Editor’s note: When I started this blog, one of my promises was to keep the reader guessing. As a result, you could say that the only consistent thing about this blog is that it consistently lacks focus. Blog nation would say that’s no way to gain views and win a steady readership. But at least I’m making good on the promise.
* * *
My predawn drive to work leads me past a cemetery. I never hold my breath, but my eyes sometimes stray toward that deeper darkness. And so it was one morning that I glimpsed the eye shine of a cat, dog or some wild creature among the stones.
Next morning, same thing, but this time in a different spot in the cemetery. I thought maybe a family of raccoons was making a home out there where their neighbors were unlikely to complain.
I’m not going to lie to you. Given the frequent subject material of this blog, I thought it might be a fun story if those eyes belonged to something other than raccoons, like maybe a strange and terrible band of cemetery gnomes, hard at work on some morbid dig in the hours before sunrise.
I believe in total-immersion writing, and I saw a way to search for the gnomes while indulging in something I’d never done — take a solitary stroll through a cemetery in the dark.
It’s a common theme in books and movies, and I wondered if I’d feel intoxicated by my own fear. My rational mind told me the dead couldn’t hurt me, but I wasn’t as certain about the cops. I knew it wouldn’t be much fun explaining to them that I was stumbling around a cemetery at 4 a.m. because I thought a tribe of gnomes might be living there.
The anticipation was delicious. I resolved that when I awoke, I would leave the house at least a half hour earlier than usual. I wanted time to explore the graveyard properly, yet not be late for work … unless I was rousted by the police, attacked by rabid raccoons, or shanghaied by the gnomes.
Next morning I parked my car outside the cemetery gate. I didn’t want to drive inside because I thought some passing do-gooder might see my headlights and report a grave robbery in progress. I got out and pushed the car door gently shut, just to keep the noise to a minimum.
No one around.
Peering over the iron fence, the interior of the graveyard was blacker than pitch, but I could soon make out several points of wan light. Evidently the gnomes or raccoons were on full alert and were giving me the evil eye.
I took a deep breath and walked through the cemetery gate. I was past the threshold for this crazy adventure, and there was no going back.
I followed the looping car path in the general direction of the nearest glimmering eye shine, which suddenly changed color from a cool green to a malevolent red.
I sensed movement off to my right, but the eastern sky was a half shade lighter by then, and I could just make out the dark shape of a doe and her fawn. It was enough to give me quite a start, but not enough to send me into a blind panic.
My breathing slowed to normal and I again moved toward the mysterious light, its color changing again as I drew closer. Whatever it was, it wasn’t moving, and I thought it would be a bold gnome indeed to just stand there waiting for me.
Of course it wasn’t a gnome, but you already knew that. It wasn’t a raccoon either, and the police didn’t show up to arrest me.
Upon discovering the nature of the first light, I asked myself why anyone would place color-shifting angels and crosses in a cemetery. After all, the dead don’t require night lights, and, ideally, few living souls will be around during the hours of darkness when the devices are active.
To be perfectly honest, I was appalled.
I thought at first to write something snarky, but standing there in the quiet dark, I had an epiphany: Writing something like that would put me in a much harsher light than the gentle glow of a pulsing plastic angel. And anyway, why would I do something like that?
My emotions were shifting as quickly as the colors on the solar cross near where I was then standing. Any hint of smugness was gone.
I thought about grief — my own grief. How could I fail, even for a minute, to understand someone else’s?
Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons and daughters, all gone away. You’ll do anything to ease your pain. You’ll do anything to show the departed how much you loved them.
Cry! Scream! Write! Spend! Oh yes, you’ll do all that and more, won’t you?
Maybe you’ll even set up a little solar light, even though you know, deep down, that Mama and Daddy will never see it.
My gosh, discovering a tribe of gnomes would have been so much easier than these raw memories of my own losses, all triggered by a few solar crosses and angels, their nightly color displays seen by exactly … no one.
Of course, now I know. Curiosity satisfied. There really is horror in the cemetery at night, at least for the living.
And that has me thinking about a time when I won’t be … living.
I’ve decided I want my grave to be as black as pitch. I want it to be so still that my last tenuous thread can sense the passing of the doe and her fawn as they glide among the stones in the gray light of dawn.