There was a long moment of stunned silence.
Then Dave asked, “Are you insane?”
“No,” I replied, suddenly feeling very foolish. “I mean, Mary experienced it, too.”
“I felt something in the bookstore that day,” she confirmed, “but I don’t know what I think about the rest of this.”
“Oh, I’ve no doubt you guys experienced something,” Dave said. “I’ve had my own encounters with the paranormal over the years. And who knows? Maybe you did make brief contact with Jesus. It’s possible.”
I frowned. “Then why do you think I’m insane?”
“Because you’re not talking about seeing his ghost. You’re talking about stealing his corpse!”
“Ashes,” I countered.
“Ashes, corpse—it still amounts to grave robbing, Brian!”
“And asking us to help,” Phoebe chimed in.
“I’ll do the stealing,” I said. “I just need you guys to distract Jim.”
Dave threw his hands up in the air. “Jim owns the store! If Jesus really wants to go home, why not just ask Jim to give you the remains?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I mean, Jim got that nice memorial plaque made up. That wasn’t cheap. And he went through a lot of work interring the urn in the wall. It would kind of be a dick move to ask him to tear the wall apart again.”
Dave flailed. “And it’s not a dick move for us to tear his store apart and steal from him?”
“We’re not stealing from Jim,” I insisted. “We’re just helping our Jesus. I think Jim would understand that.”
Phoebe frowned. “Then why not ask him?”
“I don’t know,” I repeated. “I just…I get the sense Jesus doesn’t want me to.”
“Then you have to at least tell Cathy,” Mary said.
I shook my head. “We can’t. Seriously. She’s just now healing from it all—as much as anyone ever truly heals after losing their husband and best friend. I’m not going to fuck up her shit by telling her that I’m in touch with him, and that he wants to come home.”
“So…” Dave paused. “What exactly is your plan?”
“Who said I have a plan?”
“You always have a plan,” all three of them said in unison.
I shrugged. “Okay. You know I’ve got that jar of H.P. Lovecraft’s grave dirt, right?”
At this point in our narrative, I should probably tell you about the dirt I dug up from H.P Lovecraft’s grave many years ago. I kept it in a clear glass jar on my bookshelf. For the most part, it was just a knickknack, serving as a bookend between my complete collection of Lovecraft’s Arkham House volumes and books by M. Stephen Lukac and Brian Lumley. Occasionally, however, it had other uses.
One such usage was the fault of my friend Jason (who, in a bizarre bit of cruel synchronicity, died of a sudden brain aneurysm two months before Jesus). A few years ago, Jason brought a stranger to my home. Now, usually, I trusted Jason’s judgement, but this particular individual wanted to be a horror writer, and later that evening—after many drinks—he became obnoxious and aggressive, insisting that I help him achieve his dream. Now, I’ve got a pretty good track record of helping people do just that in this business, but this guy…? This guy. I didn’t like him. I didn’t like the fact that he was using one of my oldest friends to get to me. So, I got him drunker. And then I pulled down H.P. Lovecraft’s grave dirt. And then I told him that there was a secret ritual—an initiation of sorts. Every successful horror writer had done it. Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, the Splatterpunks, Poppy Z. Brite, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum, Tanith Lee, Richard Laymon. Even Bentley Little. All of us had snorted a line of H.P. Lovecraft’s grave dirt, and that had led to our successes.
He was just drunk enough to believe me. I poured him a line of dirt, and cut it up fine with a butter knife. He declined my offer of a straw, hunkered down next to my coffee table, and proceeded to snort H.P. Lovecraft’s grave dirt up his nose—half the line in one nostril, the second half in the other.
He started to scream and squirm pretty much instantaneously.
His nose started to bleed after that.
Turned out I hadn’t smashed up all the little pebbles in the dirt.
He left soon after, and as far as I know, he never took advantage of my friends again. He also never became a horror writer.
“My plan is simple,” I told Mary, Dave, and Phoebe. “I’m going to swap out Jesus’s ashes with H.P. Lovecraft’s grave dirt. The girls will distract Jim up at the counter.”
“How do we do that?” Phoebe asked.
“You have boobs,” I said. “Jim likes boobs.”
“I don’t have boobs,” Dave pointed out. “What am I going to do while they distract Jim?”
“You’re going to stand in front of the horror section and be my lookout. If a customer comes toward it, you get rid of them.”
“How do I do that?”
“Talk to them. That usually seems to work.”
“No.” Dave shook his head. “You need Lombardo.”
“We’re not bringing in Mike Lombardo,” I said.
“Why not?” Dave countered. “He was as close to Jesus as we were. And distracting people is something he excels at.”
“Lombardo’s film career is just taking off. He’s young. How’s it going to look if we get busted? Getting busted for grave robbing isn’t going to look good on his IMDB profile.”
“How are you going to get Jesus out of the wall?” Mary asked.
“I don’t know yet,” I admitted. “I guess I’ll need a crowbar, and a cordless drill, and…shit, I don’t know.”
“Coop would know,” Dave said.
“No,” I said. “Absolutely not. We are not bringing Coop into this either. No Lombardo. No Coop. Just us. This isn’t fucking Ocean’s Eleven!”
“But you need a construction expert,” Phoebe said. “Somebody who knows how to get into the wall quietly and without making a giant hole. Who better than Geoff Cooper?”
“No.” I pounded my fist on the table. The podcast microphones trembled.
“Why not?” Dave asked.”
“I know why,” Mary volunteered. “It’s because other than me, Coop is the only person that can talk Brian out of doing something after his mind is made up. And his mind is made up.”
“Yes,” I confirmed, “it is. I’m doing this. I’m getting our friend out of there, and I’m going to get him home. I could use you guys’ help, but if I have to, I’ll do it alone.”
“No, you won’t,” Mary said. “If you’re set on this, then so am I.”
Dave nodded, reluctantly. “Okay. Me, too. I’m in. But I still think you’re insane.”
I turned to Phoebe. “How about you?”
“Do you really believe this is what Jesus wants?”
She cocked her head. “And when Mary and I are distracting Jim—would I get to wear one of my Renaissance Faire dresses?”
“Sure.” I shrugged. “That would probably add to the distraction factor.”
“Then count me in.”
* * *
Later that night…
Mary turned to me on the couch. “So, when are you thinking about doing this, Keene?”
“I’m not sure yet. Why?”
“Because I’ll need time to save up bail money for you.”
I smiled. “I’ve got to think about it a bit more. Plan everything. Figure out how to explain it to folks.”
“What folks? You’re not going to write about it, are you?”
I shrugged. “Sooner or later, I write about everything. So do you. That’s what we do.”
Mary nodded. “Point.”
“Maybe I’ll put it in End of the Road. By the time I wrote about it for the column, the deed would already be done.”
We turned back to the television, but my mind was elsewhere. Mentioning this column had reminded me—the road was still out there, waiting. I had a third and final leg of touring to do, and it was set to start the following Saturday.
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.