My supervisor was quick to inform me that I wasn’t very good at my job and that I needed to do better if I wanted to stay gainfully employed. Naturally, I tried to explain my position but they didn’t listen. No superior does. They think they know all the specifics of the job but who’d be surprised if they’d forgotten the last time they’d held a broom in their hands? But, as it turned out, this wasn’t the main source of my trouble. No, that was mostly down to the troublesome ‘natives’—or, should I say, their troublesome nature.
No matter how much I talked to them, most of my wards would not behave and sleep in their graves like decent, well adjusted ghosts whenever I tried to clear up their never-ending mess. They preferred to wander about like lost echoes looking for the things of the past, and scattering around stuff like bloodstained handkerchiefs, bits of rope and chains, and—worst of all—half-empty coffee cups. The most annoying thing about it all was that when one of the ghosts even bothered to use a trash bin, the trash would immediately fall through onto the ground. And, of course, I was unable to take said trash away because the fucking stuff would only slip through my fingers like a politician’s promise. Try explaining that to a supervisor!
I also hadn’t realised before now that there was an inordinate number of child graves in the cemetery. With ever increasing frequency I was finding other trash like translucent pacifiers that had been dropped on granite slabs and cute bucket-and-spade sets near freshly dug graves. Not to mention the scrunched up candy wrappers and rotten apple cores. Who knew there could be so much ghostly crap lying about in a cemetery?
Anyway, I decided to find these young slovens and have a serious conversation about antilitter regulations on cemetery grounds. I’d given up on trying to persuade the adults but held out hope that the kids could still be taught. None of this was covered in my job contract but I didn’t want to be unemployed—it’s not so easy to get work when you’re on parole.
So, one night at the stroke of twelve, I waited in ambush with a pair of infrared binoculars—or ‘bird glasses’ as my late uncle would have called them—and some animal crackers. I was crunching into an especially salty giraffe when over near the mausoleum—the one that allegedly contains the body of Elvis Presley—a string of footprints began to appear in the dirt. These were baby sized, and seemed to be originating from an unremarkable grave there.
Upon closer inspection, what stood out about this grave was that it had only a registration number, an estimated date of burial, and a rather large barcode. I was mentally kicking myself for not being more prepared when i remembered that one does not simply carry a barcode scanner with them anywhere they go. Perhaps I needed to stop being so hard on myself.
The footprints trailed off near another grave with an old cracked gravestone made from white marble. The epitaph on it had been nearly completely erased by time. Presumably there rested a two year old girl by the name of Lily or Lucy—I couldn’t rightly tell. The footprints began again, swirling around this grave a little bit, then stomping and skipping as if in excitement. In just a few minutes, two strings of tiny footprints were running away from the grave.
These two sets of footprints skipped their way through a neatly trimmed hedge as if it wasn’t there, then splished through an ornate water feature before circling another grave bearing a strange symbol. The symbol was a solitary tear drop but this was not the most interesting thing about the grave. When I crawled a little closer to it, I swear I could hear whispering.
I looked around. Nope. No one here. Just me, the eerie footprints and the whispering. It sounded like two small girls discussing something. One was suggesting that they use the grave stone like a slippery slide. The other was convinced that it would be better utilised as a trampoline. How a hard slab could ever be thought of as trampoline material I’d never know.
And then an angry, shaggy head popped up out of the grave. It grumpily tried to shoo away the whispering girls—who I still wasn’t able to see. Now, if I was hearing correctly, the owner of the grave grumbled that other’s graves weren’t a playground and that it’d go better for the girls if they spent their time at the crematorium thinking about matters of life and death. Or reading catechisms in the cemetery chapel. In short, fuck off somewhere else and get busy being proper decent adult bloody spirits!
I sighed. For some reason I felt pity for the girls. They were only being proper rambunctious little tykes. That’s what children do whether they be alive or dead or somewhere in between. I recalled my own dreary childhood and the many hours spent in the company of dull books and duller adult conversations, all while my peers scraped their knees falling off the neighbourhood fences. I was so unlucky!
No, I definitely had to do something. The shaggy grump was now spraying some indignant tot about how spirit children should not be seen or heard. In fact, he’d prefer if they would kindly go back to laying in their graves all day and all night, saying and doing absolutely nothing anywhere any time ever. My nose wrinkled in disgust. That was no kind of afterlife for anyone, let alone spirit children!
I walked back to my cold hovel on the cemetery fringe, deep in thought. My mind was abuzz. I was thinking about those small ghost girls. They were only children after all, though their corpses had decayed in the soil many years ago. It didn’t mean that they weren’t deserving of some fun.
I tossed and turned in my bed for the rest of the night. The reason wasn’t otherworldly howls or an abundance of salty crackers knotting up my gut—and, as a result, the gallons of soda it took to tame my thirst. No. I’d decided that I wasn’t going to preach at those poor kids to behave themselves after all. I was determined to help them out. Perhaps if they were given an opportunity to properly play on a proper playground, they might no longer scatter trash in other parts of the cemetery. The logistics of how I could make this happen came to me in the early hours of a rather cold and sombre morning.
The sky was a brooding, steel grey, as if showing its disapproval of what was taking place at ground level. I rummaged inside the rickety old shed behind my hovel until I found most of what I needed—and whatever I couldn’t scrounge up I’d just have to improvise my way around. Hammer, nails. Saw, wood. I even decided I’d use the roof of the shed for the main centrepiece of my idea.
I’d never built something like a children’s playground before. Hell, I’d never built anything more significant than a shit pyramid in my chamber pot! Nevertheless, I did my best. I used a pair of old pants as a slippery slide and stretched a dirty canopy canvas over a makeshift frame for a trampoline. Not the most durable stuff, but its potential consumers were rather ‘underweight’ anyway.
When all was said and done, I was satisfied with my efforts. All I had to do was park my rear on a nearby tree stump and wait to see if the spirit children would come and play. I dusted off my trousers as the minutes passed, hoping for the best.
I pondered if I would need to scatter some cookies and candies around—you know, as ‘bait’. But while I was deliberating if I should use normal sweets or otherworldly ones—as if I’d even know where to get them—the problem took care of itself. Actually, all children are kind of like fluid. They trickle in, filling any available spaces immediately and without asking permission. Of course, the same can also be said of ghost children.
The trampoline started to shake up and down in the blink of an eye. My smile turned into a yawn, and I finally went to my hovel, happy that I wouldn’t need to look for otherworldly candies. Instead, I fell into bed and drifted off to sleep to the sound of children laughing.