Where Dead People Live
by Bill Vernon
When everybody joked about our having the same name, Billy laughed and mussed my hair. To me that meant instant friendship. I took his hand and he led me into a large, empty building. I yelled, “Hello!” and it bounced back even louder.
Billy grinned. “This here’s a mausoleum for dead people.”
“They live here?”
“All of the cemetery’s for them.”
I looked for the dead people, but saw only thick grey walls and concrete benches.
Billy said, “Want to help me do some work?”
We walked around piles of twigs, bunches of leaves, dried, rotten flowers, paper, pots: all things waiting for him to pick up and cram in the bed of his old truck. I climbed on some of the big rocks until he told me not to do that. “Those are monuments with the names of the people in each plot.”
“They live under the grass?”
He nodded. “So to speak.”
“And somebody’s in there too?” I pointed to a stone and cement structure that was the cemetery’s largest except for that building with the echoes.
Billy pointed at some words on it. “Januarius Aloysius MacGahan. The savior of Bulgaria.”
I patted the stone. Savior was what they called Jesus. “He lives in here.”
Billy shrugged and we moved on.
I saw Billy and that monument pretty often because my family walked into the cemetery just across the road from our house for exercise. They’d pass where my dead relatives were, all people I’d never met, and stop to talk or think. Then Billy would show up, grab my hand, and lead me into the big hollow building where I’d scream “Hello!” and he’d grin. “That’s enough.” Then we’d wander among the huge, overarching trees and the flowers blooming on top of the people living under the ground.
Two years later when we moved one hundred-and-twenty miles away, my visits to the cemetery grew more and more infrequent. Each time I saw Billy he seemed different. By sixth grade, I was as tall as he was. Three years later, at my father’s burial, he was a head shorter and bald. By my senior year, on Decoration Day, he was stooped over, half my size, hump-shouldered with curly, long gray hair around a shiny dome. He seemed to have become a gnome.
He was gone after that. A cousin said he’d died but didn’t know where he was buried. I assumed he was there in the cemetery, maybe near old Januarius Aloysius MacGahan. I looked, but finding his place was impossible with the tiny print on the new brick-size markers, which lay at ground-level so grass partially covered them. By then, though, I of course knew he wasn’t living under the grass anyway. He was more like a part of the air. As I walked along in the shade on that crowded hilltop, Billy’s hand seemed to squeeze mine, and as if coming from a big hollow building, his voice filled my ears.
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town in 2005, and his poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Recent publications include stories in Ginosko, Rubbertop Review, Biostories, The Brooklyner, Dead Flowers, Border Crossing, Memoir Journal, Elohi Gadugi Journal, Thin Air Magazine, Prargraphiti, Intentional Walk, Black Market Lit, Marathon Literary Review, and Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. He plays Uncle Sam in Dayton, Ohio’s annual spring festival A World A’Fair.