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Tending To The Graveyard by Levi Athens

It’s a shame that most people avoid graveyards. The dead deserve to be visited every once and a while. You’ll spend more time there than you will spend living anyhow. It pains me to see an old graveyard fall to neglect. The one near my house is pretty much spotless, I see to that myself.

That’s where my father is buried. He fell ill last year and passed away only a few months ago. I’ve spent a lot of time in the graveyard since then. It can be a rather lonely place, but I've become accustomed to that. Father always encouraged me to take a husband but for one reason or another, it never really worked out. Loneliness is nothing new to me.

One day when tending to the graveyard, I found a single mason jar laying atop a grave. It was filled with what appeared to be murky rain water and sticks. Assuming that it was an old flower vase that had been left out in the rain, I poured out the contents. I’d soon learn the mistake I’d made.

The headstone was blank on the left side, it was a couple’s headstone. It must be sort of grim knowing exactly where you’re going to be placed when you die and where you’ll spend the rest of eternity.

That night I had a strange dream. It was the eeriest of sights. I saw hollowed out people made entirely of paper mache. They were dancing in the sickly moonlight in an elegant yet grotesque repose. These hollow people twisted and contorted in their bizarre motion to the sound of a skipping record player.

I awoke to a sound coming from the living room. I climbed out of bed cautiously and approached the bedroom door, opening it slightly and peering through the opening to the living room. I saw nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that could’ve made a sound. I entered the living room to be sure. Nothing.

As a lifelong lover of ghost stories, the thought of a spirit following me home from my many graveyard trips had no doubt had its effects on me. Though I was determined to not let my imagination get the better of me. I returned to my bed and tried once more to go to sleep.

A lightning storm had rolled in and the rain was making its way gracefully down the bedroom window as the thunder rumbled in the background.

The storm outside began to sooth my mind with white noise but an eerie sense came over me as I lay motionless trying to clear my thoughts. It was the feeling of someone sinister approaching, something creeping, something lurking closer and closer.

Suddenly a shadowy figure took shape at the foot of my bed. The lightning struck loudly just outside the window and illuminated the room through the silky curtains.

I bolted upright and screamed in terror. The figure was a man in a dark suit, not unlike the kind they bury people in. He looked at me in a puzzled manner as if he was trying to figure out who I was or if he recognized me. I looked back at him in much the same way.

“Darling, won’t you join me?” He spoke in a low voice.

“Father? Is that you?” I asked him.

With that the figure disappeared, dissolving into the dark as though he'd never been there at all.

The next day I went back to the graveyard. While kneeling down and cleaning a tombstone I saw something out of the corner of my eye.

I turned to look only to see the shadowy figure standing at the east end of the graveyard. I stood to my feet and stared at the dark suited man in the distance.

Softly the specter spoke. "Won't you join me in the graveyard?"

The cold wind howled across that morbid land of isolation.

"There is a place for you here, in the dirt."

The spectral man faded away into nothingness, leaving behind only a sense of unshakable dread and impending doom.

I decided it was time for me to leave, but upon making my way to the gate at the exit, I noticed a young woman weeping at the foot of a couple’s grave. She had long brunette hair in the same shade as mine. There was a certain haunting beauty about her.

Noticing me walking in her direction, she dried her eyes and stood up.

“You haven’t seen a mason jar in the graveyard have you?” she asked, turning to me.

Looking down I noticed that half of the headstone was blank, this was the gravestone where the mason jar was sitting.

I explained that I drained the contents, thinking that it was an old flower pot of sorts. Her eyes widened. I instinctively apologized, though I didn’t yet know why pouring out seemingly old water would be wrong of me.

Her gaze shifted to the graveyard behind me. From the expression on her face I knew exactly what she must've been seeing. When I turned behind me I saw nothing there but a fading black mist in a rough silhouette.

She looked at me with tears filling her eyes. I tried my best to comfort her. She told me that her husband always said that he wanted her to be buried next to him. She reluctantly agreed. He was a miserable drunk with a temper.

“I’ve spent many evenings staring at my future gravestone as it mocked me,” she said sobbing.

The memory of her deceased husband had lingered around her and appeared to her on many occasions, asking her to come back with him and take her place beside him. Nothing she tried could get the haunting to cease until her grandmother showed her an old family tradition, a method of banishing the unwanted spirits. She showed her how to add the ingredients and told her to leave the jar upon his headstone.

The spell worked until I came along.

Now his spirit was back amongst the graveyard. He had mistaken me for her the first time around, but having seen her, he wasn't going to leave her alone again. Hearing this, I apologized profusely once more and immediately escorted her out of the cemetery towards my vehicle. From beyond the gates we could see the dark specter standing stoically. The figure lifted his hand beckoning to her. I offered her a ride to her place which she thankfully obliged.

We went back to her house and she showed me the ingredients for the spell. Following her instructions I helped her perform the banishing ritual and seal the contents within a jar. It was the least I could do after my horrible error. We returned to the graveyard and placed the mason jar atop the stone. The jar sat proudly with a silver lid upon it and a freshly applied label reading “Do not discard.”

We started talking a lot after this. Her name is Maria. She works as a waitress in town. She has told me a lot about magic and her family's customs. We even went to dinner together a few times and began hanging out on the weekends. She truly is a lovely person, someone with a lot of compassion, kindness and a love of life.

The contents of the banishing ritual must be replenished from time to time as the spell repeatedly fades. Months have passed since all of this occurred but all seems well for now. Since meeting Maria, I haven’t been spending as much time alone in the graveyard. Though I make sure to visit my father's headstone often. I think he would be pleased to know that I’ve decided to marry.

Maria looks wonderful in her gown.

As long as she and I continue to do the banishing ritual, I think we’ll live happily ever after.

Written by Levi Athens
Content is available under CC BY-SA