A GRAVE ENCOUNTER
By Paul Finnigan
"I nailed it!" Kyle KcKinnon howled glaring up at the ceiling and pumping his fist in the air.
"What's all the commotion about?" Donna McKinnon asked innocently as she cautiously made her way into the kitchen.
"Mom, I just heard from Mr. Henderson, the Head of the Cemetery Committee. I got the caretaker's position over at Hillside Cemetery for the summer. Nick Kindrachuk the regular caretaker ruptured a disc in his back and will be on leave for an indefinite period of time."
"I'm so sorry to hear about Mr. Kindrachuk but that's terrific news otherwise," his mother replied optimistically.
"The contract pays $1450.00 for the summer and Mr. Henderson had absolutely no problem with Pete sharing some of the groundskeeper's duties with me."
Pete Gorence was Kyle's best buddy and teammate on the local baseball team. Kyle was the Marauders second baseman while Pete played shortstop. Both boys were talented and each had an outside shot at a scholarship.
"Pete's gonna be on cloud nine. The job won't interfere with our practice or game schedules and we should both be able to afford the new cleats and gloves we wanted," boasted Kyle.
"Pardon the pun, Kyle," Mrs. McKinnon asserted,"but the job is going to be a big undertaking. I hope that you and Peter stay on top of things."
"Don't worry, mom," Kyle said reassuringly. "We'll cover it."
Hillside Cemetery was situated in the middle of town and within easy walking distance of the McKinnon home.
Kyle met briefly with Al Henderson the following morning to sign the contract, receive some instructions and pick up the keys to the caretaker's shack. It was a bright sunny day when Kyle arrived and he got his first good look at what he and Pete were up against. Hillside was a beautifully kept cemetery with rolling hills, manicured lawns and carefully trimmed hedges.
"Well Kyle, it's all yours," Al Henderson said finally, shaking Kyle's hand. "If you have any questions at all, feel free to contact me."
"Will do, Mr. Henderson," Kyle promptly replied.
After Al Henderson departed Kyle peered through the dusty windows of the caretaker's shack before trying the key in the door. It wasn't an ideal fit but Kyle eventually breathed a sigh of relief as the door swung open. The shack housed an extensive collection of appropriate tools and equipment. There were some things, however, that seemed completely out of place including a broken down motorcycle, a worn out butter churn and a dusty stack of old erotic magazines. In the back corner of the shack stood a lopsided card table surrounded by a few rickety lawn chairs,
"That's got to be the lunch room," Kyle whispered to himself with a snicker.
That evening during baseball practice Pete Gorence listened intently as Kyle informed him of the events that had taken place at Hillside Cemetery earlier in the day.
"So you ready to roll bright and early tomorrow morning?"
"You can count on it!" Pete responded energetically.
It wasn't yet 8 o'clock the following morning when Kyle and Pete exchanged ambitious looks while peering around the cramped interior of the caretaker's shack. The boys were determined to get an early start at some hedge trimming. While in search of the proper gear Pete's attention was diverted by a stack of magazines piled up against the back wall.
"Look at this, some old skin magazines!" Pete burst out as he blew a thick layer of dust off the top copy.
"Yeah, I got a deal on them at Pinky's Corner Store yesterday," teased Kyle, keeping a straight face.
"I thought Nick Kindrachuk was a religious type of guy," Pete remarked.
"Oh I think these babies go back long before Nick arrived on the scene. I'll bet they're over 20 years old. Hey look, right there in the bottom corner!" Kyle pointed out. "August 1963."
Pete began leafing through the copy feverishly.
"Let's get a look at the centerfold. It says on the front cover that she's a topless bathing beauty."
The centerfold displayed the image of an attractive blonde model partially clad in a yellow bikini standing on a white sand beach and looking out toward the ocean. The model had her head turned firmly to one side while sporting a vivacious smile.
"What the hell!" Pete whined. "I thought the cover said topless!"
"Well she is," Kyle responded. "You can see the bikini top in her right hand."
"Yeah, but she's really only showing her bare back. I thought we were going to get a look at the prized possessions!" Pete complained.
"Hey c'mon Pete. After all the magazine is from 1963."
"Right...1963. It was a good year."
Pete hesitated a few seconds before continuing.
"So, what was Hal Coughlin's batting average that season?"
".297!" Pete scoffed. "I'm gonna hold you to that."
"You can check it out if you want," Kyle said confidently.
Without further delay Kyle glanced at his wristwatch. Anxious not to waste anymore time he raised his voice.
"Okay Pete, let's get going! We've got a lot of work to do!"
And work they did. Over the next several weeks, excluding a few rainy days, it seemed like the boys never stopped. The upkeep at Hillside was gruelling and with the exception of a couple of incidents like the time that the police arrested a bank robber hiding behind one of the tombstones or when a parachutist landed on top of one of the mausoleums the work was downright monotonus. Fortunately the boys did have their baseball and that kept them in good form and spirit. Especially since they had a three game winning streak going. At this point the employment contract at the cemetery was to expire in less than two weeks. One late afternoon while the boys were on their way back to the caretaker's shack they stopped dead in their tracks.
"You know there's got to be several hundred graves here at Hillside but I'm pretty certain this is the only headstone without an inscription," Pete observed.
"Yeah...Yeah, you know I think you're right," Kyle agreed.
"I've got an odd feeling about this one," Pete added.
Pete studied the plot for a few minutes then shook his head.
"I really don't believe this is anyone's grave, but there could be a cache of riches buried here right under our noses."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Kyle, frowning.
"You've heard the story. Some sophisticated crime syndicate hid a virtual fortune here in the area back in the 50's. And it's never been found."
"C'mon Pete," Kyle sneered. "What are the chances that...."
"We won't know for sure until we dig a bit, will we?"
"Just hang on a minute Pete! I'm no grave robber!"
"That's just it," Pete countered. "It's not a grave. There are no markings."
A sudden thought flashed through Kyle's mind.
"Even if that loot was buried here I wouldn't want anything to do with it," Kyle spoke up.
"What do you mean! Are you crazy!"
"Organized crime! We'd probably end up in the bottom of the harbor in cement overshoes."
"Think about it, Kyle....All those guys are long dead and gone by now."
Kyle began pacing around restlessly.
"There's suppose to be a full moon this Thursday night so things will be as clear as a bell," Pete continued. "I say we come back here around midnight when everyone's asleep and check it out."
"I...I don't know," Kyle stuttered.
"Look, what's the big deal?" Pete pressed. "You're the caretaker ...we're the groundskeepers here. That's what we do. Maintenance, upkeep. We'll simply take a look and if we don't find anything we'll put everything back in place, just as it was."
After realizing his efforts to deter Pete's intent were useless, Kyle apprehensively agreed to the scheme.
It was around 9:30 Thursday night when the boys met up in front of the caretaker's shack. Dusk had fallen and the two began gathering up the required tools they needed to accomplish their task. Another hour went by before they emerged slowly, making their way cautiously toward the gravesite. When they finally reached the plot they studied the surroundings carefully before commencing. The full moon shone a radiant light on the setting.
"You all set?" Pete asked in a low whisper.
"I guess so," muttered Kyle.
Anxiously the two boys bore their shovels into the sod and began digging. Within a half an hour a large heap of dirt had accumulated. The two paused briefly to wipe away some perspiration and share a drink of water from Pete's canteen.
"You all right?" Pete asked breathlessly.
"Oh yeah, I'm just peachy keen," replied Kyle sarcastically.
Twenty minutes later the boys stood in a hole just shy of their hips.
"If there is loot stashed here I hope the mobsters didn't take things to heart and bury it a full six feet down," Kyle panted.
A short time later Pete's shovel glanced off a firm object.
"Hey I've got something here," Pete declared. "Give me that flashlight."
Pete began using his hands to work away the soil from around the object. In a matter of minutes he'd uncovered the surface of something wooden. With some additional effort he managed to expose what appeared to be the lid of a slender, antique oaken chest.
"Kyle, we've got it...we found it," Pete gestured.
Kyle leapt into the hole and within minutes the two had managed to gain full access to the chest. Other than being a bit slimy superficially the chest appeared intact. The boys were thrilled but just as they pondered their next move Kyle's attention was interrupted.
"Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Pete asked in surprise.
Kyle shone the flashlight out into the darkness.
"Look at that!" he blurted out."Did you see it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Pete said, whirling.
Not far away a group of tombstones stood in a gated area next to a clump of trees. Kyle was convinced that he'd seen the outline of a character amongst the trees, but when he looked again the figure had vanished.
"Don't be crazy," Pete scowled.
"I'm telling you I saw a guy out there dressed in a black slicker with one of those hats...like...like a fisherman wears."
"Yeah...Yeah a sou'wester," Kyle nodded.
"Don't be ridiculous. Other than us, who would be out in a graveyard in the middle of the night? And if they were, why the hell would they be wearing a raincoat and hat? It's as dry as a bone out here. There's not a cloud in the sky."
"I'm telling you, I saw somebody out there," Kyle insisted.
"C'mon Kyle. You're letting your imagination get the better of you. There's nothing out there but shadows from the tombstones and those Lombardy poplars. Now are you going to help me open this chest or not?"
Kyle paused for a few seconds as if annoyed by the question.
"I think we should move it back to the shack and open it there," Kyle recommended,
"No way, Kyle. The mobsters were probably too smart to bury paper money for fear it might rot. We're likely dealing with gold bullion and if we try to lift on it the bottom could come out."
"Then give me that spade," Kyle snarled.
"You'll need a hammer or hacksaw to get the lock off," Pete advised.
"I said give me the spade. There is no lock. Just a latch."
Kyle applied the spade and began prying. The rusty latch grated for a few seconds before giving way. He gave Pete a significant glance as he knelt down. The lid creaked as he gently lifted it and shone the flashlight through a narrow crack. Kyle's eyes promptly widened as he slowly closed the lid and staggered backward with a moan. He clambered out of the hole dropped to his knees and began throwing up violently.
"Kyle, what is it! What's wrong?" begged Pete.
While Kyle continued to upchuck Pete grabbed the flashlight and threw open the lid.
"Jesus H. Christ!" he gasped. "It's a leg....it's somebody's god damned leg!"
For one sickening moment Pete stood completely motionless. Meanwhile Kyle had shifted to a prone position and was suffering a case of the dry heaves. Eventually Pete scrambled out of the hole and placed his hands on Kyle's shoulders.
"You okay buddy?"
"I feel like a piece of crap," Kyle whimpered. "Of all the lame brained ideas. You and your buried treasure. The next time you plan to search for gold why don't you screw off to Alaska or the Yukon," Kyle cried out angrily.
"You said it, Kyle. You're bang on. This is all on me," Pete apologized. "You just rest for now. I'm going to do exactly what I said I'd do. I'm going to put everything back, just like it was."
Pete later convinced Kyle to go home and do his best to get some sleep. He also promised to fill in the hole and suggested that the two return early the next morning to add some finishing touches to the plot.
"There's lots of topsoil in the storage shed out behind the shack. We'll just spread some over the area, plant some of that rapid germinating grass seed and within a few days nobody will be the wiser."
When Kyle showed up the next morning everything was already taken care of. Pete had arrived an hour earlier and carefully graded and finished the plot to perfection.
"Get any sleep last night?" Pete asked, stifling a grin.
"Nope," Kyle admitted.
It wasn't even 9 a.m. yet and the sun was already beating down on the cemetery. The boys were exhausted and both agreed to spare each other off during the work day.
"Remember we've got practice tonight then there's the big game tomorrow. The Ravens are just below us in the standings and they'll be hungry for a win," Pete warned.
"Then why don't you sack out under the giant yellow birch for a couple of hours and I'll come and get you when I'm ready for a nap," Kyle said with a long sigh.
The boys operated on a rotating basis throughout the day and actually felt somewhat invigorated when they finished up in the late afternoon.
Kyle arrived home that evening to learn that Al Henderson had called and left a message during the day. Apparently he wanted to meet Kyle first thing Monday morning at his office downtown.
Later that evening during batting practice Kyle pulled Pete aside and broke the news to him.
"Mr. Henderson wants to see me at his office early Monday morning."
"Did he sound upset?" Pete asked in surprise.
"I don't know, mom took the message."
"You don't think...."
"I sure as hell hope not," said Kyle, frowning.
"Don't sweat it, Kyle. There's no way anyone could have seen anything."
"I'm not so sure about that, Pete...I'm not so sure at all."
After a hasty breakfast the following Monday morning Kyle made his way downtown. When he arrived at Al Henderson's office he was greeted with a warm smile.
"C'mon in Kyle," Al offered as he cleared away some paperwork from his desk. "Sit down. Make yourself comfortable."
Looking a little edgy Kyle nodded slightly before pulling up a chair.
"Do you know why I called you here today?" Al began.
"Not exactly, sir," Kyle replied worriedly.
"Well it's not really an official performance review but I wanted to let you know how much I've appreciated all of your efforts. I'm sorry I haven't been able to drop by personally but frankly I've received nothing but positive comments about the maintenance over at the cemetery."
Immediately it occurred to Kyle that no one had noticed or at least complained about the alterations to the unmarked grave.
"Then you are satisfied with everything, Mr. Henderson?" asked Kyle, blushing a little.
"Absolutely!" Al declared. "Seems impossible but you'll be finishing up soon. I wanted to finalize some paperwork and provide you with a cheque to cover the remainder of the contract."
Another half an hour of discussions followed before Al looked up at the clock and gave Kyle a significant glance.
"Well, I guess that's it for now, Kyle. Unless of course you have any questions or concerns?"
Kyle hesitated for a moment before speaking up.
"Maybe there is one question, Mr. Henderson," Kyle replied in a low voice. "The plot with the unmarked gray tombstone..."
"That's the Stimerman plot," Al interrupted, shaking his head.
With a deep sigh Al went on to explain that a merchant seaman by the name of Karl Stimerman had purchased the plot many years earlier following an accident.
"He lost a leg onboard a freighter during stowage of some heavy cargo. It was severed just below the knee."
With a look of intense discomfort Kyle listened nervously as Al continued.
"Mr. Stimerman was German and according to his religious beliefs it's customary that any amputated or severed limbs be buried in one's future grave."
Al leaned back in his chair and paused for a few seconds before beginning to explain details about the plot and confirmed the fact that Mr. Stimerman's leg had been interred there decades ago. Seconds later a look of dismay came over Al's face. Kyle watched tensely as Al began shuffling through the contents of a file folder.
"Ah...here it is," he gasped with relief." I received a call several years ago from a Ms. Gunda Hauser, Mr. Stimerman's granddaughter. She called from her hospital bed in Hamburg after suffering some serious injuries in a car accident."
Al went on to explain that Ms. Hauser had moved her grandfather back to Germany and that he had passed away in a nursing home in Rostock, a city situated by the Baltic. He proceeded to say that Ms. Hauser was the only remaining next of kin and that she had decided to have Mr. Stimerman's body cremated and his ashes scattered at sea rather than shipped back to The United States.
"Oh I'm pretty certain cost had some bearing on her decision. Then again Mr. Stimerman had been a sailor for most of his life, so I suppose it was in order," Al confessed.
In the next instant Al began to lose his composure. For a few uneasy seconds Kyle waited patiently as Al regained his poise. Then with a gulp Al spoke up glumly.
"When I tried to reconnect with Ms. Hauser I learned from a physician at the hospital that she had died as a result of her injuries."
There was silence for a moment before Kyle asked in a coarse whisper.
"Is that why the grave remains in a state of limbo?"
"I'm afraid so, Kyle, and I guess it's going to stay that way indefinitely."
"It's so strange," Kyle grimaced. "Just the other day Pete and I added some topsoil to the grave to build it up a bit."
"That was very decent of you guys," Al added warmly. "But I doubt that anyone will ever notice. I mean under the circumstances nobody has or probably ever will visit the plot. Unless of course you believe old George McCrimmon."
"George was the caretaker at Hillside for over a decade until his retirement about a year and a half ago."
Al paused for a few seconds then chuckled good naturedly before continuing.
"George was adamant that he saw a character standing at the foot of the grave late one night."
Al went on to say that just a couple of months before his departure George McCrimmon had received complaints from a few families that lived right next to the cemetery. They'd complained that some teenagers were drinking beer and getting rowdy in the graveyard late at night.
"Old George waited until midnight one night to confront the group," Al grinned. "Apparently there was a full moon that shone brightly and from a distance he saw a one legged man standing at the Stimerman gravesite."
"Yeah. George said he was dressed in black and looked like an old sea captain."
"You think there was anything to it?" Kyle asked, looking uncomfortable.
"Ah... just a tall tale I figure. George was a bit of a character. The story went around town for weeks but I haven't heard anything more about it for some time now."
"But is it possible?" Mr. Henderson.
"Well, I suppose it is possible. But let me ask you a question, Kyle. Do you know of anyone that would be crazy enough to hang around in a graveyard in the middle of the night to see if he actually returned?"
Kyle's eyes narrowed as he stared warily.
"No sir, Mr. Henderson......"No I don't."
Paul Finnigan’s short fiction has appeared in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Some former publishers of his work include Boston Literary Magazine, Feathertale, The Short Humour Site, and Every Writer the Magazine.
Copyright © 2020 Paul Finnigan. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB!and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!