by Roy Dorman
Jebidiah Stone, the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church caretaker, is drinking from a pint bottle of rotgut liquor while making his rounds in the church’s cemetery. He sighs wearily when he notices a new gravesite has been disturbed yet again. It’s the grave of a woman thought to have murdered her husband with rat poison.
Abigail Benson has been buried in an unmarked grave, the plot fully 20-30 feet away from the others in the rural village’s only cemetery, and nowhere near her husband, Nathan. This had been Nathan’s family’s choice; Abigail had no family who could be located.
Two days after the not guilty verdict, the local busybodies had been vindicated; Abigail had taken her own life with rat poison.
Old Jeb finds her where he knew he would, lying half way between her site and her husband’s.
Forgot to put her back when you were done with her, didn’t ya, Jeb.
Jeb ignored the voice. “Damn, that’s the third time this week,” he said, walking back to the cemetery’s storage shed to get his shovel and the wheelbarrow he’s been using to transport Abigail back to her final resting place.
The first time it had happened, Jeb puzzled as to how Abigail had been able to escape from her coffin. But he had only puzzled over it for a bit before he had become frightened by what her resurrection might mean. He’s now thinking maybe he should tell the minister about this sometime when he doesn’t have whiskey on his breath.
Don’t tell anybody anything, Jeb. You’ll only get yourself into a world of trouble.
Jeb and Abigail had been sweethearts during the two or three years they had gone to high school together, but then Nathan had won her over with his promises of a prosperous farm with a newly built house.
That was almost forty years ago and there never had been a prosperous farm or a new house. Nathan had worked his whole life doing odd jobs in and around the village and he and Abigail had lived with his pisspot father in a ramshackle shotgun house down by the river.
The couple had never had any children. Nathan blamed Abigail for that, but most in the village thought it was for the best there hadn’t been any.
Jeb, now pushing the wheelbarrow and shovel to Nathan’s gravesite, was struck by an idea. He had always loved Abigail from afar and he would do something for her now out of that love.
You should keep her for yourself, Jeb. Nathan stole her, pure and simple. She should have been yours.
Sometimes Jeb listened to the voice, sometimes even talked to it, but most often he ignored it. He didn’t like what hearing voices implied. Leaving the wheelbarrow by Nathan’s grave, he trudged with his shovel to Abigail’s site. He closed her coffin, shovelled the dirt back where it belonged, and patted it down.
Jeb didn’t bury folks very deep. He’d been burying Mount Vernon’s dead for years, but the stony soil was difficult digging and most of Mount Vernon’s parishioners looked the other way rather than criticize Jeb for doing a job nobody else wanted.
Ignoring the voice, he dug down to Nathan’s coffin, opened it, and lay Abigail in a loving embrace on top of him. He closed the coffin and shovelled the dirt back into the hole. At least he thought he did.
* * *
Later that evening in the little two-room shack the parish provided, Jeb was smoking his pipe after eating a frugal supper. He was just opening a new bottle of whiskey when he thought he heard a scratching noise on his door. His mind had been playing tricks on him lately and he had been hearing that voice for some time now too. He waited to see if the voice in his head would tell him what to do.
“It’s her, Jeb; open the door. She decided she really didn’t want to be with Nathan; she wants to be with you.
Jeb knew what he would see. It was like watching a movie for the second time. He saw himself opening the door and finding Abigail stretched out on his stoop – just like he had left her there that afternoon.
He picked Abigail up and carried her into his bedroom. Anna Gibson, the storekeeper’s wife who had died last summer, lay on Jeb’s bed, hands crossed on her chest. Jeb had also been sweet on Anna in his younger days. Her husband, Jonathan, had died almost ten years ago. He was pretty much mummified and sat in a straight-backed chair in the corner of the room. Jonathan was the only man in town who had ever treated Jeb with anything like respect and Jeb now enjoyed talking to him sometimes when he got lonely.
After digging Jonathan up and bringing him home, it had taken Jeb the better part of a day to get the ramrod straight corpse into a sitting position, but since then Jonathan had been comfortable in his chair. The bed was small, Jeb had been sleeping on the floor, and he decided to leave Anna where she was and have Abigail sleep with him.
“I know that I had to poison Nathan to have a chance to get Abigail, but why did I have to poison her?” Jeb asked the ceiling.
It was the only way, Jeb. Once finally free of one drunken handyman, do you think she would have agreed to come and live out her days with another?
Jeb shook his head as if trying to clear it. He looked around the bedroom at Anna on the bed, Jonathan in his chair, and Abigail on the floor in front of him.
“How did it all come to this,” he said, gesturing at the bodies, but again directing the question to the ceiling.”
I use you, Jeb; you’re my tool. I use you to provide me with a little entertainment. I get awfully bored sometimes.
Pounding on his front door caused Jeb to turn from the bedroom to the front room. The sound wasn’t of someone knocking, but rather three dull thuds that were repeated every ten seconds or so.
That would be Nathan, Jeb; he’s come to visit his Abigail. I think you should let him in before he draws the attention of a passerby. Should be an interesting evening, don’t you think?
Oh, yes, you should know that old Mrs. Miller is going to die tonight, a heart attack I think it will be, and that means there will be a funeral in a couple of days. You should get yourself up early and to the cemetery tomorrow morning to see that the grounds are in order. There’s been a lot of activity recently.
◊ ◊ ◊
Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had flash fiction and poetry published recently in One Sentence Poems, Cease Cows, Gravel, Theme of Absence, Flash Fiction Press, The Creativity Webzine, Birds Piled Loosely, Black Petals, Mulberry Fork Review, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Cheapjack Pulp, and Yellow Mama.