A month later, I found myself standing at the foot of a grave. It was six feet deep and perfectly rectangular. Sitting at the bottom was a tapered coffin covered with black lacquer, a white skull painted on the top. In the eye of the skull was a hole just big enough for the PVC pipe. Stenciled underneath was a line from Dracula: “Denn die Todten reiten schnell.” For the dead travel fast.
I stood there like an idiot, waiting for Ben to show up.
In the end, I’d decided to go along with his stupid gig. Ben was a stubborn bastard, and if I didn’t help him, someone else would. At least, that’s the justification I gave myself. But the real reason was that, deep inside my heart, his words were still echoing.
Art must be a little dangerous for it to be real.
I’d ended up doing a little more work than I had intended. For one, I had to place his stupid clues around the city. It wasn’t hard work, but it took some time to get them all in the proper places. Luckily for Ben, they were pretty obvious clues. There was no need to worry that his participants would be unable to find him.
Ben had set up the grave and the coffin a few days prior to Halloween. It was out in the woods just on the outskirts of town, no chance of it being disturbed. I’d tried to talk him out of burying it the whole six feet down.
“If something happens and I need to get you out fast, what will I do? Can’t you put it closer to the surface?”
Ben had just shaken his head in exasperation. “You just don’t get it, do you? It has to be done right. Remember what I told you.”
Art must be a little dangerous for it to be real.
So I shrugged and let him mess around with whatever dumbassery would get him off.
I was just beginning to wonder if I should have brought more beer – this promised to be a long night – when Ben showed up.
I had to restrain my laughter when I saw his getup. A cheap Dracula costume from Wal-mart had never looked so pathetic, especially when topped off with those cheap plastic fangs. He’d greased his hair back and painted on a widow’s peak.
I couldn’t resist. “Wow, seriously, dude?”
He gave me a stern look. “It’s a comment on the commercialization of vampires and horror as we know it today.” He fished around in his pocket and pulled out a walkie talkie. “Here, take one. The range isn’t very far, but my cell phone won’t work that far underground. You’ll have to stay nearby. Let me know if you’re going out of range.”
I shrugged and took it. “Okay, but… you brought your cell just in case, right?”
“Nah, what good will it do if it doesn’t work?”
This guy’s batshit insane, I thought. But he handed me the hundred dollars and, suddenly, it didn’t seem to matter anymore.
I helped him into the coffin and shut the lid. He seemed pretty calm… if it were me, I knew I’d be having a panic attack. I fit the PVC pipe into the hole. It slid in perfectly snug. I climbed out of the coffin and grabbed my shovel, taking one last look at the shiny black peeking out from the dirt.
With a resigned shrug, I started to shovel in the dirt. Okay, well, he asked for this, I thought.
It took almost a full hour to get all the dirt piled in. The PVC pipe was just barely visible over the grave. I piled the earth around it to hide it as well as I could. Then, I set up the rest of the grave: a hideously gothic headstone made of Styrofoam, and cheap Wal-mart flowers. Once it was finally finished, I sat back against a tree and waited.
There was an awful lot of waiting to be done.
Three hours later, his participants still hadn’t come.
He’d buzzed in on the walkie talkie a few times, asking if they’d shown up. I continually answered in the negative, wondering how long he’d be willing to keep up this charade. He must be getting worried, I thought, staring at my watch. It was already 10 pm and not a soul to be seen.
Bzzzt. “Hey, Mike? Something must have happened, I don’t think they’re coming. Can you get me out of here?” Ben’s voice crackled and faded in and out of the static fuzz. I took another swig of my beer and heaved a sigh.
Of course they weren’t coming. They were frantically searching for the last clue. My hand crept into my pocket as I felt it folded there, the creases poking at the soft flesh of my palm.
Bzzzt. “Mike? Are you there? Did you go out of range?”
I turned the walkie talkie off. I didn’t need it anymore, anyway. Carefully, I picked up a handful of disturbed earth from the top of the makeshift grave. I poured it down the pipe and listened.
I heard the muffled exclamation, the series of expletives. I thought I could hear a thumping sound – he must be hitting the top of the coffin. I smiled a little to myself as I poured some more dirt in through the pipe.
Ben’s struggles got louder and I felt a certain heat rising up in me. Oh, I knew it could be good, but I didn’t know it could be this good. This was incredible. This was perfect. This was godly.
Eventually, I grew bored of shoving the earth down into the coffin. I could hear Ben’s screaming and sobbing reverberating up the pipe. I yanked a handkerchief out of my back pocket and stuffed it inside. I made sure to plug it up good and tight.
It would only be a matter of time, now. Assuming he could regulate his breathing, he could possibly have a few hours. But I knew he was panicking. And that would simply serve to shorten his time.
The pounding grew weaker as I finished my beer. Once I was certain there was no saving him, I went to finish my work.