A Garden of Graves

by E.V. Jacob on June 21, 2012

Anna hobbled up the hill to the field where a fresh grave waited.  It was a small, crude hole in the earth; it hadn’t taken long for her to dig.

She struggled with each step, not because the body was heavy – the others had been far larger and more difficult to move.  Her strain simply came from her exhaustion, her weariness.

As she walked, she did not weep.  All her tears had long since been shed; her sorrow had drained from her weakening body.  Anna was empty, hollow, simply going through the motions of life.  And death.

The infant in her arms looked much the same as it had in life – it was easy for her to look down at the face of her tiny baby and imagine that he was simply asleep, drowsing peacefully in his mother’s arms.

But no, the baby was dead.  Another victim of the plague.

Now Anna could see the other graves, the six rough crosses that sat at the heads of the six packed-down plots where her husband and five of her children had been laid to rest.  In the past two weeks, Anna had, single-handedly, buried the majority of her family.

They had been so close – they were almost certain the plague had passed them, and Anna had allowed herself to be hopeful, to believe that her whole family would survive.

Foolish, idiotic hope.  She understood now, how dangerous hope was.  How destructive.

Carefully, Anna knelt down at the small grave she’d dug for her infant.  She kissed the baby’s cold forehead and cradled him in her arms one last time, whispering a prayer as she covered his face and laid him in his small grave.

The field was completely quiet, save for the occasional cawing of a crow.  Others in the town were likely still alive, but Anna hadn’t seen or heard from another soul outside her dying family in weeks.

The town of Aleyum.  The Town of the Dead.

They had become infected with the plague some months back, in the early days of 1666.  Anna had known that this devilish year would bring bad tidings, and she had been right – far more so than she could have possibly imagined.

When they realized that they were doomed – that the feared plague had found them – the town had made a decision:  They would stay, quarantined, within the confines of their town.  No one would come in, and no one would go out.  This way, they hoped, they would contain the death.

The nearest town was three times the size of Aleyum, and not far from there was Halishire, a huge industry town, where people were constantly coming and going, doing business, trading and selling, travelling to and from the dock.  Were the plague to reach Halishire, thousands – tens of thousands – would die.

It was their duty, Reverend Michaels said, to keep others safe.  To ensure no more died than was necessary.

Anna had felt sick at the prospect, but her husband, Charles, had assured her that if they just kept their distance from the others in the town, they would be safe from the plague.

Charles had been the first of their family to die.

As she filled in the tiny grave of her youngest child, Anna felt certain that God had forsaken her – she had known that it was wrong to stay, wrong to condemn her children to die, but she had listened to her husband.  She had been an obedient, dutiful wife.

Now what did she have?  A garden of graves.

No, she should have followed her instinct.  Should have taken her family and fled.  Clearly they had been fine at the beginning – they did not get sick until just recently.  Had she left before…had she insisted they go…

There was no forgiveness for a woman who would damn her family.  For a mother who would sacrifice her own flesh and blood.

When the grave was filled, she placed another wooden cross alongside the first six.

Anna stood back and stared at the seven crosses where her family lay.  She did not know how much more of this she could take.

All that was left of their family now was Anna herself, and Lucy.  Sweet, little Lucy, a babe of barely three.  Already sick.  Already dying.

Lucy was newly sick, but Anna knew better than to have any hope – the plague would take her, after days and days of agonizing pain.  She had watched each of her loved ones suffer through the pain of the plague, dying one by one.  It would be the same for Lucy.  Torturous pain, a slow and horrifying death, and then the quiet trudge up the hill to bury another too-tiny body.

Anna couldn’t stand it.  She couldn’t bear to watch another one of her children wither away at the mercy of this hideous disease.

Standing there, facing the crosses of the family members she’d already buried, Anna picked up the shovel and began to dig one last grave.  She would make sure that they all got a proper burial.  That they were all blessed and accepted into Heaven – forgiven, for they were all children, and taken into the arms of eternal peace and glory.

She dug, knowing all the while that there would be no one to bury her.  No one to bless her soul.  Anna would not be going to Heaven.  She understood that now.  All she could do was ensure that her children were blessed.

When she was done, her body was exhausted, but trembling with a strange energy.  She was tired, but so very wide awake, buzzing with a desperate kind of fervor that she could not define.

Quickly, Anna made her way back to the house.  When she opened the door, she found she could not move for a moment.  She stood, perfectly silent, watching Lucy.

The small child lay on her bed in a fitful sleep.  She was hot with fever, and already the swelling had started in places on her neck and face and chest.  Lucy tossed and turned in her sleep, letting out a pained moan every now and then.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” Anna began softly, crossing the room with shaky steps.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” she continued.  She was at the bed.  She knew what she had to do – she just couldn’t believe she was going to do it.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” her voice wavered slightly as she gripped a pillow firmly in both hands, squeezing it between her trembling fingers.

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Her voice broke as she pressed the pillow down onto Lucy’s sleeping face.

Anna was weeping now, the words coming out in choking, gasping sobs.  “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Lucy moved, stirring slightly, but was too ill and delirious to understand what was happening.  Anna pressed the pillow down harder, tears blurring her vision.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,” she was almost screaming now, her voice straining to continue, all sense and reason gone.

Lucy’s movements slowed…and slowed…

“Forever and ever…”

And stopped.

Anna stood motionless, still but for the trembling, staring down at the body of her daughter.  Slowly, she lifted the pillow away from the child’s face.

“Amen,” she whispered before collapsing across her child’s still form.  Everything had been sapped from her – the joy, life, pain, sorrow, it was all gone.  Now there was nothing left for the plague to claim.

At last, she was done.

  • http://marklidstone.com/TheWriter Mark

    Love the title you ended up going with. Awesome story. :)

    • http://www.ravenhartpress.com Elena Victoria Elizabeth Jacob

      Haha thanks! I wasn’t happy with the first title, then during a reread, this line really stuck out to me, so voila!

  • http://clraven.wordpress.com/ CL Raven

    wow that is moving, tragic and really well written. Love the title and the story was excellent. We especially loved the prayer being interrupted with the actions. It made it more chilling.

    • http://www.ravenhartpress.com Elena Victoria Elizabeth Jacob

      I’m so glad you liked it! :D I’ve always wanted to do something with that prayer, I’m sure this won’t be the last time something like that happens in a story of mine, haha.

      Thank you for reading!

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.k.eidson Michael K. Eidson

    Yes, the title is great. This is a great character study. You give the character motivation for committing an act that is at once unforgivable yet merciful. It is easy for us as readers to say we would never do what Anna did, but we live in a different world than she did.

    • http://www.ravenhartpress.com/ Elena Jacob

      Thank you :) This was another “all at once” story–those are my favorite!

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