COINS -by Ray O'Bannon

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Franky clutched the meat hook tightly. He lay face down in the weed-choked field, his dead body slowly cooling, but still he clutched the meat hook. Mack liked that. Mack thought it was somehow comical, since Franky had often bragged about how that hook had been used in some famous horror movie. What was that word? Ironic. Yeah, that's what it was ... ironic. Mack chuckled softly. "You always were a weasel, Franky."

Mack had been a bit surprised when the boss had sent him out to pop Franky. Never thought it would come to that, considering what an ass kisser Franky had always been. But you just don't cross the largest Mafia family in the state, and Mack had taken a vague pleasure in murdering the wimp. More pleasure than he was taking in having to dig the shallow grave that now occupied his attention. He stood knee deep in the stony soil, chopping at the tree roots that constantly stopped his shovel. He glanced back at the crumbling farmhouse and realized the sun was setting. It had taken hours to drive this far out into the country, and he wanted to be finished before dark. He almost wished he had just lost the body someplace more convenient, but Mack knew the grave had to be here.

It was a 'peculiarity', and he had been laughed at more than once over it. Most of the guys in the organization had some sort of peculiar habit or mannerism, and Mack's oddness was thinking of a specific place the instant he murdered anyone. Once a place came to mind, he could never seem to relax until the body was buried there. He had even had to relocate a few corpses to satisfy this whim, but one does what one has to. And in the case of Franky, it had to be the old Sharpton farmhouse, and nowhere else would do. The place was legendary among the locals, rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of those who had vanished there years ago. He stood gazing now at the black empty windows that seemed to stare back at him. What had happened in that farmhouse? Where had all those people gone? He scowled as he turned back to his digging.

Glancing over, he noticed the dark wet stain that was spreading across the back of Franky's shirt, seeping slowly outwards from the bullet hole, and Mack was reminded of the blood stains he had gotten all over the shoulder of his own jacket as he had hauled the body from the trunk of the car. How was he ever going to get those out? The suit was irreplaceable, having been hand sewn for him by his favorite tailor, who Mack had later killed during a card game. And Mack's Italian leather shoes were getting scratched up terribly as he continued digging. This just wasn't shaping up to be much of a day.

The shovel rasped against stone, and something in the dislodged soil caught his attention. He tried to tell himself it was a broken piece of tree root or a rock, but Mack knew a finger bone when he saw one. He bent down, sifting through the loose soil, and then rose back up to stare in astonishment at the tiny white bone he held. Had he actually chosen the site of a previous grave to dig this new one? He glanced towards Franky as though preparing to share this odd joke, but his thoughts were broken suddenly. Hadn't he thrown the body several yards from the gravesite? He was sure of it, and yet now it rested only a few feet from the grave. A cold sweat broke out on Mack's forehead as the sun sank lower. Might be a good idea to hurry up about this, just get it done and hit the road. The grave was nearly waist deep now, probably deep enough to suffice. And then Mack saw the coin glittering in the dying sunlight.

He again reached down into the soil at the bottom of the grave, and then arose with a stunned expression. In his hand was a small gold coin, bent and scratched but still gleaming richly in the golden light of the setting sun. One side had several words written across it, but he couldn't seem to read any of them so he flipped the coin over. And Mack's heart stopped beating for a few moments. The opposite side of the coin depicted something Mack could only think of as a monster. His mind rebelled at the sight of the spider-like limbs and the many rows of what seemed to be teeth. The very sight of this horrible abomination, though depicted only crudely on this battered little coin, sent his mind skittering dangerously close to the edge of madness. He threw the coin violently back into the grave, shuddering as he watched it glimmer there in the last of the daylight. He filled the shovel with loose soil and prepared to cover the foul thing over, but at the last instant he stopped. The coin was gold. Real gold, he was sure of it. And there might be more of them. He set the shovel aside uncertainly and stood considering the situation for a moment. And then he knelt back down into the grave, hands plunging into the cold fetid soil.

A short while later Mack held several dozen coins, being careful not to look directly at them as he rose to place them into his pockets. He glanced to the side and his eyes were met by Franky's startled gaze. Hadn't the head been turned the other direction earlier? He stared at the body doubtfully. The right hand still clutched the meat hook, but the left hand seemed to be lying differently, almost as if reaching towards the grave. Mack chuckled nervously at his own apprehension, the weight of the coins in his pocket returning his attention to the task at hand. He dropped carefully back down into the grave and resumed his searching. A few more finger bones, a few more coins, and suddenly Mack's fingers were unable to dig any further. They had struck what seemed to be a large flat sheet of gold.

As Mack impatiently pawed the soil away from around the gold sheet, his mind raced to explain it. Was it a sign or a marker of some kind? Perhaps the top of a container? The lid of a box? The center of the sheet became visible and Mack lurched back in horror. The inexplicably terrifying image of the spider-limbed creature once again glared up at him. In the center of its mouth a small hole had been drilled through the gold. It wasn't clogged with dirt and the logical part of Mack's mind began to think past the terror of the monster's image, began to reason that there must be a hollow space beneath the sheet. And then Franky's hand fell on his shoulder.

Screaming loudly, Mack flung the hand away and began scrabbling at the sides of the grave, trying to get himself out of that horrible pit and back up onto solid ground. The body was somehow now lying directly beside the grave, and its arm, now blood soaked, had dropped over the side. Glancing back, Mack saw the last rays of the setting sun glimmer briefly on a single drop of blood as it fell from Franky's dangling fingers. He watched in horror as it dropped down through the hole in the golden sheet. And then he was loosing his balance as the sheet began to tilt sideways, and soil was sliding down all around him, vanishing into the hole that was suddenly opening beneath him. And there were things coming out of the hole, huge black spider-like limbs.

Mack somehow got a grip on the edge of the grave and hauled himself upward. The massive black limbs were flailing madly behind him and he was dimly aware of Franky's body being tugged down into the hole. And then Mack was up onto solid ground and rising to his feet, preparing to make a desperate run for the car. His frantic eyes scanned the countryside and the shock of what he saw froze him motionless. The sun had now set and in the gathering dusk he saw them. They stood watching from every window of the farmhouse, from the weed choked fields on either side, from all around him, their expressionless faces glowing dimly in the growing darkness as they stared. For a brief moment his logical mind almost got hold of it, almost understood all those stories he had heard as a child. But then there was a shattering pain in his leg as the meat hook sank in, and he felt himself being jerked back downward into the grave that he himself had dug. "You always were a weasel, Franky" he muttered as the meat hook pulled him under. And then the darkness fell, and silence returned, after a while, to the countryside.