A guest short-story for Halloween by my brother William J. Smith, who tells the tale of a man wandering through an empty fog ridden town on a lonely and desolate autumn afternoon. Enjoy “The Gravedigger” and please leave some comments and reactions for William. Let him know what you think. Thanks for reading –Bud Smith
by William J. Smith
John slowly rolled over onto his back letting out a breath. His eyes drifted open to look up at the tree limbs above him. He expected to see the early morning light poking through the dying leaves of the big oak trees around him. Instead of being momentarily blinded, John was surprised to see that a dense fog had blocked out the harsh rays of the fall sky. He looked around, letting his old weary body wake up and ran his rough wrinkled hands over his equally wrinkled and bearded face. After giving his old weary body the time it needed to get himself going, he sat up carefully as he always did every morning. He checked to see if his things, which there were not many of, were still there; the old tattered backpack which served as his pillow, his rusted and blackened pot which he used to cook all his food in still sat in the little black pile of coals and charred wood. Everything John owned was taken from the trash or given to him second hand from the homeless shelters which he hated. He took a few sips from the yellowed plastic container that held his drinking water and stood up stretching his sore back.
Twenty minutes later John was making his rounds through the small town looking for some breakfast and maybe a better pair of shoes. His were worn down smooth on the soles and wouldnt last through the winter that was coming. His mind drifted back to standing in line at a millitary base waiting for a new pair of combat boots and OD green socks. He hated those boots then but he would love get his hands on a pair of them now. Half way up main street he stopped and looked around for the first time realizing that no one was out. If his memory was still as together as he thought it was then today was wednesday and the street should be busy with people going to work or shopping but there wasn’t a soul in sight. He pushed it out of his mind and made his way around to the grocery stores poking around in the dumpsters for the morning produce that was always thrown out because it wasn’t perfect looking but could only find rotting heaps in them. Nothing was worth eating unless he wanted to spend another few days in the free clinic with food poisoning again. The beds were nice but he hated the nurses. They always looked at him like he was a bug that needed to be stepped on.
John walked with his head low when he finally realized he was walking straight through a grave yard. He lifted his head, noticed that he’d walked all the way across town and didn’t even remember doing so.
“Hello there … ” said a thin man who had to be in his 80’s standing by a cemetery plot with a shovel in his hand. He was wiping sweat from his brow with an old fashioned handkerchief He smiled warmly at John and waved him over “I don’t suppose you could lend an old man a hand for a little while… The youngin that I had hired went and called out on me. ” John looked at him for a moment and after seeing how friendly the man seemed he made his way over.
“What can I do you for Mr.?” John asked. The old man smiled again, waved his hand around at the plot he was clearly trying to dig all by himself. There were two folding chairs and a large cooler near the open plot as well as a small pile of grass that had already been scraped away.
“Well, my bones won’t take much more of this and seeing as how I’ve got to have this done today I was wondering if maybe I could hire you to dig this here plot out for me. I’ll throw in a few cold beers and a sub I brought with me.” The old man smiled again and waited for an answer. John simply stood there for a moment and then smiled himself. It had been so long since some one actually offered to hire him to do something that he couldn’t help but beam. He wasn’t a slouch when it came to working hard and he nodded right away.
“Yeah, of course….. I’ll jump right on it.” The old man smiled and handed him the shovel and sat gingerly down in one of the folding chairs.
The digging went smoothly, Very few stones and the dirt seemed to just want to come up for him. The old man had pulled out a hunk of wood and an ancient looking folding knife and began to widdle away at it, talking the whole while. It soon became a steady pace of the old man talking and widdling away, John digging. He would talk about the weather, foods he liked, even things he had seen when he was younger. Every so often he would reach into his cooler and hand John a beer just around the time when john started to get thirsty. The beer was working wonders at making john feel good, they began joking around with each other and having a ball talking about the way kids were dressing and almost anything they found amusing. The day was flying by for them. John could say without a doubt that it was one of the best days he had in long while.
It was sometime after lunch when John finally finished digging the hole. The old man let out a breath and stood up walking to the front of the grave. “Well John it’s time.” John arched his brow at the old man and stood there in the grave as the old man knelt down and looked at him solemnly “John, you died last night. You see, that woman you slept with in Vietnam kept the baby and she became a doctor. She’s doing real good work over there saving a lot of lives. So many so that I was able to make time for you and I. I always liked you, you’re a kind soul and never once have you ever wavered from doing what was right. I wanted to give you one last good day before I had to take you away.” John simply stood there unable to believe what he was hearing when the old man set down the block of wood he had been widdling on the whole time. The moment his hand moved away it slowly changed into a simple headstone with his name on it. Fear spread throughout his body as the old man reached over and touched him gently on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Your going up as humans say.” He smiled and with that the life faded from john’s eyes and he dropped down to the bottom of the grave.
The man smiled and stood up walking away as the dirt slowly slid back into the hole. He slung the shovel over his shoulder and whistled a mellow shanty as he faded into nothing.
William J. Smith is a writer and car enthusiast from Bayville, New Jersey. He’s traveled the east coast by big rig, jet airplane and hot rod. He is a database of survival information and lives in style with a Boston Terrier and a pretty respectable comic book collection.