The Shortcut - A Will Starr Short Story
It’s getting close to Halloween again, and as always, the horrible memory of that long ago night will not be denied. It haunts my dreams with the first chill of autumn and I cannot shake it off. Perhaps it might help if I put pen to paper and relate that awful story for all to consider. Probably not, but it might keep some other hapless soul from making the same mistakes.
I was working out of town, and my wife and kids were hundreds of miles away, so I decided to go to a small family bar just a couple blocks away, have a few shots, and watch a game with the guys. I was living in an RV park and kids never trick or treat there anyway so there was no point in trying to hand out candy. There were no customers.
Kansas weather in October is unpredictable, but then, weather in Kansas is always unpredictable. That night, it was chilly, windy and raw, with rain and a possible thunderstorm in the forecast. Had I known what was in store for me, I would have just stayed home and read a good western. To top it off, I also had a bad cold and my voice was almost gone. But like the fool I was, I bundled up and walked out into the night.
Murphy’s is one of those small neighborhood bars where newcomers are regarded with suspicion…until they buy a round. Then they’re old friends. Most of my crew had found their way down here when the job first began, and a few were shooting pool on the worn out felt of an ancient table. Jimmy Dolan was making kissy-face back in the corner with an old barfly named Doris, and big Harold was feeding the jukebox.
A local jerk named Ralph Hicks was trying to stir up trouble again, and the bartender was eying him sourly. Hicks had a knack for starting fights, but somehow, when the fists started flying, he was never in the middle of it, but watching from the sidelines. I openly despised the creep and he knew it, so he kept his distance.
Some of the locals were sporting Halloween outfits, and after a couple of hours and lots of alcoholic lubrication, the place was starting to get a little rowdy. I, myself had taken one too many so I was thinking about heading home, when Alice Warden and her husband came in wearing their outfits. George was dressed up like a biker, and Alice wore a witch costume. Before they got the door closed, a cold gust of wind blew in, and I felt several drops of rain down the back of my neck. Then Al Handover roared that Alice “sure enough looked like an ugly old witch, and didn't even need no makeup!’ With that, the fight was on, and I staggered outside.
The route to the RV park was half a block east, one block south, and then another half a block back to the west. Or, I could just cut through the cemetery, and save myself a full block, because even through the rain, I could still make out the lights of the RV park from Murphy’s front door. I could hear myself superstitiously yelling at me not to go that way, and I chuckled hoarsely. This was reality, and not some silly Hollywood horror flick. Ignoring myself, I walked across the street and into the cemetery.
I was less than a hundred feet in when the light rain suddenly became a real downpour, and the wind started increasing. Then lightning lit up the sky, followed almost instantly by a crash of thunder. I picked up the pace.
I glanced up to get my bearings on the park, and the next thing I knew I was falling. I threw out my hands to break my fall, but I landed on my face and chest, knocking the wind out of me. I lay there for some time, stunned and almost unable to breathe. It took me a minute to realize that I had fallen into a freshly dug grave in the darkness, and that I was lying in thick, oozing mud. At last I crawled to my feet and faced my predicament.
The grave was over six feet deep, and the walls were vertical and very slippery with mud. In the flashes of lightning, I looked for some sort of handhold, or maybe a rock I could stand on, but there was nothing. I tried again and again to climb out, but the wet grass and mud offered no grip. I began to call for help, but my raspy voice was now almost completely gone. After a futile hour or so, I gave up and decided to wait for morning and help. I crawled back into a leeward corner to get out the rain as much as possible and pulled my jacket over my head.
Suddenly, perhaps two hours later, I heard a heavy thud right in front of me, and then the familiar cursing voice of Ralph Hicks. Apparently, he had the same shortcut idea and he too had had fallen in, but did not fall as hard as I did. He immediately began trying to get out, simultaneously calling for help, but no one could hear him for the wind and thunder. I just sat there back in the shadows and watched the entertainment silently.
Again and again he tried, until he was exhausted, and then a flash of lightning revealed that he was standing against the far end of the grave. He was whimpering like a child and his shoulders were shaking, so I finally began to feel sorry for him. I struggled to my feet and stepped up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder and telling him in my raspy whisper, “You’ll never get out of here.”
But he did.
This is based on an old joke I heard many years ago, and never heard again:
“There was this drunk taking a short cut through a cemetery on a dark, rainy night…”
Anyway, you get the drift. It's one of those ‘best jokes I ever heard’ good memories, so I thought I’d fluff it up a little bit Will Starr style and present it for your Halloween approval…or not!