Short Story: A Children’s Nightmare

The children could have spent all day looking at that tombstone. It was the most foreboding piece of marble in the cemetery. But for the children, the size of that tombstone brought along pictures of giants and monsters. And the fact that it said “Better Dead Than Alive” under the name “Jake Hawkins,” couldn’t help but make them think that it was good he was dead. Did he terrorize a village with his footsteps? Did he steal maidens from their wedding days? Did he eat people? Whatever he did in life, there was a celebration in his death.

It might have been that problem that confused Lisa the most. For Lisa did understand death. She understood the concept at least. Her Grandmother still tells the story of Lisa when she was three and they were at the park across the street from Matt’s house. Lisa was playing on the swings and her Grandmother was talking with her Grandfather about who they knew buried in the other graveyard beyond the playground.

Now her Grandfather grew up in a strong religious background and from time to time he would try to convince people of that fact. Especially in his old age he seemed to go back to those studies as a form of support for the coming end. It also seemed to give possibility (when he truly allowed himself to believe) for a hope, feeling and moment of happiness for the people gone.

But her Grandmother was exactly the opposite of her Grandfather. She was an atheist of the strongest kind (actually she had an opinion about everything and every opinion of hers was strong). Her husband and she would spend days arguing about things like a game perfected over the decades of holding hands in their little time.

Well, on this day her Grandmother wanted to take Lisa and go over the hill and visit the tombstones to pay respect to their old friends. Her Grandfather did not like this idea because of two reasons:

  1. Lisa was just a three year old and he didn’t want to take responsibility for what that experience could do to her precious young psyche.
  2. The second (he said) their spirits have moved on so it would be only a waste of time. They were in heaven or wherever. Of course, there was probably a little of his own fear of death associated with that difficulty.

His wife grabbed this argument and sunk her teeth into it like a shark with raw meat. Her argument to number one was that the sooner Lisa is introduced to the problem the less difficult it would be for her as she grew older. It would help her maturity. She also said that she would “If given the opportunity teach her about sex.”

Now while she went on to argue against the “silliness” of number two the mention of the work “Sex,” awakened the Grandfather to a new understanding of reality. Little Lisa will grow up. Little Lisa will fall in love. She will have children. She will have a life and there is a good chance that he won’t be around to see her and the life she creates.  The concept took his breath away. He just never pictured everything going on without him and it was very stunning. Lisa’s children. Lisa’s children’s children. All that time and ages that will go on and on without him. Maybe even someday he will be forgotten? Lost in the eternity of time. And these little moments of perfection with his wife (playing their game) and Lisa laughing on her favorite swing will slip slide away into a growing void. Her beautiful child laughter. Disappearing until it’s gone….

He fought back a tear. If he allowed it to fall, he would never have heard the end of it from his wife. Over the last few years she has had a hard and harder time figuring out what is the game and what is the reality. Oh well, it made them happy; it made her happy.

“…And Honey, someday we will die and this will help cushion it for her. She must understand what it is before it slaps her in the face. And who, My Dear, is better to teach her then us? Learning about it from her parents would be too much for her to handle. The idea of losing a parent is devastating and causes nightmares, but from us she can see we lived a long life and that it is the natural end. It shows her how much time she has to look forward to. Our stories of growing will help her understand how long and beautiful life can be.”

He sighed. “It doesn’t feel like such a long time now.” He pushed his earlier problem aside in his head. He was back in game mood. Safer for him. Safer for everyone. “It’s just not right, because why teach the concept of death without also giving her heaven and eternity. She will be only getting one slice of the pie. Adding the concept of heaven and having it done by a clergy member will give her a beautiful reassuring picture that will keep her much more warm than anything we can give her today or tomorrow. And also….”

That was when the game came to an abrupt end. Little Lisa was standing directly in front of them with all the power a three-year old can muster. She was standing proud with her legs slightly separated and her hands (clenched in little fists) were on her hips. She meant all the business in the world and the determination in her face was numbing them within a second of their notice.

Then Lisa began to speak. She spoke slowly and seriously like a little Moses declaring a commandment: “When you die, you stop breathing and that’s it.”

Then silence.

Lisa continued to stand there proud of her words. Her Grandparents did not know what they were supposed to do. They turned their heads to look at each other- In the hope maybe the other had the answer to the problem in front of them. They could both see the astonishment in their eyes. It didn’t help the matter that his mouth was hanging wide open.

The Grandmother then began to laugh and it was the loudest she had laughed in weeks. Her side began to hurt. “I told you it wasn’t that difficult, Honey,” she said as tears entered her eyes.

 

But for Lisa on that windy, dreary day in the cemetery, with her friends Matt and Steve, she first began to truly fear death. Here a giant or a monster was taken of his life. This was a new problem for her mind. Yes, she understood what death was but with the graveness and power of Jake’s tombstone she realized that everyone would die someday.

This is a tremendous realization for any person, but for Lisa it took her breath away. She began to feel weak. The nature around her became more aroused. The birds screeched in her ears. The trees grew large and dark over her head. And the tombstones, one and all, seemed to grow out of the ground around her. But while before she imagined Zombies or angry, hungry ghosts coming out of the ground, this time she knew no one was coming out. They were in there for good. They were in there forever. All this death all around. Nothing.

She began to feel dizzy. Her legs…. Her legs were feeling a little weak. She…. She… She began to…

Hear singing?

Someone was singing.

“Do you hear that singing?” Steve asked.

“Where is it coming from?” Matt added looking around. Besides a quiet young couple to the far right, no one else was in the cemetery and yet the singing sounded so close.

“I don’t see anyone nearby?”

“It sounds like it’s right here.”

“Do you hear it, Lisa?”

Upon being asked, mixed with her own confusion, her mind stopped the gothic nightmares and snapped back to reality. The trees were normal, the tombstone went back to being carved rocks and the sky cleared. “Yes, I hear the singing,” Lisa said, “It sounds like it’s over there.”

Lisa lead the other two to the left. She wasn’t sure that was where the singing was but it was a good excuse to get away from Jake’s grave and that troubling problem.

Now about the singing. The voice didn’t sound professional. The voice didn’t even sound like it was trained. The voice didn’t even sound in tune. An argument could easily have been made that the voice had never even heard of music! In a little more than ten years the children will easily say it was being sung by a drinking man. But for them now it was strange only.

Lisa stopped walking when the singing sounded close and shouted. “Hello!”

The singing stopped. Silence only followed.

Matt and Steve looked at each other as they stood behind Lisa.

“Ah, hello?” a head said popping up out of the ground.

All the children screamed at the same time and jumped back. Lisa jumped back the farthest and because she was standing directly in front of the others it had the effect of pushing all of them over. Like dominos, they fell in a pile on the ground.

The head stopped smiling and looked worried. “Oh, no are you kids ok?”

“Get off me, Lisa!” Steve screamed.

“You’re kicking my face, Steve!” Matt screamed.

“I’m trying to get up!” Lisa screamed.

“Now you’re kicking my face, Lisa!” Matt screamed.

After about another thirty seconds the children were able to get situated but with a few more knocks and bruises (Steve still believes Matt punched him on purpose. Matt said he didn’t do it on purpose, but Steve deserved it).

As Lisa got up, she quickly figured out the problem of the head. It seemed the man was standing in a hole. A very deep hole. Strangely enough, Lisa was reminded of a rabbit hole she found a few days ago. It was a beautiful day (not at all like today) as she chased the white rabbit across the field into the hole in the hill. But this was strange to Lisa because this hole was the complete opposite of that rabbit hole. At least it felt that way to her. The rabbit hole was small and was filled with life and possibilities. This hole was wide, about six feet deep (so far) and did not have life in it. The absence of life. The absence of any possibility.

Well, Lisa didn’t know what to consider of the man.  He looked more like an animal than a man. His face was grizzled and his hair looked like it had never seen a comb. His clothes (if you can call them that) had holes and mud stains surely dating back to an age before Lisa was born. If the look of the clothes didn’t convince you of that, the smell would have.

Lisa stood on the edge of the hole and stared down at the man with a questioning look in her eye. This was all too strange to her. And being the daughter of the mayor of the town gave her a power (she thought) for questioning all questionable activities and persons taking part in them. “Now what are you doing here?” she asked slowly and very sternly. She learned to speak like this from her teacher.

“I’m a gravedigger,” he said and scratched his head as if it confused him too.

“Wow,” Matt said, “did you do all these graves?”

“A few, well more than a few, some. Many. I did many of the graves,” he said with a laugh. It was a nervous laugh. The laugh said both “I wish these kids would leave” and “I need a drink.” The kids, of course, could not read that in the laugh.

“Why do you sing while you dig?” Lisa asked.

“It helps.”

“But you’re digging graves,” Lisa tried to explain. It just didn’t seem right to her.

“Yeah, so.” He said slowly.

“How long have you been a gravedigger?” Steve asked. He had not bothered to get up yet, but at this point he really didn’t care. So he just stayed on the ground and leaned down into the hole. When he asked this question he stuck his head over the side very near the Gravedigger. Upon asking this question and putting his face in the Gravedigger’s, he quickly wished that he hadn’t. The smell of his breath was overwhelming to Steve and he coughed, squirmed and grimaced at the same time.

“Thirty years,” The man said slowly. That drink was beginning to sound better and better. He was beginning to find excuses for taking a break in his mind and it slowly began (very slowly) calculating the possibilities of his boss emerging. Boss vs. Booze. Job vs. Alcohol. Alcohol was a good friend, but the job bought the alcohol.

“Hey,” Matt said pointing down into the hole. “Is that a skull?”

The man looked down at his feet slowly where Matt was pointing. “Yeah, I guess it is.” He picked it up and looked at it. He was trying to figure out how it got there. Maybe he was digging in the wrong plot? He could just hear his boss yelling at him about doing that. He hated his boss. He did like booze. Booze was winning the battle in his head.

The man picked up the skull and put it on the edge of the grave. The children all backed up a little from it and eyed it quietly. It was filthy. To Lisa, it didn’t look human. It didn’t look like it was from a person or anything on this green Earth. It looked alien. The holes in the eyes confused her. The lack of a nose mystified her. The idea of even touching it disgusted her. This is what we become over time and it looked like nothing more than a deformed and truly base rock. Lisa was extremely confused about every aspect of it, but underneath there was a feeling of terror she did not want to consider.

The idea however didn’t terrify Steve who picked it up and looked at it closely. “Do you know who this is?” Steve asked the man.

“A dead man,” he answered slowly. Booze. Booze.

“No, before he died?” Steve asked again.

“He was probably a man or a woman,” he replied.

Steve held the skull away from his eyes and studied it. “Ah, yes, now I see what you mean,” he said as if he knew everything.

Matt looked over the edge down into the grave again. “I wonder if the rest of him is down there?”

“Yeah!” Steve exclaimed excited.

This was the final draw for the Gravedigger. Booze had finally grabbed him. “Hey, kids, I’m going some place. Don’t go near this hole or I’ll get in trouble.” He grabbed the skull from Steve and threw it back in the grave. “And don’t touch this.” He pulled himself up, but that took a good long time filled with grunts, pain and many new exciting words for the children to learn. When he finally reached the surface he turned his body in the direction of the local pub and walked away.

The children turned and watched him walk (if you can call the way he moved walking) away. Suddenly he stopped and looked back. “If anyone comes by looking for me, tell them I’m not there.” The gravedigger turned and walked away into the distance.

“I hope he is going to go take a shower,” Matt said.

Lisa was still quiet from her experience with the skull. This was all a lot for her to take. Steve on the other hand had other plans. “I wonder if I can get that skull.”

The other children turned and looked at him.

Lisa couldn’t think of what to say to Steve. It dumbfounded her that he would even consider such a stupid request. Matt was able to sum up his thoughts on the idea quickly- “Cool.”

“I know,” Steve responded excitedly. “I could put it in my room or take it to school. I could have so much fun with that on Halloween….”

Lisa didn’t want to think about this. She was becoming tired with the entire situation. She wanted to go some place and think or talk (maybe with her mom if her mom wasn’t too busy with her older sister). She didn’t want to get a skull or play in a cemetery anymore. She turned her attention away from Matt and Steve’s discussion of the proper way to get the skull and looked over at the couple on the other side of the cemetery.

There was something beautiful about the couple. She couldn’t make out their features for they were a little way off, but they were beautiful. They seemed enchanted with each other. The girl was wearing a white dress with flowers on it and had long flowing brown hair. The man was wearing tan pants and a big white shirt. They seemed to glow around the dark surroundings of the cemetery and the forest. A dark cloud was coming over the horizon, but it didn’t take away from the glow of the young couple as they walked through the cemetery. The Gravedigger walked past the couple and they turned and watched him. He confused them too, it seemed.

“Lisa.”

Someone was talking to her. Lisa turned her attention back to Steve and Matt. “What?”

“We need your help,” Matt said.

“How?”

“Haven’t you been listening at all, Lisa?” Steve asked frustrated. “We are going to get that skull and we need you to help lower me down.”

Steve’s plan seemed to work out like this= Lisa would hang over the side and help Steve into the plot. Matt’s job was to hold Lisa from falling in after Steve and help lift Steve back. This was a pretty good plan but it had its flaws. The biggest flaw was that Steve was the biggest of the three and would be the hardest to lift and lower. But Steve was not about to give another the opportunity to take his skull (especially Matt after that wayward punch from earlier).

“I don’t know if I want to,” Lisa said.

This surprised the others. They have never heard of Lisa not wanting to do anything. It was unheard of. Lisa was usually the first into battle, the first to lead. Lisa didn’t want to do something!

“C’mon, Lisa,” Steve sighed, “It’ll only take a second. One second and we can go.”

Lisa looked at Matt. He was determined about this too. If she didn’t do this, things would change. She could read that ever so clearly in their faces. She won’t be one of the gang, another one of the guys. The idea of becoming one of the girls, having to play with dolls, no longer running in the field and playing sports, scared her… She had to do this, she understood, to save the path she liked being on. “Ok, what do we do?”

“Lie down on the ground and hang half your body over the side. Matt will hold you.”

Lisa laid down on the ground and slowly crawled closer and closer to the edge. It was just dirt and grass. Normal ground. More and more she moved to the side of the grave. Her shoulders were over the side, almost there. She felt Matt’s hands on her legs. His hands gave her strength. She went farther over the edge.

Soon she was hanging bending over the side. The skull was about two feet below her in the uncompleted plot. It stared up at her through those empty sockets. She closed her eyes. She was in Matt’s hands now.

“So,” Matt said, “when can I borrow the skull?”

“You can’t,” Steve quickly answered.

“Why not?”

“You punched me!”

“I did not!” Matt said and let go to point angrily at Steve and it was then that Lisa fell into the tomb!

She was in there for a few seconds. Hardly half a minute, but everything stopped for her as the world exposed the possibilities to her. She slowly (or as it felt to her) looked up and out of the tomb. The world seemed to scream down at her. The trees grabbed the dark sky above her and held it in a death grip. She saw evil in the clouds. The black clouds covered the brightness of the sun and it seemed to move towards the Earth, covering. She was in the Earth. Worms played in the dirt around her, around the bones and in the graves. Dark, filthy worms played in the mud. The worms grew fangs like serpents. Venomous snakes eating the life. Everything was dark and gross and Lisa felt helpless. Lisa felt truly helpless in time. Trapped in the eternity going on around her and the END that was preparing for her.

Some dirt fell from above on her and everything felt like it was coming down on her! She was being buried!

Her mind was screaming and she had problems breathing. She was in a form of shock and her air was coming out in spurts. She tried to call for help. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t speak! Why was this happening to her!?

Death was reaching for her. A little each day and today he was showing her his cards, his pieces on the chessboard. Lisa couldn’t take it any more and for the second time that day she could feel herself slipping away. Her eyelids were beginning to shake. She was beginning to shake all over…. She felt like she was dying…. She could hear her heart thumping madly…. It seemed to scream at her…. All that blood…. Death…. Darkness….

Light.

There was a light above her head. It covered the way of the clouds and the trees. It spoke to her. “Grab my hand,” it said.

She reached about almost in a trance up to the light and she felt a hand. It grasped her hand strongly. Another hand grabbed her arm and she was rising up, up. And suddenly (almost like in a dream), she was taken by another light that hugged her warmly, surrounding her with flowers. Pretty, pretty flowers.

The young man got up from the ground. He was covered in mud, but he didn’t seem to notice the mess. “Good thing we were here,” he said to Steve and Matt. “She might have been stuck down there for hours.”

They both thanked the young man (Steve still was thinking about the possibilities of getting that skull).

Lisa, on the other hand, didn’t want the young woman to stop hugging her. She felt so safe and warm. The woman smelled wonderfully like warm strawberries. Here, in her arms, she felt reborn. Reborn among the flowers on her dress and the white.

“There, there,” the young woman said, “You’ll be okay. You’ll be fine.”

The young man moved over to Lisa and his girlfriend. He lightly touched Lisa’s head. “I can’t believe that man left these kids alone like that. What was he thinking?”

“He was a bad man,” the young woman said to Lisa. “He’s gone now. You’re fine. That was a bad man. Don’t go near him again. Leaving you kids near the grave was bad.”

Those words didn’t sink into Lisa yet. She felt so, so safe. But it sadly wasn’t to last….

The fact of being in the grave and the fact that the man was evil (Sometimes she would argue this with herself. He seemed more distracted than anything) could not be erased from her mind and soul. These two thoughts would haunt Lisa’s dreams for nights to come….

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