People always say that a graveyard is home to abandoned souls and unfulfilled wishes. A dominion of vengeful spirits who hate the living with such passion that they end up in the limbo between the two worlds. No wonder every spooky movie had to have a graveyard scene to up the chills.
Skeetrat sighed as he leaned on his ancient shovel, his equally ancient hands gnarled over the handle as a smoke-spewing suspiciously mouldy looking pipe hung from between his chapped, discoloured lips. In fact, he was so ancient that he had forgotten the origins of his queer-sounding name. He was sure his mother hadn’t named him that.
What sort of mother would name her son ‘Skeetrat’ after all?
He cast a weary yet practiced eye over the shallow depression he had dug – a new grave. A body was on the way to get buried. He managed to get his feet begin the well-practised shuffle towards the tiny, dilapidated hut which had been his home for God knows how long.
He had witnessed enough tears being shed over corpses.
He straightened his back, feeling the spine popping back in its place. About time he thought about retirement.
Grave-digging was one hell of a back-breaking job.
He climbed uphill as the sun descended for the day, the light of the sky giving way to the darkness of the night. He could almost hear the whispers in the wind.
The whispers of sorrow. The screams of the damned.
The sun’s last rays were about to disappear when Skeetrat finally reached the hut. He flung the shovel at the corner and lowered himself gingerly on to the cot.
It had been a long, long day.
He began dislodging the mud clods from underneath his fingernails, trying to make the long nails look a little bit hygienic. Cutting them was a lost cause since he had misplaced the only nail-cutter he had.
He thought of using the pair of scissors before the rational side of his mind desisted.
He didn’t want his hands to get messy.
He lit the lamp, bathing the interiors with the soft, warm light – the only source of light for miles around. He wondered how his hut looked from a distance.
A tiny pinprick of light amidst a sea of darkness. Maybe like a distant lighthouse from a ship being tossed around in a stormy sea?
He shrugged his bony shoulders. He could care less.
He could hear distant chanting and a group of shuffling feet.
The grieving party had arrived.
He held the lantern aloft in his hand, the flickering light throwing his aged, wrinkled, bony features into sharp relief. His worn clothes – a discoloured shirt and equally faded pair of trousers and boots – looked a tad less dog-eared in the soft light.
The wind was picking up slowly.
Any time now.
He could feel the spirits’ curiosity, just like a child encountering a new toy. The aura around the place was changing.
He could hear faint strains of music – perhaps a harp, or a piano maybe. He had never been a musical person. He could hear agitated whispers, all the more intensified by the swirling air.
After some time, he could make out the group leaving. He wondered who was the one buried in the hole this time.
He, leaning on a branch-turned-into-walking-stick, hobbled down the path he had traversed up not so long ago.
He read the gravestone.
Seemed like a young boy.
They are going to tear him apart.
He leaned against a dried up tree, staring straight in front of him.
No, it wasn’t the point that he was all alone that bothered him. He was more curious about the fact that none of the spirits tried to communicate with him.
Prisoners hardly talked to jailers now, did they?
The graveyard stretched for miles…almost endless. He had given up counting the number of gravestones when he reached a million. And that was over a century and a half ago.
He often wondered how long he had been digging graves. He knew for a fact that he hadn’t been born here, nor was he born looking like a shrivelled up raisin. All he knew that his brain would suddenly get the order to dig a grave and his hands wouldn’t rest until he had completed the job.
Who gave the order, why was the order given…he knew nothing about that.
Only the fact that he was a grave-digger. Digging the graves of the dead who were doomed to remain dead. Forever roam this endless plain without a sense of purpose, without memories.
Only a passion which had nothing to back it up. An emotion without the memories that drive it.
A soul without the heart.
He stood quietly as he observed the other wisps of white converge over the newly dug grave, the place where the “Jury” – the group of faceless people Skeetrat collectively nicknamed who came to bury the “bodies”.
He knew the “Jury” decided the fates of the souls, the same way he knew when to dig a grave.
He read the gravestone in the white, ghostly light.
Theft, ransom, kidnapping.
Unlike the courts of the living, the courts of the dead had no rule of letting minors go. Once a soul entered the plane of existence, it ceased to be a minor.
Young boy. Old man. Same crime, same punishment.
He wondered how it felt to roam mindlessly forever.
But when he heard the screams for the Flames of Purgatory, he couldn’t help but get the impression that they got the better end of the deal.
Fields of Asphodel. A place where the dead roam for eternity.
He looked at his gnarly hands.
Then what was he? Dead? Alive? Or in a limbo?
As he heard the ghostly screams of a soul being torn apart, he rectified himself.
Not all dead could roam the Fields of Asphodel for eternity. Many got obliterated.
Just like this one.
Maybe courts weren’t the same but if he trusted the snippets of thoughts that served as his flashbacks, jails and incarceration in both planes had lots of similarity.
People often died in jails, and many of them landed in the Flames of Purgatory. He wondered what happened after the souls got obliterated here.
Were they reincarnated? Or did they simply blink out of existence?
Perhaps, one day, he would know.