Winner of the Crimson Skull Short Story Contest: Our Grave Yard by Nathaniel Tower

A day’s never been enough to celebrate Halloween. Not in my family. We spend the whole month getting ready, decorating our yard with the typical gruesome sights of gravestones and skeletons. But we do things better than the neighbors. Those skeletons are real, and the gravestones mark actual corpses buried by our own hands.

We’re a family of murderers, although we’ve never been fond of the word and all its negative associations. My wife, my daughter, myself, and even the damn dog. Every night during the month of October we go out and slaughter something.  We’re not the premeditated type people. We don’t plan murders. We just go out with a truck bed full of assorted mutilation tools, and we take what comes our way.

We each have our own style. My wife, Janice, is the rip out the insides type of gal. The dog likes to chew the bodies slowly until they’re dead. My daughter, Eunice, delivers the quick and fatal blow. And me, I like torture. The good old fashioned kind. I’d love to have iron maidens and gibbets and all that kind of stuff around the house, but Janice thinks it would be too suspicious. As if the smell of rotting flesh in the front yard isn’t.

“Why does your yard smell like rotting flesh?” a neighbor asked me one day in mid-October.

“Part of our Halloween decorations,” I said, a twisted smile splattered on my face.

I didn’t usually plan deaths, but I couldn’t help myself in this case.

“It’s too dangerous to kill a neighbor,” Janice said when I told her.

“It’ll be fine,” I told her. “He’s been wanting to borrow my chainsaw for a while anyway.  Everyone in the neighborhood knows that.  I’ll just set it up like a little chainsaw accident.”

“You’ll never pull it off. You always get carried away. Remember two years ago in Utica.”

Ah, yes, Utica. Two years ago. That was impossible to forget.

Our affinity for death made it essential to move nearly every year. Sometimes Janice wanted to move twice a year, but that was just because she hated routine. Once she’d done everything there was to do in a city, she wanted to get out. Besides, some cities just weren’t good for murders.

Anyway, two years ago in Utica, a grocery store clerk rubbed me the wrong way. Had he rubbed me the wrong way during any month but October, things would’ve been fine. Like some magical clockwork, the bloodlust only exists for those thirty-one days in October. It’s like we become possessed by some demon spirits that demand our spilling of blood.

This bastard grocery store clerk told me I could only buy one box of pseudoephedrine. It was some kind of municipal law there. I told him I’d bought ten boxes before, which made him think I was some sort of meth-head.

The guy called his manager, and the manager told me he was going to have to report it to the police. I told him I didn’t want any of the damn medicine anymore, that I just wanted to take my milk and cookies and go home. They let me off with a warning, and the clerk told me I could never buy drugs from their store again.

I waited in the parking lot, drinking my milk and eating my cookies, until the bastard’s shift ended. When the automatic doors parted and he finally stepped out, I sunk down in my seat, like I was on some sort of watch mission. I kept my eyes on him, and as soon as he started his car, I started mine and followed him out of the lot.

During the drive, Janice called. “When are you coming home?” she asked. “You left five hours ago. I thought you were just buying a couple things.”

“I was. But now I’ve got a little cleaning up to do,” I said before hanging up. I couldn’t afford to lose my target.

The phone rang twice more while I followed the bastard around, but I didn’t bother looking at it. I knew it was Janice, and I knew whatever she wanted could wait. She was perfectly capable of killing people without me.

About ten minutes later, the bastard parked his beat-up blue car in front of some crappy ranch house with a weedy lawn. The sight of his property made me want to kill him even more. I would never let my lawn look so dead and unkempt. Luckily, all the decomposing bodies we buried helped to fertilize and leave the lawn a luscious green year-round.

Wherever we lived, we left the tombstones up all year.

“Why do you always have tombstones up?” our neighbors would ask.

If it was a few months before Halloween, I told them I was excited about Halloween. If it was a few months after, I told them I hadn’t gotten around to taking down the decorations yet. If it was one of those months like March or April that are nowhere near Halloween, I would joke that I was a serial killer who liked having a mass grave in my front yard. They always laughed, although the laughter was always uncomfortable. But they never believed me. Funny thing is that you can tell people the honest truth and they won’t believe you unless it’s something they want to believe.

I parked right behind the bastard clerk, blocking a fire hydrant. I didn’t care. I knew I wasn’t going to be starting any fires. When the bastard got out of his car, I got out of mine. He was too dumb to notice I was following him up to the porch.

“Remember me,” I said when he reached for the doorknob.

“You’re the druggie from the store, right?” he said, no clue what was about to happen.

“I’m not a druggie,” I said. “I have a damn sinus infection.” I pressed a finger against my right nostril and blew hard, a string of green snot shooting onto the gray concrete beneath our feet. “See. Look at that nasty shit.”

“Sorry, man,” he said. “Just following the law. Now what the hell’re you doing here?”

“I’m here to disembowel you,” I told him.

And the bastard laughed. I waited for five hours in the parking lot, followed him to his house, and he didn’t bother believing my honest intentions.

“So a druggie and a killer? That’s rich.” He opened the door. He was even dumb enough to give me the chance to move the murder into the privacy of his own home.

The moment we stepped inside, I pulled out a potato peeler.

“What the hell is that?” he asked before I could jab it into his eye sockets.

“It’s a potato peeler,” I told him, raising it so he could have a better look.

“Are you planning to peel some potatoes?”

“If by potatoes, you mean your face,” I said.

Again the bastard laughed! What was it with people? I guess everyone’s just so tough and doesn’t believe they’re vulnerable enough to die.

I didn’t bother saying anything else or waiting for him to make any more idiotic comments. I plunged the peeler into his right eye and with a quick twist and tug pulled the eyeball right out, the veins and connective tissue dangling out of the socket for a moment before a flick of my wrist disconnected them. The eyeball plopped to the floor, bouncing ever so slightly off the carpet before sticking there for good.

The stupid bastard didn’t even scream. I had his second eyeball out before he even tried to make a noise.

When it finally occurred to him what was going on, it was far too late for him to cry for help. I’d already peeled off his lips, cut out his tongue, and scooped out his trachea. With his body convulsing on the floor, reaching desperately trying to figure out how to survive in its sudden blind and mute state, I went to his kitchen and pulled out a box of resealable storage bags.  The bastard didn’t even spring for the extra thick freezer ones. All his food was probably freezer burned, if he even bothered freezing anything.

I put each body part in a separate bag, and continued to peel different pieces of his body apart until I had filled all the bags. I stood and admired my handiwork. Twenty-seven sealed bags surrounded the bloody corpse. Only then did I realize my own dilemma. How the hell was I going to get him to our graveyard? Since I hadn’t brought our truck with me to the grocery store, I didn’t have my usual cleanup tools. I called Janice.

“You need to get over here now,” I told her.

“You’re crazy,” she said when she arrived at the house and saw the bloody mess. “Why must you torture these poor people?”

“The tortured ones make for better fertilizer,” I laughed.

We bagged up the corpse, cleaned up the mess, and got the hell out of there. When I got to my car, I was relieved to see no ticket for my parking violation.

On the way home, I got pulled over for going six miles an hour over the speed limit. Luckily, Janice had taken the body in the truck. I had kept one of the eyeballs in a baggie in my pocket, but the cop didn’t search me or anything. I was polite and didn’t give him any proper cause. Still, he gave me a ticket, and that pissed me off. So of course you know what happened next.

I ended up killing seven people that night. It was one of those times when one thing leads to another. We’ve all experienced it before. We moved from our Utica home the next day, the worms enjoying all the freshly planted corpses in the soil. Those must’ve been some very fat worms by the end of that feast.

Janice almost gave up the murdering life after that incident. But bloodlust runs too heavy in our veins, and we returned to usual tricks just a few days later. And now, here I was a couple years later, pissed off beyond belief.

“Please don’t kill the neighbor,” Janice told me.

“I’m going to kill the neighbor. I could tell you I’m not going to, but that would be a lie. And you know how I am about the truth.”

She knew indeed. I’d never told that woman a lie.

Later that day, the same stupid neighbor came over to the house. “Can I borrow your chainsaw?” he asked. “I have a couple big limbs that just fell the other day. I really need to get them cut up.”

“Absolutely,” I said, a grin spreading across my face. “If you’d like, I can help you cut up some limbs.” I eyed his arms and legs while he said it.

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.” The idiot thought I was just being neighborly. “Hey, I noticed a couple new gravestones in your yard. Do you put up new ones every day?”

“We try to,” I said. “It makes it seem spookier, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess so. It doesn’t seem all that spooky though. Those gravestones look kind of cheesy, if you ask me.”

It was one thing to be stupid, and another thing to be nosy, but insulting our Halloween decorations was a line that couldn’t be crossed.

“I’m going to chop every piece of your body off,” I told him as he followed me into the garage.

Even if he’d known how to respond, he wouldn’t have been able to do it quickly enough. I had the garage door closing and the chainsaw roaring before he could even move. Three of his fingers and one arm from elbow down were on the ground before the garage door pressed itself against the concrete floor. He may have screamed, but with the chainsaw raging in my hands, his open mouth spewed out nothing but horror.

I’ve always admired how clean a chainsaw cuts small branches. It does an even better job on human limbs. The blade sliced through the flesh and bone without kicking or halting, and the cuts were so quick that the limbs would often be on the ground before the blood would begin geysering out of the wound that clung to the body.

Janice came into the garage while I was still hacking up the body. Five blood fountains sprayed up out of the gashed corpse. It was a thing of beauty. Janice didn’t think so. I turned off the chainsaw as soon as I noticed her standing there. Actually, I made three more slices in the nosy neighbor’s body before turning it off, but that only took a few seconds.

“Why do you insist on making such a mess?”

“Look how beautiful it is.”

“It’s not beautiful. It’s just overkill.”

“Nice pun,” I said.

“It wasn’t meant as a pun. I mean you overdid it. Sometimes I wish you would just kill in a civilized fashion. Eunice does a nice job. Maybe we should all kill like Eunice.”

“Eunice’s way is boring.”

Of course Eunice heard and ran to her room crying.

“Now look what you did.”

“Eunice!” I shouted after her. “I didn’t mean that. I’m proud of you.” I followed her to her room, leaving the corpse drowning in blood on the garage floor for Janice to clean up. She almost always cleaned up after my mess. But I always thanked her.

Eunice was bawling into her pillow when I entered her room.

“Go away!” she shouted.

Typical kid. She didn’t really want me to go away. I knew the routine.

“I didn’t mean that,” I said. “I don’t really think your killing is boring. I just meant it isn’t right for me. Look, I think you do a great job.” I rubbed her back while I spoke. She sniffled a few times and then rolled over.

“You really think so?”

“Of course. I couldn’t ask for a better kid.”

“Really?”

“How many other kids out there do you think have killed hundreds of times and gotten away with it?”

“I dunno. There has to be a few.”

“Not a chance,” I said, and her crying face dried up and turned happy.

“Thanks, Daddy. I love you.” She wrapped her arms so tightly around my neck I almost thought she was trying to kill me.

“Wanna go kill something?” I asked.

“You bet I do!”

“Great. Let’s go help your mom clean up my mess first.”

By the time we got to the garage, everything was spotless. She’d even buried the body and put up a new tombstone already. We marked it with “The Neighbor Who Said Too Much”, but we didn’t put a death date or anything like that. We didn’t want to give it all away. It was one thing to tell someone the truth, but advertising it in permanent ink was another thing all together.

Eunice killed a homeless man that night. She snuck up behind him and hit him over the head with a cinder block. It only took one blow. For a little girl, she was surprisingly strong. A month of murders kept you in shape.

The back of the bum’s head blew through his face. It was a strange sight, seeing the back of his skull sticking out of his nostrils. I gave my daughter a high-five and we bagged up the body. Another new tombstone went up in the yard.

We all went to bed happy that night, our yard overrun with corpses.

“We’re almost out of room,” Janice told me as I slipped into bed.

“But we still have ten more days,” I insisted. I knew where she was going with this.

“What do you propose we do?”

“We could use the backyard.”

“And what’s the point of that?”

“Do we do this for display, or do we do it for ourselves?”

“Honestly, I don’t remember why we do it anymore.”

And I didn’t either. We had been doing it since before Eunice was born. Since before we had gotten the dog. This was actually the third dog we’d had who’d been a part of it. But this one was the best. We called him Ripper, even though it was obvious. I guess we were never ones for subtlety.

“Would you ever consider giving it up?” she asked as I wrapped my arm around her.

“I don’t see why I would. Then again, I can’t imagine I’ll be yielding chainsaws and popping out eyeballs when I’m ninety years old.”

“Do you really think you’ll live to be that old?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I think we’re immortal. I mean, look at all we’ve done. Look at all we’ve gotten away with. And we’ve never even gotten a scratch.”

“Never thought of it that way.” She slid her leg between mine. I knew where this was going. Talking about our murders in the bed always got her revved up.

The next day, the neighbor’s wife came knocking on the door.

“Have you seen Steve?” she asked.

“Last time I saw him, he was in my yard,” I said, barely containing my laughter. “Did you check to see if he’s still there?”

Her worried face helped keep mine straight.

“I haven’t seen him since yesterday. He told me he was coming here to get your chainsaw. Did you let him borrow it?”

“Yeah, I did,” I told her. Out of the kindness of my heart, I had even cut the fallen limbs and bundled them the previous night.

“Did he give it back?”

“Yeah, he did. He never really used it though. We used it together,” I told her. Full disclosure was always my policy. Well, not necessarily full. But give enough of the truth so that no one could ever say you were lying.

“Are you sure you haven’t seen him since then?”

“I promise.”

She looked at me with penetrating eyes, eyes that could read into my soul.

“You’re hiding something,” she said.

“No I’m not,” I replied.

“I think Steve’s right about you. I think you really are a crazy serial killer.”

“Yup, that’s me,” I confessed with a smile. As usual, I expected her not to believe me.

“This isn’t a joking matter. My husband is missing.”

“He’ll turn up,” I said. “They always do.”

She turned and stepped off the porch.

“Let me know if you want anything else,” I said before she was out of earshot.

Later that night, Eunice and my wife were missing, but the truck was still in the driveway.

“Where are the girls?” I asked Ripper. He snarled twice and laid down, tired from his slaughter. He’d managed to kill four rabbits and two raccoons. Pulled out and tied their throats together, then strangled the lot of them. It was more than impressive.

When they still hadn’t appeared by nine, I knew something was wrong. They hadn’t told me where they were going, and they knew I hadn’t committed my murder for the day. While I killed without them all the time, they never did it without me.

I called Janice, but her phone must’ve been off because it went straight to voicemail. When I called Eunice, I could hear her phone ringing upstairs. She would never leave the house without the phone. Something was wrong.

I scanned the whole house, Ripper leading the way on his leash. He loved acting like a bloodhound. There was no sight of Eunice or Janice anywhere.

“Where could they be, boy?” I asked.

I flipped on the outside lights and stepped on the porch. Something looked different about the yard. It looked fuller than it had earlier that day.

I walked through the graveyard, reminiscing about each murder we’d committed. A few made me smile, none more than the ugly bouncer who’d hit on Janice. Using a makeshift guillotine, I hacked up his body in two inch increments, starting with his toes and working all the way to his head. The man passed out somewhere around the knees and ceased living completely before I got to his waist. But it was too much fun to stop there. And piling all those pieces into the earth was just a blast. I told Janice we should sew him back together before planting him, otherwise he might rise from the ground as thousands of ignorant bouncers.

When I got to the neighbor’s gravestone, I noticed the soil had been disturbed. We always left everything smooth and perfect, a fresh layer of sod covering up all signs of fresh plots. But this one was a mess. I fell to my knees and scooped up the dirt like a dog while Ripper watched in silence. After a foot of nothing, I knew the body had either risen or been removed. I knew Janice wouldn’t bother digging the hole that deep. She never did. She was a lightweight with the shovel.

Confused and frustrated, I looked at the rest of the line of tombstones. There should’ve only been four beside the neighbor, but there were six. Had Janice and Eunice already buried their dead for the day? Were they thinking of leaving me?

I crawled over to the extraneous tombstones. One said “Killer’s Wife” and the other said “Killer’s Daughter”. I began digging and digging, begging Ripper to help. Two feet, three feet, four feet before I finally found some human remains. A bow that belonged to my daughter. My wife’s wedding ring. My daughter’s hair. My wife’s nose. I kept digging until I’d uncovered every bit of them. Sobbing, I tried to piece them back together, right there on the front lawn where anyone could see me.

“Missing something?” a voice behind me asked.

I turned around, still on my knees, to see Steve’s wife, something in her hand, a smile on her face.

“As soon as I started I figured out why you do it,” she said. “The thrill is almost overwhelming, isn’t it?” She tossed up something. It was the size of a golf ball. Maybe bigger. Maybe smaller. Even with all the light beaming on our graveyard, it was still pretty dark.

“What the hell’s in your hand?” I asked, knowing that my wife and daughter were fully there, and fully apart.

“It’s something your wife wanted to tell you about on a special occasion.”

I didn’t move. Steve’s wife tossed the object to me. It bounced off my hands and slid to the ground, somehow finding its way to Janice’s stomach.

“You bitch,” I managed to say.

“When I get even, I get even,” she said. She was about to turn away when she said, “You better watch that dog, too.”

She was almost to the house when I yelled for her to come back.

“What do you want?”

“I know this may be a bit forward, but can I kill you now?”

“I don’t think you have the energy,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll help you clean this mess up. And then maybe we can go kill something together. It’s a lonely life out there for a serial killer.”

I didn’t say a word, but I shook my head to let her know I was on board. She was right. I didn’t want that lonely life.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said. “I know a place where we can buy a house with a huge yard.”

And we did. We left everything behind and started over, except we took Steve, Janice, and Eunice with us. We needed something to get the yard started.

By Nathaniel Tower

Nathaniel Tower is the founder and editor of Bartleby Snopes. His story “The Oaten Hands” was named one of 190 Notable Stories from 2009 by story South’s Million Writers Award. He has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Below is a list of his recent publications. Due to the nature of online journals, some of the links below may no longer be active. His first novel A Reason To Kill was released in 2011, and his debut novella Hallways and Handguns is out now.

http://www.bartlebysnopes.com

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