The Old Woman in the Cemetery

It was a brisk autumn day, the first of October, and already Daniel could feel the change in the air. It was the month of Halloween, and the leaves in the trees were sporting their red, yellow, and orange colors as if in recognition of this fact.

Daniel rolled down the window an inch, maybe two, to inhale some fresh air from his favorite time of the year. Instantly, the cool breeze flowed into his car. He was a little late for work that morning, but he didn't care. His boss wouldn't be in until the afternoon, and he knew somebody would cover for him.

Up ahead, the weathered stone arches of Broadmore Cemetery gradually came into view through the windshield. A wrought iron fence surrounded the grounds, enclosing all the poor souls resting there. A few towering obelisks dotted the area, poking up toward the mostly-barren trees.

Daniel drove by the graveyard every day, most of the time never seeing anyone there. But this time he noticed an old woman sitting in the cemetery. She sat on a warped bench, apparently visiting the grave of a loved one. Her frail form was cloaked by a bright red hat and shawl. He watched her in her silent grief.

As he rolled down the street a sudden thought struck Daniel. He didn't notice it at first but when he realized it it raised an alarm.

The gates were locked. How did she get inside?

Black iron bars that ended in sharp spires six feet high comprised the gates. They were closed, each side touching the other in the middle and secured by a thick- gauge chain with an ancient-looking padlock dangling from it.

After work, Daniel decided to make it a point to drive home the same way he came. He wanted to see if the old woman was still in the cemetery. If she was there, he would stop and go in himself, just to see her up close. He was a little uneasy about the prospect but was determined to see it through. If he didn't, it would bother him for the rest of the day.

And sure enough, she was there.

The gates were open so Daniel pulled right in and parked near the entrance. He didn't want to make it obvious, so he pretended to be looking for someone's grave. He approached the clearing where the old woman was sitting and stealthily got up as close as he could.

The old woman didn't notice him. In fact, she didn't seem to be moving at all. This disturbed Daniel to no end. Was she dead? Did she come to visit a loved one and die right there at the foot of the grave? He felt sorry for her then. The pain of losing someone close to you, compounded by your own sudden passing. It must've been real tough on her.

But then she moved. Almost as if in response to Daniel's thoughts, the old woman straightened up on the bench and swung a hard look at him. It was a cold stare, full of malice. He shuddered at the sight.

Backing away, suddenly the only thing that mattered to Daniel was reaching his car and getting away as quickly as he could. A cemetery was the last place he wanted to be in at that time, Broadmore Cemetery in particular.

As he turned to leave, Daniel felt a strange and powerful compulsion to stay. In fact, he had a sudden urge to walk over to where the old woman was. He was helpless to resist, and in the next few seconds found himself striding toward her.

The old woman continued glaring at him, her aged face creased with deep-set wrinkles and an icy disposition that spoke volumes.

When he reached the spot where she sat, Daniel stared at the ground in amazement. A gaping hole stared back at him. It was six feet deep with sharp vertical walls on all four sides. A blank granite stone jutted up at the head of the hole.

"I know what you're thinking," the old woman said in a surprisingly soft tone. "You're thinking that this grave is for you."

Daniel was speechless. He couldn't move, and the dark chill that radiated from the hole was strangely alluring, enticing him with its empty promises of paradise and comfort. And even though he knew them to be false, he still couldn't shake the urge to simply fall into the grave.

"Is it?" Daniel finally managed to blurt out as he inched closer to the hole.

The old woman laughed. "In a way, yes." She eyed the empty tombstone. "There are no names on the marker, as you can plainly see. Soon however, there will hardly be enough stone to contain all the etchings."

"I don't understand," Daniel mumbled as he watched a few small stones and chunks of dirt cascade into the grave.

"You don't need to understand. Nobody does. When death calls their name they will find the grave one way or another." She cocked her aged head skyward. "And I am here to help them along."

Daniel's balance failed him then, and before he knew it, he was falling into the darkness of the grave.

Elise stopped briefly to check her pulse. She wanted to maintain it at around 140 whenever she did a run. For her age and weight that level would provide optimal fat burning.

She felt uneasy when she noticed that she had stopped right at the beginning of a cemetery. A tall iron fence stood six feet high between brick pillars, and behind the barrier were a scattering of various-sized tombstones.

Panting for breath, Elise gazed past the fence and into the cemetery. Broadmore was a large one, housing the remains of thousands of departed souls, and just the thought of it sent a chill down her spine. On the sidewalk up ahead, she noticed something odd:

people. A lot of people.

They were milling around near the cemetery's entrance, each one trying to get into the grounds. They streamed into the graveyard with effortless ease. And more were coming, so many in fact that they began to spill out into the street. A car crashed into a truck in a vain attempt to avoid them. And then the drivers got out and started walking toward Broadmore's gates.

Elise stood there, watching the unnatural spectacle unfold before her eyes. She spied an old woman in the cemetery then who was sitting on a warped bench in front of a grave. She watched as a steady stream of people, each wearing an expression of horror and disbelief, stumbled up to that grave and plunged into it.

The sensation was sudden. It overwhelmed Elise, and she found herself moving down the sidewalk toward the cemetery gates. In a few seconds she was pulled into the growing mass of people, all the while aware, and yet helpless to stop herself.

The old woman stood up as Elise approached. An oily grin spread across her aged face. "Think of me as a helper, if you will," she cackled. "I help my master collect his souls."

Elise managed to reply, "Death? Is your master Death?"

The old woman raised a withered hand just as Elise was about to fall into the grave. She stood on the ledge, her gaze darting between the crone and the cold emptiness of the chasm. "Death? My dear, you are mistaken. My master is not of your world, alive or dead. It is an entity that travels through the vacuum of space, devouring worlds at its leisure." She stood up and looked past the Elise at the growing mass of people. "But this Death that you speak of has already been devoured. So you, and all of your kind, will not die, but will live on in a void…forever."

When she finished speaking, the old woman lowered her arm and turned to seat herself on the bench. And Elise, once again overcome with an irresistible urge, fell into the grave.