Maintaining Appearances by Michael C. Keith

When Hank dreams his deceased friend is calling him from the grave, he decides to take action in Michael C. Keith's silly story.

 I wander in the ways of (dead) men,
Alike unknown and unknowing.
- Robert Burns

Like most everyone else, Hank Capron had an occasional nightmare. Lately, however, they had become more common and taken on a more personal and intense nature, as they centered on his longtime friend, Jacob Howell, who had died three years earlier.

Normally, his dreams about his close buddy dealt with events from their mutual pasts, such as the many trips they'd taken together, gatherings with close friends, games at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, and similar happenings. In other words, nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, pretty mundane stuff.

Over the past week, however, Hank had dreamed that his always-dapper friend was talking to him from his grave. For five consecutive nights now, he had awakened in a cold sweat after dreaming of standing over Jacob's grave and hearing his voice beckon him. The message was the same each time, a plea to dig him up so he could make a crucial appointment. The otherworldly entreaty remained with him during his waking hours.

"Please, Hank, get me out of here. I must get somewhere. It's very important and can't be put off any longer!"

At first Hank thought it was just a case of delayed remorse over losing his dearest childhood companion. He had certainly mourned Jacob's passing and still had not put it behind him, so it seemed possible that his grief was manifested in his recurring dream. Yet there was something about the nightmares that had a quality unlike any other he'd experienced. They seemed more palpable and immediate, as if they existed in real time, not something from the recesses of the unconscious mind. Indeed, they left him feeling like he really did have to take action... even if that action was absolutely beyond the realm of all reason.

Okay, Jacob, I must be really loony, but I'm going to dig you up. If nothing else, it will give me back some peace of mind. I hope you know you're making me do something totally freaking crazy.

He set the alarm for 1am, and when it sounded he threw on his clothes, grabbed a shovel, and drove to St. Clary's cemetery, where his friend was buried. Just before the alarm had sounded, Hank had experienced yet another dream in which Jacob had again pleaded with him to be set free.

What will he look like after three years in the ground? Maybe really grotesque... all rotted away. What the hell am I doing? This is just so wrong, mulled Hank, as he entered the main gate of the graveyard. There's his headstone. Jacob A. Howell, 1971-2011. Time to start digging... or not.

As soon as the blade of the shovel broke ground, Hank's deceased friend greeted him.

"You came, Hank. I'm so glad. I knew you would. Get me out of here. There's still time to... "

I'm just plain imagining all of this, Hank told himself, feeling goose bumps rise on his back.

Fortunately, the ground was soft after two days of summer rain, and Hank's work progressed quickly. By the time he struck the lid of Jacob's coffin, he was feeling slightly nauseous and very winded. He pulled himself out of the trench and stood above it.

"Hey, old buddy. The path is clear. If you're really alive, just push the top of the casket and climb out."

Hank had decided not to open the coffin in order to spare himself the horrors he expected were inside. So if nothing happened, as he expected, he'd be on his way.

"Come on, Jacob. Time to make your important appointment."

Several seconds passed and then the lid slowly opened. Hank was stupefied, and for a moment considered running away.

Holy good God shit! thundered his inner voice, and then Jacob sat up in his coffin and smiled broadly at him.

"You are a true friend, my dear Hank. Here, help me out."

Jacob extended his hand, and Hank reluctantly took it and pulled his friend to the surface.

His skin is warm. How could that possibly be? Hank wondered.

You, ah... you look good," he sputtered, as Jacob stood before him and straightened his suit jacket.

"I didn't want them to bury me in this thing. It never fit quite right, and the style is somewhat out of date."

"Are you really alive? How can you be? You've been down there for three years. You haven't changed at all. In fact, you look better than you did at your wake."

"Oh, that stupid thing. They never do you justice. Always end up making you look like a manikin."

"I just... can't believe this. You're dead, Jacob."

"What is death anyway, Hank? Does anyone really know? There's so much speculation about it, and most of it is just bullshit."

"But your heart stopped and you weren't breathing. That's what dead means... I think."

"Never mind. It's one of those unanswerables. Certainly a bigger question than we can discuss right now," observed Jacob, looking at his watch.

Hank noticed the watch's second hand move and got a chill.

"Anyway, I've got to be somewhere."

"Oh, that's right. The important appointment you kept talking about. What...?"

"Will you look at these," said Jacob displaying his fingers.

The nails on his friend's hands were long and discolored. They were the only thing about him that looked dead, and they reminded Hank of the absolute absurdity of the situation.

"What's going on with these? Gross, huh?" continued Jacob, fretfully.

"Another one of those big questions, I think," said Hank, with a slight shudder.

"I couldn't let them go any longer," said Jacob, staring disapprovingly at his fingernails.

"Wait a minute. You mean your crucial appointment is...?"

"That's right, I'm going to have a manicure," replied Jacob, nonchalantly.

Hank stood in bewilderment and growing frustration as his freshly exhumed friend turned and sauntered away.


  1. very good with a super twist at the end, I hadn´t known what to expect, but not that!

    Michael McCarthy

  2. Michael, you nailed it!

  3. A manicure! SMILE. Sucked me right in with that one! FUN story!

  4. You had the last laugh - there was I soaking up the dread, not a little intrigued and feeling slightly bilious as the grave was opened - and then wham bang ha ha! a very funny and deft finish. Well done,
    Ceinwen Haydon

  5. This was a great story. Made me smile. :-)

  6. I love any story that revolves around a man digging up a deceased friend under cover of darkness and I find myself chuckling from start to finish. Well done.

    Tim Macy

  7. Nice surprise ending. A manicure indeed! Bernie Brown

  8. I was waiting for a Christmas Carol/Jacob Marley’s Ghost riff, but manicure, of course! Good job.

  9. Sartorial elegance, it has an eternal quality about it, don't you think!
    Very funny.
    Comments on comments? I like Tim Macy's comment as well!

  10. This was just the story to read on a drizzly autumn night..
    Made me wonder just what people may be up to out there somewhere...
    Great writing! I was engaged with the characters from beginning to the end- kept me guessing.
    Now to make sure all the windows and doors are locked! Thank you.