“The Gravedigger worked all night, digging, picking and lifting. He was the worm in the casket & stole his way into Laurel Hill’s final rest.”
“Can’t no grave hold me,” said The Gravedigger, hand deep in a dead man’s pocket, in the midnight shadow of a newly minted tombstone.
The dead man’s pant’s pockets were empty, so The Gravedigger patted the breast pocket, & feeling a bump, reached his hand in terrier quick. The pocket watch was gold & the cover was broken off. “You won’t be missing this old junk now, will ya Jack?” sneered The Gravedigger, with no regard for the name actually etched on the dead man’s tombstone. The Gravedigger pocketed the broken watch, & pulled himself out of the deep hole with his crowbar and irritable indignation.
The Gravedigger worked all night, digging, picking and lifting. He was the worm in the casket & stole his way into Laurel Hill’s final rest. The Gravedigger lived among the ghosts, residing up on a hill between the gravestones on the heavy, deep edge of woods. The Gravedigger was the king of the sepulchers, turrets, copper & bronze of his occupants; he stomped his well-worn boots through the warped door of his shack, which stood in stark contrast to the gabled marble of the eternal resting place.
The Gravedigger pried the gold bezel off the face off the pocket watch & added it to his pile of meltable metals. He thumped his cracked old fist down on the cracked old table, & snarled with teeth black as the devil’s marrow, eyes red as a rash, “All this gold thrown away into the ground like damn fools… Broken old pocket watch, who cares anyway?”
The meager candle flame flickered, then went out in a single puff. The Gravedigger’s match wouldn’t light no matter how hard he struck it.
The Gravedigger slammed outside, crowbar comfortable in his calloused hand. There was no odd wind. There were no hooligans. A cumulonimbus fog raced across the ground, crackling with sable energy. A darkness, even darker than the night where no fire would burn, billowed across the graveyard, straight through the wrought-iron fence & toward the spot where The Gravedigger & his old shack stood, warped yet solid. The black smoke curdled around The Gravedigger’s muddy boots. The Darkness brought itself right up to The Gravedigger; The Gravedigger didn’t budge, his hands didn’t sweat, &his old heart didn’t beat any faster.
“Why won’t my candle light?” The Gravedigger demanded of The Darkness.
The Darkness, an obelisk of hell shadow, undulated like a well-fed, always-hungry fire. The Gravedigger thrust his candle out toward The Darkness and demanded, “Light my candle, Darkness.”
Two burning hot eyes lit up in The Darkness; cracking & eternal orbs the core of life’s enduring fire, everything that fuels & burns. “Look at my eyes, Gravedigger,” said the voice of The Darkness, projected from midnight. “They are the last light you will see.”
The Gravedigger’s mind was starless and moonless: the eyes of The Darkness were the sun, melting gold, the molten center of humanity. The Gravedigger’s mind was buried alive & weighed down with the pressure of murky gloom.
The Darkness spoke with the voice of owls, the timbre of fireflies, “From now on, you will live in the tombstone shadow, Gravedigger. You value gold over life & feel you deserve more than you have ever given. Your life’s fire, dim as it, is mine. You will die when you learn to live.”
The Gravedigger’s mind erupted in a sunburst of colors rising & setting, bright, luminous tonality, optical firescapes. The Gravedigger screaming gurgle-growled & flailed his crowbar through the pitch-black.
The Gravedigger groaned awake on the damp grass under the shade of a dogwood, the petals opaque & filmy. The Gravedigger dimly noted the frail sunbeams, but a new grave had to be dug, so he set to work, his tools needing polishing. A military man was buried with much fanfare, though “Taps” was flat. “Ain’t no way for the government to send a man out who gave his life for his country,” grumbled The Gravedigger, as he scavenged for medals.
As The Gravedigger pulled himself out of the grave, The Darkness fell like a blanket of ash before him. The Gravedigger swung his crowbar through the growing figure’s dim din. “You can’t kill me, Gravedigger.”
“Won’t stop me from trying.”
The Darkness rose & fell as the sun used to, only deepening the shades of grey that fell every time The Gravedigger dug beneath the tombstone’s shadow.
The Gravedigger sat on the ornate steps deeply as shadowed as an effigy, a garden of memories where nothing bloomed, The Darkness his constant companion. “I don’t care about sunshine, Darkness. Same as I don’t care for life or death. Leave me be or don’t.”
Through Wissahickon winter & Schuylkill summer, The Gravedigger opened coffins & collected loot. He pried open a creaky casket, an empty human shell frozen in its’ final expression, cradled in satin sleep. A six-foot under shadow cast a pall as The Gravedigger scavenged. He pulled a ring off her finger, & in doing so caught a glimpse of a family photo: the woman surrounded by loving laughter, the brightness of the time & family-tree adoration shined & cut through the tombstone shadow, a glimmer of lustrous love.
“Darkness, I had a life, before I became a shadow, a gravedigger. I was more than a man. I was a husband, a father. I didn’t want that. Still don’t.”
The Gravedigger caught bits of sunshine in tokens from other people’s lives, but never his own & The Darkness never offered salvation.
The Gravedigger continued toiling on in Laurel Hill’s dark landscape of the living, a flesh & blood ghost held under … the TOMBSTONE SHADOW.