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Grave Digger

Shela, Missouri, USA
December 2003

It was a sunny, Wednesday afternoon in June in Northeast Kansas. My mother, five-year-old son, one-year-old daughter, my grandmother and I were driving in my van on a back highway across the prairie. We knew the road well and knew about the cemetery that was up ahead. It was an old cemetery, but still used by the nearby town and very well maintained.

Since the day was so pretty, we decided it would be fun to stop at the cemetery and take a little walk, like we'd done many times before. The graveyard sat on the corner of a gravel road and the two-lane highway. The sides of the cemetery that faced the road and highway had low, limestone walls that went all the way up to cornfields that bordered the other two sides of the cemetery. It was early in the growing season, but the corn in the fields was already high enough to completely enclose the graveyard. There is one arched entrance to the graveyard and it faces the gravel road. Since it is out on the prairie, there is nothing in the graveyard to obstruct the view from one side of it to the other; nothing to cast a shadow.

We parked the van in front of the entrance and my mom, my son, and I got out to explore the cemetery. Grandma wanted to stay in the van with the baby, so she opened the sliding side door so she could catch the breeze and watch us in the cemetery.

As soon as we stepped into the graveyard we all turned and looked to our left. Against the wall a little ways down from the entrance was an orange water cooler, the kind construction workers carry with them when they are working. We were surprised to see it out here in the middle of nowhere, so we immediately looked around to see who else was there. Because of the openness of the land, it didn't take us long to spot the old man across the cemetery.

He was diagonally across from us, down near the corner where the cornfields closed in the opposite sides. He had his back to us. He was wearing a white tee-shirt and jeans and he was digging a grave. From the look of it, he was just about done. He had a large mound of dirt beside him, and a blue tarp covering part of the mound. A shovel stuck out of the exposed part of the mound and he was finishing squaring off the sides of the hole with a spade. He was bent over and working intently.

"Well, it looks like we better make this visit a quick one," my mom said. "They'll probably be coming for a funeral pretty soon." I agreed and told my son, who is very friendly, to make sure he did not go over there and bother that man and to stay away from the hole.

We started reading some of the stones nearby and pretty soon forgot about the grave digger. About a half an hour later, we had made our way all the way across the cemetery and were standing by the cornfields. Suddenly my mom says, "Where'd the old man go?"
We all stopped and scanned the cemetery, turning to look back toward the entrance, where we'd been when we saw him. He was nowhere to be found. The land was undisturbed and a thick layer of long prairie grass was blowing in the wind. Not a sign of the old man, the blue tarp, the dirt mound, or even the huge hole he'd dug. Nothing. And back by the entrance, the orange cooler was gone to.

Back at the van we asked grandma if anyone had come out of the cemetery. She said "Well, there ain't been nobody around to come out but you! You all were the only ones in there. And, my, but the flies sure are thick today!" The van was full of flies, but we hadn't gotten more than a mile down the road until the flies disappeared like they'd never been there either.

Shela, Missouri, USA
00:00 / 01:04
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