Weeds and Dead Flowers by Eric J. Krause
Grave Shift, Robert Donavan
That first night Meredith didn’t believe her eyes. Not after three beers and who knows how many shots. Little girls weren’t really running around the cemetery. Or if they were — there was often truth behind the drunken haze — parents stood just out of sight.
The next night, with a clear head, she again saw the girls in frothy dresses rushing through the pitch-black graveyard. Their long hair, dark against white dresses, was held neatly back by bands. No adults were around, but maybe they were visiting the gravestone of a dear old grandmother or a beloved great aunt. They could have let the girls loose to play. That was safe enough. Any crooks in the cemetery weren’t interested in the living.
The third night, when Meredith saw the same girls, she worried. It wasn’t a playground, and she couldn’t imagine any parent thinking it was. She stepped closer and strained to see anyone besides the three girls frolicking about the tombstones. She saw no one.
Meredith sighed and scaled the short stone wall that marked the boundary between the living and the dead. The air grew colder, though she wasn’t sure if it was an atmospheric effect or silly superstition on her part. She pushed it out of her mind and continued on toward the young girls, the heels of her boots sinking into the soft soil. She scanned for any signs of parents or guardians. The surrounding headstones packed around her made her feel like she was walking down a narrow stone corridor.
The girls raced around, picking weeds and dead flowers. They had a heavy, dark aura hanging over them, nothing like the light, airy feeling she expected to surround such sweet-looking children. The spindly trees above cast shadows around the girls that took all pretense of innocence away. They might have been three evil imps sent to follow their master’s bidding.
“Hi,” Meredith said. “What are you doing out here so late?”
The two younger girls kept bustling about while the oldest looked up. She didn’t smile, but held an annoyed look that said the intrusion better be important. “We’re picking beautiful flowers for Mother. She can’t rest until we have enough.”
Wait, was she saying their mother was buried here? “Is your dad around?”
“He’s the reason Mother can’t rest.” The oldest girl gave no further explanation.
Meredith’s mind leapt to the worst conclusion. Had their father murdered their mother? Were these girls on their own? Why hadn’t relatives or child services or the courts or whoever stepped in?
“Where is your mother?” she asked. Maybe she could get their last name and find out what was going on. She wasn’t one to get involved, but that was moot at this point.
The oldest pointed deeper into the cemetery. It took a few seconds for Meredith’s eyes to adjust. Dark shadows swirled. A chilly wind blew fallen leaves across the landscape. She did see someone over where the girl indicated. Maybe the mom wasn’t dead. Or if she was, a guardian stood nearby. Meredith considered leaving, but something nagged at her to stay and see who it was.
The figure swayed slightly, but didn’t pay Meredith any mind as she neared. The girls continued picking the scraggly weeds and dead flowers. Meredith pushed forward, determined to get to the bottom of this. Though she couldn’t feel the breeze against her skin, the air held pockets of cold that chilled her to the bone.
She wasn’t able to make out many features, but she saw enough to determine the figure was a middle-aged female. As she approached the shadowy figure, it disappeared. It hadn’t been a trick of the shadows or moonlight. The woman hadn’t ducked away. No, she’d been standing there one instant, gone the next.
Once Meredith reached the grave, she found it nothing but a deep, empty hole. Moonlight spilled into it. The sides had rough edges, indicative of shovels digging, not the industrial apparatus this place usually used. What was worse, the obvious shovel marks were tiny, as if done by small spades. She glanced at the tombstone to get the name and gasped. It read only “Mommy,” and looked as if a little finger had written it when the cement had still been wet.
“You scared Mommy away.”
Meredith screamed and spun around. The three girls stood looking at her, each with weeds and dead flowers falling out between their fingers. She opened her mouth to apologize for screaming, but the words died in her throat. Their eyes glowed red, and all three wore scowls of evil intent. Their precious little faces now stared back at her as if demons resided inside their skulls. And for all she knew, they did.
“You scared Mommy away, so you’ll be our new Mommy.” It was the voice of the oldest, but it came from all three mouths.
Time to go, Meredith. But her legs wouldn’t obey. An unseen force pushed her back, and she toppled into the open grave. Her head smacked the lip of dirt, and she tumbled in and landed in an awkward heap. Cracks of breaking bones lined her vision with a ring of blackness. Every bit of her hurt, so she couldn’t pinpoint which bones had snapped. She groaned, trying to summon the energy to move. Her legs lay at strange angles, and the arm she landed on shrieked with pain.
The girls stared down at her, not uttering a sound. She wanted to yell at them, tell them to get help, but it would do no good. Her only hope was that she’d wake up in her bed to find this was all a vivid nightmare. On that count she was out of luck.
The girls, smiles finally etched on their faces, tossed handfuls of weeds and dead flowers in on her. They quickly piled up and turned to hard-packed dirt. In mere minutes, even if her limbs had been capable of climbing out, the weight of the dirt made movement impossible. Dreams of escape died.
Eric J. Krause pens stories from Orange County, California, just minutes away from Disneyland. He has over two dozen short stories published in The Absent Willow Review, Trail of Indiscretion, Allegory, and Nocturnal Ooze, just to name a few. You can visit his blog on writing at Eric J. Krause’s Writing Spot.