John H. Dromey is the author of The False Odor of Sanctity in Now I Lay Me Down to Reap, Sirens Call Publications newest anthology. Wanting to know the inspiration for his story, we asked John. We received this guest post in response…
Digging Up Ideas
When a friend showed me a write-up on grave robbers that he thought “might be of interest” to me, I thanked him for the printout but told him I probably wouldn’t do anything with it. I was dead wrong, so to speak. Within a couple of days my imagination had crawled out from some dark corner of my mind with an idea. Why not write a grave-robbing story told from the point of view of a surviving relative of one of the victims? I wrote an opening scene that included a reference to “Resurrectionists,” an old term for grave robbers mentioned in the write-up. As a consequence of using that word I felt compelled to set the story in the past. Pinpointing a time frame and providing a word that helped establish historical context were about the only direct contributions the article I’d read made to the story, but they were sufficient to get me started.
After a great deal of plotting, writing and rewriting, revisions based on input from some “first readers”—friends and relatives brave enough to express honest opinions and provide constructive criticism—I had a rather long story (over 8,000 words) entitled “A False Odor of Sanctity.”
The call of a Siren is supposed to be irresistible. When Sirens Call Publications invited submissions for an anthology that dealt with “loss and thievery” and other dark matters, what choice did I have but to submit my story for consideration? I’m pleased that “A False Odor of Sanctity” was given a place in Now I Lay Me Down to Reap (Sirens Call Publications, 2012).
“Imagination” is a funny thing. Everybody has one. Readers with a vivid imagination are able to visualize scenes in the mind’s eye that no movie-maker could hope to duplicate.
With my contribution to the field, is the subject of grave robbing in literature exhausted? By no means. As a trivial example, has anybody written a story on the subject from the point of view of the receptacle? Too far-fetched? Not at all. There are already talking tombstones. Why couldn’t a lightning strike give the computer chip artificial intelligence? A “thinking” casket would surely welcome a visit by grave robbers that could rid the coffin of its gruesome intruder. Wait a minute. That’s a happy ending; a denouement that’s not at all appropriate for a discussion of Now I Lay Me Down to Reap. I encourage you to use your imagination to think of an alternate outcome and save me the trouble of rewriting this last paragraph.
The following is an excerpt from John’s story A False Odor of Sanctity:
Financial arrangements had been made in advance, so there was no need for conversation. By the flickering light of a lantern, the two men worked in a grim silence, broken only by the susurrus of twin shovels slicing through the packed earth and an occasional grunt of exertion as the loosened clods were tossed high in the air to land outside the pit.
Farther up in the sky, a gibbous moon played hide and seek with slow-moving clouds. Although more than half of the lunar orb he called home was open intermittently to earthly view on this particular evening, the Man in the Moon could bear witness with only one eye. No one else was watching.
When a new sound emerged from the surrounding shadowy darkness—a faint metallic clinking of chains—the diggers were too absorbed in their work to notice.
As the depth of the excavation approached four and a half feet, one of the men paused long enough to cover his mouth and nose with a heavy scarf, and then he resumed digging.
Soon afterwards one of the shovels turned up a shard of splintered wood.
Both men stopped digging. A muffled request of “Hand me the lantern” followed.
Holding the lantern with one hand, the chief digger knelt down and used his other hand to push away some dirt.
“Empty,” the man said, unwinding the scarf from around his neck and breathing deeply. “The Resurrectionists were here before us.”
“Who?” the other man asked in a quiet voice.
“Why would they want this body? Is there a university nearby or a teaching hospital?”
“What about a doctor?”
“I only know of one, Dr. Ferguson, and he’s already established himself in a good practice.”
The two men climbed out of the grave. Unable to conceal his frustration, one of them angrily jabbed the cutting edge of his shovel with all his might into the mound of loose dirt, then bent downward to get a firm two-handed grip on the smooth, sweat-stained wooden handle. He straightened up again, swinging his arms backwards a short distance, as he prepared to hurl a heaping shovel full of soil back into the gaping hole in the earth.
“Leave it,” the other man said. “There’ll be another candidate for this grave soon enough. The town is full of paupers.”
“My son was not a pauper.”
“So you told me earlier, Mr. Brewster. Why then was your lad buried in Potter’s field?”
“I don’t know. When I learned Howard had died of consumption, I sent his landlady sufficient money to cover the cost of his burial and the purchase of a modest marker.”
“Not Mrs. Kingsley by any chance?”
Wander down the darker paths of the minds of twelve brilliantly talented authors as they conjure stories of retribution, deceit and betrayal.
Would you chance your family’s fate to the gods in return for a favor? Are the finer things in life worth having once you know the cost someone else had to pay for you to indulge in them? Would you give up your most addictive passion so that others might reap the benefits, regardless of the reward? Or perhaps, the chance at a fresh start and a new life appeals to you? Are you prepared to reap what you have sown?
Within this collection, you’ll find tales all too believable and beyond your oddest imaginings. But there is one thing you will not find… In this anthology, there are no happy endings.
Featuring the literary talents of:
Ryan C. Anderson, Thomas James Brown, Aspen deLainey, John H. Dromey, Amber Keller, Christian A. Larsen, Jeffery X Martin, Lori Michelle, Sergio Palumbo, J. Marie Ravenshaw, Bill Read, and Adrian Tchaikovsky