***DISCLAIMER: EXTREMELY VIOLENT CONTENT AND DISTURBING IMAGERY***
Clea awoke with a start. She was young, only a teenager really. That was what made her poverty so tragic. She was dressed in dirty clothes, which had been very fashionable once, but which had been worn away with time. Her clothes and her body were almost analogous. Clea had once been beautiful and fresh, but after so many years of harshness, her beauty had been sapped.
She looked down at her chest. A man in a blue jacket had plunged a long, sharp knife right between her breasts. Then he had pulled it out. She had lost so much blood that soon she lost consciousness, too. But though the man had left her as dead she was not. Suddenly, though, she wished she was.
Breathing was next to impossible for her. A great mass of something was crushing her, filling the air all around her. She pushed at it and realized with a sickening thud that the mass was all bodies. She was surrounded by rigor mortis flesh.
She screamed out, but her voice was muffled, once again by the terrible corpses. Her heart was racing and fear coursed through her body. She was chilled to the bone with a terrible thought. What if she had been left here, thought to be dead, in a pile of bodies which would never be moved? She would soon asphyxiate, her lungs crushed by all that death.
"I'm alive!" she screamed, then she moaned in a low voice, "I'm still alive. Let me out."
Suddenly her fears were assuaged. She could hear movement above her. It sounded strangely like metal rattling. Well, the noises didn't bother her. She was more excited that the bodies were now beginning to move. She could feel gradually less and less weight on top of her. Soon, she knew, she would be free.
After a long, tense period of waiting, she could see light. She wanted to scream out for help, but then she realized it might be dangerous. During the time when she had stopped panicking and began thinking, she realized it might be the man who had stabbed her moving the bodies. If it was him, and she yelled out, he might really kill her this time. The decision she made was to play dead until she had been dug out of the pile and then break away.
For some reason, the movement and noise stopped. She looked out through the small hole that the light streamed in from. There was a crazed looking man with a beard who was giving orders. He was apparently in charge. Alongside of him were several men and women in blue jackets like the one of her assailant. Then she saw him. It was unmistakably the man who had attacked her. His face had been etched in her memory.
Her pulse and breathing quickened. She'd been right. These people meant to do her harm if she revealed herself. If she played possum she had just the tiniest sliver of a chance to escape with her life. She began bargaining with God, sending unspoken prayers towards Heaven, and wishing she had led a more Christian life.
"We can't dig a grave for every single one of them," the bearded leader was saying, "We can't even really dig a mass grave for all of them. There's just no room. Where are we going to bury them? Veteran's Stadium?"
"We can't do this, though!" another one was protesting with the leader, "It's sick."
"No sicker than what any of you have done tonight," the leader admonished, "You've all made your beds. Now sleep in them. Come on, get back to work! Dawn's coming soon."
Clea wondered what they were arguing about. She knew that they were talking about disposing of all the bodies, but if the leader had shot down the plan of burying them...what were they going to do with them? What were they going to do with her?
Through her little peephole she could see what they were doing if she strained. They were chaining the bodies together. Every cold, dead wrist was fettered to another cold, dead wrist. She felt a sudden chill in her heart. Escape wouldn't be possible even if she played possum and waited for them to leave. She'd be bound by all the bodies and...and what?
Suddenly it occurred to her it made no sense for them to chain the bodies together. The thought had apparently occurred to another one of the blue-jacketed people. He was tall and strong looking. He took the one who Clea had identified as the leader aside and asked him a question. Since "aside" was closer to her, she could hear what they were saying.
"I don't understand this," the tall one was saying with some kind of foreign accent, "Why don't we just throw them in the river? Why must we chain them together?"
So that was their plan. They were going to use the Delaware River as a watery charnel.
"No, no," she said quietly, fearing to raise her voice above a whisper.
"It's the only way of covering our tracks, Duke," the leader said.
He said it in a tone which sounded to the untrained ear like he was confiding in the tall man. Clea, however, recognized it as a tone of strained patience, the way an intelligent man who wanted something treated a dumb man who had it. She had heard that tone often enough in her life.
"I don't understand," the tall man, Duke, said.
The leader gave an almost imperceptible sigh. Clea recognized the relationship between Duke and the leader. The leader patronized Duke and Duke did things for the leader. The leader was so condescending towards the other man that Clea felt sorry for him for a moment.
"We've got a lot of bodies here, Duke. If we just chuck them in the river, some of them are bound to float, or to flow downstream and turn up somewhere. If just one of these bodies is found, the police'll probably trawl the river, and then they'll have us.
"What we're doing though, is chaining them all together with weights in between. That means the buoyant bodies - the ones that will float - will be dragged to the bottom by the heavy bodies. And the chains and weights will sink into the muck at the bottom of the river, and drag the bodies into the river bottom, too. In a way, we are burying them, we're just sinking them into the wet river mud rather than digging holes in the hard ground. Get it?"
Duke nodded. He was beaming with pride because the whole idea was just brilliant, and he was a part of it.
"Good. Now get back to work, Duke. I need your strong hands."
The leader clapped Duke on the back with a paternal show of appreciation. Clea found herself growing desperate. She had to do something, or she'd soon be fish food. The weight above her was light enough that she could probably move it all and dash away. It was her one shot.
With a heartstopping heave, she tried to move the bodies above her. She found herself strangely weak. She was barely able to move. Colored spots began to appear in front of her eyes. Suddenly she remembered how much blood she'd lost. She was half dead.
Then the bodies above her began to move on their own. The blue-jacketed men and women were moving their eerie load. She tried to escape but found that she had exhausted her last reserve of strength, and fell into a state straddling reality and dreams.
She felt the chain clasp around her wrist. Later, she felt the strange tug of dozens of bodies beckoning her into her untimely watery grave. Dragged down by corpses she suddenly screamed out, demanding life again, but it was too late. Her eyes opened, wide as saucers, and her tortured lungs sent fiery pains into her chest. She was in the water, surrounded by her grim companions. There was no escape from the canopy of mud.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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