Image Flash #31
I’ve always enjoyed a good cemetery. Doesn’t matter if it’s well groomed or overrun with weeds. I’ve never found them frightening in the slightest. Even on those rare midnight trips to the supposedly haunted variety.
Of course, my personal lack of fear aside, that doesn’t stop me from writing creepy little scenes set in a graveyard!
Terrell Collins unzipped his jacket and let the mid-afternoon breeze flow across him. It flapped, like a tiny cape, at his back. He knew that the unseasonable warmth the wind carried was probably a bad thing, so far into October, but for now he relished the balmy air in his face. It felt good.
“That there, that’s the worst part.” Said Mr.Gregors, pointing to a small, steep divot in the hillside. “I’ve almost tipped the mower there more than once. Not something you’d want to do; roll ass over ears down a hill with the mower blades, now is it?”
Terrell agreed. “No, sir.”
“We’d need five graves for you after that.” He held up his hands, about a foot apart. “Tiny ones. If you get my meaning.” He chuckled.
“I do, sir. Messy.”
“That’s one thing we don’t do around here; messy. You’ve been to other cemeteries?”
“Sure, of course.”
“Then you see the difference?”
Terrell looked around, scanning the landscape. He could see it. The grounds looked a lot more like a botanical garden than an actual graveyard. The lawn was lush and uniform, the bushes were sculpted and groomed, and the trees were the picture of perfect health. There were no old flowers on the graves, or new ones for that matter. The stones themselves were clean, moss-free, and lacking the usual signs of age. It was beautiful and immaculate.
“Sure, I see it. You keep things up really nice here.”
Mr.Gregors looked at Terrell quizzically. “Did they tell you why?”
“I assume they can charge more.”
The old man snorted and continued walking down the paved trail, leading the tour. “Wrong. Cemetery’s closed to new residents. No more room.”
Terrell knew that was the case for a lot of cemeteries. Eventually, they filled up and, unless they expanded, they just got older and older. The kin folk passed on, less family came to visit, and eventually, it was only strangers who came to see the graves. Maybe an odd descendant here and there, but mostly not. Those above were no longer visiting those below out of love, or loss, or longing, but out of a morbid connection to death, or perhaps the past.
Personally, he was relieved. It meant the job wouldn’t have him digging holes, working a back-hoe, and dealing with burials. Funeral arrangements, scheduling, and all that seemed like a pain in the ass to him. Mowing lawns and trimming trees was going to be a hell of a lot easier.
“So, why is it so neat?”
Mr. Gregors turned off the trail and cut across the grass, headed for a row of tall, trimmed, bushes toward the back of the lot. “They vetted you pretty thorough for this job, didn’t they? I bet you assumed that was because you’d be working with dead bodies. Extra careful on account of the valuables they’re buried with. Jewelry and stuff. That it was normal?”
“I figured, yeah.”
“But nobody’s been put into the ground here for forty years. Still make sense to you?”
Terrell had a sinking suspicion that he knew where the old guy was going with this.
“Didn’t you think it was weird, considering what they’d be looking at, that your background check didn’t give you any shit?”
He knew. He had to know or he wouldn’t be talking like this. “I’m just looking to start a future, Mr.Gregors. I guess I was feeling hopeful that whoever let me get this close to the job understood that.”
The man stopped and turned to look at Terrell. “Huh. You’re looking for your future in a graveyard. Interesting.”
Terrell felt his opportunity slipping. “I can do this. I really think I’m the right man for this job. I’m good at keeping up a lawn. This is the same, just bigger.”
“Oh, it’s not exactly the same.”
Mr.Gregors looked at him for a while, then turned and kept going in the direction of the hedge. They passed it and hung a left. There was a row of trees, symmetrically placed, graves between them. They followed the hedge and took another left, and another. Terrell expected to be coming back around to where they’d started, but was surprised to find that they were, in fact, in a small, secluded field, ringed in by the decorative trellises and vines. The wind blew through these gently and the sound of the sticks rubbing together made a quiet, grating sound. Without the right sequence of turns, he would have walked past this area and never known it existed. Like a secret room in a house, the landscape had been tailored to obscure this section of the plots.
“That’s a neat trick.” Said Terrell.
“You understand the scenery now?” Asked Mr.Gregors.
Terrell nodded. “Oh yeah. It’s cover and distraction. Nobody’d ever stumble on this by accident.”
He walked over to the gravestones, so white and stark against the vibrant fall colors. They were all blank; no names or dates. Nothing.
“I buried every single person in this cemetery. Did you know that?”
Terrell ran his fingertips along one of the stones. “No. That’s quite an accomplishment. Being the gatekeeper to all that death.”
“Death?” Asked Mr.Gregors.
The wind, so warm and comforting, dropped, and the October chill returned. Terrell realized that the scratching sound, the noise he’d thought was coming from the breeze and branches in the trellis, hadn’t stopped.
“Who said anything about them being dead?”