A two foot deep by four foot wide hole lay before him. He’d need to
go a bit deeper, since he’d decided to bury his brother’s corpse in the fetal
position. That would mean another six inches deep. Daniel discarded his jacket.
It couldn’t have been more than sixty degrees out, yet he was burning up from
the exertion; also it gave him the excuse of using it to cover his brother’s
body. He turned and while looking aside, cast the jacket over Gabe’s bludgeoned
head. He watched as blood blossomed through the material. The jacket couldn’t
disguise the unnatural shape of Gabe’s head, but at least his eyes were
covered. His blind, staring, accusing eyes. Danny wiped the sweat and rain from
his brow with the back of his gritty hand. An image of how he must look flashed
through his mind. Face greasy, dirty and wet; eyes watering and wide. He had to
get out of here, get home and clean up. Get home and figure out his next step.
He realized he’d been gripping the shovel handle so hard that his hand had
begun to ache.
Daniel turned back to the task, driving the shovel
into the murky mess. A sound like a cannon hit him. Brightest day exploded
bringing the blackest of shadows. Shocked, he stumbled backwards. For a
millisecond he thought he’d been shot. Danny tripped on his brother’s legs and
fell back, sitting hard into Gabe’s lap. He groped for a handhold to slow his
momentum but only found the fabric of his discarded jacket, yanking the
bloodied denim from his brother’s ruined face. Danny hit the back wall of the
grave, chunks of gray-brown earth rained down on him. He sputtered and blinked
as the soil invaded his mouth and eyes. He could feel the soft yielding flesh
of Gabe’s legs underneath him. He could smell blood like raw meat, could smell sour
sweat, feces. More lightning, followed almost instantly by booming thunder,
ripped the sky. Purple-black clouds boiled overhead. Danny tried to scramble to
his feet, the slick clay slewing under his boots. His tired muscles struggled.
He was panicking. Flailing arms, his grasping hands finding no purchase,
fingers clawing clumps of sticky muck from the walls. He gave in. Gave up. Fell
back against the earthen wall, panting, shaking. The sky opened up. Hard
driving rain hit him like silver nails, stinging his cheeks, the backs of his
hands. Rain pelted Gabe’s nylon vest with a manic rattle. The aluminum ladder
shook with the force. Danny watched helplessly as the hole he’d dug began to
skim over with water, rain shattering the surface like a hammer on a mirror.
Danny fought to get back on his feet but in his
reclined position, his back angled against the wall, thighs hiked up over the
flabby thighs of his brother’s corpse, it seemed an impossibility. He would
have to turn on his side and get one leg under him. Closing his eyes against
the onslaught of rain, Danny reached for a hand-hold on anything within reach
and reluctantly grasped his brother’s jeans pocket. He pulled hard while
pushing his other hand under him into the watery grave. Danny felt hard bone
and cold flesh press against his forehead. Opening his eyes, his gaze was met
by Gabe’s empty stare, his limp fleshy lips pushed against Danny’s mouth in an
obscene kiss. Danny could smell the bile on the corpse’s breath as the last
gasp of putrid air was forced from lungs and stomach. Danny screamed,
frantically trying to push the weight of his twin’s body off of him, the dead
weight driving him down, pinning him. He twisted on his side, sliding from
under the smothering weight, bringing himself to an upright position. The
relentless rain pounded on. Despite the rain, Daniel sat unblinking at the
realization that the grave was quickly filling with water. At least six inches
of opaque brown water nearly hid his calves from view. He needed to get out.
Get up the ladder. He knew what he’d do. The Cat. He’d get out, drive it into the
hole, and make up a story how it was all an accident. It could work. He’d be
done with Gabe. He’d come out of this okay.
It was as if God or the devil had read his mind. Daniel
crawled forward and just as he pulled himself up on the ladder, the earth gave
way in front of the backhoe. Daniel watched incredulously as the three ton
piece of equipment tottered on the edge of the grave, chunks of dirt flowing in
around the ladder in an avalanche. There was nothing he could do, no room to
move. He watched in horror as the steel toothed bucket, grinning its shiny
earth polished grin like some mechanical T-rex, slid inevitably toward him. The
backhoe tilted ever so slowly forward, the heavy bucket effortlessly took the
ladder from his hands and crushed it like a foil gum wrapper into the side of
the grave. But like a dissatisfied, spoiled child it slid on, wanting more than
the lifeless metal. Danny stumbled back once again, grabbing up the shovel and
leveraging it between the bucket head and the dirt wall. The handle snapped,
exposing white splinters like fractured bone. The bucket kept on course. Danny
sat hard beside his twin with an explosion of mud. The mud dripped from the steel
teeth of the bucket like blood. Its idiot grin pushed on. Danny watched helpless
as the inevitable took place. He felt the rigid metal press into him, the
bucket driving into his chest. The backhoe groaned as the front wheel slid on
the slope of earth now burying his legs. He pushed himself back against Gabe’s
body, in an attempt to escape being crushed alive. The bucket bit into him. He
felt and heard a rib snap. A groan that should have been a scream escaped him.
He could barely breathe in or out. Then it stopped. He was pinned, but the
bucket had stopped. The backhoe had settled into place.
The rain pissed on and on. Daniel’s teeth
chattered from the cold and wet. He’d lost track of time. He couldn’t look at
his watch; his right arm was pinned beneath him. The rising water was at his
armpits. In a couple of hours, it would be at his chin. He prayed to God for
the rain to stop. He prayed to God that he be rescued. He prayed to God for
forgiveness. The rain kept on. He swore at God and prayed to the devil. He reluctantly
rested his head against Gabe’s. His fatigued neck muscles could no longer support
the weight of his head. Gabe’s teeth scraped against his ear. Danny’s labored
breathing was like a metronome; the only sound other than the continuous rush
Daniel awoke, startled. His predicament came
flooding back to the forefront of his consciousness. His jaw ached, teeth
chattering like a wind up monkey. Skin on his face raw from the beating deluge.
The rest of his body was numb. Water lapped at his neck. Hypothermia would soon
be upon him. The sky was near dark. Evening had crept in like a feral black
cat. Gabe’s body had actually floated up a few inches beside him. Ripped flesh
now bloodless and deep pink, water streaming over teeth, gums and slack lips.
Just as Danny thought all was lost, he saw lights
swing above his head, illuminating the towering pines with a bright amber glow,
reflecting off the sheeting rain. A car. They’d realize something was
wrong.It must be June, he thought,
looking for Gabe. Wondering why he wasn’t home. She’d come to find Gabe! Please God, I’ll tell her everything…
but why should he? There’d been an accident, that’s all. The bucket had crushed
Gabe’s head, then pinned him in place. He’d make her believe him. He heard a
car door open and close. Then another.
The boys got out of the old Camaro, leaving it running.
Johnny wasn’t born yesterday. His Momma didn’t raise no fool. He and Ray headed
for the new Ford pickup.
“Shit, Johnny! The dumbass left the keys in it!”
They both brayed laughter as Ray jumped in and
fired up the truck.
“Mother fucker! Let me drive!” whined Johnny.
“Finders keepers bitch,” said Ray with a toothy grin,
Ray took off in the truck down the cemetery path
as fast as he could, swiping three headstones as he went, followed closely
behind by Johnny’s Camaro. This beat the shit out of tipping gravestones,
thought Johnny, elated.
Daniel could barely make out voices. He tried to
shout, but could do nothing but wheeze out a croak. He heard his truck start,
followed by nothing but the sound of pouring rain. It hadn’t been June. Someone
just stole his truck! Fury boiled Daniel’s brain, his face growing hot with
rage. A jagged pain ripped through his chest. He forced himself to calm down.
Survival was all that mattered. More time passed. Daniel didn’t know how much.
He slipped in and out of consciousness. He could feel little but the aching
throb in his chest. In a moment of lucidity, he noticed that the rain was
tapering off. He truly thought he was going to drown, but now that the rain was
stopping, he felt there may be hope after all. Hope was all he had. Even his
face was numb now. He had to keep his head leaned back as far as possible to
keep the brackish water out of his mouth. He was afraid to close his eyes, watching
for headlights, since he was sure that his only salvation was that June would
eventually come looking for Gabe. Gabe, who’s battered and torn face loomed
over him, backlit by a field of stars in the clearing sky.
“Have to give it to you, Gabe. You just may have
beaten me,” Danny thought. Gabe didn’t answer. The silence was galling to
Danny. “You always were a pain in my ass. You’ll be one to the very end…”
Danny’s thoughts were interrupted as once again the tree
line was illuminated by headlights. Danny knew it had to be June.
June had waited as long as she was willing to. She
hated to dog Gabe like some worried old hen. It wasn’t like Gabe not to call if
he were to be late, nor was it like him to not answer his cell. She supposed he
could’ve forgotten to charge it, but where was he? And now here she was in the
cemetery. There was the backhoe. She saw that it was at an odd angle. Danny,
probably pushing too hard as usual, must’ve gotten too close to the edge. She
never could figure out why Gabe didn’t drive it; he was much more responsible.
Well, Danny’s truck wasn’t here. Damn Danny. He must’ve convinced Gabe to quit
for the day, and then sit out the storm at the Barley House Tavern, or some
other God-forsaken dive. If she didn’t have such good news for them, she’d
probably be angry. She’d drive over to the bar and surprise them there. They’d
be ecstatic once they heard that their lottery number had finally hit. She
couldn’t believe their good fortune.
The beams paused for three or so minutes as Danny
waited to hear the car door, then June’s frantic call for Gabe, followed by her
shocked expression as she gazed over the edge of the grave. But he didn’t hear
anything but the idle of the old Buick. Didn’t hear the desperate call. Didn’t
see the shocked expression. Instead, the headlights swung away, the sound of
the motor faded. Danny watched as the stars winked out. Heard the rain, felt the