The Suffering Begins . . .
This is Hell on Earth: Mount Moriah Cemetery, treeless and broiling hot from the ferocious July sun searing everything, including me. It’s like being sautéed in a frying pan. The two headstones are the only things that distract me from the heat. I’m deeply sad; tears well in my eyes, blurring the world like a Monet painting.
Mari Anne Summers
Beloved Mother, Wife
1940 – 1996
Allison Beth Summers
Beloved Daughter, Sister
1976 - 1996
I’ve come out here for eight years on the anniversary of the car accident and it still hurts so damned much. The therapists all said it would take time. Fuck time.
My father doesn’t come any more. Five years ago, he met Marilyn, a woman in her thirties, and remarried. For the first time since Mom and Allison died, he was getting on with his life. I thought I’d be happy for him, but after Marilyn convinced him to put us behind him, I’m pissed that he doesn’t come around.
A blank space for my father waits next to my mother’s name on the tombstone and another, with Allison’s name and dates, is just to the right. And yeah, there’s another space on the tombstone next to Allison’s name, but I don’t look at it. They should all be empty.
I kneel before the headstones and look from one to the other as if my mother and Allison sit there, hanging out.
“Another year,” I say. “I’m still in New York.” I glance at my mother’s headstone. “And still single.” There’s some comfort in this monologue; it’s a connection between here and hereafter. Maybe God opens up a radio frequency down to the living so that my mother and Allison can hear me and know that I still care about them.
My mother would tell me to get on with my life. “I’m living. I have my gigs and my job at the bookstore. I just can’t keep a girlfriend for very long, that’s all.” Looking around the cemetery, I wish things were different. “I miss you guys so much.”
The man who slammed head on into them at sixty miles an hour didn’t die. Mr. Walker couldn’t explain what happened, though he said he didn’t do anything wrong. Bullshit. Was the car possessed? He said that he was driving along and then the car took off on him. Serene Southern Drive turned into a collision scene so brutal that they had to pick pieces of bark from Allison’s skull and—it was just real fucking bad.
My mother and Allison were driving to the supermarket for groceries. The seatbelts had been released seconds before the accident. The police said the two belts hadn’t even fully retracted. What the hell happened? The only answer my father and I got was that it was a malfunction. They hadn’t gotten them completely on yet. Who expects a sixty-seven-year old man to suddenly play hot rod chicken?
“Sometimes I think about getting the old band together. It’s kind of in honor of you guys and doing tributes and making you proud of me. I think it’s just so I can see Katarina again. But after all that happened, it’s a bad idea.” I sigh. “I’m not as together as I want to be. None of my relationships last more than six months.” I shake my head. “You don’t need to hear this . . . shit. Yeah, I’ve been cursing a lot lately. Better than punching people.” I stand up. “I just wanted to say hi and ask you to give Grandma and Grandpa my love.” I glance up at the sky as if my grandparents are looking down on me.
Is there an afterlife? Do we reincarnate for another go round? I’d like to think there’s something more than worm food waiting for me at the end of my life, but I can’t say what. Maybe I’ll see my grandparents, my mother and Allison; maybe I’ll see New York City one more time.
“See you guys soon.” I don’t actually mean it. I just say it like I do to practically everyone I know. I’m about to walk away from the graves, when something like someone’s tentative touch brushes my arm. I turn back, half expecting to see Allison standing there with her teenage girl smile that melted all the boys’ hearts.
A hot breeze abruptly kicks up.
“Take care, Rick,” a woman whispers like a breeze.
But no one’s here, just my anger, loneliness, and me. Fifty yards away, a man in shorts and a T-shirt digs at a fresh grave. He shimmers like a mirage in this retched heat. He stops and stares at me. Goosebumps break out on my skin and I shudder with fear that I can’t place. Why be scared of a gravedigger?
The heat must be messing with me; I usually don’t hear people’s voices trickle through my brain. I place a stone on the top of each headstone and offer a prayer of safekeeping; I’m not a religious man, but for family, it feels right.
I head back to the old, dirty taxi waiting on the narrow road that runs through the cemetery. A growing pile of dark earth obscures the gravedigger, but it’s strange that he’s digging someone up. I shudder again. It’s just my imagination running away with me.
I’m mildly annoyed that my nerves are getting the better of me when I should be somber and peaceful. The memories of my life before the accident are good and that’s what I always hold on to when I go home.
The breeze swirls up from the ground, sighing with desperate loneliness that sends a chill through me. I imagine that a sigh so terribly alone should be reserved for very old widows, widowers or . . .
Knock it off, Summers, it’s bright daylight in the middle of July. The dead don’t come out this time of day, only at night when it’s not this blisteringly hot. Maybe they’re smarter than we are.
The driver’s door closes as I get back in the cab, lost in sadness and memories. I stare back up the hill at the two headstones. I don’t want to leave, but how long am I going to sit here, especially with the cab’s meter running? The trip back to the city shouldn’t take too long, though I’m in no rush to get back to my apartment that’s going to be Hellish with useless fans barely pushing suffocating air around.
“I’m ready,” I say and the cab pulls forward. “Back to the city.”
I start sweating almost immediately and then I get a strong whiff of rotten meat.
“Wanna turn the A/C on?” I stare at my mother’s and sister’s headstones, then others that dot the green grass as the cab slowly pulls away from the curb. Something thumps against the driver’s side of the car and the back tire rolls over it.
“What the hell was that?” I cautiously move to the window and look out. Nothing. I glance out the back of the car.
The cab driver lies on the road behind us, his head attached to his body by bloody strands of muscle, his eyes staring blankly after his car. I’m suddenly nauseous, made worse by the stench, and light-headed from the abrupt unrealness of the taxi cab driver lying on the road, practically decapitated. My sweaty hands stick to the vinyl seats and I wipe them on my pants.
“Hey!” Stricken with a sense of dread, I turn to see who’s driving. A woman’s face reflects in the rearview mirror and I think: she’s dead. The thought zips through my mind, exploding like a Fourth of July firework. The driver is a dead woman in her mid twenties. Maybe she’s not dead. But her skin is that odd shade of dead blue that you see in zombie movies.
I look over where I saw the gravedigger. He’s face down on the ground and it looks like the coffin lid is open. Ah, crap.
I glance back at the driver. It’s definitely a young woman. My curiosity is stronger than my good sense to flee and I lean forward. My big mistake. The driver’s head turns slowly on a stiff neck.
Your neck would be stiff too if you were dead in a box in the ground for—
I gasp and throw myself back. The dead doll eyes tremble and stare through me. The lips, devoid of color, form a wordless sigh. The make-up covering the bullet hole in her forehead is gone, leaving a blackish-red circle filled with thick ooze. A fly crawls around the circle looking for something to eat. But it’s not until I hear a sound, a word, that I realize I’m in a shitload of trouble.
My heart races in my chest. My breath is so unsteady that if I try talking I’ll stutter. But my mind’s not working to speak. What would I say anyway? Please stop, I’d like to get out now? Yeah, like that happens in all the horror movies.
I don’t know how the dead girl got out of the grave, but I’m not staying in here. I grab for the passenger side back door handle, but the lock descends into the door and all I can do is jiggle the handle.
Okay, Rick, stay calm. Stay calm? I can’t catch a good breath between the terror that’s crushing me and the unbearable heat that’s tortured by the smell of this thing. I roll the window down, but no one’s around to help me. I glance back at the hideous driver, then stick my head out the window to breathe the hot air. The heat slams against my face, but at least it’s better than the stench of the driver. I draw in a deep breath, grateful for the cleaner air.
The front passenger window rolls down. Reflected in the side mirror, the dead girl, pretty but for the damned bullet hole in her head, leans over. “Rick,” she says, “Pull your head in before it gets ripped off.”
Her eyes stare, but I doubt they see. They seem to quake in their sockets, the iris trembling very quickly from side to side.