snowy cemetery

Tale In The Crypt

Cemetery Dance

~Richard T. Chizmar~

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Elliot Fosse, age thrity-three, small-town accountant. Waiting alone. Dead of winter. After midnight. The deserted gravel parking lot outside of Winchester County Cemetery.

Elliot stared out of the truck window at the frozen darkness. His thoughts raced back to the handwritten note in his pants pocket. He reached down and squeezed the denim. The pants were new—bought for work not a week ago and still stiff to the touch—but Elliot could feel the reassuring crinkle of paper inside the pocket.

While the woman on the radio droned on about a snow warning for the entire eastern sector of the state, storm winds rumbled outside, buffeting the truck. Elliot's breath escaped in visible puffs and, despite the lack of heat in the truck, he wipred beads of moisture from his face. With the same hand, he snatched a clear pint bottle from the top of the dash and guzzled, tilting it upward long after it ran dry. He tossed the bottle on the seat next to him—where it clinked against two others—and reached for the door handle.

The wind grabbed him, lashing at his exposed face, and immediatly the sweat on his cheeks frosted over. He quickly pulled ther flashlight from his pocket and straightened his jacket collar, shielding his neck. The night sky was starless, enveloping the cemetery like a huge, black circus tent. His bare hands shook uncontrollably, the flashlight beam fluttering over the hard ground. Somewhere, almost muffled by the whine of the wind, he heard a distant clanking—a dull sound echoing across the grounds. He hesitated, tried to recognize the source but failed.

Snow coming soon, he thought, gazing upward.
He touched a hand to the lopsided weight in his coat pocket and slowly climbed the cracked steps leading to thne monument gate. During visiting hours, the gate marked the cemetery's main entrance and was always guarded by a grounds keeper; a short, roundish fellow with a bright red beard. But, at one in the morning, the grounds were long closed and abandoned.

The liquor in Elliot's system was no match for the strength of the storm. His legs ached with every step. His eyes and ears stung from the frigid blasts of wind. He longed to rest, but the contents of the note in his pocket pushed him onward. As he reached the last step, he was greeted by a rusty, fist-sized padlock banging loudly against the twin gates. It sounded lige a bell tolling, warning the countryside of some unseen danger.

He rested for a moment, supporting himself against the gate, grimacing from the sudden shock of cold steel. He rubbed his hand together, then walked toward a norrow opening, partly concealed by a clump of scrubby thorn bushes, where the fence stopped just short of connecting with the gate's left corner. Easing his body through the space, Elliot felt the familiar tingle of excitment return. He had been here many times before . . . many times.

But tonight was different. Creeping among the faded white headstones, Elliot noticed for the first time that their placement looked rather peculiar, as if they'd been dropped from the sky in some predetermined pattern. From above, he ruminated, the grounds must look like an over-crowded housing development.

Glancing at the sky again, thinking: Big snow on the way, and soon. He moved slower now, still confident, but careful not to pass the gravestone. He had been there before, so many times, but remembered the first time most vividly—fifteen years ago, during the day.

Everyone had been there. A grim Elliot standing far behind Kassie's parents, hidden amojng the mourning crowd. Her father, standing proudly, a strong hand on each of his son's shoulder. The mother, clad in customary black, standing next to him, choking back the tears.

Immediately following the service, the crowd had left the cemetery to gather at her parent's home, but Elliot had stayed. He had waited in the upper oak grove, hidden among the trees. When the workers had finished the burial, he had crept down the hill and sat, talking with his true love on the fresh grave. And it had been magical, the first time Kassie really talked to him, shared herself with him. He'd felt her inside him that day and known that it had been right—her death, his killing, a blessing.

High above the cemetery, a rotten tree limb snapped, crashed to the ground below. Elliot's memory of Kassie's funeral vanished. He stood motionless, watching the bare trees shake and sway in the wind, dead branches scraping and rattling against each other. A hazy vision of dancing skeletons and demons surfaced in his mind. It's called the cemetery dance, announced, glistening worms squirming from their rotten, toothless mouths. Come dance with us, Elliot, they invited, waving long, bony fingers. Come. And he wanted to go. They sounded so inviting. Come dance the cemetery dance . . .

He shook the thoughts away—too much liquor, that's all it was—and walked into a small gully, dragging his feet through the thin blanket of fallen leaves. He recognized the familiar row of stone markers ahead and slowed his pace. Finally, he stopped, steadied the bright beam on the largest slab.

The marker was clean and freshly cared for, the frozen grass around it still neatly trimmed. There were two bundles of cut flowers leaning against it. Elliot reconized the fresh bundle he'd left just yesterday during his lunch break. He crept closer, bending to his knees. Tossing the flashlight aside, he eased next to the white granite stone, touching the deep grooves of the inscription, slowly caressing each letter, stopping at her name.