Stories of Suspense #2
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It was like a nightmare. Like some unreal dream that you wake up from the next morning. Only this nightmare was happening. Ahead of me I could see Rankin’s flashlight; a large yellow eye in the sultry summer darkness. I tripped over a gravestone and almost went sprawling. Rankin whirled on me with a hissed oath.
“Do you want to wake up the caretaker, you fool?”
I muttered a reply and we crept forward. Finally, Rankin stopped and shone the flashlight’s beam on a freshly chiseled gravestone. On it, it read:
He has joined his beloved wife in a better land.
I felt a shovel thrust into my hands and suddenly I was sure that I couldn’t go through with it. But I remembered the bursar shaking his head and saying, “I’m afraid we can’t give you any more time, Dan. You’ll have to leave today. If I could help in any way, I would, believe me…”
I dug into the still soft earth and lifted it over my shoulder. Perhaps fifteen minutes later my shovel came in contact with wood. The two of us quickly excavated the hole until the coffin stood revealed under Rankin’s flashlight. We jumped down and heaved the coffin up.
Numbed, I watched Rankin swing the spade at the locks and seals. After a few blows it gave and we lifted the lid. The body of Daniel Wheatherby looked up at us with glazed eyes. I felt horror gently wash over me. I had always thought that the eyes closed when one died.
“Don’t just stand there,” Rankin whispered, “it’s almost four. We’ve got to get out of here!”
We wrapped the body in a sheet and lowered the coffin back into the earth. We shoveled rapidly and carefully replaced the sod. The dirt we had missed was scattered.
By the time we picked up the white-sheeted body, the first traces of dawn were beginning to lighten the sky in the east. We went through the hedge that skirted the cemetery and entered the woods that fronted it on the west. Rankin expertly picked his way through it for a quarter of a mile until we came to the car, parked where we had left it on an overgrown and unused wagon track that had once been a road. The body was put into the trunk. Shortly thereafter, we joined the stream of commuters hurrying for the 6. 00 train.
I looked at my hands as if I had never seen them before. The dirt under my fingernails had been piled up on top of a man’s final resting place not twenty-four hours ago. It felt unclean.
Rankin’s attention was directed entirely on his driving. I looked at him and realized that he didn’t mind the repulsive act that we had just performed. To him it was just another job. We turned off the main road and began to climb the twisting,