A disturbing story of betrayal, regret, and love.
|If these graves could talk, what a story they'd tell.
The town of Craven, Massachusetts was founded in 1638. That's a long time ago. The oldest tombstone is from 1652. It's more like a glorified rock, actually. I'm not even sure they carved anything into it, though they say Sam, this Indian thief out of local legend, is sleeping under it.
When I was a kid Dad took me to the cemetery. He used to say the place was full of ghosts. Never come to a sacred burial ground at night, he said. He was full of shit. He saw demons in every shadow.
There are ghosts, he said, because not everyone buried here died well. Take Sam the Indian.
January 4, 1652. I steal from the church. Four cold days, four freezing nights I run. The white men catch me, and hang me from a tree. They bury me in unsacred ground.
I must have been eight or nine years old. Dad led me by the hand to the war memorials. The men of Craven have fought in every American war there was to fight, he had said. Here. That's the grave of Nathaniel Harker. He fought the British. I looked with eight-year-old eyes. The stone was black, squat and beaten.
17th of June, 1775. Thrice the British charged up Breed's Hill. The third charge broke our ranks, and as I, drenched with fear, loaded my musket, a lobsterback bayonet skewered my guts to a redoubt.
God bless America. Soon after was Patrick Munford Calamy. A true American hero if ever there was one. A Craven hero. Union Jacks with thirty-four stars flanked the relatively modest white marker. He died in combat too.
May 2nd, 1863. We didn't expect an attack, but as we cooked supper Jackson's whole army came over the ridge, hollering and yelling and firing. We fled to the treeline but a rebel ball bit my shoulder... I told the others to go on, and I stayed behind, appropriated a fallen officer's arms, and fired at the oncoming enemy through the smoke. Another ball got me right between the eyes. They called me a hero... all I did was get shot.
Then Dad got all sullen. We were at the grave of Doris King. He himself remembered the murders. The darkest day of Craven's history.
Halloween, 1976. Bill took the kids trick or treating and Mike drove over for a quickie. We were smoking cigarettes after when Bill came home early; our youngest skinned his knee and needed a band-aid. Bill blew us both away with the shotgun... The one I kept telling him to get rid of. The kids were watching. The last thing that went through my mind was, "What the hell just happened?"
Dad went to school with eldest King boy. It was horrible, he said.
He loved the history and the superstition of the Craven South Cemetery. He was proud of it, as if it were his accomplishment that he should live nearby.
Naturally he had asked to be buried there, but the police never found the body. We had made sure of that.
Nonetheless, a memorial stone was erected and a service held. At the funeral I found myself staring at the old graves. My rumpled black suit hung loosely and awkwardly. The wind blew my hair in my face, stinging my eyes. I was dimly aware of the dead leaves falling around me, and the solemn procession of black marching by. They must have thought I was in grief... In truth, I was ashamed for my lack of it.
Sylvia's hand clasped around mine. I recognized it instantly. Electricity shot through my body when she touched me. We were born brother and sister; but in time we had developed a stronger bond than family.
"How are you?" she asked.
I turned to face her. God, she was beautiful. Long dirty blonde hair, soft lips, huge grey eyes. I had no verbal answer. There was nothing to say. I simply stared. She nodded and led me over to where the priest spoke.
My hand was trembling. She held it so tightly it hurt.
"The Lord bless thee and keep thee..."
I was getting an erection, and it was pressing against the soft cotton of my underwear.
"The Lord causes light to shine on thee..."
I had sinned. Oh, God, I had done wrong. I needed to get out. Every muscle in my body yearned for escape. I throbbed. But I love you, Sylvia, I can't help it.
"The Lord lifts up his countenance upon thee, and gives thee peace. Amen."
We left. I could think of nothing else to do but take my Sylvia to bed. I took my own sister to bed and made love to her, and not for the first time, nor the second, nor the hundredth. There was nothing else.
We had no mother. Dad was always at work. Sylvia and I began to experiment when we were prepubescent. But even then, something told me it was wrong. After a few such dangerous liasons, we stopped showering together.
Puberty brought all manner of changes in our bodies, and soon we came back to each other. It was a strict secret, but it never ended. Even when, as we lay spent and soaked next to each other on the floor, guilt would float by like a phantom and prod at our consciences. We tried dating others. It didn't work.
At college I couldn't function without her. I flunked out and came back home to start writing. I wrote about a guy who falls in love with his cousin. I figured it would be too morally wretched to have it be his sister.
Dad started drinking again. He didn't want me to be a writer. No money in that, he said. He had such high hopes for me, he bet everything on me, and for what?
Dad saw demons in every shadow. After a month, we both knew he was beginning to suspect some vague outline of a conspiracy, some secret of mine and Sylvia's, and the vodka fueled these fires.
But there was no conspiracy to it. It just happened.
Dad went for a walk that day in September. Sylvia and I were alone. We found each other. Our movements are one and the same, our blood hot for our own blood. We did it on the living room sofa.
Dad hadn't gone for a walk. He was hiding outside and now he burst back into the house. He didn't understand. He was howling bloody murder.
"Sick!" he kept yelling. "Fucking sick!"
I was covered by waves of humiliation. I thought of Doris King.
"You bitch! You freak!"
He had Sylvia by the throat. I ran into the kitchen, hardly thinking. I grabbed the knife. I dashed back. Her face was red. I think I just meant to scare him, but he was getting ready to really kill her. Sylvia's eyes met mine for one instant.
Help me, she said without words.
I hefted the blade high and stabbed my father in the back.
The blow was half-hearted and the angle was wrong, but the pain still made him scream like a banshee and drop my Sylvia. His shirt was torn open and blood welled up from cleanly torn tissue.
I must have dropped the knife, because before I had time to think Dad's rough fingers were wrapped around my neck. My back slammed against the floor. His eyes were cold. They were my eyes. He was snarling things, but I couldn't hear. I couldn't breathe.
Then the eyes went wide and hot blood rained on my face. It ran down into my mouth and tasted like metal, tasted like something no person had any business swallowing. I pushed against him and he slumped lifeless to the side.
My sister held the knife, red and shining. She had cut his throat ear-to-ear. We buried him in the red clay basement. I sobbed, my tears flowing without measure. I cried until my eyes hurt. Sylvia hardly made a sound. We burned our clothes and the rugs. Sylvia thought we should say a prayer. I wasn't up to it. She said, "There's nothing else."
I was moving up and down on top of her. She was moaning. "I love you," she said.
"I love you." I kissed her, and came. I felt nothing. It was wonderful.
September 28th, 2009. The last circle of hell waits for traitors. I take comfort in that...