Dark clouds had been gathering since sunrise, slowly blotting out the sky and draping the uniformed rows of grave markers with shadows. A biting wind transformed a scatter of dead leaves into a swirling mass that spiraled into a dance of death before falling back to the earth to wait for another gust to send them airborne. It was only the second day of November – All Souls’ Day – but the merciless chill of winter was already in the air.
A light drizzle began to descend from the heavens like weeping tears, darkening the mournful marble figures of religious icons and innocent lambs that stood in silent vigil over the final resting places of the dead. As the drops landed upon their heads and rolled down their cheeks, they gave the solemn stone faces the eerie appearance of crying.
Jerome Crippen paused for a moment to open his black, five hundred dollar, Maglia Francesco umbrella to shield himself from the rain. He then continued on his way until he arrived at the grave of his dearly departed wife, Leonora. He had nearly forgotten where her grave was located. He had only been to it once, and that was on the day of her burial. He stood as still as the statuary around him and stared down at the small bronze grave marker before him, which bore his wife’s name, along with the dates of her birth and death, the image of a cross, and the Biblical quote: WHITHER THOU GOEST, I WILL GO. He recalled that it was also raining on the day her body was laid to rest, and felt strangely amused by the coincidence of it.
Leonora Crippen had died exactly one year ago on this day, leaving Jerome an enormously wealthy widower, thanks to a hefty life insurance policy that he had taken out on her several years prior to her passing. According to her death certificate, the cause of death was cardiac arrest. Despite her demise occurring at such a young age, nobody questioned the certifying physician’s opinion, for Leonora was known to possess an enlarged heart resulting from years of untreated high blood pressure.
Jerome took a quick look around to determine if anyone else was in the cemetery with him. Confident that he was the sole person there – at least, the sole living person – he cracked a bit of a crooked grin.
“Wake up, Leonora,” he said softly, almost in a singing voice, to the bronze grave marker. “It’s Jerome, your loving husband. It’s been one whole year now since you’ve been gone. Time sure flies, doesn’t it, my dear? Do forgive me for not coming to visit you sooner, but you see, I’ve been rather busy enjoying that money your insurance policy paid out to me. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that you left me well provided for. In fact…” he paused to snicker, “I’ve been living like a king and enjoying the finest of cars, clothes, restaurants and women. Mmmm, especially the women!”
Another gust of wind swept through the cemetery and a miniature tornado of brown leaves that had dropped from the branches of some nearby trees during the previous month sailed past Jerome’s Italian leather shoes. The rain felt like it had suddenly grown colder, almost icy to the touch, and was now falling harder than before, giving off a loud pitter-patter as it struck the grave marker.
“It’s a bit amusing, don’t you think,” Jerome continued, “that you always told me I could never do anything right. Not even poison a rat. Yet, I succeeded in poisoning you, Leonora, and I did it quite well and got away with it, if you don’t mind me touting my own horn. Nobody suspected a thing. With that bad ticker of yours, they all knew you had one foot in the grave.”
Jerome chuckled to himself as his mind rewound to that fateful day when, after months of careful plotting and indecision, he finally mustered up enough courage and greed to see his plan through and spike the whiskey sour drink of his unsuspecting wife with a tincture of aconite root. During his researching of poisons, he had read online that a fatal dose of this plant, which is also known as wolf’s bane, results in paralysis of the heart or respiratory center, with the only post mortem signs being those of asphyxia. It sounded to him like the ideal, and least messy, way to dispose of one’s unwanted spouse.
Jerome remembered, with what only can be described as a fiendish fondness, the agonized expressions on his dying wife’s face as the poisoning process inched her closer to death’s door, and him closer to a world of freedom made sweeter by a half-million dollar death benefit payout. Leonora had initially complained of a bad headache, followed by unpleasant bouts of nausea and diarrhea. In time, her mouth and face began to tingle and then grow numb, as did her arms and legs. A fiery sensation burned deep within her abdomen, causing her to double up in pain. Confused and sweating profusely, she struggled desperately to get a breath of air as her husband nonchalantly observed from the comfort of a tufted chair in the corner of their master bedroom, while leisurely savoring a glass of imported cognac.
And then, nearly three hours from the time that Leonora had unwittingly ingested the cleverly disguised poison, she let out one last loud and horrible gasp and her painful ordeal finally reached its deadly conclusion. Her body lay cold and still upon the heavy damask comforter of black and gold that draped the queen-size bed. Her pink peignoir was brown and sodden with vomit, and her lifeless eyes wide open and staring accusingly at her murderer.
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance and Jerome looked up at the sky. It had formed into an ominous patchwork of gray, dark green and black, illuminated by random flashes of lightning.
“Well, my dear,” Jerome sighed as he returned his gaze to his deceased wife’s grave marker. “I believe the time has come for me to bid you farewell. Go back to sleep now, Leonora.”
He turned and started to walk away. But then, for some unexplainable reason, an odd urge overcame him. He stopped and bent down to snatch up a rain-soaked wreath from a nearby burial plot. He then made his way back to Leonora’s grave with the wreath in his hand and tossed it onto the grassy ground that covered her remains. After blowing her a mocking kiss, he uttered, “I’ll see you around.”
Suddenly, with a loud explosive boom, a jagged bolt of blinding lightning struck Leonora’s bronze marker and shook the ground. It instantly knocked Jerome off his feet and the costly umbrella from out of his hand. He flew backwards and landed on his backside atop the wet and sticky ground that had been turned to sludge by the rain. His dropped umbrella was lifted up by a howling gust of wind and carried off before he could grab onto its curved cherry wood handle.
“Damn it!” he cursed.
As he struggled to free himself from the grip of the earthy-smelling muck, the unthinkable happened.
Like a scene from out of a horror film, or perhaps from the darkest of nightmares, the ground in front of Leonora’s grave marker began to tremble until a small fissure appeared, and from out of it emerged the foul and rotting limb of a woman. Its purplish hand turned in Jerome’s direction and slowly opened like a blossoming nightshade.
Paralyzed by abysmal horror, Jerome recognized the gold rings on one of the corpse’s fingers. They were Leonora’s bridal set. He felt a scream rise up in his numb throat. But before it could exit his mouth, Leonora’s bony, claw-like hand wrapped itself around his right ankle and began dragging him toward her grave.
Jerome’s scream finally found its way out, but was drowned out by another deafening crash of thunder. He fought desperately to free himself from the dead woman’s powerful clutch, but her supernatural-infused strength won out.
The corpse had pulled Jerome’s leg calf-deep into the grave when, all at once, he felt the terrifying sensation of teeth chewing on his ankle. Deeper and deeper into his bone they gnawed. The pain was unbearable and unlike anything he had ever experienced. He continued to struggle, and he bellowed out a series of hair-raising man-shrieks that reverberated in all directions, ricocheting off of tombstones and statues and the walls of mausoleums. The pain was tantamount to the most horrendous of torture and Jerome found himself drifting in and out of consciousness until the agony was mercifully supplanted by a numbness that raced up the entire length of his leg.
At last he was able to free himself from the hellish hole that had swallowed him alive. He yanked his limb from the muddy grave, only to discover that his right foot was gone. It had been completely chewed off and a gory hemorrhage was pouring out from the ragged stump at the bottom of his partially devoured leg.
His mind reeled from the horrendous sight and his thoughts swirled inside his brain like the dead leaves whipping in the wind around him. Soon, his vision blurred and faded to black. His body violently convulsed. The rapid-fire beating of his heart ceased and Jerome Crippen lay lifeless at the foot of Leonora’s grave, his blood staining the wet blades of dormant grass a ruddy color that not even the November rain could wash away.
By Gerri R. Gray
Author bio: Gerri R. Gray is a poet with a dark soul, and the author of the bizarre adventure novel, “The Amnesia Girl” (HellBound Books, 2017). Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including “Beautiful Tragedies;” “Demons, Devils & Denizens of Hell 2;” and “Deadman’s Tome Cthulhu Christmas Special.” She has also contributed to the book,”Ghost Hunting the Mohawk Valley” by Lynda Lee Macken (Black Cat Press, 2012). Among her passions are cemetery photography, paranormal investigating, and watching reruns of Dark Shadows. She lives in Upstate New York. For more information, please visit Gerri’s website at: http://gerrigray.webs.com. Follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorGerriGray