It is unexplainable…this “love” of the dead. Maybe the whole fascination lies in taking what is not yours, or doing what should never be done. After all, the laws of man are fun to break, and taboos even more so. In my case, however, it is something more. It is an urge…innate and very powerful, and it has been with me as far back as I can remember.
Children are supposed to be preoccupied with childish things. And I was, to a point. But when it came to graveyards, I was absolutely enthralled. I could feel the energy from underneath the ground, as well as the resting calm up above. It was a dichotomy of sorts, a certain yin and yang which left me confused at first, yet very interested and yearning for more. I played in the cemetery. That’s what I did. And yes, it was perceived as “weird”.
I remember one occasion, in particular, when my urges truly came to light. I was about 11 or 12 at the time, and I was spending time at a cousin’s house, doing some sled riding. Strangely enough, the best hill in the area was, you guessed it, in the middle of a cemetery. It was an interesting feeling…zipping down this snow-covered mound, trying as hard as we could to dodge the granite stones. I should have been focused on the adrenaline of the action at hand, but I was getting off on the feeling of simply being in the cemetery more than anything else. It had a hold of me, and was not letting go.
As we grew tired of trudging up the slippery hill again and again, we rested for a bit, and something caught my eye. It was a small outside mausoleum, a little past the hill we were currently on. You could clearly see each separate drawer, each separate name of the deceased chiseled into the marbled façade. This idea, too, simply fascinated me…each corpse to its own little compartment…like throwing a dead mouse into your dresser drawer. But the great thing about a drawer is that you can open it up again whenever you need. So why not just open the drawer?
I convinced my cousin to run home and retrieve a screwdriver, as he, too, was excited for a bit of the unknown. I was too fearful of choosing an occupied drawer, however. I was more interested in seeing the construction of the vault inside, or if we could get the lid of the drawer to move at all. As the sun was setting and the shadows fell, my cousin returned, with screwdriver in hand. I chose the empty, nameless, bottom drawer, and began to pry away at the fasteners at the corners of the marble lid. My cousin looked at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care. There was no hesitation, just action. Eventually, the chink of the broken metal reached our ears and the lid fell down with a crash, nearly smashing my toes in the process. We jumped like deer, off into the woods near the cemetery. I caught a quick glimpse of the black hole of the empty drawer as we bolted for our lives. I instantly started to regret my choice. I should’ve chosen an occupied drawer, instead.
Life moved quickly. The days turned to months, the months to years, and the years to the bored and disgusted 36 year old man I had become. Those necrotic feelings of old were pushed aside, but never truly forgotten. And one day, just like that, they reemerged from their forced slumber. But instead of finding the confused child, they came across the hardened man, instead…a man who was capable, and very, very sure of himself. The dead were calling to me still, and I finally decided to answer.
Embarking on such an arduous task was not taken lightly. Grave robbing isn’t like it’s portrayed in the movies, obviously. It isn’t digging 3 or 4 feet and then easily removing the lid of a busted up coffin made of plywood. That’s bullshit. In reality, there is this thing inside the grave called a concrete vault, that just so happens to be thick, heavy, and sealed very well to keep the natural world at bay for as long as possible. So my first issue was going to be finding an appropriate target…a grave that was old, rotten, weathered, and somewhat accessible. So I searched and searched.
It took months of research and footwork, but I finally found what I was looking for. It was an old church cemetery on the outskirts of the city, and it looked on the verge of being totally forgotten. The brush and trees were severely overgrown, which would serve me well as far as privacy was concerned. Most of the stones were broken, crooked, or knocked over, and many were barely legible…the letters worn through and weathered by time and nature. Apparently the ground had shifted over the decades, so naturally the positioning of the plots was now noticeably different than what it was 100 years ago. The rows were no longer rows, but zig-zags instead. The place was in total neglect and disrepair.
I spent an entire day there, roaming, taking my time. It had to be perfect…out of site and as least demanding as humanly possible. Getting caught was not an option. By the end of the day, I had a few prospects in mind, but there was one that afforded me some opportunities the others did not. It was a small, weathered stone, which had turned green from moss. It read “Amber May, Beloved Daughter, June 1910-May 1914.” A little girl. Better that way. The remains would be easier to move, and hopefully the grave was old enough that the vault would be weakened or broken through already. But the best part about it was the positioning of the gravesite. As I said earlier, the ground had shifted, and this site showed the worst of it. There was a large sinkhole in front of the plot, about 3 ft. down. I assumed the edge of the vault shouldn’t be too far away from the severe erosion. In short…there would be much less to dig, and less time to spend there.
I did not take action quickly after acquiring my target. I questioned it for weeks…ran through the entire plan in my head, over and over. No room for error, whatsoever. I had been fantasizing about it for so long, the simple idea of actually committing the act was both exciting and terrifying. Because there was no going back. I would forever become a ghoul, and if I got away with it I would probably continue. It would be a terrible secret I would have to keep…I wouldn’t be able to tell a single soul, ever. Life, as I knew it, would change.
The moment of decision came to me in a dream. I was there, in the cemetery, knelt down in front of Amber’s busted open casket, holding her remains in my arms as she slowly disintegrated into dust all around me. I was smiling, happy and overcome with the sweetest scent of freshly-cut flowers. And so, it would be. I stepped over the edge, into the pitch black. For the next couple of days I made a few trips to the graveyard, each time throwing a little piece of the puzzle from my truck into the weeds, about 10 ft. away from the entrance gate. One night it was a shovel and crowbar, the next a long piece of rebar and a mallet, and on the last night I offered up the final pieces…the sledgehammer and flashlight. It was all ready for me…the tools of my rebirth.
On the night of the disinterment, I was pretty shaken. I had actually taken a few shots of vodka before I left the house. The nerves were just terrible. But, things had to be done. I left my driveway at 9:45PM on July 22nd, 1988. It was a Friday night…the last Friday night I ever spent as a normal person.
And so, I set into motion exactly what I had planned for the last few months. I parked my truck in the shadows, grabbed all my gear from the weeds, and made my way to Amber’s resting place. There was not a soul in sight, just as I had hoped. My footsteps were loud and unavoidable…the brush was thick everywhere. Silence was not to be had that night. I was not worried, though. The odds of visitors showing up were slim, indeed. I was relieved at the sight of Amber’s stone, as my tools were becoming heavier with each step. It was time.
I set up shop at the base of the sinkhole, near where the foot of the vault should have been. I propped up my flashlight, positioned the rebar, and began to hammer it into the soil. As soon as I broke ground, I knew this would be harder than even I had expected. It was such a stony soil, compact from all of those untouched years. I was using the rebar to simply find the location of the vault. I would strike it a few feet in, then move my position, again and again. I began to panic a little after the 10th attempt. I wasn’t hitting anything but rock and dirt. I thought about aborting the mission, and just as I was about to give up, I heard the CLANK of victory. I had found it.
I retracted the rebar from the dirt, and moved on to the shovel. Within minutes, I was soaked in sweat and covered in filth. My heart was ready to burst. I dug with panic and fear, two wonderful allies to keep when time is of the essence. Eventually, I unearthed one concrete edge, then two, until the entire end of the vault was in view. My excitement grew with every shovel-full. I could see that the vault was, indeed, cracked lengthwise, which gave me a tremendous sense of relief. I knew the vault would be the hardest part of my task.
I do not know for sure, as time surely escapes a person at times like those, but I believe I spent well over two hours digging feverishly until I could see the entire lid of the concrete vault. I quickly threw the shovel down and lifted the sledgehammer. I knew it would be loud, so I wanted to break the seal within a few strikes. I positioned myself on top of the lid, hoisted the hammer, aimed right for the middle, and brought it down with as much force as my dead-tired arms could muster. Surprisingly, the concrete gave way immediately with a CRUNCH…the force of my blow pulled me into the vault along with the crumbled stone. I was face to face with the wood of the casket.
I must’ve hit my head pretty hard when I fell, as my entire face was wet with blood. As I wiped the red from my burning eyes, I noticed that the casket was not full size, but instead the size of the child who inhabited it. After I took a few moments to get my bearings, I began to hoist the casket from its resting place. It was not large, by any means, but it was wet, which made it extremely difficult to lift. The weight of the casket, mixed with the indescribable
stench of the rotted corpse inside of it, almost proved too much for me to handle. I took a deep breath, and with all of my might, I removed the casket from the vault and onto the ground. I fell with it, exhausted. At that moment, it began to rain.
With the muscles of my legs burning terribly, I dragged the rotting wood to the gate of my truck, slipping and falling in the mud the entire way. It was taking far too long, and at this point I simply needed to get the hell out of there. I quickly muscled the coffin into the bed, shut the gate, and proceeded to drive away. In a panic, I forgot all of my tools at the scene, which was not my intention at all. There would be no doubt…the grave had definitely been robbed of its sole possession.
The drive home was nerve-racking, to say the least. There I was, covered in blood and mud (as was the entire cab of my truck), speeding along the highway, with a little girl’s corpse resting in the bed. I was expecting to see lights at every corner, or hear sirens, but they never came. I pulled into my driveway, and just sat there for a while, thinking about what I had accomplished.
Under the cover of a foggy, rainy night, I moved my treasure from the bed of the truck to my basement, where I would uncover Amber’s beauty, once and for all. I felt uneasy as I stared at the wooden mess lying there on my cellar floor. Should there be ritual? Should there be Prayer? Decorum, at least? I, however, was not a God-fearing man, by any means. I beheld the treasure chest for as long as I could, before the excitement and curiosity of the moment got the best of me. I began to remove the lid, chunk by chunk, carefully, as the pieces fell apart in my hands. She came into view slowly…methodically, until I removed the final section of wet, stinking wood.
Amber May was everything I had hoped for. The beauty of her rot! What I unearthed was mostly blackened bones and stringy, red hair…but it was more than enough for me to appreciate. She wore what used to be a gorgeous floral dress, but time had not been kind to it. It was withered and filthy and molded…barely in one piece. Most of her teeth had fallen out, and the bones of her fingers were laying in the bottom of the casket near her rotten pink–bootied feet. Her jaws were agape, stuck in seemingly perpetual laughter. Thankfully the insects were few, as there wasn’t much of a meal left…I removed those that remained. There was some leftover matter around the body, sprinkled onto the disintegrated coffin lining, which I assumed to be the last vestiges of the girl’s flesh. It had the look of moist sawdust. I collected a pinch of it in-between my fingertips and brought it to my lips. It smelled and tasted of sulfur, but in my mind I was happy and smiling, and all I could recognize was the scent of freshly-cut flowers.
From then on, only the ghoul remained.
Matt Martinek is a singer/songwriter and author from Johnstown, PA, whose passion is the creative process itself. Whether it’s through song or the written word, Matt’s works always find their audience. His writing credits include poetry for Falling Star Magazine, Unhoused Voices (anthology), and Names In A Jar (anthology) as well as short stories for Sirens Call Publications. Matt has also recently completed his first horror novellette, El Prolifico, as well as the dramatic novella Fifty Shades Of F**ked.