Every weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I do the night shift – from midnight to eight o’clock in the morning. It would perhaps be more accurate to say I do the graveyard shift. This is not of the scary Stephen King type with lots of rats and a big voracious creature. I am working in an actual graveyard. There’s not much real work to it, patrolling the grounds, cutting the lawn with a motorless push mower sometimes, digging a grave very occasionally if someone is being buried on a Saturday or Sunday, pretending that I am the Karate Kid when I am being attacked by no one outside my head.
You see, in our town, there are some nasty hooligan youngsters who have been vandalizing the graveyards – spray painting some vile things on some of the stones, overturning flower arrangements and such. I grew up in this town, so I know that there isn’t much to do here when you are a teenager, so we used to do some wild stuff, but never desecration of graves.
I retired a few years back, and me and my wife have had to live since then on only our meagre government pensions. So when the minister came over to my place and asked me if I would do this work, and get paid to do it, I said ‘yes’. Minister Jack and I went to high school together (we did a few of the tamer wild things together), and my family has long belonged to the parish. My parents and paternal grandparents are buried in this graveyard.
Being retired pensioners, we don’t do anything on the weekend that we can’t do every day of the week, so my job isn’t putting a dent on our social life.
Have you ever seen flashes of light like fire-flies in the night? I have while engaged in this job, and there are no fire-flies there. I know that my mind sometimes sees things that are invisible to my eyes, so I reckon that my mind does not approve of its idleness at work, so it makes stuff up. I haven’t shared this information with my wife. She would probably just put it down to my “overactive imagination,” which, of course, is something that I have in spades.
And then there are the sounds somewhat like the wind through the abundant trees inhabiting the cemetery, when there isn’t even a breeze blowing, or distant thunder when there isn’t a cloud in the night sky.. With the teenage life I led as a drummer in a very loud rock band, with speakers behind me, I suppose I should be expecting auditory hallucinations in my old age. My wife says that I hear different instructions than those that she gives to me.
And on one occasion on a Saturday night, as I was standing looking over the graveyard, I felt something like a touch on my left forearm. I must have been feeling rather twitchy that night, after having drunk a great deal of coffee in the afternoon. I had only had maybe two hours of sleep that morning as my wife and I had to go visit a cousin of hers in the hospital at about twelve o’clock noon.
On a Slow Night
On a slow night, which is just about every night, no let’s say that it is every night, I take time to sit on a bench conveniently placed (I moved it there) in front of the gravestone of my grandfather and grandmother. Part of the ritual for this involves putting a small, smooth stone on top of the gravestone. My grandfather was the one who gave it to me, not long before he died. He placed the stone in my left hand, closed my fingers around it, and told me a story to go alone with it. He told me that he kept the stone in his left pocket, and that whenever he felt scared, alone, or even just confused by the events taking place in his life, he would take it out of his pocket, roll it over with his fingers, and seek out solutions to what he was feeling.
I took to following his lead in this matter, with the difference of putting the stone upon his gravestone for the time that I sit on the bench. I believed that it has worked for me as it obviously had for him. It is my most prized possession.
One Such a Night
It was the night of Halloween, my first on the job, the most likely time for teenage trashers to come and vandalize the graveyard. I was feeling a little jumpy. I didn’t have a weapon, and I didn’t want to walk around with my grave-digging shovel over my shoulder, looking like a trench-digging soldier.. Several times, I swore I heard voices whispering. But there was a breeze blowing through the branches of the cemetery woods. That must be it, I thought.
I walked over to my grandfather’s grave for my ritual. I took the stone out of my pocket. Before I put it on the gravestone, I saw what looked something like the beef hearts that my mother used to cook. Grossed me out at dinner time, as it did then in front of me. I bent over to get a closer look.
Then it happened. I heard the words, “He fell for it.” A second or two later I was pushed hard, face first, to the ground by at two least two pairs of hands. It was followed by sounds of laughter from the gang that must have snuck up behind me. Then I must have passed into semi-consciousness for a few minutes, as I heard nothing. When I recovered my senses I heard a sound a lot like distant thunder, only close and bearing the threatening tones of a raven’s call. It was accompanied by the burst of low lying light with the menacing flash of a small bolt of lightning. Then I heard screaming and the sound of heavy foot-pounding of fleeing vandals.
I sat up and came to realize that I must have dropped my stone, as it wasn’t in my hand, or, when I checked, in my left pocket. I searched the ground where I had fallen, but could not find it. I had been injured and heart-broken in short order. I needed to sit on the bench. My mind was silent for a few minutes, then I started thinking of my responsibilities. I would have to check the graveyard for any vandalism. But first I would have to get my head straight. At some point I would have to tell minister Jack what had happened.
I stood up, felt a little unsteady, and looked at my grandparents’ gravestone. Fortunately, there had been no damage done. Then I saw it. The small smooth stone was atop the gravestone! I knew that I hadn’t put it there. Neither would the teenage boys have. That left only one option. What was it that Arthur Conan Doyle said through the written voice of Sherlock Holmes? “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” I walked over to the gravestone, put the smooth stone in my left hand, and bowed slightly, “Thank you, grandfather.”