It began at his mother's funeral. The rain poured down as he stood before the open grave, pounding the black umbrellas and coats of the gathered mourners. The ocean of mud under his shoes tried to swallow him into the ground. As he stared somberly into the grave, dozen tongues around him spoke in hushed tones. Of his mother's mysterious death, of the dubious nature of her formerly bankrupt heir. He payed them no heed, acted as a grieving son should. Among the countless faces he discerned no-one, only a wall of blank solemnity. For a while longer he stood there in the rain, staring down into the muddy hole. The crowd of mourners started to thin, and eventually he made to leave. But as he walked away…For only a second, out of the corner of his eye, partly hidden among all the others… He shook involuntarily as he tried to keep walking.
The days that followed were normal: Moving into the old mansion, arguing with his sister over the inheritance, paying old debts, making new business partners. They were calm days, filled with nothing but minor annoyances and the overwhelming pleasures of wealth.
He was at the height of happiness when it happened again. He was having a glass of red wine with the most stunning woman he had seen in years, trying to impress her with his words, trying to convince himself she wasn't there just for the money. And then something behind her caught his eye. Through the second floor window a familiar face was looking in at him.
It only got worse from then on. He'd bar himself in the mansion with the lights burning and a familiar silhouette would fall on the drapes. He'd walk the streets in broad daylight and it would appear all the same. He'd surround himself with friends, only to scare them off with his jumpiness.
After two weeks of trying to live normally he hid himself away in the mansion. He locked the doors, barred the windows, kept all the lights burning. He hired detectives to spy on the house, he hired bodyguards to stay with him in the barricaded mansion. Neither ever saw a thing. But the visitations stopped. His frayed nerves calmed. Rationality returned, the ghosts of superstition gave way.
And then came last night. The day had been blissfully void of stress and he went reasonably calm to sleep. He locked his bedroom door, made sure the window was properly blocked, put a baseball bat on his nightstand, a string of bells in front of the door. Then he fell asleep, lights still blaring, bodyguards just outside his room.
He woke up slowly, a feeling of dread in his bones. First he noticed the lack of light. Then an unfamiliar weight on the foot of the bed. His heart clenched as his eyes roamed from the still closed door to the dark silhouette sitting at his side. He stared, unable to move.
Then suddenly the lamp on the nightstand came on. And he screamed. It sounded hysterical and broken, but he was too far gone to care. All he could do was scream and scream and scream.
Before his eyes the shadowy figure of his dead mother sat, slowly coming apart, pieces of her face falling onto the bed with wet plops. She reached out for him and he jumped crying from the bed, fumbled with the locked door and ran out, a chorus of bright bells sounding behind him.
A day later he is back where it all began. He shakes as he comes up to the tombstone. It isn't until he kneels before the grave that he realizes he has no idea what he's doing here. He spares a look around. There are two people in sight: To his right a drunkard pouring booze onto a grave, far to the left an old woman with her back turned to him. He shudders at the possibility, then turns back to the grave and begins praying feverishly. Time passes and rain starts pouring down. He looks around again, sees both mourners have disappeared. Shivering, he keeps praying.
As he stares into the muddy ground, he feels increasingly uneasy. The longer he stares, the more it seems like the mud is moving. And not just because of the rain. No, it's definitely moving. Some of it starts to rise. He tries to get to his feet, but finds himself sinking further into the mud instead. Before his wide eyes a nose forms in the mud. Lips. Hair. Eyes. They open with a wet sound. He screams.
He stares into his mother's scowling face as he struggles and shouts. Each kick and jump seems only to drive him further into the ground. Hands rise out of the ground and grab him, pulling even harder. He screams as he feels the mud on his ear. He screams as one eye sinks below. He splutters as the mud floods his mouth. He gasps as it starts blocking his airway. He tries to scream again as finally his whole body goes under.
The rain pours down on the peaceful grave. Fallen leaves blow by with the calm breeze. Then slowly the ground stirs. A form rises. The thing stands still, its muddy features shifting. It looks just like he did, only a bit taller and bulkier. It nods at a dazed drunkard as it passes through the cemetery. Then the grave walks out the gate, a peaceful smile on its stolen face.