Chapter 1: The Grave-Diggers
July 3, 1:00 am: Westminster Cemetery: In the dead of night. Silence reigned all about London except the quavering undertone of boughs of trees trembling in the high wind. It had rained but ten minutes before. Files and fleeces of dark rainy clouds were rallying through the sky; now revealing the face of Goddess Diana and now hiding it--- flooding and enrapturing the city with silver light or enveloping it with a grave darkness. The night-guard supposed to be on the beat was fast asleep in his kiosk – a mouse appeared between his toes, a cat jumped after it; he did not stir - had someone slipped a sleeping pill into his pot of coffee? Heaven knows!!
At the farthest end of the cemetery, heavy thuds could be heard. A metallic tool being constantly struck against the wet mud – thud, thud -thud, thud! But wait!! Do we hear something solid? A wooden coffin perhaps!
The moon comes out of its mystic veil to reveal two intruders at this safe haven of death! Two full-grown men - one tall and burly, the other puny and bony; the two had just strength enough to lift the sarcophagus and keep it by them. Then they started to reverse their work, that is to say, without the coffin. The heap of mud lying beside was refilled and a fresh heap added from a small cart. Smart, weren’t they? As the two turned on their way back to the truck waiting outside the back door, their faces were revealed. Each of them, though an expert thief, was no older than mere college students, and each sported a spiked hair and a well-trimmed beard. They were equipped with night-vision glasses and aided with pistols in their holsters. Their face revealed good breeding and their eyes, if the glasses were removed, a regular injection of drugs (banned addictive drugs, I mean) into their veins. Perhaps they have taken up this risky vocation to provide for their marijuana and brown-sugar .As they came out of the groves in the cemetery, they heard a trudge. Stop! Look back! Was someone following them? No? They resumed their walk! Trudge!! There was a man, certainly.
A muffled shot rent the air followed by a short groan. The silence of the night returned to be broken by the retreating sound of engine, to be followed by a still greater silence.
Chapter 2: The loot
3 am on the same day: in a small retreat in a forest at the end of the town:
“Now what do we find here? A Swiss pocket watch with a golden chain, nice dial, ha? An old coat, three brass buttons; what is it underneath? A small casket! Hey, hey, hey – something is writhing inside!”
“You must be joking Bill! Put on your spectacles, will you?” said the fat boy called Teddy.
“I am in no jesting mood. Here, see it for yourself.”
As Bill got up from his seat to go and sit beside Ted, the box slipped from his hands.
The box had crashed against the floor emptying its contents on the ground with the open box still over it. Ted went closer, picked the box up and backed away with a loud shriek!
“G-g-ghost” shrieking thus, he faced away from the object and hastened towards the further end of the wall. Bill, who was the more courageous of the two, approached the coffer stealthily and looked towards the contents. He beheld two eyes- two live glaring eyes- moving and rolling in their sockets which lay on the ground – the eyes had been severed from the visage, and kept writhing on the floor. There was no trace of a living body near!
“Who- who are you?” demanded Bill
“It’s a spirit come to punish us! Stay away from it William!!!” cried Ted in a choked voice.
“What is this?”
Bill was holding a large nut (I mean the companion of a bolt)-like object in his left hand, about the size of a fist and clad of a metal much like iron in its weight but as shiny as gold. In his right hand was the box, hanging upside down and looking over a heap of steel dust.
“Hey, this thing has a button on its side!”
“Better call in Gilbert before proceeding any further”, said Ted.
“May be you are right.”
The two didn’t get any sleep all night; the one thinking of spirits and witches, the other dreaming of aliens in an out-of-the-world place.
In the morning, they called in Gilbert, their scientific advisor and gadget-supplier.
“Surely, it is made of steel; but I haven’t seen anything like this before.”
“Better press the button than wait” and William pressed the button on the gadget amidst warnings of “WATCH-OUT” and “BRACE FOR YOUR LIVES”
What followed could be said to produce greater horror on those present than any spectral story.
The nut sprang to the roof of the garage and settled in the mid-point. After a series of laser lightings, a whirlpool started ---- drawing in the steel dust and holding the pair of ghostly, writhing eyes up in the air.
Five minutes had not passed and lo! There was a human form looming erect in front of them.
“WATER!” demanded the steel-spirit, for that is what it seemed.
He was given water in a bottle which he drank to his fullest content --- the result being that jets and springs of water got ejected out of different points in his body.
“Ah! I forget! My body is perforated”
“May be you would like some candies…” Ted spoke up in a menaced tone.
“He’s no kid TED!”
“Give me some moist chocolate”
After taking in some chocolates and being watched by the ever-hungry Gill (“Machines need oil to run, humans need food and moreover complicated tasks increase the craving for eatables”, he explains)
“Would you like to hear my story kids?”
“We’re in for it!!!”
Chapter 3: A Fairy Tale?
“It was one of the most wonderful mornings of late summer in London. The warm wind which had tormented the citizens for a couple of months were slowly dying away, as was with it the misty and perilous fog that hung in the air at noon, evenings and night, taking the wary traveler by surprise and choking his very breath out of him, giving way to a cool, dry dusty autumn gust. The leaves were fading into a yellow pallor, squirrels were gathering nuts for the coming winter and sparrows and tailorbirds were chirping in the boughs of trees. The owls were taking a nap in their cosy coves…”
“Sorry to interrupt you sir, but perhaps you will recognize the fact that we are too old to credit fairy tales like that.”
“Stop buzzing kid!”
“Oh! Don’t take him into account. You please continue” Ted ushered.
“A tramp was seen in front of a vast gaily decorated church sweeping dust and leaves perhaps for a few shillings. All was bright and merry in that great dilapidated ghostly edifice. It seemed that a certain lord had taken a fancy to feature the proceedings of his conjugation in a worn-down haunted church, and hence these arrangements. A large crowd had gathered at the occasion and among these eminent noble persons were present. A young man, who had just come of age, was amidst the attendees. He seemed to have old head on young shoulders as he walked busily about supervising the proceedings.
The great grandfather clock above the entrance of the chapel struck twelve. The bride was still not ready and the bridegroom’s carriage was also due. Having seen an end to the arrangements and being himself a bearer of a romantic disposition, the young man, who was supposed to be the best man at the wedding, being the only brother to the wealthy lord, decided to go for a lonely walk amidst the vast open graveyard on the valley opening behind the church.”
“Standing at the top of the knoll on which the church was placed, he fancied he beheld a large Moorefield in the horizon, providing for wild roots and berries and a breeding spot for pests. The graveyard spanned over a distance of about fifty miles, with a large black cross and obelisk looming at the centre.”
“I inhaled the rejuvenating morning air and prepared for the sportive run. It felt like I was a victorious king looking over the vanquished folks. The long eerie walk among the dead sent a chill through my spine. I walked a long distance, with my hands in my coat-pockets and my eyes observant of the abbey-stones. The historical lineage attached to some of the graves thrilled me, as I myself had been a student of history.
The problems arose when retracing my steps back. I had come a long way without tracking directions and had evidently lost my way. The next hour or so I spent in searching my way, watching for footsteps, but the more I walked the more confused did I become. What surprised me the most was the fact that about four pairs of footsteps had run in a direction other than the church, for I could see it in the other direction. Believing it to be another way I followed them till I could walk no further, because my legs gave way under my knees. A late fog was also slowly setting in. I fell and extending my limbs, touched a round, solid, hollow object. In a last flurry of hope I picked it up and found it to be a black skull; after which my skin started corroding and flying away with the slow wind. In a minute, nothing remained, but my fine friends my eyes.”
“And the name of the church was…” inquired Bill.
“A few miles off London, by a rail-line…”
“The coffin was brought from there all right” said Ted.
“How are we to believe your tale and distinguish you from some black magician or voodooist?” Bill was still on guard.
“Believe me and help me! Be incredulous and I am a lost man.”
“But how can we help you, we kids as we are?” Gil said.
“Let’s look into the coffin.”
“Ho Ho Ho! What’s this? Some kind of a scroll?
“HE THAT TOUCHES THE SKULL ON THE HEAD SHALL TURN INTO SAND BUT HE THAT TOUCHES IT IN THE RIGHT PLACE SHALL BE SPARED. HE THAT WILL REMOVE THE OBJECT OF THE KING’S DEMISE WILL SAVE HIMSELF AND HIS RACE FROM DESTRUCTION.”
“The object of death – must be something swallowed. We must, therefore, touch the skull from the neck.”
Chapter 4: The Action
The next day the four of them, or should we say three, for the visitor was nothing but a box of sand on switching off the device and, I forget, a pair of eyes! The graveyard was known to our friends and being expert grave-diggers, what with their GPS navigator and other gadgets, they faced no difficulty formidable enough to find the black and ominous cross, obelisk and skull. They dug a long furrow to the skull careful enough not to touch it, for the consequences were only too well known to them. Their plan was to touch the neck from the bottom, without disturbing the skull in the process.
As Ted bade him farewell and sent with him his best wishes, Bill entered the tunnel and after a long and patient wait by Ted and Gil, reached the other side and called out to them. As Bill reached out to the skull, Ted started sending prayers to heaven and Gil faced away.
Nothing more than a swish of sand greeted them. Ted broke down wailing and agitating in loud voices till Gil came to condole with him.
Suddenly, the mouth of the skull started moving and out emerged Bill from the ground with six other persons, including the best man at the wedding, who emerged from the box he was placed in by our friends, and the baron, who had followed him perceiving that the former was too late, joining him.
Ted congratulated Bill. But he looked dazed.
“I thought you too had rescued us. In fact, I was myself reduced to dust.”
Well, this is what actually had taken place. Our friends, having dug up the ground, had disturbed a mole which came out of its retreat to jump into the skull and pull at a stick, thus removing the bone of meat stuck in the KING’s throat and rescuing our friends; and then vanishing with the skull which our friends have not noticed in their primary feats of ecstasy!