The Thing I Hate

The Thing I Hate
James Wymore

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Crunch. Thump. Wa-doo.

Crunch. Thump. Wa-doo.

Crunch.

The shovel cuts into the damp earth.

Thump.

My boot, stomping on the rim of the spade, drives it deeper into the soil.

Wa-doo.

The chunk of ground, lifted free, slides off the end as I toss it up over the side.

Crunch. Thump. Wa-doo.

I focus on the rhythm, so I won’t think. I can’t stand to admit what I’ve become.

Crunch. Thump. Wa-doo.

A patter of rain begins to peck at my coat. I look up just as a drop goes right into the side of my eye. How did I come to this?

 

I remember the first time I saw a grave-digger. Sitting next to my father as we drove past a cemetery one autumn night, a man stood waist deep in a rectangular hole. Yellow and red leaves covered the browning grass between stone monuments around him. Chopping into the ground he stood upon, he tossed the loose soil out with a steady beat.

“What’s he doing?” I asked, wide-eyed. “Digging up a body? Looking for treasure?” My brother told me people are sometimes buried with rings and other valuables.

“No.” My father scowled. “That’s no grave-robber. He’s just a poor man, doing what he needs to do to make enough money to get by.”

“So somebody died?” I turned to my mother.

“Yes. Widow Thorne from a few streets over. She was Celia’s grandmother.”
I remembered my friend had been absent from school. I wondered what it would be like to see a dead body. “Did she go to heaven or hell?”

“No way to know,” my father said, “but she was a good sort. So we’ve no reason to believe she’d go anywhere bad.”

My brother told me sometimes the dead don’t stay dead. Those were always the bad ones, though. “So she won’t get up again?”

“No.” Dad said it too fast, like it was a sore spot.

“And nobody will have to dig her back up?” My questions upset my parents, but I felt it was important.

“Heavens no,” my mother said. “Digging up those resting in peace, that’s a terrible sin. Only ghouls do that. And ghouls always come back after…”

“It’s not true,” my father interrupted. “None of it. Just superstitions and wives’ tales. That’s the end of it.”

 

Crunch. Thump. Wa-doo.

I can still picture his face, well, his face as it used to be, as I slice into the ground above his brother’s coffin.

I hate the unnatural forces of this earth because my dad taught me to. The irony of it all settles hard in my stomach. Everything about this feels wrong. The dirt flying out of this hole, is like the lessons of my life being tossed to the wind. Sensibilities I cherish, being broken into sand and rubble, then cast away.

What choice do I have?

I see the face of my own son, so young and frail, as he coughs up blood.

“Should have gotten better by now,” the doctor says. “There’s no medical explanation.”

No medical explanation.

If it’s all just superstitions and wives’ tales, why is there no medical explanation?

 

Another fall day, walking home from school, my brother, Jeremy, took us on a detour. “A kid in my class said somebody dug up a grave.”

“No way.” I tried to look like I didn’t care. I’d show him I wasn’t scared of anything. “It’s probably just grave-diggers, getting ready for a funeral.”

“Nope. Not this one. Somebody in the middle of the night, dug up a fresh grave.”

“Why would anybody do that?” I remembered what my mother said. That makes them a ghoul. And ghouls always come back.

“Don’t know.” Jeremy turned the corner and jogged ahead. “Whoa! Look, it’s true!”
I followed, wanting to tell him to shush. It didn’t seem right somehow to yell aloud about such things.

As I caught up, I saw he told the truth. The tipped headstone lay in pieces. The hole wasn’t a neat square trench like I’d seen the grave-digger make. This crater looked like the earth itself had popped a boil and sent pus in every direction. They’d propped the coffin up and the door wouldn’t shut.

“Let’s look inside,” Jeremy whispered. He started to cross the waist high picket fence.

“No,” I said, holding him back. “It’s wrong.”

“Why? It’s not like we did it. And don’t you want to see what the body looks like?”

I didn’t. I wanted nothing less than to look inside that broken box. Still my legs followed.

We’d been up wind before, the stench reached us when we got near. It made me gag.
The pine box, painted pink with little decorations around the corners and edges, had been cracked at the lock and pried open so it couldn’t close properly.

Jeremy pinched his nose and covered his mouth with one hand. The other reached out, to the smooth lid. I could see something dark inside it. A stick, just a normal wooden stick poking up at a strange angle, as if a tree were growing out of the decaying body.

“Hey! You kids get outta here, before I call the cops and have you arrested for trespassing!” The man’s voice left no room for doubt. Jeremy turned to look. I didn’t bother. We both sprinted, hurdling the fence and laying tracks on the grass as we ran for our lives.

Jeremy never admitted it, but I think he was as relieved as me to not have to see what lurked inside.

 

Crunch. Thump. Wa-doo.

Now, contemplating my awful task, I wish we’d looked. I don’t want the first one I see to be my uncle’s mangled corpse.

Shaking my head, I keep digging. I keep the rhythm up, since sanity won’t permit me to do this thing I hate if I think about it too much.

I am near the end. I know there cannot be much distance between my tool and his bed.
Even knowing it is madness, I can’t turn back. My wife would never forgive me. And I would never forgive myself. What man could place his own life above his son’s? I do what must be done, never mind the dark consequences. I’ll never forget my wife’s face as her tears fall freely on our sick child.

 

My brother watched next to me as she cried. He put one hand on my shoulder. “This is Uncle Merle’s fault.”

“Don’t be stupid!” I protested.

“He wasn’t well at the end,” Jeremy said.

I knew it. Jeremy had borne the brunt of our elderly uncle’s care as he descended into dementia. Jeremy was single, after all, and I had a family to look after. Our own parents died years ago. “How could this be his fault?”

Jeremy held up a wooden stake. He didn’t say anything. He’d said it all before. I knew what he believed.

Still, I couldn’t forget father’s protest against mother’s words the first time I’d seen a grave-digger. “Father didn’t believe all that stuff.”

“That’s just denial, isn’t it?” Jeremy handed me the sharp stick. “He hoped it wasn’t true. Wouldn’t you hope it wasn’t true about me?”

“This is insane. There’s no such thing as vampires.” I said it hoping that by speaking the word aloud it would dispel the dark idea, but my resolve was weakening.

“You weren’t there at the end. You didn’t hear the things Uncle Tom said. It was more than just forgetting his family or random memories. He told me he was cursed and if we didn’t do something about it, he’d destroy us all. Your son is just the first.”
My wife looked at me with stern eyes. She didn’t care if it was true or not, she would grasp at any straw to save our son.

“And if I do this,” I said, knowing the task would fall to me because of Jeremy’s bad back,

“someone’ll just have to do the same thing to me when I die. I might be condemning my son to the same fate.”

“At least he’ll be alive to do it,” Jeremy said.

 

Crunch. Thump. Wa-doo.

So I dig. So I became the thing I hate. I wonder if my uncle did this to his father. I wonder if my mother was right and all ghouls rise again.
Crack!

The shovel hits the top of the coffin.

This is the last moment. I could still turn back now. So far I’m only digging in the dirt. I haven’t actually dug up a body yet. I am still not a ghoul.

I see my son’s face. I feel my wife’s deep breaths. I hear my brother’s words echo in my head.

I clear the dirt, but I’m not going to prop the box up like the one we saw so long ago. I just chop through the lid with the shovel.

Crunch.

The familiar smell, so much stronger this time, brings up bile. I have to turn to the side and puke.

I direct my small light, revealing the twisted and black form of a man, half liquefied, just skin stretched over a contorted skeleton.

Holding my breath, I jam the wooden tip between two ribs on his left side. I stomp on it to make sure it’s set.

Thump.

And then I pull dirt down from the nearby mound to make sure it stays fast.

Wa-doo.

 

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