From the Malafarina Files, “Memorial Day” a short story by the master of horror Thomas M. Malafarina

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Memorial Day
By: Thomas M. Malafarina © 2014

“Row-zann! Row-zann!” the ghostly nagging voice still called from a past more
than ten years removed. It sometimes came when she least expected it, like the haunting
howl of a chilling wind blowing between the tombstones in a graveyard on a dark night.
Although the voice was no longer a thing of actual sound or substance, when it arrived in
her mind it nonetheless was as chilling in its haunting resonance as if it were real. It
would be wrong to say the voice actually haunted her. It had become more like one of
those memories similar to a particularly annoying pop song, which for some reason
occasionally pried itself loose from the recesses of her memory and which would take a
major distraction to forget.

It had been more than a decade since Rosanne had last heard her mother’s voice
calling to her in that crow-like caw; insisting that Rosanne do this for her or fetch that for
her. It wasn’t that Rosanne hadn’t loved her mother or didn’t want to do everything she
could to help. It was just that her mother, then in the final stages of Alzheimer’s was so
downright mean to Rosanne at every opportunity. Even before the disease, her mother
hadn’t been the most pleasant person in the world; projecting an air of superiority,
condescension, and criticism toward Rosanne as well as Rosanne’s husband and son. But
despite it all, the old woman was still Rosanne’s mother and she loved her. It ate at
Rosanne to see her mother deteriorating before her eyes as the dreaded disease took more
of her each day.

Rosanne recalled how her mother’s doctor had made excuses for the old woman’s
behavior by saying it wasn’t her speaking, but it was the effects of the disease. He
explained that her mother was sinking further and further into a dream world and was not
only losing her memory but losing touch with reality as well. He said she was confused,
disoriented, and no longer able to function on her own or take care of even her simplest of
needs.

Rosanne had known her mother a lot longer than the doctor, however, and she
knew the Alzheimer’s hadn’t so much changed her mother as it had seemed to magnify
those negative traits, which Rosanne had done her best to ignore throughout the years.
Because her mother had always been so verbally abusive of others, she had had in fact,
driven away most of her own family throughout the years. Soon the only relatives left to
tolerate her were Rosanne, her husband Tony, and their son Albert. Rosanne’s father had
passed away several years before the disease struck her mother, so the burden of the
woman’s care fell to Rosanne.

She soon learned her mother needed more care than she could provide and as
such, Rosanne had no choice but to sell her mother’s home and put the woman into an
elderly care facility. She hated to do this, but her mother had become incontinent and
needed constant care and monitoring. Rosanne visited her mother as often as possible,
and each time her mother’s verbal abuse became more intense. She accused Rosanne of
stealing her home and money and forcing her into a “hell-hole” and “prison”, which was
how she described the facility. Rosanne had researched the rest home before placing her
mother in their care and its reputation was exemplary. In addition, she constantly checked
on her mother’s care to the point where she was considered quite annoying by the
competent and professional rest home staff.

Yet still, her mother persisted and unceasingly bombarded her with insults and
threats every time she visited. “You did this to me Row-Zanne!” The old woman would
cackle. “You put me in here. You stole my money. You sold my house. Someday I’ll get
you for this Row-Zann!” Most times after visiting her mother, Rosanne left in tears. She
knew what the doctors said was probably true and it was the Alzheimer’s talking but the
words still came from her own mother’s mouth and they cut her like a knife.
Then one day the disease took its final toll and Rosanne’s mother passed away.
Rosanne and her family arranged for her mother’s burial at a local cemetery next to
Rosanne’s father, grandmother, and grandfather. There were also several aunts and uncles
buried in the family plot. Rosanne, Tony, and ten-year-old Albert said their goodbyes
during a small almost private ceremony. Most of her mother’s former friends were either
already dead or had been driven away by the woman’s abrasive personality. As the
family left the cemetery Rosanne knew it was very possible if not probable, she would
never return.

***

Rosanne breathed a sigh of relief as she drove home from a very busy day at
work. It was always this way right before a busy holiday weekend, and this Memorial
Day weekend would be no exception. She felt stressed from trying to get all of her work
completed before she left for the day and yet was excited about the next few days to
come.

Tony had the long weekend free as well and her son Albert, now twenty years old
was coming home from college for a visit. She hadn’t seen her son since the Easter
holiday break and was eager to see him again. She was feeling especially nostalgic this
year for some reason recalling a time when she was a little girl and every Memorial Day,
she, her mother, and father would visit the family plot and place flowers on the graves of
their loved ones. Maybe that was why she had been thinking about her mother that
morning.

During the last several years of her mother’s life, Rosanne had let that particular
holiday tradition go by the wayside. She was too busy raising her family, working
full-time, and dealing with her mother’s illness to worry about such matters. Now,
however, she was starting to feel guilty about it. Rosanne supposed it was because she
was thinking about Albert coming home from college for the weekend. They hadn’t been
back to her mother’s grave in over ten years and realized they probably would have
difficulty locating the location of the family plot. That just seemed wrong to her. Albert
was a young man now and it only seemed proper that he at least know where his
ancestors were buried.

Despite her misgivings, Rosanne decided that early Memorial Day morning she,
Tony and Albert would pay a visit to the cemetery and visit the place where her family
rested. Rosanne suspected Albert might resist a bit and couldn’t blame him. After all, he
probably didn’t want to spend even a small portion of his vacation visiting the dead. The
idea didn’t exactly thrill her either, but it was one of those things, which she felt was both
necessary and long overdue.

***

The three of them walked over toward the cluster of headstones, some of which
were quite old and worn. As they passed by each marker, Rosanne explained who each
occupant was and what their particular relation was to Albert.

“That one is your great-grandfather and over there is your great-uncle.” She said
trying to keep things interesting. She could tell Albert really didn’t want to be there but
being a good son, he was doing his best to make his mother happy. She thought of how
often she had conceded to her own mother’s requests with the hopes of gaining her favor
and keeping her satisfied. She hoped, not for the first time that she wasn’t becoming as
controlling as her mother had been. Her whole life Rosanne strived not to be like her
mother, yet sometimes she still worried about it.

“Where is Grandma buried?” Albert asked, surprising Rosanne, and bringing her
out of her private thoughts.

She hesitated for a moment and said, “Um… somewhere around here.” She
looked about for the location. As she did, she asked, “Do you remember Grandma very
well Albert?”

“No… Not really.” He replied. “I mean, at least I can’t remember how she was…
you know… before she got sick… and got all weird in the head and stuff.”

“Albert!” Tony snapped. “That’s not very respectful.”

Albert said contritely, “Yeah… I guess you’re right. Sorry about that Mom… It’s
just… ”

“I know Honey. That’s all right.” Rosanne said compassionately, “The truth
was… well… your grandmother always had been tough to live with and after she got
sick… she hadn’t been herself for a very long time.”

“You know what the bad part is Mom?” Albert said.

“No sweetie. Tell me.”

He said, “The worst part is I can’t remember her before… you know… the way
she might have been. Instead… sometimes I can still hear her calling you to come and do
something for her in that… that horrible voice…. Row-zanne! Row-zanne! Man… that
always gave me the creeps.”

Rosanne suddenly felt cold chills run down her spine at Albert’s recollection,
especially when she remembered how she had been thinking of the same terrible voice
earlier that weekend.

“God!” She thought to herself, “That woman has been dead for over ten years.
Won’t she ever just get out of my head and leave me alone?”

Then Rosanne realized she wanted nothing better than to find her mother’s grave,
show it to Albert and get the hell out of there. The place was really starting to freak her
out. A strange surrealistic sensation had begun to creep into Rosanne’s mind as if the
entire cemetery had become a dream-like landscape. Her legs started to feel heavy as if
she was trying to walk around in a thick, deep bog full of mud.

She took a few steps backward trying to read the headstones despite the
unwelcome feeling, looking desperately for her mother’s grave. Rosanne recalled the
stone they had chosen was not too large and sat low to the ground. She looked over at
Albert and Tony, seeing them as if through dense fog or frosted glass. She tried to
speak and at first had some difficulty. She felt as if her tongue had grown thick and her
throat might be closing. What in the world was happening to her? Feeling a bit dazed she
somehow managed to force out the words, “It’s… it’s right… around here…
somewhere….”

The statement cut off suddenly as the heel of Rosanne’s shoes clumsily bumped
against a low grave marker and she lost her balance teetering over. She managed to take
two stumble-steps backward and fell hard to the ground. On the way down, her head
slammed against the corner of a nearby tombstone. The marble was unforgiving, and its
edge sharp and polished surface acted like a blade slicing through her flesh with ease. A
trickle of blood along with part of Rosanne’s hair and scalp clung to the glimmering
knife-edge of the stone.

Rosanne was now barely hanging onto consciousness as she lay on the ground,
her own blood pooling beneath her head. Her vision was fading in and out of the blackness.
The pain she felt in her skull was excruciating and her vision was rapidly failing.
Through her fog, she was able to see the name on the headstone, the one that had been
responsible for tripping her. It was her mother’s headstone.

Then Rosanne was certain she must be hallucinating because otherwise what she
thought she was seeing was impossible. In front of her mother’s grave marker, she saw
what appeared to be the shape of a translucent wriggling aged hand with withered gnarled
fingers and long split nails appearing to have risen right up out of the ground. There were
worms slithering between the horrifying appendage’s fingers, which were caked with
moist filthy dirt. Rosanne saw a wedding ring on the hand and recognized it immediately.
Her mother’s wedding ring.

Tony rushed to her side now and was calling her name repeatedly trying to keep
her conscious while at the same time Albert was desperately dialing 911 on his cell
phone. However, Rosanne didn’t hear Tony’s concerned and loving voice. Instead, all she
could hear was her mother’s angry witch-like cackle screaming “Row-zann! Row-zann!”
as her own life faded away to blackness on the cold, cold cemetery ground.

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