Chapter 11

After pulling away from the church and getting back on the main road Steve pointed up in the sky.  “Them helicopters are the one’s that I was telling you about over the phone.”  He said indicating a group of three that were circling over a spot near a hillside where their cemetery sat.  “I’m surprised they’re still there.”

Dustin had been busy making sure that the birds were secure in the backseat but upon hearing his partner mention the helicopters he looked up.  Seeing their number he gave a low sigh. 

“So, what’s going on Steve?”  Dustin asked.  The annoyance that he felt at still being left in the dark was perceptible in his voice.  “Why do we have helicopters circling over our graveyard?”

“Look at the hill.”  Steve said.  He directed the truck onto the small two lane residential street that led up to their land.

As they rounded the corner Dustin could see what he was talking about.  The top of the knoll facing the opposite direction from their property line was caved inward quite noticabley.  Several of the trees which dotted its peak had toppled toward the center of the mound.  Many of them were leaning against one another as if they’d been folded over in a garments seam.  Others had fallen completely.  A large wall of rock which had never been there before now sat bare and exposed.

Snaking their way deeper throughout the subdivision Dustin could see that the earthquake had caused a massive landslide.  The dirt had come down from the surface of the hill and crashed like a wave into a row of houses that bordered the other side of the cemetery.  Mud had partially buried many of them.  Some had been knocked entirely off their foundations.  As they passed through the neighborhood he could see that several of the residence were now wandering bleary eyed out in the street.  Some stood looking shocked and tired in the lawns out in front of their homes.  Their clothes were caked and smeared with soil and clay.

“Was anyone hurt?”  Dustin asked as they made the final turn towards the gates.

“Not that I know of.”  Steve said.  His reply made it sound as if the thought had just occurred to him.  “I doubt that we’d be liable even if they did.”

Dustin could see a small crowd gathered at the entrance to the cemetery up ahead.  There were cars parked along the curb and people waiting patiently to get in.  None of them seemed to be from the housing district that they’d just driven through.  These people’s clothes were clean and their expressions were more somber than stunned.

“I don’t understand.”  Dustin said.

Steve pulled up through the small congregation and waited for their head groundskeeper to open the iron gates.  “The houses are not our problem.”  He muttered.  “Most of the runoff that hit them didn’t even come from our land.  My daddy graded the hillside for that when he expanded over there.  He was always looking out for things like that.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem?”  Dustin asked. 

Before them, the squat figure of Juan came creeping out from behind one of the two stone pillars which framed the cemeteries entrance.  He looked worried and spooked.  Gently motioning for the onlookers to move away, he swung the gates open just enough to allow room for Steve’s truck to fit through.

“Well.”  Steve said as he steered past.  “I’ll show you.” 

Once they’d gotten inside Steve motioned towards the face of that same hill where it spilt down into their cemetery. “That’s our problem.”

Dustin turned looking out of the passenger side window and felt his heart drop in his chest.  “Oh my God.”  He said barely above a whisper.

“Yep.”  Steve said easing his truck to a stop.  “That’s what I couldn’t describe to you.”

The hill had always been a popular spot in the cemetery at which people wanted to be buried.  The lawn was well kept.  The view from where it peaked overlooked the older more scenic areas of Redwood.  Normally, it was dotted with trees and large ornate headstones. 

It had been so popular in fact that they’d recently run out of burial plots for which to sell along its surface.  Steve and Dustin were considering a plan to buy all the way down the knoll up to the backs of the houses on the other side but they hadn’t yet taken action on their proposal.  Dustin had been a little relieved that they hadn’t after he’d seen the mudslide.  What he was looking at here though was much, much worse.   

As helicopters spun lazily above its surface the hill appeared like a scene in a nightmare.  Its slope, starting from where it crested at the center and spreading down to just before the road that Steve had parked his truck on was marred by a huge gash at least twenty feet wide.  The mound had literally been split in two.  An unnatural looking crack bent back and forth across the lawn exposing open graves and spilt coffins.  Bodies still clothed in suits and formal dresses littered the shallower edges of the wound.  They appeared to be frozen, clawing and tangled in an effort to escape the darkness at its center.

Dustin motioned upwards.  “Are they still filming this?”  He asked indicating the news copters.

Steve shrugged.  “I don’t know man.  Probably.”

“Oh Jesus!”  Dustin whimpered.  It was the second time that morning that he’d said those exact same words with the exact same inflection.  “This looks really bad.”

“No kidding it does!”  Steve blurted.  “Why do you think them crowds are out front? Why do you think I wanted you here so bad?  I can’t go out there and tell them that everything’s going to be alright when their dead are just sitting out there ready to fall down into the center of the earth!  I’m no good at stuff like that!”

Dustin put his head in his hands rubbing at his temples in frustration.  “Jesus!”  He repeated.  “What the hell would cause something like that?”

“Earthquake.”  Steve answered simply.

“I know a damned earthquake caused it!”  Dustin spat turning on him angrily.  “I meant why would a big crack appear right there in the middle of our cemetery?  I’ve never seen anything like that before!  It looks like something that you’d see in a God damned cartoon!”

As he ranted Dustin gesticulated out the window towards the enormous crack.  It did in fact look extremely cartoonish.  The edges were sharp and jagged.  The center of it was so deep that the bottom could not be seen. 

“I don’t know why it’s there.”  Steve shrugged.  “I guess that’s where the earthquake got started.”

“The epicenter?”  Dustin said turning to look at it again.  “We’ve got the God damned epicenter of the earthquake right in the middle of our graveyard.”

“Maybe.”  Steve replied. 

Dustin clawed open the door stumbling out of the truck walking in the direction of the crack.  He could hear birds singing in the bent and twisted trees and the air was beginning to warm up from the usual early morning chill.  Stepping over the curb and into the grass he approached the place where the fissure had ended.  It had stopped directly in front of a headstone which had been carved to resemble the shape of a dolphin.

“Don’t fall in!”  Steve called from the truck.

Dustin shook him off.  Looking down at where the crevice began he followed the sliver upwards towards its widest point.  There he found himself staring into an impossibly deep chasm. 

His phone rang.

Taking the cell from his pocket Dustin looked at the face.  Seeing once again that it was from an UNKNOWN number he answered uneasily.  “Hello?”  He said.

“Sylvia!”   The old man’s voice called out to him.  It was the same one as before.  The same one that he’d had the unsettling conversation with while standing in his apartment.  He now sounded overjoyed at getting an answer.  “It’s so good to hear your voice!”

“I’m not Sylvia sir.”  Dustin replied wearily.  “Please tell me where you are so that I can help you.”

“Oh.”  The old man replied.  “Sylvia must still be at the gym right?”

Dustin shook his head.  “I don’t know sir.”

“She goes to this expensive gym every single morning.”  The old man continued.  “It cost a fortune but she says that she loves it and she wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”

“Are you still trapped sir?”  Dustin asked.

“Yes.”  The old man replied sounding both disappointed and ashamed.  “I guess I’ll wait around here a little longer.  I wish I had a mirror though so I could see myself.  Tell Sylvia I’ll try to clean up for her but there’s only so much a man in my condition can do.”

Dustin sighed.  “Where are you?”  He repeated.

“I’m trapped under this beautiful oak beam from our ceiling.”  The man answered.  “Haven’t I already mentioned that to you once this morning?”

“Yes.”  Dustin said.  “But where do you live?”

“We live in this wonderful house with windows that overlook the Bay.”  The old man answered.  He sounded proud to be mentioning it again.  “We should have you over for diner sometime!”

“Yes, thank you.”  Dustin said.  “How would I get there?”  He was groping for any kind of reply that would give him an address to where he could send help.

“I’ll have Sylvia send you an invitation when she gets in.”  The old man chimed back happily.  “She’ll be delighted!”

The line went dead.

Dustin stood there holding his phone and looking down into the hole before him.  A coffin jutted from the wall of the crack nearest to him.  The force of the quake had caused its lid to pop open, the body inside lay facing him. 

Looking down he could see the visage of a very old woman.  She seemed to be sleeping from within her casket as both her and it hung precariously over the fracture.  The embalming fluid had kept her from decomposing.  Her skin still seemed to radiate with color from the makeup that had been applied to her countenance at the time of her funeral.  It couldn’t have been that long ago that she had died but somehow Dustin didn’t remember her at all.       

The End

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