The Replacement
by Anne Frasier

Eighteen-year-old Grant Vang shot around the corner on his ten-speed, jumped the curb, then veered sharply to miss a group of university students clustered on the sidewalk. Frat boys. Dinkytown was famous for frat boys and Bob Dylan. And more recently the University of Minnesota student who'd been killed in a hazing.

“Watch it, freak!” one of the cluster shouted.

Without looking, Grant threw the finger over his shoulder. He turned into a narrow alley, jumped off the bike, and ran beside it before it stopped. A quick lock, then he stepped into his uncle's shop.

The old man didn’t look up from his dark corner. “You're late.”

Grant waited for his eyes to adjust. The scent of unburned incense barely covered the sweet-sour stench of decay. It was an old building. “I've been busy.”

“Have you found someone to take your place?”

“I'm working on it.”

“You have to get a replacement. You'll be leaving soon.”

“Replacements aren't easy to come by.”

His uncle made a clicking sound with his tongue. “You're too picky.”

“I'm not going to use just anybody.”

The bell above the door rang, announcing a customer. The university student. The one Grant had almost hit. He glanced at Grant, then strolled to a shelf and feigned interest in the jars and candles. He picked up a carved wooden box. “What's this?”

“A reanimation kit.”

The kid made a ho-ho-ho face. “To bring somebody back to life? People pay you for this crap? Looks like it's been opened. Like it's been used.”

“Nothing here is new.”

“You sell old stuff? What kind of place is this?”

“My uncle is a doctor.”

The kid snorted. “Whatever you say.”

Grant heard his uncle humming behind him. Even though he didn't turn around, he knew the old man’s eyes would be closed, his hands folded on the top of his cane. The hum? Sign on the Window. Sometimes it was Lay Lady Lay, but he tended to go with Dylan's more obscure work. Occasionally he'd toss in a Springsteen number. He liked his Springsteen.

“You tell him what's wrong and he puts together ingredients that will cure you,” Grant said. “He can cure anything. Got STDs? If you do, he can get rid of them.”

“I'm clean.”

“He can also create a spell that will bring about your heart's desire.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Whatever you want.” Grant took the wooden box from him and replaced it on the shelf.

Now that they stood face to face, the frat boy's eyes narrowed. “You look familiar. Have we met before? I mean before you almost ran over me out there.”

“We all look alike to you, don't we?”

The visitor shrugged. “What are you? Japanese?”

“Try Hmong.”

Grant's uncle jotted something down on a piece of paper. Scratch, scratch, scratch. He folded it three times, and handed it to Grant. Grant passed it to the kid.

“Jesus Christ. Your fingers are like ice. And your skin … If your uncle's so great, why doesn't he do something about that?”

Grant felt his cheek. Peeling. “It just started.”

The kid held up the paper. “What's this?”

“Memorize the words, then eat them. After the sun sets below the horizon and the moon is a sliver in the night sky, stand with your back to the foot of a freshly-dug grave, close your eyes, and repeat what it says three times.” Grant held out his hand. “Twenty bucks.”

“Twenty bucks? For some words on a piece of paper?”

“That's cheap for your heart's desire, wouldn't you say?”

“Here are some words: Screw you!”

The kid turned and left. Grant turned to his uncle and smiled.

The frat boy's heels sank in the soft dirt. He closed his eyes and repeated the words from the paper. “Dead man, dead man, when will you arise? Cobwebs in your mind, Dust upon your eyes.”

Before he reached the third dust upon your eyes, Grant stepped out from behind a tree trunk and shoved. The kid crashed through the grave blanket of woven fronds and flowers to the empty coffin below. Grant jumped into the hole and slammed the lid on the box. He climbed out, grabbed a shovel, and filled as fast as he could, ignoring the screaming and pounding. The dirt was soft, and it didn't take long. Pretty soon he was patting the soil into a smooth mound. He smiled and ran his fingers across the headstone. Grant Vang. Death three days ago. He'd been pissed when his uncle had used the reanimation kit on him, but it looked like things were going to work out.

When he got home to the apartment above the shop, his uncle said, “I see you found a replacement.”

Grant kicked off his dirty shoes and plopped into a chair. “He was the kid who killed me. Did you know that?”

“I had my suspicions. Glad the Dylan lyrics worked out.”


“Well, this is Dinkytown. No way was I using Springsteen.”

'Dead man, dead man, when will you arise? Cobwebs in your mind, Dust upon your eyes' from Dead Man, Dead Man (Words and Music by Bob Dylan) 1981 Special Rider Music

Anne Frasier lives in Minnesota and is the bestselling author of Hush, Sleep Tight, Play Dead, and Before I Wake. Her latest, Pale Immortal, is another dark and menacing tale that will make your skin crawl. 

See also at ThrillerChiller Theater: Martina Bexte's Things Are Different in the Country; Shirley Damsgaard's Little Boy Lost; Mario Acevedo's Wedding Night Feast!

Note: Anne Frasier retains all rights to this story.