Prompt Day #300: Write a story from the viewpoint of a groundskeeper at the graveyard – avoiding any of the typical trappings of the horror genre. Make it mundane, even. Avoid using any speculative fiction techniques whatsoever until you get to page three. Then, if you need to jazz things up, let her rip.
This is not the sort of story I have the patience for spell check. So, if you find errors, forgive me. It’s yesterday’s tale. I was on call and couldn’t finish it until now. I’m off tomorrow, I’ll catch up on today’s then. No worries. It’s all downhill from here. 65 more to go.
Well, come on now. You’re gonna need to get here earlier than this if you’re serious about takin this job. I’ve been takin care of this here cemetery for the last forty years and, frankly, I’m tired. But they asked me to stay on, show you the ropes, help you get your bearings before I clock out for good. Speakin of clockin out, c’mere, let me show you something. This here’s my little plot of eternity. You end up stickin around as long as I have and you’ll be digging this’un fer me.
There I go, putting the cart before the horse again. Let me show ya around a bit first, then we’ll get to the buryin and whatnot. Follow me…Now this here’s the tool shed. This is where we keep all the basic lawn-keeping equipment: the lawnmower, the weedwacker—now that’s gonna be just about the most important thing you’ll use in your day to day work. The mower can’t ever get close enough to the stones, you see, so you get that wacker right up to ‘em and chop ‘em down that way.
You see that stack o’ plastic planters? Yep, we don’t throw nothing away here. There’s always gonna be loved ones leavin plants in these things. If we left them layin around, geez, this place’d look like an episode o’ hoarders. Anywho, I use ‘em for toting grass seed or fertilizer around to the dead spots or whatnot. And I think the rest o’ this place is pretty self-explanatory. You got your rake, your shovel—we don’t use that too much anymore. I’ll show ya the heavy equipment pole barn here in a minute.
Now, where was I? So the shovel, the smaller hand tools—you won’t use them much neither; no one puts much effort into gardening around the stone, but when they do, they don’t take much care of it, so that’s when you’ll use those tools. And these buckets, here, well, you can read, can’t ya? Seed, fertilizer, lime—don’t think you won’t use that shit neither. You can’t always shovel out the dead animals, sometimes you gotta just bury ‘em and lime ‘em. Guests don’t like the smell o’ death, reminds them of their own family rottin’ away down under ‘em.
Alright, any questions? No? Ok, movin’ on. Let me walk ya over to the pole barn. Let’s go through this way, it’s the back and oldest part of the cemetery. I’ll point out some interesting graves to ya. This’n here; he was the founder of this great town and namesake of this very cemetery, Mr. Jedidiah Underwood. Jedidiah, the stories say, had a little trouble committing body and soul to his wife, whose grave you’ll find right here beside him. Rumors have it, he put his kitchen slave in the family way and when she had the baby, he took it right out to Underwood pond and drowned it. Then, when she threatened to tell the town what he’d done, she disappeared without a trace. O’ course he told everyone she ran off, but not long after she disappeared, he threw quite a party, and folks round here say he employed his kitchen slave in a new way—and the roast was delicious! You get me? Course, that’s a lotta what they call here-say—you hear it then you say it! Hahaha. Ok, enough o’ my joshin’ now.
Yessir, a lot of politicians in this cemetery, and somethin’ else too, back there, on the left-most border is what we call “suicide hill”. Now, a lot of cemeteries-‘specially the Catholic ones—won’t let suiciders in. Say it’s a mortal sin or somethin’ but not Underwood Fields, we make no judgements, here. Ain’t for us to say, is it? And if you know what’s good for ya and your career, you won’t never speak no judgements either. We provide rest for the dead and comfort for the livin’, much as we can anyhow.
C’mon, there’s much left to go over yet. We got a hole to dig today. Robby Drummond wrapped his motor bike ‘round a tree last week and he’ll be laid to rest tomorrow. Hole’s gotta be dug, tent put up and chairs for the mourners…that’s our doin’ today. So, let me show ya what we use fer that sort of business. See this here key ring? Little key opens the garden shed, I just showed ya, this here key’ll open the master lock what holds the big garage door down, and this’un here’ll open the man size door here on the side of this building. Now, I keep these doors locked at all times, cause ya see, I keep the keys for the big digger right here on the driver’s seat. Easier than carryin’ ‘em all with me all the time. That kinda weight’ll slow ya down.
Oh, I’ll show ya what these other two are fer later, once we get through with our mornin’ digging. Now, somethin’ else ya may never’ve noticed but still’s real important is this: we don’t leave the dirt all piled up near the hole. Reminds folks o’ the finality o’ the whole thing I guess. They don’t like to see that mound. So, we take it and keep it out o’ site in this wagon, then when all’s gone home to mourn, we cart it back out an fill up what’s left o’ the dead space—no pun intended o’ course.
Well, come on then, hop up in here and I’ll show ya how to drive this thing. Once we get the hole dug and the dirt hid away, we’ll wanta get the tent set up and the casket stand and the casket lowerin’ device—funny name ain’t it? You’d think it’s have a fancy name for the thing rather than casket lowerin’ device, but I suppose when it comes to the business we do, straight up and to the point’s the best manner o’ talkin. Now, I always called it “the crank” but that was back in the day when we did have to crank it, now all ya got ta do is push a button and it’ll ease the casket down itself.
Now that we got all this set up, we’ll take our leave of it. Not proper to see the groundskeeper durin’ the service. That’s part o’ the reason the crank is now automatic, the ushers can push the button and lower the casket, don’t need to see no handyman touchin’ their loved one’s remains, ya know? That’s ok. I know my place and you’ll learn yours too. We aren’t to be seen or heard.
What’s that you ask? The craziest thing I ever seen in the forty years as groundskeeper? Funny you should ask that. I was savin’ this for last and I suppose most o’ what I do is pretty self explanatory. Won’t take you long to figure it out. The master schedule for funerals is kept in the church office. Remember those couple keys I told ya about? So this one here opens the door to the church and this one gets ya in the office. You can check the schedule every morning, see if you got a hole to dig that day or no. The pastor’ll leave you notes or requests from time to time, ‘specially ‘round the holidays, they’ll be plenty of gardenin’ to do.
No, I haven’t forgotten your question. I’ve seen a lot of mourning, a lot of sadness, anger, and ugliness between family members. That’s something you’ll get numb to pretty quick. Nah, it ain’t nothin’ to worry about. What I want to tell you about stays between you and me, got it? Cause no one else is gonna believe it anyhow, and I reckon you won’t believe it either, and that’s ok. I was young once too, I laughed at the warning. But then I saw it with my own eyes and I knew I wouldn’t survive it a second time.
When you take on the job as the groundskeeper of Underwood Fields, you got that job 24/7. You understand? You clock out when the work is done, but sometimes, the work ain’t done. I took this job in May of 1976. I worked here for twenty-five years without seeing anything scarier than a fist fight between a widow and a mistress. But then came October 31, 2001. Halloween with a full moon. This was the night I’d been warned about. The old caretaker, Angus Twomey, took me aside and said “Boy, this place ain’t nothing to care for most of the time, but heed my warnin’, come the full moon on All Hallow’s Eve, the dead get restless and you got to keep ‘em in their place.
Now, listen to me. You remember what I told you about Underwood and the stuff he did in life? You think his soul just floated on to heaven or somethin’? No, he’s a restless soul and when a full moon comes on Halloween, that door between here and there opens up wide and all those lost souls just walk on through. He’s angry and he wants his home back, he wants his town back and he will do whatever it takes to get it. You understand? You ask me what is the craziest thing I’ve seen? Jedidiah Underwood’s specter comin’ right for me, teeth bared, hands clawed. You see this scar on my neck? I got that in the light of a Halloween full moon.
Those poor sad folks buried out on suicide hill? You look out for ‘em too. Don’t underestimate a hopeless soul. Angry is somethin’ you see coming but bleak, bottomless pain like that will pull you down with it and you won’t have the fight left in ya to come back. You watch for the evil ones, yes, but it’s the dark shadows that will feed on ya like a vampire. No groundskeeper has stayed on the job more than one Full Moon Halloween. You got four years to get to know this place, these people. You’ll get an idea which ones are still here, biding their time. Those are the ones to watch for. You remember them keys I told ya will get ya into the church? You always have them on ya. You’ll find sanctuary there, as a last resort, but you make a stand if you can. You keep them within the bounds of the cemetery until dawn.
Well, I guess that’s about all there is to the job. Think I’ve given ya all the words of wisdom I can. Best a’ luck to ya. Here’s your keys. Mark your calendar. October 31, 2020. And watch out for ol Robby Drummond. That boy was a hell raiser, he just might be worse than Underwood. What’s that? Oh, nothin’ you can do to really fight ‘em, you just gotta sorta herd ‘em inside the gates and stay alive ‘til morning. I did it, Angus did it and every groundskeeper before him. Don’t let us down.
I’m off to Dusty’s for a beer now. Best get the rest of those chairs set up for tomorrow’s service. And don’t forget to lock up.