Monday, October 8, 2007

Beyond the Grave

By Keith Adam Luethke

It was late afternoon when Samantha Jacqueline had reached Oak Run Corner. The sun did not come out that day, and gray storm clouds hung about the sky like so many dark memories never forgotten. But dreary weather to come did not deter Samantha, as she made the daily ritual of visiting her mother’s grave.

She passed a young couple on her way: a handsome man holding the warm hand of a grinning lover, the two seemed utterly content. Samantha clenched her fists, curled her lips into a sneer, and narrowed her blue eyes as the couple causally walked by. But the youths simply ignored the bitter women and went quickly on their way; the boy whispered something soft into the female’s ear, and she gave a little giggle. Samantha’s palms were beginning to sweat, a fire burned in her eyes. She found herself shouting at the happy pair, “don’t you think I want love too? God knows how hard I’ve tried to escape her!” Samantha’s words fell on deaf ears, as the boy and girl vanished down a long, cracked street. She wiped tears from her cheek, and sluggishly went on her way.

The only way into the cemetery was through a rusty, black gate along ivy-covered walls, held in place by four brick pillars. Atop sat two large stone gargoyles to welcome visitors. The two ancient statues had guarded the entrance ever since Samantha could recall. With soulless glass eyes they watched her enter. To strangers, the gargoyle statues were an ominous work of foul art, as the silent pair seemed to move when you turned your back upon them only to take a slightly different position each time you looked back. To Samantha they were brothers, though the two never spoke, they always looked out for her: with those clear, glass eyes. Samantha kindly greeted them, and strolled beneath their towering structures.

Walking along a slanted concrete path, the graveyard came into view. Hundreds of faded tombstones stuck out of the saturated earth like featureless boyfriends she never got to date, their profiles forgotten by time.

Samantha shut her eyes tightly, attempting to block the rush of pain and loneliness which began to gnaw at the center of her wasted youth. Days in suffering isolation taking care of her sickened mother instead of walking side by side the men she had adored. She quickly strolled by the unmarked graves and continued on her way, she dare not to keep mother waiting.

The last hint of yellow light peered through the thick storm clouds, only to shine momentarily then be swallowed up by uncanny darkness. Weeping willows swayed in a gust of icy wind, passing under their low hanging branches and cutting Samantha’s neck. She gave a wary smile knowing how deep their roots grew. In a dream she often had as a child, she waited under the willow trees in the summer’s graceful light, waiting for her prince to rescue her from mother’s tight grasp, but the prince never came, and she would always wake up crying. Lowering her head, Samantha refrained from staring at the rotting willow trees. Their roots penetrated the soil deeply, perhaps to the core of her sadness.

She journeyed beyond sunken graves and overgrown weeds until groups of stone monuments came into view. Ivy vines twisted in intricate woven patterns around each tomb, they were seldom cut down, so wild and uncontrolled the roots grew, attempting to block out the sky. Samantha recalled speaking with the warden about their rapid growth, but the old man had done nothing about it. Forcing the vines to part, Samantha came upon a detailed carving of flowers etched into a Celtic cross, marking her mother’s grave. Dead roses in a broken vase lay on the tomb. She had set them down just the other day. “Hi, mother. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t bring any flowers today.”

Samantha knelt down to pick up the pieces of a fancy shattered vase, when it began to rain. The gray sky opened up like a wound that had never healed, bleeding sorrow and cleansing the world of sins. The rain clung to Samantha’s long, unkept brown hair, trickling down like so many missed opportunities. “Can you forgive your only daughter, mother?”

Nothing stirred in the bowls of the wet earth; the rain fell heavier, until it pounded Samantha with relentless blows. Digging her nails into the soil, she pleaded a hopeless case. “I took care of you, I wasted my life for you, this is how I’m repaid! I have nothing. My friends are married and gone. Men only want to shame me. And I have no children!” Samantha’s voice was overpowered by a sudden rumble of thunder; swallowing her rage she put her hands over her blue eyes. “Why couldn’t you just let me be free?” she muttered through short breaths. A crash of white lighting lit the heavens ablaze with a tremendous force. “Answer me mother. You’ve ruined my life.”

The thunder shook the ground fiercely, never before had Samantha felt such a power, the whole cemetery seemed to move. The horrid stench of rotten corpses drifted on a strong gust of wind, answering the call back to life. The soil before Samantha began to bulge with an intense degree of power; flesh-less, skeletal fingers protruded outward, searching for the surface.

Samantha stumbled back, landing in the mud, her eyes were wide open but she could not fathom what crawled out from beneath the hollow grave. Colorless hands clawed feverishly until a ragged, skinless corpse had surfaced. Samantha held her breath, and tried to scream, but no sounds came from her quivering lips. The being before her gaped its toothless mouth open, as if it was going to speak, but only worms came out. Samantha attempted to get to her feet, “this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening,” she kept repeating in her head and out loud.

The unfamiliar figure was fully emerged; strains of long, brown hair dangled in a mess of tangled dirt and years of entombment, a horrible shamble of human features, the corpse lurched forward.

“Mother...?” Samantha gasped, tangled in long ivy vines that had seemed to reach for her.

The sluggish corpse stopped briefly to ponder the well-known voice; a faint glow of star blue light flickered and died in its hollow sockets. Samantha tore and fought like a cornered animal until the vines let her go. Struggling to her feet, she called to her mother again, but there was only one response. The foul shell of a human being grabbed at her, digging sharp, boney fingers into soft flesh. Samantha cried loudly, as red crimson mixed with rain seeped out of her wounds. Forcing Samantha to the graveyard floor, the shambling terror began to drag her recklessly toward the open tomb. “Mother,’ Samantha shouted, ‘it’s your daughter, Samantha, can’t you hear me?” The corpse ignored the childish cries, and gripped her tighter.

Blood burned like fire in Samantha’s veins; all the lost years of tending her, watching people around her grow old and frail, she had played the fool. Reaching the unearthed tomb, the rotting skeletal remains of her mother came to a halt; placing a firm hold on Samantha’s head, her mother tossed her inside effortlessly. Caked in mud, surrounded by worm-ends and maggots, Samantha was lying in a grave. The figure that loomed over her seemed to smile from decomposing flesh about its mouth, happy to have her dear daughter back once again.

Something strange and fierce snapped in Samantha’s trembling body at that moment. Was she destined to spend her life alone? Caring for her mother through life and death? “No,” she found herself crying at the top of her lungs. “I will not be a slave to you any longer” she screamed.

A twisted white bolt came from the stormy night sky, lighting the deepest crypts ablaze and sending forth a blinding glare. Samantha gathered all her strength, all her fears and resentment she had kept inside for so long, and unleashed it in a merciless wrath of lifelong anguish. Leaping from the corrupted tomb, Samantha tackled the frail shell of her mother in a furious attack. Old bones cracked and splintered under pressure, the loud crunching rose above the rumbling thunder. “I’m not a soulless doll to order around, I’m a person” cried Samantha, her bloody fists pounding into the lifeless corpse, “and . . .I. . . am . . .free.”

The graveyard became silent, the weeping willows stopped their ceaseless swaying, the unmarked tombstones seemed to gather around, and the gargoyles turned their heads to listen. Rising above the scattered remains of her mother’s bones, Samantha couldn’t cry, she simply gathered the broken pieces together and put them back under the soil, where they belonged.

Keith Adam Luethke was born in upstate New York and has a handful of published short stories which include: The Dwellers, The Grave, The Midnight Pack, Shadow Rites, Vampires Among Us, The Corpse Artist, and a novel titled The Wolves of Elkhorn Peak. He has an AS degree in English from Roane State and is currently obtaining a BA at the University of Tennessee.

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