Dean H. Wild

For July, The Horror Zine's Assistant Editor: Dean H. Wild

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by Dean H. Wild

Summer dust, kicked into the air by passing carriages, hung like a pall in the still August afternoon behind him. Martin Laurent stood with his hand on one of the rock and mortar pillars and gazed through the cemetery gate at the neat rows of headstones. An odd image for the townsfolk, he supposed, to see the new doctor in residence staring into the local burial ground so raptly, but of all the sights he’d seen in the small town of Glover, Wisconsin so far, this place was the one that fascinated him. Not in the way the wireless telegraph had captured his young mind ten years ago, or in the way that more recent news of two brothers achieving mechanical flight in the Carolinas had enthralled him. No, his intrigue with Thirty and Two was something basic and primal. It was something he could not name. He glanced up at the wrought iron legend set between the two entrance pillars and let his gaze trace over the gleaming black letters. He wondered whose job it was to forge and install new characters each time another body was laid to rest inside the gates. Thirty and Two tombstones today, he thought as he hefted his black bag, Thirty and Three perhaps as soon as tomorrow if the health of his first (and as of yet his only) patient, Elias Foster continued on its rapid, downward course.

“Laurent,” someone called and he turned around to acknowledge it, wondering who could be hailing him from across the town square.

A tall man in a long black coat held out a hand to greet another man in a coarse, sweat stained shirt. Lawrence, he thought the working man’s name was. Lawrence. The friendly hallow had not been for him. Never for him. None of the busy souls in the town square were interested in Glover’s newest citizen, he thought and turned back to the plot of headstones.

Just as fascinating as its restrictive name was the fact that Thirty and Two stood in the center of town. A clutch of shops circled it, their front windows facing the stone pillars and modest wall. Such a location was the place for a community well or a quaint courthouse in any other town, but in Glover things were different. It would take some getting used to.

He’d felt an underlying oddness about his new home the moment he’d stepped off the train exactly one week ago. No one had greeted him at the station and he’d roamed the town for half an hour, unaided, until he found his office and living quarters. The apartment above the doctor’s office was clean and neatly furnished, the keys had been left on the table, but the landlord was nowhere in sight. He had yet to meet the man.

There had been a knock on his door as he’d unpacked on that first day, and the finely suited man that waited on his stoop scowled and refused to meet his gaze. “Are you the doctor?”

“Starting today, yes,” Martin said. “Can I help you?”

“It’s my father, Elias. You must bring something for his pain. Now.”

Martin took up his bag and hurried after the man who trotted down the porch steps and strode through the streets at a rapid, even pace. He had questions but was unable to give voice to any of them in his struggle to keep up. That was how he came to know Elias Foster and family. He’d been going to the house once a day for a week now, and each time the quantity of morphine he drew into his syringe was a little greater, each time the unresponsive man in the upstairs bedroom was a little thinner, a little grayer. He checked his watch, blinked against the dust and then moved into the square, away from Thirty and Two. It was getting late. The Fosters would be expecting him.


Charity Foster answered the door and admitted him with a whisper of dun colored gowns. She followed him upstairs (amazing how he’d been inside no other homes in Glover, he thought, but he knew this house like his own) but she did not follow into her father’s room. The smell of the room struck Martin immediately, acrid and foul, the scent of anatomy in final surrender. Elias was on the bed near the window, a long nightshirt draped over his spare frame, one spindled leg dangling off the mattress. The son, William (he of the fine dark suits), stood in the shadows and waited for the good doctor to do his daily duty.

“Any change?” Martin asked him, knowing from the ashen, gaping face of Elias Foster that there had been none. He had expected as much.

“We don’t want change,” Charity said from the doorway.

“And that’s good,” Martin said as he filled his syringe. “I told you from the first there’s nothing I can do, really.”

“You weren’t asked here for your curative skills,” William stepped into the light as he spoke. There was an object on the floor behind him, something thigh high and rectangular, a painting perhaps, draped with a sheet. “Only for what’s in your bag. We want him to go softly.”

Martin nodded and slid the needle into Elias’s sagging skin. The morphine created an angry boil around the point of entry before it drained away to do its work. This was his chance, he thought. This family was resigned to the fact their father was going to die. These were the people he could ask.

“He will be interred at Thirty and Two, I presume.”

Neither of the Fosters answered him but shared a quick, icy glance.

“Is there another place?” Martin asked them. “A churchyard?”

“Thirty and Two is all we have,” William said, “Now if you’re finished . . .”

Charity swooped into the room, her eyes suddenly alight with a strained form of joy. Her hands were clasped at her bosom as she moved toward the sheeted object at her brother’s feet. “You carried it up!”

“We have to be ready,” William sighed and glanced at the bed. “Such grim work.”

“May I see it?” Charity tugged at the cloth, seeming to forget Martin was there.

William gave her a stern scowl. Martin made believe to be only mildly interested and checked the inventory in his bag. Next to him, Elias Foster made a wet, clicking sound in his throat, perhaps hearing it all and trying to respond.

“It’s nothing he hasn’t seen before,” Charity protested. “He’s a doctor, for pity’s sake. Our doctor, William.”

William leveled an age old resigned look at his sister and muttered something that sounded like “girl”, then he reached down and pulled the cloth away.

Martin glanced at the object and continued to feign mild interest, but he was suddenly unable to look away. Charity was right, he’d seen many grave stones before, but never in the confines of a dimly lit bedroom on a sunny August afternoon.

“How grand,” Charity spoke with a tremor in her voice, “how perfectly splendid.”

She put her arms around her brother.

Martin continued to stare. The stone was of the plain white variety that populated Thirty and Two. Its edges were pitted and smooth, as if it had been cut ages ago, and it was emblazoned with the man’s first name only -ELIAS- in large block letters. Apparently, the carver of grave markers in Glover had a singular talent and little or no imagination.

“Does this bother you, Doctor?” William asked. He clung tightly to his sister as she alternately sobbed and took small glimpses of her father.

“Your preparedness unnerves me a bit, but bothered?” he shrugged casually but felt suddenly cold. “No. It doesn’t bother me.”

“This is how we do things in Glover,” William said. “Get used to it.”

“Done easily enough,” Martin said and closed his bag. Elias let out another wet click next to him, followed by a snore. His chest barely rose beneath the nightshirt. Martin let his gaze travel between his failing patient and the grave marker that waited in the shadows like an unholy gift.

“Will he last the night?” Charity asked as she wiped her cheeks.

“Barely,” Martin said. “I’ll be here tomorrow at this time to give him one last dose. That’s at best. If you do not already have his coffin made up and waiting in the parlor, you’d best have it done by first light.”

The two Foster siblings shared another icy glance, this one almost urgent.

“We shall look for you tomorrow,” William told him and swept a hand across the crown of the grave stone as if dusting off its pocked and weathered surface. “Good-bye Doctor.”

He glanced over at Elias Foster with a sense of quiet pity, “I’ll show myself out.”


The street was hot and dusty but somehow refreshing. He glanced at the few citizens who ambled through the August afternoon, and wondered if each of them carried the intent of purchasing headstones for their own parents only to prop them up when the time was right like deathbed ornaments. He wondered how many of them had already taken that initiative, an act as regular and expected as Sunday dinner or an Easter church service.

He shuddered, suddenly craving the secluded, humid confines of his room. He turned in that general direction and realized he could see the front gates of Thirty and Two from here.

“You’re the doctor, aren’t you?”

The woman’s voice startled a small yell out of him. He spun around and gawked at the pale woman in the black dress. He felt at once foolish. She was small and fine boned, her lips were startlingly red in the daylight. Her gloved hands were splayed on either side of her round belly. She was eight months pregnant at the very least.

“Yes. Dr. Martin Laurent—”

“Good to meet you. As you can tell, I’ll be needing you soon.”

“I would guess,” he said and began to walk along the street, slowly so she could keep up—a spontaneous but natural action that she seemed to concur with quite easily. “How soon, do you suppose?”

“Any day. I want to be sure you’re available. My family has a history of difficult births and I want to make sure she comes as easily as possible.”

“She?” Martin gave her an inquisitive look, “You’re so certain it’s a girl?”

The pale woman shrugged, “A mother knows. I would have called you to the house but Marcus wasn’t available so I set out on my own. A social risk, you know, taking this unsightly girth out in public.”

“Marcus is your husband?”

She laughed. “Marcus is the town running boy. He does errands and small jobs for a few cents a day. He runs for just about everyone here.”

He thought about this, intrigued. “How can I get hold of this Marcus? I could use some help on given days, I think.”

“Just ask around and he’ll come. There’s only one Marcus in Glover, and everyone knows him.”

“I shall.” They were close to his office now and he thought she looked rather tired. “Would you like to come in for a moment? I have time to examine—”

“Not today,” she waved her hand. A delicate purse of black silk dangled from her wrist, “I still have preparations to make and errands to run. I am glad we could make an acquaintance however, Doctor.”

“My sentiments exactly,” he gave a small bow, surprised to find himself smiling.

“Come to the house some day soon and make your examinations, won’t you?”

“And who is it I’ll be coming to see?”

Her smile broadened. “Sarah Longwell. For the address, ask anyone. I’m the only Sarah in Glover. You’ll see.”

Still smiling, he watched her walk away, suddenly aware of the lateness of the day and how the summer shadows had begun to grow long in the golden light. It made him think of Elias Foster making wet clicking sounds in the back of his throat.


When he answered the knock at his door, Martin took a moment to evaluate the young man who stood awash in the cool moonlight. He was no more than sixteen, his clothes covered in dust from a day’s worth of running. His lazy right eye gravitated toward the threshold of the office door. “Sarah sent me,” the young man smiled. “Said you had work for me.”

“You must be Marcus,” Martin blinked, almost regretting his supper growing cold on the table behind him, except there wasn’t much to regret. “Come in.”

The young man pulled away, “Don’t like no doctor’s rooms.”

“That’s all right, we’ll talk right here, then. I just need to know how to get on your schedule, my friend. I will have parcels to pick up and supplies to bring in from the train station. If anyone ever comes to me for treatment, that is.”

“Two cents a day,” Marcus declared. “And I don’t haul no dead things—no people, no livestock. They get all—riddly. I don’t like riddly.”

“I see,” Martin smiled. “I think I can agree to such a condition. Will you check in with me daily?”

“If you need me, put this in your window,” the young man pulled a flat object out of his shirt and offered it, “Stand it up so’s I can read it.”

Martin set the wooden marker in his palm and a small shiver took him over. He stared at the replica gravestone unable to speak. All of his questions seemed unformed and unreachable. The plain flat design—so reminiscent of the stones at Thirty and Two—showed great detail. The markings which spelled out MARCUS were cut in the same block letter style of the larger, true stones of the town square. “This town does have its fixation, doesn’t it?” he finally said.

“I made these myself,” Marcus said with a prideful grin.

Martin looked up at him, and a single question took shape. Once it came out it would sound either bold or ridiculous, he wasn’t sure which, but he said it anyway. “And do you have a full sized one at home? A real stone bearing your name?”

Marcus nodded ferociously, “It’s under the woodpile, along with my mother’s and my father’s, stacked up neat and covered so’s none of them gets harmed. My mother sewed up a special coverlet for each of them. Awful pretty, they are.”

Martin scowled and coaxed the boy off the porch and into the street. “Thank you, Marcus. You’ll watch for this marker in my window everyday, won’t you?”

“I will, Doctor.”

“Maybe your first run will be to get me some stone cutting tools. If I make my life in Glover, I’ll have to carve a stone to put out at Thirty and Two, isn’t that right?”

Marcus laughed and clapped his hand on this dirty thigh, “That’s a good one, Doc. Like there’s room to add a new marker in Thirty and Two.”

Marcus strode away, and his head swept back as a peal of laughter escaped him. Martin waited in the open doorway until the boy had disappeared around the corner and his whooping laughter had faded into the night. Then he stepped into the street and turned toward Thirty and Two.


For all the times he had looked through the gate of Thirty and Two, he had never stepped inside, Martin realized as the wrought iron arch gleamed above him like blackened bone in the moonlight. His tour would have to be quick, he decided. The sense that he didn’t belong was strong in the empty hours of the night and there would be no explaining his presence at such a late hour if he was seen. He drew a breath, felt the cold night press against him, and stepped onto the grounds.

The moonlight was bright enough to make each stone readable as he approached—each of them labeled with perfect block letters, all single names—JASPER, CORRINE, ALEXANDER. This was how they did things in Glover. He walked the length of the first row, then over to the second, reading names and knowing he would not feel complete until he’d read them all. The passage between the rows of stones was narrow. Far too narrow, he came to realize. A body and coffin would not fit in such a length. Unless…

“Cremation?” he said it out loud. The word sank into the still air. Such a thing was possible, but for every last one?  He also noticed a lack of flowers on the graves. There were no trinkets left behind, no memorial gifts to amuse the dead. Perhaps the presence of these prized and coveted grave stones was deemed memorial enough.

He walked around to the last row quickly because he felt he’d already over stayed. There was a restlessness around him. Perhaps the spirits of Jasper and Collin and Anabelle of Glover had risen up to assess this intruder, to push at his back and pluck at his heart with their dusky hands and drive him away. He stopped when he saw the stick. A long branch had been shoved into the sod over one of the graves. At its base was a small clutch of white flowers already withered from lack of water. One memorial then, one remembrance for a woman named AGNES. A second glance showed him the other item, a small pouch tied to the top of the stick, a black bag. Silk. Sarah Longwell’s bag, he realized. A strange and crudely mounted memento for a mother or sister or aunt, perhaps. Coldness slipped around him like a tattered shroud. He began to walk again, anxious to be back in his apartment. Once home, he locked the door and climbed into bed and hoped he would not dream. Not with Glover’s dead still so close on his heels.


William Foster pounded at the office door, and then began to shout.

“Laurent. Come to the house now. Father is passing.”

Morning light leaked through his windows. Martin stumbled, bleary eyed, through his office and opened the door. “Let me get my bag,” he muttered, and brushed at his tangled hair with both hands.

“If you wish,” William said, then stepped back to let him out, “but most of all, bring your eyes. If you care to be our doctor you need to see this.”

He allowed William to lead the way. He struggled into his coat and wiped the sleep from his eyes as he walked. Fine mist hung above them, dew rested on the windows and sparkled in the grassy patches along the way, and the sun was coming up fierce and already hot. The air would soon be as dry as dust. Martin hesitated before going into the house, and watched Charity Foster prop a small wooden gravestone in the front window. MARCUS it read.

The upstairs bedroom had been draped in white cloths making it seem already abandoned although Elias still lay in his bed, breath whooping, hands absently waving in the air. Martin brought out his syringe but Charity moved up next to him and set a gentle hand over his to stop him.

“There is only one easement now,” she looked toward the open window where a morning breeze fluttered at the drapes.

“Place . . .” Elias’s rattling breath took form. This was the first time, Martin realized, he’d heard the man speak. William stalked up to his father’s side and captured one of the waving hands. “Place,” Elias managed. “Do I have a place?”

“Done this morning,” William said and cast a hectic glance at the window. “Your stone will stand well among the others.”

The stone, Martin saw, had been moved closer to the bed, propped against the legs of a chair. White sheets had been spread around its base. Elias’s eyes drifted to it, liquid blue, devoid of sentience except for a glimmer of fond recognition.

“Can I get you something?” Martin asked without thinking.

Elias did not seem to hear. His mouth suddenly seized open like a rusty gate, his tongue rigid. William stepped back quickly. A gust of wind funneled through the bedroom window, making the drapes snap in the air.

“Put your bag away now, Doctor,” William said. The wind rippled the sheets and cloths draped around the room. Something on Elias’s dresser crashed over. “If you are born in Glover, this is how you die in Glover.”

Charity put a hand to her quivering mouth. “Goodbye Papa.”

Martin took a single step toward the bed, unable to go further. Elias Foster’s flesh sank rapidly over his bones, like warmed wax. His nightshirt flapped in the wind and showed bare thighs like bamboo canes. His hands began to wave again and the skin there drew tight. His fingers became dry twigs. There was a throaty clicking sound, not wet like yesterday but a sound like brittle stone. Elias’s cheeks became lined with deep folds which split at their depths. His eyes bulged and became pitted, looking like milky rocks nestled among sallow husks of shifting skin. Riddly, Marcus had said of the dead. Riddly indeed.  There was a creaking sound like a twisting of dry leather and then Elias’s skull crumpled. His hands flaked away rapidly, fingertips to wrist to elbow. The wind worked itself up to a roar and cast dry bits of matter around the room. Charity held out a protective hand, her slitted eyes full of tears. Martin could feel the gusting force on him, but he kept his gaze locked toward the bed in affirmation of what William told him—this is how you die in Glover. With a final drastic throe, the form of Elias Foster disintegrated, became a cloud that rose with a muted huff as if a stone had been cast into a pile of ash. The wind died abruptly, the drapes settled immediately. A haze of yellow dust remained in the air.

Martin blinked as if waking from a trance. The only substantial remnant of Elias Foster was the grave stone which stood by his bed.

“You can ask whatever you want,” William said to him, “But there are no answers. You’ll sign the death certificate, of course.”

An insistent knock came from the front door. Charity wiped her face and brushed at the front of her dress. “That will be Marcus,” she said and disappeared into the hall.

William approached him with slow steps, “You can come along. We’ll be taking the stone now.”

“To Thirty and Two?” he heard himself ask. There was yellow dust resting in the crease of his sleeve. He touched his fingertips to it, rubbed the fingers together. “And these remains?”

“There is no need for a grave, if that’s what you mean,” William said. “No one born of Glover needs to be buried.”

“But you all have a stone.”

“Help me,” William crouched next to his father’s marker and worked his hands around the edges. “Let’s take this down to Marcus.”

Martin stepped up and lifted, then moved with William down the staircase and into the morning light. Marcus waited for them, a small wooden wagon in tow.

“I have a message for you, Doctor,” the young man said as they lowered the stone into the belly of the cart.

Martin glanced at him, appalled that the young man could talk idle business at such a somber moment, but he seemed to be the only one concerned with such propriety. “Message?” he finally said.

“Sarah Longwell says she’ll have her examination today. I am to take you there when we’re finished at Thirty and Two.”

Martin pondered how odd it would appear to the locals to have the resident doctor help with the placement of a tombstone. Not very odd at all, he supposed. Not in Glover.

He walked behind the cart and glimpsed the reaction of residents on early morning errands. Some of them turned with surprise to see that Elias Foster had obviously passed. Others looked at the good Doctor Laurent with quiet disdain and assessed how well he had fared upon witnessing his first passing in Glover.

As they approached the gate of Thirty and Two, Martin found no playfully primal interest now- there was only grim curiosity. Whatever took place within the walls of Thirty and Two, it was none of his affair and never would be. He was here only to help the people of Glover for a while, ease their pains and witness their riddly deaths. His part was no greater than that.

“Marcus and I will just be a moment,” William said as he laid a kindly hand on Martin’s shoulder. William, born of Glover, who would one day be nothing but dust.

He watched them carry the stone through the gate and move to the back row, then he looked up at the wrought iron gate top and wondered if it would magically change to read Thirty and Three. Nothing moved, however. The legend stayed the same.

“William will finish here,” Marcus said from the gate opening as he clapped dirt from his pants. “If you can help me a moment, we can be off to see Sarah Longwell.”

Martin watched the boy duck behind the stone gateway and drag out a headstone, its base still dark and clotted with earth. He stepped forward to help Marcus load it into the wagon, but hesitated long enough to read the face of the stone.


“Sarah must have chosen the name for her baby girl only last night,” Marcus said once the stone was in the wagon. He stepped inside the gate and brought out the stick and the black purse. He examined them awkwardly, his lazy eye facing the ground. “I think she chose well from what was there. And just in time, too. We should go, Doctor. She’ll be waiting.”

Martin looked up at the gate top again. Still Thirty and Two. Always Thirty and Two. Glover, it seemed, would have it no other way.

“Yes,” he said and followed the wagon, the morning sun on his shoulders, the air in the street as warm and as dry as dust.

Dean H. Wild spends a lot of time wondering about his writing; what he did right when a story sells, what he did wrong when he gets a rejection, and how he achieved such degrees of rightness and wrongness in the first place. After thirty years of writing horror and dark fantasy tales he believes he should have a better handle on how the whole thing works, but the finer points seem to escape him. So he spends his days complacently inhaling the crisp Wisconsin air, contemplating the dark places in the world and in his heart, enjoying his two self-assuredly handsome cats and bouncing story ideas off his dear wife, Julie, while he writes what pleases him and waits for a publisher to accept his first novel.  His short stories have appeared in magazines (both online and in print) and various in-print anthologies including Night Terrors III, Horror Library 6, Gothic Fantasy: Murder Mayhem, and The Best of The Horror Zine.