It was James Gregory’s fate in life to have interesting neighbors. I could never understand why, because James Gregory really wasn’t an interesting person himself. Which was fine with me. Interesting people are very well in their way, but my first would-be fiancé, the son of an Asian politician who had grown up in Estonia and become a private pilot, was too interesting. The reaction from him lasted all my life and I was quite content to be Mrs. James Gregory and simply watch the interesting people from afar.
We lived in a small house, in a nice neighborhood of houses of a similar size. We lived there twenty years, while interesting neighbors came and went… but none more interesting than Iakobo Ian.
Mr. Ian – he was very particular about it being pronounced ee-AN – lived at the end of the cul-de-sac on our little road. His yard was rather larger than most of the neighbors’. It had been vacant for several years and was overrun with weeds, so I was pleased to see him, the very day after moving in, whirl a weed-eater into motion and attack the excessive vegetation. He made a job of it… a very interesting job… a sort of organized jumble, not to say organized jungle. He trimmed the weeds here and cut them right down to the ground there; here he dug up and beat down a pathway that looked like it could have been trodden for generations; there he transplanted a small gnarly tree whose black branches seemed to never have borne leaves since the days of Abraham.
Then one day he came out, in full sight of the neighborhood, and set up a gravestone! The resultant shock is not to be described. When our ornery right hand neighbors had tried to keep a pet ostrich, or when the bachelor across the street took to hosing down his dirty dishes in the front yard, or when the old lady in the corner house decided to paint her name in bright pink along the road out front, the Homeowners Association had stepped right into the breach and enforced the p’s and q’s with a vengeance. But… but… a gravestone! The HOA felt helpless in front of such an anomaly. Mrs. Claw, the treasurer, had nearly fainted on her doorstep; Mr. Meeler, the president, had given alarming symptoms of a heart attack; and the active members one and all declared that, as regarded health, they would never be quite the same again.
After a week, I verily began to agree with them. Constant innovations were springing up in “the graveyard,” as it was soon known, to the entire disregard of all graveyards before or since. But indeed, this one merited the article. Never did a graveyard so thoroughly live up to its name. It was not the tombstone – the tombstones, rather, for they multiplied quickly – that proclaimed it a graveyard… not exclusively. It was dark, gloomy, foreboding, packed with all the deepest, most melancholy hues of green and grey. I am not nervous… normally. But only a woman with nerves of steel could have remained unaffected by the constant sight of that dismal graveyard glaring in, so it seemed, through every window in the house. And in fact, the graveyard was visible from all but four windows… and those four much the smallest of them all.
The graveyard continually expanded… no, it creeped. After that first gravestone had been set into place, never a glimpse of human effort did I see. Nor did any other neighbor… not even Adela Daniels, who stayed up all night, several times, in order to catch Iakobo at it, if catch could. And if anyone could have, it would have been Adela. She has eyes like a cat; once for a dare she walked Uncle Bert’s grizzled old one-log bridge in pitch darkness. To be sure, she had fallen down… very dramatically… but she had bounded merrily to her feet, shaken off the water, and laughed at our terror, so we were all fairly sure she had fallen on purpose. She was always up to freaks like that. Adela, I should probably mention, is a cousin of mine.
Be that as it may, neither she nor anyone else, caught so much as a fleeting glimpse of Iakobo working in his graveyard. As regarded the rest of his life, he was not particularly secretive… or so it appeared. He held a good job as a dentist at a strip mall a few blocks away, visited his parents for the holidays, and once his sister came… and lasted about three hours. We shrewdly guessed that that was all she could take of his graveyard.
He was not exactly morbid… not exactly… despite his private graveyard. Indeed, he seemed rather normal, and I really believe that no one, even after knowing him for some time, would have thought him strange, had he not known about the graveyard. As it was, of course, the whole neighborhood set him down as a confirmed lunatic. Even those of us who did not think him entirely mad were fairly well convinced that, if you only looked close enough, you could easily spot the morbid melancholy deep in his eyes. How much of that was merely fancy, read into a pair of hazel eyes that were pleasant enough, and even jolly at times, I really can’t tell.
Well, so things went on for about a month, and at that point the graveyard had possessed itself of the whole of Iakobo’s property. I was in quite a flutter lest it should begin to infringe on our own, particularly because James Gregory had made it clear that you would never catch him warning Iakobo to keep his graveyard to himself. If I wanted a grave-free yard I’d have to handle it on my own. Fervently I prayed that the graveyard would come hitherto and no farther!
Adela lived exactly across from me, and so shared my grievance… though she did not appear to share my concern. She dropped in on me one day for a chat, and, of course, the graveyard was foremost among our subjects of conversation.
“It’s like living beside some century old cathedral, where who knows what tragedy may have been enacted, don’t you think?” Adela remarked with a relish. “The only pity is that Iakobo told me yesterday that no, there’s no one buried there. Restricts speculation somewhat, but there are still possibilities.”
“I don’t think that’s a pity… and I think it’s like living in a poem by Edgar Allan Poe,” I replied rather sourly, “and I don’t like it!”
“Well… yes. I can’t say I’m sure I quite like it… quite… myself. Still, there’s a spice to it – a certain zest – a mystery! I intend to get to the bottom of it.”
I opened my eyes widely and gave a little gesture of despair. If Adela Daniels said she was going to get to the bottom of something, you could be sure she would, or die trying, and there wasn’t any use arguing about it. So I didn’t. I only asked, “How?”
Adela must have sensed my doubts, for she smiled determinedly in a way she had. Her eyes narrowed a bit dangerously. “That, my dear Mrs. Gregory, is… Why do you have the curtains down? It’s quite dark in here.”
“Because,” I replied frankly, “that graveyard gets on my nerves after a while.”
“Dear me!” Adela exclaimed. “And so you willfully, knowingly shut the door on your opportunities for a glimpse into this most mysterious of mysteries! You know, Carol, I am no friend to meddling, but this – this is a mystery. It’s fair game. – What will you do when the graveyard starts to grow into your territory?”
I shuddered. “It will never grow here, I hope.” But I do not think I sounded very hopeful.
“Never grow here?! Goodness, and why not? That’s the perfect opportunity for monitoring it! Trespassing onto Mr. Ian’s land would be a little…” But Adela did not finish her sentence. “What I really want to know, Carol,” she resumed briskly, “is – what’s underneath those tombstones?”
I fancy I turned pale. Honestly, it had not occurred to me that there might actually be something… anything… under the stones. I simply thought it was a morbid freak of a monomaniac who enjoyed the melancholy of a graveyard. Mrs. Daniels saw that I was getting nervous and went on mercilessly – Adela-like. “More than that, Carol, I want to know…” her voice sunk to a breathless whisper… “what’s above those graves… or who. Carol, Iakobo Ian did not build that graveyard… if he built it at all… just for his own enjoyment. Someone or something else is behind it… and in it. – Have you never noticed a little flutter of something in dark blue… only when Iakobo is gone?”
Now that she mentioned it, I remembered that I had, and said so – defiantly. Ghosts did not dress in dark blue.
Adela nodded significantly. “It’s a mystery, Carol,” she repeated. “A mystery I’ve been born to solve. I feel it in my bones!”
She got up and I accompanied her to the door. As I paused for an instant, idly watching the street after she disappeared, my attention was suddenly drawn to the graveyard and I caught sight of a filmy white… thing… with a dark blue scarf… and I must confess, when I glanced in the mirror a minute later, I looked like I had seen a ghost.