Quiet Neighbours

(First published for Chudleigh Writers Circle 2017. The photos inspired the story)

grave3Young Martha was already there when Old Martha materialised on their grave.

“Twenty square feet sounds enormous until you have to share it for two centuries,” the old woman grumbled. “Let me know if you ever plan to take a night off.”

The younger girl ignored this as she peered through the moonlit shadows toward some newly turned earth a few plots over.

“Waiting for the new chap? He’ll be too modern to understand what you say.” Old Martha couldn’t resist a dig. “I’m sure I don’t at times.”

“Anybody would be a change of scenery from you,” retorted Young Martha.

“Careful with that viper tongue of yours, sister dear. Perhaps that’s what’s emptying the graveyard.”

“More likely it’s your— where has everybody gone?” Young Martha interrupted herself. “Is it something to do with Judgement Day?”

“I’m sure I would have noticed that. More likely it’s those ghosthunters.”

“Them,” snorted Young Martha. “They wouldn’t notice if we punched them on the nose.”

“Well something’s going on. The ghosts in this graveyard have been disappearing for weeks.”

“In some cases,” Young Martha gave her a sideways look. “That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”

“In some cases,” Old Martha looked darkly at the younger. “You could be right.”

Young Martha chose to ignore that. “Look!” she pointed. “I knew he’d come tonight.”

“You say that every night,” the older woman said mildly. But this time Young Martha was right.

A breeze stirred the few amber leaves scattered on the ground. Then a mist arose and slowly coalesced into a figure. A man stood with his back to them, rubbing his head in a clearly puzzled manner.

The two women waited, but soon Young Martha began to fidget. “How long is he going to stand there?”

“Quietly now, it can be a shock the first time.”

But the younger girl was too impatient. “Excuse me? Hello!”

He swung round and cried out in terror at the sight of them. “What are you? Where am I?”

“Not all this again,” muttered the old woman. “I’d forgotten this bit.”

“You’ve passed on.” Young Martha took pity on him. “You’ll get used to it after a while. What’s your name?”

“David.”

“Hello David, do you have any little girls who might visit?”

“Do excuse her manners,” inserted Old Martha. “She didn’t live long enough to learn them properly.”

“At least I didn’t outlive my usefulness.”

“Hush child, he doesn’t need to hear your prattle.”

David had sunk to his knees on the mound of earth. “What happened?”

“We were hoping you could tell us that.”

He shook his head. “I don’t remember anything.”

“It’s like that sometimes,” said Old Martha. “If it was sudden you wouldn’t know anything about it. When you get your gravestone, that might tell us.”

“How long will that be?”

She shrugged. “Even then, some people never find out.”

“What about you? Do you know?”

Young Martha straightened her shoulders and stood like a child about to recite. “My name is Martha Mary Redstone. I was born in 1722, the eldest beloved daughter of Jocelyn and Martin Redstone, sister to Barnabas. I died tragically in 1729 at the age of seven after a sudden illness.”

“I’m so sorry.” He looked over to Old Martha. “You must be her mother?”

“Heaven forbid!” She looked horrified. “I was born in 1730. Named Martha Jocelyn Redstone. Eldest surviving daughter of Jocelyn and Martin Redstone, sister to Barnabas and Flora.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not difficult,” Young Martha said sourly. “Not only did my sister here steal my name, she couldn’t even manage to get married. So our skinflint brother, Barnabas, buried us in the same grave.”

The older Martha rolled her eyes, “If I’d known what I was setting myself up for I’d have married Jessamy Tucker after all.”

“Let me get this straight,” said David. “You’re sisters, but you have the same name?”

“Yes,” explained Old Martha. “I was born a year after she died. It was traditional to re-use family names.”

“And because you never married, you were buried in the same grave?”

“Correct,” she said. “I think it was tradition rather than parsimony, but you never could tell with our brother Barnabas.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

“We have our own headstones,” Young Martha pointed them out, her smaller stone set slightly in front of Old Martha’s larger one.

“Oh.” He looked around the silent graveyard. “What about all these other graves?”

“Sometimes they’re here and sometimes they’re not. Some of them never show, we don’t know why,” said Old Martha.

“Where are they now?”

“We don’t know. The ghosts have been disappearing over the last month. We hoped you might know something.”

Young Martha raised a hand. “What was that noise?”.

In the silence that followed, they all heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel pathway.

“Who is it?” asked David.

“Shh.” Old Martha turned to him. “You need to fade.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ghosthunters. This rabble seem to think they’re something special, so it’s best to keep as low a profile as possible.”

“How?”

“You look too bright,” explained Young Martha. “Think about silence.”

David closed his eyes and hunched his shoulders. But he was still as clear as day.

“No, no. Not like that,” said Old Martha. “Like this.”

He watched as she faded out and back. The strain showed on his face as he tried to imitate her.

“Try to relax,” advised Young Martha. He gave her an exasperated look.

The footsteps came closer.

“Hurry,” said Old Martha.

“I can’t.” He spread his hands helplessly.

Three men rounded the corner of the church and spotted David, highlighted by the full moon.

Confined to their own grave plot, the two women faded into near invisibility and watched.

David finally got the idea and started to grow hazier. But it was too late, the ghosthunters had spread out and were pointing bulky handheld devices at him.

The sisters clung together as, with a single shouted order, the three men simultaneously pressed buttons. A bolt of power surged from each device, through the air, to David who gave an agonised howl.

There was a crackle of discharge and then silence.grave2

After a lot of excited chatter the ghosthunters packed up their equipment and left.

“What happened? What was that… thing?” asked Young Martha in a tiny voice. She was still clutching Old Martha’s hands, but neither of them pulled away.

“I don’t know.”

“Is he… gone?”

“I think so.”

They were silent for some time. Finally Young Martha stirred. “I think perhaps sharing a grave is not so bad after all.”

The older woman smiled at her sister. “No, not so bad.”

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