The Final Conversation
The man with no neck unceremoniously escorted Peter Rose from the Barking Spider pub. The bouncer had him by a fistful of his long, blonde hair and threw him out into the wet lane. Peter addressed him, and the other night owls on James Street, with all the dignity he could muster. “Why the frig do I have to go. The night’s still young!” The door was slammed shut and locked behind him.
The young man struggled to his feet and wobbled passed similar drinking establishments that lined both sides of the pedestrian walkway. He was not alone. Several other rubber men shouted and staggered along the cobblestones, headed towards the taxis waiting on Water Street. Peter rummaged through his pockets and discovered that he didn’t have enough money for a cab home.
He shuffled along the empty streets towards the eastern edge of downtown. He stopped several times to catch his breath and once to urinate. While peeing, he splashed on a prickly weed that reminded him of the Christmas cactus his ex-girlfriend has. Or had. Doris threw him out a week ago after their fight. She had been bitching at him about his drinking when he slapped her. She fell and knocked over the cactus that sat on the end table. The last he saw of Doris she was on her hands and knees, blood dripping from her swollen lips, trying to scoop up the plant and the soil scattered across the floor.
Peter continued to the cemetery but found its wrought iron gates locked. He had to go through the grave yard; the short cut would cut 20 minutes off the walking time to his parent’s house. He followed the fence until he found a chain-link section and climbed up. As he reached the top and pulled himself over, the ragged ends of wire pierced the palms of his hands. Peter cursed but continued over the fence and fell heavily to the ground. He pulled wads of dirty tissues from his pocket and pinched them into the wounds with his grimy fingers.
Peter staggered down the path that wound through the ancient cemetery. It was crumbling and heaving in places and he occasionally tripped over the deeper cracks that ruptured the asphalt. The uncut grass along the edges was blanketed by brown and orange leaves curled up into small fists. A slight breeze had them gently whispering.
The full moon cast enough light on the monuments to allow him to glance at the family names as he staggered along: Webster, Miller, Schindler to his left…Gardner, Barber, Venutolo to his right. All familiar names of people he had gone to school with, worked with, and partied with.
Peter proceeded up the hill towards the far end of the cemetery that backed on to his parent’s subdivision. The graves here were at right angles to the sloping path and had small foundation walls. Near the top there were several concrete vaults protruding above the ground.
He noticed that one of the vaults had a sizable crack in the wall exposing a thick, rusty reinforcing rod. While looking at this, Peter tripped over a root poking from the path. He tried to keep his balance but staggered to his right, fell forward and cracked his head off the corner of the adjacent vault. He tried to pull himself up with a bloody hand but lost consciousness.
Peter awoke. He could not tell how long he had been sleeping, but he felt damp as a result of the light fog that had settled upon the cemetery. He crawled into a sitting position next to the vault but felt too dizzy to stand. He noticed a balled-up tissue and his bloody handprint near the top of the vault.
A small port hole cover on the side of the vault hung open. Peter leaned over and peered inside. “Hello in there!” he shouted. His voice echoed.
“Sir. You are blocking my view.”
Peter gasped and scrambled away from the small opening, sending small gravel chips scattering. “Who the hell was that? Are you inside that thing?” he asked.
“Of course I am in here. Where else could I exist?”, replied the baritone voice with more than a hint of mirth.
“Jeez! I’m so hammered…I can hear dead people.”
“You have imbibed a great deal this evening, sir, but I am not a product of your imagination.”
Peter liked the smooth, foreign sound of the voice. He leaned towards the opening and glimpsed a pair of silvery eyes staring back at him. A warm blast of air hit him in the face and the stench of human decay made him vomit the beer he had consumed that evening.
“What is the port hole for? To let out evil smells?” he said, once his retching had subsided.
“That’s open to debate, I suppose. These oculi, or as you say—port holes, are symbolic of the ones placed in the protective marble wall that allowed pilgrims to view the sepulcher of Jesus.”
“Well said, sir. The more romantic simply believe the opening allows the souls of the departed to come and go from their resting place as they please.”
“Sounds like a pile of crap to me,” Peter said.
“I see…the part about the romance or about the souls of the departed?”
“Both,” he replied and then snorted and spat a bloody wad of spit on the concrete wall of the burial vault.
“That is unfortunate. Though your answer to my question would not have changed the outcome of this evening.”
“Oh? What outcome is that?”
“Didn’t you ever go to church, sir? Evil begets evil. You’ve proven your worthiness and I think that it’s time you joined us.”
“What the f—“. Peter didn’t get to finish. A filament of mist spiraled from the oculi and wrapped itself about his neck, quickly closing off his windpipe. The surrounding fog swirled about the trees and the headstones and then enveloped him.
Peter’s face was pulled hard against the opening. The grip on his throat was released but he now felt something trying to pry open his mouth. He clenched his jaw hard, but felt thin fingers make their way up his nostrils into his nasal cavity. He finally opened his mouth and the veins in his neck bulged as he screamed. The sound was lost, though, in the depths of the funeral vault.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A group of police officers stood around the dead body lying next to the burial vault. The cloudy eyes of the pale corpse stared up at the sun that now burned off the last of the fog. They drank coffee from paper cups and joked with one another while waiting for the arrival of the coroner. The man’s death appeared accidental but the detective in charge wondered what business the deceased had with the grave of Pierre LaRose, one of the city’s early French settlers that had died over 200 years ago.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A woman named Doris sat in her bright sitting room and sipped her morning coffee. She gasped in surprise when she noticed a single red flower now blooming on her recovering Christmas cactus.