Lost in the Graveyard: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 26, 2023
The drive got progressively more tense as they went. Wayne admired his companions for their discipline: not a one spoke of what they saw and heard during the drive to the Galaxy. But Wayne could tell they were holding back. There were occasional sharp intakes of breath, muttered curses, and halting conversation starts the went nowhere. They jittered in their seats as if threatened by something they wanted to escape.
At the traffic light to turn on the 28th Street, Kevin finally lost it. He unbuckled and opened the van door before Wanda put a halt to his escape in her own inimitable style: From the seat behind him, she put him in a headlock. “Stop it, Kevin!”
“But the –”
“Stop it. You’re in the van, Wayne’s driving, and I’ve got a chokehold on your neck. I’ll put you out if I have to, but we really need you lucid.”
With that, Kevin stopped struggling. “Will semi-lucid do?” He slammed the door shut, and Wanda released him so he could put his seatbelt back on.
With the excitement over, Wayne put the van back into gear. But that was when he realized that he still had gaps in his memory. He had gotten that far, but suddenly he couldn’t remember the route to Myra’s Donut Galaxy, a place he had driven to hundreds of times in his life.
He looked around. The driver in a red Blazer behind him honked his horn, and that helped Wayne to decide: If he was in the right turn lane, that meant that some part of his brain knew he had to turn right. He put his foot on the gas, and he drove east. As soon as he was through the light, the Blazer sped through behind them and veered around them into the middle lane. The driver punched it, and the Blazer sped past, horn blaring, middle finger raised at Wayne. Wayne had to give the man some respect for doing for both honking and flipping the bird without losing control of the truck.
But from the seat behind Wayne, Carol screamed at whatever she saw in the Blazer. Wayne reflexively jammed the brakes, and the Blazer drove off down 28th Street.
Wayne looked in his rearview mirror and was relieved to see only his companions back there. “It’s all right, Carol,” he said. “Focus. Notice the seen, not the unseen.”
“Focus…” she said. She grinned at him in the mirror. “Thank you.”
But Wayne’s memory was still foggy. He knew the Galaxy was up ahead on the left, but he couldn’t remember how far. And on top of that, he couldn’t remember how to get to the rear parking lot. One of these countless side streets would take them there… Or would it? Did he have to go to the next light, turn left, and find the entrance there?
Wayne was still trying to decide when suddenly he saw a big spiral galaxy on a sign to his left, and he realized they were passing the bakery. With a split-second decision, he earned two more honks as he slammed into the left turn lane just in time to turn into Myra’s. An oncoming driver flipped him off after braking to avoid a collision.
There was a strip of gravel between the front parking lot and the rear, but it was useless that night. Myra was hosting her annual Halloween Festival, and the parking lot was jammed, including cars parked in the gravel path. In fact, there were practically no empty parking spaces. HollowFest was popular, with music and dancing and a costume party – as well as a small mountain of donuts that Myra was sure to sell. There was no place to park.
But Wayne had a magic ticket: the handicap parking pass on the back of the van, which he normally hated. Now it was exactly what he needed. He pulled into the one of the two handicap spots, turned off the engine, and unbuckled his seatbelt. “All right, let’s go.” But nobody moved. “Come on… The pucks could be getting stronger. We have to move.”
“We can’t go out there!” Kevin said.
Wayne frowned at Kevin. “Now you’re afraid to leave? Two blocks back, you were ready to jump out.”
“But the waters hadn’t risen yet!” Kevin answered.
Wayne looked around. “There are no waters. All I see is leaves.”
“Don’t you hear them?” Carol asked.
“Hear who?” When Carol didn’t answer, Wayne continued, “Whatever you’re hearing, Carol, it’s not real. Listen to my voice. That’s the reality.”
Carol blinked as if awakening from a dream. “Wayne?”
“I hear you, Wayne.”
“Good. Keep your head clear. Help me get the others out of the van.”
Wayne left that chore to Carol as he pulled out his crutches and lowered himself to the pavement. He didn’t want them to have to wait for him as he hobbled, so he hurried to the corner to go back around the building.
They were screwed by the Halloween partiers. There were five cars parked in the gravel path, and the drivers had parked like lunatics. Two cars were too close to the wall for anyone to pass on the left. Three were too close to the fence on the east to pass there. There was no way he could get through there on his crutches, and he wasn’t sure if the others could get through as clouded as their minds were.
Wayne headed back to where his companions had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the door. Before he reached him, he pushed the handicap button, and the double doors swung open. The others still had sense enough to step back before the doors hit them.
“Where we going, Wayne?” Wanda asked.
“The drive’s blocked,” Wayne answered. “We’re going through the Galaxy to the back door.”
“Through the Galaxy…?” Paula seemed confused. But Carol took her arm and guided her forward with the others. Wayne was glad that at least Carol was clearheaded. He could rely on her.
That was when Carol said, “Don’t step on the kittens!”
Wayne barely stumbled through the doors before the slow hydraulics could close upon him. The bakery within was in the middle of Myra’s best party ever. The counters were decorated to the hilt with streamers and electric candles. The walls were decorated with posters from classic horror movies. Lon Chaney and Bella Lugosi stared out in their fearsome makeup, along with Jason in his mask and Freddie in his horribly scarred visage.
And the customers were just as scary. And funny, and sexy. Myra’s cost customers had donned all sorts of costume styles. There were two zombies, three werewolves, an impressive silver-skinned android, and a woman in a hot dog costume. A very realistic Pushmi-Pullyu stood between two cowboys who tried to lasso both heads. There was a very convincing giant beaver. Myra wore her traditional witch costume, handing out cookies. As bandaged as he still was, Wayne could almost fit in as the mummy.
Then his jaw dropped. There was one more partygoer near the hallway to the back door: a tall red wooden devil.
Behind him, Wanda cried out, “Kevin! The Kraken! Look out!”
Wayne leaned on his crutches to try to free his hands to make the distracting gestures that would help Wanda to see him, not the imaginary Kraken.
But the crutches slipped out from his armpits, clattering to the floor; and Wayne followed, cursing at the pain in his legs. He felt helpless there on the tile floor, where any of the partygoers with their vision half blocked by masks might trip over him. He looked into the dining room; and the crowd parted like the Red Sea, giving Wayne a clear view of the red puck, fists planted on his hips, head thrown back in laughter.
“Kevin! Run! It’s the Kraken!”
Kevin didn’t stop to question Wanda’s warnung, he just ran as fast as his bony legs would take him through the muck-encrusted sea bottom of the Voyagers’ Graveyard. He was slow, and he was tired, but he wasn’t winded. That made him stop and look around. “Aren’t we dead already?”
Blake came running up behind Kevin, stopping before he collided with the older man. “I thought you figured that out weeks ago. Yes, you’re both dead.”
Kevin looked around, and saw Wanda running toward them. A vast shadow loomed in the deep waters behind her. Then he looked back to Blake. “But if we’re dead already, can we die?”
Blake looked back through the hollow eye sockets of a skull that had once been human and alive. “A good question. Blackheart Hal and Pegleg Pete once got in an argument. They feuded for nearly two years; and I mean fights, literally tearing each other apart.”
Wanda ran by. Long red hair flowing out behind her.
But Blake seemed not to notice her. “They always showed up the next day or the next week intact.” Then he looked down at his rib cage sticking out from his once white jerkin. “Well, as intact as we get down here.”
As Blake said this last, he glanced over his shoulder, then resumed running. Kevin shouted, “Then why are we running?”
Blake shouted back, voice muffled by all the water between them. “Because it’s the bloody Kraken, you damned fool!”
That was all the convincing Kevin needed. He started running, tired and confused though he was. When he saw shadows of tentacles cast upon the muck in front of him, he didn’t stop to ask where the light came from to cast the shadows, nor how a silt bed could capture them. He just ran faster.
But where was he running? Away was hardly an answer. For one thing, none of them ever managed to leave the Voyagers’ Graveyard. If they tried, they found themselves wandering back, unable to explain where they had gone or what happened there. Sometimes they returned from a completely different direction. Kevin and Wanda had spent more than a week trying to go someplace else, anyplace else; but they always ended up back here.
But this was the first time anyone had seen the Kraken. In his heart, Kevin knew: That creature broke all the rules. It might pursue them to the ends of the Seven Seas.
Or it might manage to kill the dead.
Wanda ran in sheer, blind terror. She wasn’t sure how, but she had known the Kraken was there long before she had spotted the shadow. Her first thought was to warn everyone, especially Kevin who had been on with her on the ill-fated Comet. She felt a special loyalty to him, a kinship even, so she found herself quite unable to explain where they’d met or anything about their lives before their ship had sank beneath the waves. He was just Kevin, the one familiar figure on the ocean bottom.
She warned the others as well. They had shown Kevin and Wanda hospitality in the weeks since their… their deaths…
Their deaths. Wanda was still getting used to that concept, but her last doubts had passed more than a week ago. This was becoming, well, home in its way. She liked Blake with his gentlemanly ways; and she felt sorry for Pete with his unwavering faith that if he just purged his soul of all his past sins, a ship would land and take him away. She even found herself relaxing Blackheart Hal after a while. The man had been unapologetically evil in life, but he was more congenial here in the Graveyard. Practically an uncle. Or a philosopher.
So Wanda was glad to see the three of them (plus everyone from what she’d come to think of as the Village of the Dead) fleeing the horrible shadowy monster that was the Kraken. The dead from nearly a millennia had all found one common purpose. It was just regrettable that that purpose was fleeing for what passed for their lives from the hideous shade.
Then Wanda saw Pete in his dingy yellow shirt waving his skeletal hand for her attention. “Over here!” He had found a new hull of a sunken ship, one that Kevin and Wanda hadn’t seen in their explorations so far. This one was larger than most, with a metal hull rusted clear through in many places. It had to be from the twentieth century, maybe later. The hull in which Pete stood was large enough for a person to walk through, even run through; but it wasn’t large enough for the Kraken.
Or so Wanda hoped as she dashed inside.
She found that Pete was not alone in there. Hal and the four Indians and the two Spanish ship captains and three of their sailors were all clustered inside, anxiously looking back for any sign of their pursuer. Even if Wanda had wanted to go deeper into the hole, the others blocked her way. This was a safe as she was going to get.
She turned to look back for the danger, and that frightened her all over again. Kevin and Blake ran as fast they could, but not faster than the eight-limbed shadow with the single baleful eye. It drew closer to them by the second. “Kevin!” she shouted.
But that did more harm than good, it seemed. Kevin sped up, but running too fast in the silt was an invitation to trip. Suddenly Kevin was face down in the silt. In seconds, the Kraken would be upon him with its horrible sharp beak and its evil intentions. Wanda gasped, knowing her friend would not last for long.
But then Blake turned, stood over Kevin, and shook his fist. Dimly through the waters, Wanda heard him shout, “Away with you! He’s not yours! Go back to the darkness, you fiend!”
Wanda’s heart raced. Up to then, Blake had been a congenial guide, full of information about their deathly world. But this was different. Unarmed though he was, this was a man who fought for what he believed in. Wanda didn’t know if that had been true in his life; or perhaps Pete was right, and something in the Graveyard stripped away their sins and made people better for it. She was sure this meant only that Blake would join Kevin in whatever lay beyond dead death; but she treasured the bony old pirate for it nonetheless.
Then she saw that Blake was no longer alone. Blackheart Hal had run up beside him, carrying a big spar that he must have torn from the sunken vessel. He shouted, “These are good men, foul beast, and I stand with them.”
And beside Hal stood Pete, shouldering an honest-to-goodness M1 rifle. Wanda was about to object that guns couldn’t work in the water and the bullets couldn’t penetrate for any distance, when Pete pulled the trigger. A massive explosion rattled Wanda’s ears, accompanied by a great gout of flame out of the barrel of the gun.
The bullet struck the Kraken right in the giant eye; and the creature blinked. When its eyelid open again, blood seeped out into the water.
That energized Hal, and the Scourge of the Sea Lanes ran forward, wielding his spar like a cutlass. He charged at the Kraken as Blake charged from another angle, distracting the creature. Kevin stood from the silt, and he ran back through the weaving tentacles, creating a third front for the monster to defend. He punched and kicked the rubbery limbs as he made his way. While Kevin and Blake distracted the monster, Hal made another attack on its eye, slicing the spar clean through.
“We can do this!” Wanda said. “Come on!” she waved her arm overhead, beckoning all of the dead forward for an assault for an all-out assault upon the massive creature.
That was when Wanda learned the answer to a question that had long concerned her: yes, the newly dead could still feel pain. Her ribs were broken by a blow from one tentacle, and a large patch of her long red hair – red? –ot torn off by another. The blows knocked her to her knees, and then over on her side, which was on fire from the tentacle smash. But she also learned that pain didn’t stop the dead. She put her hands down to lift herself. Did she really need ribs, anyway?
As Wanda pressed against the ground, she found a sharp shard of glass, something from a long buried mirror. It hardly mattered at this point if the glass sliced through the dead flesh of her palm. She stood, gripped the shard, and ran to cut and slice where one of the Indians was stabbing with a spear.
The battle seemed to last for days; but their united charge turned the tide. Slowly, inexorably, with many broken bones among them, the dead sliced the Kraken into bloody ribbons.
At last the entire lot of them stood in a ring around the bloodied corpse. If they still breathed, they would have been heaving deep, exhausted breaths. As it was, they stood in an eerie silence. Only the distant song of whales broke it.
At last Kevin walked over and shook Blake’s hand Then Hal’s, then Pete’s. “Thank you.” He waved at the others. “Thank you. You didn’t have to –”
“But they did!” Pete said. The Kraken drew us together. This is what we needed, a unifying force to make us forgive those who trespass against us.” He looked around, but no one said anything. Don’t you see? This was the sign, our guidepost to Release.”
Blake shook his head. “It was just a Kraken, a monster of the deep.”
Blackheart Hal shook his head in return. “In all the time I’ve been down here, I’ve see nothing like that.” He looked at the Indians. “You?”
Hal had said that the Indians didn’t speak their language; and they still didn’t speak, but they seemed to understand. They shook their heads.
“You see?” Pete said. “This is a sign. And it even led us to a shipwreck none of us have seen before! Didn’t I tell you? There would come a day when a ship would take us away, take us to our reward.”
Wanda nodded. It was all that the young skeleton had spoken of since her and Kevin’s arrival: That with enough sins washed away, you could be released.
She didn’t know if she was sinless yet, but the idea of getting out of there spoke to her heart. All the fear and loss and doubt that she had learned to shove aside in the past weeks came back. “If there’s a chance of getting out of here, I’ll take it. Kevin?”
Kevin looked at her, and she saw that the Kraken had ripped half the flesh from his neck. “I’ve had enough of this. Let’s find out what’s next.”
Hal shrugged. I’ve been down here longest. Whatever is next cannot be worse.” He clasped Blake’s bony shoulder. “Maybe we just earned a little release.”
So Pete led the entire village back to the broken hull, and inside from there. They negotiated their way through fallen timbers, tumbled cargo crates, scattered ropes and tools, and drums still leaking diesel. At last, as if by instinct – for surely Pete had never been aboard a diesel vessel in his lifetime – Pete led them to the top deck and thence to the conn. The cabin was amazingly well-preserved, with the wheel unbroken, and other stations looking almost ready to sail. What looked like an old-time radio was still intact, with not a bit of rust. A mapping table showed a coastline and deeper waters. Wanda couldn’t read it, but it might be where they’d sank.
“Now what?” Blake asked.
“Somebody has to sail it,” Pete answered.
Hal replied, “Not somebody. This has been your mission all along, Pete. Take the wheel.”
Pete hesitated only briefly before stepping forward and grabbing the big polished round pins around the edge of the wheel. His hands were barely upon them when the deck lurched, tossing everyone to the planks. Pete held onto the wheel, but everyone else fell. Wanda ached from the impact, a sensation that she almost didn’t recognize.
Then Wanda felt a strange sensation, not of motion in any particular direction, but inward. As if she were falling into herself. She didn’t know where they were going, but it wasn’t any ocean that any of them had ever seen before.
The trip lasted days, or moments. Wanda couldn’t be sure which. But at last the sense of falling ended, and there was a loud, violent crunch of the keel grounding, followed by the entire ship listing thirty degrees to starboard. Again everyone was tossed, and this time the deck did not level out. Finally they were forced to make their way out of the cabin and onto the top deck while trying not to trip over each other or fall upon the tilted deck.
Wanda wasn’t sure what she expected, but it wasn’t this. When she stood the rail, there was no sign of any Elysian Fields, nor the Gates of Heaven, nor any restful afterlife.
Instead, the ship was surrounded by hot boiling seas. Instead of blue sky above, there was a big dome of rock lined with stalactites – and every single one of the stone spears had a screaming face within, really screaming, practically deafening the travelers.
And on the rocky beach at the bow of the ship stood a giant wooden red devil, laughing at the looks on their faces. His laughter grew, and then he shouted up at the stalactites. “Silence!”
Pete leaped down to the rocks below, but tripped and fell as his peg leg snapped. The skeletal bosun crawled forward, hand raised in supplication. “Release! This was supposed be Release.”
The devil looked down upon him and laughed once more. “Release? You were never promised that.” He looked up at Wanda and Kevin where they stared down in horror from the rail. “Welcome to a fate worse than death.”
The good folks at Fyrecon have declared this to be Fyretober: a month of creative prompts, encouraging writers, poets, and artists to share their explorations. Today’s prompt (which I won’t even pretend to have followed): Sentient wand.