My lakeside graveyard’s all I got. I inherited it from my Pop, like he did from his Pop, and you get that old picture. I’m king here—ruling over my quiet darlings. And I wear all the crowns: sole proprietor, groundskeeper, gravedigger.
Been digging graves since I was a kid. I’ve planted hundreds of folks.
Just last month I planted Mom. That was hard—I had nobody else. Nobody. I whimpered and dripped the whole time I dug. Went six inches deeper than spec, just to make sure she’d have peace. God bless her.
The updigs are what bother me most though; they keep me tossing at night. Sometimes after an updig I dream about the graveyard lake, about all the abandoned spirits I sent there. Pop always said, “No mourners, you get the lake.”
See, problem with owning a graveyard is: it fills up. Ain’t no profit after that, just upkeep. But Pop figured that though God ain’t making no more land, Pop could still make more plots—and he taught me how before he died.
Winter’s coming, busy season—I need plots to sell. Haven’t done an updig since Mom passed, so it’s high time.
I consult my buried treasure map: it’s hanging on the shack wall, shows the graveyard, the lake, everything. Covered in scribbles and color-coded lines. I track visitors every day and carefully update the map. At night I reckon, plan, scheme like a general about to siege a citadel.
I zero in on my prey, hiding in the thicket of those lines and scribbles. And there it is: Elenore Heckerson hasn’t seen a visitor in twenty odd years. Nobody’s left who mourns poor lady Heckerson. So exactly nobody will notice if this plot suddenly frees up. I’ll change the records too, just in case a long-lost relative appears.
Imagine that scene: “Oh, yes, here’s the paperwork, you’re quite mistaken! She was cremated and scattered over the Grand Canyon. Can’t imagine who told you she was buried here.”
At sunset, after visiting hours, I drive out on a landscape tractor towing a flatbed cart. Her plot overlooks the lake. Pop always told customers it was called Serenity Lake. On the county map it’s officially Dead Soul Pond, owing to some strange swimming accidents over the years. The most famous got made into a local poem: two young lovers skinny dipped one night, found floating naked at morning’s light.
I locate the headstone: Elenore Heckerson, Beloved Daughter. I make the sign of the cross and start digging.
Pop must’ve planted her because I hit the coffin only a foot down. Lazy coot. See the whole “six feet under” thing ain’t true. Law says eighteen inches of dirt over the lid’s enough, but Pop skimped on drinking days.
I get the coffin fully exposed and smell that sweet musty reek. Takes an hour more to get the portable windlass set up. The coffin’s corner gets banged hard as I winch it onto the flatbed, sharp metal splintering out. Gotta mind that.
I open the lid, always do. Probably shouldn’t. Body’s caved in, skin stretched, clothing rotting, bones exposed. Eyelids gone–her sockets stare through me. Pleading.
It’s the rule, darling. No mourners, you get the lake.
But she don’t agree. She insists this ain’t right.
I think long and hard. I could slide her back into the hole easy enough. But plots are getting scarce …
I heave the heavy headstone in. Dust rises as it crushes her. I look in again from a different angle, and she’s still staring straight at me. Headstone must have shifted her gaze.
Serenity Lake is small but deep. That’s good. Always room for one more. Always.
I pull the tractor lakeside to a homemade barge. I winch Elenore down nice and easy, then muscle the casket into place.
Almost midnight. Frogs chirping, little ripples in the water. The lake swells up in the half-moon light. It’s pulsing, like it’s ready to receive another soul. Like it’s eager. Hungry. I shiver, though it ain’t cold.
I get ready to pull-start the outboard when a scratching sound comes from the coffin. Frogs all stop. Air, still. Another scratching, like crusty old fingernails. Elenore?
Naw. Probably a rat. Smelled the leathery flesh and jumped into the casket while I was wrangling the headstone, maybe. I start the outboard and head out to lake’s center.
Elenore argues again–something about human dignity.
But darling, there’s dignity in the lake. Think of it like a baptism, or a burial at sea.
Elenore ain’t having it. She’s harping on about decency, morality, sin.
The lake’s hungry for a soul, Elenore. Hungry. What I’m doing ain’t wrong–who does it hurt? Ain’t nobody visiting you, darling. No mourners, you get the lake.
Bubbles rise in the water, all around me, like a rolling boil, like every corpse I ever dumped here is exhaling. Those bubbles pop and swell up little ripples all around, rocking the boat. What the hell?
I’m going crazy, that’s what. Plain damned crazy. Swamp gas? But … never been any here before.
I jump onto the swaying barge, start pushing the coffin, to send Elenore to her true final rest.
The scratching becomes a pounding, boiling hot water splashes up and sears my arms. The bubbles churn harder, and the screams of all those sunken souls bubble up too, cussing me, damning me.
Finish this! I lean into the coffin, push hard–it slides. But I lose my footing, try to catch myself–that jagged metal corner swipes me, sinks into my jeans. I jerk and pull but it’s got me good.
Hooked like a fish … dragged down by coffin and headstone and Elenore’s empty sockets … I flail desperately … pantleg won’t slip past my boots … water chokes off my screams.
Why, Elenore? Why?
The lake’s blackness swallows me up, and Elenore replies.
No one’s left to mourn you, not since your Mom died.
No mourners, you get the lake.
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