The Breathing Tombs

Up to that moment in my life, I had always thought that sayings such as “I was so scared I soiled myself” were only expressions. However, that night I learned that intense fear actually can have a negative impact on one’s bowel control. I wish that was all that I had learned that night.

I was attending classes at Arkham’s august institution, Miskatonic University, that year. For the first part of the year, all was copacetic. However, during my second semester, I received a telegram from my father informing me that he had suffered severe financial reversals in the stock market. He would be unable to pay my tuition for the next year.

Naturally, this was very upsetting. I was very close to completing my Bachelors in Parapsychology. In fact, if I had not taken a sabbatical to Europe during my sophmore year, I would have earned my degree that very semester. As it was, I only had a few credits left to complete.

As my next year’s class load was going to be so light, I hoped that I would be able to earn enough money during the summer to pay for my last few credits. Unfortunately, there were no openings anywhere in Arkham, or in the whole region, that called for the types of skills possessed by an undergraduate in parapsychology.

Taking a wild stab in the dark, I went to visit the caretaker of one of Arkham’s cemetaries. The cemetery is named The Blessed Memorial Gardens. However, most of the locals referred to it as the Breathing Graveyard. They called it by this peculiar name due to the fact that many people that lived and worked in the area had claimed that they had heard strange noises issuing from the graveyard at night. These noises were invariably described as the sound of many people breathing slowly, but loudly, in unison.

There were also several people from the area who swore that on some occasions they had seen the mounds of dirt over the graves rising and falling in unison with the breathing sound. The dirt was said to only rise several inches and so it was hard to notice. But the people that claimed to have witnessed the phenomenon swore that the graves themselves were breathing.

As I approached the infamous burial grounds, I noted that they were situated between two other large graveyards. On one side was a Jewish cemetery, while on the other side was a Methodist cemetery. I thought it strange that these three cemetaries were all set cheek-by-jowl yet only the Blessed Memorial Gardens had ever been reported to engage in odd nocturnal activities.

In fact, I thought it so odd that I stopped and inquired with several passersby if they knew about the stories regarding the Breathing Graveyard. Almost all of the people I spoke to had indeed heard the stories. Even better, I actually met a pair of young men that claimed to have witnessed the occurrences.

I asked these people if The Breathing Graveyard was limited to The Blessed Memorial Gardens or if it actually encompassed the adjoining two graveyards as well. To my surprise, absolutely every single person I spoke with told me that only the Blessed Memorial Gardens had the breathing graves. They all told me that the two adjoining cemetaries had never exhibited any peculiarities.

As I was questioning the last few people, it occurred to me that it was strange that the two graveyards on either side both proudly displayed their religious affliations, but that the Blessed Memorial Gardens did not mention any sectarianism. Thus, of these last few folk, I also inquired if they were aware of which local churches the graveyard was associated.

Only one of the people had any clue about the religion that buried their dead in The Breathing Cemetery. This man claimed that no churches in the area ever used that burial grounds. He said that he had only seen a funeral being performed on those grounds once. The people at the funeral had been a very odd sort. The man claimed that they had all been wearing black robes and that their faces had been concealed in the shadows of deep hoods. He said that he had assumed that the graveyard belonged to some order of Catholic monks. However, he had no idea which order.

Finally, I reached my destination. Just within the main gate of the memorial park stood a small building which served as the caretaker’s office. When I entered, I was happy to find that the caretaker was currently within.

The caretaker was an odd sort of fellow. Of course, one would have to be odd to be willing to be the caretaker of a graveyard such as that one. He was abnormally large, both in height and in girth. The size of his body was even more accentuated due to the fact that his head was rather small. Even for a person of normal dimensions, his head would have been quite little. From the top of the diminutive cranium sprouted a tuft of whitish hair which sort of seemed to be reaching off after something to the man’s left.

When I first looked in the face of the caretaker, I was quite taken aback. Due to the small size of his head, I was fully expecting the man to be a dullard. However, intelligence was plainly discernable in the man’s eyes. In fact, one could plainly detect a good portion of intelligence in the man’s expressions and mannerisms. Unfortunately, one was constantly beset by the unhappy impression that the intelligence which the man displayed was of a somewhat negative nature.

The caretaker’s name was Mr. Graum. I asked Mr. Graum if he was aware of all the unpleasant legends which revolved around his establishment. I also intimated that I was a student of parapsychology and would happen to be willing to lend my services in order to study the graveyard, for a fee, of course.

Mr. Graum seemed to find the idea of paying me to poke around in his graveyard to be extremely humorous. He insisted that the rumors were completely unfounded. He told me that such ideas found fertile soil in the minds of the poorly educated working-class folk which lived in the vicinity. He did, however, tell me that if I was in need of cash that he could solve my problem.

I eagerly pushed him for the details of the offer he was dangling before me. As it happened, Mr. Graum had decided that the cemetery needed another grave digger. He told me that since I seemed to find the idea of poking around The Blessed Memorial Gardens to be desirable, that I might be well suited for the position.

Although I felt that I would be ill suited to a position that involved manual labor, the idea of actually being able to dig into the ground of the supposedly haunted tomb yard was intriguing. I felt sure that there was a mystery of a paranormal nature here waiting to be solved. I decided that I couldn’t walk away from the offer, despite the back breaking work that it would involve.

Mr. Graum seemed very pleased when I accepted his offer. However, he warned me that I would be there to dig graves as he directed. He told me that he would be most displeased if I was to ever make an attempt to dig up an already existing, and occupied, grave.

I assured my new employer that, though I was interested in somewhat ghoulish subjects, I was not myself a ghoul, by any stretch of the imagination. I then went on to ask Mr. Graum if he could tell me what religious affliation the memorial gardens had.

Mr. Graum seemed hesistant to divulge the information. But finally, he told me that it was owned by a group that was very particular about its privacy. He said that I was unlikely to witness any internments by the group due to the fact that they believed that their dead should only be buried during the hours of darkness. He said that I would be gone by that hour, and that it would be a good thing that I was. He strongly expressed the opinion that the group would not appreciate my presence during their burial rites.

I was shocked that Mr. Graum would not divulge the name of the group. Normally, religious organizations tend to trumpet their names as far and wide as possible. I had never heard of any religious organization that refused to even give its name to non-members. Of course, such an organization would be fairly difficult to hear about, at least by name.

I began my labors at my new place of employment the next morning. Mr. Graum indicated the spot where the grave should be dug. I was rather surprised when he also indicated the dimensions which the grave should have. As most people know, the standard grave is dug to a depth of six feet. However, Mr. Graum indicated that this grave should only be dug to a depth of three feet. Moreover, he also instructed that I should dig a grave which was a good bit wider and longer than the average grave.

Specifying the length and width of the grave were understandable. I assumed that the grave must be for a man of considerable size. However, I was at a loss to imagine a reason for the shallowness of the grave. Therefore, I made bold enough to inquire of Mr. Graum if there weren’t laws that mandated a depth of six feet. I had heard that if a body was buried in too shallow a grave that certain contagions may be able to penetrate the dirt and infect the living.

Mr. Graum seemed surprised that I would ask such a question. However, he assured me that digging a grave of the required dimensions was entirely legal. He claimed that modern embalming techniques made such deep graves unnecessary. He went on to further claim that such deep graves were probably actually a threat to public health as the chances of the embalming chemicals leeching into the groundwater was increased.

He then explained that the group that owned and used the burial yard had certain religious beliefs concerning burial that differed from the norm. One of these beliefs was that a corpse should be no deeper beneath the earth than three feet.

Mr. Graum’s explanation certainly seemed feasible to me at the time. In fact, I was impressed that he had gone to the trouble of giving such a lengthy explanation. Thus, I was satisfied to dig the burial ditch to the indicated dimensions without thinking on it further.

As I was walking to the site of the new grave, I took the opportunity to look over some of the existing graves which I passed. I noted that all of the graves had the same unusual lengths and widths. I imagined that either the mysterious religious group’s beliefs were the reason for the dimensions or that the group consisted entirely of abnormally large individuals.

After a short walk, I reached the spot which had been indicated. As I pursued the excavation I took the liberty of examining the nature of the soil and stones which I was moving. I could see nothing abnormal about the ground with which I was working. The soil and stones seemed to all be of the same type that was common to the surrounding area. The various sorts of subterrean fauna which I disturbed also seemed to be of the normal sorts. The worms, beetles, grubs and such may have been of a slightly larger size than the norm due to the plethora of corpses on which they no doubt fed. But, other than the possible size variation, I could see nothing that would indicate that the vermin were responsible for the reported sounds and movements of the graves.

When I had finished digging the grave, it occurred to me that the supposed “breathing” effects might be due to something that lay beneath the grave. A certain side of my personality has a tendancy to look for the possibility of conspiracies and deceptions. Thus, I imagined that the real reason that Mr. Graum had told me to only dig down to a depth of three feet was that something lay somewhat farther down that he did not want me to discover.

Taking care to check that Mr. Graum was no where nearby, I quickly took a few moments to deepen a small section of the grave by several more feet. The effort proved fruitless. I dug down at least another three feet, but still saw nothing out of the ordinary. Having satisfied my curiosity, I quickly filled in the small section and smoothed it’s earth to disguise the fact that I had dug further.

When I reported back to Mr. Graum, he told me that only the one grave needed to be dug that day. However, the religious group was planning on making use of that grave during the immediately upcoming nocturnal hours. Mr. Graum told me that the group always held its burial rituals within a special tent. He showed me where the tent was being stored and told me that I was to erect the tent over the grave which I had just dug.

It turned out that the erecting of the tent was to be much more work than the digging of the grave. The tent was quite large. It was easily large enough to accomodate at least twenty adults. The mass of the canvas was considerable. It was fortunate that the tent was stored on a wagon which could be pulled to the grave site. However, moving the tent off of the wagon and maneuvering it into the proper position proved to be quite a herculean task.

The canvas of the tent had been dyed a deep shade of black. I supposed that the color was appropriate for a funeral, if rather dismal. It also occurred to me that the dark material would make it less obvious to the surrounding neighbors in the darkness of the night. As the group seemed loath to attract attention to itself, it seemed reasonable that they would want the tent to be as difficult to notice as possible.

Erecting the great canvas monstrosity occupied my time for the remainder of the day. When I had finally completed the task, I again reported back to Mr. Graum. He seemed to be rather annoyed that putting up the tent had taken such a long time. He told me that I still needed to move the gravestone to the grave before nightfall.

He showed me the small marble slab that was to be stood on end at the head of the tomb. It was kept in a large shed where it had been chiseled and polished. I was pleased to find that there was also a cart for moving the stone.

In an attempt to mollify Mr. Graum, I moved the stone to the grave with all the haste that I could muster. Pulling the cart with the gravestone was no easy task, but it was a great deal easier than pulling the wagon with the tent had been.

As I maneuvered the stone marker into place I was surprised to note that there was no name engraved on it. There were only the year of birth and the year of death and a strange, complex symbol. I looked at a few of the neighboring headstones and found that the same was true of them. I was rather suprised that I had not noticed the oddity before.

The complex symbol on the headstone I was moving was different than the symbols on the surrounding stones. In fact, it appeared that each of the graves was marked with a unique symbol. As I examined the various symbols, I was struck by the peculiar idea that they held some resemblence to the arcane sigils which sorcerers used in their attempts at summoning demonic and angelic spirits. As I was a student of parapsychology, I had more than a passing familiarity with a number of those sigils. However, none of the symbols on the gravestones were sigils that I had seen before.

By the time I finally finished with the stone and had returned the cart to its shed, it had begun to grow quite dark. Mr. Graum seemed less than pleased by my presence at so late an hour. He told me to be quick about leaving the Blessed Memorial Gardens. He said that he didn’t want the members of the group to be disturbed by any sort of irritations during their time of mourning. He proceeded to see me to the gate and lock it securely once I had exited. He further admonished me to go home and get a good night’s sleep as morning would hold still more labors for me.

As I left, I suddenly recalled that I had forgotten my shovel near the gravesite. I turned and asked Mr. Graum if I should go and retrieve it. Mr. Graum told me not to worry about the shovel, he told me to just go.

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Graum was watching me. He obviously wanted to make sure that I was safely gone as soon as possible. I put forth an effort to make a show of departing with all alacrity. I certainly didn’t want to give my new employer any reasons to be dissatisfied. I was curious about the upcoming ceremonies, but I was in desperate need of funds with which to continue my education. I could not afford to lose so lucrative a position. Thus, I made no attempt to tarry near the cemetery.

After I had traveled a distance of several city blocks, and I was well out of view of Mr. Graum, I allowed myself to adopt a more relaxed and leisurely pace. The day had been fairly warm and I had experienced a far greater level of physical exertion than was my norm. As I trudged through the streets of Arkham I began to feel the weight of exhaustion and the parching of the heat. It was then that I spied a small tavern situated along one side of the street upon which I trod.

As my new position paid fairly well, and since I had endured such physical hardship, I decided that I deserved refreshment in the form of a large stein of the local brewer’s product. I also felt that I should take advantage of the opportunity to sample such offerings while it was still possible to do so. The elements within the nation that chose to wage a campaign against “demon rum” seemed to be gaining support. It was uncertain how much longer imbibing liquor would be legal.

To those of us who chose to keep track of the happenings of the day, it was becoming obvious which way the winds were blowing. To the most astute of us, the cause of those winds was also plain.

Although the temperance movement largely chose to enwrap itself in the cloak of religious fervor, claiming that ‘God Himself’ detested the consumption of liquor, the real reason for the population’s new found distaste for intoxication was of a more secular nature. The plain fact of the matter was that it was becoming painfully apparent that new sensation of traveling in motor carriages was simply incompatible with the old sensation of over-indulging in alcoholic beverages.

While a man could drink himself near to death and still ride his horse home without much chance of killing himself or others, the same was not true of the new mode of conveyance. Sadly, motor carriages were simply not as intelligent as horses. If a drunken fool chose to steer his horse towards a cliff, the horse would refuse to obey. A motor carriage, however, would happily comply with its master’s wishes and plunge both the master and his mechanical steed to their doom.

As the number of injuries and fatalities resulting from the volatile mix of alcohol and motor carriages rose, so did the number of surviving relatives which tended to hold liquor libel for the tragedies.

Thus, knowing the likely fate of the pasttime of enjoying fluid entertainments, I decided to avail myself of the opportunity while I could.

The tavern was a small neighborhood affair, populated by locals that felt it was their duty to stare at all newcomers and strangers in a manner that was anything but welcoming. As I was afflicted by a strong thirst, and did not wish to travel further in pursuit of a more friendly batch of drunks, I decided to endure the stares. I found an empty place at the bar and planted myself there, doing my best to make sure that the operator of the establishment saw that I expected service.

The man who was tending the bar was a diminutive, elderly, unwashed gent. His speech and mannerisms plainly exhibited his lack of education. While he was not exactly threatening in any way, he was also far short of congenial. He was definitely the sort that was not lending aid to the public’s opinion of drinking establishments.

When the barman finally deigned to acknowledge my presence, it was with a rather accusatory announcement of “You’re new here.”

I nodded and responded with the word “Beer.” I decided that it would be best to dispense with any pleasantries or other elements of speech that might confuse the fellow and interfere with the rapid delivery of my beverage.

Once I had a mug of some brewers concoction safely within my grasp, I allowed myself to be a bit more verbose. “I just started working in the neighborhood,” I confided to the barman.

“Looks like yer new job involves dirt,” commented the fellow, nodding to the soil stains which decorated my clothes.

“It does indeed,” I responded agreeably, “Mainly in the form of putting others beneath it.” Although I could not normally be seen as physically threatening by the average working class fellow, I still decided to toss out a slightly threatening clue regarding my new position. I couldn’t resist the temptation to appear both crytic and dangerous to the patrons of the establishment. It may have been unwise to take such liberties with strangers of a low-brow nature. However, quite frankly, I felt that a gravedigger is by nature a rather intimidating figure and I would be doing my new vocation a disservice by failing to by be at least a mite dark and menacing.

A fellow nearby gave a rather uncouth snort in response to my jibe. “Yeah, I saw you earlier today,” he said. “He’s digging graves at the Breathing Graveyard,” he announced loudly, plainly enjoying the opportunity to toss a juicy tidbit of gossip to the ravenous pack of rumor hounds in the room.

I must confess that I felt a slight thrill at the change in the expressions of the fellows who had been staring at me since I had entered. Their stares were no longer purely of a suspicious and hostile nature. Many of them actually betrayed a hint of fear or respect in their countenances. While digging graves in a haunted graveyard while never make one a popular figure, it will tend to make others at least give you a modicum of respect for your fearlessness. The most superstitious fellows may even begin to regard you as an occult figure which may be capable of bestowing curses or wielding other forms of malicious hoodoo.

As I had no intention of trying to find true companions amongst the rabble of a lower class establishment such as this, I felt that the aura of the macabre that my new position lent could be quite enjoyable. A man of letters, such as myself, would often have to fear being a target of jealous bravados when in such a crowd. However, my association with the major occult landmark of the near vicinity would, no doubt, help to keep the rabble at bay. I would not be popular, but I would be regarded as just a little too creepy to trifle with. Or at least, that was my hope.

I nodded towards the fellow who had just publicly announced my latest career move. “Yep,” I said, trying to sound a bit tougher than is usually my habit, “Nice enough place to work. ‘Course ya have to be sort of careful where you dig, and how deep.”

The little fellow tending the bar gave me a bit of a scowl, as if wondering if I was likely to leave maggots on his counter. He appeared as if he were about to say something, but wasn’t sure whether it would be wise to do so.

A large, corpulent immigrant a few stools away was apparently a bit braver, or perhaps just a bit drunker. “That place has evil in it,” he announced in an accented growl, grimacing at me as if I were likely to start gathering new inmates for the burial yard at any moment.

“Maybe,” I responded noncommitally, “If so, I suppose it might be getting a bit more tonight. There’s supposed to be a funeral there this evening.”

I wasn’t quite expecting the reaction my comment provoked. The entire room immediately broke out in a chorus of worried murmurs as men rose from their seats. They hastily tossed lucre on the tables and bar as they prepared to take their leave.

“Not going to be caught out on a night when there’s that sort around…” one fellow grunted to himself nervously as he rose.

Just as the first of the crowd reached the door, the whole room froze. Through the narrow apeture of the partially opened door wafted the sound of some sort of chanting. Everyone paused, trying to determine the nature of the sound. Fear was plain on the face of everyone in the room. Everyone was wondering if they were too late. Would they have to stay in the tavern all night to avoid facing the spectre of a procession of mourners heading towards the graves of the restless dead?

The bartender seemed to recognize the nature of the chanting before anyone else in the room. In a mad rush, he vaulted over the bar and ran to the door. He slammed the door shut and locked it. He then quickly went to few, grimy windows of his establishment and quickly pulled the shades.

The barkeeper was obviously extremely distraught. His face was a mask of worry. He stopped and listened for a moment. The chanting was growing closer. He gritted his teeth and gave a slight whine of apprehension. Then he burst into action, pulling tables and chairs towards the door, obviously intent on forming a barricade against the oncoming menace.

As the small man labored with the furnishings, I took note of the expressions on the faces of his patrons. Some of them looked as if they were as frightened as the barkeeper. Others looked confused, as if they were surprised at the intensity of the barkeeps reaction. Surprisingly enough, there were a couple near the door that had a look of slight amusement on their faces, as if they were privy to a realization which had not yet come upon their fellows.

The barkeeper kept at his construction of a barricade. The chanting had reached a crescendo. The originators of the chorus were apparently situated just outside the door of the tavern. Curiously, I noted that there were several more men near the door that now wore a relieved expression. As I wondered what realization would bring them relief, I suddenly began to recognize the chanting as a rather militaristic rendition of a gospel classic. The chanting had resolved itself into the familiar “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This seemed an odd choice for a procession of mourners, especially the type of mourners which might make use of a graveyard of such evil repute.

However, whether each man was wearing a visage which expressed relief or fear, all of us recoiled in shock as the head of an axe burst through the door of the tavern, sending kindling spraying in every direction.

The entire crowd of patrons surged towards the questionable safety of the further reaches of the small chamber as the wielder of the axe continued their assault on the enterance. In short order, the door had been reduced to mere shards of wood. The chanting horde of new comers then surged inside, pushing the barkeepers makeshift barricade before them like floatsam before a wave.

I had scrambled up on the bar itself, and thus had a good view of the besiegers of the tavern. To my surprise, the wielder of the axe was a small, bespectacled woman who appeared to be in her middle years. She was dressed in a highly conservative fashion. As she led her army of attackers into the establishment, she lowered the axe and began to instead brandish a copy of the Bible.

It was at that moment that I recognized the woman as Hazel Grotch, Arkham’s very own anti-liquor crusader. Apparently, I had been unfortunate enough to choose to visit a bar which she had decided would be the next victim of her campaign. As I stood atop the bar, Hazel Grotch and her prohibitionist cohorts set to smashing everything within the bar, paying special attention to the assorted bottles of beverages displayed in front of a large mirror behind the bar.

While this horde was indeed intent on the destruction of our spirits, it appeared that they had not come to devour our souls.

The large mirror, which was located mere feet behind me, shattered into innumberable shards of glass as the demonstrators hurled chairs and various other objects at the collection of bottles arranged before it. I was unfortunate enough to sustain a wound from the onslaught of falling reflective material. I fell forward, off the bar, as an rather large fragment of the mirror imbedded itself in the lower, back portion of my left leg.

I suddenly found myself immersed in a sea of frenzied feet, stomping madly about, and coming distressing close to my head and other rather delicate body parts. I decided to make a break for the door.

As most of the attacking horde consisted of small, church-going females, I had a fair measure of success in forcing my way through to the exit. Still, the pain caused by the large shard of glass which had embedded itself deeply in my calf was intense. Moreover, my efforts apparently caused the shard to move about within my tissues in such a way that I began to lose a rather large quantity of blood.

When I finally had emerged into the dark night outside the tavern, I looked down to take stock of the injuries I had suffered. Unfortunately, I have always had a tendancy to become rather light-headed at the sight of my own blood. The amount of blood that was currently issuing from my leg was far in excess of any amount I had previously witnessed. As I beheld the veritable fountain of my life-blood emptying itself on that dirty lane, the entire world apparently decided the moment was ripe to begin spinning in a rather unpleasant manner. Luckily, the mad spinning of my world was quickly obscured by an impenetrable darkness which had the good grace to envelope my senses and spare me from further unsettling experiences.

I awoke sometime later to the uncomfortable sensation of my cranium bouncing over cobblestones. I struggled for several moments before I comprehended my situation. Apparently, after I had fainted in the street outside the tavern, some large wagon had passed by.

This passing wagon had seemingly snagged some portion of one of my pants legs. Thus, I was being drawn along beneath the wagon. I was being dragged down the lane.

I was extremely fortunate in the fact that wagon which had ensnared me was moving at a rather slow pace. I was rather unfortunate in that, immediately behind the wagon to which I was attached, was another wagon, being pulled by a small team of large horses. The rather large, heavy, and dangerous looking hooves of the following equines caused me to hesistate in disentangling myself from the carriage which was drawing me along.

Rather than immediately trying to free myself, I instead found handholds in the undercarriage of the wagon and managed to draw myself upward so as to avoid further damage to my head via the impact of cobblestones.

I was about to begin yelling, in hopes that the drivers of the wagons would stop and allow me to free myself, or better yet, even offer some assistance, when I realized that the wagons were part of a large, slow moving procession which was entering my current place of employment – The Blessed Memorial Gardens – The Breathing Graveyard!

I was stunned to silence by the realization that I had been snagged by the very funeral procession which had occupied so many of my thoughts that very day. My mind was so dazzled by the ridiculous coincidence that I barely conceive of taking any action at all until the procession had nearly reached the enormous black tent which I had so recently erected.

Once the wagon had finally come to a stop, I considered once again attempting to free myself. I supposed that perhaps I could simply free myself, emerge from beneath the wagon, apologize for interrupting the mourners’ proceedings, and be on my way. However, while I was considering exactly how to free myself, I heard the voice of Mr. Graum speaking. He was speaking with someone who had just descended from the wagon above me. The person to whom he was speaking appeared to be wearing a black robe, so I assumed the person to be a priest or monk.

Mr. Graum was telling the robed individual, to whom he referred to as “Exemplar”, that he had personally checked the entire cemetery and found no evidence of any trespassers. He assured the person that they should be able to proceed with the ritual without any fear of interruption or unwanted observers.

As Mr. Graum spoke, it occurred to me just how suspicious my emergence from beneath the wagon might appear. Mr. Graum had quite evidently earlier thought that I had the potential of desiring to spy upon this group. The odds of my accidentally finding myself clinging to the bottom of the wagon were so small that Mr. Graum would undoubtedly assume that I was, indeed, attempting to secretly trespass upon the mourners’ ceremonies. He would certainly discharge me if I was to emerge at this point.

When I heard the Exemplar respond to Mr. Graum, there was no doubt left in my mind that my best option was to remain hidden. The voice of the robed individual was unlike any manner of vocalization I had ever encountered. The voice was so guttural and had such an alien modulation to it that I could not believe it was issuing forth from the mouth of a human. In its bizarre intonations, the robed figure thanked Mr. Graum for his services and assured Mr. Graum that he would be well rewarded in the future for performing such critical services to the “Coterie”.

I thought that the robed creature’s choice of the word “coterie” was rather peculiar. I had never heard of any religious group of any stripe refer to itself as a “coterie”. Between the use of such strange terms as “Exemplar” and “Coterie”, I was at a complete loss to even hazard a guess as to what sort of religious group this might be. It was beginning to seem quite likely that this group was some extremely secretive cult, rather than simply a little known offshoot of some major religious group. Although I was not entirely sure of it, I was also given the distinct impression by the conversation between the two that Mr. Graum was a member of this “Coterie”.

Clinging to the undercarriage of the wagon had caused my arms and legs to become quite fatigued by this point. I was also being reminded of the wound I had earlier suffered from the glass shard by an extremely unpleasant burning pain in my left calf. However, I endeavored to put these sensations out of my mind. To distract myself, I began to scan about the area, trying to judge what the overall size of the group might be.

I was fairly sure that there were at least ten large black wagons in the funeral procession. The number of mourners seemed quite substantial. I was unable to make any sort of accurate count, by I would say that near to fifty would be a rather decent estimate. All of the mourners seemed to be wearing black robes. I even noted that Mr. Graum donned a robe of similar design as the mourners made their way into the black tent.

The fact that I had been snagged by the lead wagon in the train proved to be fortuitous. For, due to the position of this wagon, I was able to have an obstructed view into the tent. The Coterie had shut the flap and tied it closed, but the bottom section of the flap formed a gap of such sufficient size that, from my near ground-level perspective, I was allowed a fair vantage point.

Once the entire party was within the confines of the tent, they began to set light to strange black candles which each of them seemed to bear. These candles were very odd in that the illumination they provided was not that of the wholesome, bright, yellowish-white fire of common candles, but rather a disturbing purplish glare. The tapers actually seemed to have been somehow manufactured to burn with a violet flame.

By this unwholesome lambency, I was able to discern that the pallbearers had evidently placed the deceased atop a bier which had been erected at the foot of the grave. I was surprised to see that the corpse was not contained within a coffin. Rather, the body was wrapped in, what I assumed to be, some manner of shroud. In retrospect, I have come to believe that, if my mind had been a bit more honest in its appraisal of the scene, I would have perceived the cadaver to be covered, not by a common shroud, but rather by something more like a membraneous cocoon. Of course, by this point in the proceedings, I was already beginning to become overwhelmed by the veritable parade of peculiarities of which this supposed funeral consisted.

The “Exemplar” mounted a low podium which had been placed at the head of the grave. It was apparently time for their spiritual leader to deliver the eulogy.

“My brethren,” the huge robed figure began, rasping forth the words in its preternatural intonations, “We have gathered to witness and celebrate the interment of one of our fellows. Although the absence of this brother from our midst will surely be felt, we must remember that his process of severance from us is a natural part of his life – and of our lives. Although this pattern may, at times, seem to be a hardship, and even a source of grief, I remind you all that this process was ordained from the very beginning for good reason. Long before our births, it was deemed best that we would, at the proper times, move into various periods of transistion. Our brother, who now lies before us, is entering into one of the most vital periods of transformation that he, and we, will experience. It is only through such sacrifice that we of the Coterie will come into our paradise. This hardship is necessary for our furtherance, for our ultimate glorification. This is indeed an occasion for us to rejoice.”

“I realize,” the Exemplar continued, “that there are some among us who have come to us for the first time. I want to thank you for responding to our summons. I am aware of your confusion. However, rest assured that, in your coming, you have followed the correct path. Even now, if you look within yourselves, you will find that, for reasons you do not understand, being among your fellows in the Coterie is a true and fervent desire. In time, you will come to understand this. In time, you will come to understand all that has transpired within your lives. You will understand why you are not like the common humans with whom you have, thus far, been forced to associate. You will come to understand why your thoughts are so different from the rabble, why your minds are so superior. You will understand the changes you have experienced in your material forms. All will be revealed to you, and in this revealing, you will recognize what you are, and that which you are will be fully released within you.”

“For now,” the Exemplar’s hideously voiced soliloquy continued, “let yourselves be satisfied with this small knowledge which I will deign to impart at this time. Know you all that you are indeed a people apart from the seething masses of humanity. The lives of humans are accidents, mere happenstance of no import. Your lives, however, have been carefully orchestrated. Your purposes and your places were ordained with great care. Yea verily, you were known to us before you even began to form within the womb. The seeds from which you have been cultivated were chosen carefully and seized with grand design.”

“Who set forth these schemes, you ask? Who was it that envisioned these sublime mechinations?” the robed thing croaked rhetorically, “You did!! You are the ones who decided these paths for yourselves. Far back before your memories can, at this time, reach – you chose to join with us in our great campaign. You saw fit to throw your lot in with us. You beheld the wisdom of that which we sought!”

At this point in the sermon, the Exemplar gestured emphatically toward the assembly. As its arm swept forth in a grand motion, the sleeve of its robe fell back, revealing the creature’s hand and arm. As I beheld that small portion of the thing which was concealed within those dark folds of cloth, it was all I could do to keep myself from beginning to scream hysterically. For the limb that was revealed was not at all similar to a standard issue human arm.

The skin of the limb was reddish and swollen, as if the Exemplar had experienced the misfortune of falling victim to a conflagration. The fingers which sprouted from a hand-like thing situated at the terminus of the limb were much longer than any human digits. They appeared to be, perhaps, three to four times the normal length of a finger.

More distressingly, the fingers did not appear to contain any bones. By the manner in which they curled and undulated, I would judge that these digits were more similar to small tentacles than to any extremity common to man.

Finally, from the arm portion of the limb, sprouted small growths and nodules of an uncertain nature.

When the robed creature drew back its hideous body part, and its robe once again concealed the nightmarish sight, I was greatly relieved. In fact, I immediately began to tell myself that the scene which I believed I had just witnessed could not have been completely valid. Either my eyes had played a prank upon me, or the limb had simply fallen victim to some horrible accident in the past and was terribly scarred. Surely, if one was to catch a mere glimpse of so damaged a member, one’s mind would often resort to a conclusion that it had beheld a fiendish monstrosity. Such is the way of our thoughts when we are children, and these thoughts are not as completely banished from our adult minds as we would like to think.

Meanwhile, the Exemplar continued its discordant diatribe. “For the moment, you may harbor doubts, my brethren. However, as your true selves awaken from their self-imposed slumber, the truth of what I say will become undeniable to you.”

“This moment, however,” the creature went on, “is not the occasion to reveal all. This time is for the task which lies before us. Now is the hour in which we lay to rest our companion.”

The Exemplar guestured to several other robed figures who lifted the cadaver from the bier and began to maneuver it into the grave.

“Sleep well my brother,” spake the Exemplar in it unnatural way, “May your dreams be of the glory before you. Though your body may lay within the ground, we will comfort you in this time. Though your material form is forced to endure this isolation, your spirit may again fly free and join with us in communion. Likewise, we thank all the souls of our other fellows who have been lain in these tombs for joining in our assembly.”

As the Exemplar spoke of the other “souls” he poured a beaker of fluid into some container which must have been positioned before him, but which was not visible from my location. He then cried out a series of words I could not comprehend and cannot recall at this time. When his incantation was done, he set light to the fluid he had poured. As greenish flames shot up from the mixture, he cried, “Welcome your brother O Spirits!!”

By the flaring illumination of the strange, burning potion, I perceived a veritable swarm of swirling phantoms which surged about the upper portion of the tent. Somehow, the greenish flames of the elixir made visible these spirits which had congregrated into a great seething cloud of protoplasmic entities.

My mind went completely numb at the sight. Indeed, it was tottering at the edge of madness. Unfortunately, it was about to be given a less than gentle nudge over that damned precipice.

The pallbearers had completed the task of lowering the departed into its resting place. As I gaped at the throng of ghostly shapes above them, they proceeded to produce another figure which I had not earlier realized was present. This figure was of standard human size and shape. In fact, it was rather obvious that the figure was indeed a human being. It was a young human female which was securely bound and gagged and alive.

The pallbearers held the young woman suspended over the open grave as the Exemplar spoke, “My brother, as you enter into the greatest phase of your transmorgrifications, may you find sustenance and delight in this fodder we offer to you. My you feed well and rest easy!”

At this, the pallbearers allowed the struggling figure to fall into the grave. They then began the task of filling in the sepluchral pit.

This last event was more than my reeling wits could withstand. The sight caused me to cry out in horror – without thought, or consideration of my circumstances. At the same moment, my benumbed limbs failed me and I fell from beneath the wagon onto the ground.

The rather unwise bit of noise and movement on my part, unfortunately, did not go unnoticed. Indeed, not less than a second after my body struck the earth, the tent flap had been flung open and huge robed figures began to surge outward. Perhaps even more unnerving was the sight of the strange and twisted phantoms which also joined in their exodus, spiraling and spinning above their more solid cohorts as they moved towards me.

To my surprise, despite having no feeling, and doubtlessly having been throughly cramped and deprived of bloodflow for such an extended period, my limbs took it upon themselves to attempt to flee an obviously grisly end. My extremities made a rather good showing for themselves in the early part of the pursuit. In fact, for several moments, it appeared that I would be able to outrun the cultists.

However, before I had covered much of a distance, I once again heard the heinous voice of the Exemplar ring forth. Their spiritual leader was, once again, giving issuance to arcane utterances such as I had never before encountered. At the end of his short chant, he cried out, “Rise Brother! Rise and seize the infidel!”

To my horror, the soil of the grave immediately before me exploded upward in a great wave as its inhabitant thrust its bulk out of its entombment. The sight of the thing which had so recently been a quasi-peaceful resident of the Blessed Memorial Gardens was more horrific than I could ever make plain with mere words.

It was obviously a human figure which had enlarged and remolded according to the designs of some insane and infernal architect. The entire surface of the thing was covered in a putrescent mucous. Where the head of a human would be located, there was now a gaping maw, containing enormous fangs and incisors which gnashed violently in obvious anticipation of devouring my flesh. Along the “lip” of this hideous “mouth” were the remaining vestiges of a human head – split into several withering segments which wobbled lifelessly as the beast moved.

The arms of the thing had grown in both girth and length, to the point where they were at least twice as long as the body was tall. These arms had formed several new joints along their length which seemed to be able to bend in almost any direction. Near the end portions of the limbs grew numerous “hands” which seemed to have sprouted out in random locations. The “hands” lacked fingers, but accounted for the loss with the substitution of many long tentacles.

I never really had an opportunity to see the lower portion of the thing, and I can’t say that I am in any way sorry to have been deprived of the view. However, I strongly suspect that it would have bore similarly appalling mutations and deviations from the body’s original structure.

At the emergence of the horror from its grave, I had suffered the setback of falling prone upon my posterior. The huge and loathesome being was now looming over me in such a way that I was effectively trapped.

My luck had not fled however. As I lay upon the lawn of the graveyard, my hand came into contact with the handle of the very shovel which I had been using earlier in the day. The very shovel which I had forgotten to return to its place in the shed. The very shovel which Mr. Graum had prevented me from fetching.

I grasped the handle of the heavy implement and swung as hard as I was able at the fiend which sought to be my doom.

To my surprise, the shovel’s blade did not bounce harmlessly off of the menace. Instead, the blade of the shovel penetrated rather deeply into the carcass and seemed to cause it some rather extreme discomfort.

The living nightmare gave voice to the foul caterwauling imaginable and leapt back from me. In a heartbeat, I was once again on my feet and heading towards the cemetery gate. The gate was, of course, shut and locked, but in my highly excited state proved to be but a mild obstacle. My arms and legs scaled the fence with a competence which still rather amazes me if I think back on it.

Luckily, the great, bulky Coterie members, wrapped in their thick black robes, found the fence to be a much more insurtmountable obstacle. As far as I could tell, none had managed to even set one foot, hoof, or pseudopod outside the cemetery before I had vanished out of sight down the city streets.

I proceeded to run nearly to the other end of Arkham before I was able to think clearly enough to locate a constable’s station. I, of course, did not stop to consider the best manner in which to file my complaint. Instead, I burst into the precinct station and began to scream and gesticulate wildly. I ranted and raved about horrible monstrosities in graveyards and being pursued by mad cultists who buried young women alive as sacrifices to their dead.

The culmination of my efforts to alert the authorities to the danger posed by the evil sect was my confinement within the walls of Arkham’s institution for people who suffer from mental illness. That is where I am today, and I have begun to suspect that it is where I will remain until such a time arrives when the Coterie will choose to burst forth from their tombs and begin devouring mankind.

I would like to thank my physicians for the opportunity to record this account. I realize that they will view it merely as a symptom of some form of insanity. Nevertheless, if these words should ever fall into the hands of someone outside the psychiatric profession who may actually lend them some credence, I would urge them to CAREFULLY investigate the state of affairs existing at the Blessed Memorial Gardens in Arkham. I can only pray that some person will take heed to this story and do what is necessary to warn mankind regarding the incredibly dire menace which is developing below the soil of that place.

***

Physician’s note:

Several days after penning this highly disturbed fantasy, the patient experienced some manner of catatonic episode. Two days thereafter he succumbed to some unidentified ailment and passed away.

As he was still listed as an employee of the Blessed Memorial Gardens, he qualified for that establishment’s burial benefit. Accordingly, his remains were turned over to the management of the graveyard for disposal.


One Response to “The Breathing Tombs”

  1. Nickolaus Pacione Wrote:

    If any story that should be in the Temple of Dagon anthology of yours, this should be it because it is one of your strongest entries in the genre in general. I pick this one because it is the same length as mine that will be going in there.

    It’s a damn good write. By far one of the scariest things you’ve written in awhile. I am impressed.

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