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Our apologies, but there was a scheduling issue this last week. We will publish the remaining Ghouls, Ghosts, and Grave Robbers stories this week. Swords, Socercery, and Subway Cars will start the following week. The Ghouls contest will be pushed back a week.
STAY TUNED BECAUSE WE HAVE A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING FUTURE SUBMISSIONS.
On the Beach
She was sitting just outside the firelight. When Tom had glanced over, just a few minutes before, she wasn’t there. Now, she was off to his right, sitting all alone. He caught her looking at him. He smiled and turned his head. The next time she seemed to be looking at someone or something behind him. He spun to see who might have caught her eye, but there was nobody back there.
She reminded him of one of those girls in the movies, the best friend of the hot chick. She was pretty in her own right, but was usually lost in the glare of the friend and uncomfortable in the darkness when the star wasn’t around. The light from the beach bonfire didn’t illuminate her, but he saw her attractiveness in the glow from the moon and stars. She was wearing a plain sundress and her dark hair was pulled back.
Tom grabbed a couple beers from the cooler and walked over. She didn’t look up until he was right in front of her. Her eyes were as dark as her hair. He took one bottle by the neck and held it out towards her.
“Hi. Like one?”
She shook her head and looked down at the sand around her feet. Her silence was accentuated by the crowd behind him and the soft crash of the nearby waves.
“I was getting hot and the smoke started blowing in my face. Mind if I join you?”
She gave him a slight smile and wiped at the log next to her, as if sweeping off a spot for him. He sat and put the beers next to his feet. He turned to the girl and put his right hand forward. “I’m Tom.”
“Dorothy,” she said, holding the backs of her fingers towards him, almost like she wanted him to kiss her hand. He shook it awkwardly.
“Nice to meet you.”
He was met with silence again. Oh, great, he thought. If she’s as shy as I am, this is going to go nowhere fast.
“I’ve been here for a couple weeks, but haven’t seen you around. Are you here with someone?”
“No. I don’t know anyone. I just saw the fire and wanted to be close.”
“I came down with my cousin, Will. We know a few of the people.” He pointed to the other side of the fire. “He’s the one taking out the guitar.”
Aw geez, a few drinks and the guitar. Here we go. And sure enough, Will struck an odd chord and started singing “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
“We get in a crowd like this, and Will’s had a few beers, he starts singing Bob Dylan songs. I tell him that nobody wants to hear that crap, it’s our grandfather’s music for God’s sake. Then he says, ‘They’re classic for a reason.’ You like Dylan?”
She gave the slightest shoulder shrug. “I don’t know him.”
“Trust me, you aren’t missing anything.”
She smiled at that. Tom took a long drink from his bottle. Liquid encouragement.
“I hear this all the time, and I’m not in the mood for it tonight. You wanna walk down the beach or something?”
He stood and held his hand out. Dorothy placed her fingers in his palms and he helped her up. Her fingers were chilly, and he found himself wishing he had a jacket to offer.
“Are you cold?”
“No. I’m quite comfortable. Are you?”
“No. I’m good.” But as they stepped away from the bonfire a gust blew in from the ocean and gooseflesh crawled up his arm.
They walked along the sand, the noise of the bonfire crowd vanishing behind them. Tom tried to wait for her to break the silence, but she was content not speaking. The girl walked close beside him, her shoulder brushing the top of his left arm from time to time. It was a kind of intimacy he’d never experienced with a stranger before.
“I’m heading back to Boston College in a couple weeks. Are you in school?”
“No. High school was all I needed.”
“Really? So what do you do with yourself?”
“Oh, you know…” She trailed off as if he truly could fill in the blank of what encompassed her life.
He got lost in his thoughts, trying to imagine this pretty girl’s life. She obviously wasn’t spending her time on the beach. She was pale. The moonlight almost made her glow. He was certain she wasn’t married or engaged; he’d checked for a ring. And the fact that she was alone and walking with him seemed to rule out a boyfriend, too.
He was trying to figure out if she was a local or a summer person when he realized that she wasn’t adding to the conversation. He’d have to try to get things started yet again.
Another strong breeze came in from the ocean, blowing the tips of her hair against his face and neck. The gentle brush tickled, and he shivered again.
“You know,” she said. “On a night like this, at this time of the year, it’s warmer in the water. Come on.” Dorothy peeled off her dress and tossed it into the beachgrass near the dunes.
Tom’s jaw dropped. Where’d this come from. She stood before him in her white underwear. She didn’t have much of a chest, but her bra was heavy-duty. The word industrial came to mind. It wasn’t like any he’d ever seen before. The few girls he’d been with didn’t even wear bras most of the time. He watched her do that trick that girls do, a twist, a stretch, and a wiggle, and the bra was off, joining the dress in the grass.
She patted the back of his hand and ran to the water, into the moonlight reflection. He jerked off his shirt and took two steps before dropping his pants. He should follow the lady’s example. And besides, he had to keep his phone and wallet dry.
When Tom looked back up, she was gone. She had run into the water right in front of him, she couldn’t be more than twenty or thirty feet away. The water should be way too shallow for swimming, and even then, he’d see her kicking legs. But there were only the undisturbed waves, marching to the shore.
To his mind, the whole scene had been playing like the opening of “Jaws” and now he was scared. He called out, “Dorothy!”
As if on command, she popped out of the water, just beyond the breakers, a hundred feet from the beach. She bent back her head, wiping stray hairs from her face. “Are you coming?” she shouted.
Tom ran until he had to high-step in the water, then dove and swam out to her. She was right about the warmth. The water was much more comfortable than the air. He stood up and shook the water from his face and hair.
The water was shoulder deep and they were softly buffeted by the waves. She embraced him, pulling herself close, hard nipples prodding into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, unsure of what else to do. Even after the past hour, she was a complete stranger. He wanted to kiss her, but he didn’t have the nerve to try.
She put the side of her head against his shoulder. “You remind me of a boy,” she said. He brought one hand up and stroked her hair. “My parents didn’t like him. They called him a hoodlum. Just because he hung with Frank Barelli. But he was nice. Are you nice, Tom?”
The question took him aback. “I think I am.”
She hugged him tighter, then let go and disappeared under the water again. The stars were vanishing as clouds gathered, so it was almost impossible to see, but there was no sound of her splashing anywhere. She was the quietest swimmer Tom had ever been around.
He spun to look in every direction for any sign, and saw her in the shallows near the beach. He swam in as fast as he could, letting the waves help him along the way. By the time he reached the sand, she had put her sundress on her wet body and was holding out his clothes to him.
As he pulled on his shorts, she started walking west again. He went after her, awkwardly trying to pull on his shirt as he jogged.
They came to a break in the dunes and she turned toward a house up the beach. “Good night, Tom.”
“I have to go.”
“Can I see you again? Maybe tomorrow?”
“No.” She paused, and looked at Tom with a stare that told him not to interrupt. “Tonight was nice, but you’re just another boy who’s going to leave. And every time, you don’t come back.”
“Well, yeah, I’m going back to school, but—”
Dorothy grabbed his arms and pressed her cool lips against the corner of his mouth. Goose pimples sprang from his arms, but an electric heat shot through his feet. She pushed away, spun, and ran to the house. He wanted to run after, but his legs felt stunned by that shock.
A cloud passed over the moon as she ran into the shadows along the house and he didn’t see her re-emerge from the darkness.
Tom took two steps toward the house, then realized if he wanted any chance with her, he’d have to wait.
He turned and walked back to the bonfire, wet body shivering in the cool night. As he traced his own footprints back along the beach, he thought it odd how the waves had washed away the girl’s prints, but not his own.
The clouds that gathered at the end of the night had become a storm by the next morning and Tom spent the day at his uncle’s place in town.
The following day, he rode his bike out to the house at the beach. He hated showing up uninvited, but had to see Dorothy again. He stopped on the shoulder across the street and walked up the board sidewalk to the house.
He knocked, and a middle-aged woman answered the door. “Yes?” she asked.
“Hi. Is… uh… is Dorothy at home?”
“I think you have the wrong house,” the woman said, and started to close the door.
“No. We met on the beach the other night and I dropped her off here.”
“I’m sorry, that wasn’t anyone who lives here. Good day.”
The woman pushed the door further, making it clear that he was dismissed, but left it open enough to watch him leave. Tom turned and stepped off the porch.
He was about halfway down the walk when he heard a mumbled commotion behind him. It ended with a clear, “Mother, don’t do this.”
Then he heard another voice call to him. “Young man.” He turned and saw an elderly woman at the door. She must have been eighty or so. Maybe almost as old as his great grandmother. “Did you say you were looking for Dorothy?”
“Yeah. Dorothy. You know her?”
The woman stepped back and opened the door. “Maybe you should come in.”
In the back he heard the other woman. “Mom!”
“You hush. It’s my house and he’s my guest.” She looked back at Tom and waved him forward. He followed her into the living room and she motioned at a sofa, inviting him to sit.
“Why are you here?” she asked. Before he could answer, she walked over to a side table and picked up a picture.
“I was at a bonfire down the beach the other night, and I met Dorothy. We walked for a while and she said goodnight to me out back and came into this house. Is she your granddaughter?”
She handed him the picture. “She was my aunt.”
The words barely registered to Tom. He was staring at a yellowing black and white photo of two young ladies in front of this house that looked like it was taken back around World War II. The younger one was unmistakably Dorothy.
“But I don’t… What? No, no, it can’t…”
“Did she say anything to you?”
“We talked. A little. She didn’t say much.”
“Did she maybe tell you why?”
“I don’t know what you mean. Why what?”
“In the fall of 1946, my grandfather awoke one morning and saw my Aunt Dorothy walking out into the ocean. At first, he thought nothing of it. She loved the water. A moment later, he realized she was fully dressed. He ran down to the shoreline calling her name. He said she turned to him once and waved, then calmly walked until the water was over her head. He swam out to where she went under, but she was gone. No one ever saw her again.”
“No. No, you’re lying. We talked. She held my hand. She kissed me.”
“This isn’t the first time, young man. Tell me. Did she tell you why she killed herself?”
He tossed the picture frame to the other end of the couch. He needed to get away. None it made any sense. He leapt from the couch.
The old woman was in front of him and grasped his hands. “Please. Did she say anything? Anything.”
“No. She said I reminded her of a boy. A boy her parents didn’t like.”
“I don’t know. Wait. Frank someone. Petrocelli or Garelli. Something Italian. No. He wasn’t Frank, he was Frank’s friend.”
“She said he was nice, and she asked me if I was nice, and that was it. Then she said goodbye.”
The corners of the wrinkled mouth turned down and the old woman looked down at the floor. “Thank you.”
“Oh, and then she said something about the boy leaving and never coming back.”
“But here you are. You came back.”
He paused a moment. “I guess I did.”
The woman wrapped him in her thin arms and hugged him with a strength he hadn’t imagined she had. She took his face in her hands, pulled it down and kissed him under one eye. Then she walked him to the front hall, saying only “Thank you” as she closed the door behind him.
Tom walked around the house, down to the beach. The tide was pulling out and there was a wide expanse of smooth wet sand.
Except for a single line of delicate footprints leading into the ocean.
by T. L. Emery
By Justin Boote
Wayne peered above the gravestone and watched the large group which stood around the freshly dug grave, listening to the vicar recite his passage. Most wept uncontrollably, others simply hung their heads, hats in hand.
His eyes gleamed with anticipation. A low growl escaped his throat. Tonight, he’d have new material. He had no idea of the age or sex of the person now being covered in dirt, and it was largely irrelevant, although it was always nice to know what one was dealing with beforehand. On one occasion, it had been a young child he’d retrieved, who had evidently been subject to a nasty accident of some kind. Half his face had been missing, and what remained of his vital organs had been useless for his purposes. The shock had almost provoked his own death via a serious heart-attack. How ironic that would have been.
The family and friends-he assumed-finally began to leave. Some hugging, others hands in pockets, shaking their heads. Now they would head to a family member’s home and initiate a process he had never comprehended. Sandwiches would be eaten, beer or wine drunk, an occasional chuckle or perhaps a bellow of laughter. One might think it was a birthday party were it not for the black veils, black suits, and women weeping in the corner.
It was said that it was to remember the deceased. Why? Had he/she been forgotten for some reason? If not, why prolong the agony? How could anyone be hungry after paying their farewell to a loved one?
Finally, everyone left. Wayne was alone. He crept towards the grave, hunched down, checking to make sure no-one might detect him. This was imperative. Being caught now, when he was so close, would be disastrous. Looking at the grave marker, he made a mental note of the name and age;Jeremy Stim. 1995-2017.
Perfect; only twenty-two years old. Hopefully it had been a car crash, or some bizarre accident, that would have left enough organs in conditions for him to work with. Had it been cancer or some other disease, the risk was too great. The organs had to be in perfect conditions.
Memorizing the location of the grave, he crept away and returned home. To wait until nightfall, when hopefully his faculties would be sufficiently intact to return and claim his prize.
“Hey Mike! How’s it going?”
“Hi Stewart. Well, not too bad. Why?” This was an understatement. Mike was feeling terrible.
“I ask, because we’re meeting at the Crown tonight for a few drinks. Thought you might like to come.”
“No, thanks for the offer, but I don’t really feel like it. Maybe another time,” he said. He was sweating. And shaking.
“Ah, come on Mike. It’ll do you good to get out once in awhile. I can’t remember the last time you came out with us.”
“Sorry Stewart. Maybe next time.” Mike hung up, and slumped into his armchair. The sweat was pouring from every orifice, the muscles and veins in his body throbbing.
“No, please no. Not again,” he sobbed. He tried to think of something-anything- to prevent the inevitable. It was futile, and he knew it. He was powerless to resist. All he could hope for was that his victim that night might be some forgotten soul, lost to the underworld, where no-one would lament their departure.
Mike grimaced. The pain was always intense during the first stage. He’d tried drowning his stomach in whiskey to alleviate the changes, but it never worked. The only result was the pounding headache when he awoke the next day, lost in some abandoned warehouse or nearby field.
His chest became a cauldron. His organs burned as they expanded, his heart furiously pumping the scalding blood throughout his body. He tensed and gritted his teeth as the wire-like strands of hair began to grow all over his body and face, bristling with vitality. Claws slowly stretched from hands and feet that might have shamed Nosferatu himself.
And then, as Mike began to scream in agony, his muscles contracted and took on new proportions and strength, until-gleaming, white fangs protruding from cracked lips- his metamorphosis was complete.
A deafening howl broke the tranquil night, sending rodents, owls, and all nocturnal creatures running or flying in terror, as the creature threw open the front door of its cottage and bounded away on all fours into the night. It was ravenous, ecstatic and ruthless. A victim was needed and it cared nothing should it be its own mother it came across first.
A large cloud passed in front of the moon, obscuring the light that highlighted the gravestones.
“Perfect,” Wayne whispered. Ensuring that nobody was looking, he climbed over the short, wire-mesh fence and jumped. He ran to a large oak tree to prevent being seen by passers-by, then squatted. If his memory didn’t fail him-and it rarely did-the grave he wanted was just a few yards to his right, next to a smaller oak.
Wayne opened his rucksack and once again, checked its contents. It wouldn’t do to be half-way through the job and realize he’d forgotten his torch or even worse, the ebony handled, silver knife he used to finish. The risks were high already without receiving reward at the end of it.
Confident that all was in order, he crept to where the smaller oak tree was, and knelt. Yes, here it was; the grave marker to the burial he’d witnessed earlier that day.
Sweating with nervous apprehension of the task ahead, Wayne produced a short, folding spade and began to dig. Being summer, the soil was still soft and fresh, not like in winter when occasionally he’d had to hack at it due to the frozen ground.
After excavating half a metre or so of soil, he stopped for a cigarette. As time went by, and his disease took a stronger hold, the job was getting harder. Inhaling smoke from the cigarette, he began to cough and splutter. He was already seriously out of breath from digging, and the cigarette wasn’t helping, and now he could discern spots of blood on his hands that could only have come from his lungs.
“Great,” he whispered. “Just what I needed.”
He leaned back against the oak and, breathing heavily, wiped off the blanket of sweat that covered his face. There was still some way to go before he reached the coffin, and while haste was required before any guard came around, he still needed to recuperate. His lungs were getting worse it seemed, although- just when he had begun to lose faith in what the old Gypsy had invoked- the cancer that had ravaged his bladder also, had disappeared.
Burying the cigarette butt in the soil-can’t leave evidence of any kind-Wayne resumed digging. After another hour, his spade finally clanked on metal. Sighing with relief, he threw away the spade and brought out a small crowbar. Once more he checked to ensure no-one was in the vicinity. On another occasion, a couple of damn kids had almost provoked another heart-attack after they had sneaked in the graveyard for a session of illicit snogging. For a moment he’d considered killing them instead and taking their organs, such was his fury.
Slowly, he began to pry open the lid, until suddenly, he stopped. A bolt of fear flew up his spine and he almost dropped the crowbar. A terrifyingly loud howl came from nearby. A sound that could not possibly come from any dog or human.
Although the graveyard was situated close to a main road, few houses dotted the skyline. The village was made up mainly of fields and small woods, the only inhabitants those that made their living working away or farmers that grew and bred both crops and deer. For this reason, he had chosen this graveyard for his nightly excursions. It was small, and the chances of discovery were slim.
So where the hell had that noise come from?
Then, it came again. Closer. Long and drawn out as if some animal had trapped a leg in some vicious trap. But, by Christ, it sounded like a damn wolf! And here in Norfolk, wolves had died out hundreds of years ago.
Wayne crouched down, shivering, but not from cold. Something was in the vicinity, and getting closer. He waited a few minutes, cursing whatever it was that spooked him, until a gasp of fright burst from his lips. Two Red Deer were bolting across the adjacent field, and in close pursuit, some giant animal was sprinting after them. Wayne watched in shock and horror. Even though the light from the moon was faint, he could still discern a creature running on all fours that had to be almost the size of the deer itself; black, covered in hair and growling like a rabid bear. Eventually it caught up to one of the deer and leaped onto it, tearing into its throat with a purpose and fury, until just a few seconds later, the deer’s head came free in its mouth. The creature spitted it out and resumed its insatiable devouring of the rest of the animal, growling and slobbering as it did so.
“Jesus, what the hell is that?” Wayne whispered to himself. He poked his head above the hole he was squatting in, and watched as the creature finished ravishing the deer, emitted another great howl of triumph and sped off.
Wayne reeled with the shock of what he had just witnessed, but there were more urgent matters to take care of, and he’d already wasted too much time already.
With one great heave, he finally managed to release the lid of the coffin, and taking a deep breath, looked inside.
Despite having repeated this operation on numerous occasions, a sense of uncertainty and sadness always overcame him. On the one hand, the person before him was already dead, so wasn’t going to miss an organ or two, but at the same time, he felt like a thief, a rapist. Stealing and violating another. One who had never caused him grief, or had even met before, yet principles dictated that what he was doing was still wrong; stealing from another to sustain his own pathetic existence.
The boy’s face was at least intact. Nothing was missing that would cause nightmares later, after replenishing. In a way, he thought, this was worse. He’d had a whole life ahead of him, and something had happened to end it. Death was not biased when it came to choosing acolytes.
Now moving quickly, Wayne produced the silver knife that he had considered adequate for the job(it came as a box set for Christmas from his parents) and deftly opened the boy’s chest. The organs were all intact. Removing the heart, he placed it in a small box and climbed back out of the hole. Replacing the dirt-it was the least he could do-he grabbed his rucksack and headed for safety and the comfort of home, where he would eat the heart raw and hope that another section of the cancer that was ravaging his lungs would disintegrate.
As he approached the door of his house, another blood-curdling howl stole through the warm, summer air, sending him panicking and bundling inside.
The next day, Wayne awoke feeling replenished, vibrant. Tentatively, he lit a cigarette. Poised, awaiting the first bout of coughing to hit him, he dragged on the fumes and blew out the smoke. Nothing. He took another, longer drag. Nothing.
“I don’t believe it,” he said, smiling. No blood, no manic coughing fits for the first time in weeks.
“God damn that old Gypsy!” One, maybe two more sessions of grave-robbing and he thought he might at last be fully cured. With the heart he’d eaten last night, that was now seven. The gypsy had said not to stop until all signs of the cancer disappeared. Well, he’d stopped pissing blood weeks ago. All that was left was the cancer in his lungs.
Sighing, he lay back in bed, took deep, long drags of his cigarette and recalled the encounter with the old gypsy.
“You are dying man!”
Wayne looked up. He was sitting on a park bench having just vomited-again.
“I know, thank you,” he said.
“I know you,” said the gypsy.
Wayne looked at him. The gypsy was old, he had to be at least a hundred judging by the wrinkles that adorned his entire face. Straggles of grey hair blew wildly in the wind. The old man was so gaunt Wayne wondered if a stronger gust of wind might blow him over and yet there was something in his eyes that suggested a strength far more potent than a few meagre muscles on a withered body. They pierced straight into Wayne as though they could detect every secret, every hidden memory that lay behind the grey mass between his ears.
Wayne looked away. He felt as though he was being inspected by some voyeur surgeon on the operating table.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“You work at bank.”
“Correct. What do you want? A loan?” Wayne chuckled, provoking a bout of coughing.
The gypsy ignored the comment, but remained passive, staring at Wayne. “You help me, I help you,” he said.
“See, I knew it. How much do you need?”
“Money-nothing. But your bank has possession of our land where we stay for now. Allow us one more month at site. We leave, I help you.”
“And how exactly can you help me? You a doctor or shaman or something?” Wayne shook his head and chuckled again.
“Do not joke with me. You help, I help.”
Wayne stopped chuckling and looked at him. The old guy was probably senile but he at least looked serious.
“Okay, sorry. But how do you suppose I might help you stay for another month on the field?”
“You are bank manager. You decide if we stay or go.”
“Okay, let’s say I do let you stay. Look at me. The doctor has said I have another six months left to live at most. My bladder and lungs are ridden with cancer. I’m finishing work this very week to ‘get things in order’, as they like to say. How can you help me?”
The gypsy sat down beside him and produced a small knife.
“Give me your wrist.”
“Hey! What do you think you’re going to do with that?” He edged away, wondering if he’d have the nerve to punch or push the guy should he become aggressive.
Wayne looked at the gypsy. From the harsh, intense look in his eyes he appeared deadly serious. Well, what damage could he do that might be worse than that already inflicted upon him? He stuck out his arm and tensed, ready to retaliate should it become necessary.
The gypsy began to mumble something unintelligible in his own language and with his free hand, placed it on Wayne’s stomach.
Immediately Wayne felt a warmth inside, as though the sun’s rays were penetrating directly at his intestines, and then, before he had even realized, the gypsy made a small slit in Wayne’s wrist and began to slurp at the wound, drinking the small stream of blood the slit had produced.
“Hey! The hell you doing?” he exclaimed, as he tried to release his arm and failed. The grip the gypsy had on it was surprisingly strong.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “no blood. Only urine. Remove order for expulsion from field, and I will show you how to cure completely.”
The gypsy’s prophecy had proved correct. The next morning Wayne had almost forgotten about his encounter and had only remembered when he looked suspiciously into the toilet bowl. For the first time in weeks there was no blood swimming in the bowl.
I don’t believe it! He felt a rush of adrenaline and joy course through him. Maybe there was something in what he had said after all. But he had slit his wrist in the process of demonstrating his evident power. What would he do to cure him completely? Cut his arm off?
After ensuring that permission was granted for one more month to the gypsies at the nearby field the old man had told him what he needed to do.
Wayne had almost thrown him out of the bank in his shock and disgust. The gypsy told him that he needed to remove and eat the heart of those recently buried to regain his health; thus the tissue and organ would regenerate in his own body and, at the same time, remove all malignant tissue.
Wayne stared at him aghast, disgusted.
“You’re telling me I have to become a grave robber-a ghoul?”
“If you want to live, you must do it. If not, you die. Your choice.” With that, the gypsy left. Wayne never saw him again.
Wayne spent several days pondering over his situation. Being a divorcee with no kids he didn’t have to worry about being interrogated as to his sudden late-night excursions, but the thought of digging up a recently buried person, risking the humiliation of being caught, and then actually eating their organs filled him with a repulsion and dread only comparable to when he’d been told he had cancer in the first place. This was a perfect example of the cure being worse than the diagnosis. And yet, the gypsy had been right. What were his options? If he was caught and sent to prison, at least he wouldn’t be there for very long, or have to worry about ‘getting his things in order’.
So, after an important session with a bottle of whiskey he kept as pain-killer, he did it. And fortunately, it hadn’t gone too bad. Primarily terrified about being caught, he’d dug up the grave and been confronted by his first dead body. The young girl looked asleep. He’d half-expected to be confronted by a writhing mass of maggots and worms but because she’d only been buried that same day, he had been spared.
And then, he had taken the heart home. Almost vomiting just from looking at it, he took several shots of whiskey and forced himself to eat it. Slowly at first, only minute bites and forcing himself to think of the long and fruitful life he’d have ahead of him if he persevered, until it was all devoured. His first human heart was now battling against the disease inside.
So, a week later, he had repeated. Until now. Only one or two more. But there was something else that bothered him; the something that had ravaged the deer in the field opposite, and then made that terrifying howl. Wayne had seen enough movies to recognize the kind of animal associated with that kind of howling and he didn’t like it, but worse was that only a few weeks ago he would have dismissed it as paranoia. And yet, a few weeks ago, he had scoffed at an old gypsy who had offered him a cure for cancer.
He decided that the next time he returned to the cemetery, he’d take a larger knife with him.
Mike opened his eyes, looked around and then at himself. He was naked.
“Shit,” he exclaimed. Sitting upright, he scanned the field he found himself in. It looked familiar somehow, and then he saw them. In the adjacent field were gravestones; it was the local cemetery.
“Well, at least I’m not too far from home this time,” he muttered. Rising to his feet, he checked that nobody was in the vicinity and began to scamper away in the direction of home. As always, he had no idea how he had come to end up in the field, but the circumstances that led him there, he did.
He had been fishing one night in a river that ran through the larger of the surrounding woods. At night was always the best time; no-one else would be in his spot and he enjoyed the secluded and peaceful atmosphere that reigned. The only sounds were the owls that called to friends or loved ones, or the occasional scurrying of some small animal or rodent. In order to get to the river, one had to park the ca, and then walk for at least ten minutes through the wood until reaching the path that led to the river. From there, there was no continuing any woodland stroll and the clearing was small. Thus few people knew of its existence. It was his own secret fishing hole.
And then, one night, he had heard a noise in the wood. It sounded like a bear or some such creature was in pain or ecstasy; a deep, resonating howl emanating from close-by. He’d heard strange noises before and sometimes the silence contrived to enhance the screams and shrieks of the nocturnal hunters that patrolled in search of food, but this was something completely different. He knew of no animal that could possible make such a sound-at least one that still thrived in this part of the world.
And then it had begun to draw closer. Heavy panting mixed with a thick growl like some rabid dog was pacing the area. Loud cracking of twigs and branches as it approached suggested that it was big as well. A rabid fox maybe? He could hear it sniffing the air; for what? Food? Increasingly nervous, he fumbled in his fishing bag for any utensil to ward off the animal should it approach. All he had was a small knife for cutting bait and line.
Taking it in trembling hands, he gripped it and stood up. He thought about throwing something in the direction of the panting in the hope of scaring it away, but before he could even stoop to collect anything, something huge came charging through the clearing and, growling and roaring incessantly, pounced at him.
Screaming in terror, he thrust the knife in the path of the creature as it landed on top of him, sending them rolling around on the floor. The knife must have found a direct hit, because the creature let out a piercing howl of agony as jaws clacked manically in its search for flesh. Mike writhed and struggled to avoid having his head ripped off by the hairy beast, as he withdrew the knife and stabbed it once more. Another shriek of pain filled the night sky, until, without realizing the danger, both fell entangled into the cold river’s water.
Such was his panic and terror that Mike didn’t even feel the cold as the water engulfed him, but the creature that had now released its grip, apparently did. It became a wriggling mass of fur and claws as it desperately tried to swim to the opposite bank and escape, splashing and roaring in panic but it was evident that swimming was not a strong point as it was dragged down the river by the strong current, constantly being sucked under and re-surfacing again, until it disappeared from view.
Mike managed to swim to the nearest bank where his fishing gear lay, and dragged himself out, laying there breathless, trembling and in shock, yet when he eventually managed to calm down, he noticed the deep cuts in his arm where the creature’s claws had struck him. Three weeks later, the process was complete.
He could never recall exactly what he did when he transformed, only what he learned from reading the local newspaper. Should a person or animal be found mauled or decapitated in or around the nearby woods, he knew he was responsible. And yet, occasionally he had flashbacks; a sense of power, of malice, of a great feeling of ecstasy and adrenaline that flowed through him like a tidal wave as he prowled the night sky. All were afraid of him; he was the master of the universe and nothing could stop him.
He’d recall a smell of blood and how the desire to rip and tear into flesh would be almost overpowering. Bursting through undergrowth in pursuit of his prey, smelling their fear which only enhanced his heightened state and need for nourishment. And then; entrapment, as he’d sink his enormous teeth into…
He stopped. Something else had happened last night. He had smelled something different. Something that only a finely-tuned and sharpened sense of smell could detect. And he knew it for what it was.
It had been the smell of fear and adrenaline, yet mixed with death; of decaying organs and tissue. As he had chased the deer through the field, it had come from the one opposite. What was it? Stones came to mind. An abandoned settlement? No, there was no such place. And then it hit him; the graveyard. Something had been uprooted. Someone or thing had desecrated a grave, but for what terrible purpose? He decided, curious, that when transformation was dormant, he would hide among the gravestones and keep a vigilance for the imposter.
Wayne finished his cigarette. There was only one left in the packet, and it would save until hopefully his last excursion into graverobbing was carried out later that night. It wouldn’t be the wisest thing, he considered, to finally rid himself of lung cancer and then cheat the devil by continuing to smoke, and thus provoke it again.
No, after tonight, he’d begin a new life. Perhaps start working out at the gym, cut back on the liquor intake. And, he vowed, he’d never visit a graveyard again, not even if it was his elderly mother’s funeral. He still felt certain remorse for his acts and the threat of discovery was ever-present, but it had served a purpose. Thinking about it, he might even put flowers on the graves he’d dug up, as a final thank you.
But that was for later. Wayne grabbed his backpack, and headed, stealthily, for the cemetery.
There it was; the burial he’d witnessed earlier that day. Only a handful of people had been present, and no-one had been crying, so he guessed that it was either someone from out of town with no family or an elderly person who had outlived their own acquaintances. The gypsy hadn’t said anything about age being important and had they suffered cancer or some other disease, he’d know. He had, after all, done his research into autopsies and surgical operations on the Internet.
Nervous as always, he set about digging up the fresh earth. An owl hooted nearby, provoking a short gasp of shock.
“Damn thing, go away,” he spat. Tonight, he was especially tense. That howl he’d heard previously had scared him badly, and he’d read in the newspaper about some strange mutilations occurring in the vicinity, both animal and human. The police were being especially vigilant, and there was a sense of dread and stupor in the village. As added protection, he’d brought with him a larger knife, similar to the first; ebony handle with a long, curved, silver blade made in Spanish Toledo.
Half-way through removing the earth, he stopped. His heart skipped a beat and then began a manic jig in his chest, as if awakened from its lethargy. A twig had just snapped nearby, followed by another. He was not alone.
He peered over the top of the hole he was digging and looked around, while his free hand fumbled frantically in his rucksack for the bigger knife. The owl hooted again and took flight, disturbed from its vantage point on the arm of a large oak tree. Another cracking of twigs. Whatever was out there was heading in his direction. But what? A local constable? A hungry dog? The…the thing…?
Shit. His chest a great empty chamber, all breath having evaporated from his lungs. He clutched at the knife and decided to confront whatever it was that approached. Were it to be a policeman or security guard, there was nothing he could possibly say to defend his actions, and, being so close to success, prison was not an option. He would fight to the death if necessary and it would be on his head alone to assume the psychological consequences of murdering a living person.
As Wayne climbed out of the grave, he was stopped short by a voice;
“You sick pervert! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” it asked.
Wayne looked up. A man stood before him, heavily bearded and wearing jeans and a jacket-no uniform or badge in sight. So convinced had he been that an officer or guard had finally caught him, that he was lost for words.
“Know the person buried there, did you? Come back to pay final respects?” the man asked.
Wayne finally found his voice, although he was trembling slightly in anticipation of a probable fight.
“Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that, and rather difficult to explain, so why don’t you leave now, and pretend you never saw anything,” he said rising to his feet, the large knife hidden behind his back.
“Well, you could say I’m used to strange occurrences and explications, so why don’t you give me a try?”
Wayne looked at him. He was big and muscular, giving him the appearance of a body builder or professional wrestler. His eyes seemed void of colour. He found it impossible to discern the colour of his irises and they stared into him with a malice that sparked an icy shard to fly up his spine. A sneer on his face suggested a grave lack of humour and a lack of qualms about breaking his neck should his response be sarcastic.
But Wayne was no spindly figure either. At six foot six and a firm body developed through weeks of backbreaking digging, he tried to ascertain rapidly if he might be a match should the inevitable happen. With the knife in his hand, he thought he had a good chance. He tried to change the subject.
“What are you doing here anyway? Surely up to no good either.”
The man’s response left him aghast.
“I smelled you the other night.”
“What? What do you mean: you smelled me? I know I’m probably not the most regular user of showers, but even so. Besides, you haven’t answered my question.”
“You were graverobbing, just like now. I could smell your fear and the organs of the cadaver you were removing. You’re sick. I want to know why, and I might let you live.”
I might let you live. Not; I won’t phone the police. There was something seriously wrong about this guy and the outcome did not bode well.
He took a firmer grip on the knife behind his back.
“I told you, and actually you’re not too far from the truth. I am sick, and I need the organs from the dead to recuperate.”
“Bullshit. You a necrophiliac as well?”
“Don’t be stupid. Do I look like one?” he said and then regretted doing so. What does a necrophiliac look like? Or a graverobber for that matter?
“So, are you going to answer my question? If you smelled me the other night, what were you doing out here?”
The man produced what might have passed for a smile. “Hunting,” he said.
A realization came over Wayne. The deer, the howling. His original, preposterous thought was maybe not so ridiculous after all. He looked at the man’s hands. They were huge, as were the unnaturally long nails that protruded from each finger.
“It was you! The howling the other night. The thing chasing the deer. My God, what the hell are you?”
“One who has certain needs just like you. Sustainment is the word that comes to mind. Although I believe there is a small problem here. I have survived for a long time with my…condition, and now here you are, putting in jeopardy everything. How long will it be before someone discovers what you are doing, begin to patrol the area, and thus; put me at risk?”
“Well, I thought you were doing quite a good job of that yourself. You have the police and the whole village in turmoil and scared half to death.”
At this, Mike’s features began to change. He crunched his nose as a low growl began to emanate from his permanently sneering mouth, showing teeth that were unnaturally long and sharp. His eyes grew wider, darker if possible, the eyebrows becoming as one, as without warning, he launched himself with both hands at Wayne’s throat, the growl slowly developing into a piercing howl, as gnashing teeth searched for his jugular.
Wayne shrieked at the sudden attack and was thrown backwards, edging precariously towards the grave he had just dug. With one hand, he pushed Mike’s chin upwards to avoid having his throat ripped out, while at the same time produced the knife from behind his back and thrust it into Mike’s side.
Mike howled again, this time in great pain as the knife sunk in; it’s silver edging causing him more harm than the knife itself. In their struggle, both toppled over; Mike raking furiously at Wayne’s arms and throat, while in return Wayne withdrew the knife and thrust it again and again in Mike’s stomach.
The change was instant. The buttons split on Mike’s shirt as his chest began to expand like an inflatable balloon. Claws extended from giant hands. Spittle flew from exposed and jutting jaws-fangs snapping furiously still searching for a hold on Wayne, but the wound had proved too much.
Never had it felt so much pain as when the knife entered. It had been invincible. A creature both created and cursed at the same time to rule the night, to devour all that dared cross its path, and yet, this graverobber-this ghoul- had defeated it.
As life began to ebb rapidly from its body, in one final burst of grim determination, it managed to rake one clawed hand across Wayne’s face, almost removing his nose with the force of the attack.
Wayne screamed in pain as the werewolf rolled on top of him, trying his hardest to sink the knife further while the blood from his disfigured face seeped into eyes and mouth, only for both of them to fall directly into the hole in their tussle, the werewolf breathing its final putrid breath as it came to land on top of him.
Gasping and wheezing in relief, Wayne managed to squeeze his way out from under the creature and climbed out of the hole. All thoughts of organ manipulation were now forgotten as he staggered to a nearby tree and slid to the floor.
A werewolf! A God-damn werewolf! But these were the invention of comics and movies. How could such a thing exist in the 21st Century? It was one thing having a gypsy provide some kind of remedy to remove cancer, but a damn monster? This implied that maybe vampires and ghosts, and all kinds of demonic creatures existed also. But, he reasoned, that was a philosophical debate for another day. Right now, there were more important things to worry about.
Carefully removing his blood-soaked shirt, he put it to his bleeding nose, grimaced and looked around the graveyard for any signs of onlookers or anyone that may have been alerted to their fight. The howling from the werewolf must surely have woken the dead, he thought, but; despite the pain, chuckled at the pun.
Satisfied that he was safe, he struggled to his feet, collected his utensils that were now strewn around the grave, and crept away.
A week passed. All signs of the cancer that had ravaged his body had vanished. Not a single cigarette had he smoked since the fight at the graveyard, not because he was afraid of provoking cancer again, but simply because his body didn’t require the nicotine anymore. He thought it rather strange that he had been able to give up smoking so easily, yet there were other things that had him more concerned.
His shirts no longer fit him, although his stomach was a perfect example of muscular development. Where previously he had shaved every three or four days, now he was forced to shave every morning and the razor that usually lasted for months now had to be replaced weekly. His finger and toe-nails required a serious snipping daily as well.
Wayne sat, sobbing, while downing what remained of the bottle of Jameson he had begun earlier. All he had ever wanted was a simple life where he wouldn’t have to worry about how to pay the next bill, where the next meal came from, and a clean bill of health.
And yet, circumstances, fate, or simple bad luck had seen all his hopes for the future thrown into jeopardy because of some disease that still resisted all attempts to eradicate it. He had been popular at the office, promotion seemed a very real possibility, and the secretary had started looking at him in a way he had almost forgotten existed.
All this had gone to ruins because his simple, primitive desire to live had seen his fate-through pure coincidence- put into the hands of a simple gypsy, with a special gift. He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing, when two worlds collided; one where a creature that should not have existed outside of the comic books, had been prowling the woods and fields, and his own world where he was obliged to carry out a task that belonged in the realms of the horror movie.
Since discovering that the curse of the creature would now be transferred to him, he had spent the long, lonely days and nights contemplating suicide. It seemed paradoxical. Just when he had finally been cured of cancer, and thought he could finally enjoy what few pleasures life might provide him with, here he was wishing he was dead. The idea of roaming around the countryside in a manic, malicious desire for blood-regardless of where it came from-filled him with a terror far greater than having to dig up a grave. Aside from the fight two weeks previous, he couldn’t remember the last time he had been put in a violent situation. A vision of the wolf huffing and puffing on the piggy’s door came to mind, except this time, he had an idea that the piggies might be replaced by some poor soul sitting at home watching television or asleep in bed.
Wayne was also something of a coward. The courage required to end his own life-in whatever way he saw fit-he simply didn’t possess. He’d read stories of those that had put a gun to their heads and it had gone wrong, leaving them in a vegetative state, throwing themselves in front of a bus or train, only to awake in hospital with all their limbs missing. Quite simply, he couldn’t do it. All he could do, was finish the bottle of whiskey and hope and pray that the next day, when he read the morning newspaper, he wouldn’t see a headline that insinuated some bestial creature or madman was on the loose and savaging the villagers. Which of course is what had been happening, and he, inadvertently, had stopped it.
Wayne grimaced. His blood felt as though it was boiling inside. His bones expanding, ready to explode. Tears poured down his face, their route made difficult by the wire-like hair that was rapidly growing across his whole head. He fell to the floor clutching his chest, as the buttons on his shirt began to pop and fly across the room.
Ten minutes later, Wayne was gone. In his place, a creature with only one thought in its head, began to howl. The front door blew across the garden, as it burst outside and began sniffing the air. It was hungry and knew instinctively a place where fresh food could be acquired with minimum effort. By simply digging a soft hole. It had, after all, been there only a few days before.
By Justin Boote
Authors and Readers fan voting for Neural Nets opens tomorrow.
What does that mean? If you’re a fan pick your favorite story. IF YOURE AN AUTHOR LET YOUR FANS KNOW ABOUT THE POLL. Share it on social media, harass your neighbors, and beg your family to vote for your story.
Remember the top three fan favorites win cash and treasure.
Also Neuralnets should be live on kindle first thing in the morning December first. For a limited time Neural Nets will be available for only .99 cents on Amazon.
She was the kind of cute that became really, really hot when you were around it for long enough. For me it took like…a half hour or so. Not sure how long it took everyone else. Hat was skeptical. So was I, but I mean…that didn’t mean I didn’t want her on the team or anything. I could protect her and everything. That’s what I was good at. And it would help to have someone who always knew what was going to happen. That’s what I thought.
It was difficult to argue with the fact that she would be invaluable to the team. At least in theory. She didn’t do much to sell herself to us, but I guess she just sort of…knew that we were going to do what we were going to do and so she knew that we were going to be okay with her being on the team.
“I mean…I don’t doubt that she can do what she can do,” Hat said crunching into an apple, “I just don’t think that it’ll add anything for the fans, that’s all.” The whole ‘fans’ bit was always a bit of a joke, but we WERE gaining a following with subscribers and everything and It was hard to argue with him about that. Yeah, she was hot, but she didn’t dress flashy or anything and she wasn’t exactly engaging. And the way she would lip synch or whisper along with a conversation like it was an old song she’d heard since she was a smaller girl…y’know…kinda spooky. And then there was the general overall sense of slightly whimsical boredom that she seemed to constantly carry about her. Not exactly fun and more than a little easy to feel like a fool there for HER amusement and not ours.
“She’s going to get in the way,” Springfire said with her eyes faintly glowing. “Just because she always knows what’s going to happen…that doesn’t mean that she’s going to help us out with it or anything like that. She doesn’t exactly have to do that. She doesn’t have to care because she already knows whether or not she will.” She had a point. This girl knew what was going to happen like…always. That’s got to be some weird next level consciousness that keeps her from ever really being able to relate to anybody. She can’t engage with other people because she already knows whether or not she will. No genuine connection emotionally so what about empathy? Still…we were already reacting to her like she was what she was saying she was because the assumption even with all the reservations was that she was already a part of the team.
That part made me mad. ALL of us had to prove ourselves at least once before we were on the team. That part made me mad, so I nudged her in a moment of cruelty and told her she’s not on the team. She just chuckled and rolled her eyes. Then leaned-in and kissed me on the cheek before announcing to us all (fans and team alike) that there was about to be an alarm. Would’ve seemed kind of strange if we hadn’t already been introduced to her and…then…kind of weird BECAUSE we met her before and knew that she was acting a lot more showy now. Still…would have kind of been weird if she’d just…said that to mess with us and then sat back down like nothing. I only had a few seconds to think about that before the alarm sounded.
We all scrambled out to the Fringe. Camera drones started to show up right away for subscribers. Platinum subscribers would arrive shortly thereafter in their personal armor. Always did. Didn’t have to know everything that’s going to happen to know about that. Always happened. That’s half of what we were there for. The other half was grinning out of the shadows at us with sharp teeth and little glowing-red eyes. You could hear them breathing. You could feel them surrounding us. A few of them were still decimating a Fringe hovel. Angel and Bash already scrambled out to try to look for survivors. A few cameras followed them, but most people subscribe to see us do our extermination thing.
Out in the distance there was the respiration of those little demons that began to sync-up. We always let them do that. Hat says it’s because it lets the subscribers know things are about to start…figures maybe he can get sponsorship or something. “This creepy pre-fight respiration brought to you by Exit Cola” or whatever. I don’t think it’d ever work. We just fought these little demon things around the edges of everything. It’s not like we were an offensive extermination team or anything like that. It’s not like we were big time. Anyway…they all link their breathing up and fling themselves at us.
Swings and slices and bashes and things. The little girl can defend herself. It’s a bit like watching a kung-fu movie with her. Always knws exactly when and where they’re coming as they screech themselves at her with razor talons and teeth and tongues. She was good. No question. Would have to wait until later to get a real good look at what was going on…and then an explosion from the hovel. Something combustible in there and Angel and Bash…can’t lose them, right? Medics are hard to come by. They can take care of themselves best of all. They need to…
But then there’s another explosion and the little girl lights up. Suddenly she’s like…projecting a 3-d holo-imax display of everything that is going to be happening. And we can all see it for one dazzlingly flashy sequence. It’s all like an old Escher painting or something. Time and every possibility s stretching off in between every angle in a weird fractal space and we’re all in the center of it seeing it all exactly the way she does. You can hear the Platinum members freaking out. We all know everything that’s going to happen because we’re near her and she knows there’s danger. Good thing too. Building collapse of the Hovel could have killed Angel and wounded Bash, but we knew exactly when and where to go to pull them out in one piece.
From there it’s all clean-up and the big Escher fades out. And we’re all laughing. And you close your eyes and you can just FEEL the subscribers exploding. Looks like we’re going big time soon. She puts her arms around me… and tells me that it’s too bad she’s not on the team. Then she winks. It’s pleasantly unsettling. Then there’s the celebration and it all washes away.
By Russ Bickerstaff
Russ Bickerstaff is a theatre critic and author living in Milwaukee, WI.
Starting today submission will run from the fifteenth of the month to the fifteenth of the next month. That means January’s call SWORDS, SORCERY, AND SUBWAY CARS Is Open now for submissions.
Just a reminder the submissions period for Ghouls, Ghost, and Grave Robbers will be closing on the 28th. Click here for submission details.
Our next open submission will be opening early this month. Stay tuned for the details on Swords, Sorcery, and Subway cars.
We wanted to thank everyone who submitted for Zombie Tales. We are awaiting approval from Amazon. Once they approve it the book will be live on Kindle, and shortly to follow in paperback.
Voting for the readers choice awards will open November first as planned. Good luck.
150 Ways to Count Your Minyans
“What’s taking so long?” Stanley was getting nervous. He was becoming more and more convinced that there wasn’t going to be a minyan on that cold Monday morning at Bangor’s lone Orthodox shul.
Without a minyan, the Jewish prayer quorum, Stanley couldn’t say Kaddish, a praise of God, whose recitation somehow aids in elevating the dearly departed soul closer to the Supernal Light of Existence, assimilating the individual essence of the deceased with the Eternal Infinite.
Stanley didn’t know much about that. But, he promised his mother that he would say Kaddish for her on the anniversary of her passing. That anniversary was today, and the clock was ticking. Soon, it might be too late. There were only eight men in the synagogue, while a ninth went to go find the tenth man. He had been gone for over forty-five minutes.
Finally, that ninth man, Sammy, burst through the synagogue doors. The rabbi raised his eyes from his book. “Nu?”
“I got someone!” exclaimed Sammy trying to catch his breath. “I brought Motti.”
Stanley didn’t hide his disgust. “We can’t count Motti!”
“What’s wrong with Motti?” asked the Rabbi.
“Motti’s dead.” complained Stanley.
Sammy raised his hands to ward off the protest. “Actually, Motti’s not technically, dead. He’s a zombie.”
“Dead people don’t count for a minyan. Even the Reform don’t count dead people. Do they?” asked Danny.
“They’ll count anybody,” offered Steve.
“Or anything,” added Stanley.
“He’s a zombie. He’s not dead, dead – he’s undead,” protested Sammy.
“What’s the difference?” Danny asked.
“Rabbi, can zombies attend Shul?”
The Rabbi closed the book, pursed his lips, and considered the question. “Of course zombies can attend shul. That’s not the question. The question is if they count towards a minyan. And, it seems to me that on the surface, we can not count a zombie for a minyan, as it is well known that even an Onen …” The Rabbi looked at Danny, and decided he needed to translate. “One who has recently lost a close relative and must therefore endeavor towards the deceased’s burial. An Onen doesn’t count towards a minyan, even if someone else is making the funeral arrangements. Therefore, and even all the more so, a dead person shouldn’t count.”
At the sound of heavy foot shuffling approaching, all eyes turned to the door.
“Don’t let him in here!” screamed Manny.
“Why not?” asked Danny.
“I’m a cohen-priest,” shouted Manny. “I can’t even go to a cemetery. He’s Tumath Met!”
“But,” offered Danny, “It’s not the same as a cemetery coming to you.”
“He’s dead!” shouted Manny. I can’t be in the same room with a dead person!”
“But he’s undead,” protested Sammy.
“Well,” considered the Rabbi. “There might be a loophole.” He shrugged. “But better safe than sorry. Tell Motti to stand by the window.”
Danny went to open the door.
“From the outside,” clarified the Rabbi.
Moshe used the interruption to offer a challenge. “In mathematical logic class, being a relative of something is not a reflexive property. One cannot be a relative of one’s self. Therefore the undead cannot be considered an Onen to himself, right?”
The Rabbi shook his head. “While this is true in math, the same logic doesn’t apply to Jewish law. Take the case of witnesses, where it is ruled that a person can’t testify against himself because he is considered a close relative of himself. Therefore even though it doesn’t state it directly that a dead person is also an Onen unto himself, we should be able to infer it, no?”
Everyone answered with a blank state.
“Talk about zombies,” murmured the Rabbi. “I get more reactions during my Friday night sermons.”
The Rabbi pounded the table, waking everyone up (except Motti). “We’ll need to examine this question thoroughly. Someone put the coffee on and, Moshe, start bringing the books: We’ll need Tractate Yoma and Shabbat, and bring me a copy of Maasehbuch, too. This requires further study.”
Within minutes everyone was seated around the conference table, shouting questions, citing sources and trying to delve into the depth of the question.
“What about Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones?” asked Stanley.
“Yes, there’s that,” considered the Rabbi. “But look at Motti. He’s decomposing, Ezekiel’s bones were recomposing, and besides, it was only a vision.”
“We have stories of mystics raising the dead to solve a crime, or answering a question.” offered Manny.
“It’s not the same,” countered Moshe. “To count for a minyan, one has to be obligated to pray in a minyan. None of those stories have the guy praying.”
“What about the Golem from Prague, asked Sammy. “I heard that the Maharal counted him in a minyan. He wasn’t alive.”
“No,” corrected the Rabbi. “There’s no confirmation that the Golem ever counted for the minyan. You think they had a problem getting a minyan in Prague in those days? Besides, the Golem was never dead.”
“But he was never alive, either,” suggested Danny. “At least not in the normal sense.”
“It’s not the same,” said Stanley. “Motti is a zombie, not a golem.”
“But what kind of a zombie is he?” asked Danny. Aren’t there different kinds? Like the flesh and brain eaters.”
“Eww.” Manny looked like he was going to vomit.
The rabbi turned to Motti, who was standing outside the open window. “Motti, are you a flesh eater?”
“Nope,” answered Motti slowly forming each word. “I’m strictly vegetarian. It’s not easy finding a kosher butcher in Bangor, you know.”
“So what kind of a zombie are you?” asked Danny.
“Don’t know. The living dead kind, I guess,” offered Motti.
“Rabbi,” began Moshe. “It might crux on whether the Living in the term ‘Living Dead’ is an adjective, or if the phrase is a compound noun. If it’s an adjective, then the term living merely refers to the type of dead we are dealing with, and is used in the sense of animated, or a dead who’s describer is living. This is not the case if we are using the term as a part of a compound noun, which would give equal weight to the person being both living and dead, creating an area of either dual existence or at the very least a matter of doubt as to whether he is living or dead, similar to the androgynous whose legal status is at once male, female and questionably either.”
Everyone looked agape at Moshe.
Moshe blushed. “I’ve been taking Torah courses online,” he offered.
“Very good, Moshe,” said the Rabbi. “But you’re missing an important point. With the androgynous we rule strictly to either category. If we applied it to Motti, he surely wouldn’t count.”
“What about Ribbi, the famous sage who wrote the Mishna. The Gemara says that after he passed away, he came home every Friday night to say Kiddush for his family.”
“Wow,” said Danny. “Really? Well, then if he can say Kiddush, why can’t we say Kaddish. They sound the same.”
“Same root different words,” answered Manny.
“It seems we have a Teko,” declared the Rabbi.
“Teko – What’s that, like a Jewish TKO?” asked Stanley.
“Kinda, It means we’ll have to wait to Elijah the Prophet to come and answer the difficulty. Until then, we’re just kind of stuck,” explained Moshe.
“If Elijah was here, we wouldn’t need to worry about the zombie over there,” said Sammy.
“Why not? Isn’t Elijah dead too?” asked Danny.
“Oy Gevalt!” The Rabbi threw up his hands in dismay.
Suddenly Sammy had an idea. “What if it’s not that he’s completely dead, but only mostly dead.”
The Rabbi”s stare was deadpan. “Now you’re quoting me Billy Crystal?”
“Well,” offered Sammy sheepishly, “doesn’t Rabbi Akiva say that if we aren’t prophets, we’re at least the children of prophets.”
“Rabbi! Look at the time!” shouted Moshe. “The time for morning prayers has passed!”
“Oh, no.” cried Stanley.”
“Don’t worry,” consoled the Rabbi. “We were engaged in a mitzvah, and one who is engaged in a mitzvah is exempt from other mitzvahs. The learning itself will count just as much for the elevation of your mother’s soul, maybe even more, because it was all done for the sake of Heaven.”
“Well, then can we, at least say Kaddish on the learning?” asked Stanley.
“Oy,” said the Rabbi. “Grab some more books. It’s going to be a long day!”
by D. Avraham
- Avraham is the author of the fantasy novels, Blight Crissing (Shirtsleeve Press, 2016) and The Shepherd King Chronicles: Foundation Stone (Beith David Publishing, 2010).
D.Avraham is also the editor of the upcoming anthology, Holy C.O.W. – SF stories from the Center Of the Earth.
His story “Tick-Tock Man,” was selected to appear in the upcoming Science Fiction anthology, Clash of the Titles, edited by Gil Bavel and with a forward by Paul DiFilippo.
- Avraham currently lives with his family in the Hebron Hills of Israel, where, aside from writing, he teaches at the Jerusalem College of Technology, raises sheep and chickens, home schools his own kids, and tries to stay out of trouble. Sometimes he’s successful.