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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I had always loved this one cemetery ever since I was a little girl. Not only were the grounds beautiful, but the cemetery itself was absolutely massive. I always imagined it as a fantasy world, or a gateway to a totally different dimension where the souls of the departed could spend their time before moving on to the next life. The one thing that I loved most, however, were the birds. Back then, my father and I would go there to bird watch from time to time, just to catch a glimpse of the birds in this gorgeous habitat. I even had my own set of binoculars with the name “Evelyn” taped to them.
“Why are there always so many birds here, Daddy?” I remember asking.
“Well, Evy,” my father answered, “It’s because of all the trees.” I know this wasn’t the real reason, but I’m sure my father figured this would be enough to satisfy an 8-year-old.
“Is that it?” I asked, unconvinced. My father laughed and stopped to think.
“Actually, there might be another reason,” he said with a smile “there is a man that lives here called the groundskeeper. It’s his job to make sure the cemetery looks nice for everyone that comes to visit, including the birds!”
This answer made my imagination start to run wild. I would come up with little stories of how the groundskeeper, a man I never met, would go about his day. I pictured an old man strolling through the cemetery with a shining smile, watering flowers and feeding the birds.
As I got older, I began to spend less time at the cemetery and my stories about the groundskeeper were pushed to the back of my mind. This was, of course, until the day I actually saw him.
It was two days after my thirteenth birthday, and my parents were driving me to school. We stopped at a red light right in front of the cemetery and I proceeded to look out the window. I smiled, remembering the days I spent there when I was little. My smile quickly faded when I noticed a man sitting under one of the trees. His shaggy gray hair covered his face, and he was wearing a very dirty looking pea coat. As the car began to move again, I looked out the back window to see if I could make out anything else before he was out of site. Nothing. I was about to turn away when something caught my attention. I jerked my head back and saw a flock of birds gather at this man’s feet.
“Hey, who’s that in the cemetery?” I asked my parents. My father was driving so he told my mother to take a look. My mother turned her head to look out the passenger side window, but it was too late.
“I didn’t see them sweetie” My mom replied “But the cemetery is closed right now, Evy, there shouldn’t be anyone in there”
“It’s probably the groundskeeper,” my father said. “I’m sure he’s just getting ready to open up soon.”
I didn’t say anything. I hadn’t thought about the groundskeeper in years, but I did remember how I envisioned him. This person was nothing like what I had imagined.
My grandfather died from a heart attack about a month after I graduated from college. He never had any health issues, and even the doctors found it to be a freak occurrence. However, these things can happen and my grandfather was able to live his life to the fullest, even at the age of 90.
Only a few close friends and family came to his funeral. My grandfather never liked large crowds, so we actually found this to be appropriate.
We arrived at the cemetery at about 4 pm that day. It was a beautiful fall afternoon, sunny and not too chilly. I stood next to my parents holding their hands as we listened to the priest. As he spoke, my eyes started to wander. I was taking in the fall colors, when I noticed a dark figure sitting on a bench under a tree only a couple of yards away. It looked like a man but I couldn’t tell, and my eyes remained fixed on him through the service.
When it was finally time for us to leave, the man was still there.
“Dad,” I whispered turning to my father “do we know that guy?” My dad looked over to the man sitting under the tree. A couple of birds flew in and landed at the man’s feet.
“I don’t know him” my dad answered “he’s probably just another visitor, or someone that works here”
“Like the groundskeeper?” I asked. My dad looked at me a little surprised.
“I guess he could be.” My dad said, looking back up at the man, “looks like he’s got a way with birds” I looked back over to the man. There were now well over a dozen birds surrounding him. Some were perched in the tree, some stood at his feet, and some even sat next to him on the bench.
Out of pure curiosity, I decided to go over and speak with the stranger. Since my family was close by, I wasn’t worried about anything bad happening.
“Excuse me?” I said as I approached the man “do you work here?” The man looked up at me. He was wearing a dark pea coat and had messy silver hair. He was young, probably in his mid to late 20s, but his complexion was off. His skin was a ghostly white, and it looked like he hadn’t slept in days.
“I do,” he said. His voice was deep, and not at all what I was expecting. At that moment, an eerie silence fell over us. The birds had stopped chirping and even the slight breeze had seemed to disappear completely.
“Oh, okay! I was just curious,” I replied, trying my best not to sound uncomfortable, “Well, nice to meet you. Have a good day.” I turned around and started walking back towards my family. I could feel several sets of eyes on me as I walked back, quickening my pace. This man frightened me, but I didn’t know why. I’ve been around sick people before, some that looked a lot worse than he did, and I never had a problem with any of them. I’ve also never been afraid of birds, or any animals for that matter. Even still, at that moment I could feel what I can only describe as a sense of impending doom.
A few days later, I headed over to my grandfather’s house to pick up a few of his belongings. All of the items that were packed away in boxes would be temporarily housed at my apartment while my family figured out what to do with them. After I loaded the last box into my car, I decided to do a final sweep of the house to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I looked through the kitchen cabinets and on every shelf in the living room, but couldn’t find anything. My family was always very thorough when it came to cleaning, so I really wasn’t that surprised. My last stop was the bedroom. I went through the closet and all of the drawers and came to the conclusion that this room was empty as well. I was about to leave when a thought crossed my mind. The bed. I knelt down and lifted up the old duvet cover. The light from the window reflected off of a small object that was pushed up against the wall. I reached under the bed and pulled out a small journal.
“There’s no way I’m leaving this behind,” I said to myself. I help the small leather-bound book closed and left the house.
That night, I had a strange dream. I dreamt that I was a little kid again and I was running through the cemetery. I remember sitting under a tree, humming a tune and watching the branches sway in the wind. Suddenly, the blue sky grew cloudy as the wind began to pick up. The leaves on the trees turned brown and fell off the branches. When the last of the leaves had gone, I heard a deep voice behind me.
“it’s a lovely day, isn’t it, Evelyn?” I turned around and saw a man with shaggy gray hair, and a dirty pea coat. The man never looked at me, but instead fixed his eyes on a flock of birds headed in our direction.
In my dream, I knew who this man was.
“You’re the groundskeeper, aren’t you?” I said calmly. The man nodded, his gaze still held by the flock of birds that was now at our feet.
“I am.” He replied. He knelt down beside me and handed me a small paper bag “would you like to feed the birds?”
I woke up. I wasn’t sure if the dream had scared me or not, but it definitely left me feeling uncomfortable. I turned on my light, sat up, and stared at the corner of my room. The boxes from my grandfather’s house were all neatly stacked next to my dresser, with the journal I had found laid perfectly on top. I got out of bed, walked over to the stack of boxes and picked up the journal. To this day, I’m not sure what made me want to read what was inside. Perhaps the dream had sparked my imagination and curiosity. Either way, I opened the small book and began reading. There really wasn’t a lot in it. It was mainly small sketches of plants, birds and some text to go along with them.
“My son is taking Evelyn to the cemetery again today. It warms my heart to know how much she loves that place” This brought a tear to my eye. I was always close with my grandfather, and almost forgot that he used to be an avid bird watcher himself. I turned the page and something fell to the ground. I picked it up and noticed it was an old Polaroid photo of me, my dad, and my grandfather. Upon examining it closer, however, I noticed another figure in the background. Holding the Polaroid in one hand, I read what my grandfather had wrote on the next page. “A beautiful day. A shame we didn’t notice the young man sitting back there.” I turned the page. “I had a talk with the groundskeeper today. I think that guy likes birds even more than I do.” I started to feel uneasy. This sounded a lot like the man I met the other day. I turned the page again, only this time it was blank. I kept turning until I stopped at a page covered with text.
“I saw the man again tonight. This time, he was outside my bedroom window before he disappeared. There’s no doubt about it anymore. It’s him.” I started to get frightened. My grandfather had never mentioned anything about seeing people. Why would he keep something like this from us? I continued reading. “It’s clear to me now. He won’t leave me alone until I give myself up. I’m opening the window. I’ll be food for the birds soon”. I closed the journal. I had no idea what I just read, nor did I want to. I placed the journal on my nightstand and called my parents.
A few weeks passed after I showed the journal to my parents. They thought it was odd and said that they would look into things, but told me not to worry too much about it. That was easier said than done, but I tried my best. Since I didn’t have a job lined up, I had been actively searching for something since my college graduation. One morning, I decided to check some of the local job postings to see if there was anything new. I pulled up the website on my phone and began scrolling through. Suddenly, one caught my eye. It was an assistant groundskeeper position at the cemetery. There was nothing written, other than “apply in person.” It didn’t pay very much, but it was enough that would allow me to keep my apartment and pay my bills. On top of that, I would be able to hang around in the cemetery I had loved since I was a kid. But most appealing of all, was the fact that I would likely be working with that strange man. The groundskeeper. The one I believed my grandfather wrote about. I could have let this go, but I felt as though I needed answers.
I followed the instructions and applied the following week.
Today is my first day.
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