“Graveyard Carnival” – a ghost story for Halloween!

Halloween is perhaps my favorite holiday, and it’s right around the corner. The leaves are falling, I see pumpkins and ghoulish decorations during my nightly walks, and there’s a chill in the air.

I thought I would publish in full “Graveyard Carnival,” a short story of mine that appeared in Bewildering Stories last year. I’ve provided the link to the story on the blog before, but why not just post the whole thing?

Around the time I wrote the story, I was reading a collection of the complete H.P. Lovecraft tales, as well as an archaic free online book by the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.

“Graveyard Carnival” is my tongue-in-cheek ode to Halloween, Lovecraft, Poe, and all things weird. I plan to publish this as a free Kindle Ebook, too, sometime in the near future.

Here’s the story … Enjoy!

Cover illustration by Michael Pipitone.

Clark enjoyed taking his daily runs through the cemetery. He’d always been a fan of Gothic fiction, and every year on Halloween, he celebrated to the hilt, decorating his apartment with carved pumpkins and other knick-knacks from the dollar store and, inevitably, watching a marathon of horror movies.

On this clear October night, the full moon shone brightly over the quiet cemetery, and some of the large headstones gleamed in the light. Listening to classical music, he came up the hill on the dirt path lined with trees.

At the top of the hill, he could see a figure emerging from the shadows. Unusual, he thought. At this time of night, the cemetery was deserted, just him running along the paths. It was dark, and he approached the figure.

It was a man in shabby clothes, covered in dirt. A stub of a cigar jutted from the corner of his mouth. He was lanky, his face weather-beaten and he wore an old-fashioned Jeff cap, looking like a Depression-era hobo. Clark stopped, and saw that a grave had been partially unearthed.

“Hello, there,” the man said.

Clark wasn’t frightened for some odd reason. It all seemed perfectly natural.

“Hello,” he replied.

“I’ve come back. What year is it?”

“It’s 2018. You’re not a … grave robber?”

The man looked at the unearthed grave, the piles of soil disturbed. “Oh, no. That’s my grave. I have to get out and stretch every so often.”

All perfectly natural, Clark thought. “I see. Would you like to walk with me?”

“Sure. My name is Scott. Scott Kenney.” He rubbed off some dirt from his gray shirt.

“Pleased to meet you, Scott. I’m Clark.”

They walked through the cemetery chatting, and Clark updated the man of current events. Scott didn’t know the war against the Germans was over and he was amazed to hear the country was now one of the United States’ allies. He told Clark he’d died in a roofing accident some years back, falling about thirty feet from a residential building. The man removed his Jeff cap to reveal the blunt-force trauma to his head, which made its left side misshapen.

“I’ve quite enjoyed our conversation,” Scott said.

“Me, too. Can we meet again soon?”

“I’d like that. I’m not out every night, but most nights.”

“Perfect.”

Clark helped him back into the coffin, closing it tightly as they said their goodbyes. He picked up the shovel nearby and packed the dirt over the coffin as best as he could. It took him about thirty minutes, and it was good exercise. A cool breeze blew through, swaying the tree boughs and a wind chime in the distance. Clark felt utterly at peace and revived by the pleasant conversation with the dead man, and he told himself he’d return tomorrow night.

***********

Photo of Sleepy Hollow cemetery by Rachel Forth.

The next morning, Clark had a stimulating conversation with Professor Maggard, the old, white-haired psychology expert who was researching a paper on Carl Jung’s experiments with dream visions and hallucinations. It was a gorgeous autumn day and the two sat on a bench near the library, sipping coffee. Clark was still energized from the night before, and he had written about his cemetery run in his journal.

“Yes, Jung has written extensively about visions of the dead,” Maggard said, the loose skin under his chin flapping. “I’ve been researching a few interesting cases of patients he observed, nervous types, who experienced such visions. Most of them were of relatives.”

“Very interesting. Were the visions a symptom of some larger neuroses?”

“Well, yes, of course. Schizophrenia, mostly.”

Clark didn’t seem to be disturbed by this answer. He felt in complete control of his mental faculties.

“Why the sudden interest?” Maggard asked. “You’re a religious scholar. Does this intersect in some way?”

“Oh, yes. I’m writing a book about the Old Testament prophets. Many of them had such visions,” Clark lied.

This was enough to quell suspicion. Maggard still gazed at him a bit too long, his eyebrows arched. Later that night, Clark read online about Jung’s studies of visions, and took handwritten notes in his journal.

The forecast called for thunderstorms, but Clark couldn’t bear to stay home. Around nine o’clock, he put on his navy-blue rain jacket and his boots and trod out into the storm. The rain was light at first but picked up quickly. He made it to the cemetery and was alarmed to see the rusty gates were padlocked.

He would not be denied, though.

Checking around, he climbed the stone wall and tumbled into the mud on the other side. Buckets of rain fell from the sky. The cemetery was deserted, so it seemed, and he walked among the headstones searching for life. His search was fruitless at first; nothing seemed to stir except the howling wind and driving rain.

“You there!” a voice called, sounding annoyed.

Clark turned and saw a ruddy Irishman dressed in a tuxedo, which was, to Clark’s excitement, covered in mud.

“Hello!” Clark exclaimed, a bit too loudly. “Who might you be?”

“Sir Donovan Boyle. And you, my friend, are trespassing.”

“Excuse me?”

The dumpy man adjusted his gold-framed spectacles. “I’ve been informed of your visit last night and, in no uncertain terms, I must forbid you from re-entry.”

“Have you also risen from the grave?”

“Why, yes man! Why do you think my attire is so sodden?” The man, Sir Donovan, seemed irritated. His fists were clenched, and he moved within inches of Clark’s face.

“This is a place for rest. Your visits have the potential for disturbance. This area is sacred.”

Clark was crestfallen – he’d been so much looking forward to discussions with the dead again.

“No offense,” he began, “but how am I disturbing anything? Last night I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Scott. He seemed utterly happy to talk with me.”

Sir Donovan’s eyes narrowed. “There is to be no communication between the living and the dead. That’s the deal. Most nights, we rise, we get out and stretch our tired bones, but that is all.” He poked Clark in the chest. “You, on the other hand, with your nosiness, have the potential to draw … shall I say, attention to us. What if the living authorities are notified? It would be a scandal!”

The Irishman did make some sense to Clark. Still, he couldn’t bear to think of giving up the visits. It was either that, or return to his lonely apartment with his cat, Edgar, and watch Netflix, or read books.

“Maybe we can come to a compromise?” Clark asked.

“There will be no such thing. You are hereby banished from this cemetery after the hour of midnight. If I see you walking these hills again, I will have no choice but to take more extreme measures.”

He wondered what those might be – and if he was willing to risk it.

“Good night, sir,” Sir Donovan said, turning his back and vanishing into the darkness.

The rain continued its steady fall, and Clark obeyed the orders and left the cemetery at once. In his mind, though, he began to scheme of ways he could continue his twilight visits. How bad could the consequences be?

Photo of Sleepy Hollow cemetery by Rachel Forth.

*******

Around this time, the insomnia began to creep in. For a whole week, Clark only managed to sleep a few hours here and there, and he paced his small apartment, feeling like a caged animal. The cemetery called him.

He continued his research into dreams and visions, meeting with Professor Maggard to ask inconspicuous questions to dig deeper into the meaning of his communication with the non-living. Maggard appeared worried, seeing the dark circles around Clark’s eyes and the shaking hands from too much caffeine. Still, the old professor said nothing, and he answered Clark’s questions satisfactorily.

In the dead of night, Clark took copious notes of his research, Edgar nestled by his feet under his desk. It became an obsession, and he drew closer to a fire that seemed ready to burn him. He would not stop.

One night, the urgings were too great – he had to leave. At two o’clock in the morning, he put on his running shoes and headed for the cemetery. The gate was padlocked again, so he climbed over the masonry wall. The fields were quiet, and he wandered around looking for a soul to speak with. He felt incredibly tired, like he could lay down beside a gravestone and sleep for days.

After about fifteen minutes, he sat down. Maybe Maggard was right and the visions were just that – hallucinations with no basis in reality, a gift that had been taken from him and was never to appear again. But then he heard a stirring a few feet away, and he gazed toward a grave that seemed to be disturbed. Suddenly, all the graves around them had life, glorious life teeming from under the Earth.

Pale hands and arms poked from the soil, and then heads emerged, pulling their way out. Clark began helping the dead, tugging at the arms to retrieve them from the graves. He felt like a little boy on Christmas morning, unwrapping presents.

Dead souls of all kinds began to stretch out and mingle. There was an old woman, with very few teeth left, wearing a dress caked with mud. Then there was a young boy, no older than nine, thin as a rail, who skipped past him. The dead men, women and children all rose and spoke, creating a symphony of voices, and Clark was in a state of pure bliss.

“You there!” a voice called.

It was none other than Sir Donovan, clambering toward him.

“Now you’ve really done it.” The ruddy man stomped his feet in the dirt. “Look at this! A carnival of dead souls. You, my friend, are the cause of this. You have awakened the spirits!”

Clark was speechless, embarrassed. His first instinct was to run, but the dead souls grabbed him. Cold hands snatched at his t-shirt, his shorts and bare legs, even his hair. They converged upon him, knocking him to the soft, warm grass and then lifting him up over their heads, carrying him, to where? Sir Donovan led the charge. There were so many faces. He was lost in the sea of them.

The procession quickly turned into a marching band, and he could see the dead playing trumpets and banging drums and making dreadful music as they carried him further. But where were they taking him? He tried to break free, but their grip was tight. They smelled of damp Earth and rotting flesh, their fingers cold and clammy.

In the near distance, he could finally see the destination. A group of the dead dug a hole near a tombstone under the moonless sky, working furiously. They drew closer, and Clark saw, to his terror, that it was his name on the grave.

“Mr. Clark Bruner,” Sir Donovan said, theatrically. “You’ve wanted so long to mingle with us. Now, you will join us.”

The dead men and women dropped him into the hole, six feet under the Earth, and Clark thumped at the bottom, the wind knocked out of him. They shoveled dirt into his face, his chest, and he tried to climb his way out, but they pushed him back down.

“This is insanity!” he exclaimed. “Let me go!”

He noticed the man he’d seen on the first night, Scott Kenney, with a shovel in tow and the same cigar stub jutting from the corner of his mouth. The dead man smirked and winked at him, and he threw a pile of dirt onto Clark’s face.

The music echoed into the night. The dirt eventually covered Clark. He squirmed under the weight of it, hoping this was all a hallucination like Professor Maggard suggested, but the dirt tasted real, it felt real, and before he knew it, he was buried alive.

He sprung from his bed and scared Edgar, who jumped to the floor. The clock read 9 p.m., but he had no recollection of falling asleep. He only had a vague sense of a night terror, something that scared him enough to jolt him from sleep.

The classical music on his radio was playing faintly, and he shook off the covers and went to the bathroom. It was then he noticed he was covered in dirt; it was caked in strings of his hair, clumps on his forearms, it was everywhere. Where had it come from?

“It should be a beautiful, clear October night,” the radio DJ said soothingly.

It bothered Clark: He had the sense something had happened, but he didn’t know what. Near his laptop, he saw the sheets of notes on dreams, visions and hallucinations, but he didn’t remember taking them. He saw the book from Carl Jung. None of it rang a bell.

He didn’t know what to do, so he took a hot shower and scrubbed off the dirt. He changed his bed clothes. Then he decided to go out for a late-night run, hoping that it would clear his mind and maybe jar some memories loose.

Clark enjoyed taking his daily runs through the cemetery …

The End

Photo of Sleepy Hollow cemetery by Rachel Forth.

Bewildering Stories (BwS), where this story was originally published, does something fun called a “Challenge” for most of the stories it runs in its weekly web magazine. The Challenge is a set of questions about the stories. Here are the “Challenge Questions” for “Graveyard Carnival”:

In Nick Pipitone’s Graveyard Carnival:

  1. Do Prof. Maggard and Carl Jung affect Clark’s thinking in any way, or are they merely a distraction?
  2. Does the story overstep BwS’ “Dream Stories” guideline?

This story was originally published in Issue 783 of BwS. Please check out the website and support them – they are excellent!

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