© copyright 2003 by Raymond Mayotte - All Rights Reserved.

This story may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the express written permission of the author.

'The Reluctant Corpse

Arnold was astonished when he saw Mr. Collins lumbering up the sidewalk towards him, mainly because he forced himself to sit through the man's dull funeral just the week before. He could see in the fading light of the afternoon that Mr. Collins still wore the same light brown suit he was been buried in, but now the suit was torn in several places and stained with patches of dried soil.

....With a sigh of anguish Arnold jumped from the rocker he was sitting in and backed against the rough log wall of the little cabin, his eye widening now as Mr. Collins turned into his walkway and stepped up onto the porch a few feet from him. In slow motion the thing before him raised its arm and pointed a dirty finger at him, the fingernail gone from the finger and the end of it shredded and torn. Now the stench of rotted flesh overwhelmed Arnold and before he could turn away a horrible sound issued from Mr. Collins as he tried to speak. The effort causing the cotton packing placed in Mr. Collins mouth by the undertaker, to blow out in little pieces and fly into Arnold’s face.

....With this, more Adrenaline was pumped into Arnold’s system causing his heart to pound unmerciful against the ribcage of his chest, and not able to take anymore of the horror he lunged forward to get past the abhorring thing blocking his way. Without thinking he struck the thing that was Mr. Collins in the chest with the palms of his hands and leaped past it, the thing toppling over like a wooden Indian. Seconds later he was far down the sidewalk towards the center of town not even stopping to take his pickup truck parked at the curb. His one glance back spurring him on even faster when he saw the figure of Mr. Collins still lying there stiff as a board.

....Sheriff Cody and his three deputies glanced up when the door to the police station flew open and Arnold all but fell inside and dropped to his knees gasping for breath. In seconds they were helping him into a chair, one of the deputies handing him a glass of water. “What the hell is going on Arnold?” The sheriff asked, when Arnold finally caught his breath and was able to talk. Arnold being one of his poker and drinking buddies on occasion, the sheriff listened with deep concern as he told him what happened. “Just what the hell are you trying to pull now,” the sheriff said, staring at him for a few seconds when he finished his story, before turning away in anger. “Do you really think playing games are all we have to do in this place,” he asked, waving his hand around to encompass the police station before turning back to him.

....“So help me Cody, what I told you is the truth, come up the street to my place and you’ll see for yourself,” Arnold all but pleaded. “Okay, but I’m warning you now, if this is one of your jokes you’ll be sorry.” Then with a wave of his hand for his deputy Alex Moss to follow he moved to the door, Arnold following and climbing into the squad car parked in front of the building along with them.

....No one said a word as the patrol car headed down the town’s Main Street and slowed as it reached the wooded lots and passed the cemetery before reaching Arnold’s cabin. “Okay Arnold, this time you’ve gone too far with your gags,” the sheriff said, making a U-turn to swing around and parked in front of Arnold’s cabin. The headlights of the patrol car lighting up the walkway and the stiff figure of a man lying between the porch and the walkway with its arm pointing upwards. “Where did you get the manikin to set this thing up?” Deputy Moss asked with a chuckle. “Never mind that,” Sheriff Cody said, turning to Arnold with a stern look on his face. “What you are doing here is against the law, you’re wasting my time and the taxpayers money. If you were not one of my drinking buddies I’d arrest you right now, but I’ll let it go this time with a warning that if you pull something like this again I’ll put your ass in the slammer,” he promised. “Listen Sam, you’re jumping to conclusions before you’ve even got out of the car to look at it. I’m telling you that thing there,” he said, pointing out through the patrol car window, “is the remains of Mr. Collins, at least get out and take a look.”

....“Oh my God what’s that stench?” The sheriff said, taking his handkerchief out and covering his nose and mouth with it, as they stepped out of the patrol car with their flashlights and started up the walkway to the cabin. “It’s coming from that,” Arnold said, nodding towards the statue like figure of Mr. Collins hanging off his front porch by its heels.

....Half an hour later the front of Arnold’s cabin was awash in light from the headlight of two more patrol cars and the Coroners van. “This is really weird,” the Coroner was saying, “not only did I pronounce this man dead two weeks ago, but I also embalmed and buried him,” he finished, as two deputies slid the stretcher with Mr. Collins stiff body on it into his van.

“What will we do just bury him again?” Sheriff Cody asked. “Yes, but not until after I examine the body again and we know for sure he’s dead. The smell alone will tell you that, but the law is the law and I have to follow the rules.” A few minutes later the sheriff and Arnold stood on the sidewalk in front of the cabin watching the taillights of the Coroners van, and the two patrol cars, head back towards the center of town.

....“If its not you, and now I don’t believe that it is, then someone is playing a gruesome joke here. So help me I’m going to find out who it is and really come down hard on them,” the sheriff said, turning back towards his patrol car and opening the door to climb in. “What are you going to do now Sam,” Arnold asked, leaning down so he could talk through the open window. “I’m thinking of going over to the cemetery and have a look around. You never can tell what I’ll find there, someone had to dig the body up and there may be footprints or tire tracks.” “Mind if I go with you Sam? After all that’s happened around here tonight I’m not in too much of a hurry to be alone never mind go back into the cabin.”

....Minutes later the patrol car turned into the narrow dirt lane that ran through the cemetery. When it reached Paupers Row, way in the back, it stopped and the sheriff and Arnold got out. “The gravesite is in the third row over there on the left,” Arnold said, pointing with a beam of light from the flashlight the sheriff handed him, as they starting in that general direction.

....“Hold on,” the sheriff said, catching up with Arnold and sweeping the light from his own flashlight on the ground before them as they walked along, “we don’t want to miss anything.” Then after a few more steps he stopped short and put his arm out to hold Arnold back from going any further. There in the grass, in the beam of his flashlight, were footprints of dried soil where someone walk through loose soil and then through the grass. Turning away from the direction of the grave, they followed the footsteps until they ended back at the dirt lane ten or fifteen feet from where the patrol car was parked. Then after checking the lane for any sign of tire tracks and finding none, they followed the footsteps back to the gravesite.

....For a long while the two men stood staring in awe at the gravesite in the beams of their flashlights, a grave they were expecting to see dug up in a normal fashion. Instead they found the grave undisturbed except for a two-foot tunnel like opening in the soft dirt, an opening that something had crawled from. “Look here.” The Sheriff said, when he got his thoughts back together, “the footprints lead right from the hole and there’s not another foot print around.” “This thing gets weirder and weirder,” Arnold said in a shaky voice, nervously flashing the light from his flashlight beam around the dark cemetery.

....The following morning, Sheriff Cody and two of his deputies spent three hours searching among the grave stones of the little cemetery looking for some kind of an explanation to what was going on. While this was going on the town’s two gravediggers Charlie and Fred, were opening up Mr. Collins grave. Finding nothing new, the Sheriff was talking to his two deputies as they where getting into one of the two Patrol Cars to head back up town. Suddenly there was a shout from the gravediggers that jumped from the gravesite and ran towards the sheriff and his deputies. “You are not going to believe this Sam,” one of the gravediggers stammered, pointing back towards the open grave visibly shaken.

....“What’s going on Charlie?” The sheriff asked, hurrying towards the open grave with Charlie urging him along by pulling on his sleeve. By the time they reached the gravesite the two deputies caught up with them and they all stood around the hole looking down in awe at what was Mr. Collins casket. There, where the dirt was cleared away, they could see almost the entire half of the shinny, curved, top of the casket, except where a hole, big enough for a man to crawl through, was clawed through the wood.

....“My God!” One of the deputies said, “the casket is empty, he must have been alive when they buried him.” “No he wasn’t alive,” the sheriff assured him, Doc Simmons, the Coroner, pronounced him dead and then embalmed him, there’s no way he could have possibly been alive.”

....“Been working here in this cemetery for more than twenty five years and ain’t never seen anything like this before,” Charlie mumble loud enough so everyone heard him, “and I hope I never do again,” he finished, blessing himself by making the sign of the cross. “Okay, I’m deputizing you and Fred,” the sheriff told Charlie, “that means you can’t tell anyone about what we’ve found here today, if you do you’ll be breaking the law and I’ll have to arrest you.” “Does that mean we’ll get a badge and a gun?” Charlie asked excited. “No, it means you two will be working undercover here at the cemetery where you’ll keep your eyes open for anything suspicious. If you see anything you report it to me immediately,” the sheriff finished, then waving the two deputies to follow they returned to their patrol cars and drove out of the cemetery.

....“If what your telling me about this guy clawing his way out of his grave wasn’t impossible, I’d have to agree with you,” Doc Simmons told the sheriff, when half an hour later they stood in the basement of the Doc’s home where he done his embalming. “Look here,” he said, pointing to the fingers of Mr. Collins stiff dead body. “You can see any flesh that was on the finger tips have been stripped away, and some of the finger tip bones are worn away to the first knuckle. Kind of makes you wonder what the hell is going on here,” he finished. “Listen Doc,” the sheriff said. “I know this is all very strange, but I have no Idea of where we can turn to for answers. I’ve sworn everyone involved in this to secrecy, I think the best thing to do is rebury Mr. Collins without any fanfare and try to forget the whole matter. I’ll see the town sends you a check for a new casket and I’ll tell Charlie and Fred to just bury it again and keep it quite,” and with this he gave a curt wave to Doc Simmons and left.

....The next afternoon, Doc Simmons turned off Main Street to drive along the dirt lane to the back of the cemetery where Sheriff Cody and Arnold waited with the two gravediggers. A short time later, after lowering the casket into the grave by ropes, they watched while Charlie and Fred filled the grave with dirt. “Well that should be the end of that,” the sheriff said, patting Arnold on the back. Arnold pleased now that Mr. Collins body was buried deep in his grave again. “Ya! And you can see how happy I am about that,” Arnold said. “I’ve been drinking a six pack of beer every night since it happened and I still haven’t been able to sleep. Maybe tonight’s the night,” he told the sheriff, as they walked back to the dirt lane and climbed into their vehicles and left the cemetery.

....Arnold was right, because that evening after supper he had one beer and laid on the couch in his living room hoping to take a short nap and possibly catch up on some sleep. The next thing he knew it was morning and he had slept the whole night through, then glancing at the clock he saw he still had an hour to get to work at the construction site where he worked as a carpenter. He already missed two days of work because of this Mr. Collins thing, and if he didn’t show up again this morning the boss would most likely give him the boot.

....All that day Arnold worked on automation his hands doing the job but his mind seeing Mr. Collins standing on his porch with that mangled finger pointing at him, and hearing that God awful sound. There was no logical answer to what happened, and like Sheriff Cody said, "If you keep thinking about the incident it’ll drive you to the loony bin."

....The day passed swiftly, and the next thing Arnold knew it was quitting time and everyone picked up their tools and headed for their vehicles to go home. However for a long while he sat in front of the construction site in his truck staring out through the windshield. He was in no hurry to get back to his cabin and the porch where the ghastly thing had stood. In fact he was thinking of renting a room at the small motel at the other end of town, but he had just recently paid the taxes on his cabin and his finances wouldn’t allow it.

....Finally, with no other option, he started the pick up and drove to the small diner in town where he had a bite to eat and then walked two doors down from it to a bar where he sat sipping on beers until nine o’clock. When he did leave the bar and returned to his pickup truck, he headed down to the far end of Main Street where he made a U-turn and came to a stop at the curb in front of his cabin.

....For a long while he sat in the truck studying the dark walkway and the porch where his nightmare began, more than once glancing over to study the cemetery up the road and the section of woodland across from it. A few minutes later he reluctantly climbed from the truck, then hurried around the front of it to cross the sidewalk and walk up the short walkway to the porch.

....Here he lifted his hand to slide the key into the lock and found it shaking uncontrollably, then suddenly a whimpering sound issued from his throat as the smell of rotting flesh overcame him. Glancing towards the end of the porch he saw a dark figure standing there, the figure now moving towards him. When it drew closer he saw it was certainly the thing that was Mr. Collins, and once again it held its arm pointing an even more mangled finger at him. This time Arnold was off the porch before the figure could get any closer, and this time he jumped into his pickup and scrubbed rubber half way to the center of town.

....Sheriff Cody wasn’t in the office when Arnold all but crashed through the door pale and shaken, and it took the deputies on duty almost fifteen minutes to settle him down. Meanwhile one of the deputies called the sheriff at home. When the deputy explained to the sheriff how Arnold was babbling about someone coming out of their grave again, the sheriff told him he would come right along to the office.

....By the time Sheriff Cody arrived Arnold had stopped shaking and babbling, then after a few words in private between the two they hurried out to the Sheriffs patrol car parked at the curb. “You’ve had a few beers,” he asked Arnold, as the patrol car sped down the street to the cabin,” are you sure you were not just seeing things?” “Even if I was seeing things the smell was unmistakable,” Arnold replied, and by then the sheriff was making a U-turn to pull up in front of the cabin again. Once again the sheriff took out a flashlight and handed one to Arnold, then when they stepped from the patrol car they splayed the light from them over the walkway and the porch but found it empty.

....“Doesn’t seem to be anything here now,” the sheriff said, stepping onto the porch to flash his light to the right, and then the left, of the long porch that ran the length of the cabin. “We’ll take a look around back and see if ... wait a minute,” he said, stooping down to study something on the porch floor with his flashlight. “Well I’ll be a son of a gun,” he said to no one in particular, then stood up to shine his light along the floor to the end of the porch. “What is it?” Arnold asked, now stepping up onto the porch beside the sheriff and also shinning his light on the porch floor.

.... “Partial footprints of soil leading to the back of the porch and then back out again,” he said. Sweeping the beam of his flashlight beyond the porch to the woods maybe thirty yards away. “This is getting to be a little ridiculous,” he said turning to Arnold, “because I can still smell that terrible odor and realize you were not seeing things.” “Maybe we should check around back and make sure the thing is gone,” Arnold said, also shinning his light around nervously.

....“Okay,” the sheriff said, and then we’ll go over to the cemetery and check it out again,” he promised, as they moved around the cabin to the back. “I don’t see anything, but the smell is much stronger back here,” Arnold commented, as they came down a small slope to the back of the cabin and shone their lights around the open yard. “Your right about the smell,” the sheriff agreed, moving further into the back yard, “ I think it’s coming from there,” he went on, pointing his light at a four foot high open door in the back of the cabin. “I keep my tools in there and always keep the door locked,” Arnold said, a slight tremble in his voice. “Well it’s not locked now, and it’s definitely where the stink is coming from.” With this he signaled for Arnold to follow and walked to the door and swung the beam from his light inside.

....With the help of two of his carpenter buddies, Arnold built the cabin on a lot he purchased from the town. The lot was close to the road and had a slight slope to it, so they put piers into the ground so they could level it. When the cabin was completed it left the back four or five feet off the ground, so Arnold closed it in to use for a shed to keep his tools in. It was into this space the sheriff now stood shinning his flashlight to light up an eerie scene, and there inside, causing the reeking, petrified odor, lay the now familiar body of Mr. Collins. The body’s arms folded across its chest, just like was laid out by an undertaker, and Arnold could swear there was a smile on its lips.

....A couple of hours later, after Doc Simmons was called in as coroner and taken the body of Mr. Collins away again, the sheriff and Arnold made another visit to the cemetery where they found the grave in the same condition as the first time. “Why me?” Arnold asked, when he and the sheriff climbed back into the patrol car to head back up town. “I mean Mr. Collins was eighty nine years old and a nice old guy, I don’t think I ever had a cross word with him, why should he haunt me?” he ended with a sigh. “I’m sorry Arnold, but I have no Idea why he’s bothering you or why this crazy thing is happening at all, the whole thing is insanely impossible. Maybe it has something to do with Mr. Collins past. I’m going over tomorrow and talk to the mayors father Ernest Brady, he’s about the same age as Mr. Collins was and somewhere I heard at one time they were great buddies,” the sheriff told Arnold.

....“Well please let me know if you learn anything,” Arnold begged, “and as far as I’m concerned I’ll never stay in that cabin again. I’ll go back during the day tomorrow and get some of my stuff, meanwhile if you need me I’ll be staying at the Wayside Motel on the other end of town.

....“Oh yes, I remember Charles Collins,” Mr. Brady told the sheriff, the next day when he stopped at his farm to ask him about Mr. Collins. “Charles was a pretty good business man when the people he did business with were honest. Did you know that Charles Collins, at one time, owned all the land where the town now sits, and more? Of course in those days this area was still farmland and that stretch of woodland down at the end of Main Street is where his huge farmhouse once stood. As a matter of fact there are some legal documents at the court house referring to that piece of land, something about never being able to build on it and don’t think a lot of good size bids haven’t been forthcoming for it.”

....“No I never knew any of this,” the sheriff replied. “What ever happened to his farm and his lands? All I knew about him, was that he lived at Grants Boarding house for as far back as I can remember.” “Well,” Mr. Brady started, “Charles dad left him all the land and Charles used it well, a few times he even bought more that came up for sale. Of course he was still a young man, but with the farmhands being able to run the farm without him he went off to Boston Massachusetts for a time. Six months later he returned with a beautiful bride he worshiped and built a beautiful house for on that very spot we’re talking about. The following year his wife gave birth to a beautiful young baby girl and the three of them seemed to live in a state of bliss.”

....“One winter evening while he was away on business the house caught fire and burned to the ground, by the time his wife and daughter were pulled from the inferno it was to late. On one side of the house stood a huge Maple tree where he and his family always had their outings and spent many hours together, it was on that very spot where he buried his wife and daughter vowing he would join them when death came to him. Some months after the funeral he took to drinking and gambling, then one day a slick dealer took him for almost everything he owned except for that one plot of land where his wife and daughter was buried. As far as I know the deed for that plot of land still stands and is at the court house among some old records.”

....“That would put the gravesite just about where Arnolds cabin now stands,” the sheriff said.” “Yup! “Your are exactly right there,” Ernest Brady agreed. “That old Maple tree stood just about where the sidewalk is in front of Anold’s place. I have no idea how that plot of land got sold, as far as I knew the county had been paid an extravagant sum of money to hold the deeds for that land so it couldn’t be sold. As far as I can recall that little cabin sits right over the graves.”

....From Ernest Brady’s farm Sheriff Cody hurried over to see Mrs. Carlson at the town office, asking her assistance in looking up the deed for Mr. Collins parcel of land. Mrs. Carlson, having been the town clerk for almost fifty years knowing exactly where everything was in the row after row of filing cabinets in the town hall basement.

....Mrs. Carlson also knew Mr. Collins for many years but she wasn’t as old as he and Mr. Brady, and when the farmhouse burnt to the ground she was only a little girl. As a matter of fact she played with Violet Collins a couple of time when she and her parents went to their house to Visit. She also remembered how Mr. Collins could be found sitting under the old Maple tree by their graves almost everyday for more than a year after their death.

....“It was only after Mr. Collins started drinking heavily that he stopped going to the gravesite which had a little white fence around it, and which he had always kept supplied with fresh flowers. I think after the night he drank to much, and lost all of his land gambling, he never went to the site again, I think he was ashamed of what he done and felt he was unworthy of them anymore. In time the little white fence rotted and collapsed and as more time passed the slate grave marker either fell or was knocked over, then in time there wasn’t any sign two graves had ever been there.”

....After stopping for a quick bite at the town diner, Sheriff Cody hurried over to the construction site where Arnold worked just as he was finishing his lunch. A little later, after a few words with Arnold and his boss, he and Arnold drove over to Doc Simmons house where they found him in his basement just finishing up with Mr. Collins body for the third time. This time Doc Simmons had the body wrapped in a sealed plastic body bag and was cleaning his work area. “Keeps the odor from escaping,” he said to Sheriff Cody and Arnold, when they entered and starred at the body wrapped in plastic on the embalming table. “Great Idea Doc,” Arnold said, the reeking odor still filling his nostrils but not so overpowering.

....“Okay here is what the situation is,” the sheriff said, turning towards Doc Simmons. “Somehow this thing keeps clawing it’s way out of it’s grave and walking around. I can’t see any sense in the county having to keep paying to rebury him if it’s only going to happen again. I believe I know what we have to do to stop this but I’m going to need a week to ten days to get everything ready, in the meantime we have to find some way to keep this thing from wandering around. Got any Ideas?” he asked, looking from Doc Simmons to Arnold?

....“Sure, lets just incase him in a block of cement,” Arnold said with a chuckle, as they all stood staring at the body on the table. “That’s not funny Arnold, we have a serious problem here,” the sheriff scolded. “No, no,” Doc Simmons said, turning to face them, “Arnold here has a great Idea, only we won’t incase him in cement will incase him in ice. In fact all we have to do is put the body into one of those long freezers until were ready to bury him again, as far as that goes we could keep it in there indefinitely,” he finished.

....“That’s one problem solved,” the sheriff muttered. “You are the next problem,” he said, pointing a finger at Arnold. “What did I do?” Arnold asked flabbergasted. “I know its not your fault and you didn’t know about it, but you built your cabin right over Mr. Collins wife and daughters grave. That place we found him last night looking so reposed under your cabin, well that’s where the graves are,” the sheriff told him. “I never knew,” Arnold said, a sound of sorrow in his voice, “I would have never built my cabin over a grave on purpose,” he finished, hanging his head a little and shaking it from side to side.

....“Doc and I both know that Arnold and I just found out today there was a mix up in the deeds when you purchased the lot, you must know the cabin has to come down and the graves preserved,” the sheriff said. “Ya! I understand Sam, I just don’t know what to do or where to start.” “Well all the news isn’t bad,” the sheriff started. “I’ve worked out a deal with the county through Mrs. Carlson for that plot of land you always loved down by the river, its yours, all you have to do is get some of your buddies to help you dismantle the house and move it.”

....For the next week the end of Main Street where the little cabin sat was a beehive of activity, while the cabin was dismantled and moved and the area raked and cleaned. The old slate grave marker was found a couple of inches under the soil and reset at the head of the graves in concrete. A few days later Mr. Collins was buried for the third time, but this time beside his loving wife and daughter and was never heard from again.

The Dark Prize

Raymond Mayotte

.... Night's darkness closes a late fall day banishing the last remaining rays of light from the western horizon,and under a dark sky, sprinkled with thousands of tiny sparkling stars, a narrow tarmac road wind's its way through a rural countryside to pass by a lone cemetery. The cemetery, which is very old and seldom used, covers more than half a dozen acres of land, and among the hundreds of old slate headstones and grave markers many trees have taken root and grown.

.... A dirt lane runs off the tarmac road here and winds it's way among the gravestones to a place where, almost hidden from view of the road by the trees and brush, sits an old unused and almost forgotten wooden church. A little church that had been built over one hundred years ago at the end of a row of small houses, a church that in it's time was planned to be the hub of the small town that would grow up around it. All through that summer, and far into the fall, the six or seven families of the town had worked on building the church in their spare time, the work being a labor of love to them, each giving up their evenings and weekends to work so that it would be finished before the first snowfall of the season.

.... When the day finally came, and the little church stood finished with it's new coat of white paint and a real bronze bell hanging in it's small steeple, the people being proud of their accomplishment invited all there neighbors from the surrounding countryside to attend, and Sunday morning they all filed proudly into the church for it's first Sunday Service. That very night while everyone slept the small town was consumed by fire and the very few that did escape moved away from the area. The thirty or so bodies that were recovered from the ashes of the town were buried beside the church that by some miracle had escaped the fire untouched, except for where the heat and smoke had curled and browned it's new white paint. That first Sunday Service was the only service ever held in the little church and since that day the little church had been abandoned and the land around it used for a graveyard.

.... That had been many years ago, and now three of the four stained glass windows, which the little church had once boasted, had been broken through the years by vandals and were covered over with wood, the remaining window depicting a large replica of the arch angel Gabriel, with his sword held high over his head ready to strike, looking ominous and frightful in the dark. But this particular night something sinister seems to stir the air of the cemetery and from a partly opened basement door at the rear of the church a faint light flickers.

.... Under the canopy of stars an old woman silently makes her way along the dirt lane towards the little church, the woman's body stooped with age, her legs, which are not much more than skin and bone, crooked and bent as she sways from side to side as she hurries along. Dominated by winters first cold blast, a blustery wind stirs up many of the fallen leaves blowing them helter-skelter among the grave stones. The rattle and scratching of leaves against the grave stones accompanied by the sound of them crunching under her feet as she waddles along, while high above her the naked branches of trees clack together noisily.

.... On reaching the church the old woman hurries around to the rear basement door and quickly steps inside, and there with a glance around realizes that she is early and there is only one other before her. Now she hurries to a seat at the end of one of the many tables set up in the small hall, the seat only a few feet from a small stage where the grand prize lays in a long narrow chest before the seat where the number caller sits.

.... The old woman can see that the prize in the chest is one of the finest she has ever seen and knows with all her being how much she needs the prize at this time, as did many of the other old woman who were now beginning to arrive and fill the tables around her. The other women all old and worn like her, with extremities bent and twisted and their wrinkled flesh sagging from their bones.

.... The creaking and snapping of old worn joints and bones can be heard as frail frames lower themselves in silence into uncomfortable chairs, their gnarled and twisted hands hurrying to straighten their bingo cards on the table before them. Finally, after what seems a long and tedious wait, but in truth is only a few minutes, the last chair is filled and a deeper silence fills the hall as the number caller enters and takes his place on the stage.

.... With the rules of the game explained a hush fills the small hall as the first number is called. Quickly the old woman places a bean on the B-5 number with unsteady fingers and then glares down the long table to see if anyone else has the number. After a long pause another number is called, and once again she hurries to place another bean on I-22, her feeble pulse quickening now when she realizes that with the free space she only needs two more numbers, G-59 and O-70.

.... Glancing up at the caller she sees the sardonic leer on his face as he takes pleasure in purposely taking so long to call each number.
"N-40," the leering lips pronounce slowly.

.... The old woman is dismayed to find she does not have that number but the player across from her does and now also only needs two numbers. Nervously the old woman glances along the table waiting for the next two numbers to be called, cringing when she hears each number and finds that she does not have either of them. Now the player across from her is beginning to shake with anticipation and excitement because her card needs only one more number to make Bingo.

.... Now once again the old woman glances at the fantastic prize that is so near. It has been such a long time since she has owned anything as fine as that. the one she is using now so old and worn, almost useless as most of it will not function properly. "O-70," is the next number called and for an instant the old woman grows faint and dizzy thinking for sure her heart will stop as she holds her breath waiting for someone to call Bingo, but after what seems like an eternity she breathes out again and covers her number O-70 with a bean.

.... "One more number and the prize will be mine," she thinks to herself, promising herself that she will take excellent care of it if she should win. The last one she had like this had lasted her a long time because she had been very careful not to harm it in any way, but like all other things it wears out and has to be gotten rid of.

.... "Bingo!" Her old voice screeches when the number G - 59 is called. She had done it, she had won and the prize was hers, and Immediately the hall was filled with the hissing and cursing of the other players, but she ignored then her eyes and mind only on the prize. Now with her blood pounding wildly through her old thin veins and threatening to burst them at any moment, it took all the strength the old woman could muster to rise from her chair and cross the few feet to the stage.

.... From his place high on the stage the caller waved her to the prize below him in the long chest, and a silence filled the hall as the old woman stood over it gloating. Suddenly she collapsed forward into the chest, her body from the waist up lying on top of the prize inside and the rest of her dangling out over the side.

.... For another few seconds the blood raced faster and faster through the veins in the old body before her old heart stopped and blackness enveloped her. Now there was silence in the hall as all eyes stared at the scene on the stage, all awaiting in anticipation as the old woman, Hester, lay so unmoving. More minutes passed and the blackness that had engulfed Hester's consciousness began to fade and she opened her eyes and for a time hesitated. Deep in her chest she felt a young heart beating with a steady rhythm as it pumped thick rich blood through healthy veins and she could feel the strength of her new body. Across her lay the lifeless hulk of the old woman she had been, and with a slight shove the old thing crumbled to the floor beside the stage.

.... "Well Hester," the callers voice filled the hall as he stared down at her where she lay in the chest, "you haven't had a pretty young body like this since the one you lost in Salem," he leered, nodding his head with glee. Rising now, and quickly stepping from the chest in her new young body, Hester turned to face the caller.

.... "Remember Hester," he commanded, "If you have not caused three major iniquities in three months time this body will begin to shrivel and die, I will only remind you this one time," he ended.

.... "I will obey master," Hester promised, gazing into the evil coal red eyes of her master, the flickering light from torches set along the wall glinting from the horns sprouting from his head.

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Raymond Mayotte
42 Starboard Dr
Cape Elizabeth Me 04107


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