The Argyle Cemetery in the mountain town of Cervantes, California houses a grave whose occupant is not human. I know because I put it there. I didn’t kill it, of course. I merely buried it, after seeing it crash into the woods near my home. The ruckus it caused was something mighty, but all that the authorities found was the metal receptacle that housed the poor creature, who had met its demise on impact. And I wrapped it up in my wife’s lounge room rug, one she’d purchased on eBay, and took it to the cemetery where I worked, resting it in a wooden coffin, before taking to the tender soil and burying it an hour later under the alchemical light of a half moon.
That was a few months ago. I had insomnia for the first week or so afterward. My wife gave me Nyquil, hoping it might put me to sleep. She then gave me cups of Valerian tea while bringing newly cut sprigs of lavender into our bedroom, to no avail. I kept thinking about the poor creature, nestled inside its sparse casket, alone, as we all would be. Death had never bothered me before. I took it with the same assuredness as I did all ephemeral phenomena. But the knowledge of that creature’s lifeless, onyx eyes, unable even to close, filled me with an uncanny terror that made me wary of sleep, knowing I might not reawaken once I dipped into its depths.
The poor thing had been motionless, its limbs heavy and skeletal as I heaved it to the cemetery grounds, the fresh pine needles crunching under my boots. I thought about why it had come, and whether someone might come to retrieve it. I felt it was best to bury it. Nixon had planned a speech for the Moon Landing if the astronauts had not returned, claiming he would leave their bodies on the surface of the moon. I thought I’d return the gesture.
A month later I started getting calls during the night. Odd calls, but not from telemarketers. There was no voice on the other end, just faint breathing. At first I thought it might be the Feds, before wondering whether it was them, telepathically enquiring about their fallen comrade. Angela never heard the calls. She started to get worried when I told her about them, though I kept out the more sensitive parts of my encounter.
“Maybe you should take a break from work”, she suggested after another night of prolonged sleeplessness. With my new insomnia, I had acquired an immortal kind of quality, in which time became redundant. Sleep was impossible, and also unnecessary. I spent my days at the cemetery, but the burial site was on the western side of the land, overlooking the town. I spent my nights at home, with sombre memories of that creature, unwavering, its unblinking eyes a permanent fixture of my mind.
It was now eleven forty-five. The night was rested now, and I roused myself from a fractured slumber, still able only to sleep for a mere three hours. But that was enough. Any more and the chaotic assemblage of images would tour through my subconscious, threatening to divorce me from my surrounds. And I couldn’t let that happen. I left the phone off the hook in case they called and disturbed Angela.
I crept downstairs, emerging in the colourless field of the midnight hour, my shovel in my hand. I would usually drive to the cemetery but on this night I walked, which took me roughly twenty-five minutes in the pacifying gloom of the darkness. The cemetery was in its natural celestial habitat at night. The dead didn’t belong to the day, and neither did I.
I walked, carefully, minding the headstones, heading up to the western side of the cemetery. I approached the creature’s grave in an almost worshipful manner, my heart beating with the rhythms of the lethargic, timeless night. The scent of the earth was comforting.
Just as I was about to lift my shovel I noticed the gravestone, upon which a name and phrase had been carved. ‘Here Lies Isabel Welles’ it read. I didn’t do that. I looked around, unsure of whether I had reached the correct plot. But it was right near a small tree which I’d planted the year before, which had been there when I first buried the creature.
I took my shovel to the earth and removed the soil, bit by bit. Exhumation takes longer than people think. My heart beat became more rapid once the shovel hit the outside of the coffin, and I jumped into the pit and heaved open the lid.
The rancid smell reached me before the sight did: a skeleton, quite human, with long hair growing from the pale skull, the eyes and all the skin now in an advanced state of decay. I stood up, perplexed.
It’s the wrong one, I thought with a horrible jolt. I climbed up out of the grave, scrambling to get my shovel and before taking a look around at the tombstones. Had somebody taken it? Maybe somebody had seen me on that night. But then there would have to be some signs of a recently exhumed grave, and all of these seemed to be perfectly composed.
Dragging the shovel over to another grave, the wooden handle splintered my hand, causing it to bleed. The night was swift and perfumed with the aroma of sleep, so I took to another plot and dug into the earth, eventually reaching the next casket.
Another body. Again, human. I looked up into the night. Foreign constellations with names I’d long since forgotten hovered over me as though in judgement. Could I have forgotten where I buried the poor thing? Or did I proclaim it dead too early, and it was merely in a state of suspended animation? Perhaps somebody had recovered the poor creature.
I tried another grave. And then another. By the time I was on to my fifth grave, the night had performed its trickery and had started to ebb as the tyrannical light of day threatened to dethrone the darkness. A serpentine web of crimson light spiralled through the mountains. Piles upon piles of fragrant dirt littered the pine-covered grounds. And still there was no creature.
I could feel the impending sunrise, as the red light of the pre-dawn sky was accompanied by a flickering blue. Turning around, halfway through my sixth grave, two police officers, Angela, and a modest crowd were standing there, their bemused faces now illuminated by the crowning sun.
“Here!” I yelled over to them, stepping out of the shallow earth. “Officers…you’re going to have to look for me.” I let the shovel fall to the ground with a thud. “For the life of me I can’t find the poor thing.”
The officers moved toward me, while Angela stayed behind, her face aghast. “You’ll have to come with us, Tom,” an officer said.
“Good,” I replied, nodding, reeking of the earth and its inhabitants. “I really need a nap.”
Siobhan Lyons is a writer and media scholar, having earned her PhD in 2017. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Conversation, Meanjin, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, New Philosopher, and Philosophy Now, among others. Her publications can be found at https://mq.academia.edu/siobhanlyons