Thursday 8 October 2015

Claustrophobia - #OctoboPobia short story

Nobody pays much attention to Calloway. At the end of the day, as it turns dark, he walks around the graveyard. He locks the gate with a chain and padlock, and then walks around every path, picking up litter, collecting the dead flowers that have withered too much to be left, and making sure everything is clean.

Most people don’t want to see anyone there while they’re visiting. It’s a private time and they want to be left alone. So he’s used to staying out of the way, and used to people not paying attention to him.

He likes it. It suits him.

He’s old and quiet and his slight build belies a surprising strength. He isn’t the only one that digs graves, preparing them for funerals, but he does it more than anyone else.  It’s hard work, but he does it regularly. At other times, he can be found in the shed, drinking tea from a thermos and eating sandwiches. There’s a kettle there now, and a microwave, but old habits die hard, and he likes the way the thermos feels.

As caretaker, he’s a council employee, although nobody on the council really knows him. Nobody really measures the work he does. If they don’t have to go there, people don’t really like graveyards.

Well, most people don’t.

Teenagers, on the other hand. Some of them love graveyards. Some of them see them as somewhere to drink cheap alcohol, smoke poorly made joints and some of them have awkward, fumbling sex.

There’s a couple right now, on the other side of the graveyard. Can’t be much more than eighteen.

They’ve been furtively coming in here once every few weeks, and from a safe distance, Calloway has watched her take off her knickers, lie down on the stone slab and spread her legs as her boyfriend frantically pushes into her.

They always take their time when they’re not screwing. Drinking between their thrillseeking passions, then starting again. Calloway remembers when he was young and virile enough to do it multiple times like that, but he has other passions these days. Over the months, he’s got to know their patterns. And they’ve never even realised he was there.

He walks to the caretaker’s shed, opens the door and takes the shovel in his hand.

The teenager wakes up. He breathes, his head pounding and dripping blood, and it takes him a while to realise why the air is so musty and thick.

He tries to move, but he can barely lift his arms. He’s pinned by wood above him and to his sides. He scrabbles against the darkness, feeling sharp, broken pieces of bone underneath him.

He can’t get any leverage at all. He tries shifting his weight, seeing if he can bring his hands up to his chest by twisting, to give himself more space. He can now see the skull by the side of his own head, and he tries not to panic (although he’s aware that the air is getting thinner and thinner). He manages to bring a hand up, and tries to push the lid properly, but it won’t budge. He scratches frantically, until his fingertips start to bleed. He realises this approach isn’t doing anything.

He manages, slowly and painfully, to turn onto his side, and then his front. He doesn’t have the
strength to push with his hands, but if he arches his back…. Pushes with it…. He might just be able to shift the coffin lid.

He doesn’t think about the skeleton that he’s now facing. He doesn’t think of the fact that he can’t hear anything other than soil falling, muffled, onto the top of the coffin.

He pushes and pushes. And when that doesn’t work, he screams as much as the air will let him.

He no longer has the strength to turn.  And besides, there was hardly space.

Instead, he lies down in the remains of the first owner of this coffin and can’t find the strength to move any more.

Before long, he can’t find the strength to breathe, either.

As the teenager struggles and screams, Calloway slowly and calmly shovels dirt on top of the coffin. 

He doesn’t rush. There’s no need. There’s nobody around.

He knows what he’s doing. He’s done this dozens of times.

When the screaming stops, he keeps piling the earth in. Keeps filling the grave, adding weight to the lid of the coffin.

Nobody ever notices that the graves have been turned, as long as he relays the grass fairly carefully.
People expect a certain level of upkeep.

And when people come here secretly, in singles or in pairs, they tend not to tell others where they’re going. They might be missed, but nobody knew they were here in the first place. And Calloway knows how to spot the ones that will be less missed.

Because he doesn’t just keep out of the way.

He watches. And waits, and plans, and then fills the coffins with extra passengers.

Once he’s done, he looks down at the next grave. The funeral taking place in the morning will provide more cover than anything else could do. She lies there, her skull caved in, blood and brains spilled over the soil feet further down than the grave needs to be. Once he’s dumped enough soil over her, the coffin will be able to be lowered slowly down on top, and nobody will ever know.

During the funeral, he will stay out of the way, watching without the smirk that he feels inside.
Looking at the grave and knowing that there’s one victim underneath, and then just a few feet away, one that died screaming in a box only barely bigger than he was.

He’ll know all of that is there, but nobody else will have the slightest clue. And he’ll sit in the shed, and he’ll smile to himself thinking of those lying there, and the ones he left in there alive.

Once he finishes filling in the graves, he continues to clean up around. Then he locks up the cemetery and goes home.  The next day, he’ll come back and he’ll wait for an opportunity to do it again.

He’ll pick someone and he’ll wait until the right time. And it will come and it will happen.

Nobody pays much attention to Calloway, after all.

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