Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Exeter, 1888

Okay, so this is a (very) rough draft of Chapter One (maybe) of The Gravediggers, the title of which comes from a famous Nietzsche quote, about God being dead, which I'll cite for you when I feel like it.  Well, okay, here it is:

“…Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God?  Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition?  Gods, too, decompose…”
      --Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

You can look up the rest, if you're so inclined.  Just put in keywords NIETZSCHE, GRAVEDIGGERS, THE MADMAN  and GOD IS DEAD and you'll see the entire passage.  And he didn't mean literally that God was dead, but more or less meant that all man-made foundations were inherently nothingness, just a creation to protect us from the horror of the void.  Such umbrella terms include Society, Propriety, Family Values (he didn't mention that one, but he would today; love that one); such thought patterns include "Because I was raised that way," "Because that's what ---- do(es)," and, yes, organized religion.  Anything that ignores the fact that every single thought and action is the sole responsibility of the individual.  In other words, it is Bad Faith to say, "I believe so because that's what it says in the Bible," but it is good faith to say, "I believe so because I have chosen to believe that that's what it says in the Bible."  And I imagine that Good Faith and Bad Faith would be Nietzschean umbrella terms (traditional morality) as well.  But what're you gonna do?

I knew my philosophy degree would come in handy someday.  So, anyway, here's the fragment/draft/chapter.  I won't be including too many (if any more at all) of these, because why would an agent want to represent me if my stuff is free on the internet?  So here you are, and sorry for the above sidetrack---

Exeter, Rhode Island.  April 21st, 1888

Snuffy Stukeley would not have dug up his children had it not been for his neighbors.  Adam Wilcox, Mark Reynolds, John Whitford, the Mooneys, the Gardners, all of them wanted him to dig up his daughters.  They men of each family were with him now, in the burial plot behind his backyard, about twenty feet into the woods.  Their breath a mist in front of their mouths, they all dug at the softening earth of Anna’s, his youngest daughter’s, grave.  The rest of the men did not show that they heard his whimpers as they dug.  Shovel and spade sifted through the now-black soil.  The men grunted.

Edwin Mooney stood and stretched his back, his hands to both hips.  The oldest of them all, at forty-three, he looked at the darkening sky, the slow moving clouds, and wonders at the blasphemy of this.  Melissa Mooney, his eldest daughter—now nineteen herself, the same age as Snuffy’s daughter, Sarah, had been when she’d died—had wanted him to help dig, to help burn the bodies, if necessary.

“Sarah will come for me next!” she often wailed.  “Do you want me to die, too?”

Mary, his wife, had also asked him to help with the bodies.  “At least,” she said to him in bed one night, under flickering candlelight, “it will quiet Missy down.”  Mary had always been logical, he knew.  Very strong.  When he was uncertain, which was often, she was not.

He dug.

“I want it to be recorded somewhere that I want no part of this,” Dr. Harold Metcalf intoned, standing on the backyard doorstep of Snuffy’s home.  “This is a violence against God and good decency.”

“As you’ve been sayin’, Doctor Metcalf,” gasped Mark Reynolds between swings of the spade into the earth.  “As you’ve been sayin’.”

“Jus’ wait, Doctor Metcalf,” Adam Wilcox grunted, heaving shovelfuls of dirt to his left, into the woods behind Snuffy’s plot.  “Wait.  We’ll show you.  One of them’s to blame.  We’ll find ’er for ya, sure enough.”

“It’s just the Consumption, I tell you.”  Metcalf was angry and horrified.  The small town of Exeter, Rhode Island, was turned on its ear, and being led by the likes of Wilcox and Whitford.  Though not as base as Stukeley, they were worse because they were ignorant.  Stukeley, barely more than an idiot—though a great farmer, Metcalf had to admit—wasn’t expected to know any better.  But these men could.  And Reynolds and Gardner, too.  Otherwise good men led by their wives and daughters.  And superstition.

“Tell that to my Hannah,” whimpered Snuffy.  “Tell that to ’er after she’s done tellin’ you how Sarah’s been sittin’ on ’er, and drainin’ ’er.  Tell that to my wife, who says the same.”

Metcalf went to him and placed a hand on one of Snuffy’s shoulders.  Snuffy had stopped digging and stood there, sobbing.

“It’s the fever, Snuffy.  The starvation.  They’re just repeating what they’ve heard.  They’re seeing what’s been told to them.”

Snuffy turned then, and looked at him.  Bloodshot eyes leaked tears that ran his stubbled, cratered cheeks.  “Anna said the same!  Anna said the same and I didn’t listen to ’er!”

Doctor Metcalf removed his hand and stood back.  The others stopped their work.

“I didn’t listen to ’er and look what happened!  Six of ’em gone!  Six!  And now my son’s struck, and my wife!  And Hannah!”  Snuffy slid a soiled and shriven coatsleeve over his flowing eyes, then the back of a gloved hand over his running nose.

“I got six more, countin’ Hannah and my son.  I’m gonna lose my only son,” he wailed.  “He’s due to be married in a month.  I lose him, I lose my name.  Haven’t I lost enough?”

Metcalf calmed himself and offered a hand as he stepped forward.  “Snuffy, I’m sorry.  We’re all sorry that you—”

Stukeley batted away his hand.  “Haven’t I lost enough, now?”

The men stood around them, silent.  After a moment, Mary, his family’s young servant from Wakefield, appeared in the back doorway, clutching a shawl around her neck, sobbing.

Edwin Mooney, still rubbing his lower back, said: “What is it, child?”

She sniffled and hiccupped but finally got it out.  “It’s Hannah.  She’s—she’s gone!”

Snuffy gave Metcalf a last hard, yet weary, stare, then turned, walked slowly past the small headstones in the plot behind his yard, and entered his home.

“Jus’ leave yer good doctor’s hands in yer pockets,” drawled Wilcox.  “Let us work at it.  We’ll find the Devil yet.”

Metcalf, who thought of Wilcox as a common criminal, ignored him.

An hour later, Reynolds’ spade struck the coffin, damaging it.  He swore.  Carefully they slid strong ropes beneath the wood; then, four to a side, with Snuffy at the head and Dr. Metcalf—against his own judgment—at the foot, they hoisted it out and placed it carefully on the rocky ground.  The men offered the crowbar to Snuffy, but he couldn’t do it, so finally Adam Wilcox pried the top of the thin, wooden coffin.  Soon the nails gave, and they lifted it up.  Reynolds, Mooney and Gardner shown their lights.

Anna Stukeley lay in a state of advanced decomposition.  Strands of light brown hair lay scattered upon the red and pink pillow, upon her skull and on both shoulders.  Flecks of browning skin were attached still to the right jawbone and cheekbone, both otherwise the skeleton was bare.  The white and pink dress and black shoes they had buried her in had faded somewhat, and her skeletal hands lay, crossed, upon her chest.  She’d been dead for two years, and she’d obviously never risen.

Reynolds swore again.  The other men murmured as Snuffy covered his face and sobbed.  The doctor walked him into his house while the others replaced the coffin and began to fill in the hole.

When finished, they agreed, they would return home and meet again at eleven to work on the next grave.


  1. I remember Nietzsche from sociology... and great excerpt! Really riveting.

  2. Thanks! I'm working hard on this new novel...So far, so good. How about you? What're you working on?