GRAVEYARD SHIFT

Tim Tucker

Every evening before the sun went down old man Clyde would dress in his work clothes of worn leather boots, trousers and dusty flannel to begin his shift as gravedigger at Bachelor's Grove Cemetery. He always carried with him a small flask filled with garlic flavored spring water and a silver cross which hung around his neck, Clyde fingered the cross as he stepped out into the cool evening air.

The sun was low on the horizon, the sky tinged a fiery red against the backdrop of encroaching velvet darkness. Clyde could almost feel the night snuff out the last vestiges of daylight inch by inch, the shadows of scores of headstones and skeletal elm trees long, deep, and grotesque.

Next to the porch Clyde gathered his tools; a long handled spade shovel, pick axe, tape measure, a large rolled up tarp and oil lantern. He tossed the equipment into a wheelbarrow and set off towards the plot of land to dig his next grave. Clyde had tended to this cemetery for the past forty years and during that time he reckoned he had put close to 2,000 people in the ground. Though his thoughts sometimes became as scattered as the leaves on a crisp Autumn day, he remembered them all.

Clyde stalked past row after row of time worn graves and freshly dug graves where the young and old, rich and poor, those who raged against the approaching darkness and those who embraced it lay. Clyde's own mother was even interred here, buried by his own hands. She was one of the first he had laid to rest, felled by a heart attack and leaving nothing behind save for the silver cross necklace. When he was a child she would always tell him that the silver cross was a ward against evil spirits.

He had no idea how right she was.

Clyde parked the wheelbarrow next to the plot of unused land and got to work. The last slivers of daylight on the horizon was nothing more than embers now, the night settling over the cemetery like a shroud. Out here in the quietude of Bachelor's Grove even the nocturnal life seemed to harbor a deep sense of reverence for the dead. Not a cricket chirped and no animal scurried through the underbrush, the only sound beside Clyde the bone like rattling of naked tree limbs as a chilled wind conspired.

Clyde spread the tarp next to the plot of land, turned on the oil lantern and used the tape measure to mark the width of the grave. He then plunged his spade shovel into the marker points around the grave to loosen the top soil. Once finished he peeled the thick layer of grass and soil away like a band aid, exposing the dirt beneath.

Humming tunelessly to himself Clyde began to dig. He carved through the dirt with reckless efficiency, the old bones of his arms and back taut against the shovel. Dirt rained on the tarp as he scooped away shovelful after shovelful. To Clyde gravedigging was much more than a profession, it was a ritual that while he hadn't perfected, he felt that he was pretty damn good at it.

Clyde reckoned he was about four feet deep when he heard the ringing of a bell. Some of the coffins at Bachelor's Grove were fitted with copper tubing and a bell which reached to the surface. The tubing allowed air for people buried under the mistaken impression they were dead while they rung the bell for help. Upon hearing the bell Clyde climbed out of the unfinished grave to investigate, shovel in hand. The commotion came from a slightly recent grave, the inscriptions on the headstone not yet weathered with time. From the copper tubing a voice from below wept. Clyde read the name on the headstone.

"You Sharon Mumsford?"

"Yes!" she said in between sobs.

"You were born July 17th, 1922?"

"Yes, please get me out of here!"

"Headstone here says you died March 18th?"

"No it was a mistake! I'm not dead I'm still alive, please dig me up!"

"Sorry about this lady," Clyde said. He fetched the flask of garlic water from his pocket and sprinkled it onto the grave and headstone. "But this here is September. Whatever you is down there, you ain't alive anymore and you ain't coming back up!"

THE END