A magical realism short story

In the daytime, the graveyard was full of scattered human figures, walking through the labyrinth of pathways, weeping, and having a one-sided conversation with cold gravestones. Thousands of people were buried here throughout the years, and many more would find shelter in the dirt in the future. Every dead body was once loved and cherished by someone during their lifetime. That’s why there was never a day without at least a few visitors.

During the night, however, the old grave-digger was the only living human moving through the mist. He was clad in worn-out work clothes, a shovel on his shoulder, and an almost extinguished cigarette between his chapped lips. He always had something to do.

He found a piece of untouched ground and stabbed the shovel into the hard soil. He stepped on the shovel, pressing as deep as his strength allowed him, and ripped out the first scoop. His arms appeared scrawny, but there was a lot of strength in them. The hole would be dug by sunrise. It was going to be a small one this time, for a small coffin.

A gust of wind sent his wool hat flying, and the cold mercilessly licked over his bald scalp. The old man cursed under his breath and went after the hat. It rolled on the ground, gathering dust, and pulled out of his grasp just as he was about to grab it, as though it had a mind of its own. After a short run, he stopped and grabbed his knees, trying to catch his breath.

The cigarette dropped from his mouth, and he coughed violently. Once this began, there was no stopping it. The empty graveyard echoed with the sound of him expelling black tar and mucus from his lungs.

The hat stopped as two pale little boys released their hold on it. Identical twins, six years of age, with white skin, white clothes, and white hair. They looked at each other as a shadow of guilt dropped on their faces. They just wanted to play, not force the old chain smoker into a fit.

Playtime was over. The boys turned around and froze in their spots as a ghostly white woman stood before them with her arms crossed.

“Are you happy with what you did?” She asked.

“No,” the boys said in unison, and looked down.

The woman glanced at the old man, who finally stopped wheezing, and put his hat back on before returning to his digging work.

“Go back to your graves,” she ordered.

The kids did as they were told. They didn’t have to walk much. The journey ended before one of the newest gravestones, put there only two weeks ago. A shiny double stone had their names written in a beautiful golden font. The boys silently looked at their mother again, sad, pleading eyes ready to tear up. Tricks like this worked once or twice when they were alive, but not anymore.

“Lie down,” the woman pointed at the grave firmly.

The angelic sad faces fell into a pout. They stood there, hoping she would change her mind if they just waited. A battle of stares. But once they were convinced she wasn’t budging, the two boys reluctantly sank into their grave.

The mother sighed and gave herself a minute of silence, focusing on the sounds of the graveyard at night. The grave-digger was humming a tune while working, while the gentle night breeze scattered autumn leaves over the cemented pathways. And that soft buzzing sound from the closest lamp post made the eerie symphony complete.

She looked at her hands. There was density in her white form, the same form she had when she was alive. The same long hair, even the same clothes she wore when her body took its last breath.

It’s been two weeks since she got used to this state of existence. Her boys, however, still didn’t fully realize they were dead. They were still energetic, not noticing the emptiness that was threatening to grow with time. Soon, they will. A scary thought, but when death was already behind you, what was there to be afraid of?

“Are they being naughty again?”

The mother glanced over her shoulder at a pale white granny with thick glasses slowly ascending from the neighboring grave. The granny yawned as if she had been sleeping until now. Which was silly—ghosts didn’t sleep. They only hid in their graves whenever they needed some privacy. Still, it didn’t hurt to pretend they did something an alive person would do to get a laugh from their neighbor.

The mother turned back to the beautiful gravestone of her boys. Right next to them was her own—the same shiny stone with golden letters.

“Their father cried a lot today,” she said.

“So that’s why they’re so hyperactive,” granny said. “And, you too!”

Now that she mentioned it, both the mother and her boys had a much brighter form than the granny and most other ghosts. The three of them were roaming about with full alertness. Only the newest ghosts were like that.

“You’re being remembered strongly,” granny continued. “I’ve been here for over twenty years, and I still wonder whether it’s a blessing or a curse to experience it.”

“Who remembers you?” The mother asked.

“Only my husband.”

Someone said before that a person exists as long as others remember them. But no one has ever said you’d know exactly how they remember you. All that love, sadness, and pain kept the dead connected to the world of the living. They were nothing but pale ghosts of what they once were, but they were still here.

This brought some questions. What would it mean to spend years like this? Which would be worse—your loved ones forgetting about you, or your loved ones dying, leaving fewer people alive to remember? What was the point of this state of existence and should anyone care about it?

“He has a healthy body, but his mind is rotting,” granny continued explaining. “He speaks to people that aren’t there.”

“Don’t we all?” The mother asked with a smirk.

Granny chuckled and waved a finger knowingly. “We do, but it’s different for the living. He already forgot his living friends. Instead, he’s talking to imaginary ones. I just hope…” she paused and gazed into the empty air. “Those who keep him company are nice to him. I hope they urge him to take care of himself.”

The mother turned to look at the eastern side of the graveyard, occupied by people who died a hundred, even two hundred years ago. No ghost came out of there as there weren’t people left alive to remember them. The layers of time have covered everything they were and everything they did.

In another hundred years, other ghosts will look at their silent graves and think the same.

Suddenly, a pale, insolent man wrapped his arms around the mother’s waist, startling her out of her thoughts. Their forms merged for a moment, impossible to separate. He whispered something vulgar in her ear, and her expression skewered in disgust. The invasion of personal space now was just as unpleasant as it was when she was alive.

Her boys jumped out of their graves and toppled their mother’s attacker.

“Let go of mom!”

The man dropped on his back and covered his head as the boys hit him with their little fists over and over. It did little, but it was starting a commotion, so the mother pulled them off him. They kept glaring at the invader, ready to pounce again if he tried something.

“What was that?” the mother asked?

The man chuckled ironically. “I’m new. Have mercy on me.”

“I know you,” granny said. “You’re that guy that got killed by his wife when she caught him cheating?”

Most of the gossip here came from forgotten newspapers. His case was a colorful one. A murder and a sex scandal. Naturally, the media was all over it. It was on the news for a few days while his wife’s trial was going on.

The man sat up and smiled in embarrassment. “I just wanted to see what I can do.”

“Well, you won’t die again!” Granny burst out laughing. “Look at how bright you are. Your wife must be thinking about you a lot.”

“She does, and so does the mistress,” he said, then scowled. “She visits her in prison every week. I think they’re becoming friends.”

Because of the newspaper article, complete strangers talked about him, and he could hear everyone’s thoughts. People who did not know him judged him so harshly. For a day. After that, the words of all the strangers stopped. They appeared only to express an unwanted opinion and then forgot him like he was nothing.

There was some joy in being the center of attention, even for the wrong reasons. After that, only the words of his closest ones were left drifting through his mind—words uttered out of pity and bitterness. Eventually, his wife and his mistress spoke about forgiveness and the mistakes they’ve made.

Each visit was like a counseling session he never wanted to attend. And even then, he could only listen, he could never tell them anything.

“When will I stop hearing them?” The man asked.

“Why? You don’t like what you hear?” Granny asked. “No one can stop the voices. You’ll listen to how you’ve touched their lives until they forget you.”

“If it’s any consolation, no one’s happy about it.”.

The ghosts turned towards the new voice that joined their conversation. A young man in a military uniform was leaning on granny’s gravestone.

He came from the west side of the graveyard, where the war heroes were buried. This part has always been the liveliest. People didn’t forget the fallen soldiers easily, and their stories were told through the generations. They were the oldest ghosts in the graveyard.

However, never being forgotten had its downsides.

“How many lessons today, soldier?” Granny asked.

“Just one. About ten times, with no breaks. Some facts were even made up. And don’t let me start on that ridiculously handsome portrait they decided was mine.”

“Historians romanticize,” the mother said with a smile.

The soldier made himself comfortable in everyone’s company. The two little boys looked up at him with wide, sparkling eyes. Even as a ghost, his heroic presence awoke awe and adoration.

“You’re new here,” the soldier looked at the mother. “What happened?”

“A drunk driver crashed into my car.”

“Did they jail him?”

“He’s here.”

The mother glanced behind where the ghost of a man was sitting on a gravestone, looking down in silence. A few nights ago, she tried to talk to him. She had already forgiven him, and the kids didn’t care about his deed at all. But he hadn’t forgiven himself.

He kept away from every other ghost, decided he did not deserve comfort, nor the company of others. He kept to himself and just listened to what his loved ones said about him in silence.

“He’ll come around,” granny said. “They all come eventually. Time is meaningless now.”

“Why are we here?” the insolent man asked.

No one said anything. He looked at all their faces and all he saw was cluelessness. Even the soldier who spent the most time in this state had no answer. Newcomers rarely wondered why death wasn’t the end, but whenever they did, they were left with endless confusion.

“If only we knew…”

“Leave this question for the philosophers.”

Suddenly, everyone stared at her. She said nothing all that shocking, but they noticed something unsettling was happening. The soldier has seen it so many times. For the others, it was a first, but even they somehow knew—she was forgotten.

Granny slumped back into her grave, and every ghost grabbed her from all sides, holding her, squeezing her, clawing if they had to, all so they could stop her descent. 

It was a strange thing losing a friend here. Ghosts never disappeared before other ghosts’ eyes, so no one knew what exactly happened once the living forgot them. They simply laid in their graves and never came up again.

And who knows why, but no one wanted to accept another’s absence. Maybe it was a residual instinct from when they were alive—the survival instinct that made people protect themselves and their loved ones from disappearing forever.

“Let me go,” granny demanded.

The ghosts kept silent, wide eyes fixed on her face as though trying to burn her visage into their memories. Unfortunately, being remembered by other ghosts wasn’t enough to keep anyone here. How could they keep her when her last living loved one had forgotten her? Slowly, the five pairs of hands let go, and she completely sank into her grave.

All that was left was the photo on her gravestone. Another voice was gone from the graveyard and would never be heard again. Sunrise was approaching. The grave-digger had finished his job, and he stepped behind the ghosts.

“What are you all looking at?” He asked.

The ghosts silently pointed at the gravestone with the black-and-white photo of a smiling old woman. The old man came closer to take a better look. There was something familiar in that smiling face. Something desperately flickering behind his eyelids, trying to get noticed, yet his mind couldn’t capture.

Sadness weighed upon his heart, suffocating and impenetrable. So he ripped his eyes away from the stone and lit a new cigarette.

“Don’t remember her.”

“You promised to stop smoking,” the soldier scolded him.

“I did? When?”

“We’ve talked about this,” the mother said. “Take better care of your health. You’re no spring chicken anymore.”

“I’m still better off than you a lot.”

The gravedigger chuckled at his joke. Apparently, it was funny to him. He probably didn’t realize he said it a thousand times already.

“There will be a funeral today,” he said. “You’ll become friends, right?”

Everyone nodded. Of course, they would welcome every newcomer, as they always did. The more voices—the better. The grave-digger smiled, and walked away, as the ghosts looked at his back in silence until he vanished into the twilight.

Reni Stankova favicon

Hi, there!

Hope you enjoyed my first and only standalone short story. I do NOT write short stories. I find them incredibly difficult to produce, but there are exceptions to every rule, I guess.

Oblivion came to me as a strange idea one night after a short talk with my father. We were talking about our familial ancestry and realized we knew nothing about anyone that lived before my father’s grandfather. That’s when my father said, “a person only exists as long as someone remembers them”.

It was a sad realization, but it ultimately gave birth to this story. My father enjoys this story too, so I guess it has served its purpose. Hope you enjoyed it.

Love, Reni ❤️

PS. Check out my other books!