I've been through a lot of graveyards and cemeteries. It would be hard to say I'm not a fan of the macabre, but I will say I am respectful. It's more a sense of empathy, of going to the final resting place of a person, realizing this was the end of their mortal existence, the final place of forever rest, and then thinking about how their life went before. It's a little bit like working backwards. We can't always find a person's spot where they were born, not the actual place, the "right here" point. And even then, what do we gain? They didn't know how their life would go. But the end, we can look back, at a life, good or bad, or ambiguous, and move from there. So, yeah, I've seen a few bone orchards.
You want to know what the difference is between a graveyard and a cemetery? The way I understand it, a graveyard defines itself. It is the yard of a church where the graves rest. A cemetery is a dedicated field of graves. If there is a house or church there, it's a graveyard. Though I don't really care if you use them interchangeably. If there is a lump of earth next to the stone, then that's a grave marker. If it is a big box above ground where the casket rests, then that's a tombstone. At the beach, graves were often marked with shells, because they didn't have stone to carve a marker, and wood would just rot. It was too valuable as a resource, anyway. So, I want to tell you this pretty scary story about one time I visited a small, very old, cemetery. A little morality lesson on watching where you step.
I had decided to hike out to this old, old cemetery, far off the beaten path, down a long tree lined dirt road. No one had been buried there in fifty years, at least. And of course, I went at night. Now, I was not scared of ghosts. I have never shaken the hand of one, and I had no doubt that the most dangerous thing I might meet is a wild animal, which was a valid concern of mine. As were the mosquitoes. But I had steeled myself; I wanted to see this place at night. I had my reasons. So I walk out.
It's about a mile long walk, and I pass mostly unused land, an old chimney, falling in, and one house that was abandoned, not too long ago. It's a full moon, of course, it somehow had to be. The fates were not going to let my mind rest in the dark. I had my trusty flashlight, a wonderful and dependable device that has its own story of trust and protection I may need to share at some time. Another time.
I get there and jump the old fence. It's half falling down, no longer whitewashed, more wood than paint. I could have walked through anywhere, but I jump. It's a bit of derring-do, a mocking trespass, that I'll show those ghosts who is the mortal here with feet and legs. Yeah. I'll show'em, indeed. Read on. I look at the graves, mostly in hopes of finding something interesting, a sad angel, a cracked and broken marker, a strange testament, "He Feared Not". Something.
There was continual scampering, strange eyes looking out from the overgrown grass. Spiders hunted at night, their eyes glowing green or yellow, but they looked for something smaller than me. A possum ran away, only half heartedly, for he had no fear of humans. I was probably the first one he ever saw. it was almost a look of contempt that he gave me as he waddled into the woods.
But there was another noise, decidedly not a sound of nature. An uncomfortable thump , like the cross of a heartbeat and a footfall, or a bang, the last gasps of Fortunado as he bangs on the brick wall, "For the love of God, Montresor!" Only there is no brick wall, no casks of Amontillado on the other side. Just graves and soil. I walked toward the back of the old cemetery to see what it was. Near the end, I find it. To mu horror, I see it comes from the raised mound of grass by an old grave, decrepit and uncared for. My feet are rooted to the spot. The grass, weedy and tall, parts. And I see a corner of a coffin begin to spring forth like some malevolent flower, an abominable seed. Death rises and grows in this place. The entire coffin rises up, out of the ground, in rhythm with the thumpthumpthump.
Then, upright, it moves toward me. I find my feet and begin to back away. It only takes a step for me to trip over a small marker. Like a teenager in a horror film, I wallowed on the ground. I cursed at myself, which gave me focus to get up and run.
If I jumped the fence on the way in, I fairly hurdled it on the way out. I hit the dirt road at a dead sprint, my flashlight bobbing in my hand. Behind me, I hear the crashing sound. The coffin followed me out. It merely walked through the fence, turning the pickets to splinters.
It was following me.
I was in excellent shape, easily able to run for miles at a time, but all my energy poured out in a fearful sprint. Within only hundreds of yards, I was exhausted, pouring sweat, dirty, tired, and afraid. Yet the coffin continued its inexorable march.
I had to keep going. I had to find help or shelter. Somewhere to stop and hide, or call someone, if anyone would believe me. I saw in the moonlight the old house I had passed on the way in. Maybe it wasn't abandoned. I barged onto the porch and to the door, which opened easily.
The hall was dark, with moonlight spilling through curtainless windows on each side. I closed the door and threw the old lock. It even had a bar to slide closed. The heavy door and its old brass locks would surely stop the dreaded coffin. I ran toward the stairs, and waited in the shadows. It was my hope that the coffin, this malevolent thing, would walk down the dirt road, oblivious to the house. Let it head on its way, while I waited until sunrise.
My luck was not with me. I heard it thump thump up the steps outside. Somehow the rotten porch held its weight. But that door would stop it.
And it did, for a moment. The coffin barged at the door, crashing into it. The panels splintered and split, Then in a rending crash, the coffin broke through. The remnants of the door hung by twisted hinges. Then it began its march toward me in the shadows.
Thump. With nowhere else to go, I ran up the stairs. Perhaps I could push it down it it came up. Maybe I could hide from it. Or go out on the roof. Anything to escape this relentless... thing.
I looked from room to room, all dark. I heard it coming up the steps, that relentless thump almost as loud as my heartbeat, but at a much slower pace than my rapid pounding in my chest. It made it up to the landing.
I opened the door to a room that turned out to the bathroom. It would have been a nice room, well lit from windows, beautiful tile that reflected the blue moonlight, chrome bars and fixtures, and a big mirrored chest over the sink. The only thing that marred the room was a huge hole in the ceiling that had fallen into the claw foot tub. I slammed the door, hoping to hide.
It would do no good, of course, the coffin was after me, for a slight I would never know, and probably never be able to tell. It crashed into the door, sending me against the sink.
Desperate, I struggled for anything. I grabbed the mirror and threw it, to no effect. Then I just reached into the medicine cabinet and began to look for something, anything, to put between me and the coffin.
I found an old box of cough drops in my hand, which I threw directly at the coffin. I watched the little candies scatter across it.
The coffin stopped.