Storytime: Graveyard.

August 31st, 2016

The nice thing about a graveyard is that any description of it tends to be good for a long time.
The quiet.
The shade.
The stones.
Even the specifics – who’s under what rock where and when – don’t change very quickly. Time is quarantined here, kept under tight control to prevent any sudden moves or rash decompositions.
No, not much changes in a graveyard.
Until now.

The tree was a stately one, lending the outer plots shade in the summer and keeping its roots to itself on its own side of the fence, out of everyone else’s business and graves.
Slowly, it began to shake and shiver. Fevered.
And from somewhere just a little distant came the shouts and roars.
The fence was very high. The dead like their privacy, and the living like the dead having their privacy too. But the clambering climber was a fast one, practiced and panicked, and she made it just before the mob swarmed the base of the tree, rolling over the iron spikes and down onto the soft green grass that grew just a little too high to be tamed.
The climber lay there for a moment in the shade and the shouting, cursing a string of small and helpless gods under her breath. She was all limbs and harsh angles, and whiffed sharply of sedition. The main gate rattled and her jaw clenched with a throbbing cowardice but it was well-locked and well-secured, and the creaking, clashing metal grew no louder.
“Hello,” said the dead.
She looked around wildly. But she was still alone.
“Hello again,” said the dead. “We are beneath you. We are around you. Why are you in our house?”
The climber looked back up at the tree, but the branches were far too high to grasp, and anyways the dead people were being polite. “Mob,” she said.
“That’s not good. Mobs are ruckus and rattle and roars. They make it hard to sleep. Will you tell them not to make so much noise for us?”
“The mob is after me. They want to hang me by my elbows and ankles until there’s nothing left.”
“That’s not good either. What did you do, to make them so cross and wilful?”
The climber clawed at her hair for a moment, then shrugged. “I am a vandal and a thief and have no friends or family and I have broken clockwork and not paid for it in proper ways. I am altogether unsuitable to live.”
The dead laughed. It’s not as terrible a sound as it seems at first, once the chill’s been scrubbed out of your ears and the shivers from your skull. It doesn’t sound joyful at all, no, but there’s a tired acceptance in it, a been-there-before camaraderie. “Go to the gate. The key is under the smallest rock. We will be with you.”
The climber looked up at the tree again, even let a little practice hop come out of her knees for a moment.

It was a nice, orderly, well-dressed sort of mob.
The clothes were immaculate. The hair was well-combed, well-washed. Hats were firmly affixed to skulls and every crude club picked up was from someone’s garage; no loose branches left to lie about THIS neighborhood! Not a blazing torch in sight, either; electricity had reduced the old fire hazards to fireplaces in a flash.
The faces, though, were timeless. There’s something in the eyes, and something more in the mouth. The furious gnashing, spoken or not.
The cemetery gates swung open despite everything the rust did to prevent it. Vocally.
The climber stood there, face to faces.
“Go home,” she said.
The mob disputed this.
“Go home, please,” she said.
The mob was not pleased.
“Go home, please, the dead are tired and wish not to be disturbed.”
And at this the mob hushed itself for a moment, and in that one moment its always-fragile self-esteem crumbled and guttered and fell away leaving no mob at all but some thirty-two acquaintances, neighbors, and peripheral friends wondering what they were doing out at one in the morning on a weekday. It didn’t disband, it dismembered.
The climber looked down the street after the trailing moblets, watching them shuffle towards their ticking, clicking houses, and saw them look up the street back at her.
“There is work,” the dead said to her in their earth-soft, dirt-tempered voices. “If you would like it.”
And the climber became the digger, more or less.

It wasn’t so bad, working for the graveyard.
The old trees grew small and sour fruit, but there were a lot of them.
The family crypts were cool in the summer and kept heat in the winter.
And the dead were, if not the chattiest company, then very civil and enormously accepting. Nothing brings people together like having something in common. Nobody had more in common than the dead.
All that was required in return was, well, maintenance. Plucking the more obnoxious weeds. Removing old, old flowers. Picking up sticks. Shooing away gophers, which now and then supplemented the fruits.
And then, about a year into the digger’s tenancy in the graveyard, the gates creaked and banged from a force that wasn’t a wind.
“Go home, please,” said the digger through the bars. It was a small mob, with downcast eyes and darkened clothing. They clutched a hidden mass in their midst.
“Let them in,” said the dead from behind. “Let them in.”
The gate was more rusted than ever, but the digger had strong arms. The mob filed in without so much as a word of thanks, a word at all, and after placing their cargo on the ground and standing in silence for some half-hour they simply turned around and left.
The digger tested the lid. It was sealed shut.
“Please,” said the dead – from inside the box, a fine trick – “bury me.”
The digger had no shovel. The digger had no map. But the dead told her where there was space, and the dead told her how far to dig, and her fingers were strong and her palms were broad.
“The first this year,” the dead sighed as she began to push the dirt on top of it. “The first this year. Of how many this decade?”
“Four,” said the other dead. “Four.”
“No time for that sort of thing,” said the new dead, voice already fading into the earth. “No time at all.”
And the digger thought how true that was, but she kept her thoughts about that sort of thing to herself because she was not sure if they would approve.

She had been sneaking out, late at night.
The tree was jumpable, after all. And the dead, although often spry to note anything new, seemed readily ignorant of anything old. She was there, so they assumed she was there. And after a month cooped up, and a month without fear, she felt well enough again to go on the prowl.
The streets were just as she remembered them; spread out in well-planned cogs. Houses ticking along like watches, shops that glittered like glass. The whole city, wheels in wheels and wheels outside of wheels all spinning at different speeds to keep up the same pace.
How could she not want to smash it?

The bounty of those expeditions were stashed all over the graveyard; in gopher holes; under rocks; at the back of crypts tucked behind old coffins.
The dead didn’t think of it, though they thought less and less these days. The living didn’t come looking for it, though they looked for little at all these days.
Really, nobody came looking for anything here. She was the digger, but in three years she dug two graves. The dead wondered, in that idle, decomposing way of theirs, but she knew, or thought she might, or theorized she may one day.
She found them, tucked on mantelpieces and under beds and in cupboards and over fireplaces.
Little boxes, with intricate locks and embellished writing and many promises.
With so few left to run the gears and grind the grist of the city, why would you leave to rot what you might someday use?

One year a tree fell down, across the fence. The digger hauled it over entire, bit by bit, and she spent some time learned to make gravestones that weren’t stone at all but wood.
Some of the dead helped, the few that were left. So did a sharp rock. So did the digger’s fingers.
They really were quite strong by now.

She broke more than she stole nowadays. Smashed the little boxes and scattered the remnants on the careful carpets; shattered the storefronts and left them to fall apart empty. Fresh rainwater soaking into old floors and staining the dust.
Wasteful, but what else was there to do but bury, and who did bury? The freshest dead were over a decade old; the eldest thirty years and fading fast. The graveyard was hushing around her. It frightened her to hear the silence sometimes, but she didn’t dare disturb it.
Sometimes she stood close to the gate and wished she hadn’t let the rust grasp it so rigidly, so that it could still creak. And she pressed an ear to the bars and listened for the ticking of the city.

It was broad daylight.
The city seemed so much smaller in broad daylight. Clearer, but dirtier. All the little flaws that had hidden away under the dark dragged out into exacting detail. A distracting display, but she had no time for it. She was following her ear.
Right down main street, right to the fountain. It was crusted-over, engulfed in a friendly tide of algae and mould. The liveliest sight she’d seen.
A pair of boots sat next to it. And next to the boots, a little box, palm-sized at best, plain and without writing.
The digger held it to her ear, just in time to hear the last tick.

When she got back that evening, she was just in time to hear the last of the dead too.

She stood beneath the tree and considered.
Or the road?
The grave was old; even just-dug, it smelt of tired worms and dying soil.
The road was gone; ruts within ruts within buckled asphalt.
It was lonely, but it was home.
It was long, but it was strange.
She wished she had a mob. Mobs were good at making decisions for you. They chopped off choices until it was simple.
So instead she sat down besides the grave, looking up at the branches of the tree, and she rested. For a while.

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