A Bisl Mer
It’s Not Getting Much Better
Trying desperately to retain some good feeling about my adopted home state and my country in general, but the “hell in a hand basket” path gapes wider than ever after the last round of rigged primaries. There are so many questions that need asking, but all that seems to be done is declare anyone who disagrees to be any variation of the word “worthless.” We’ve gone so rapidly from the great nation that discusses great ideas to the pea-brains that discuss people. And there seems no end in sight.
Anyway, we’re approaching the end of Passover and April. Nice to have them together that way and separated from Easter for a change. The overlap too often turns into a competitive cacophony of “My Truth is bigger than your Truth.” For that reason alone, I’d love to see all media take a summer vacation and let us decide for ourselves.
So, as has become my habit, here’s is Chapter Five of The CPF. A little more violent than the others, but what can one expect with vampires, ghosts, and what some of us call “the Living”?
Eating Their Own
Two weeks is a relative amount of time. As a child, I thought it was as close to eternity as I could imagine, especially the last two weeks of school. In college, however, with papers due and finals looming and my CPA exam just a few days afterwards, I felt the last two weeks speed by as if I had been driving with my father in the Buick off the overpass and I could not find the brakes. Working for the CPF, the daylight hours could drag between funerals, arrangements, hassles with Varney and Trumbull. Nights with the “residents” were something else.
The two weeks of wondering if Charlie would call and set a night to meet my “residents” followed no pattern I recognized. At best, it was a manual-drive engine in the hands of an amateur, all bucks and stalls. Three families with parents in hospice asked for pricing on plots “not too close to the highway.” Only one offered an explanation for the request: seems the traffic noise gave both the parents terrible headaches. No, it didn’t make sense to me either. Nevertheless, I spent three hours going over our online map with them, then all three callers ended with the same procrastination: “I’ll get back to you.”
The rains and winter heaving meant new gravel had to be ordered and the union called for workers to spread it. Thank God the union sent a young woman and older man I had never met before to do the work. They were done inside of three hours. And it reminded me that I had to refresh the colored gravel Grandma Rose liked to use a groundcover in the front and side flower beds.
Next, adding to the morning’s fun, I had to start an ongoing “conversation” (translation: verbal battle) with the Board about the Potter’s Field.
The first Board of Directors thought two acres more than ample for the charitable act of burying the “few poor souls” in Sayresville who had neither family nor money. The original area and estimate sufficed for nearly a century. There was more than enough room to bury the indigent elbow to elbow with small plaques. However, I believe someone whom the Board held then, and publicly hold now in high esteem, once said that the poor would always be among us. Whoever it was forgot to mention that the poor, too, took advice from the same translated (and mis-translated) text: in Sayresville, the poor were fruitful and multiplied. And they died in increasing numbers, as well. Wars, diseases turning fatal in overcrowded Emergency Departments, and the violence that accompanies poverty added up the totals, rich and poor, with the majority falling to the poor. Together, the “always among us” dying poor had all but exhausted the remaining space.
The town commissioners called three times during those two weeks about five bodies they wanted us to bury. I relayed this message to Foundation Treasurer Meecham, the many times great-grandson of the original Meecham.
“We don’t have space for that many,” I said. “Three maybe, but we may have to look into expanding – “
“The foundation has no money to expand the indigent grounds.” The man wheezed and coughed like someone suffering from a chronic allergy to spending money on something other than himself.
“But we have a binding contract with the city. Where do you suggest we put the bodies?”
“Why not bury them on top of some of the older bodies? They’re dead. They won’t care.”
Fine for him to say so. He didn’t have to deal with the ghosts. I did. Those souls still hanging around were up most nights and they cared plenty. And I was the one they complained to about whatever chafed them. It’s one of the impossibilities of this job to convince the narcissistic living that the dead do indeed care. As the living will, when their turn comes, but try pointing that out to your wealthy employer and see if you keep your job.
Take the grave markers, for instance. Somewhere in the 1840s, the Board decreed that their obligation to inter the indigent required no more than a seven by four by six-foot grave per body. The “headstones” in the Potters’ Field were metal placards the size of postcards and wouldn’t hold down a small dog’s spirit. If a name was known, a first initial and surname along with the year of death was inscribed. Otherwise, the identification was a number and the year. These latter were most vocal about the identity theft, but I had no records or any other arguments to make the Board replace the numbered markers with ones bearing the deceaseds’ names. Neither side was happy in this standoff, and I had to hear both sides. Continually.
One of them explained it to me on a long, gray winter’s afternoon: “While I was dying, I couldn’t complain. I had no money. I had to let them do what they wanted to do or not do with me. I spent a lot of time on a cot in the corner of the por wing of the county hospital until I died. And I never complained. Now I’m dead, I can complain.”
“But nobody’s here to listen.”
He regarded me with a patient smile. “You are. It’s your job.”
This, if I think about it, might explain why, during those two weeks, I tolerated Missy and Mischa’s visits every day that first week.
“Did he call?”
“No, Mischa. Not today.”
“Well, you know you can’t trust a gravedigger.” I had not told them about the foiled robbery. “They are low characters and not to be trusted. And they are men.”
Next day: “Did he call?”
“No, Missy. Not today.”
“Men have to work, Gracie. That’s their job in life and our job is to wait. Be patient. He’ll call.”
Two days later:
“No, he hasn’t called! Leave it alone, will you?”
“You poor dear. We’re here for you.”
Now this last was followed by what I call the “Solidarity Move”: their opaque thumbs almost touching between them and their heads inclined towards each other. If they had been solid, I think they would have banged foreheads and jabbed each other in the belly button. However, not wishing to have them repeat the Cat Move and wear themselves and my nerves out for the day, I said nothing.
I kept to the work of the cemetery business during the day and my romances in the lengthening daylight. We buried a SIDS baby in Section G and a vagrant in one of the last open plots in the Potter’s Field. I paid bills, fielded inquiries, fended off threats of breach of contract from the town commissioners and tried to persuade Meecham that there would be trouble if something was not done soon.
I had no idea how prophetic that last warning was. Misdirected, but prophetic.
The seven o’clock a.m. presenters called themselves the Syracuse area’s “news buddies”:
“Hey and good morning! It’s seven o’clock! This is Andy, with Destiny, Lynne and Beth, your news buddies! Here’s the latest headlines.”
I cannot help but wonder at anyone who sounded so hopped up on caffeine for the greetings, and then began the first of May with expressions of shock from the roots of their perfectly coiffured hair to their wide, heavily-lined eyes. “Three dead bodies in the tall grass along Route 173,” said Destiny, the brunette with the thick, smoky eye shadow that reminded me of a black eye. She sounded almost cheerful. “The Medical Examiner’s office reported the causes of death for all three as exsanguinations. Police suspect the bodies were moved to the remote location because they found no blood in the vicinity of the bodies.”
“Police are also investigating broken locks on the gates of Fair Haven and the Old Baldwinsville cemetery gates,” Lynne interrupted. It seemed they had a low-rung reporter at one of the cemeteries, but not on the scene of the triple murder.
Somebody would catch it for that slip-up, I thought.
Either one of these reports would send citizens like Mrs. Schnosberg into a tizzy for two or three days. Our neighbor across the street and to the left was the Mansfield Road arbiter of dangerous behavior. She’d be warning any one on the block who ventured outside to lock their doors and never speak to strangers. She’d badger us all until the Save-a-Lot circulars arrived in the mailboxes. Then she and the media would forget it and move onto the latest shooting or house fire.
But two mornings later, the buddies were back with more on one of the stories. And they had the on-the-scene report.
“Three more bloodless bodies found behind the subsidized housing on Townsend Street last night. Residents reported seeing a young woman and two men, one possibly in his twenties or early thirties and an older man in an orange mask. However, police advise caution and watching for wild dogs or possibly a mountain lion.”
Try something equally vicious, but going about on two legs, I thought. I might have prayed that God would put an end to Helen and Nestor and Ian’s clumsiness, but I’ve never understood what, if anything, God does about vampires.
By the end of the week, two more corpses lay behind Baldwinsville High School to the north. A single mom living across the street reported hearing what she called “twitchy cussing” before some screaming. Typical Tuesday night behavior for some of the middle and high school students, she called it. She had no idea people were dying out there. “Sh-t (bleeped out for the broadcast) like that just don’t happen around here. We’re a quiet neighborhood, but for some of those kids.” The police asked phone videos and any other information anyone could provide.
I knew it was only a matter of time.
I fell asleep a couple nights later after reading only three pages of Loves Me, Loves Me Not, which was fine. I’d read that slim romance at least three times before, but I needed the reassurance of familiar words.
The screaming woke me. I knew those voices, begging for forgiveness, for one more “shot.” For once, I was grateful the Board had not installed motion detectors and the connections to the local police. This was something no living being outside the CPF needed to see. I ran downstairs to find the jeans I’d just put beside the washer and was out in the CPF in bedtime T-shirt and dirty jeans with my grandfather’s flashlight before the screaming stopped.
The last howl, more of a pitiable sob, came over the hill. I guessed they had gathered in Section F or D on the north side under the weeping willow that grew by the drainage ditch. The light from the poles were little more than wishes in that section, but I could make out cluster of black figures.
I had stopped hard in the gravel, halfway down the back side of the hill, when Derek appeared in front of me. His face twisted in what I thought was panic. “You are not wanted here.”
I wasn’t budging. “The screaming says otherwise. What the hell are you doing?”
Derek does not care to hear me swear any more than my grandparents did. As I said, he has definite, 19th century ideas in that undead head of his. “It is not your business.”
“If I can hear it, the neighbors can hear it and somebody might call the police. And then there will be questions.” I waited. He blinked, telling me he saw my point. “Helen and Nestor, I take it?”
“They were warned. More than once, they were warned of the consequences.”
Derek’s shadowy face eased. “No. He knows no better.”
“And tonight you’re teaching him a valuable. Teaching them all a lesson, making an example and all that?”
I had said too much. Derek’s temper has much in common with Vesuvius at the best of times, and even the best-intentioned dissuasion – which my questions were not – could set off an eruption. His face drew up almost in pain. His thin lips pulled back to bare his canine sharp teeth. His eyes narrowed to slits. I saw a shadow that looked like one of his hands forming a fist. He put a vise-grip on my elbow. “You judge me?! You dare! You vile little… It is time for you to learn as well.”
Vampires do have a way of speeding time and motion that leaves me light-headed and a little nauseous. Before I blinked twice, my bare toes hung over the edge of a grave. Next to it was another open grave, not two feet away (postwar cutbacks meant graves were dug with little or no elbow room in the 1950s). Derek released my arm and snapped his long fingers. I held the assembled “family” back when I flicked on the bright bulb of the flashlight to look down into the grave at my feet.
Helen lay in the grave less than a meter down, naked, at my feet on top of her coffin. Her skin had paled to a bluish white and there were paired puncture marks all over her neck, her ample breasts, her round belly and a few more on her heavy thighs. She cringed at the light shone on her and sobbed without tears. She reached her arms up first to Derek who stood at the foot of the grave, then to the others around her, who slurped and licked her blood off their lips. A soft moan escaped her.
A lower moan echoed her despair. Nestor raised stubby fingers from the other grave in supplication. I had to assume he as in a similar state because two of the Old Guards held me back from looking into his grave.
“He’s not drained yet,” a voice to my right snarled. Ambr’ Pembroke stepped closer to Nestor’s grave. “He still smells of blood.”
Derek made some motion with his hand and she leapt into Nestor’s grave. The sucking and moaning that followed brought my dinner up to the back of my throat. I gagged as Ambr’ sprang up and out of the grave. More slurping and lip-smacking for my benefit.
“Want a taste?” she hissed in my face. I felt Nestor’s blood spatter my cheeks and wished I could vomit back into hers.
“I’d say go to hell, but you’re halfway there already.”
“Enough!” Derek said.
“This is not finished,” an Old Guard female whinnied. “We cannot be sure they’ll die there. There could be worms, rats, even fish to feed on and those two would be sure to come back for revenge.” The other five Old Guards mumbled their agreement. Glowing yellow eyes fixed on Derek.
Helen shook her head violently: no, she would not seek revenge if they would only let her live. Nestor’s moan seemed to echo her unspoken plea.
“And maybe one of us is traitor enough to feed them,” Ambr’ agreed. “You must end them, Derek. Do it now.”
The mid-termers and newbies started a whispered chant of “Now! Now! Do it now!”
“Shut your mouths or you will join them!” Derek roared.
He jumped into Helen’s grave straddling her on his knees. He hissed at the flashlight’s glow. With his long fingers he took Helen by the neck with one hand crossing over his grip on her jaw with the other. In one motion, he snapped bones and tore her head from her body with one twisting wrench. A small spray of blood dotted the sides of the grave. The newbies fell to their knees fighting each other to lap it all up. Derek placed her head between her legs, the eyes still wide and her mouth open in a scream.
He shot like a mortar out of her grave and landed in the other grave. Nestor had marshaled enough energy to scream until Derek ripped his head off as well and laid it between Nestor’s legs. He sprang up to the grave’s edge. His eyes burned into the others, sending every last one of them to their knees. Then he glared at me. I suppose it was because I was still standing, but I could not find my knees to bend.
Ambr’ and two midtermers did the honors of licking up what remained of Nestor’s blood spray. Then she was in front of me. “Want a taste, little Gracie?” she taunted. “Oh, I forgot. You can’t eat blood, can you?”
I smelled Ambr’s sickening breath in my nostrils not a moment before my knees at last collapsed. I fell with my face just over Helen’s mutilated body still blue-white flash light’s glow. I vomited down the side of her grave.
Derek was beside me at the first heave. He held my head up out of the vomit. I turned on him and croaked, “You bastard. You owe me.”