Titling Block

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.

The Pastel Goth at 18

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.

There are little skulls on her dress… and that is Definitely an Abby parasol.

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?

Nightfall: Clunk

“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)

34 comments

  1. *fiddling with words before reading*

    Necropolis-stodian?

    My mom’s family always took care of the graveyards. Grew up thinking it was fun and interesting to visit grave yards. Husband informs me this is a creepy quirk, especially since I tend to talk to the folks with interesting stones, and apologize if I realize I stepped on someone.

  2. So when she’s lamenting about not being able to hire help — the ghoul is destructive when peeved, so obviously it can influence the physical . So hire the ghoul! …now how do you PAY the ghoul??

    I like “Groundskeeper” too. Just wry enough for the story-so-far.

  3. May I share a little story I’ve cooked up last year? I’s the embellished version of a story my grandmother told me once, and it involves a graveyard, too. It’s not exactly my usual fare – I normally don’t write in present tense – but I had fun with it. (I would link to it, but I have no place where to post it):

    THE GHOST IN THE CHURCHYARD

    Imagine a cold night in November. The village seems to huddle in the shelter of the hills rising on both sides, grown with fir and spruce, and beeches whose bare branches are outlined against a pale moon like an intricate net. The river in the valley gleams faintly in the moonlight. Wisps of mist begin to rise from its surface, increasing, dancing between the boles and fluttering over the tips of the spruces like the wings of ghost birds.

    The houses of the village, most of them half-timbered, some covered with slate shingles in the local fashion, meander along the river, the lane widening to a market square after a few hundred metres. A well stands in its centre, though it is no longer used to draw water except by some poor villagers. Around the place, the school building with the teacher’s house on its side, the village meeting hall and the inn line up, some of the few houses made of the local yellowish sandstone. But now they look pale in the silver light of the moon.

    The shutters of the houses’ windows are closed and no lanterns burn at night. This is no town with lights, theaters, and people in high wheeled cars driving around even at night. It is but a village in the Thuringian forests, home of farmers and husbandmen mostly, a smith, a baker, the miller, the butcher and the major, and some poor hirelings who live in the timber huts on the other side of the river, connected to the village by an old stone bridge; its rail partly collapsed in the last flood when an uprooted tree hit it.

    A few steps left of the market square stands an ancient little stone church, with a sturdy rectangular tower and small windows with round arcs. It has seen Heinrich the Fowler and King Otto ride through this valley long ago, when the ancient king’s road followed the course of the river, legend claims. Behind the church lies the old churchyard, its moss covered grave stones half veiled by mist. The dry leaves of the large chestnut tree rustle in the cold breeze that blows from the river. The air smells of ripe apples and wood fires, of wet leaves and smoked meat the butcher has prepared in the morning.

    This mist grows more dense, obscuring the moon, wavering around the houses like giant birds. From the hills the song of the trees can be heard, a faint whistling and rustling of twigs and needles. Not a night to be outside. A night of faeries dancing on the rocky summit of the Forest Ghost’s mountain, the farmers’ wives would whisper, a night where witches were abroad.

    The men would not heed those old stories and brave the fog and the song of river and forest. They have walked to the inn, or drove there in a horse cart: the major and the teacher, the village curate, the smith and the rich farmers, those who owned more than a dozen milking cows and a pair of sturdy plough horses. The men met every Thursday to discuss important matters, it was said. In truth, those discussions involved the imbibing of a lot of ale and the local wine, a rich, earthy beverage. As the hours went by, the curate would start to sing, and the teacher, a tall and handsome young man, declame the speeches of Cicero in Latin.

    Indeed, the melodious cadences of speech could now be heard. If someone dared to go near the inn and peered inside through a crack in the shutter, they would see a room lit by two petroleum lamps with green screens, a table covered with glasses of wine, tankards of beer and cards.

    The night darkens, with only the occasional ray of moonlight breaking through the clouds that begin to gather, heavy with rain. ‘The men will be so drunk that they don’t fear the ghosts,’ their wives say and lock the doors against the mist and darkness and witches hissing past on their brooms.

    But there is one woman who does not believe in ghosts. She is town bred, used to lanterns burning in the streets and the light coming out of the theatre she liked to visit. She is an educated woman who plays the piano and has French, who read all the famous works of Goethe and Schiller and can quote the poems of Fontane and Eichendorff. She is also very young and has problems to adapt to the village life and the villagers.

    But she is the wife of the teacher and that makes her a person of respect for the villagers, no matter how young she is. And thanks to her education, she knows a lot about preparing food and running a household and can teach the farmwives some new ways of preserving fruit and curing meat. Eventually she becomes more popular than the curate’s wife who turns every talk into a sermon and quotes the Bible and the catechism more often than even the most pious village women can tolerate.

    The smith’s wife, a stout and resolute woman, is the first to notice that the men are about their meeting even later than usual. She peers out of a crack of the door into the night. But there is no sound of footsteps, the creaking of the cart, or the drunken voices of men. That won’t do. Fog or no fog, ghosts or witches, she will drag that drunken sod home and woe betide him in the morning. She dons a pelerine, takes a lantern and walks over to the neighbouring farm. It takes a while for the farmer’s wife to open, and even longer for her to sum up the courage to follow the smith’s wife.

    On their way through the village, they gather some more women, and slowly, they begin to feel less afraid. Surely, no ghost would attack a dozen of them, and witches … well, those could be argued with. The lanterns cast a soft gleam to the mists, and the black forest seems to be further away, while the women are surrounded by the gentle comfort of the lights.

    Finally, the women arrive at the market square. But the moment they decide to enter the inn, the curate’s wife comes running at them, her hairdo askew, a shawl hastily cast over her shoulders. She trembles all over. “God and Jesus be blessed. The devil has come into the graveyard.”

    “The devil,” the women whisper. “Old beelzebub himself. In our churchyard?”

    “Yyyes, with hhhorns and bbbeard and cloven foot,” the curate’s wife stammers.

    After a bit of murmuring, the women decide to have a look. After all, you don’t see the devil every day. Or night. And with their lanterns and the pious curate’s wife’s presence, they need not fear anything, do they? Maybe call the men? But no, they were likely too drunk to deal with a devil. “Stumble over one of those sunken stones and break their necks, and then the devil will take them right there,” one farmwife said. The smith’s wife has a better idea. They should call the young teacher’s wife to accompany them. She knows so much, maybe she also knows how to deal with the devil. They agree.

    After the teacher’s wife has joined them, the women slowly walk to the graveyard. The mists swirl around the old stones, which are but black shapes in the darkness. A ray of the moon flashes through the silver and grey clouds chasing each other on the sky, tinting the mist with a faint faerie gleam.

    And there he stands, close to the chestnut tree in the middle of the graveyard, exactly as described by the curate’s wife. A shadow with horns and a beard and a cloven foot. He lowers his head as if reading the inscription on one of the gravestones. The curate’s wife, encouraged by the other women, begins to intone the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name ….but deliver us from evil …”

    “Maah”, the devil says and rises his horned head, seemingly not impressed by the deliverance wished upon him. He emits some air that smells rather unpleasant.

    Sulfur, the women decide, it must be sulfur.

    The curate’s wife takes a step back. “This doesn’t work,” she murmurs. “I need to go and find my husband’s book of incantations against the devil.” She draws another few steps back from the rickety fence around the graveyard. That fence would never keep the devil out if he wanted to possess one of them.

    The women whisper and mutter some more. Finally, the young teacher’s wife has enough. She does not believe the devil actually walks the earth, except on the stage of the theatre in town. She takes a lantern to get a closer look. The gate of the churchyard opens with a creak. The devil jumps back a step. The young woman holds the lantern high and steers her way between the grave stones until she comes head to head with the devil.

    The women outside the yard hold their breath.

    Suddenly, the teacher’s wife laughs; it sounds like pearls softly rattling in a box. “That is no devil. It’s a billy goat, you fools. Miller’s brown billy goat who has slipped off his tether again to nibble some of the long grass that grows on the old Mayor’s grave.”

    The women shake their heads thoughtfully and murmur some more. Could it really be Miller’s billy goat? It was true, that long bearded rascal was prone to wandering.

    “Well, then bring him out,” the smith’s wife finally says. “So we can see for ourselves.”

    There is only one little problem, though. The teacher’s wife, town bred as she is, does not go near the cows and horses of the farmers. She fears a billy goat much more than the devil and will not touch him.

    It takes some more arguing and coaxing until the smith’s wife decides to brave the creature and bring it out of the churchyard. Sighs of relief can be heard when the women see that the devil is indeed nothing but a billy goat. The loudest sigh comes from the curate’s wife.

    “And now,” the smith’s wife adds in a threatening tone, “we will go into the inn, and our drunken husbands will hear a few words. Listen to the curate singing; that would scare even the faeries off. And the miller can take that silly goat of his home.”

  4. The Warden?

    “It’s not easy to take care of a cemetery when the dead won’t stay in their graves. I’m not sure whether I feel more like a warden or a den mother.”

    But, a Weeping Angel?! Don’t Blink!!

      1. No, they’re locked in stone form as long as somebody is looking at THEM. They cover their eyes to avoid accidentally looking at each other. If there’s not another Weeping Angel looking in that direction, it can attack the instant you…

        …blink.

      2. Also, rock is hard, but not indestructible. What would happen if somebody took a sledgehammer to a Weeping Angel and bashed it to gravel?

        Or unloaded a few dozen rounds of .50 BMG into one?

  5. I find myself favoring something that includes her name in the title as a way of making it seem light and conversational. “Chloe’s Ghosts,” “Groundskeeper Chloe,” “Chloe [Lastname]: Cemetary Keeper.” (The last one is a touch adventuresome, but still.)

    The other ones are good too though

  6. I like it. More, if you will! I like the snippet and the inspiration. My youngest west into criminal forensics. She quit, thank goodness when she first got pregnant. Decomp smells and prgnancy didn’t work well together.

  7. The Ghoul, the Ghosts, and the Groundskeeper

    Haunted Grounds

    The Doleful Ghoul, a Chloe the Groundskeeper Story

    My daughter gets so frustrated by titles she basically refuses to even try and just names things like a catalog index term.

  8. Does she whistle while she works among the tombstones?
    Otherwise, younger son works hose-crew at Hershey Park with souped-up vehicles resembling golf-carts. He says they call them ‘gators’ although I’m not sure why.

    One of their bad gators has the beep, beep, beep backing up signal permanently on.

    1. Gators are John Deere’s version of the souped-up golf cart; my dad prefers the Ranger, but places that already have service contracts with Deere have an obvious reason to go with Gator.

  9. Nice little start. And I like Groundskeeper too… Generic title lets you ‘run’ with the story in a lot of directions!

  10. The Goth Groundskeeper
    The Groundskeeper, Ghouls, and Other Lost Souls
    Cemetery Groundskeeper: Chloe the Goth
    Tales of Chloe The Goth and Ghouls

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