October. The month for ghosts, goblins, witches, and jack-o-lanterns. A time when the ancients believed the souls of the dead returned to their homes and evil spirits wandered the earth. A time when, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio.” A time for spine-chilling mysteries. A time for Friday, the 13th.
The 13th Grave By Anita Dickason
Part One of Two
Walter Cahill leaned forward in his recliner, his rheumy eyes riveted on his grandson. “Stephen! I’m telling you something mysterious is going on in that graveyard. And it’s not good. Every day, I see another grave with dirt churned up.”
Stephen Cahill stifled a groan of frustration. His grandfather had been on this rant since he walked into the house. Earlier, he’d called Stephen’s office asking him to come by the ranch. His seventy-five-year-old grandfather lived by himself in a remote area of the county. Disturbed by an unusual urgency in his grandfather’s voice, Stephen told his secretary not to expect him back and left. By the time he arrived, it was nearly dark.
To his dismay, the old man had a disquieting request. Walt wanted to spend the night in a graveyard and expected Stephen to go with him. So far, Stephen might as well have been whistling in the wind for all the good his arguments did to dissuade his grandfather.
Still, he wasn’t one to give up. “Granddad, spending the night in a graveyard isn’t the solution. Have you called the sheriff’s department?”
His grandfather snorted in disgust and settled back in the chair. “That bunch of fools. Yeah, I called them, told them someone was messing with the graves. Even had a deputy show up and walk around the cemetery. Then he came over and told me it was probably just kids fooling around and left.” Another snort of disgust erupted. “Twelve days, twelve graves, and he wanted to chalk it up to kids.”
“Have you seen anyone over there?”
“That’s the problem. Not a soul, and believe me, I’ve been watching after I spotted the second one. If it were kids, I’d like to know why I didn’t see them. How do they get in? They sure didn’t use the entrance. Tried to tell that to the deputy. He didn’t want to hear it. I finally quit. Figured I was just wasting my breath.”
Stephen silently agreed with the deputy’s opinion. It had been years since anyone had been buried there. Unkept and neglected, many of the headstones had fallen into disarray. Even the low brick wall on each side of the double gates had collapsed in places. He supposed it could be an irresistible lure to teenagers. After all, it was only a couple of weeks until Halloween. A likely time for kids to be up to no good. With a sense of chagrin, he remembered a few pranks when he was younger. Though he had to admit, they didn’t involve a graveyard.
Moving to the living room window that overlooked the front of the house, Stephen stared at the cemetery on the other side of the roadway. In the sporadic moonlight, dark fog-like shadows coiled. Tentacles crawled across the wall onto the road as if to beckon. Even as he leaned forward for a closer look, they vanished. He shivered. Cripes, was he getting sucked into his grandfather’s dire assumptions about something mysterious in the old graveyard?
He turned. “Why would anyone want to dig up an old grave, let alone, what … twelve of them?”
“I’ve got no idea. But considering what day it is, I’ll bet it will happen again. That’s why I called you.”
Belatedly, Stephen remembered it was Friday, the 13th. While not superstitious, he felt an unexpected reluctance to sit in a graveyard.
Seeing the mulish expression on his grandson’s face, he added, “If you’re not up to the task, I’ll do it.” A sly look crossed Walt’s face. “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be all right.”
Stephen glared at him. The old man had gotten good at yanking the guilt chain. “You know dang well I won’t let you spend the night in there alone.” With a shrug of resignation, Stephen said, “If we’re going to do this, let’s get started.”
A hand smacked the arm of the rocker. “That’s the spirit,” his grandfather said, followed by a gleeful chuckle. “I’ve got my gear ready to go.” Walt jumped out of the chair. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” and strode into the bedroom.
Stephen glanced over his shoulder at the view outside the window. The temperature, while not freezing, was still quite cold, and he planned to spend the night sitting in a cemetery. He wasn’t sure who the bigger idiot was, him or his grandfather.
Thankful he’d worn a warm coat, Stephen slipped on the down-filled jacket. Despite his belief this was a wild-goose chase, he moved his phone from his shirt pocket to a pocket in his coat. At the sound of footsteps, he turned. His gaze skimmed over his grandfather.
Dressed in a heavy coat, gloves, and a ski cap snugged tight over his head, Walt held a thermos with one hand and a flashlight in the other. His eyes narrowed as he eyed his grandson. “Don’t you have any gloves or a cap?”
With his attention on the thermos, Stephen’s tone was abrupt. “Yeah, they’re in the truck.”
“You hang onto this. Even with a full moon, it might be handy to have.” Walt handed the flashlight to Stephen, then slid the thermos into one of the deep pockets in his coat.
Even though he was sure he knew, he asked, “What’s in the thermos, Granddad?”
A twinkle sparked in the man’s eyes, and his lips twitched upward. “My spiced coffee. It’ll help stave off the cold.”
Oh, great, now it would be two drunken idiots sitting in the graveyard, Stephen thought. His grandfather’s spiced coffee was spiked with a hefty dose of whiskey. He shook his head, shoved the flashlight in his pocket, and walked to the front door. Behind him, he heard the low rumble of laughter.
A gust of cold wind bit at Stephen’s face and hands when they stepped outside. Mumbling to himself over the stupidity of two grown men freezing their backsides off while sipping alcohol-laced coffee, he flipped up the collar of his coat.
His grandfather stopped alongside Stephen’s truck. “Stop complaining. A little cold weather won’t kill you.”
The look of suppressed fervor in the man’s eyes caught Stephen by surprise. Good lord, he’s actually enjoying this. But then, why should that be surprising? At Walt’s age, there weren’t many adventures left.
He laughed. “Okay, Granddad, you win.” Once his hands were encased in warm gloves and his head covered by a ski cap, Stephen decided it might not be too bad.
The wind whipped, swirling dried leaves across the gravel driveway as they strode toward the roadway. On the other side, two large gates guarded the entrance. Walt stopped in front of one and grabbed the metal bar. The grate of rusted metal shrieked as Walt pushed it back. “We can sit on the wall.”
Stephen followed him inside, pointing to one end. “Down there by those trees. It’s far enough away from the gates no one should see us. The trees will block the wind.” Behind him, Walt closed the gate.
As they strolled toward the far end of the wall, Stephen gazed across the graveyard. Drifting clouds blotted the moon, with only brief flickers of moonlight illuminating the headstones shrouded in an inky blackness. Surprisingly, not a wisp of air rattled bare limbs or disturbed clusters of dried leaves blanketing the ground. The hairs on his neck tingled from the unnatural, oppressive silence, adding to his sense of foreboding.
After helping his grandfather climb onto the wall, Stephen hopped up next to him. The jingle of metal echoed as his grandfather filled the cup, passing it to him. The punch to his gut from a swig of the still steaming, whiskey-laced coffee did little to ease his anxiety. Huddled together, they took turns sipping the coffee. The only sounds were the clink of metal as Walt refilled the cup or an occasional whispered comment.
Minutes turned into an hour, then another. Stephen’s feet felt as cold as a block of ice and his backside had lost all feeling, quashing the warm glow from the coffee. He was ready to call it quits when Walt’s elbow jabbed his ribs.
Part Two will be published on October 20, 2023
Anita Dickason is a retired police officer with a total of twenty-seven years of law enforcement experience, twenty-two with Dallas PD. She served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics officer, advanced accident investigator, tactical officer, and first female sniper on the Dallas SWAT team.