The grave had fallen in that morning, before Cundle arrived with his fancy equipment. He looked crestfallen when Jim showed him. He had no explanation for the dramatic collapse of the hillock, and didn’t understand why it had sunk in on itself in a matter of hours.

Cundle acted as though his precious theory had collapsed along with the grave. He seemed to take comfort in the fact that there had been localised tremors in the area just before the collapse.

As Jim tore past the grave now, he noticed something new. At its foot was a long vertical slit in the earth, almost a gash, where the turf had been pulled apart. In the waning light of the early evening, he could just make out that the gash opened onto a small tunnel.

It took ten minutes to get to Sloman’s office from the grave. Jim’s legs shook, he knew he couldn’t keep up the pace. He wondered for a minute if he shouldn’t just lie down on the grave and get it over with. Then he thought of Cundle and what had been done to him and the fear of that spurred him on. Now that Jim had seen the grave, whatever was chasing him seemed content to hover two steps behind him. If he slowed to a walk, it would move closer and worry him, like a sheepdog herding a stray.

Sloman’s office was by the main gates, a single storey building with a gabled roof that had once been the cemetery keeper’s cottage. Now it served as a visitor’s centre and workplace for Sloman. The largest room contained a little display about the history of the cemetery and a few shelves with ‘local interest’ books. In the back was Sloman’s office, a small kitchen and a toilet.

It was usually locked at this hour. Jim fumbled the keys from his pocket as he jogged up. He noticed the main gates were chained and padlocked. Jim hadn’t seen the big padlock before and he had no key for it. He had no idea who’d done it, but it changed all his plans. He’d hoped to get the hell out of the cemetery the minute he’d alerted Sloman. Now he’d have to make his way out of one of the side entrances. That meant facing whatever was out there again.

Jim’s heart sank the minute he entered the largest room. Something was obviously not right. For a start there was the smell again. It was fainter, but it was definitely there, heavy with rot and a sickening ripeness.

The strip lights in the main room were flickering, but the office out back was in shadow. Jim had expected to hear Sloman at work, typing on his laptop or chatting on the phone. Instead the whole place was dead silent, too silent. The door to the office was slightly ajar. Jim couldn’t see beyond it.

He felt like he was in a horror movie. He realised this was the moment when the audience would scream for him to get the hell out, to turn around, run or do anything other than go in that back office. It was one of the reasons he couldn’t watch horror movies. He couldn’t believe how stupid most of the characters were.

Yet here he was walking towards the office at the back like there was a horrible inevitability to it, as though he had no other choice but to do this. In real life, he thought, sometimes you don’t.

Jim pushed open the door and stepped into the office. He let out a sob when he saw Sloman. He sounded like a little school girl. Suddenly he felt very detached from his body, as though he were far away from that office, watching it all from a safe distance.

He hadn’t liked Cundle very much, but Sloman was a different matter. Sloman was a decent guy and he’d been good to Jim.

He shook his head and blinked the tears out of his eyes. He couldn’t take in what had happened to Sloman, his brain couldn’t process it. It was like trying to decipher an unknown language or work out an entirely new branch of mathematics, wholly beyond his comprehension.

Every bit of furniture was shattered. Sloman’s laptop, his cable router and his radio lay in tiny pieces on the ground. The walls, floor and ceiling ran with blood and viscera. Thick, viscose droplets fell all about Jim.

The bones from Sloman’s disassembled body were scattered around the room in strange geometric arrangements. Bits of cartilage and tendon still stuck to some. Jim couldn’t grasp anymore than that, his mind wouldn’t let him.

There was a slight tremor in the ground, causing all of Sloman’s bones to rattle. The same fetid odour rose in the office like a sudden increase in temperature. Jim started to back out when his foot kicked something that skittered out of the doorway. He turned to look and saw it was Sloman’s hand, the only part of his body to remain intact. It had been severed at the wrist but Jim could still see his wedding ring.

The fingers of the hand were clutching something. Jim bent to get a better look and saw it was Sloman’s phone. A tiny flutter of hope awoke in him. There might just be a way out of this, he could still call for help. Jim had not owned a phone, a laptop or a tablet since he came to the cemetery. It was one of the things he did to stay off the grid and avoid detection. He regretted that now. He desperately needed to connect to the outside world.

Jim pried the phone from the still warm fingers of the hand and tapped the screen to check for a signal. No bars were showing, but the screen was open on a text conversation. He swallowed hard. He was sure he recognised the number and it made him nauseous. The most recent message had been sent a few hours ago, while Jim had been out weeding. It read:

TY Phil, once again u r a STAR!!! I’ll b there soon 2 pick up the spare keys. Don’t tell J I’m w8ing for him @ the bungalow. Don’t want him 2 do another runner!!! xxx

Jim’s hands were so sweaty his fingers were almost too moist to scroll to the top of the conversation. The first message in the conversation, from a week ago, confirmed his worst fears:

Hi Phil, sorry 2 bother u with a txt, but u’ve been so gr8 and I’ve been out of my mind since Jim took off. He got rid of his phone and everything. I have so many bills 2 pay and I’m due in just over a month. u don’t no wot it means to finally find him. thnx Fi xxx

Jim thought Sloman had been a bit off with him for the past week and now he knew why. Fiona had tracked him down, but how? How had she known he was at the cemetery? Had she guessed why he really came to work here? She’d be the only one who could.

There was another tremor and Jim turned to look back into the office. For the first time he saw the huge hole in the corner. It had been behind him when he entered, so he hadn’t seen it. The small pile of soil poking up through the hole began to shake and grow, sending loose earth onto the blood soaked floorboards.

The cloying smell wafted out of the office and Jim knew he had to get to the bungalow. He wasn’t certain what he dreaded more, finding Fiona alive or dead.

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