Midnight of 1989
At first, there was darkness. Frigid, seeping darkness, suffocating him from all sides. It pressed down across him, wet and heavy, flattening his interred form. He grimaced, stretching within his confines like a caged animal and delicately pushed his cold hands outward from his torso in a desperate attempt to stretch his limbs. An aching settled within him soon thereafter, his cold limbs resistant to the sudden movements. He swallowed roughly, his tongue and teeth bulky and awkward in his arid mouth. Running his tongue across his teeth, he could feel the dry flesh catching and sticking lightly to the insides of his cheeks. He opened his mouth in a wide yawn, baring his teeth like a cat. The lingering taste of mint and rubbing alcohol clung desperately to each shaky, stale breath he took.
Uncurling his fists, his palm met with fabric almost immediately, silken and cool to the touch. He tried to blink, tried to peel his eyelids back but was met with the same persistent darkness that had settled around his rigid form. He sighed—more of an indignant huff, really—and began pressing his flat palms on the lid above him, pushing slowly. Fingers sank into the silk lining, giving way to cushioning until finally, he could feel something dense resist him—wood. The man pressed onward, the sounds of his breathing matched by the crackling and splintering pine that began to fall back into his face as he pushed.
Flecks of dirt slipped through his fingers, dusting his face. He flinched, slamming his eyes shut and spitting out what debris had fallen into his mouth. There wasn’t much he could do about the dirt, but it irritated him nonetheless.
“Christ,” the man muttered to himself. Suspicions confirmed, he rolled onto his belly and pulled his legs up beneath him, positioning himself into a semi-prone kneel. Using his new leverage, he slowly unfolded his body, pushing with his arms and legs, using the flat of his back to push up against the lid.
After some negotiation, the lid buckled with a thunderous crack, and dirt quickly rushed into the space around the man. He cursed loudly, quickly stretching out and doing his damndest to climb and claw his way out of his confines. The dirt settled around him, quick to hug the curves of his body and tighten around him with every movement he made.
The young man instantly stilled. The sound of the dirt settling around him waned, petering off until he could hear that it had ceased and he was back where he began, albeit now upright. Slowly, he moved right foot and waggled his ankle, creating a pocket of air within the dirt. At the same time, with his left arm, he began to shovel dirt down towards his feet, to offset the space he had created. As the soil began to slide and shift around him, he pushed off with his left foot, pulling his right out of the air pocket and sliding his body upwards.
It took him more than an hour to finally claw his way to the surface. His hands hit fresh air first, cool and wet. For a moment he stayed there, rolling the dirt between his freed fingers and feeling the fresh dew on the morning grass in his palms. He reveled in the texture of the plants above him, grateful to feel each silky blade of grass between his fingertips, while the rubbery, living roots laid across his tear-stained cheeks.
Incensed by the freedom that was mere feet above him, he grasped desperately at the ground above and clawed his way forward. Inch by inch, the man pulled himself through layers of sunken soil and grass until he could pull himself free and up, as one might exit a pool from the side. Fresh air and early morning rain fell across his face, hard, and he opened his mouth, grateful for the crisp droplets as they battered his tongue.
The man took pause, kneeling in the dark as the midnight storm howled. He let the rain soak him, unbothered by the cold water and searing winds that whipped around him. He was covered in soil—now mostly mud and sweat—but the rain was slowly taking care of what was caked to his skin and clothing. The night’s final beams of moonlight filtered through the trees, dusting the ground with a jittery, silver light.
He looked down at his body for the first time, in the waxing light. A cheap suit clung to his wiry form, mud-soaked and disgusting. Shedding his jacket and collared shirt in favor of the tank top and suspenders beneath, he shuddered in the moonlight, running his fingers through his soaked hair and shaking the last of the dirt and grass free. At best, he looked like he’d lost a wrestling match to a bear in the middle of a mud pit. He frisked himself, patting down his pockets until he found what he was silently praying for: a damp, crumpled but intact pack of cigarettes. He mouthed a silent prayer of gratitude to whomever had left them in his pocket. They were cheap, not the brand he typically preferred, but he’d gladly take what he could get.
He pulled one out of the fresh pack and fished a match out of the damp box that was left with his smokes, the motion all too familiar to him. The smell of sulfur hung heavy in the humid night air, clinging to the raindrops and smothering him. The light of the match illuminated his shaking palms as he lifted the match to the cigarette hanging loosely from his cold lips. He took several long, desperate drags, leaning his head back and relishing in the feeling of a well-deserved nicotine buzz. Eventually, he opened his eyes and took in his surroundings.
He sat, cross-legged and soaked to the bone, on the lip of a sunken grave. The freezing rain had flooded the cemetery, loosening the dirt and pushing his casket closer to the surface. The top end peeked out from the grave’s mouth, lid cracked and tossed aside. Something silver gleamed in the moonlight, catching the young man’s sharp eye. He bent down, brushing dirt off of the coffin’s lid. His hands quickly met cold metal beneath the wet dirt, and with a tight grip, he pulled back hard.
Heavy, iron chain links clattered across the coffin’s cracked lid, scattering the dirt and splinters back into the open grave. He jerked back, flinging the chain from his hand and back into the ground. He shuddered and turned away from the chained and buried box, ungrateful for the knowledge that he had been buried in chains.
Like an animal, he swallowed, hard. Chained like a dog.
Thick grass and ivy had grown across the plot, obscuring both the caved-in ground and the leaning stone marker in front of him. He rose, careful to avoid the muddy pit he had created, and slowly approached the stone. He grasped the vines, crisp leaves crunching beneath his fingers as he pulled the roots off of the white marble to which they clung. Gently brushing away the lingering dirt and grime, he quickly found what he was searching for beneath the fronds of ivy:
ANDREW COLLIN CROWE
BELOVED SON & FRIEND
JANUARY 9, 1879 — FEBRUARY 5, 1902
“Son of a bitch,” He said, taking a final drag from his cigarette before flicking it into the wet grave behind him. “Son of a bitch,” he repeated, quieter this time. The young man pinched the crooked bridge of his nose with two gritty fingers, perturbed by the reality of what had unfolded just a half hour before. He couldn’t bring himself to question the why of it just yet—merely shaken to the core at the fact that it had happened at all. He’d heard stories, of course—he’d been a boy like any other once, and his father had always taken a great joy in spinning threads of howling wraiths, thirsty creatures of the night. Tales of unholy things, beasts of bone and claw, with voracious appetites for little boys that wandered too far from their homesteads. He couldn’t bring himself to smile at the memory, despite his fondness of it.
It was then that the boy realized several things: firstly, that the sun was coming up across the horizon and soon it would be daylight. Standing over an openly disturbed grave, covered in mud and grit; even at his best, he wasn’t confident he could talk his way out of this. Some part of him was filled with urgency; he knew he needed to leave, and quickly. His second realization came shortly after, a result of the first: he had no idea where he was. Or when, he thought bitterly. He was, in that moment, only certain of one fact:
His name was Andrew Collin Crowe, and he had most certainly been dead for quite some time. He swallowed that revelation, the knot in his throat thickening. He was parched, the rain having done nothing to quell a growing, primal need that now settled itself in his very bones. Yes, he was Andrew Collin Crowe—and Andrew Collin Crowe was thirsty.
Harper Wells is a figment of your imagination. Nothing is real, words are imaginary