Joseph Rubas

The September Featured Writer is Joseph Rubas

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by Joseph Rubas

“Second one this week,” Sheriff Day Parker said, and spat into the grass. He turned to the old caretaker. “You didn’t see anything?”

“Not a thing,” Earl Farris said, shaking his head slowly.

That wasn’t surprising. Though Earl lived in a shack on the cemetery grounds, literally feet from the plundered grave over which they stood, he never noticed anything that happened after hours. Day couldn’t really blame him, though; he wouldn’t notice much either if he was always drunk.

“What time did you do your last round?”

“About midnight.”

Day nodded.

It was early on a hot August morning. Birds chirped and a light breeze rustled oak leaves. Day’s deputy, Rusty Johnson, walked the cemetery in tight, even lines, his gaze downcast, scanning the ground for a clue he wouldn’t find. The grave robber was careful. In the past two months he’d robbed ten graves across the Northern Neck, striking as far north as King George and as far south as Tappahannock. No one ever saw anything. No one ever heard anything. No one ever knew anything. As for evidence, the only thing he’d ever left behind was the corpse of a caretaker in Warsaw. Strangled. The medical examiner said the bastard did it with his bare hands.

Day had been keeping tabs on the grave robberies, reckoning he’d eventually have to deal with one. Turns out he was right.


Last Monday morning, Mae Anderson, who owned the diner in town, called to say that someone had dug up her pa. The Andersons had a family graveyard on their property. Six or seven generations, going back to the Revolution, when the Andersons were plantation owners and Old George Anderson was a friend of George Washington.

When Day showed up, he found the decomposing body of Pa Anderson, dead less than three months, lying face down across the grave of Ma, who stroked her way into Heaven back in 2010. Mae, a plump, matronly woman in her mid-sixties, was standing over the scene with her arms crossed, seeming to scold her dead father for making such a mess.

“He’s missin’ parts,” Mae said when George walked up.

“Missin’ parts?” Day asked.

Mae nodded. “His arm’s gone. His foot’s over there in my garden.”

Day squatted and examined the body. On Pa’s remaining arm, he found several chunks of flesh missing.

“Looks like whoever did it ate him,” Mae said. She didn’t seem disturbed. Her feelings about her parents were well-known, ever since they ran off that boy she was seeing in the seventies.

“Looks that way,” Day agreed, his stomach turning.


Now it was happening again.

“I didn’t find anything,” Rusty said, walking up.

“Didn’t think you would,” Day said, hooking his thumbs into his belt. “Anything missing from the body, Earl?”

Earl squinted down at the dead woman. Michele Porter, thirty-one, was a schoolteacher in Colonial Beach. On the first day of July, she was riding in a car with a friend of hers when she just slumped over, dead. If Day wasn’t mistaken, they said they had some kind of heart murmur.

She was pretty in life. Today, lying in the dust, her arms flung out on either side as if to embrace God above, she made Day nervous. He didn’t like dead people, especially the ones that got embalmed and dressed up. He’d rather see a rotting skeleton than someone all done up like a porcelain doll, white faces and red cheeks…he shuddered.

Grunting, Earl got down on one knee and lifted one of Ms. Porter’s sleeves. Where her right hand had been, there was now only a stump.

“Goddamn it,” Earl said. He looked up at Day. “Well, she had a hand.”

The SOB probably took it away for later consumption. Day envisioned him sitting down to a big plate full of human hand, seasoning it with salt and Tabasco, and felt his gorge rising.

“Who’s her next of kin?” Day asked as Earl struggled to stand; Rusty rushed over to help him.

“I don’t know,” Earl said. “It’s in the log. I think it’s her folks.”

“Well, you better give them a call and tell them what happened.”

Holding his breath, Day stepped closer to the grave. The coffin within looked intact, its door standing open. He didn’t take too long a look, though. The inside of an open casket was the kind of thing a man had no business looking too hard at, unless it was his business.

“All right.”

“And Earl?”


“Try not to get so drunk you pass out. He might be coming back and I’d like you to call me if he does.”


The police station was on the corner of Lee and Magnolia, across from the town hotel and the bank. On his way back from the cemetery, Day considered stopping in at Mae’s and getting an egg sandwich and a cup of coffee to go, but decided against it: News travels fast in small towns, what with so many people having nothing to do but listen to police scanners, and he didn’t feel like dealing with questions and comments.

He parked the cruiser at the curb and got out. In the fifteen minutes it had taken him to drive back into town, the sun had risen fully and the temperature had risen a good ten degrees. Beads of sweat popped up on his forehead, and his underarms moistened.

Inside, where it was cool, Day stopped in the bathroom and then went to his little office off the squad room. At his desk, he dialed the state police barracks in Warsaw, waited as a desk sergeant transferred him, and then spoke with Captain Burgess.

He told him about the morning’s events.

“I’ll have a team out there in an hour,” Burgess said with a sigh. “You didn’t find anything?”

“Nothing. I’m startin to think this guy’s a ghost.”

“You and me both.”

“I was wonderin if maybe you can send me a few of your boys tonight. This is the second time he’s done struck in my county and I wanna be ready for him if he tries to do it again.”

“I don’t know if I can do that. You’re talking about a stakeout, right?”

“Right. We got six cemeteries here. I figure if we watch ‘em all tonight, we might have a shot of catching him.”

“Yeah, I can’t do that. I need all of my men to watch living people.”

Day sighed. “You wanna catch him, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do, but for one thing, I doubt he’s going to hit one of your cemeteries again. In fact, you’re only the second time he came back for more. He’s probably two counties over by now.”

Day weighed Burgess’s words. “Maybe you’re right. But I still say we watch ‘em for tonight at least, maybe tomorrow. If I got one chance in a million to take him down, I’m gonna do it.”

“Forget about it, Day. He’s gone.”

Five minutes later, Day hung up and leaned back in his chair. Bright morning sunshine fell through the window. The office was quiet, tranquil, cool. He reached into his desk and pulled out a file. Inside were newspaper clippings, official reports, and other material relating to the grave robbings. He had his secretary compile it for him just two weeks before. If he strikes here, I wanna be ready.

Day spent the next hour reading about grave robbing in other counties. The first robbery took place on June 20 in King George County. A man came to put flowers on his wife’s headstone and stepped right into an open grave. A little boy, ten years old, had been pulled from the ground and stripped naked. They found bite marks on his butt, legs, and thighs.

Two days later, in Colonial Beach, a caretaker was in the middle of burying a coffin after a funeral when he decided to leave off until the morning. When he came back, the body inside was gone. They found it five hundred yards away in a ditch. Her pretty pearl necklace was missing, and so were her head and pieces of her breast.

The sheriff in Westmoreland County (where Colonial Beach is located) thought the attacks were sexual in nature, the work of a necrophile. Neither of the bodies had been abused though, beyond the bites. That led Day to believe that the ghoul wasn’t biting butts and breast to be sexual, but because those are the meatiest parts of a person’s body.

Intrigued, Day did a little investigating and turned up the case of a man in France during the 1890s that dug up the bodies of women and girls and mutilated them. He got sexual satisfaction from the simple act of abusing the corpses, so perhaps their guy did the same. They wouldn’t know until they caught him.

Caught him.

Didn’t look like that was going to happen, not with Captain Burgess not sending him any boys.

Day put away the file and meditated on the matter for a bit. Finally, he decided Burgess could go to hell and take the state police with him. Getting up, Day grabbed his Stetson from the rack by the door and called out, “I’m goin’ out, Rusty. Get me on the radio if you need me.”

Outside, the day was hot and dry, the sun like acid on his face. He drove a mile north on US 301 before turning around in the parking lot of Dazzle’s Roadhouse and going south through town. A few people went about their errands. A couple kids rode their bikes.

Two miles south of town, he turned left at the railroad tracks and followed them for ten miles, eventually crossing into Middlesex County. The rolling farmland, dominated by tobacco fields, gave way to sandy coastline. The Northern Neck of Virginia, a peninsula bordered by the Rappahannock River, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay, boasted a number of fishing villages. One of the biggest was Kilmarnock on the southern tip.

Fifteen minutes after passing through Kilmarnock, Day pulled onto a dusty road and followed it a half mile before coming to a big ramshackle farmhouse with peeling paint and a dooryard that was more dirt than grass. He parked near the barn and went up to the door. Gene Donovan answered on the first knock.

“Day,” he said with a smile. “Well, this is a nice surprise.”

“How you doin, Gene?”

Standing at five-eight and weighing a solid one-seventy, Gene Donovan was just as stout as he had been in the navy. He was seventy-one but didn’t look a day over sixty. Though Gene was several ranks ahead of Day, they became friends, owing largely to their similarities. They were both from the Northern Neck, enjoyed a lot of the same things, and had a lot of the same values. Day thought he was pretty tough. Gene, on the other hand, was tougher. Day always said when the shit hit the fan, he wanted a man like Gene around.

Inside, they sat in the living room. Day told him about the grave robber, and about his plan to set up a watch for him.

“I’m gonna need some people to help me out. I’d like you to be one of them.”

“Well, sure,” Gene said. “I’d be happy to help.”

Day nodded. “You gotta bring your own gun, though.”

Gene laughed. “Which one?”

After eating a light lunch, Gene had insisted on preparing, Day drove back to town and parked in front of the five and dime. He waited for a farm truck to pass before crossing the street and going into Mae’s. It was lunchtime, and the place was packed. Many of them men present worked on farms across the county, or at the factory in Kinsale. Strong, corn-fed country boys.

“All right, listen up!” Day said, putting his hands on his hips. The chatter instantly died, and everyone turned to look at him. “As ya’ll might know, someone dug up another body out to the cemetery. This is the same guy been doin this all summer. I need help. Any able bodied man who’s interested, come to the police station at eight tonight. We’re gonna set up a watch for him.”

As he drove the two blocks to the police station, Day regretted it, but hell, Captain Burgess left him no choice.

Back at the station, Day called Rusty, Slim Warner, and Sandy Davis into the conference room. “I want Bill Wight and Steve Tanner in here too,” he told Rusty. “Call ‘em up and have ‘em come in.”

While he waited for the others, he consulted the files in his office, and then, in the conference room, stuck red pins into a giant map of the Northern Neck, indicating the location of each cemetery in the county.

When the others came in and all his deputies were accounted for, he told them his plan.


Twilight pooled languidly over town, the sky a mixture of pinks, purples, and oranges. At ten to eight, a battered blue pick-up truck pulled into the lot behind the police station, and seven men in jeans and trucker hats piled out. Each one was carrying a rifle. Day was glad. He didn’t have many on hand.

They packed into the conference room along with Day, the deputies, and Gene Donovan, who had been there for nearly an hour.

“All right, here’s the score,” Day said. He was standing in front of the map. “We have six cemeteries in the county. I want a team of men to watch each one until something happens. If it does. I can’t promise you’ll see any action, but it’s possible. This’ll be an all-nighter. You’ll be deputized and paid.”

A few of the men asked questions. Day answered them. When all was said and done, there were six teams, Day’s being the smallest: It was him and Gene.

“Where are we going?” Gene asked as they drove out of town. Full dark had fallen, and the moon was currently on the rise.

“Ridgewood Cemetery,” Day replied, taking a left. “It’s small, but it’s the one with the most new graves.”

He explained to Gene that of the six cemeteries, two hadn’t been used in years, two were seldom used for new bodies, and two—Ridgewood and Heaven’s Gate—were where most of the action was. “I expect he’ll turn up there if anywhere.”

“If that’s so, you should have brought more men.”

Day shook his head. “If I come across him, I’m gonna kill him.”

Silence descended over them.

Fifteen minutes after setting out, Day pulled off the highway and followed a narrow dirt road through a stand of forest and up a gentle hill. Ridgewood Cemetery sat at the summit, surrounded on all sides by forest. Day parked under the cover of the trees and got out: He and Gene covered the car with loose branches.

They met by the front end, Day handing Gene a walkie-talkie. “Keep chatter to a minimum,” he said. “You take this side, I’ll take over yonder.”

Moving low and quickly, he crossed the open ground and then concealed himself in a stand of bushes from which he could see the entire graveyard. He settled down, leaned against the trunk of a tree, and then called the others on the radio.

Each team was in position, all at different cemeteries, all with walkie-talkies.

“Now we wait,” he said. “Don’t talk too much. Only if you have to. I don’t want him hearing us if he’s got a radio too.”

With that, Day settled in for a long wait.


Crickets chirped at Ridgewood Cemetery as Day and Gene waited in the darkness. Warm, fragrant wind blew through the treetops.

Suddenly, the radio crackled to life.

“Sheriff! We got him!” It sounded like Wight.

Day’s heart jumped. “Where?”

“At Heaven’s Gate. We just...”

Gunfire filled the line.


“What’s going on?” Day nearly screamed. Gene looked worried.

No reply.

“Come on! Let’s go!”

They flew through the night, lights flashing and siren wailing. The whole way, Day’s heart slammed in his chest. Neither he nor Gene spoke.

They arrived in twelve minutes. Pulling up, the first thing he saw was Wight’s cruiser parked conspicuously by the front gate. The second was the body slumped over the hood.

Day slammed on the breaks, grabbed the shotgun from its rack between the seats, and jumped out: Gene Donovan had already raced over.

“He’s dead,” Gene said, looking up.

It was Wight. He had been strangled with his own CB cord, his eyes straining and his tongue lolling. Grief washed through Day Parker’s chest.

Just inside the gates, one of the town boys lay on his stomach, his head bashed in with a headstone. His brains spilled lumpy and red from his shattered skull. Day’s stomach turned.

“There he is!” Gene gasped. “It’s the perp!”

Day spun on his heels. A shadowy figure, seemingly seven feet tall, moved through a row of tombstones.He  raised the shotgun to his shoulder. “Freeze! Police!”

The figure didn’t stop.


Kept moving.

Day pulled the trigger, and the bastard jerked, fell.

“Son of a bitch,” Day growled. “Son of a big bitch, bastard motherfucker. He killed my men!”

Sirens rose in the night. The others were on their way.

Just as they reached the body, it rose in one fluid motion, startling them. It took a shambling step forward, and in a spill of moonlight, Day saw its face…its blue, bruised, rotted face.

“Jesus, Day,” Gene said breathlessly.

The creature standing before them was a study in horror. Skull showed through bits of missing flesh. Its eyes, too human for comfort, strained much like Bill Wight’s. It opened its mouth to hiss, and its teeth were yellow, jagged. Tufts of colorless hair clung to its decaying scalp. It took a jerking step forward, and both Day and Gene took an instinctive step back.

“Freeze, motherfucker,” Day said, his voice weak, without power.

Instead of stopping, it raised its arms, its long, bony fingers clutching. It seemed to be smiling.

“What is it, Day?” Gene asked, his voice shaky. “Jesus Christ, what is it?”

Day didn’t know. Couldn’t know.

A nightmare?

It continued its approach. The sirens were louder now, at fever pitch. Day glanced over his shoulder, hoping to see the calvary.

“Day!” Gene screamed.

The creature ripped the gun from his hands like a strongman ripping a pencil from the grip of a toddler.

Perhaps attracted by his outcry, the thing turned on Gene, raising the gun like a club and then bringing it down. Day screamed as the old man’s head caved in, drops of blood and bits of skull splattering his face.

The sirens had stopped.

Day turned to run, but the creature wrapped its arm around his neck and drew him close, cutting off his air supply.

“I’m going to eat your skin,” it rasped into his ear as it plucked the revolver from his holster.

Steve Tanner and several of the others appeared at the gate, freezing when they saw the monstrosity holding Day hostage. The creature put the gun to Day’s head. “I’ll do it!”

Steve blinked. “Put the gun down!”

“I’ll blow his fucking head off! Get back!”

It aimed the gun at Steve and pushed Day forward.

“What the fuck is that thing?” one of the town boys asked.

“I don’t know, but it ain’t human.”

They were near the gate now. Red and blue lights drenched the night.

“Let him go!” Steve said.

“Fuck you, Pig,” the ghoul said.

Day acted, moving slightly to the left and slamming his elbow into the creature’s stomach. Its grip loosened, and he pulled away.

The creature brought the gun up, but Steve and the others opened fire, letting loose a volley of bullets the likes of which Day Parker had never seen before. Ten men emptied their guns, reloaded, and then emptied them again. The thing danced, jerked, spun, and cursed, before finally falling.

Day was in a heap on the ground. Panting. “Watch it! It might be faking!”

No one listened. Like an angry mob, the men surrounded the creature and started kicking it, punching it. This went on for almost three full minutes before they backed off. The thing was stirring and groaning.

“Gas!” Steve Tanner yelled. “Burn it!”

Someone fetched a can of gas from the toolshed and doused the creature. Someone else held a lighter to it until flames had spread across its entire body. The thing kicked and thrashed for another five minutes before falling still.

The whole time, Day sat by himself, his arms around his knees. He knew he had been bitten by the creature. Later that night, he put his pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Joseph Rubas is the author of over 200 short stories. His work has appeared in Thuglit, [Nameless] Digest, Dread State, Shrieks and Shivers from The Horror Zine, Eschatology Journal, and others. His fiction has been collected in Pocketful of Fear (2012), After Midnight (2014), and Shades (2017). He currently resides in Albany, New York.