The Gravekeeper’s House
By Christian Horst
Let me tell you a tale, something that happened to me one night, many years ago. You may not believe it is true. Even to me it seems like a dream, yet it has haunted me ever since. I remember every detail, as if the event has printed itself on my mind. Here is my story:
I was on my way home from my mother’s house in southern Wisconsin. It was late, but I was quite comfortable driving in the dark. I lived in the countryside near Peoria, Illinois, and the trip would typically take four hours.
I was taking country highways to avoid traffic and cities—I have a slight fear of other drivers. Along with several other fears, it kicks in with my insomnia, which had recently been plaguing me, and it was strong enough to cause me to sacrifice time for it.
Ahead of me, I saw a thunder head building up. I was confused and slightly alarmed, because the weather forecast had predicted clear skies all day and through the night. Storms are another of my phobias. As this one grew nearer, I could see streaks underneath the clouds, a sure sign of rain. I grew more and more anxious as the storm drew closer at an alarming rate. It stretched from horizon to horizon.
I was finally so disturbed, that I pulled into a gravel driveway of a small white house with the intent of asking the owners where the nearest town with a hotel was; I shuddered at the thought of driving through a severe storm the rest of the way home. As I stepped out of my car and walked toward the door, the air was completely still, and felt as if it were full of energy that would explode if it were disturbed by even so much as my breathing. Behind the house, I noticed grave stones marking the places where bygone souls rested in their homes of earth.
I rang the doorbell and waited, bouncing on the balls of my feet. I looked up, with tension in my nerves, at the sky, which by now was half black, the sun long since hidden. I knew the downpour could begin any time and I momentarily wondered, with a hint of panic, if no one was home. My fear, this time, was misguided though, as the door was opened by an old man, bald and a little bent at the shoulders, but kindly-looking.
“Hello young man,” he said to me. Then, taking one glance at the sky, he became animated, gesturing every which way with his hands, saying, “Come in, come in! We cannot have you standing in the rain. A monster of a storm coming. Feel welcome to wait it out inside my house.” He led me inside. “Tell me, what is your name, lad?”
“Manuel Rodriguez,” I told him.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Manuel. I am Arthur Kleineman. They used to call me Arty. I am the caretaker of the graveyard. Welcome to my home.”
Something frightening stirred in me when he said he was the gravekeeper, but it was assuaged when I saw the crucifix on a desk near the back wall—I am very religious, you see, and so I took the man’s crucifix as a sign that he was a Brother of mine. It looked like the paint had run, but that may have been intentional to give the effect of blood that had run from the saint who had been taken down from there.
“Tell me about yourself,” Arty said. I told him of my wife and two children.
Presently, a million drumsticks began tapping on the roof, signifying the arrival of the deluge. We continued to make small talk. Hours passed, and Arty made a meal of ground beef and salad. When ten o’clock rolled around and the rain had not slowed, Arty offered to let me stay the night, and prepared his guest bed for me.
I lay there for hours, but sleep would not come. My insomnia was back, and I began to get anxious. I do not know how much time passed; it must have been four or five in the morning when I got up. Putting my shoes on, I left the room. The rain had still not let up.
As I entered the dining room, I was surprised to see Arty up. He was standing with his back to me, running his hand over the crucifix and whispering words I could not hear. At the moment, I thought he was praying. Then he noticed me, and there was a flash of emotion on his face that he quickly smoothed out to a smile. But I had unmistakably seen what he was hiding: anger.
He must have seen the spooked look on my face, so he allowed his features to change. His eyes narrowed and his smile grew thinner. “Good morning Manuel,” he said.
My heart stopped and my vision dimmed in a spinning purple tunnel. The crucifix on the desk seemed to grow until it was a full-sized cross, and now I could see that what I first took to be running paint were actually dried streaks of blood running from empty holes. Arty grinned at me, the edges of his mouth rising far above what is natural, exposing pointed fangs. The corners of his eyes pulled back, disfiguring his eyeballs, which began to glow a hypnotizing red, as he said “Welcome to your doom.”
I screamed as he reached for me with foot-long talons, and I turned toward the door outside. Although it was a mile away, I gave a giant leap through it into the rain.
I don’t know why I survived that night; perhaps I never will. Maybe it was the hand of God, or maybe my insomnia prevented Arty from fully casting his spell. Perhaps it was a combination of both. Since then, my insomnia has gotten progressively worse, and whenever I do fall asleep I dream of that night, and always wake drenched in my own sweat. Sometimes it is mixed with blood.
I found myself outside. There was no rain. Dark clouds still blanketed the sky, and a narrow band on the horizon before me showed orange. I turned around, not comprehending what I saw. The graveyard was there, but there was no house. Immediately behind me was a gravestone. I stared, paralyzed, at it for a long time. The inscription read, “Manuel Rodriguez.”