I’ve written a story I plan to publish. Like… soon. Before Halloween. It’s got the perfect theme for it, being a story set in a cemetery.
It’s a funny story… not the actual story, but the story of how I came to write it. My youngest daughter (not my youngest child, that’s the boy) has been a happy Goth since the tender age of 6, when she declared that she planned to grow up to be just like Abby from NCIS: Black and deathy, and skulls. She informed me that she was going to be happy, though. Just to be clear. As the years passed she stayed true to her intent, with the minor exception of the Bobs (there were these unicorns, see. All of them were named Bob: Squishy Bob and Square Bob and Shiny Bob and…), and she was all about black with the occasional red flair.
In her teen years, she faded a little. I mean that literally. She became a Pastel Goth. She’s still all about the skulls, and black is still her aesthetic, but it is accented by grays and lavendars. Which I think is why her hair is usually purple. The other thing she developed an affection for, in her teens, was mowing the lawn. I… Look, they are my kids. You expected normal?
Long story short. I was driving somewhere, and passed a sign that made me do a double-take. I got home, and told her that I’d seen the perfect job for her! Cemetery groundskeeper and caretaker!
She looked wistful, and said it wouldn’t work, as she wasn’t driving (yet, but by the time she was a few months later the job was no longer available). However, the whole thing got my brain working in story mode for some reason.
Which led to me writing a story for my daughter. I even used her name. In a manner of speaking. You see, before she was born, there were two names picked out. One, the boy’s name, would have to wait for the next kid to come along. The other, a girl’s name: Chloe. Only when the little one who would grow up to be a cheerful Goth geek was born, I took one look at her rosebud face and said ‘she isn’t a Chloe.’ So it wasn’t her name.
In the story, Chloe is still settling into her new job as a groundskeeper for a big, half-abandoned cemetery. The groundskeeper part of her role is fairly clear-cut: mow, weed, and landscape. The caretaker part, on the other hand… That’s where things get fuzzy.
Taking care of… what? She is determined to keep this job. Even if it means that her job description never prepared her for what lives in the old graves and mausoleums.
now… I don’t have a good title for this story. I don’t even have a good blurb (waves hand at above two paragraphs). I was working with it as Cemetery Caretaker, but that seems rather uninspired. Here’s a snippet… any ideas for me?
“Psst. Hey. Chloe.”
Benny, as usual, thought he was being subtle and missed it by a mile.
“What?” Chloe stopped the sort-of-golf cart next to the ghoul’s chosen lair, a crumbling mausoleum. She was tired, it had been a long day, and she just wanted to go home.
The ghouls, wraiths, and ghosties had not been part of the job description. Or maybe they had, just not in so many words. The neatly printed sign next to the ornate gates had simply read “Cemetery groundskeeper and caretaker needed. Inquire within.”
Chloe had inquired. It was only after she had landed the job, moved into the tiny studio apartment, and the neighborhood cautiously accepted her that she learned she was the only serious applicant. Belleview Cemetery and Memorial Gardens might have been prime resting space a century ago. Since then, the ghetto and slums had engulfed it, and what was left of the neighborhood… the ghoul was nicer than the junkies.
“What, Benny?” She prompted when the ghoul had stood there staring into space long enough. With her luck, he’d remember what he wanted to say, and then the ‘caretaker’ part of her job would kick in. If he forgot, as usual, she could go home and order sushi.
“Your hair is purple.” He said after a long silence. Silence was the wrong word. The cicadas were screaming into the falling darkness.
“Yes, Benny, I know.” Chloe resisted the urge to reach up and touch the messy bun.
“It was green.” He responded more quickly this time. He didn’t make a move toward her. The one time she had touched her hair in his presence he had wanted to touch it, too. She had panicked and thrown the cart into gear to get away. Benny had sulked for a week. A sulking ghoul was surprisingly destructive. She didn’t want to spark that again. So Chloe patiently had a conversation in the twilight.
“Yes, it was. I wanted a change.” It wasn’t supposed to have been green. The blue dye hadn’t worked as advertised.
“There’s a green ghost.” Benny informed her, turning his head to look down the hill. “It’s lost.”
“Oh.” Chloe realized this, and not her hair color, was why he’d stopped her. “Um. That’s… sad?”
“It cries a lot.” Benny kicked the ground, looking down at his long grey toes. “Hard to sleep.”
“I see.” Chloe looked in the direction he’d indicated. “I’m sorry to hear that.” She added politely.
Benny squinted up at her. “You could talk to it. Make it stop.”
Chloe opened her mouth to protest that soothing ghostly apparitions was not her job, then closed it again. This, too, probably fell under ‘caretaker.’
“You sleep in the day.” She pointed out. “Can I come back in the morning?”
He yawned, a thoroughly revolting sight, and Chloe averted her eyes. “Didn’t sleep a wink today.” He informed her.
She sighed and gave up on her dreams of sushi. The delivery drivers did not come to her address after dark. “I’ll see what I can do.”
She drove the cart to the next aisle and turned down the hill. Belleview, she thought sometimes, was shaped by the same rationale as taking a big bucket of paint to the top of the hill and tipping it over. The cemetery flowed down to the bottom of the hill, widening as it went, with wavy margins. In general, the lower you went, the more modern the graves. Modern being a relative term.
Chloe, who had never been terribly interested in history, had found herself intrigued by the patterns she found among the gravestones. Epidemics traceable in death dates clustered. The rise and fall of a family by the conditions of their plots. Even things as simple as naming trends caught her eye on the stones.
This section, for instance. Benny wasn’t a high-class denizen of the cemetery, and the family whose mausoleum he’d occupied had died out at least fifty years ago. Chloe hadn’t found any graves with the family name date later than that, anyway.
The area she was putt-putting into on her trusty ride was no longer quite as overgrown as it had been when she was hired. Which wasn’t to say it was neatly manicured lawns, either. There was only so much Chloe could do on her own, and a hesitant question to her boss about bringing in a crew… He had lowered the newspaper slightly, fixing her with one laser-bright blue eye while the bushy gray eyebrow inched up his forehead like a strange caterpillar.
“If you can find workers, by all means.” The newspaper – and Chloe wondered where he got them daily, as the last paper in the city had gone out of business months ago – rose again. Chloe had retreated to her little desk.
Her feeling of victory hadn’t lasted, and it felt like sour frustration now. A month later as she inched past the brush hiding gravestones, she had to consciously unclench her jaw. No-one had responded to her ad for men willing to do work in the cemetery.
It had gotten very dark in this part of the graveyard, with the tall old trees and the brush that arched over the access path. Cloe had been given the cart to use, as a truck would have been useless in much of the cemetery. She was grateful. No one had asked to see her driver’s license, which was good as she hadn’t gotten one. Yet.
She switched on the feeble little headlights, and a pair of startled glowing eyes resolved themselves into an opossum who quivered, torn between playing dead and running away. He rolled over, paws up.
“Drama-llama.” Chloe muttered, stopping the cart. She had no intention of running the wee beast over. She got out of the cart and made her way to the front of it.
(Header Image: weeping angel in a Cincinnati cemetery that inspired the setting in the story, photo by Cedar Sanderson)