Many people ask me why I would ever choose the field of grave digging as my chosen career. Why choose such a depressing and creepy job when I could be almost anything else? Well to be honest I never understood the aversion to it. Death is something we all face at some point or another. It is the one certainty in life, so why do we fear it so much? To me death is a beautiful transition of existence from one plane to another. I am deeply honored to help provide peace to the deceased and their loved ones. Well others may look at a graveyard and get chills down their spine, I see it as a place of peace and tranquility. That was before tonight, before I knew the truth beneath the surface.
I work for the Hemlock Hill cemetery, one of the oldest and largest graveyards in North America. There are over 100,000 graves, some of which date back to the late 1700’s. There is real history here both above and below the grounds. However it seems that even the mighty have limits as the cemetery is running out of room with only a small section near the back left to bury loved ones. I was assigned to dig the grave for one of our last residents. The man was a well liked and respected member of the community. He was a giant man at over 6 foot 5 and well over 300 pounds. The casket was bigger then some automobiles so a simple 6 foot deep grave wasn’t going to cut it. If I was going to bury this man it would be with kindness and dignity, in a grave worthy of his greatness.
We had been experiencing a record heat wave this August so digging during the day would have been a virtual death sentence. I choose to bury him in the relative cool of the night. Relative was the right word for I was still sweating profusely even just operating the tractor to dig the grave. When I had gotten a satisfactory hole dug in the ground I choose to take a break before doing the shovel detail. I pulled out my cigarettes and had just lit one up when I could swear that I felt eyes on me. To satisfy my childlike curiosity I looked around only to confirm that I was indeed alone. There was no living person for miles, just my newly deceased friend. I looked to the oversized casket and felt as if the eyes on me were coming from inside.
I glanced down at my cigarette and chuckled. “Hey don’t you judge me, I’m not the one in the box. We all end up in a hole someday so what does it matter if I get there a little faster?” I chucked the remainder of my smoke and took a swig of water. I let out a sigh and looked to the casket again. “I see you are in a hurry to get in your new home my friend. Let’s me finish it up for you real quick.” I threw my jacket to the ground near the tractor because even with the sun down it was still way too hot to wear it. I placed my ladder at the edge of the hole and set up a flood light to illuminate up the dig site. I grabbed my shovel and began the slow decent into the grave.
Slowly but surely I began carving out a decent sized square hole. It was the deepest grave I had ever dug and to be honest I felt a hint of pride. However when I stuck my shovel in the middle one of my worst fears came to life. I hit a pocket of loose soil and faster then a landslide the dirt beneath me began to cave in. I had heard of these events occurring during archaeological digs and it often ended in tragedy for the digger. The dirt around my feet began break at a rapid rate and I was sent into a panic. I jammed my shovel into the ground but it took no time at all before that ground broke too and I was in a full blown cave in. I screamed for my life and began clawing at the soil engulfing me. My efforts were in vain for the more I struggled the looser the dirt became. With one final groan the earth swallowed me whole. The last thing I saw before landing was my flood light falling from it’s perch and breaking, casting me into complete darkness.
I hit the ground with a mighty thud and likely would have broken my back if not for the soft dirt pile underneath. Streams of dirt fell over top of me and my breath came out in ragged bursts. One sort of irony in my work is that I feared being buried alive above all else. Now here on this moonless night I was suffering my worst fate. However by miracle and grace of god, the cave in settled itself stopping the flow of dirt. The good news was I wouldn’t die in a cave in but the bad news was I was now stuck several feet beneath the surface. I was at the deepest section of the cemetery with no one around for miles. I was completely and utterly stranded.
“No, no I will be fine. I’ll just call for help.” I patted my chest and was horrified to find no comforting bump of my cellphone. The phone was in the inside pocket of my jacket which now rested several feet above me and well out of my reach. Despite the heat I felt a shiver run down my spine. “I’ll just have to climb out and be very careful.” I slowly reached out and patted the dirt. It was soft but I had to try, my life depended on it. Trying to get solid grip was like trying to put a body of water in a headlock. Every grasp of my fingers was met with dirt slipping through my fingers like sand in a….in a. “In an hour glass.” a cruel and macabre voice in my mind responded. “How many falling sands do you think you have left?”
I shook my head vigorously. “No I am getting out of here!” I grabbed the dirt wall as hard as I could and frantically tried to climb. My efforts were rewarded with a fresh shower of dirt from the surface caving in on me. I panicked but thankfully the shower was short. I had to suppress a whimper because now I knew that climbing out would only quicken my demise. “Trapped in one of your finest graves, how is that for irony? Did you dig this one for yourself?” The horrible voice taunted. I placed my hands over my ears and shook my head. “Shut up I am going to be perfectly fine. It should only be a few hours until morning and then someone will find me and send for rescue.” That cruel inner voice actually had the audacity to laugh at this. “It’s the weekend, no one is coming to rescue you for days. You are alone and you will die alone in here.”
My heart began pounded in my chest like a jackhammer. The stupid voice was right, no one was due to come look for me for a while. I had no family that would notice my absence. I truly was completely alone in this cold hard earth. I smacked myself trying to clear the dark thoughts. “Calm down you can do this. The human body can go days without food or water. I just need to wait it out that’s all.” I nodded my assurance but my inner demon was not convinced. “Sure under normal conditions you can go days without water. However in an august heatwave not to mention underground, do you really think you will last long? That blazing sun will be up before you know it ready to fry you like a can of beans. It’s so sad to think that there is a canister of water pretty much right above your head but you will never reach it.”
I wanted to cry but that would only serve to dehydrate me faster. I wanted to punch the walls and scream into the night but that too may just kill me faster. “Since when have you cared how fast or slow you die? We all end up in a hole, what does it matter if I get there a little faster.” This time I did cry, I sobbed into the swarming darkness. I was in a literal pit of despair from which there was no escape. “You are all alone in the dark. Soon to be a snack for the worms to feast on. Do you feel them in the darkness swarming all over you, worming their way into your soul?” The sad thing was I did feel them. Within seconds thousands upon millions of worms were crawling out of the soil and were crawling all over me. I could literally feel their smiley bodies wiggle against my skin. They were not alone either, oh no. Out of the cracks of hell all manner of crawlers emerged to devour me. Spiders, centipedes and every other dark creature imaginable were rushing over me. I couldn’t control myself and let out a scream.
I began smacking myself all over my body and that was when I felt it. I smacked my pocket and felt perhaps the one shred of hope in this hellhole. My trusty zippo lighter pressed against my thigh just waiting to be ignited. I reached in and lit it up like a Christmas tree. In seconds the light of the golden flame lit up the enclosed space, banishing all the imagined crawlers from my sight. I felt hope light in me anew. I believe in that moment I understood how man must have felt gazing upon fire for the first time. It was such a simple thing to be able to see and yet it did wonders for my soul. “What say you now demon voice? Going to ruin this feeling too?” The voice was for the first time silenced.
I leaned back and just stared at the flame for a moment. I used it to light my surroundings and was surprised to find that it’s light seemed to expand beyond my initial expectations. Pushing the flame further showed me an arc in the soil leading to another chamber. I crawled through the narrow arch to discover more and more arches everywhere. This wasn’t just a hole, it was a series of catacombs. The tunnels were far too large for an average animal to create so were they natural? I knew I had read about antechambers existing underneath volcanoes but underneath a cemetery?
I pushed my light farther and saw something gleaming in the darkness. At first I feared that perhaps it was a set of eyes or the scales of some serpent. I felt that childlike fear stretch over me once more and every part of me wanted to run. Instead I inched forward to discover that the gleam was actually wood, very familiar wood. It was a Cherry wood casket I had buried in the ground not a few weeks ago. It belonged to Mr. Tilman of the nearby Bakersfield. It looked like the casket had fallen straight through the ground. I felt a strong sense of sadness fall over me. I put this person to rest and the thought of it being disturbed horrified me. “I’m so sorry Mr. Tilman we are going to make this right for you.” I placed my hand on the lid and gently opened it wishing to pay respects to him directly but what I saw chilled my blood instead.
Perhaps it was closer to say what I didn’t see, for the body was gone. I panicked and searched around the area dreading to find his body simply laying in the dirt. However the dirt gave no token of his appearance. “He couldn’t have decomposed that quickly, it’s impossible.” I checked back in the casket hoping that my fear riddled mind imagined the absence but no all that remained were some strips of his burial suit. Fear and desperation rushed through me again but also inspiration. “I’m so sorry for this.” I closed my eyes to my unholy deed as I ripped off a damaged piece of the casket and took out the strips of cloth. I wrapped the scraps around the piece of wood and lit it on fire making a make shift torch. I pushed the torch to the middle of the arches only to illuminate my worst fear. All around the area were the other caskets I had buried in recent months. All of them were forced open, some with doors hanging off their hinges. In all the ones I could see into the bodies were completely absent.
“What could have done this?” I whispered into the dark. “Ber…bal…ang” the horrible inner voice whispered back slowly. It was almost as if it feared the words he spoke. They were words I didn’t understand however they felt familiar, eerily familiar. I inched my way forward and examined the caskets. Upon moving one of the broken lids I saw what looked like long and deep claw marks embedded in the wood. I recoiled back and panted deeply. “Berbal…ang” the voice repeated. I had no idea what made those marks and a big part of me didn’t want to find out. However if there were tunnels perhaps one led out. It was my only shred of hope at this point so I had to go on.
I crawled for what felt like miles and the further I went the more questions arose. What made these tunnels? Do they go beneath the whole cemetery? The whole county? The whole country? However there were two questions that plagued my mind more then any. What took those bodies and more importantly why? These tunnels were way too complex and unorthodox for organ harvesters and especially for necrophilies. Who would go to this much effort instead of just going through the top? “The question you should be asking is what left those claw marks.” I chose to ignore the voice this time for there were questions I certainly did not want answers to, not now, not ever.
The ground sloped downward which concerned me for I wanted to go up, not further down. I shook my head because I had come too far and had to keep moving. As the ground lowered the temperature rose. As well there was the beginnings of an odor in the air. The scent was unpleasant but not unfamiliar. I closed my eyes and sent up a brief prayer that the smell wasn’t what I thought it was. For every gravedigger, every mortician knew that smell well. It was the smell of decay, the smell of death. The further I went the stronger the smell became until it was almost unbearable.
In addition to the heat and stench a new problem arose. From straight ahead I began to hear a series of sounds. I tried my best to make sense of what I was hearing. It sounded like the sound of cardboard being slowly ripped by hand. There was also an undertone of water or simple dampness as if the cardboard was submerged in water before ripping. I didn’t want to know what the sound was, I just wanted out. “Please go back to the grave now before it’s too late.” The inner voice pleaded. This time it sounded legitimately afraid and caring. I had never wanted to agree with that voice more in my life however I doubted I could find my way back if I tried. I had to go forward no matter the chill running though my bones. I inched my way forward and nearly froze when I came across movement straight ahead. I slowly lifted my torch on shaking hands. The flame illuminated the source of the movement and I had to jam my hand against my mouth to stifle a scream.
Bathed in the light of the torch was a creature of untold nightmares. It’s appearance gave off only the slightest impressions of humanity. It’s skin was pure white as if this creature had never seen the sunlight. It’s head was framed by a set of bat like ears. The face was all hard points giving the impression of spikes about to burst free. It’s eyes were a complete milky white and I knew in an instant that it was blind. It was not naked but wore black tattered cloth with small hints of shredded white. It was a funeral suit I realized in an instant and the need to scream rushed over me again. It’s hands bore long claws that were bound close together and looked very strong. “They are like a badger’s claws. That is how it made these tunnels.” I thought to myself in disbelief.
On it’s arms it bore something that I initially thought was more shredded cloth however closer inspection revealed something far more horrifying. Wings, this creature had wings attached to it’s forearms like a bat. However despite it’s horrifying appearance it was it’s actions that disturbed me more. The beast was holding the remains of what I could only assume was the late Mr. Tilman. The creature raised it’s joint set of claws and made a quick swiping motion cutting off Tilman’s leg. That horrible ripping sound assaulted my senses as flesh was ripped from bones. What it did next would haunt me for what remains of my life. It’s jaw unhinged revealing multiple sets of razor sharp teeth. It took hold of Tilman’s leg and began shoving it down it’s throat with extreme ease. What happened to his leg and where did it go were things I couldn’t even bear to think about. The creature made chewing motions and rehinged his jaw before going onto the next limb.
“Berbalang.” That horrible inner voice said once again and at once I was filled with absolute clarity. I knew what this horrible monstrosity was. My grandmother was raised in the Philippines and she would tell me stories and folklore of her home land. The story that always scared me the most was that of the Berbalang. It was a horrible ghoul that preyed not upon the living but the dead. An immortal being that fed upon corpses. Though it preferred dead bodies it would feed upon the living in dire situations. How long had this creature been living here underneath our very feet? How many tributes have I placed in the ground for it’s waiting jaws? How many centuries had we been giving it a never ending buffet of dead bodies?
But that buffet was ending wasn’t it? The cemetery had reached it’s limit and soon the food supply would run out. Would it venture forth then for fresher meat? And did I not just give it a perfect tunnel to fly out into the night with? At the horrifying realization I let out a loud gasp and the creature responded. It dropped it’s meal and began scenting the air. I shook my head back and forth. “No it can’t smell me, not with the smell of death dominating the area.” I told myself just begging for it to be true. The fiend continued to sniff the air getting closer and closer. It reached out with clawed feet, feeling out the area around it. The creature stopped searching mere inches from me and I held in my sigh of relief.
The creature turned it’s head to the side in a sickly human way. It looked like a curious child. Without warning his head came forward and he let out an ear splitting screech. With all those bat like features how did I not even consider echo location as a method for it to see? The creature knew where I was and lunged at me. Without thought I swung my homemade torch right into the creatures face. The beast recoiled and started to bat away the flames. I wasn’t going to stick around to see if it succeeded and ran for it. With the fading light of the flames behind me I could only just barely make out the arches of the tunnel. Relying on instinct to guide me I made my way back to the hole with as much speed as I dared.
From behind me I heard another of those horrible screeches. The sound of drumming footsteps followed suit and I knew it was giving chase. This thing had the advantage. This was his domain, his lair, I only prayed I had enough of a head start. I ducked though arches, never sticking to a straight line. Without warning a loud screech emanated from the darkness and the back of my calf erupted in sharp pain. The nightmare had caught up to me and sliced my leg, but only a glancing blow. I thrust my leg back and could feel my foot collide with the creatures bony face. I hobbled as fast as I could as the creature fought to regain itself. I had one chance to end this and one chance only.
By chance or perhaps fate I could make out the chamber I entered by the dull light of summer predawn. I ran with all my might and stood below the open grave. From the depths of darkness I could hear the ghoul gaining ground. “Good let him come. I won’t let him hurt anyone ever again.” I shouted to the ghosts of the dead in the cavern. I looked up at the navy blue sky one last time. What I wouldn’t give to feel an evening breeze once more before the end. It didn’t matter for this was my end and I was going to make it count. I found myself dwelling on the one bit of wisdom I had collected over my years of digging graves. We all end up in a hole someday. “So what does it matter if I get there a little faster.”
The creature leapt out of the darkness at me. It’s claws gleamed in the dawning light, preparing to rend me into a thousand pieces. This was the moment I waited for. I pulled both my fists back as hard as I could slamming into the fragile walls of the cavern. I could feel the earth shake around me and knew it was now or never. I thrust my arms forward and wrapped them around the creature. Using the strength given to me from digging a hundred graves I locked the demon to my body and forced us both to the ground. Above us dirt and rock cascaded down upon us, burying all that we were under it’s unyielding pressure.
I can feel the pressure crushing my organs as my lungs will with dirt. My inevitability has finally come and I feel myself slipping into the next world. However as my heart beat grows weaker, the Berbalang’s heart stays steady. It has survived my trap and lies in wait. I only hope my body can work as a prison long enough for it to starve…..I…..can…..only….hope.
Credit : Tenac
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