Dec 10, 2014 – Ghost Story

Posted on 10 December 2014

The old man sat down in his arm chair and waved a hand. “Gather around, children. Grandpa wants to tell you a story.”

He waited, slowly unwrapping a mint and popping it in his mouth. The wrinkles that lined his face were cast into stark shadow by the singular lamp on the other side of the room, and he rocked back and forth in his recliner while he waited. Finally, once he was satisfied, he leaned forward.

“Grandpa has a ghost story for you.” He smiled and leaned back again. “Yes. See, once, long ago . . . .”

He stopped and furrowed his brow before shaking his head. “No, that isn’t how this story starts. Not that way at all. Ahem.”

“Not far from here, there is a town much like ours. It has all the things a town needs to be a town. Houses, for sure, and grocery stores. Churches and clinics, gas stations and stores of all kinds, dry cleaners and warehouses and even factories. What made this town special, though, was that it had only one graveyard, to the south of town. It was a curious thing, surrounded by a high, cast iron fence with points that curled inward. The gate was likewise cast iron and twisted into shapes with meanings long since forgotten. What is more, is that no one ever entered this graveyard.”

“Now, that isn’t fair to say. People did go in, for how else would people be buried? No. People entered it, but they did not do so lightly. It was on a day when people did enter it, one a day when two little boys were attending the funeral of their grandfather, that those very boys learned the truth of this hallowed ground. At the funeral parlor, there were so many people, all speaking in soft voices of how much they missed the old man the two little boys barely knew. Perhaps that was why they could see: they were not bereaved as the others. Of course they were sad the kindly old man who had given them mints was gone, but they hadn’t known him, not really. So they looked at the others, and they did not just see sadness in the eyes of their family. They saw fear.”

“When the clock struck one, the men of the family gathered in a huddle and talked in short, harsh whispers. The funeral director had to come over to them before they would finally decide whatever it was they were debating, and six of them walked with him back to the casket, where they surrounded it, three to a side, and carried it out to the hearse. The men seemed ready to leave, but the funeral director gave them a sharp glare from the driver’s bench, and they climbed onto the side of the large, long wagon. The rest of the family seemed content to stay in the parlor, but the boys’ mother did not see as they followed after the hearse.”

“Now, there is no law that forbids people from entering the graveyard. The iron gate, while latched, is not locked, and the boys knew from books and television that family were supposed to be the burial itself, too. Why had no one else came expect the six men, and them seemingly unwillingly? The boys slinked as well as one could in the heat and light of day, and they followed the procession into the graveyard. Tall tombstones lined either side of the cobbled path that lead deeper and deeper into that singular, large plot of land, and before long the boys could not even clearly see the fence. All was spires and angelic statues, urns and arches that lead to nowhere.”

“The hearse stopped near a spire with a hole before it. The men jumped down quickly from the hearse and, quickly and quietly as possible, moved the casket onto the straps that crossed over the grave. The funeral director watched, and soon as it was done, he triggered the mechanism that lowered the casket. The boys thought he mumbled something, soft and low, that could have been a blessing. Then, with a quick and practiced hand, he freed the straps from the frame, carried it to the hearse, and started it moving, even as the six men hurried back onto the sides. The hearse moved quickly now, and the boys tried to run after it, but soon it was lost to them around bends and past forks in the path.”

“The boys wondered, moving and trying not to be scared, but they had been left unknowingly behind in a place grown men fear, and they knew it. The sun continued to move, and the boys continued on, staying to the cobbled path, hoping to find their way out. Several times they found the fence, but all they say beyond it was barren plains, and no matter how far they looked in either direction, they never saw the gate.”

“As the sun became low enough to start casting long shadows from the tall grave markers, the boys found themselves somewhere familiar, but not where they wanted to be: their great grandfather’s grave. It was still open, the pile of freshly turned earth still sitting in a heap a shovel’s throw to the side. And that was when they heard the creak. It was the sound of hinges not quiet mean to be used, and it had come from the grave. Slowly, they tip-toed up to the hole and looked in, and there, looking back at them from the open casket, was the old man in his Sunday best.”

“’Hello boys, here to help fill in the hole?’ he asked. The boys stared for a moment, and then screamed and ran. And they did not stop running, following twists and turns blindly, until they at last came to the cast iron gate. The sun was just sinking below the horizon as they ran through the gate, and at that moment, they glanced back into the graveyard and saw hundred, thousands of people moving about, all dressed in their best.”

“The boys ran and ran all the way home to their worrying mother. When she asked them where they had been, they lied, saying they had snuck off to play in the park. They never spoke of that day again, but nor did they ever go back into the graveyard again, not until their dying day….”

The old man leaned back, finished with his story and sighed contently. A door opened, and an orderly looked in. “Oh, I thought I heard you talking to someone.”

“Just the children,” the old man said. “Just the children.”

The orderly smiled at the old man sitting by himself in the room and only nodded, closing the door softly behind him and leaving the man alone to his thoughts.

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