Shadowridge Press titles in detail...

T. C. Bennett and Tracy L. Carbone, editors
CEMETERY RIOTS
An AWOL FROM ELYSIUM PRESS book
Trade paperback / 6 x 9 / 286 pages / Publication date / June 2016
amazon-dark-logo-png-transparent.png

Imagine yourself in a cemetery. Void of all light at the base of a tree. But it’s no ordinary tree. This tree abounds with the dead. Now envision that each tree limb is a short story with its own vision, its own length of words, and its own insanity.With that said, beware of the widow makers and the strange foreboding dwelling beneath. Remember, nothing’s heavenly in Cemetery Riots. Cemetery Riots is a new collection of dark cautionary tales edited by T. C. Bennett and Tracy L. Carbone. With great pride we introduce you to our stories and their authors-

 

THE WAITING DEAD by Ray Garton, ABUSED by Richard Christian Matheson, CHILDREN’S HOUR by Hal Bodner, CARMICHAEL MOTEL by Kathryn E. McGee, THAT STILL, BLEEDING OBJECT OF DESIRE by Chet Williamson, LUNCH AT MOM’S by Tracy L. Carbone, FATHER AND SON by Jack Ketchum, THE DEMON OF SPITALFIELDS by Karen and Roxanne E. Dent, ERASURE by Lisa Morton, THE WINDOWS by T. C. Bennett, CERTAIN SIGHTS OF AN AFFLICTED WOMAN by Eric J. Guignard, THE MAN WHO KNEW WHAT TIME IT WAS by Dennis Etchison, THE RE-POSSESSED by James Dorr, CLOWN ON BLACK VELVET by Michael Sebastian, THE CELLAR by Kelly Kurtzhals, ETERNAL VALLEY by John Palisano, BLOOD by Taylor Grant, AMONG THE TIGERS by William F. Nolan, ALL OUR HEARTS ARE GHOSTS by Peter Atkins, THE ITCH by Michael D. Nye, and DRIVING HER HOME by John Everson

HERE'S A PREVIEW FROM CEMETERY RIOTS

THE WAITING DEAD by Ray Garton

The cemetery where Bethany had decided to end her life was small and somehow looked even smaller in the moonlight. It was backed up against a craggy hillside—thus the name Hillside Cemetery—and bordered on three sides by cypress trees that jutted like fangs from the lower jaw of an enormous mouth yawning up at the night sky. She had visited the cemetery many times before, but never at night. Her grandmother was buried there, the woman who had raised her and the person she missed most in the world.

Bethany zigzagged through the cemetery by moonlight, a flower in her hand and a large blue bag slung over her shoulder. She went around the creepy statue of two giant hands joined in prayer, toward the weeping willow in the far corner, until she reached Grandma’s grave. She bent down to place the Tahiti daffodil on the flat marker. Grandma’s favorite flower was the daffodil, and her favorite daffodil was the Tahiti, a sunny yellow with reddish-orange ruffles in the center. Then, with a little difficulty due to her girth, she sat down Indian-style on the grass, facing the marker.

“Hi, Grandma,” she said. She always talked to Grandma when she visited her grave, but usually in whispers. Now, alone in the cemetery at night, she felt comfortable speaking out loud. “I miss you.”

She felt the familiar lump in her throat—it had been there more often than not in recent months—and tipped her head back to look up at the night sky. Thin, patchy clouds crept slowly across the black velvet backdrop, obscuring most of the stars, but the full moon shone clearly and bathed the cemetery in a soft, bluish glow. It was a cool spring night, cool enough for Bethany to wear a heavy sweater.

Lowering her eyes to the grave again, she said, “I don’t think I can do it anymore, Grandma. Not without you here. I’m only twenty-one, which means I’ve got, what, another sixty years to go? I . . . I just don’t think I can do it.”

She heard a soft noise overhead and looked up just in time to glimpse an owl swooping down out of the darkness and gliding over her head toward the hillside. Taking the strap from her shoulder, she put the bag on the grass beside her.

“I’m still fat, you know. I’ve lost a few pounds, but only because I was throwing up when I ate. But I couldn’t keep that up. I’m not sure how bulimics do it. You know how much I hate to throw up. Remember that time when I was a kid and I had the flu and I threw up all over you? You laughed and laughed, but I felt so guilty. These days . . . it’s weird, but I feel guilty all the time, and . . . I don’t know why. I think maybe it’s for . . . existing. That’s the thing, see. Existing. I . . . I’m just no good at it.”

She plunged her left hand into the bag and removed a package of Oreos.

“See? I’m not even trying now.” She took a can from the bag and said, “It’s a diet soda, but that’s kind of silly, isn’t it? I mean, with the Oreos? But I don’t see any point in, you know . . . not eating whatever I want. It doesn’t make any difference. I thought about the last thing I wanted to eat and because Dairy Queen was closed, I stopped at the AM/PM and got these. Next best thing.”

The Oreo package crackled as she tore open the end, and the sound seemed louder in the night. She took in a deep breath and sighed before plucking a cookie from its tray and biting off half of it. She chewed for a while before speaking again.

“Remember when I got skinny? In high school? Practically starved myself to do it. But even then, I wasn’t that skinny. Still kind of, you know, big and broad. And it didn’t matter at school. They still called me Big-Butt Bethany, even though my butt was proportional then. I still didn’t get invited to parties or dances. It just didn’t matter.”

She finished the cookie, thinking about what she had looked like back then. It was the only time she had been truly pleased while looking in the mirror, not because she was so beautiful but because of what she had accomplished. She had lost eighty-five pounds, which had seemed like an enormous amount of weight. But she still stood five feet, nine inches, and still had that large build. The fact that she truly was big-boned did not make it any easier to say those words out loud because it sounded like such a whiny excuse. The difference was that she could see her bones — not directly, of course, but it was the most defined they had ever been, and, as it turned out, ever would be. The rest of the time, they were consumed by all that freckled fat.

A couple of swallows from the bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper washed down the cookie before she removed another from the package.

“I have a gun in my bag, Grandma,” she said. “I stole it from Richie’s bedroom.”

Richie was her cousin, who lived just a couple of blocks from her apartment building, and she knew he kept a loaded .38 in his nightstand drawer. She also knew where he hid his spare key in case he locked himself out of the little house where he lived with a roommate. Richie worked nights in the Costco distribution center and his roommate was out of town with his girlfriend for a few days, so she had helped herself to the gun. She had gone to the shooting range with Richie once and he had shown her how to use it.

After biting into her second cookie, she chewed for a moment, then said, “You never liked guns, I know, but this is just for me. Nobody else will get hurt, I promise.” She looked around the cemetery at the flat lawn, the praying hands, the statue of an angel at the foot of the hillside overlooking all the graves, the willow in the corner, the surrounding cypress trees. “There’s nobody else here but us, Grandma.” Plopping the rest of the cookie into her mouth, she chewed. “And I know you’re not here. Not really. If you were, you’d do everything to stop me. If you were, I wouldn’t be doing this. But it always makes me feel good to talk to you. Because I miss you so much. You were the only person who really listened to me. Laughed at my jokes. Hugged me when I cried.” Her head dropped forward as she felt the sting of tears in her eyes. “I guess I’ve always cried a lot, huh?” Then she chased the cookie with another swig of soda and began to sob.

Somewhere up the hillside, the owl made its sad call three times, then fell silent. A siren wailed in the far distance as she continued to cry, her upper body bent forward and jerking with sobs.

“I-i-is there something I can do?”

Bethany sat up with a shriek and scrambled to her feet, nearly falling over as she spun around to see the young man standing behind her.

“What? What do you want? Who are you?” The words tumbled out of her mouth one on top of the other as she dipped her knees and snatched up her bag with her right hand, then hugged it to her with both arms. Suddenly breathing heavily, she wanted to turn and run out of the cemetery but knew he could outrun her without trying because he was so slender and fit and suddenly she felt so stupid for coming to the cemetery in the middle of the night, and then she remembered the gun. Holding the bag with her left hand, she stabbed her right into it and felt for the cold metal.

“Don’t be afraid, I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, raising his hands palms-out and spreading his fingers. “I can’t hurt you, believe me, not even if I wanted to. But I saw you crying and I wanted to see if I could help. I-I-I probably can’t, but I wanted to at least ask. I’m sorry I scared you. Really.”

There was nothing menacing about him, not his body language or his voice, which was gentle and pleasant. Instead of the gun, she removed her flashlight from the bag, aimed it at him and thumbed the button. He did not flinch or cover or even narrow his eyes when the light hit his face and that somehow frightened Bethany more than the possibility that he might want to hurt her. It felt like her turn to talk. Her voice quavered as she said, “Whuh-what are you doing here? In the middle of the night?”

His narrow face opened up in a bright smile. “I live here.”

Beginning to feel nauseated, she said, “You’re homeless.”

His hair was short and sandy brown, his eyes dark. Somewhere in his twenties. Raising his eyebrows, he slowly turned his head from side to side and said, “No. No, I’m not homeless. This is my home.”

“I . . . I don’t understand. But I should go, anyway.” She began to back away.

“You don’t have to run off because of me, really. I’ll leave you alone if you want. I was just concerned. A lot of people who come here cry, but never alone in the middle of the night. So I thought I’d, you know . . . well . . . to be honest, I was here for a while. Listening.” He closed his eyes a moment, embarrassed. “Eavesdropping, I know, I’m sorry, it’s rude, but I couldn’t help it because, like I said, nobody comes here at night. Except horny teens to get drunk and have sex. A bunch of them came on Halloween night a few years ago. Turned into an orgy. It was embarrassing. But . . . not too embarrassing to keep me from watching.” He chuckled nervously. “Being dead . . . it kind of turns you into a voyeur.”

The light she still held on his face trembled. “Being . . . you’re . . .”

“You said you were going to kill yourself. I don’t think you should. Even though I don’t know you. My name is Gary, by the way, I’m Gary Bell, and I don’t think you should kill yourself. It’s a mistake. I should know, believe me. I killed myself. An O.D. of painkillers. Really strong painkillers.”

“You did? Was it painful?”

“It was a hell of a lot worse than I expected. I figured I’d just go to sleep, you know? But I had some other stuff in me, too, like cocaine, and it didn’t work out that way. First, I threw up. A lot. I was so sick, I wanted to die. And then I did. But it took a while.”

“I tried to do that once.”

“With painkillers?”

“And tranquilizers. I wanted to make sure it worked.”

He nodded.

“But it didn’t. I have this extremely sensitive gag reflex, see, and trying to swallow pills usually makes me gag and I just spit them back up again. Which is disgusting. I’m sorry.”

“I understand. You chewed them up, didn’t you?”

She nodded. “Two at a time. They tasted so bad, they made me gag, so I took them slowly and at a couple spoonfuls of apple sauce in between. I took them too slowly and I got sick before I could finish. I puked a lot, too. But Grandma didn’t let me die. She found me, called an ambulance, and they made me keep puking. They kept me in the hospital overnight and I had to see a therapist.”

“You’re smirking.”

“Yeah, you know what Grandma said to me? She said, ‘If you ever do that again, I’ll kill you,’ and then we laughed until we cried some more.”

Bethany turned her flashlight on Grandma’s grave marker.

“I miss her so much. I just wish she could—” She swept the light back around to him. “Hey, why isn’t she standing here talking to me?”

“Did she kill herself?”

“Oh, no, not Grandma. She wasn’t the type. She just kind of fell apart, I guess. Diabetes, bad heart, kidneys, liver, veins, and old age. It was her time.”

Nodding, he said, “Exactly, her time. She was at peace. She moved on. I committed suicide. My life wasn’t over. I interrupted it with all kinds of life left to live, and now I’m stuck here until my time comes. Turns out that’s how it works. All that stuff about heaven and hell? You can ignore that. Dying is more like going to the Department of Motor Vehicles. And it’s like I tried to cut in line, or something, and they don’t like that. At all. So here I am, waiting for my time to move on. They won’t tell me when that’ll be, so I just wait. That’s why you shouldn’t kill yourself.” That smile again. Very charming.

She did not know what to say. Finally: “The flashlight in your eyes doesn’t bother you?”

“No. Not much bothers me. What’s your name?”

“Bethany. You didn’t know that? Can’t you, I don’t know, read my mind?”

He laughed with that smile lighting up his face. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Bethany Schwarzkopf. Nice to meet you, Gary Bell. You just . . . wait here, huh?”

He nodded. “Most people go when it’s their time. And everybody has their time. But some of us . . . you know. We decide to go early, for whatever reason. There are a couple of other suicides here in Hillside. And there are a few people who were killed before their time, but through no fault of their own. One guy was shot in a hunting accident. He’s pretty, um, cranky. A woman over by the angel statue didn’t know she had some bad wiring in her house and she was electrocuted in the kitchen. If that hadn’t happened, she would’ve lasted until her time came.”

“Why aren’t they wandering around here?”

“Oh, nobody shows themselves. Normally, I don’t either. I never have. But this was a special case, you know, an emergency. That’s how I saw it, anyway.”

“Have you made friends?”

“Here? Nah, they aren’t like that here. I don’t think any of the dead are, tell you the truth. They’re not a friendly bunch. Not the ones waiting their time out in some cemetery, I mean. Those are the only ones I’ve met because everyone else has moved on. We say hi now and then, but nothing more. Everybody’s just . . . waiting.”

“Does it ever get lonely?”

“Sure. Sometimes.”

“It sounds . . . depressing.”

“It is, that’s what I’m saying. You wouldn’t like it.”

“You don’t . . . seem depressed.”

“I’m not. But that’s just me. I’ve never been the depressive type.”

“But . . . you killed yourself.”