Those Who Breathe and Those Who Sing
It’s a little-known fact that the dead each sing a note with their final breath that follows them into eternity. When they reach the six-feet-under, they continue to give out that note. If someone were to hear all the dead bodies, it would sound like a symphony. Or at least, that’s what Georgie thought.
Georgie could hear the dead sing and enjoyed their music. He could remember first hearing the music when he was younger, when he attended his grandfather’s funeral. Every time afterwards, he would continue to hear it when he was near the dead. He ended up becoming a mortician because of that.
The melody was ever growing and ever pleasing, that is, until David Hambrick was added to the symphony. Georgie remembered working on David when he first entered the morgue. He had no music. Most of the bodies brought in had the music even faintly as they were prepared for burial. David had nothing.
Georgie mostly tended to the bodies alone, the last assistant got weirded-out by Georgie’s happy demeanor and weird humming, so no one was there as Georgie straddled the cadaver and pressed down on the diaphragm and tried to help David push out that note. And it came out. It came out like the scratching on nails of a chalk board, like the shriek of a cat, a fork in a blender.
Georgie regretted his decision. He found headphones to put in and listened to music as he finished. Despite how loud he turned up the music, David still screamed louder. Even as he placed David in the filing system that lined the room of his workplace, and even as he was three rooms away again with music playing loud, and even as he drove away from the cemetery that day, he could still hear the awful note that escaped David’s lifeless body.
It was enough that he skipped the funeral of David Hambrick. He was usually there to help the family with grieving, but the thought of having to listen to David was too much to bear. Once David is in the ground, his note will mix with the rest of the melody and will be drowned out, he thought to himself. He had a few hired hands that helped him with upkeep of the cemetery that he entrusted with the internment of the body while he stayed home in the quiet for the first time in a long time.
The next day when David Hambrick was six feet under, Georgie returned to work expecting to hear the beautiful symphonies of the dead but was dreadfully disappointed with clashing note that was David Hambrick that sang equal if not louder to the rest of the graveyard. He almost turned around and went home again, but he had more work to do, paperwork to be filed since he hadn’t been there the day before to do it.
All through the day, Georgie could hear David’s note. Even when he put on his headphones or had louder music playing, he could still hear the awful sound that was Mr. Hambrick. He tried to call the Hambrick family to try and talk to them about moving their now resting family member, but there was always an excuse of money or family land or whatever. Excuses didn’t stop the singing.
Eventually Elise Hambrick, David’s oldest daughter, came to visit her father’s grave and Georgie took this moment to confront her. Not wanting to get as close to the grave as possible, Georgie waited until she started walking back to her car before meeting her outside.
“Ms. Hambrick, if I may have a moment of your time.”
Elise looked at him and through the sad tears in her eyes, there was an anger, “Yes, Mr. Walsh, we should talk. Why do you insist on harassing my grieving family?”
“As I explained to your mother on the phone, graverobbers have been—”
“Oh, yes, graverobbers. Well, maybe you should hire extra security. Also—” she looked around the flat cemetery, “—looks like you haven’t had any problems recently, so perhaps you stop calling my mother.”
She turned to leave but stopped and turned back to the man, “Oh and another thing; have you been calling all of the families to come remove their family members? If graverobbing is such a big deal, you need to deal with it.” Before Georgie could even have a second to think of a reply, Elise Hambrick got back into her car and slammed the door.
It became clear to him that the Hambrick family would do nothing to help with his issue. Georgie tried to ignore it, but it seemed like every day David got louder and other voices were silenced. Soon, his was the only note heard. Georgie wondered if it was finally loud enough for other people to hear, but when he asked one of the gardeners, he responded in broken English, “Why you yell?”
A month after the funeral, Georgie could hear David Hambrick in his own house, in his own room, in his own dreams. The sound of David was often accompanied by dreams that would fit them. Dreams of getting attacked by a sick cat, or a monster of a teacher sat in front of him, dragging her nails on an infinite chalkboard. The night his dream was just that of a fork bouncing around a blender was the last night he remembered sleeping.
He would go to work, go home, go to work, go home, and David’s always there, screaming in his ear with that long, harsh note. It was the fourth night of sleeplessness when David Hambrick appeared in his room.
He had never seen David alive, but there are only slight differences between those who breathe and those who sing. David stood in the corner of Georgie’s room, screaming his note with a wide mouth. Georgie was afraid of this vision, but soon convinced himself it was real, that he could finally stop the sound.
He rose to walk over to David, but the screaming man bolted to the bedroom door, threw it open, and sprinted down the hall. Georgie followed him. David went through the front door and into the driveway, where he waited for Georgie to grab his key before sprinting down the road. David managed to stay ahead of Georgie’s car the entire way, until he could see the sign of the cemetery overhead.
David sprinted even faster forward, until he could no longer be seen by Georgie’s seeking headlights. He pulled the car to the curb closest to the grave. He walked up just in time to see David Hambrick dive into his grave, a puff of dirt like a splash of water sprayed onto Georgie.
The tired mortician walked quickly to the toolshed and broke into it, forgetting he had the keys in his pocket. He grabbed a shovel and walked back to the grave of the late Mr. Hambrick before breaking the dirt that had the first buds of grass coming out of it.
Georgie was not a young man, so it took him most of the night to reach the coffin. All along the way, the scream of the cadaver motivated him to keep pushing past his normal limits. He dug around the coffin enough to be able to open it, before running back to the shed to grab a crowbar. Why one was there, he had no idea, but it was excellent news to him.
He pried open the coffin to find the dead man still at rest, or at least pretending to be. “Not gonna run away now, huh, Dave?”
The dead spoke no words, only the intense note that rang out could be heard.
Georgie spent longer than he’d like to admit (if he would ever admit) to drag the dead body of David Hambrick out of the grave. The dead are heavier, he told himself as he lifted the body and eventually himself out of the hole. He dragged the cadaver over to the car and placed him in the back were a few tools waited for him in case he got a flat.
Georgie spent the time to refill the hole with the displaced dirt. That took the tired old man almost as long as it did to dig the hole, and it wasn’t until the sun began to rise that Georgie drove away from the cemetery.
If Georgie was a man who believed in luck, he would’ve considered himself lucky that he managed to be going ten over the entire drive to the lake without being stopped by a cop. It was midday when he reached the lake, however, and the fog that still sat over it despite the morning being long gone was the perfect cover for Georgie.
He lifted the harsh note out of the back of the car and dragged it to the water. Tying the tire jack to the body with an extra rope, he waded out into the shallow before laying the body to rest. He didn’t care what happened to it, in fact, he hoped a larger predator would come feed on it. The body sank into the shallow water, catching a current before being pulled deeper.
As the body sunk deeper into the water, the note became softer and softer, until Georgie could no longer hear it.
The tired man made it home and slept well that day. He ended up not waking up until that next morning, which surprised him. When he got to work the next day, he saw Elise Hambrick waiting for him outside his office.
“Mr. Walsh, sorry to drop in on you so early, but I tried to see you yesterday, but you weren’t here and, so…”
“No worries, Ms. Hambrick. What can I help you with?”
“Well, I was talking with my mother, and we agreed that if you thought it so important that he be moved, we would allow it, though we could not pay for it all.”
“No, no. No need for that anymore. Rest assured your father is safe here.”
“But you were just saying the other day—”
“And you were right the other day. I have increased security measures. But, Ms. Hambrick, have you enjoyed the peacefulness of the cemetery?” He paused and the two of them looked around, Georgie listened to the beautiful song of all the dead bodies, singing in harmony. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Caleb James Stewart is an alumni of the Creative Writing program at Stephen F. Austin State University. He has been featured in the literary journal HUMID, the South Florida Poetry Journal, and recently won the Piney Dark horror story contest.