Sep 23, 2011

Indian Graveyard

The brisk autumn air was sweet with the smells of apples and yellowed leaves. I remember Dad back in the garden, turning the fallen leaves into the soil with his shovel, sweat dripping from the tip of his nose. Leaving him to his work, I wandered into the front yard and plopped down onto the cool porch, hoping for some (unlikely) turn of events. I lived in a quiet neighborhood that only seemed to come alive when the stars peeped out, drawing out anxious children for a game of kick the can or hide and seek. I still had many hours ahead of me. It was a quiet afternoon, few cars humming their way up our street, so I eagerly turned when I heard a commotion coming from the back yard.

Dad’s heavy work boots clunked noisily as he jogged around the house.
“Come back here and see what I found in the garden!” he shouted. His voice was strangely tight.

I carelessly got up and made my way to the back. Dad had found many things buried in our yard over the years, but that was to be expected from the mischievous boys who had lived there before us. There was nothing thrilling about old army men with missing arms, rusted matchbox cars, or spoons that were bent but still useable. Golden BBs that peppered our yard and trees were nothing to get excited about, so I wondered what he could have possibly found that interested me. Money, maybe? That would be nice. No, more than nice. I made a mental shopping list of what I might buy as I followed him towards the garden.

Excitement began to build when I noticed that Mom was also out back, looking into the pit that Dad had dug. I walked through the mushy soil towards her. I was actually shocked at how deep the hole had become. I didn’t think we had that many leaves to bury. He pointed with his shovel, and my eyes followed.

“What is it?” I asked, squinting at a cream colored object.

Dad didn’t answer. He got onto his knees and leaned over, gingerly brushing the dirt away with his thick work gloves. Mom and I hovered closely, intently eyeing his work.

“I think I got it,” he finally said after minutes of silence, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.

He reached both hands into the hole and grasped the object. His body suddenly began shaking uncontrollably, as if being electrocuted. A scream of terror that chilled my blood came from him, the man who never showed fear or pain.

“Let go of it, Dad!” I screamed. I grabbed for his shirt, but Mom held me back.
With an awful moan, Dad stood up, arms trembling violently. His eyes were freakishly wide as he shoved a browned skull into my face.

I didn’t know whether to be more scared of the skull or of my father who had suddenly become psychotic. “We need to call the police!” I shouted, backing up onto the safety of the grass.

“No. We don’t need the police.” Dad said, his lips strangely turned as he grasped the human remains. What had happened to him?

“Yes we do!” I said, voice rising in panic.

“No, Kimberly,” Mom calmly said, standing next to Dad. “This isn’t something to call the police about.”

Were my parents crazy? Was some evil force from the skull holding them in its power? I felt like I was on a horror movie, a young child who saw things that their parents refused to believe.

“What if someone was murdered?” I challenged. Mrs. Burton, the previous owner, said that she had divorced her husband years earlier. What if they really weren’t divorced, but she settled things her own way?

“No, nobody would bury someone like this,” Dad said, eyeing the hole. Whatever had overcome him seemed to have disappeared.

“Like what?” I asked, shuddering. An unusual grave didn’t settle well with me.
“Whoever buried this didn’t dig a grave six feet deep. They dug a deep hole and slid the body down into it.”

Chills exploded down my arms. What an awful way to bury someone. No, not awful…creepy. Really, really creepy. Why weren’t my parents the least bit concerned? I felt angry, scared and alone. Hopelessness turned to terror as my father continued.

“Actually, it’s possible that this could be an old Indian graveyard, and the bodies are starting to rise to the surface. I’ve noticed that the garden is getting softer.”

I protested immediately. “No it’s not!” He was just trying to scare me now. “It’s soft because of all the leaves you’ve been burying! Besides, it’s probably not even human. Maybe it’s…” I bravely looked closer.

“No, it’s human,” Mom said. “Look at the teeth.” I shuddered as I thought of a person being buried in our yard.

“We really need to call the police!” I pushed again.

“Well, let’s at least look to see if there are more bones,” Dad said, getting his shovel ready. “If I find more, then we can call the police.”

It wasn’t much, but it was something. I felt a little better.

The relief I felt lasted only momentarily. I gingerly stepped back onto the garden, and noticed how much my feet were sinking. I swore it wasn’t that bad earlier this month. Maybe Dad was right. I walked towards the barren apricot tree, confident that Dad had never touched the soil there. My heart sank as my feet did, and I jumped back onto the grass. Horrible images flooded my mind of skeletons just inches beneath my feet, slowly rising toward the surface. I knew that it wouldn’t take long before bony fingers began poking their way out of the soil, snagging my pants and dragging me under. Scenes from “Poltergeist” tugged at my mind, reminding me of the decaying skeletons that floated in a backyard swimming pool.

“I’m waiting inside,” I said, holding back tears. I ran inside to my bedroom, shutting the door safely behind me. I peeked out of the window as Mom and Dad hovered over the hole. The afternoon sun had shifted, causing the shadows in our trees to creep over the garden. Mom left, and I waited for her to come into my room to comfort me. Instead, I heard her shoes clapping across the kitchen floor. A drawer opened, then shut, and after a moment, I watched as she returned with a flashlight. Had they found something else?

I slammed my head onto my pillow and sobbed with all the power my body possessed. If the bodies were to rise, I would see them out my window. What if hauntings were real?
I saw the rotting bodies climb out of their holes, and look up at my bedroom. I would be the first victim. They were going to come after me, and my parents didn’t even care!

Images of enormous construction vehicles filled my mind next, bright orange lights flooding my room at night as beeping machines dug into the earth. I saw piles of skeletons thrown aside, more and more uncovered as the men tore apart our yard. We were going to be thrown out of our home which was illegally built over a cemetery, and then where would we stay?

I couldn’t stop the hysterics that overcame me. My life was ruined!

I swallowed back my pathetic groans and sobs when I heard a light tapping at my door.

“Come in,” I said, wiping away my tears. I turned towards the wall so my face wouldn’t be seen.

Mom entered cautiously, making her way to my bed. She gingerly sat down.
“We didn’t think this was going to affect you so badly,” she began, soothingly brushing my hair with her fingers.

“Of course it’s going to affect me!” I shouted. “It’s out my back window! I’m going to see everything!”

Mom sighed deeply, and drew her hand away. I turned around to face her.
“Dad didn’t really find a skull in the garden.”

Great. She really was going nuts!

“He thought he’d play a trick on you. I actually bought that skull last month from ShopKo, and Dad stained it to make it look old. He thought it would be a fun joke to bury it in the backyard. We’re really sorry, Honey.”

“He thought it would be funny?” I yelled. “That’s not funny at all!”

Mom quietly left the room, leaving me fuming at my own stupidity. Skeletons that rose from the ground? Idiot! My wounded pride prolonged my own apology, but surprisingly enough, after an hour of reflection, I felt a small smile trickle across my lips. Okay, it might have been a little funny. Still, it took a few months before I braved walking over the soft, leaf-filled soil of the garden…just in case.

The Man Next Door

I am always fantasizing about how my life could be made into a murder-mystery. Why? Who knows. Maybe because nothing exciting happens to me. Sometimes when I'm on a walk, I pass a garbage can that smells...strange. I suddenly notice the house it waits in front of, and wonder if someone has been murdered, chopped into tiny pieces and hidden in the garbage. I look down, half-way hoping to see a bloody finger sticking out of the dirt. The lawn is dead or overgrown, meaning that no one has been there to take care of it. Do I dare lift up the garbage lid, maybe pretending to throw away a wrapper? My heart pounds, and I rush away, glancing at each house that I pass to check if anyone suspicious is watching me through parted curtains.

A few blocks from where I live, a house sits vacant because someone was murdered there. I don't know why that scares me so much, because it's not like the house is haunted. The body isn't decaying inside the walls, nor is its ghost pacing the dusty hallway. But I get an eerie feeling as I pass, wondering if maybe the killer is inside, waiting for his next victim. Does anyone actually ever buy a house where someone was murdered? My husband thinks I'm crazy for thinking these things.

Despite these musings of murders, one aspect of my life that would make a great novel is my next door neighbor. I've never really liked him, but never for a good reason. He's very friendly, always willing to talk and share a smile. But what I think about sometimes is what if something changed when his wife left him? Living there alone with his dog and memories of marriage, what if something inside of him clicked, sending him off the deep end?

I picture him standing outside in his backyard under his strange red porch light, staring up at our house. His dog is inside so the barking won't wake the neighbors. He's watching our bedroom window, thinking, forming a plan. And then one day, he follows through.

"Hey, guys, wanna come in for a Popsicle?" he asks my young boys on a hot day. They're playing in the irrigation water up to their knees while I casually watch from my room as I fold laundry.

"Yeah!" they shout, tearing across his yard and darting into his house.

And then they're gone. I rush to the window, looking frantically in our yard, then burst out the front door, calling their names. Nothing. I run to the back, calling out to them, hoping that they're behind the shed digging for worms. A bird flutters away, and my cat rubs against my feet. I kick her away as I run back to the front and search the road. Don't they know better than that?

"Hey, Kim!" my neighbor suddenly appears, a strange gleaming in his eyes. "How's it going?"

"Have you seen my boys?" I ask, drowning in panic.

He removes his hat and scratches his head. "Yeah, I saw them playing out here a while ago." He pauses and puts his hat back on, backwards this time. A smile creeps across his lips. "I invited them in for Popsicles."

"They need to come home NOW," I say firmly, my heart beating faster. I already know what he's going to say.

"Why don't you come in and have one, too?"

"No. Get my boys. They need to come home."

He smiles. "Now, I can't do that. Maybe you should just come in."

I don't need to go in to know that he's got my children tied up.

I am careful to warn my children daily that they are never to leave our yard without permission. Not if Grandma comes over and wants to take them for a ride, or if Miss Donna wants to invite them over for a cookie. What they don't know is that I'm protecting them from the man who lives next door.

Not everybody in my life is a suspect for murder, but can you blame me for questioning the man with the strange red light? Nothing has happened yet, but then again, he's only lived there for a year...

How Do They Do It?

Writing has always been my passion. I love the feeling of creating a story, of immersing myself into someone else's life. But lately, I have been drowning in my own life. With three young children and a (surprise) fourth on the way, I have found myself completely exhausted to the point where writing feels like a chore. I once heard someone say that you are not a writer unless you write every day. Does this overwhelming stage of life mean I am no longer a writer? I know that in my heart, I will always be a writer, even if I am not one currently. Family will always come first. Always. My dear little sons, so full of energy and life, and a husband who is gone frequently with school, are my top priority, and with my current pregnancy, require all of my energy (so you can imagine the state of my house!). But I thought I would blog so the world knew that I was still alive over here.

I have been working on a one-page story for the last month, another near-death experience to add to my collection, but my mind has been otherwise engaged. I hope to have it posted soon. My friend, Stacy Carroll, a mother to two, somehow managed to complete and publish a story, "The Princess Sisters." How on earth did she do it? I find myself completely envious of her, wondering how she found the time and the energy. Sure, I feel inadequate sometimes, but then I look back on my life, and realize that I am living the dream I had since I was a young child. Someday, I, too will be published, and maybe, just maybe, someone might be wondering, "How on earth did she do it?"