One Man’s Grave
by Andrew Jensen
Once, when I was a kid, my family went to a coal mine in Nova Scotia. It was a museum, because there had been an accident years before I was born, and a bunch of miners had been trapped underground. Their bodies were still there, somewhere in sealed off tunnels, where fires still burned in the veins of coal.
The shaft we went into was the only safe part. No mining would happen there again: they kept it open so no one would forget the disaster, or the men buried alive so deep they couldn’t be rescued. The men they’d sealed into their graves.
At the bottom of the elevator, we walked down a short tunnel, lit by lamps controlled from the surface. That was where we heard the story of the fires still burning beyond the tunnel walls: some men rescued, some bodies recovered, and the other men still underground. Then they turned off the lights.
I wasn’t scared. It was cool to open my eyes and not see anything: not a speck of light. It was like being blind, without having to worry about staying that way.
My annoying little sister was a whole year and a half younger, and I could hear her starting to whimper.
Then the lights came back on, and everyone breathed out, like we had all been holding our breath, or something. Even the grown-ups. I remember thinking how funny it seemed.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that we had been in a grave. Only the fact that we could leave distinguished us from the bodies of the trapped miners. Only the fact that we could escape separated us from death.
When we came out of the ground, I spent some of my allowance on a lump of coal, painted with varnish to preserve it. Someone said that coal comes from the bodies of dinosaurs, trapped and compressed by the pressures of the earth. That kind of transformation amazed me.
* * *
Funny, the memories that pop up in a crisis. This feels like the mine, except now I’m an adult. This time I know enough to be afraid.
I’ve just opened my eyes, and I can’t see anything. Have I gone blind? Maybe it’s just absolutely dark, like the bottom of that mine. Okay, let’s check. What happens when I wave my hand in front of my face?
I can’t move my arms! It’s like I’m tied up or something! There seems to be something over my face, like a cloth. It’s tight all around me, like I’m wrapped up.
Am I a prisoner? A hostage? But why? I’m not rich. At least, not at the moment.
* * *
“You’re a jerk, Richard. A leech! Do you have any idea how much you’ve humiliated me?”
“Oh, stop complaining. You know I can make it all back. I can earn it back easier than I lost it. I can sell anything to anyone!”
“I’ve heard all your bragging before, Richard. ‘I can sell anything, even swampland for subdivisions.’”
“I did! Except that it was condos. There’s a lot more money in condos, even after deducting the ‘personal fee’ for that EPA inspector. That bugged me. I did that whole community a favor when I drained the swamp!”
“You’ve never done anyone a favor unless it helped you too. Anyway, what’s the difference? That money’s gone. I’ll bet your first wife got it in the divorce, ’cause your second wife just took everything else! We had to cut our honeymoon short because all our accounts were frozen! And what about that message from her: ‘Karma’s a bitch?!’”
“Actually, that surprised me. I didn’t think she was spiritual.”
“Don’t play stupid. She hates you! She wants revenge. What did you do to her? Sounds like you used her for her money and then threw her away. Well, I know just how she feels. You talked me into all those joint bank accounts, and now her lawyers are taking everything you owe her. Except that you lost all your money, so they’re taking mine! You are a selfish, blood-sucking, son-of-a-bitch!”
“I said I’ll make it back, baby. Really, I will!”
“I hope you do. Then my lawyer will have something to take back from you. Karma will be a bitch, when it finally catches up with you!”
* * *
Why kidnap me? If you want all my money, just marry me! At least I wasn’t dumb enough to get married after that one. What was her name? I should know her name! Why can’t I think of her name?
I’m not panicking. I’m not. I just thought of that episode of CSI where Nick was kidnapped and buried in a plastic box with only a little air and less time and he could barely move and if he panicked he’d run out of air faster and he did start to panic . . .
They’ve buried me.
* * *
It’s dark, raining. The carriage is pulled by horses, a single casket their burden. There is dramatic, moving classical music playing, passionate, singing of sorrow, of loss, of deep pain.
The carriage tips, like a dump-truck emptying its load. The end of the casket hinges open and a body slides out, tightly wrapped in a death-shroud. The body lands on others in a mass grave. The undertaker sprinkles lime on the bodies, and drives off on the dark carriage.
* * *
Was that a scene from Amadeus? Why am I remembering old movies? It was my first wife who made me watch that one. She thought I needed some culture. I hated every minute of it. If that’s culture, you can keep it.
Wait a minute! The shroud! That’s what I’m feeling wrapped around my body! No wonder I can’t move. I didn’t even know they still used shrouds.
Idiots! Who would bury me without checking to see if I was really dead? Even dead-drunk they should know. I snore. That’s something all three wives agreed on.
I’m alive, idiots! Dig me up! I’m going to suffocate! I can’t move, even when I thrash!
Wait a minute! Something ripped! I’m stronger than I thought. If I can just calm down for a minute, maybe I can do something here.
There. That’s both arms free of that stupid cloth. What did they wrap me in, leather? It feels thick enough. Not exactly smooth, though. More like suede, or a chamois.
Did they bury me in a Sham-Wow?
I must control myself. There’s no need to get giddy, right? I don’t seem to be having much trouble with air. I’m not light-headed. So what if I have silly thoughts? I always have silly thoughts. It’s one of the reasons my wives didn’t think I took them seriously. Too many wise-cracks. But I like my silly thoughts. Right now, they’re a good way not to think about being BURIED.
Okay, okay. Don’t panic. It seems to be working. I can dig. My arms are really strong, and I’m making progress.
It’s strange. My whole body feels different. Different, but right. Strong. Alive! I’ve never been athletic, but now I feel I could run a marathon, even outrun a rabbit. Hah! This is great!
Karma’s a bitch, eh? Revenge? I don’t think so. I sold crystals to Spiritual goofs for a while, so I Googled ‘Karma’. It’s not about revenge. The idea is that you get reincarnated as whatever you deserve. Bunk, but good for sales.
She called me a blood-sucker? So what! Wouldn’t it be ironic if Karma sends me back as a vampire? Hah! Feel that earth moving around me as I dig out of this grave. I’ve never felt so strong! The urge to dig is huge. I don’t think I could do anything else, even if I wanted.
I am hungry, though. My stomach feels like it’s never had anything in it. I’ve heard of this. It’s supposed to be an all-consuming passion, isn’t it? Right now escaping my grave is my passion, but once I’m out, we’ll see.
I don’t want to kill anyone, of course. I’m not an animal, after all. Vampires can feed and leave people alive, right? Not dead, just, what’s the word? Slaves? No, no. Compliant! Yeah, compliant. Perfect customers. I can think of a couple of people I’d like to drop in on. For a quick bite.
Getting giddy again. I’m starting to feel cold. That can’t be good. I have to dig faster. That should warm me up.
Does it work that way? Vampires are really dead, aren’t they? I mean, aren’t we? I guess it’s a bit like being cold-blooded. Except that we can’t lie in the sun.
I just remembered that part. How do you know if you are going to dig out of your grave into the sunshine? You never hear about the vampires that do that.
Of course you wouldn’t, would you? Any vampire dumb enough to do that would turn to dust right away. It can’t work that way! There must be some kind of internal clock, or instinct, or something. Isn’t the full moon involved somehow? I’m sure I heard that somewhere. Or maybe that’s werewolves.
Where is my grave? Where did they bury me? I haven’t had much money lately, so I’m probably in a charity grave somewhere. I hate that. I’ve always paid my own way. Well, except maybe for alimony payments. But this means I’m buried beside train tracks or something, in the full sun. No chance of coming out under a nice, shady tree.
I wish I’d had some Vampire customers. Then I’d know more. I’d have Googled them.
Wait a minute. You can’t just come back as a vampire, can you? Nobody believes Karma can do that. You have to be bitten.
Who bit me? Who killed me? Am I going to have some kind of master when I get out? Will I be some kind of slave?
I’ve never been anyone’s slave. I’ve never even had a boss, really. When you sell stuff, you’re always your own boss. A commission is a profit, not a wage. I’m not the compliant sort. Just ask my wives.
Maybe I can keep selling. Vampires are supposed to be extra persuasive, aren’t they? I’m already that. I can sell anything to anyone.
What can I sell as a vampire? Anything, I guess, as long as it’s at night or indoors. I refuse to wear that stupid tuxedo from the old Dracula movies. A regular suit’s always been good enough for me. The kind that doesn’t wrinkle. I can dress the way I want, as long as I don’t have a boss. Or a ‘master’. Or even a manager. Who ever heard of a ‘vampire manager’?
Ah, warmth above. That feels good. I can dig faster again. When did I slow down?
Dig. Dig. Dig. Digging is easy now. So easy, so natural. I’m moving quickly; almost out. Out of the cold earth.
Should I slow down? Sunlight is warm, moonlight is cold, right? Or is the moon warm to a vampire? Will I burst into flame or crumble to dust as soon as I break the surface?
I can’t stop. I’m too hungry. The need to escape the cold is too strong. Nothing else matters.
Who bit me? Who killed me? How did I die? Important questions. I must not forget. I must . . . dig.
Memories are hard to find. Doesn’t matter. I’m nearly out. I can feel it.
Free! The sun is on the horizon. The light hurts my eyes, but I can bear it.
I am on a hilltop. Across from me are some gigantic structures, towering even over my hill. They are familiar, but huge, out of all proportion.
My hunger is growing. What I long for is wet, warm, full of life. Not just food, but a place, too.
What I want is gone. There’s no life in front of me. Only bare earth, pavement and buildings.
Condos! Monstrous condos!
What’s that terrible noise behind me? I can’t help it, I have to duck into my shell!
My newly hatched turtle shell.
“Karma, you Bitch!”
◊ ◊ ◊
Andrew Jensen is a minister who doesn’t get enough time to write fiction, although thinking about the next life is an occupational hazard. He was in sales for a couple of years, and knew people about as unpleasant as ‘Richard’. The coal-mine is in Springfield, NS, and worth a visit.
3 thoughts on “One Man’s Grave”
A nice mixture of chills and chuckles that rambles on and on. One can but wonder if the massive structures might better have been casinos. I hoped for more clarity on why Richard merits turtledom, other than his being cold-blooded. AGB
Chilling AND funny. That’s hard to do, but the author managed nicely. Loved the Sham-Wow reference.
I appreciate the comments. I was hoping that Richard’s “turtledom” would also connect more directly to his draining of wetlands for condos (and the bribe to the official to make it happen). This idea came from our discovery of a snapping turtle laying her eggs in the gravel beside a provincial highway. The nearby swamp hadn’t been drained, but I couldn’t help but imagine what a newly hatched turtle would experience as a transport truck went by.