On my death bed, I have a confession I feel the need to own up to.
Shortly after the passing of my best friend Xavier James, I entered a deep dark patch in my life. Although Xavier died doing what he loved- always the attention seeker, his safety cable snapped while going down a mountain in the year of 83'- his death was still untimely. He just turned forty at the time, I was fifty-three. Xavier had no wife and no kids because his endless gluttony for excitement lead him all over the globe; no woman wanted a man who wouldn't settle down with her. Myself I have two kids, but no wife; she left me in 86' and took the kids after hearing the cover-up for my... Hobby.
Unlike most who baked cookies for their kids, tinkered around the house, or exchanged recipes with the old ladies down the street, I took on a darker pastime:
I would dig up graves to stare at the hollow faces of the dead and smell them.
I assured you that I never disrupted the corpses or stole a cent worth of goods; my intentions were harmless enough, all I wanted to do was look at them and smell the rot putrid that faintly I could taste it on the back of my tongue. Their glassy eyes (if they had any by the time I got to them) were captivating, the cold dead skin pulled taut on their skeletons was marvellous, and the stench... I loved everything about my bi-weekly excursions.
I would long for every Wednesday and Saturday, the two days I allowed myself the pleasure. Armed with a shovel and flowers, I'd visit the local cemetery on the outskirts of town, practically shaking with excitement.
Now, to be honest with you, my hobby (a much nicer word than obsession) started so small and innocently that it is almost hard to believe how far it escalated. Right after Xavier's death, I spent most of my time visiting his grave, bringing flowers, prayers, and idle conversation to the granite slab with his name on it. After a few months I began to pine for something more. I started to occupy myself with staring longingly at old photos of me and him. My wife noticed at this point and tried to comfort me by saying things along the lines of “It's time you let him go” and “He'll live on in your heart, dear”. To get her to stop worrying about me, I took to digging up graves instead.
I don't mean to brag, but I am a very smart woman. I took all the necessary precautions, hence why I never got caught; I wore gloves that I stashed under various mismatch car parts in the garage and dutifully sprayed them with air freshener after each visit; I made sure my shovel was dirty, but not so dirty that it was suspicious; I wore shoes two sizes too big and hid them carefully in a bush just down the way from our country house.
For years this carried on.
I would dig up Xavier's grave, admire his rotten, sunken face as if he were the Mona Lisa, then return home like nothing had happened. Of course I didn't just limit myself to Xavier; I have gazed at thousands of deceased faces, at the very least.
My wife, bless her heart, accused me of cheating after she caught me sneaking out and back in on multiple occasions. Unwilling to admit to my sins, I told her it was true.
In a fit, she took our daughters- age seventeen and twelve at the time- and left, never to come back.
No longer living under the nagging fear of getting caught, I started going to the cemetery every other night, even twice in a row if my hunger for the smell of rot was overwhelming enough.
This went on for another easy ten years.
In my time, I must have unearthed every grave in our town's cemetery and those from the various others scattered around. No two bodies were alike, not even the still-born twins I once dug up; some where blotched skeletons, some were half-rotten, some were fresh enough to sit up and walk out of their coffin. They all had that same, delicious stink though, no matter how old. It was the smell of death, and I loved it.
To this day the smell of death draws me in. My senses have become acute to detecting it, I think, because as I amble down the white halls of the hospital with my walker, telling nurses that I 'just need a little fresh air', I'm drinking in the smell that no one else seems to notice- the reek of doom and impending death. I even smell it on myself, which is why I decided to write this letter of confession.
Now, I have not dug up a grave in years, but not because I realized my faults or because my toned body got too weak, oh no; the reason is much more unbelievable than that.
On an early June night, I opened a coffin for the last time. The thick odour of rot and musk hit me like a wall, as it always did, but then something that never should have happened:
The corpse began to scream.
I ran after that, as fast and hard as my legs would carry me. I was unsure of what startled me more, in all honesty; the sudden and loud noise during my usually silent visits or the fact that something so impossible had happened. As I drove home that night, shook to the bone and pale as a ghost, I pondered it over while promising myself that I would never dig up another grave as long as I lived. Still to this day I can hear the shrill screaming if I focus hard enough.
The day after next there was a story in the paper about how the shrivelled corpse of an old witch doctor was found half out of her unearthed grave. No one could explain the phenomenon with anything other than a grave robber tried to make away with her, only to abandon the idea when something spooked them.
But I know the truth and I have kept it sealed for far too long.
Now that I am getting old and sick, I have been seeing the haunting face of the witch doctor a lot more; in shadows, in mirrors, even in the other patients who wander by. She's out to get me, I know it. And I am ready. She'll get her revenge on me for disturbing her eternal sleep the moment I am in the ground. I have even arranged to have my eldest daughter bury me alongside the old hag; I cannot wait to get to know her.