HEAVY STEPS CLAPPED THROUGH THE SILENCE of midnight. A drizzling rain had left the air chill and the streets glossy beneath the lamp lights. Around, great historic buildings slumbered darkly, as if dreaming of their former magnificence. With the growth of the city, what had once been its vibrant heart now lingered on its edge, a vestigial burden.
Even the historians and antiquarians had little use for this place. Crime had seeped in along the venerable streets and it was not uncommon to find vulgar graffiti leering from the aged stone. It was a sad observation to note that the most frequent visitors came to explore the once great cemetery.
Made in another time, its tombstones, monuments, and mausoleums were sculpted with care, with reverence for life and its inevitable end. Now, trees and shrubs, long untended, had turned the splendor of yesterday into a forgotten sprawling jungle. Besides the drunks and junkies, only thrill seekers visited the dead.
Ghost hunters… he thought with contempt as he mounted the crumbling steps.
Decrepit or not, this was his neighborhood. These were his streets, and he felt the need to watch over them, badge or not. For a moment, he quivered in rage at the thought of the squalor and degradation.
Overhead, branches wove into a broken canopy. When the clouds allowed, moonlight poured down in patches, gleaming from the marble and swallowed by the shadows. An occasional street light peeked through the leaves. But in the quiet he became aware that he was not alone.
It was a feeling he had known many times before. He began a search for the tell-tale signs of vagrants or vandals. He checked his anger, recalling more than a few cold bodies that had sought nothing more than a peaceful place to die. But to his well-honed instinct, there was another impression he could not describe.
Cautiously he threaded the overgrown footpaths and strained to hear voices or laughter. The silence warned him only that anyone present was set on privacy and he anticipated the worst. On more than a few occasions, graves had been opened and robbed, and remains desecrated. He swore that, should he ever catch such miscreants in the act, police brutality would not begin to describe what he would like to do. But to this fresh surge of fury came a disarming thought.
What could rouse the dead if not such violations? To be forgotten, to be gawked at or joked about… If there was a place where the dead were restless, this would be it. He shook his head and nearly laughed, but even as he chided himself for such thoughts, a faint sound of grinding stone froze him in his steps.
Since he was a young boy, he had believed in goodness. He knew the world could be wicked, he had seen its horror as a soldier and as a police officer. Always he had believed that one good man could set right the wrongs of a hundred villains. In his eyes it was a sacred duty to go into the darkness and face its fiends.
But now he stood trembling, not in rage, but in fear. The instinct that had served him for so long told him only this could not end well. But he shrugged it away and stepped toward the sound, working his way along the weed-choked rows.
One by one he found them clear, but with each the foreboding grew. He hoped that whoever it was had gone and immediately cursed himself for cowardice. When the grinding came again, from just ahead, he swallowed and took a long, deep breath. He ignored the voice within, one screaming and pleading for him to get away.
But how could he? He was an officer of the law, this was his duty. And, more, he was a good man, or believed he was, and there was no way he could turn back and live with himself. He readied his flashlight and his pistol and stepped around the corner.
The moonlight shined brightly from the row of tombs. It was a glimpse into some sleeping netherworld of silver stone. There a door yawned wide, a portal into darkness. And standing beside it was a strange and terrible sight.
“Hold it right there!” he called to the figure, ashamed by the tremble in his voice. As it turned toward him he understood this vision to be no man.
It was tall, nearly seven feet he judged by the tomb. It was gaunt with a smooth round head and sharply pointed ears. Its claw-like hands reminded him of the stabbing legs of a spider. It appeared in silhouette, not even his light could piece the darkness that clung to it.
Out of this darkness, two tiny points of silver light stared cold and silently. As they fell upon him, his flesh felt numb and heavy. As it advanced, he could not see it step. He heard himself give the command, “Halt!”
As it surged forward, shots rang out into the night.
In the light of dawn, they found him where he had fallen. How he died, none could be sure. They could not account for the terror on his features, nor the cobwebs of white in his hair. They speculated he had surprised some grave robber, but that his heart had failed him under strain.
He was buried in the cemetery, and some thought it was just that a body was given for one that was taken.
by Joe Stanley