Sacred Precious Things
by Gerald Budinski
part 1 of 2
“Let’s cut through the cemetery. It’s shorter,” said Jason.
He could see a car parked in an isolated spot further up Main Street across from the coffee shop — easy pickings for Denny. The movie they’d paid six bucks each to see was stupid and now Denny was in one of his victim moods. Jason had already noticed him looking into cars outside the Galaxy.
“No, I want to stay on Main Street,” said Denny.
“Ha, I bet you’re scared.” It just then struck Jason that they had never walked the cemetery after dark. It might be scary but at least there’d be no temptation there for Denny.
“Who’s scared? It’s just a dumb way to go. Besides, I want to stop at the record store.”
Jason stopped to face him. “No, Denny I’m not going to shill for you any more. You’ve got to stop that stuff.”
“Stop what? It’s just to warm up,” said Denny.
Jason had told his mother about Denny’s stealing, but not his father. She told him that Denny probably couldn’t help being bad sometimes, seeing how his father had run off when he was six. Jason could help steer him straight.
When they reached the cemetery gate, Jason ran to it. “C’mon let’s take the shortcut, it’s getting real cold.” They both lived on Church Street, and, farther down the cemetery drive, a crossing road led to the gate across from Jason’s house.
“No, I like Main Street.”
“I say you’re chicken,” said Jason, and he walked a few steps into the cemetery clucking like a hen, “Buck, buck-buck.”
Denny followed saying, “I’ll show you who’s chicken.”
The boys walked in silence with their footsteps squeaking eerily in the silent night. The sub-zero temperatures of previous days had given the snow cover a consistency of broken glass. Near the entrance was a peaceful landscape of glimmering white and the flat gravestones in this section were barely apparent. The tall obelisks and ancient slabs of the old section were a distant dark specter.
Denny suddenly veered off the road toward a row of gravestones.
“Okay, chicky-man, try this,” shouted Denny, performing an awkward dance on one of the graves. “I vill dahnce on yourr grrave,” he moaned.
“Stop it!” said Jason. “That could be some real nice guy you’re dissing.”
“Ha! You afraid some dead guy can hurt you?. Buck-buck!” said Denny. “I did it — now you gotta.”
“No. You can’t make me,” said Jason.
Denny grinned, then grabbed Jason’s arm and put him in a hammerlock. He forced him onto the closest icy mound. “Dance!”
Jason groaned and did a little shuffle, but broke Denny’s grip by spinning and twisting his wrist. But it hurt.
“Ow! I don’t know why I hang out with you. Maybe I should stop.”
Denny’s grin faded and he said, real quiet, “Don’t then. Hang out with... whoever.”
Jason had maybe gone too far. Denny was a good friend most of the time. They had played together since they were little toddlers and when bigger kids picked on Jason for being a nerd, Denny always jumped in to stop them. Denny might be the fattest kid in the seventh grade, but he was strong. And Denny never hurt Jason bad — just made him do things he hated.
“Well, just quit the bullying,” said Jason.
Denny led the way, cutting diagonally toward the Church street gate. They entered the original the graveyard with the tall granite stones and twisted old trees, stripped to charcoal hues for the winter. The boys walked shoulder to shoulder, weaving through the markers, pressed close by more than the frigid air. Their grinding footsteps echoed ever louder off the looming monuments.
“Jeez, I’m freezing my ass off,” said Jason. “We could’a been warm in... Burger Hole.” Jason looked warily at a statue of an angel with a flaming sword. They had never walked this way before.
“Just suck it up. We’re halfway there. Pansy, chicky-panz!” Denny put his arm around Jason’s neck and was about to apply a headlock, when he suddenly pulled away. “Hey! What’s that building over there?” They could see a dark gray structure, obscured by a copse of scraggly bushes and barren trees. “I never noticed that before.”
Jason had to think fast and he said the wrong thing. “I’m sure that’s just for storing junk.” He remembered Denny breaking into the town park storage shed, just for some rusty old garden tools. “Big things like giant mowers,” he added.
“Let’s just get out of this wind for a while,” said Denny.
“I’m sure it’s locked up good,” said Jason, but he had no choice but to follow Denny into the darker depths of the graveyard. There was less snow under the trees but it crunched all the louder under their boots.
The rough stone building appeared to emit an anti-glow of gloom in contrast to the glistening ice surrounding it. Denny pulled his mini flashlight from his pocket and shone it on the door. He always carried a flashlight along with his Swiss Army toolkit knife.
“Okay, it’s locked,” said Jason. “Let’s go.” But Denny examined the latch.
“Ha, the jerks! The screws on this lock-plate are nearly rusted off.” He extracted his screwdriver blade and pried the plate off with one swift motion, leaving the padlock and ring as futile icons.
But the door itself wouldn’t budge, its frame encased in ice that had glaciered into every gap and crevice. Denny leaned on the door and worked his legs, huffing and puffing like he was pushing a truck. After a while he had to quit, doubling up and laboring with long, wheezing breaths.
“Oh-oh, it’s your asthma,” said Jason. “We better get you home.”
“I don’t get asthma attacks in the winter with no dust or pollen — just winded. If you’d help, we’d be in there and warm.”
“I’m not going to help you break into a building,” said Jason.
“It’s a government building and we’re citizens who are freezing to death. We got rights.”
“Bull. There’s no such rights. Besides...”
“Denny, you don’t want to go in there. My dad told me what that building is for, and it’s not tools.”
Denny grabbed his arm, ready to twist it. “What’s in there then?”
Jason lowered his voice to make it sound scary but he didn’t have to try very hard. “It’s where they keep dead bodies when the ground’s too frozen for digging graves.”
Denny let him go. “Really! So what? Dead bodies can’t hurt you.” But then he got a funny look on his face, like he remembered something.
“Let’s go home,” said Jason.
“Do what you want. I’m going in,” said Denny, and he took out a chisel blade and cut at the edges of the door. He put both hands on the doorknob and twisted and pushed. With a snap and a groan the door opened inward and Denny pulled out his flashlight and peered in. “There ain’t no bodies there. Come on, we’ll just get out of the wind for a while.”
Jason had to decide which was scarier — to follow Denny or to walk through the cemetery alone. He followed. There was a small room with nothing but a dusty desk, a beat-up file cabinet and flower pots along one wall. Then Denny’s light found a big iron door on the inner wall with a latch handle like a freezer’s.
“I bet the bodies are in there,” said Denny.
“Fine, then let’s just stay here for a minute. There, I’m warm enough already.”
But before Jason could stop him, Denny had hold of the handle and was opening the inner door. “Let’s just see how many there are.” He went inside leaving Jason in the dark.
In panic, Jason followed his friend, snatching and pulling at his arm. But Denny was too big to stop.
“Look there’s two coffins. And there’s something in the corner too.” Denny fumbled around the wall and found a light switch. It lit only a small filthy bulb in the ceiling.
In the cold stark room, dull white walls seemed to highlight the somber darkness of the coffins, one bronze, one pewter. In the corner was a third smaller version like a scale model of the others. All three were raised up on stacks of cinderblocks.
“Okay, we’ve seen them. Let’s go,” pleaded Jason.
Denny faced Jason and held him by both shoulders, not in any way to hurt him but as friend to special friend. He said, “Do you realize that this could be a gold mine? Sometimes they bury people with all kinds of jewelry and stuff. We could be rich.”
Jason stepped out of his grip. “Stop it Denny; you can’t rob the dead. It’s the worst kind of sin.”
“It’s not: listen. When my grandma died they put all her favorite jewelry on her; even diamond rings and a necklace. It must have been worth five thousand. My uncle Charley was real mad. He said it was a stupid waste and the undertaker would probably steal it anyway. My Ma got real mad at him, but later she started to cry just thinking about it. We could’a lived real good on that money.”
“But you can’t take their things. They are precious, sacred things that the dead people wanted with them.”
Denny laughed. “If they’re so precious, they should’ve left them for someone who needed them. I’m just gonna look,” said Denny. He took his screwdriver out and began fiddling with the lock on the closest casket. Jason’s heart began to pound.
“Then do it by yourself,” said Jason running out into the anteroom. But it was dark out there, and a sudden violent wind whipped by the outer door, strangely sucking it closed instead of open.
Copyright © 2007 by Gerald Budinski