We're delighted to support Specul8 Publishing's 13 Days of Halloween, bringing you a series of fiction, true stories and interviews from Specul8's team of authors specialising in the fantastic, the gothic, and the macabre. For more horror-themed goodnesss, visit Specul8 on Facebook for 13 days of spooktacular giveaways, competitions, author interviews and more.
Today, some ghostly fiction from the Specul8 archives:
By Greg Chapman
The gravestones were black obelisks against the velvet night, monuments to memories long dead. To Brian, they were opportunities; hiding places for secrets.
Brian smiled to himself as he walked the aisles of the cemetery, dragging his secret behind him. He imagined no one had thought of this before: burying a corpse in an old grave. In his mind it was genius; cemeteries were never visited at night, and they were shrouded in a blanket of darkness. He scanned the street beyond the chain link fence and noticed the lurid yellow glow of the street lights seemed so far away, so weak; perfect for those with bloody business on their mind. No one else would dream of setting foot here at night, he thought. Most people were terrified of ghosts and other superstitious crap, but Brian wasn’t most people. He wasn’t afraid of ghosts, only of getting caught.
He turned left, past a tall, black angelic statue, and stared through the night at the great spreading shadow tree in the distance. Even he couldn’t fail to be in awe of the tree’s dominance over the graveyard. How could something so big find enough nourishment to grow in such a dead place? Brian chuckled to himself once more when he realised that six feet under in every direction was more than a century of fertiliser, tens of thousands of bones. The roots of the shadow tree would always have their fill.
He dragged the large sack towards the tree and blinked beads of sweat from his eyes. It was unseasonably hot for October, but then Rockhampton was always bloody hot and the heat always got the better of him. He looked over his shoulder at the sack on the ground. The heat inside him had caused that too, but soon he would put the secret somewhere dark and cold where it would never be found.
Brian reached the protection of the tree and crouched down to study the gravestones around him, looking for the one that would serve his purpose. Not even carefully hewn stone could halt the tree’s progress, the serpent-like roots pushing the grave markers aside. Just beyond the tree, Brian sighted a solitary headstone, low to the ground. He glimpsed the edges of faded lettering on its surface, a name half-devoured by mould and time. He didn’t care who lay inside it, what he cared about was whether they would accept a companion.
The sack was rough on Brian’s hands as he unveiled its contents. He reached in and retrieved a small fold-up shovel and placed it on the ground. His eyes were drawn back to her, her stillness calming him. A lump formed in his throat, but it came from anger; if only she hadn’t constantly chided him and belittled him, then maybe she might not be here, being prepared for a midnight funeral.
“Stupid bitch,” Brian said to himself.
A rare southerly breeze flowed across the cemetery, shivering the leaves of the shadow tree. The branches moved, but the cemetery and its statues and monuments stayed still. Sentinels that watched in anticipation of what he was about to do. He reached for the shovel and held it in his palm and a pang of recognition shivered down his spine. Ignoring it, he shuffled back to the sack to pull his dead wife from within, only to find the sack empty.
“You have to stop doing this Brian,” a voice said.
Brian got to his feet and turned a half circle beneath the shadow tree. The wind picked up through the leaves, casting a low whistle through the air. His eyes darted across the cemetery, but there was nothing but silhouettes and sleeping streets to behold. Brian wiped his brow with the back of his hand, the humid air sapping his strength. He turned around to stare at the empty sack once more.
“Where did she go?” he said.
“Just stop it Brian,” the voice said again.
He whirled back around, the handle of the shovel tight in his grip. “Who said that?” The landscape was grey on black. The shadow tree swayed softly.
“Brian, it’s me.”
Brian flinched as something grabbed his ankle. His head whipped back and down to the ground and he saw his wife crawling out of the sack. Brian wanted to scream as his dead wife got to her feet before him.
“Every year we do this Brian,” she said. “Every year, you kill me and bring me down here to bury me. It has to stop.”
Brian’s tongue was dry and slack in his open mouth. He dropped the shovel and stood paralysed as his wife’s corpse chastised him anew.
“You’re so stupid that you can’t remember,” she told him, her brow furrowed with disappointment.
But Brian did remember; he remembered his wife telling him how stupid he was, he remembered going out to the shed to grab the hammer, and coming back to hit her over the head with it. He remembered putting her lifeless body into the hessian sack and driving to the cemetery…
“No, Brian, that’s not what happened,” his wife said, shaking her head.
Brian ran. He ran away from the tree, weaving between the gravestones in the direction of the gate. He didn’t know what was happening, but he had to get away, get back home and think. He must have been going mad. He’d killed his wife and fled. Her body must still be at home in the kitchen, lying in a pool of blood. All he had to do was get back to his car and…
His car wasn’t there. Upper Dawson Road, was empty. The street lights had all gone out, plunging everything into shades of purple and grey. St Peter’s church seemed to tower over Brian, its windows and doors resembling the visage of death. Brian tried to pull open the gates, but his hands passed through like they were made of water. He screamed as time shifted and found himself back beneath the shadow tree, his wife floating within its leaves.
“You had it half right,” she said. “You did hit me with the hammer and bury me here.” She pointed at the small tombstone Brian had originally spotted. “You dumped me on top of poor old Gladys.”
Brian gaped at his wife’s ghost, stark white against the shadow tree. “What’s happening?” he said.
His wife smirked. “Your little plan would have worked if you hadn’t given in to your cowardice, like always.”
There was a white flash behind Brian’s eyes and he saw himself at home, sitting at the dinner table, staring at the linoleum floor of the kitchen, at the spot where his wife’s blood had spilled. With her gone, his only companion was guilt. He thought he’d been so smart at hiding his secret from the world, but he could never hide it from himself.
The last thing he remembered doing was going to the shed for some rope…
The white flash faded and Brian was back in the cemetery, his wife at his side. She leaned over and kissed his cheek.
“Happy anniversary, sweetheart,” she said.
Greg Chapamn is Stoker Award-nominated and Australian Shadows Award-nominated author of Hollow House and of five novellas: Torment (2011 and 2016), The Noctuary (2011), Vaudeville (2012), The Last Night of October (2013 and 2016) and The Eschatologist (2016). His debut fiction collection, Vaudeville and Other Nightmares, was published in 2014. His second novel, The Noctuary: Pandemonium, the sequel to his acclaimed 2011 novella, was published by Bloodshot Books in late 2017.