Every year since 2004, I've posted a story for Halloween, because it's a significant day for me. This year's offering is an idea that's been rattling around in my subconscious for years, which sparked against a recent visit to a local civil cemetery, to become this story.

It’s not the dead that haunt graveyards
by Alex Draven

The dead don't haunt graveyards. The souls of the dead are gathered up to heaven into the warm arms of God, so help me, but the living? The living, with their memories and their pain and their loss - that's all the chill haunting a graveyard could need.

It's a cold, sodden night, autumn turning into winter, and the graveyard's darker than you'd think possible in the heart of a city. There's only the distant glow of the street lights to light the place, which is why the council locks the gate, but still they come.

You wouldn't think it of some of them, middle aged ladies with smart, sensible, M&S shoes, getting moss and mould marks on their smart, sensible, M&S skirts climbing over the wall, children scant old enough to be out alone in the gloaming slipping through the rusted railings, young men with hoods concealing their faces, all sorts, and none of them able to resist the draw of the graveyard.

They come, whether or not the gates are closed against them, and because they come, so do I.

It's not an official duty, but it may as well be. All these people, aching and hurting, tears mixed with rain, and not a dead soul here to hear them. Someone should be here. Someone should bear witness, and they can't do it themselves. They're ghosts themselves, sneaking through fences, over walls, gliding through the mizzling rain to their plots.

The gravestones tell stories - Beloved Father. Dearest Daughter. Sister, Mother, Friend. Now at rest. Taken too soon. Some of them - there's no gravestone, which tells its own story; death too recent, to raw, leaving a lumpy scar of earth and sod and heartache.

There's a man in a suit; a suit that's hanging off bone-thin shoulders that must have been broader once. It looks expensive, although it's scarred and sliced with red rust where he's slipped through the railings, and that's the least of the damage. He's on his knees in the mud beside one of the new graves.

New since All Hallows last, and too new for a stone, just one of those plastic markers with the plot number tucked in amongst the scratch growth of weeds and grass that are sealing up the turf's edges as the weeks pass.

He's on his knees, rocking in the wind, shoulders hunched inwards, and hands clamped together, tight against his thighs. The grief and the guilt in his eyes are more dreadful than any Halloween mask could be.

He doesn't notice me. They never do.

He doesn’t notice me until I reach out and touch him, rest my hand on his head, and even then, when he looks up, it's not me he's seeing.

He crumples towards me, curls against my legs, and the sobs shake him. It's wretched, and painful, and like a rain-shower in midsummer to me - a year's worth of drought, and just this one night to drink down the tears that will sustain me another spin of the calendar.

I press my fingertips against the back of his neck, and his arms come up around my thighs, holding on to me like he's never letting go, and the sobs come deeper, faster, but still almost soundless.

My ribs ache in sympathy, and the rain keeps drifting down on us both. I am beginning to feel it now, the dampness, the cold of the long evening to come, and I bring my spare hand up to my mouth, touch my chilled lips with colder fingers.

Gradually, the flow of his grief slows, allowing him hitching half breaths, and I stroke the side of his bowed face, still pressed against my leg.

"Oh," words collapse together out between the gulps and the gasps. "Oh, Jonas. Jonas. I..."

The tide turns again, and a fresh wave of salt-water pain washes over me. So - Jonas in the unmarked grave. Jonas, beloved, and lost.

“Hush,” I whisper into the wind, “Hush, love, I have you.”

We stand there. Well; I stand there - he kneels and rocks and keens, whilst the soft rain soaks us both, and the wind bends the tree branches above us.

Elsewhere in the graveyard, a woman mourns her daughter, two siblings sob for their lost third, but they are feasts for others of my kind, and their pain becomes more muted, dropping below the level where it would impose on my awareness, wrapped as I am in Jonas’ bereft young man.

A goodly time passes before the tumult of his grief smooths and slows. His crying has paused, been swallowed down and fought its way free again, over and over, but this time, the taste of it changes along with the pattern of his breathing. It is nearing midnight, the rain-dulled traffic noise fading closer to silence, so there’s nothing but the wind and the leaves to hide his hoarse voice when he speaks again.

“Jonas. Oh, Jonas. Do you forgive me, then? Can you forgive me?” His throat closes on the second question, and I wonder what it was this man has done.

I drag my thumb along the smooth skin of his cheekbone, a ghost of a touch on rain-chilled skin over hot, puffy, swollen eyelids.

“I should have been there.” He shakes his head, pulling away from a touch he believes he doesn’t deserve, and that’s my answer, or at least enough of one.

“It’s okay,” I whisper, curling my fingers into his wet hair to hold him still. “There’s nothing you could have done. Nothing to forgive.”

For a moment it is hard for both of us to breathe, the swell of his emotions a huge bolus blocking his throat, near choking me. It passes, and in its wake the night seems cleaner, clearer. Far outside the graveyard, on the edge of hearing, a clock chimes the hour.

He releases his grip on my legs, needing his hands to cover his eyes, to scrub away the tears so he can see again, and I step back, letting that clear space around him cut our connection, end my feast.

To him it must seem that I have vanished, although I am only watching from a few feet away. He no longer needs to see Jonas, and he never did see me.

A moment’s panic, another minute where fear and hope and logic and belief fight in him, and then reality re-imposes itself. He shrugs his shoulders inside his ill-fitting soaked-through jacket, and pulls it tight around him, then gets stiffly to his feet. There’s space now for the cold and the wet and the tiredness to reach him, and I’d bet he’s near as hungry as I had been. He’ll go home now, to sleep, to eat, and tomorrow the passage of time will carry him onwards once again.

Maybe he’ll tell someone, maybe he won’t. Maybe folk will believe him, or maybe they'll think him crazed. Maybe he’ll rub away at the memory with telling and re-telling the tale to anyone who will listen, until there’s nothing left of it.

I only know that I am fed and sleepy now, sated and sure that I’ve done what good I can do, and when I wake next, there will still be those who need, who come here this night.

It’s not the dead that haunt graveyards, my friend.

It’s the living.

If you're interested in previous years' stories, here's the list:

Dream Come True (2004)
Thirteen Kisses (2005)
All Souls (2006)
Favour (2007) (for sale)
Soar and Raining Cats (2007)
Tradition (2008)
Everything changes (2009)

(plus, there are the two zombie stories. They are seasonally appropriate, but they do come with a 'you click on the link, you take responsibility for your own sanity' warning - the titles are terrifyingly accurate on these two - Zombie Incest Wrongness and the infamous necrophiliac plushy gangbang story)

(If I was doing this as a promotional thing, I would have picked a less popular date, because there's an awful lot of fabulous fiction being released for Halloween - more of it every year - so, thank you, everyone who reads this, and twice thanks to those of you who let me know that you did.)

From: [identity profile] morgaine-x.livejournal.com


I'm tempted to record it. It reads well out loud.
pensnest: bright-eyed baby me (Default)

From: [personal profile] pensnest

That's lovely. It brought prickles to my eyes.
ext_12410: (Default)

From: [identity profile] tsuki-no-bara.livejournal.com

ooooh. i really like this. a little seasonally creepy, but more about comforting the grieving than freaking people out.

From: [identity profile] drowning-london.livejournal.com

Very nice! Heart-wrenching, thanks so much for sharing!

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