This is the second of the stories written by POECRAFT based on his nightmares following the death of his father.
There is an inevitable certainty that any person who resides in the village of Townsend must come to terms with. The winters are too long. In fact, the winters are seemingly never-ending. The days are short on sun and long on cold. The frigid temperature whips through your body, turning your bones brittle and your blood to ice. The constant pain of inhaling arctic air rips through your soul, visibly draining the life out from you as you exhale. The entire population goes into a prolonged malaise, simply hoping to get through the season as quietly and uneventfully as possible. Out of fear for the cold and its effects, they stay locked safely in their homes, warmed by their fires (be them man made or otherwise), only exiting when duty of work, school, or need of resource commands them. Their home is their place. It is where they are safe, the one place the cold and fear cannot find them.
I have written before of the ghastly unearthing made inside of my own home on the seventh day of this year. I will reiterate that discovery here so that my plight may be better understood:
As I entered my back door, I found that the cold did not end at that line separating the outdoors from in, indeed it was freezing inside. It was a kind of cold I had never experienced. It drew me in, unraveled my mind and body, and threw me out. I could not find breath. I could not find life. It left me frozen, both by fear and by frost. Moments later, upon the return of my senses, I felt the warmth that had been so strangely absent when first I entered. I gave myself a quick inspection and found that all of my amenities had returned. Something, however, was missing. The void was replaced by an unwavering feeling that something was horribly wrong. It was not until I entered my living room that the sentiment would be given name.
I remember the scene as if I had witnessed it yesterday, and with how often I am visited by the apparition it may be even nearer. The smell hit me first. It was a pungent putrid smell. I gagged slightly upon contact, and considerably more upon comprehension. The smell was strange and foreign to me, yet I had no trouble in defining it. It was the stench of death.
My mind became overwrought with heartrending possibilities. I feared for what might lie before me. Though the sight was in plain view, my vision had not yet caught up to me. In a flash came a bombardment of emotions. I was greeted by fear, terror, dread, shock, panic, denial, and finally understanding.
There, on the floor, sat my father. His back was against the couch; his head tilted back resting on the cushions, his legs bowed in a way no man's were made to. His eyes were vacant, his body cold. His mouth was opened, forever locked in a primal scream for clemency. It was useless to check for signs of life, but I did it anyway. I checked his pulse and found none. I yelled for him to awaken from his untimely slumber, begging and pleading for his return, defeated in my every attempt. I could not find breath. I could not find life. Gone.
I notified the appropriate people, and saw my father's eyes for what I assumed would be the last time. It was with profound sadness that I informed my mother, who had been traveling for her job at the time, of my father's passing. Upon her arrival back home, we made the necessary arrangements. They had informed us months later, after an autopsy, that he had slipped into a coma as a result of his diabetes and was powerless to stop death as it slowly seized him.
Cemeteries in Townsend, as is the case in many places that experience harsh seasons, do not bury the souls lost in the winter until the thaw of spring, when the ground is again manageable. The time passed slowly until the day of the burial. I was haunted by nightmares as a result of my discovery. I kept my terrors to myself, save for what I have written, and let them capture my mind. Sleep became a difficulty and was soon abandoned all together. It was all I could do to keep my mind from exploding. I was fixated on the day of the burial, and saw it as a release from my never-ending battle with the madness that was my captor.
That day finally came on the third day of June, following an anguishing five months during which I felt my grasp on this reality slipping quickly away from me. I rose in good spirits that day. I had gained some peaceful rest the night before, for the first time in recent memory. I showered, dressed, ate breakfast, did all of the normal things that I used to do. I honestly thought that the worst was behind me; that I could beat back the madness.
I drove my mother, just as I did for the wake, to the funeral home. His body had been kept there, with the other corpses of townspeople lost, until his day for burial arrived. Most of the family had arrived before us, and were seated inside. My mother walked into the building to begin her final journey with my father, and to say her final goodbye. I stood back outside of the entrance, remembering the events that transpired the last time I was inside of this place. The demon that had hunted me, the night I would never forget, or fully recover from. I had thought that returning to this site would prove challenging, but discovered that my homecoming was rather painless. I sighed and walked through the door that had been my antagonist during my last visit to the funeral home. Inside, I found several loved ones gathered to mourn for my father. It was not an overly emotional grieving, seeing as everyone had the blessing of five months to come to accept his death. I was overcome by a sense of irony, to think that these last five months could be used for others to come to terms with their loss, and over the same stretch of time serve to deprive me of my senses.
There was a short prayer for the dead to preface our journey to the cemetery. This prayer would prove to be the last memory that I am able to look back upon without a shudder of terror. In my short life, I have seen great horrors. I have stared Death in its cold dead eyes more times than I care to comment upon. Even those memories, however bleak, could not prepare me for what I was too experience on this day.
After the casket was carried out and placed inside of the hearse, I helped my mother into the car. Her face was fixed with a look symbolizing all of the pain and loss that had accompanied her since my father's passing. I shut her door and entered the driver's side of the vehicle. I started the car, which had been positioned directly behind the hearse, and prepared to follow my father on this, his final journey. The hearse began to move, and dutifully the procession of mournful vehicles began to follow. It was to be a long arduous trek to the graveyard, since my parents had bought plots next to my mother's parent's graves some thirty minutes away. We hadn't traveled five minutes before I saw it.
We had just turned on to Old Lake Shore road when it happened. I straitened the car out from the turn and looked ahead at the hearse. Through the miniature window on the back door of the car I saw an astonishing sight. The door to my father's coffin had sprung open! Oh what terrifying spectacle must lie inside! I turned to see my mother's reaction, but found that she was staring out of the side window and had not noticed the awful scene. In this at least, I found some solace.
I decided that I must drive forward and notify the driver of this grave misfortune. As I turned my attention back to the vessel before me however, my heart nearly exploded with fear. There, in the coffin, sat my father, staring back at me through the back window. Although the body had begun to rot, I found on him the same pained expression that I had seen with him the day he died. His face had contorted itself back to the position of that dreadful day. But his eyes, his eyes were not as I had found them. They were no longer vacant, no longer dead. They were lit by the life force of the demon I had seen so many months before. Piercing eyes. Eyes so overwrought with evil and horror, so devoid of humanity, Satan himself would cast his gaze upon them, and turn away.
I turned quickly to my mother. She was staring straight into the back of the hearse. Her expression was unchanged. Could she not see it? I turned back to the hearse and found the coffin undisturbed. There was no demon, no open door. Only a lonely casket remained, seemingly in peace, seemingly composed, seemingly.
Had it really happened? Had my father contacted me from the realm of the dead? Why? What did he want from me? His face, he looked to be in so much pain. Was this our fate? Did the pain of this world not end when we leave it? My head hurts from the notion, my heart weeps from the certainty. Of course none of it had actually happened. The madness that had plagued me through the winter months had returned. Perhaps it was only one last gasp of insanity before it is buried away for all of eternity. I pray this be the case. If it is not, prayer is all I will have left.
I was feeling a little better as we crossed the halfway point to the cemetery. Again I was struck with the irony of the situation. There we were, all of us, on a march to mark the death of a loved one, and all I could think about was the relief I would be rewarded upon the journey's completion. This was not an end. No, although a life had been taken, this procession was not a death march at all. This was a beginning. I considered what my world would be like now, struggling to recall the way it had been before. I dreamt of a life without the constant burden of fear. Mostly though, I longed for the nights when a warm bed greeted me for the calm of sleep, instead of icy stares of long since lived nightmares. The nightmares that didn't always end when the sun rose, or my eyes opened. The nightmare that in some ways never ended at all, like every time I walk past the couch where I found him, or the way I have been left crippled, a shell of my former self.
We were about ten minutes from our destination when I finally dared to look through the back window of the hearse again. I found the coffin door open once more. My reaction was greatly subdued when held in comparison to the first time. For as much of my mind as I had lost, I did not expect to find the casket any other way. I stared intently inside of that hearse, waiting for the demon to make his appearance. I was so intensely fixed on the sarcophagus, that I nearly did not see the hand coming at me from the back seat.
I was grabbed sharply from behind, a cold hand grasping at my shoulder, the shock of which sent my heart leaping almost as quickly as the car sprang forward. My mother turned to ask what was wrong, completely oblivious to the beast that was strangling the life from me. I righted the vehicle and looked in the rearview mirror. There it was, right before my eyes. It was not the insanity. This was real. I could feel It's hand upon me. I was surely not imagining this! But why did my mother not take notice of it. It was there! It was there and was in the form of my poor dead father. It had taken hold of his body, and was attempting to destroy me. I was reaching a state of unconsciousness when the fiend suddenly released It's grip. I was gasping for air to return to my lungs, staring at the creature's reflection in the mirror, mesmerized by It's malevolent eyes, when It did something so unexpected, so shocking I almost lost my grip on this reality completely. It spoke.
It spoke in a voice all to familiar to me. It spoke in my father's voice. It passed on It's message, and disappeared. The smell of the corpse remained; it served as a reminder to me that this situation was very much a reality. How I wished it had been madness! The look of the being, the smell, the voice of my father, it was all too much to absorb. Only when we approached the cemetery gates did I recall the words that It had told me.
I was overwhelmed with tears as I recalled it. It had been my father's voice, not that of some demon or devil. It had not come to inform me of my impending doom or to explain why It was haunting me. It had come to ask me a question. A simple question posed in the most reserved and remorseful voice I had ever heard my father use.
"Why did you let me die?"
Throughout the time that had passed since my father's death, I had felt several different emotions. Pity, anger and bereavement were my ever-present escorts. I had not, however; felt guilt. I wish that it had been merely an evil spirit hunting me. But it was not. It was my father. He blamed me for his death.
I pulled the car into the cemetery and parked behind the hearse, allowing room for the casket to be removed. I wiped my face and sorrowfully exited the auto. I stood by my mother as the coffin was taken by the Paul Bearers and placed on top of the lowering mechanism in side of the freshly dug grave. A simple headstone marked the site. I helped my mother to her seat in front of the coffin and took my place beside her.
The priest began the ceremony, but I didn't hear a word of it. I was too distracted by what I had learned. I had often wondered, with morbid curiosity, what had been the last thought to travel through my father's head. I need wonder no longer. The ceremony was nearing its conclusion when I heard the knocking.
It was faint to start, only audible enough for me to know that it had been present prior to the point that it became loud enough to arouse my attention. I looked up at the coffin and found that it was shuddering slightly. I looked around and found that no one else could see it. This was meant for me. The knocking became scratching. The scratching gave way to clawing. All these noises were overtaken by the sound of a muffled cry. A scream filled with the pain and anguish of a life not yet lived, joined by the bawl of dreams not yet realized.
My mind too far gone to send my body trembling with the fear that consumed it. I was reduced to tears. Tears born as much out of shame as they were from grief. I heard a faint whisper from the casket as it continued to shake.
But I was powerless. I could not help him anymore than I could on the day of his death. As the coffin began to be lowered, the pounding became louder, more rushed. The cry for help was repeated over and over again, more times in my mind than in my ears.
I couldn't take it anymore. I was on my feet running toward the coffin before I knew I had moved. I cried, "Let him out", and tried with all of my might to break the casket open. A simultaneous pounding erupted in my ears, my father on one side and I on the other. The crowd grew frantic at my outburst. I grasped the door of the casket and lifted with all my strength. I thought I felt it begin to give way. I smelt the decaying odor from within the casket. My hands were greeted with a rush of cold liquid, and I felt something brush past my fingertip from inside the coffin.
Just then I was pulled back by something behind me, and crashed to the ground beside the casket. There was blood all over my hands; it covered the ground around me. I watched it glisten in the sunlight as I slipped into unconsciousness. As I departed the sound of my father's cries were drowned out by the lowering mechanism completing its task.
When I awakened, I was at home in my bed. There was no blood to be found on my hands or my clothes. My mother came in to check on me shortly afterwards, and informed me that I had given everyone "quite a scare". She lectured me about keeping my emotions bottled up and how it had resulted in my "little episode". She told me to get some rest and left me to sleep.
She thought I was crazy. She was wrong. I opened my bedroom window and climbed out. I went to the garage, grabbed a shovel and set off for the graveyard. I wasn't crazy. And I was going to prove it.
I drove in the same vehicle I had used earlier, retracing in part the same horrific route. I turned out the headlights as I approached. After parking a good distance away I took my shovel and set out for my father's grave.
I found it with ease, having traced my path in over and over in my mind since I regained consciousness. Without haste I began digging, paying no mind to the eerie sounds the graveyard produced at night.
Having remained focused I completed my task in about two hours. I knelt on top of the coffin and dug my hands into its side trying to pry the top half open, as I had earlier. Rational thought told me that this was an impossible feat. But rational thought is not what had led me to this grave.
Sure enough I managed it open. I was face to face with my father. My real father, made of flesh and bone. He did not look in pain; he looked just as I had seen him at the wake. The makeup had run off, and the features had shriveled into an early form of decay, but one thing was clear. This was not the monster that had stalked me.
It had been insanity after all. I disturbed the eternal sleep of a loved one to find answer to a question that did not exist. I felt like a failure, worse I felt crazy. I placed my hand on the open casket door and proceeded to close it, giving my father one last look. I was about to lock the door back into place when it stopped suddenly and was thrown violently back open. My father's eyes were open and the light of demonic rage burned brightly in them. They met my gaze and made me tremble with terror. His cold dead hand moved to my throat, choking the life out of me. He kicked the bottom half of the casket open as he had me pinned against the dirt to his side. His strength was unbelievable! Slowly he rose from the coffin, tossing me in his place. He slammed the coffin door shut with me inside. I pounded to be let out as my hands ran across the fabric that lined the inside. I felt a fabric that had been ripped apart by the day's earlier events.
I couldn't breathe. My cries were answered only by the sound of dirt hitting the top of the coffin. It wasn't long before I passed out, although I have no way of knowing exactly how long it was.
When I woke I was no longer in the coffin. My mother said that I had been found in the cemetery, and that I had indeed dug at my father's gravesite. She said that I was discovered by the man who does rounds there at about five o'clock that morning. She also told me that when I was found I was about a foot and a half down, asleep in the dirt. She told me to get some rest and then left me to sleep. But I could not sleep. That is why I wrote this.
I don't know for sure what happened that day. I don't think I ever will.
They all say I'm crazy.
I'm not crazy though.
I saw him.
I can still see him.
He is standing beside me even as I write this, beckoning me to help him.
I don't know what he wants, but I intend to return to his gravesite to find out.
Just as soon as they let me out of here.