TODAY’S BREW: Eggnog Coffee with no alcohol in it. Now read.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
A “Scary” Christmas Story by Rusty Fischer
The cemetery looms just over the next rise as we walk parallel to the road. A car hasn’t come by in hours but you just never know. Cemeteries are like that. People come and go all day and night, regardless of the visiting hours.
Kids hop over the fence with a cooler and a blanket, a man snaps the lock and walks in with a bottle and a note to read to his dead wife. You’d be amazed what you see in a cemetery at midnight.
And that’s just with the living people.
We don’t talk much, Scrim and I. Scrim; the name says it all. Equal parts scummy and just plain grim. You look up “zombie” in the dictionary and chances are you’re gonna see a picture of Scrim.
He’s a head taller than me, but probably weighs less. His elbows stick out at angles, his legs are stiff even for a zombie. He wears old sweat pants and a faded black concert T-shirt and a flannel shirt from forever ago, probably when he was still alive.
It’s a long, thin road that leads to the graveyard and as we crest the hill and look down on the cemetery, I see a wreath on either side of the wrought iron gate.
“What day is it?” I grunt, soft and low, just in case.
I see the shovel on Scrim’s shoulder rise slightly as he shrugs. “I dunno,” he grunts back. “Why?”
“Are those… Christmas wreaths?”
We get closer, looking left and right for headlights before stepping onto the road and approaching the front gate.
The road is cold but not iced over, white snow scattered on the blacktop. The wreaths are big and round and plastic; green plastic holly branches, red plastic holly berries and white blinking lights. I see an orange extension cord running from both to a tool shed off to the side. Inside, now that I’m paying attention, a generator softly hums.
I reach out to touch one of the cheap bulbs, just to feel the warmth. I hear the jingling of chain next to me as Scrim uses the pliers from his back pocket to snap the lock. He swings the gate wide, taking the wreath away from me.
I turn to him and growl. He looks slightly surprised.
“What’d you do that for?” I ask, following him into the graveyard. Little puffs of snow charging out from under my new boots tell me I’m stomping.
“Do what?” Scrim stops, shovel still atop his shoulder as a placid look washes across his thin, angular face.
“Yank the door out of my hand.”
He cocks at me and gives me a blank stare. “Uh, because we needed to get inside and the door was preventing that.”
“But. I. Was. Touching. That. Wreath.” I bite off each word, inching a little closer all the while.
“That wreath,” I say, turning around and pointing to the open gate door. The door is still open, the wreath still blinks and I look up over the gate door where the cemetery name is spelled out.
I look up, squint, then read: “Brushy Pines Cemetery.”
Something clicks inside me; cold as the frost and hard as ice but, also… warm, soft. I inch forward, slowly at first, back toward the open gate and then faster, rushing through it to turn around, boots crunching snow and then swooshing it left and right as I pivot.
“Get out of there!” I hiss to Scrim, who is leaning on his shovel at this point, eyeing me curiously.
“What? Quit goofing off, Tara. I can smell the brains, fresh and new, no more than a few yards away. Let’s go, before whoever turns off those Christmas wreaths each night shows up and finds us digging up his newest customer.”
“I’m not kidding, Scrim,” I bark, inching back through the gates so he can see the look on my cold, hard face. “Get out of there, now. No one’s digging up anyone tonight. At least not in this cemetery.”
He’s off his shovel now, dragging the business end in the cold, hard ground as he inches my way.
“Because it’s mine. I mean, I live here. Lived here… before.”
“Here?” he asks, close enough so I can see the genuine curiosity on his normally blank face.
“Brushy Pines, yes. T-t-this, this is… where I grew up. This is where it happened.”
I’m backing out now, expecting him to follow; he doesn’t.
“So what?” he shrugs, turning back around, hoisting his shovel and sniffing out the fresh grave. “Meat’s meat.”
His voice is so blunt, his shoulders so thin and that stupid shovel, shuffling along as he sniffs out the fresh burial mound; I dunno, it just gets me.
“Stop!” I hiss, and I find myself on my knees, black jeans in the snowy earth, reaching for my backpack and sliding the shovel from its holder at the bottom.
He doesn’t. Stop, I mean. He walks, not even shrugging anymore. I leave my backpack behind, snow-mud on my knees as I stand and follow. The headstones are tall and short, leaning and straight, turning the moonlight into a strobe light as it passes between them, shadow and light, while I chase Scrim.
How did he get so far ahead?
I see the dirt flying before I see Scrim, bent to the task at the fresh grave. Suddenly I can smell the rotting flesh from below, the juices, the skin, the muscle, the meat… the brains… wafting six feet up through the dirt.
I’m hungry, but for more than just meat. “I said stop, Scrim,” I blurt, watching him single-mindedly move dirt from the fresh grave to a pile just to its right.
“I’m not stopping, Tara. So you grew up here, so what?”
I pause on the other side of the grave, watching him jam his shovel into the dirt, scrape out a few inches of cold, hard earth and then pitch it out. The sound grows rhythmic, jam-scrape-pitch; jam-scrape-pitch.
“So, that could be someone I know,” I insist; jam-scrape-pitch.
Scrim barely looks up as he keeps jamming, scraping and pitching. “Yeah, like who?” he chuffs. “Your—”
I slice the shovel out of his hand, by slicing off his hand. It doesn’t hurt him, but he watches it clinically, like it’s somebody else’s hand.
“The hell?” he asks, but he’s already reaching for the shovel with the other hand. I slice for that as well, but this time he’s prepared; the clank of metal on metal echoes through the headstones, one bouncing off the other.
Sparks fly, illuminating the hatred in Scrim’s eyes. We square off on either side of the grave, his hand lying there, gray and waxy, fingers still at last.
The stub left behind doesn’t bleed so much as ooze a thick, blackish gray slime that coats his sneakers as he waves the shovel. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I said ‘stop.’ You didn’t stop.”
“So you cut my hand off? I need that, you know? To eat?”
I risk a look behind me at the cemetery gate, then move slightly to my left so that I’m directly in its path. “I don’t see you eating anymore, Scrim. Not in this town, anyway.”
He swings mid-sentence, and I duck and jam the tip of my shovel – smaller, lighter, sharper – just under his knee. He grunts and goes down, landing with the tip of his shovel in the dirt and his good hand wrapped around the wooden shaft like a crutch.
More blackish-grayish goo seeps out from the tear in his sweatpants.
“Why?” he asks, silent and poised. “What’s gotten into you?”
I kneel down in front of him, shovel in hand. “You told me, Scrim, we don’t eat our own. You told me, Scrim, we never go back. Now here we are, and you’re trying to do both.”
He grins, teeth crooked and yellow. “Who cares about the rules when no one’s round to catch us, Tanner?”
“I do, Scrim. At least, I care if we’re in my hometown. What if that was my mother down there, huh? My brother? My best friend?”
Scrim shakes his head. “So I won’t show you. So I’ll crack open the skull and scoop out the brain and you’ll never know.”
I stand then, pushing myself up on the gooey end of my shovel. “I already know, Scrim; it’s not happening. You get up now, if you can, and—”
Scrim’s shovel glances off the nearest headstone, missing me by a hair but knocking a huge chunk out of the granite grave marker that slices my cheek open. I flinch and duck, instinctively, and Scrim would be on me if it weren’t for the fact that I messed up his knee.
He’s still limping, a few feet away, when I turn on him.
Goo is still dripping from his missing hand, he has no shovel – no weapon – and he’s limping; bad. I grip the shovel and start toward him, almost sad to see him go.
Rusty Fischer, while being a dream come true of a person, is the author of several YA supernatural novels, including Zombies Don’t Cry, Ushers, Inc., Vamplayers among others. Visit the killer blog at http://zombiesdontblog.blogspot.com and follow Rusty on Twitter…@Ruswriteszombie.