By. Jacob “PaleFreak” W.
There is a remote town, far from the hustle and bustle of the livelier cities of the coast and lacking any of the attractive scenery of the mountain villages of the north. Forgettable and practically invisible in every regard, except for one. Its cemetery, just as lacking in visual appeal as the rest of the town, is home to a peculiar circumstance.
Man is, as the gods intended, never certain of the time of his demise. The sick and weary, no matter how strongly they feel Death’s grasp upon them, cannot say for sure when they shall die, for a miraculous recovery is still a faint possibility. The downtrodden soul, pressing the blade against his own throat may experience a change of heart just as he thought he’d reached the end of his road and pull that cold steel away. But in this dismal town, there is certainty in the end of the mortal coil, for the cemetery holds an undeniable and irreversible sign of the souls approaching demise.
The cemetery, oddly enough, was not built by the people who live nearby. As far as their records show, they’ve never even made any adjustments to the grounds. The tombstones merely appear from seemingly thin air. None know who is responsible, and many have lost the curiosity required to investigate. It has become a simple fact of life, hardly worth fretting over. But it is what these monuments to the deceased foretell that Is worth mention.
The stone slates are normally left bare, but as one’s final day rests just on the horizon their name is revealed on the slab. It is this circumstance that has brought me more headaches than I could ever count. For just as my father was, so too am I a gravedigger. So often, as one’s morbid curiosity gets the better of them, they discover the name of a loved one etched into the headstone.
“Please!” they beg me, “Please sir! You simply cannot dig this grave! That is my daughter’s name, she’s not yet five! Show mercy and refrain from digging here!”
But it’s no use, and as always I am left trying to explain the situation to this stranger. It is my job to remove those six feet of earth, I have no control of what goes into the hole. I am a servant to the stones, and I take pride in my work. Certainly I feel for these poor souls, I’ve lost my share of loved ones. In fact, it is in this very cemetery that my dear Dad now lies. I dug his final resting place as I’ve dug so many others.
Fortunately, with time came fear. Visitors who only sought to see if any familiar names had appeared became fewer and farther between. Ignorance brought them their beloved bliss, and only those who wished to pay their respects were the only traffic within.
Though one November day, just as the sun was nearing the end of its descent, I made that fatal discovery. I’d spent that day finishing a ‘Victor Harriet’s’ resting place. The cold weather had hardened the ground, and I was sweating fiercely in spite of the frigid winds. At first I merely scanned the new etching, “another poor soul” I wheezed “I’ll start tomorrow, I don’t have the energy or light for this now.” But I stopped, and quickly turned back and reread that marking at least a dozen times, but was still uncertain of what I was reading. I collapsed, kneeling there, I ran my fingers across those words to make sure they were real. So this is how so many must have felt before me, how can one explain how it feels to read one’s own name upon that stone?
My dejection turned to anger and refusal. I couldn’t stand to dig my own grave, and after quickly storming to my supply shed I returned with a bucket of hoary paint. I quickly set to covering that forsaken prophecy. Though still shaken, I was feeling a bit more at ease. I will rebel against fate, and do what I have never done before, I swore to never dig this damnable pit.
But as I arose that morning, and began my walk of the grounds beneath that emerging amber sky, my blood once more froze in my veins. Two feet of dirt had been removed in front of my covered headstone. I quickly gazed about, certain I’d find some prankster watching me from afar and laughing themselves silly at this vile irony. I quickly set to covering the hole, glancing over my shoulder randomly throughout.
I was stricken with paranoia that night, I was certain my heavy eyes would never be blessed with sleep so long as the one trying to make a fool of me was still about. My mind raced with suspects, but none returned with any favorable results. Thankfully, I managed to drift away sometime during the night but my worries were carried into my slumber and I awoke dripping with sweat. I immediately set out to check my grave, and nearly cried at the sight of it. Now the hole was just under four feet deep. I felt myself slipping, but I maintained my composure. I merely gritted my teeth and refilled the would-be tomb. I’d set my mind to catching this foul jester in the act, and having his body replace my own in this cursed hole.
And now here I am, hidden amongst the brush, using an old pocket-telescope to spot the wretch whose torments I’d endured far enough when he returned this night. The light from the waning crescent was a blessing, just enough for me to make out any who approached, but still dark enough so as to prevent the same from happening to me. As the hours passed I grew more unsure, I’m certain I’d snuck well enough away from my home. Certainly the rogue hadn’t caught on, had they? I prick my thigh once more, this is the third time I felt compelled to rest my eyes. I’m fighting a losing battle, a ship taking on too much water but still refusing to sink. I could stab myself to the bone, but I fear it wouldn’t put off the inevitable. If only I could catch but a moment's rest! Surely I can. I’ll do just that, a few moments with my eyes closed is not such a hefty thing. But when shall I open them? In just a moment, I can have just a few more seconds. This cold ground is surprisingly comforting at this moment.
I awoke to the sound of thunder, the freezing daggers smashing into my back quickly soaked through my coat. I am more shocked to find myself standing, my knuckles a solid ivory from gripping the handle of my shovel. I threw it away as if it had been searing hot. I stumble backwards, but quickly hit a wall. I am trapped. I slam my fists into the wet dirt. Screaming, my tears fall as freely as the midnight rain. I cry out for God’s mercy, but from this pit my voice cannot reach him. I’d dug too deep, as I desperately claw for the muddy ledges I sink back down into my prison. I rip fistfuls of dirt from the edge of this grave, hoping the next attempt will grant me a solid hold. But in my efforts I am once more greeted by that horrible sight. My own name, freshly washed, quickly descends toward me. And again, all went dark.