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The Ruined Grave
The Ruined Grave
Published by Raul Urraca
01-01-2017
The Ruined Grave

“And I hoped to create an idiot word, a chain of symbols wholly emptied of meaning. I wanted each letter to be as pointless and arbitrary as a pile of stones or a gnarled length of root.”
-John Abrew, Notebooks
John Abrew perished in the company of his wife and children.
He lay in bed, covered by black spots and white chancres. Doctor Corss had no idea what afflicted him; when pressed by the dying philosopher’s wife, he gave a handful of green painkillers to ease the pain. Abrew refused the medicine, claiming that he wanted to experience death fully and sans dilution.
The deathroom reeked of a January night’s purple darkness. Martha, his wife, had drawn the curtains shut. She wanted to turn on a lamp, but he told her that he would not abide by it, that he wanted to die in darkness, where he would see no words. The bedroom’s door was slightly ajar, and yellow light trickled in from the hallway. It was the only illumination.
His three adolescent children surrounded him. William, his thirteen year old son, stood on the right side of the bed, staring at his wasting father. Melanie, his fourteen year old daughter, kept to the left side, doing much the same as her brother. Mina, eighteen and Abrew’s favorite, lay on the bed beside him, stroking his splotched face. She often shared the bed with her father.
Martha Abrew sat in a chair in the corner, looking at her hands. She said little anymore.
Abrew’s wife and children had the most innocent, angelic of visages. Yet Dr. Corss, who may or may not have actually been in attendance, reported that their faces looked absolutely diabolical, pointed and sharp, in the darkness of the deathroom.
Corss reports that Abrew uttered a brief, nonsensical word with a gravelly texture. This, Corss reports, was Abrew’s death rattle, for he perished after it left his lips.
Corss has told us, in certain intimate moments, that Abrew’s death moan made him unusually uncomfortable. The nonsensical expression hung in the air with a sinister meaninglessness before, as it were, sinking to the floor and crumbling.
Corss said that the darkness of the room undoubtedly effected his discomfort.
*****
John Abrew was the only son of a wealthy local businessman. The family business dealt in wood; sawmills, lumberyards, a number of carpentries manufacturing everything from sofas to coffins, and papermills generated their wealth. Abrew left our town in his youth, seeking his education at some far-flung university. He displayed much potential, apparently. Before he was thirty, he had a well-received chapbook of poems and an ingenious collection of philosophical essays to his name. But his father perished suddenly, bringing the younger Abrew back to town to deal with the sizeable estate. It was a complicated affair, apparently. He spent a year in his former home settling the difficulties, eventually disposing of the family business for a sizeable sum that supported him and his family for the rest of their lives.
We often say that, if one wants to get away from our town, one should get out and never come back, for one will certainly stay if one returns. Abrew made the mistake of returning. He cut short his promising career and became, in the eyes of his former colleagues, a philosopher manque, a useless family man incapable of professional dedication.
He married Martha Drow, a girl of eighteen tangentially related to a childhood friend. After an unostentatious common-law marriage, they purchased a boxy white house in the town’s suburbs, Abrew having sold-off the family home.
For the next decade, the couple kept quiet. John rarely left the house. Martha only went out to get groceries and the numerous books John requested. She told inquirers that her husband was writing a masterpiece, a book that would “explain the world.” She did not know the specifics, exactly. If anyone pressed her she would say that it dealt with language.
Abrew must have given up on his manuscript. After a decade, he no longer sent his wife out to get his food and books. The two would be spotted walking through town. Abrew would even show the decency to converse with inquiring townsmen. Everyone said that he was a somewhat dull conversationalist, aloof, measuring, it seemed, his every word, using only the dullest replies, the most banal, empty cliches.
Abrew’s wife had their first child, Mina, soon after John withdrew from his seclusion. The other two were born within the next five years. We all agreed amongst ourselves that, having failed as a philosopher, Abrew took up fatherhood as a consolation prize. Some of the crueller among us joked that Abrew now had no chance of succeeding. A philosopher, they said, could not be a family man. For many years their observation proved true. Abrew lived on his income rather idly, idly for a father, at least. We would see him walking near the river with young Mina. He must have had a special relationship with Mina, for we rarely saw him with any of his other children.
*****
Against all expectations, Abrew began dabbling in philosophy again in the years preceding his death.
He filled numerous notebooks with peculiar ideas and incoherent illustrations. After his death, a local publisher collected these odd lucubrations and issued them in a large, poorly-formatted volume. Mina, distraught about her father’s death, gave them permission and even wrote a hysteric foreword. Abrew’s notebooks were mostly indecipherable; the publisher made little attempt to explicate them with the customary commentaries and footnotes. However, one could ascertain that Abrew held to a sort of linguistic idealism. He made no distinction between word and reality; alter one, he seemed to think, and you will alter the other.
To this effect, he conducted bizarre experiments in the basement of his home.
It was a wintry-black cellar piled up with boxes of junk, lit only by a single jaundiced lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. Mina and Abrew sat in creaky wooden chairs near the stairs, facing each other.
Mina was a lovely youth, with a rather pretty face and long, silky brown hair. A mole situated on the right side of her lip added to her attractiveness, as did her occasional bouts of psoriasis. We knew her for her innocence and devotion to her poor father; she rebuffed the lewd advances of the local youths and showed utter shock at their vile comments. She seemed to prefer her father to any other men.
Abrew was nearing sixty. He had not aged well, despite years of easy living. The skin on his face seemed dehydrated, and it tightly clung to his bony skull like dry, sun-beaten leather. His brown hair had turned white, and he rarely had it cut. White stubble clung to his desiccated visage like mold.
While they sat in their chairs, Abrew would introduce a word to Mina.
Abrew would have her repeat the word over and over for a half hour, defamiliarizing it. Then he would create certain sentences in which she was to use the word. She knew several languages in addition to English, so Abrew would have her use the word in foreign sentences as well. He would have her repeat these sentences for another half-hour. These two steps were merely the beginning of Abrew’s process; he called them “defamiliarization and alienation.” He would defamiliarize and alienate the word several times a night, for several nights in a row. Mina would often grow exasperated and fatigued. She broke down in tears nightly. Her father, stern and somewhat cruel, ensured that the process continued. Whenever she cried and begged to stop, he slapped her pale cheek as though she was still a small child.
After several nights, Abrew would judge the word sufficiently degraded. He would insert it into nonsensical sentences of pure gibberish, then force Mina to repeat them. He would cruelly force her to interpret the nonsense. Whenever she erred (as she always did) he hit her, leaving purple bruises on her pale arms.
The gibberish sentences formed the penultimate stage of Abrew’s machinations. It lasted every night for many weeks. Mina missed school and lost weight. She slept during the day, waking in the afternoon, screaming from nightmares. Abrew often joined her in bed and stroked her bare back and arms, trying to help his troubled daughter fall asleep.
Finally, the night would come in which they finished the word off. In the cellar, in the darkness of the cellar, Abrew would have Mina write the word again and again on slips of cheap, brown paper. He would inspect it each time in the yellow light of the single lightbulb. After several hundred attempts, he would judge the word to be correctly degraded. He would seal it in a mason jar and bury it in a patch of dirt hidden by a refrigerator box. He would forbid Mina to dig it up; it had to fester, he said, for a month.
The two would recover in this month. They would not share the same bed, and they ate and slept more. Abrew showered Mina with little gifts and kisses as if to apologize for the cruelty of his experiment.
After the month had elapsed, the two would return to the basement in elation. Abrew carried a small grey shovel like a priest his sceptre. They would move the box, and Abrew would dig up the jar. Usually nothing had happened, not until the last experiment before Abrew’s death. The jar usually harbored a dry slip of paper and some stale air. However, in the last experiment, the paper had transformed. Abrew opened the jar, and a horrible stench like rotten, maggot-eaten flesh leaked from it. Mina vomited into the floor. Abrew, holding back his own vomit, removed the slip of paper and read it.
Rather, he tried to read it. He could not make the word out. It seemed familiar, as though the letters would make sense, but they did not. They were no different than an idiot’s meaningless scribbles.
Abrew leaped up and down, hooting and screeching, waking everyone in the house. He had succeeded in ruining a word.
*****
Abrew’s funeral took place at an old cemetery a mile from his home.
The cemetery, located in the middle of woods, received few visitors, owing to its out of the way location and general dilapidation. It had no fence, the owners of the plot being unwilling to pay for one. The graves, marked by cheap headstones of crumbling cement, were overgrown with weeds. A few sported wildflowers, lovely fleabane, devil’s trumpets, and phloxes.
The short, surly groundskeeper thoroughly mowed the plot before Abrew’s funeral. He also was responsible for the entirety of Abrew’s burial; he dug the grave, lowered the coffin into the hole, and buried it. He swore as he covered Abrew’s remains with earth. The family stood on the opposite side of the grave. Martha looked at her feet. Melanie and William, glassy-eyed, said nothing and watched the dirt cover their father’s coffin. Mina wept hysterically. We have heard that she had to be forcibly taken from the grave, that she tried to interfere with the burial.
After the funeral, if one can call it that, the Abrews left our town. Within two weeks of Abrew’s death, they had left their home of a sudden, the family automobile gone. The children’s friends made something of a commotion about it, but they received letters from their fled friends indicating that they needed a change of location after losing the center of their family. Movers arrived soon and hauled off the Abrews’ belongings.
We never discovered where they went. Close acquaintances received the occasional letter, and Mina’s assistance in getting her father’s notebooks published indicated that the family still existed, but their departure seemed unusual, as if the family had disappeared under criminal circumstances. No one saw them face-to-face again. Only letters and writings testified to their existence.
*****
With the Abrews gone, and with them the strangeness of their patriarch’s decease, we forgot the unfortunate demise. The publication of Abrew’s notebooks a few months after the man’s death did remind us of him, and their strangeness did provoke bemused conversation among the few that bought his unusual lucubrations. Still, we forgot the Abrews.
Roughly a year after John Abrew died, the owners of the cemetery sent the stout, rude man to mow and clear the vegetation. They expected that the grave might receive visitors (family, of course). The groundskeeper did not complete his task, for he found Abrew’s grave to be in grotesque condition.
The earth covering it was wet and red, like an open wound. Maggots burrowed in the bloody earth, which had began to fester in the June heat. Gnats swarmed over it, eager to eat. An oval ring of white, waterlogged flesh, an inch wide, surrounded the grave. Around the band of flesh grew tall flowers that hung over the grave-wound. The heavy, white flowers drooped on their stems. The petals grew toward each other in the middle, giving the flowers the appearance of mouths in the act of speaking.
The groundskeeper told his employers what he had seen; disbelieving him, they saw it for themselves.
A photograph appeared in the town’s newspaper, bringing visitors to the ruined grave.
We all remarked that it was a disgusting tragedy for the man’s grave to be ruined in such a way. An adventurous personage, probably the bespectacled owner of the graveyard, took the groundskeeper’s shovel and sank it into the grave-wound, thinking that the sore was a mere deceit on the part of his stout employee.
We heard him crush one of the flowers underfoot. It let out a sigh, or perhaps a gasp, we cannot be sure, as he stepped on the curled petals.
The spade’s head pierced the damp, red surface of the wound. It sank into the bloody ground. Suction from the moist flesh held it in place. Watery blood mixed with pus formed a pool around the shaft. Worms swam in the shallow pool, occasionally lifting their blind, earless heads to cry out with toothless mouths.
The bespectacled man extricated his shovel with a lewd plop. Drops of gravewater splashed onto the spectators’ cuffs and pantslegs.
They quickly cleared from the grave, seeing that the wound was no imposture.
Several days later, a meeting was held in our town’s abandoned movie theater. A clamoring crowd sat in the threadbare seats, arguing over what should be done with the grave.
Coal-oil lamps lit the screening room. The building’s electricity had been cut years before. Hot smoked hung in the air.
We had no government for lack of funds. At such critical moments, any charlatan capable of rudimentary eloquence could take hold of our town. Our two astrologers, Parler and Ablar, rose to prominence that day. Standing before us in purple robes, these haggard charlatans discoursed on the cause of the grave’s deformation:
“We have read Abrew’s books, if you can call such lunacy, such devlish nonsense, such horrible ramblings collected in so haphazard a fashion a book. We know his blasphemy, how he gives the word precedent over the stars that govern us! His very grave is marked by his impiety. Even in death is he wounded!”
Parler and Ablar were indistinguishable men. Very likely one budded off the other. Were it not for their constant stubble, they would have looked like old women. They wore gaudy rings on their fingers, and the soft white skin on their faces drooped suggestively. The bags under their eyes showed the signs of eye shadow, though their defenders claimed that narcotics bruised the papery skin.
The semi-crones howled in the theater, spit collecting at the edges of their red-purple lips.
“Lay a pile of dry willow branches on the grave! Build a fire at sunset, when the Orator is poised over Orion. Keep from the smoke!”
The two then retreated to their tower near the chapel.
The murmuring townsfolk agreed. We would pay the Astrologers heed.
The signs arranged themselves two months after the Astrologers’ speech. We burned Abrew’s grave without ceremony. The flesh popped like meat, and a babbling, foamy grease boiled the flowers. Brown smoke rose into the sky like an ignored comment.
We barred the gate to the Cemetery. We swore that anyone who entered would be lynched.
After we burnt the grave, the town grew quiet. We said as little as possible. Every word was unnecessary, indecent, like asking a question in the silence after a horrible disagreement.
One by one, we fell from the sickness.
It started in the back-alleys, in the piles of waste from dumped chamberpots. The nights were lurid and tawdry, like a painting on black velvet. Roses with long stems rose from piles of excrement, kicking up like a woman’s leg. A faint, black grime covered the bloody leaves.
The air communicated the grime, which attacked our lungs. It robbed us of the ability to speak. The sentences, stinking of rotten meat and dripping pus, hung in the air without meaning for a few moments, then crumbled into dark filth.
The remains of our words covered floors of our homes, our suburban houses and apartments above stores.
Robbed of speech, we slowly perished. Our bodies went unburied.
*****
Parler and Ablar were the last to perish.
One dark night, in the top of their tower, surrounded by useless tomes, they desperately searched for the cure to the plague. They felt a tingling in their lungs, and their minds sloshed with incipient aphasia.
A faint oil-lamp lit the chamber, revealing their frantic faces. A window near the ceiling was open, revealing a shouting, confused moon.
Ablar threw his book on the floorand tore at his robe. His fingernails raked off the cheap glitter, which fell on the vomit-shaded carpet like snow.
Parler thumbed through Abrew’s book, believing that the answer could be found there. He knew, as we all did, that the plague was Abrew’s doing.
Parler put the book down and went to his desk. He found a letter from one of Mina’s friends, relayed by the ever-helpful Dr. Corss before succumbing to plague. It contained a phone number by which he could reach her. He ran to the phone with the letter in hand. His soft hands trembled as he dialed the number.
As Parler waited for the phone to connect, Ablar went to the book, searching it while his friend attempted to call Mina.
While reading, Ablar asked Parler if the phone was working.
Parler responded with a loud gurgling. He vomited a tangle of serpentine words onto the floor. They twitched and trembled before expiring.
Ablar had just found a relevant passage. Putting it in memory, he tried in vain to help his fallen friend, who lay in the floor suffocating in his own rotten language. Bits of ruined words hung from his mouth, trembling like the tentacles of a dying squid.
The phone hung from the wall. Ablar heard a “Hello?” issue from the speaker.
He ran to it, tripping over an alembic Parler turned over as he collapsed.
On the phone, Ablar shouted, “Mina? Is that you?”
“Who are you? Why are you calling me so late?”
“Nevermind! Listen, I’ve read your father’s book! What word did he ruin?”
Mina laughed and hung up.
Parler perished an hour later while trying to find a hint in Abrew’s notebooks. Black spots and white chancres marred his confused, lifeless face. His words had matted his hair. He was a pitiful specimen.
If Mina had been more cooperative, she would have told him that “grave” was the ruined word.
9 Thanks From:
DarkView (01-02-2017), Hideous Name (01-02-2017), Insentient Traveler (01-02-2017), miguel1984 (01-03-2017), Mr. Veech (01-02-2017), ramonoski (01-02-2017), ToALonelyPeace (01-01-2017), yellowish haze (01-02-2017), Zaharoff (05-02-2017)
  #1  
By Mr. Veech on 01-02-2017
Re: The Ruined Grave

Thank you for posting. I enjoyed it very much. It made me think of what Wittgenstein would've been like had he been a father.
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