Two things happened to (X) in the spring of last year that seemed less significant than they turned out to be. She started sleep walking at the same time that circular patches of disturbed dirt starting appearing in her backyard. Just one at first, but a new one appeared every night that followed.
Since (X) lived alone, she was able to discern her new sleepwalking habit via the grime trapped under her nails when she awoke, amongst other indications she’d been in dirt. It seemed she was digging holes, then returning the displaced earth before returning to her room. As any rational independent adult would do, (X) visited a doctor, who prescribed less stimulation before bed along with a little round pill that “may or may not prevent the episodes.” The little pill didn’t stop the episodes. Neither did avoiding television or books before bed.
Attempting a more psychological approach, (X) researched gardening. She thought maybe she was repressing some desire to dig or grow her own food. The holes she dug in her sleep continued parallel and close to the back line of her fence. To avoid disturbing her vegetable garden during an episode, she started a raised bed close to the house.
Little green sprouts presented in her garden, stalks thickened, the promise of home grown vegetables and fruit excited (X) more than she expected. The sleep excavations continued regardless.
When she reached the end of the fence line during the night digs, another horizontal row started. She was surprised at the symmetry of the appearing holes, each measuring eighteen inches in diameter and spaced six inches apart – exactly six inches. Nothing sprouted from these night dig sights; never did the idea come to her to dig one up while she was awake. Nothing was missing from the house; her car keys were never disturbed. There seemed nothing she could have been “planting.” (X) got used to the idea and accepted it as part of herself for a while. Maybe when I’ve dug the entire backyard, it’ll stop.
Six weeks later, (X) was picking the first ripened pods from her green bean bush when she heard a muffled voice yell. It was early morning, the sky still dim; the sun prepared to peak over the horizon. (X) stopped all movement, quieted her breath and listened with her arm hairs vertical. She heard it again. Turning to look towards the origin, she saw nothing aside from the dig sights now covering almost the entirety of her yard. (X) held her sheers as a weapon and approached the back fence.
The muffled yelling continued, as if a man was having a one-sided angry conversation with a sock in his mouth . Panic set in as she neared the sound. It came not from behind her property, but from beneath her feet. Standing at the edge of the first night hole, she could almost discern annunciation – she could feel the vibration being carried through the ground. Shaking, she fell to her knees and clawed at the dirt, throwing handfuls in all directions. Her nail scratched flesh, the voice cried out in pain, then began cursing at the mishap.
(X) panicked. Her first thought had been that someone was buried alive down there, and she needed to get them out. Never did she consider herself responsible. She kept checking over her shoulder for a villain of some kind to descend upon them. She continued digging, more carefully, until she could completely palpate a human head. Grasping both sides of the head, she stood and pulled so hard she questioned her own arms staying in place; the voice yelled with angry pain.
Slowly, hair crowned the earth, then a brow, then a clenched pair of eyes. (X) lost her breath. Again, she checked for an oppressor. She was alone save her buried friend. Then the pull changed, the struggle got easier, the dirt felt to be giving way. She pulled harder, the screaming volume multiplied, then subsequently she heard rips and pops, like when you pull a large, well-rooted weed from the ground, the screaming ceased, and she found herself flat on her back with the wind knocked out of her.
The world was blurry. Her head ached from the impact with the ground. She still held the uprooted thing in her hands, only now her grip was wet. Warm liquid fell to her chest and abdomen. (X) sat up, trying to breathe. When again she opened her eyes to focus, she looked at the hole and saw red fluid filling the void. Water stained with clay? She was dazed still. That’s when she saw the decapitated head in her hands.
She screamed and threw it. The head bounced off the back fence and rolled before stopping with its face in her direction. The expression was twisted with pain. No way do I have the strength to pull a head off.
Again, not thinking logically, (X) threw her hands in the pooled hole, throwing out cupped handfuls of the red liquid she could now see was blood, looking for the rest of the body. How would she convince an officer she was trying to help, not murder this guy? But she would have to call the cops. She dug for shoulders. What she found instead was a tendon and vein root system.
There was an intricate twisting of them for several inches below the tearing points. (X) sat with blood and mud equally caked on her hands, turning the organic mass over and over. Her eyes were wide and glazed. Her lips hung parted. She was only half-way conscious, unbelieving of what she saw. She guiltily dropped the mass of veins and white connective tissues when she heard another voice nearby. The second hole was now yelling at her.
Her trembling hands pulled away the dirt, carefully, slow. Once she felt her fingertips brush the scalp, she began to move the dirt in a more direct motion, as to expose the face and mouth. Again, she saw emerge a head of hair, a brow, blinking eyes…the yelling stopped when he seemed to realize she was excavating him with the caution of an archaeologist uncovering her first find. She swallowed and held her breath, then exposed his mouth.
“It’s about damn time.”
(X) said nothing. She couldn’t speak.
The head scoffed, rolled his eyes, then clicked his tongue. “I suppose I should say thank you, but you are late. I’ve been calling for you.”
(X) still said nothing. She looked to her hands, then to the severed head only feet away.
“Is he here?”
“Is who here?” (X) looked around the yard again, now feeling something looming over her shoulder.
“Him. The one who brought us to you.”
“The one that brought you to…” she trailed off. She was dumbfounded, overwhelmed, overstimulated. She didn’t think. (X) stood and grabbed both sides of the head as she had before, telling herself this time she’d pull a full human from the ground. The head screamed and cursed. She shoved dirt in his mouth. She pulled until the tension gave way, and she once again found herself holding an uprooted human head.
Now frantic, she clawed at the third hole. (X) knew what she would find, though disbelief tingled in her knuckles when she actually found skin. This one was sleeping. This one was a woman.
(X) slapped her. The sound reminded her of the noise fresh dough makes when its plopped onto a cold counter. No response. She slapped her three more times before she woke.
“What the fuck is going on?”
“You tell me what the fuck is going on. Why are human heads growing in my yard?”
“Are you serious? Why didn’t you ask him?”
“The one who brought us here.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about. I’ve just plucked two heads from my yard like weeds, and I’m assuming there’s fifty more of you here.”
“You picked two of the heads? He’s going to be mad. You can only expose our tops once we become lucid. We still have months of development.”
(X) found herself with a lack of words again.
“We were all dead. He came to our graves, asked if we would join his army, said he was taking control of things on earth. You are the gardener. You were given the privilege to cultivate our growth.”
“To cultivate…” (X) stared at the woman, looked to the holes still covered. Her brow creased. “Is he the devil?”
“To be honest I don’t know. I didn’t ask. But I think we all assumed that was the case.”
(X) stared at her for seconds longer before jumping to her feet and once again pulling to free the head from its roots. The woman yelled horrendous curses until the snap and pop came, then she was quiet.
Neighbors would have heard the commotion. Cops had probably been called. (X) moved quick, grabbing the pickaxe from its rusted wall mount. She stood in front of the fourth hole, raised her arms high overhead, then brought the axe down with as much momentum as she could produce. The axe struck something solid, a muffled yell came quick, once, then blood began to seep from the opening. She repeated the process around the yard. Blood stopped presenting around the thirtieth hole. She heard distant sirens when on the last two. Once she finished, she made a mad dash for her car keys, fish-hooked her purse with the nook of her arm on the way out, and drove north.
The authorities couldn’t make much out of it. They were finally able to solve the mystery of who had been stealing heads from graves all over the southern region of the U.S. The lack of pattern, and the sheer distance between occurrences left them baffled. They still couldn’t sort out how she was reaching such distances on a nightly basis. Her car wasn’t on any video surveillance to or from the grave locations; her bank account showed no indication of recent flights.
When they saw the blood, the fresh heads, at first the police thought they caught her in the act of burying recently murdered victims. Upon further investigation, they found the humanesque root systems, the lack of bodies to which the heads belonged…someone put together that the “recently decapitated” victims had all died at least twelve months prior. Dental records and DNA were compared, the bodies excavated from their graves. The heads presented no sign of decay while the bodies were decomposing on schedule.
Even harder to explain were the rest of the heads that remained buried. All had been hammered with a pick axe; all seemed to be in a different phase of re-growing skin and other soft tissues.
The incident was reported officially as nothing more than a woman stealing dead heads from cemeteries before burying them in her backyard. They later caught her trying to set sail on a beach of the Atlantic Ocean. She was in a tugboat with both pockets full of rocks, claiming the devil chased her and wanted her help to build his army. She escaped before any full evaluation could be made, and, less dramatically, she hung herself from the first bridge she came across.
After her service, after she was buried, after agents and doctors who knew the truth spent hours staring at the ground packed atop her casket with a curious thirst they knew could never be satiated, on an easy morning with the spring sun waking the cool sky, a groundskeeper came out to find her grave disturbed, the dirt dug, and her head gone. Most thought it to be a revenge move executed by a disgruntled family member of one of the heads she’d stolen. The ones who were there, though, the first responders, or those like me, who dissected the roots and autopsied the heads, we let our minds and imaginations wander.
Our charted pattern showed the heads regaining cognitive function at six weeks. The furthest along, his roots had signs of developing systems that typically lead to the heart, lungs, and upper appendages. Our research was forwarded to a classified party, one I always assumed to be a branch of the government. If it was possible to bring humans back to life, and we somehow stumbled on said evidence, the military would want their hands on it.
I swallowed a dry piece of doughnut and found myself musing on the woman’s claims when I clocked into work. Someone was still out there stealing dead heads, but the collection rate and radius expanded. If she had been telling the truth, for the evidence had no support in either science or logic, the death of a garden or gardener would not divert his course. I pondered in whose backyard she was planted.
Copyright WB Welch – All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.