A shovel lays on my shoulder and with it, I believe I can find relief. I am walking beneath the clear night sky, alone. I’m always alone. Why am I talking to myself again? She says I should make note of how I feel when it happens. My therapist. I’m not sure why I feel like I have to explain the pronoun since there’s no one here but me. But there it is. And I feel like I’m being followed. Who the hell follows someone into a cemetery?
Yes I suppose that is what friends are for. But she says my uneasy grip on reality prevents me from making proper friends. Maybe I’m broken beyond repair. She does look at me like that sometimes. I have some kind of personality disorder. I can’t remember the words she used to describe or rather brand me. But if my personality is incorrect wouldn’t it feel wrong? She claims I create these separate personalities and she thinks it’s from talking to myself. But why would I create invisible friends that always abandon me? Creation can’t happen without some level of control, right? Maybe I can control it and I just don’t try hard enough.
I know you’re back there behind those bushes. Come out whenever you’d like. The way I talk to myself is not meant to frighten you. My therapist says I should make more of an effort to control it but I’m being myself. Is that so wrong? I can’t see you but I feel as if I know you from somewhere. I understand that you might not feel comfortable talking to the weird guy walking through this place in the middle of the night. But I swear, I know you. It’s like how a word or a phrase dances and mocks you from the tip of your tongue. It’s that soft, almost sweet kind of frustration. Yes it is a rather addictive sensation. I would introduce myself but it seems like a strange time and place for hollow introductions. I mean you’re hiding in the bushes and I’m standing over you with a shovel. I swear it’s not for anything like that. You probably don’t feel like telling me about the reasons behind your visit here but how about I tell you about the shovel? I think we both could use a friend tonight and I don’t mind sharing what I’m doing in this graveyard at this time of night. Well, morning but most consider this time to be night because they are sound asleep, trapped in whatever nightmare happened upon them. You know, I wish I hadn’t used that word because it is such a nasty word to describe memories. I mean that is what this is, a place to sit and revisit fond memories of lost loved ones. Graveyard is an unfortunate word that doesn’t do any of this justice.
Damn man I’m sorry I keep getting off target; it’s just you are so easy to talk to and you don’t say much so I feel like you’re enjoying what I am saying. To put it as simply as I know how to, I am here tonight to set a ghost free.
You’re a man attracted to mystery. I am too. I’d like it very much if you’d walk with me to my destination. Now that you’ve stepped out from behind the bushes I want to hear your voice. The question is can you be a friend to someone who is incredibly insatiable in most areas? I don’t expect you to answer that. Honestly, I’m trying to bait you.
Okay okay, back to the thing about the ghost; it isn’t exactly a ghost. I can’t believe in that sort of thing without seeing it first hand and I haven’t so I don’t. My favorite author passed away a couple of months back and before long, rumors began about the fate of his unpublished manuscript. The one he had been talking about for years, his so-called best work was rumored to never see the light of day. Once the rumor got stronger, his agent explained the whole situation. He wanted to be buried with it and I don’t understand why. Wouldn’t it be more effective to be cremated? Did he really believe no one would ever… do what I’m about to do? And yes I can admit it has been tough so far. I admire and respect this man a hell of a lot and tonight is fueled by a selfish urge that will carry me to the most disrespectful act I have ever committed.
It’s not like I don’t understand, I suppose she is right. My therapist. She says I am a peculiar kind of crazy and I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult. I think I baffle her which is fine; she can fall in line with all of the rest.
Let’s find a new hand hold here in this conversation, my friend. How do you feel about talking about the weather? Yeah I know it’s bland and entirely too typical but I think it will clear my mind. I mean I can’t clear the clouds that have rolled in and covered up the sparkling stars but I can reset and redirect the tone of this conversation. You know, I don’t ever remember walking this slow in my life. It is strange walking by these stones and seeing so many different names. How many of these people lay here, forgotten? Everyone should be remembered for something but it’s sad knowing that not everyone can be remembered forever. I find myself reading their names and nodding but it’s not like they can see me. I know what it is to be standing within reach but completely overlooked. I think you know what I’m talking about Aaron. Yes there it is! Your name is Aaron and I feel you here with me like the night air on my skin. I think it’s going to rain soon, that’s the sound I hear in the breeze as it moves against me. The weather is completely against me tonight and maybe I should take that as a sign. Maybe acknowledging all these possibilities will align things in my favor. Tell me Aaron, can you see the need in my eyes? The brain in my head and the heart in my chest will not agree tonight and I don’t blame them at all. I want your senses to see and agree with me. I don’t want you to leave abruptly like others like you have done before. I don’t want to get to my goal without a partner. I would say “in crime” but I don’t see this as a crime. I know it is but it doesn’t feel wrong. I believe that when knowledge and emotion come face to face in a struggle for control that it is a sign that cements the truth within the actions. I mean life isn’t a one way street, there’s no limits on direction. Traffic travels quickly on either side of the road. Does this seem like I’m trying to tell you that you’re playing in traffic? I hope not because I don’t want you to run to the sidelines. Please don’t go. I’m sure you will though because everyone does. I mean she did.
Yeah I know, there’s always a girl. But it’s not a typical kind of situation; I thought I was gay before she came running into my life. Literally, she came running and left just as fast. You know that park on the other side of town? Yes the one with those awful wooden benches. I love the view there. I used to sit there every single day — rain or shine — and sit silently as the world passes me by.
She came running into my life on an afternoon right after terrible storm. Which was why I went out to the park that day. I knew it was going to be quiet because of the rain. The sun came out as I was walking to the park. I remember the wet bench which added to the uncomfortable nature of it. But that park had proved to be a sanctuary, a place where I wouldn’t be hurt. I remember trying to relax with my head tilted back and how hearing her fast footsteps forced my eyes back to open. I remember watching her closely.
She jogged a few laps around the park and every time she went by the bench I was perched on, she flashed her nervous little smile. She doesn’t like showing her teeth which caught my eye because I am guilty of the same. As she came around again I knew I had to say something; it was a confusing sort of interest because at that point I really did want a guy in my life but there was something about her that I’d never come across in a girl before. She came around again and I worked up the will to say Hi as she went by. She smiled again but didn’t say anything then something strange happened. My legs began to move. I still don’t understand it because I despise running but on that day I ran after her. Which of course frightened her, honestly I would have been scared of me too. I began speaking, which is really difficult when you’re not in shape and trying to keep up with a beautifully fit woman so in place of sentences were fragments of coherent thoughts strung together with panting much like an old tired dog. It took an entire lap around the park to get my point across. I knew there was something when she said “One more lap okay?” as we approached the bench. You better believe that I plopped down hard on that dreadful thing. I mean watching her run was much more enjoyable. She wore her hair in this playful ponytail, I’d never been as focused on hair as I was that day. The way it moved along with her graceful rhythm was captivating and a strange sort of unsettling, though I wouldn’t pay attention to the latter until much later.
Aaron, my dear friend, this does pertain to the current goal and I’m trying to keep it short. There is a reason that sunset rhymes with regret and for me that reason is her. Carly. That day we sat on the awful bench and talked long past the last rays of sunlight fell out of view. Afternoon turned into night before my eyes, time moved quickly that day. It was more like a water slide than an hourglass. I told her about all the things that brought me to that bench, to her and she did the same. There was an instant spark, the kind of spark that starts a fast fire and burns and keeps burning until nothing is left. Before either of us realized, we were moving in together and it was great. It was really great but only while we were awake, because when we closed our eyes and slept it all took on a new shape.
After a week of living with her, I was terrified of sleeping. The things I saw in my dreams — the things I saw her do — were burned into my brain and I was frozen in place. I knew there was a reason I was gay, that I wanted to be gay. I learned as a young boy that women were not to be trusted. In my experience, they aren’t even worthy of my thoughts or feelings, let alone my eyes or touch. Then Carly came along and the way she was matched the Earth’s rotation; sweet in the sunshine and in the night she became a vicious creature who loved the warmth of blood. I had never put applied much weight to what I saw in my dreams but this was impossible to ignore. She treated people horribly in my dreams and I couldn’t get it out of my head so I tried to avoid sleeping. I hated seeing her that way but the problem is sleep deprivation leads to rage and the things I was seeing in my dreams resulted in rage as well. So whichever way I went, my eyes ran red with rage. I thought about going to see a therapist around this time but my fear got the better of me. I tried to bring it up to Carly but she was always so sweet that I couldn’t chance ruining her mood. I felt backed into a corner and then the news of Avery Gunn broke. I drank myself to sleep and the dreams I had will never be cleansed from my memory.
I remember the soft light humming along with the cool night breeze and the way it beckoned me. I walked to the street light and it went dark as I approached, the sound of broken glass above my head and beneath my feet. Further down the road another street light awakens and calls out to me. I ran toward it, despite my disdain and my fear of what could be just out of sight. The street played this game with me for what seemed like hours but my feet never tired. Neither did my fears. I stopped when I smelled it. His blood. Avery Gunn was laid out beneath another newly illuminated street light, his arms at his sides like resting wings. His wrists exposed and bleeding. How did this happen? Then she stepped out from the shadows, with her pointer finger over her lips and the bloodied knife in her right hand. My lover killed my hero. She didn’t have to motion me to remain quiet, there was nothing I could have said. The only words came from Avery, “Look to Law for help.”
My first thought was Carly’s law books. The ones that were scattered around our place. She had been going to law school before we met and she never really explained what made her give it up. But that wasn’t what Avery was talking about. I discovered what he meant soon after Carly left.
I don’t want to relive those feelings so let’s leave it by just saying I was in a dark place. Law introduced himself as Lawrence, then later said I could call him Law. He was a strong personality and really saved me from myself. I’m trying to remember what his voice sounds like but I can’t seem to find it in my head. I wonder what your voice sounds like. It’s like you are suspended, just out of reach. Which is the way I was with Carly and the way I feel towards Avery. It’s strange… Aaron look! The light of the moon has changed, it’s like a flashlight pointed on that grave. I think we are here.
What do I do now? Aaron, I’m scared. What is this dread that has washed over me? If you’re going to help me learn something, now is the time. I’m ready. Tell me what to do. Let me hear your voice Aaron.
“No! No Aaron I told you that you can’t. I need your help. What am I supposed to do?” I let the shovel fall from my hand and the clang rings through the open air. The sound seems to bounce off all the headstones that surround me. I am alone again. But how can I feel so alone here? There’s hundreds, no thousands of people here in this place but the distance is too much. I realize that I’m kneeling in front of Avery and I read his marker:
Avery S. Gunn March 9th 1951 – August 21st 2014
“There’s no real personality here and it’s a shame. How can we be remembered as people if our memorials are so impersonal? Avery, is it okay if I call you by your first name? I feel like we know each other but maybe I should call you Mr. Gunn, out of respect. Then again what I plan to do cancels out any respect I offer you in words.” A deep breath of the cool night air relaxes me but the dread still lingers. I feel as if I’m being watched. “Avery are you watching me? Or is it someone else?”
If Aaron was still here I would tell him that I’ve always felt like there was someone watching me everywhere I go — this feeling is nothing new. Abandonment amplifies it. I know my mind isn’t right but is anyone’s mind at 100%? I look down at the shovel and back at Avery.
“Avery I wish I could tell you —face to face— just how much you’ve helped me over the years. Your books always managed to find their way to me at the perfect times in my life, like when I was 16 and my mother told me how she truly felt about me. She blamed me for my father leaving and told me how the pills weren’t cutting it anymore. Your writing provided an escape, a new world, a better world. My mother killed herself when I was 19 and your art was there again when I needed it. You became the only person I could count on. Here I am seven years later and I need you again. I need that manuscript that you’re resting with. I don’t mean any harm, I really don’t.”
I pick the shovel up and another sound echoes through my ears. The shovel falls back to the ground. “Who is out there? Show yourself!”
A familiar voice whispers “Don’t.”
“I don’t know what you want or who you are but you can’t stop me. YOU CAN’T. Do you understand me?” I can feel the dread returning as the wind picks up and the moon seems to dim. I can’t see the shovel anymore. I can’t see Avery anymore.
“You know and you don’t know. We can show you.”
“THEN FUCKING SHOW ME. No games.” Before I can get the last syllable off of my tongue a dense fog rolls in with the wind. It feels like the wind is spiraling around me. I see four, no five shadows standing hidden within the fog. Could it be?
“Do not dig into something you don’t understand.” All five shadows speak at once like gang vocals on one of those hardcore punk songs my brother adores. I still don’t understand the appeal but now’s not the time.
“Aaron? Are you there?”
The shadows seem to close in around me and the one standing at 11 o’clock steps forward. “Yes Isaac, it’s me. Do you understand?”
“No I don’t fucking understand. What the hell am I supposed to understand? Five shadows. Yvonne?”
She steps out from the fog. The last in line, my 3 o’clock. “Hi there Isaac. Do you understand?”
“Lawrence? I’m surprised that you’re keeping your composure for this charade.”
Law laughs as he takes his step forward beside Yvonne. “Isaac my boy, this is no charade. Do you understand?”
“What am I supposed to understand? Are you all friends and you’ve been messing with me this whole time? Chris and Ralph go ahead. Let’s not play this anymore. Tell me what you’re trying to show me.” Chris is first in line, beside Aaron. Why are they standing around me like this?
They begin chanting again. “She never loved you Isaac. She never loved you. Do you understand?”
“No fucking way. Why do your names spell out her name? Tell me why right now.”
Aaron steps forward, he looks like he is trying to come closer and comfort me but Chris grabs his arm and shakes his head. “We have to maintain this alignment Aaron. Do not go to him.”
“Isaac, you’re not well. I don’t want you to worry because you were right when you said that no one is 100%. It’s okay to not be okay. We have been there for you when you needed us and we are here now to show you what you couldn’t see on your own. What would you have done if Law hadn’t come to you? Think about it for a minute.”
“What are you doing Aaron? We aren’t supposed to explain it all to him like this.”
“Lawrence you need to shut it. We all care about him, after all we are…” Before Aaron can finish Chris hits him back into the fog.
“Aaron stay back there, you’re done now. Isaac look at me, we are here to stop you from doing this. You won’t like what you find beneath the dirt. We are the relief you are searching for.”
“Aaron, if you can hear me I want to thank you. It was nice to finally hear your voice. Chris, clearly you’re the leader of this, whatever this is and I don’t know that I ever liked you at all. You’re like the part of me that scares me, the person I think I could be but I have too much respect for myself to be like you. So shut the fuck up and bring Aaron back. Actually all of you can go back to where you came from, I only want to talk to Aaron.”
“Maybe you’re smarter than we thought darling but we can’t go. Not yet. Once the sun rises you won’t be able to desecrate this grave because the caretaker will come as he always does.” Yvonne is the kind of girl that looks good and sounds good but she’s completely evil beneath all of the pleasantness. Your everyday common deceiver.
“You’re all idiots. We are here to keep him from digging up what he doesn’t deserve to dig up but you’re all talking his ear off.” Ralph finally spoke up, I was beginning to wonder and it’s almost like he is trying to wink at me. I always liked Ralph, he was different from the others. He was like the best friend I never had or perhaps more like a proper father figure.
I look down at the shovel as Chris and the others begin to argue about which approach with me is right. I focus on the shovel to fight off the urge to laugh at this feud happening before me. I wonder if they will be able to stop me from digging. They say they can but how? They never could touch me before so how could this be different?
I stand with the shovel and break ground. The dread hasn’t left but I’m feeling more curious than anything. What is it they don’t want me to find? They still haven’t noticed what I’m doing. The ground seems to shine and I look up to see that the moon has brightened again. Is this a warning or a blessing? Either way I have to keep digging. If my sense of time is accurate then it must be after 4am and the sun should rise around 6 so I don’t have a lot of time.
“ISAAC WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” A shovelful of dirt had landed close to Chris and now the four of them are focused on me again.
“Bring Aaron back and I’ll stop. He’s the only one I will talk to and I don’t believe there’s anything you can do to stop me.” Chris looks frustrated as he tries to find the right response.
“You know better than to tempt me boy.”
“Do your worst prick.”
I stop and stare at him, shovel at the ready but he just stares back at me. I look across their faces and they nod before looking back at Chris. Is it possible that I can touch them but they can’t touch me? What is this? Who are this people? And most importantly, why me? Fuck it, I swing the shovel and to my surprise and Chris’ he is sent backward into the fog. I continue digging as the gang vocals return:
“Do you understand? Isaac do you understand?”
“I don’t have time for this, okay? I’m going to dig this hole and get what I came here for. You can chant if you need to, I don’t care.”
“But Isaac what if there is no relief inside that box? Have you thought about that? Think back through your life, how many times have you been sure of something only to be reminded of your foolishness?” Lawrence has a point. The only thing that comes to mind is Carly. Just like my mother, she abandoned me when I needed her and just like Carly these five faces abandoned me when I needed them. Why have they returned now? They said they are trying to show me something but I have no idea what. If sunset rhymes with regret then what rhymes with sunrise? Demise?
I’m snapped out of the thought by the sound of the shovel meeting Avery’s casket. I look down at the casket and wonder: what if there is no manuscript? The fog and the faces begin to fade.
“Isaac, what if there is no manuscript within the box? What if this whole thing has been a fool’s errand?”
“How did you know I was thinking that? Get back here and explain all of this to me!” Another futile effort, they are gone and I’m alone in this hole that I dug.
“I suppose there’s only one thing I can do now. Avery I hope this wasn’t all for nothing. I won’t be able to handle it if it is.”
I toss the shovel out of the hole and pry the box open. My eyes are closed. I don’t want to see him in this state. My hands graze his arms and find the paper held in his hands.
“An envelope?” I pry it from his hands and climb out of the hole. “Avery what is this? YOU SAID THERE WAS A BOOK. WHERE IS IT?” My hands tremble as I break the seal and pull out the solitary page.
I write these words hoping someone out there has the tenacity required and if this finds a pair of eyes and an eager mind, THANK YOU. You must be my biggest fan, my truest fan, and you deserve much better than this. I am sorry for the deception of my death and the manuscript.
Since I am sure whoever is reading this is a fan and a special one, to say the least, I will be honest with you. These are the only words I’ve written in more years than I know how to count. That’s another lie. I know the number but I’m ashamed of myself for lying in interviews. All those things I said about ‘the manuscript’ were said with the hope I could inspire myself. When all I did was inspire my own ending.
Now I do know that there is a chance that these words will devastate and perhaps change your opinion of me. If you’re feeling that way I want to tell you that these words say one thing: You have more courage than I ever did.
I wish we could have met in better circumstances. I’m honored to know that my writing touched you in such a profound way that would drive you to do what you have just done. I realize that I have no right to ask anything of you now but I’m going to anyway. This note, my suicide note, is not meant for the world. It is meant for you, only you. Burn it, frame it, do whatever pleases you just please don’t share it with the world. I am, well I was, a weak man unworthy of the gifts bestowed upon me. I didn’t even want the world to know I killed myself, I’m ashamed of myself and everything I couldn’t do. I let myself down and I’m sure I’ve let you down too.
Dear reader, I wish I could have met you. I can’t stop thinking of someone sitting on a pile of dirt, that they dug up, reading this note and I wish I could know what sort of person you are. I can’t imagine myself digging up a grave. You must be a driven individual. Thank you for reading the words I’ve written over the years. Whoever you are I want you to know that I envy your strength and perseverance.
P.S. I know that inspiration is all around us, every minute of every day and I hope you’re able to find it and grab it. I lost that ability long ago. Maybe it has transferred to you.
The moon has faded along with the dark of night and the first light of a new day is showing, it is reflecting off of the metal that connects the head of the shovel to the handle. I stand up facing the light and I can’t hold back the quiet laughter.
“A key. I understand now it was never a shovel, it was always a key.”
* * * * *
The caretaker turns the engine of his pickup truck off and rests his sunglasses on the dash. The sun is resting behind the clouds, “It is a going to be another nice day.” He mutters to himself as he grabs the book from the passenger side of the bench seat. He adores his beaten and bruised 1989 F-150. Many would assume he is depressed but he loves his job. This stretch of land and all the people who are resting here depend on him.
The caretaker walks into the little building that is his office, well most people would assume it is but he doesn’t see it that way. His office is this whole park and he loves being around all the history that rests here. He tosses his lunch bag into the fridge and sets out with the book in hand to the resting place of his old friend Avery Gunn.
“Hmm, well it looks like you were right after all. I hope whoever came here last night found something that helps them. I don’t know what you were buried with though I do know it wasn’t a manuscript. Don’t you worry Avery, I’ve never made a promise I couldn’t keep.”
After filling in the hole, he sits down in front of the head stone and opens the book. “Now where did we leave off? I wonder if it is weird being read your own work and yes I know I should start using a bookmark. It is a smart thing to do but you know me.” He laughs and for a moment it is just like old times with his friend.