Far Down the Hill
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
The summer he was twelve, Seaton Knox had been visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was down in the far pasture to see the cows when a sudden thunderstorm blew up. He didn’t go back to the house the way he should have. He liked storms.
When the rain became so intense it hurt his skin, he took refuge under a huge oak tree growing along the fence row. Lightning struck the tree and split it in two. Half of the tree fell one way and the other half fell the other way.
Seaton didn’t see the lightning. When the tree split, he heard a tremendous cracking sound, but he didn’t know what it was. If he had known the tree was coming apart, he might have been able to get out of the way. One-half the tree came down upon him.
Nobody found him for six hours. It was almost dark when the people back at the house wondered why they hadn’t seen him for so long. His grandfather and his uncle went out looking for him and found him in the far pasture, underneath the fallen tree. They rushed into town to the hospital, but there was nothing to do; he was already one with the ages.
In the midst of life we are in death, they said, but it didn’t help. People who knew Seat0n Knox were terribly saddened by his unexpected death. Hundreds of people attended his funeral. The city was awash in tears.
Sparing no expense, his parents bought him a grave in the best cemetery in the city. It was a garden cemetery, known for its beauty, its statuary and its lush greenery. It boasted the remains of war heroes, celebrated writers, well-known musicians and politicians. And now it boasted the remains of Seaton Knox.
Lovely as Seaton’s grave was, it was in a very crowded part of the cemetery. It had other graves all around it on all sides. Someone’s feet touched the top of his head, while his own feet touched the top of someone else’s head—a person he didn’t know and didn’t care to know. If it had been up to him, he would have had acres and acres to himself, where he could stretch out without ever feeling another person nearby.
In the beginning, his family kept flowers on his grave almost all the time, to show how much he was loved and missed. There was flowers for Christmas, birthday, Decoration Day, a patriotic spray for the Fourth of July, and any other special occasion that presented itself, such as National Biscuit Day and Dominion Day.
But then, inexplicably, the flowers stopped. The little attentions to his grave stopped. There were no more trimming of the margins; no more pulling of extraneous weeds. He wondered what happened to his family. Why did they seem to just forget about him? Didn’t they miss him anymore? Didn’t they feel sorry that he was dead? Had they forgotten that he ever existed?
He became lonely, believing that nobody cared about him anymore. Why had his mother stopped visiting his grave, bringing flowers? Was she dead herself? Wouldn’t he have heard?
He began talking more to other spirits. Most of the other spirits had been dead longer than he had, so he didn’t have much in common with any of them. They wanted to talk about what the world was like when they were alive. They loved talking about wars they had fought in and things that happened to them long ago. He found their conversation singularly uninteresting. They were just weren’t good company.
One day, though, he heard some news that captured his attention. A lot of the graves were going to be moved to make way for a highway extension. Nobody knew yet which graves would be moved or when, but still it was disconcerting news. A grave should be permanent. A grave should never be moved. Graves are more important than highways. Doesn’t everybody know that?
The rumor, if rumor it was, turned out to be true. An army of workmen came and systematically dug up Seaton’s grave and hundreds of others, making a wide swath all the way through the cemetery. None of the spirits were happy about it, but what can a spirit do? No matter how much a spirit complains, nobody listens.
The old graves were moved to the new part of the cemetery, which had recently been cleared. It was a in a flat place without any of the Old World charm the cemetery was known for. The worst part was that it was perpetually soggy. No spirit likes lying in a wet grave.
Seaton tried to give the new location the old college try, but after a few nights of reposing in a puddle, he decided he was pulling out. It wasn’t conventional, but he would be unconventional and find a different location, a dry one. Didn’t he deserve at least that?
In the rich people’s part of the cemetery were some elaborate family mausoleums that looked like little chapels. They had been built at great expense by the wealthiest families in the city, serving as the final resting place for each new generation. They were private and exclusive. They were only for family.
Seaton shyly approached the most elaborate of the family mausoleums. Having been a spirit for so long, he knew how to get into a place where he didn’t belong. He insinuated himself and, in the politest of ways, pretended to belong.
There was an old man, the grandfather, who built the mausoleum, his wife, his sons and daughters, their sons and daughters and even a couple of family pets. It was a large and growing family, growing in the sense that somebody was always dying and joining the group. Seaton pretended to belong and it was easy for him. He met each family member in turn, and they were all welcoming and loving. Nobody asked him who he was or how he came to be there. Nobody asked to see his credentials. They were his family and he belonged. The only thing was they called him Frederick. He really didn’t mind. After a while he began to think of himself as Frederick. My name is Frederick. I’m so happy to see you again.
Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp