Any evening you’ll find me walking round my village, a brisk half-hour’s walk. It’s much later tonight, gone eleven. I got waylaid sorting out books in my library, sifting through collections of Daphne Du Maurer and Victor Canning first editions. I pass occasional houses, farms and cottages. Is anyone awake? Alive even? The sporadic street light casts its orange glow but windows are dark, silent, and secretive.
The moon is bright. The full silver disk shines down, belittling my torch so that I replace it in my jacket pocket. Few stars are visible but a bright yellow ‘star’ shines just under the moon. Jupiter or Saturn? I realise I don’t really care. I approach the church along a little lane, overhung by trees, that loops off the main village road. To my left is a gate in the hedge. I stand there and gaze out over the moonlit gravestones. Sides facing away from the bright moon are in deep shadow, emphasising how most stones are tilted over. After hundreds of years of imperceptible toppling, some gravestones lean at forty-five degrees.
I pass through the gate. Ahead of me are several gigantic yew trees. Pitch black, they remind me of rooks (or ‘castles’) in chess, almost square with small ‘turrets’ on top. I hear geese honking in the distance, then silence, the air still as a quiet pond.
I look behind me, to neat rows of more modern gravestones. They resemble card, not stone, two-dimensional in the unearthly light. Suddenly right by me, a bird flies out of a bare tree, squawking loudly. I jump.
“Hello, Stan.” A voice comes from my side, soft, recognisable – it’s Gary from the village.
I look around. “Hello stranger, you’re out late!”
“It’s peaceful. No one’s about, not even ghosts!” he laughs. Then, “My brother’s buried here.” He gestures to his right.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I say. “When did he die?”
“Exactly five years ago today. His motorbike went under a truck.”
“That’s awful, I hadn’t heard.”
“It’s still hard Stan, but at least I can visit him.”
“Yes, my dad’s here too,” I say.
I gaze around the churchyard, so very different by moonlight. So many gravestones I’d never noticed before. There’s even one under my feet. In the half-light, tall, round-headed gravestones look exactly like the heads and shoulders of half-buried giants. I glance around and notice Gary has gone.
I pass the church and leave the graveyard to continue my walk. A little further on is the village pub. Lights burn brightly still. “B & B’ers” drinking and talking late, no doubt. On impulse, I go in. Sure enough, I don’t recognise the small gathering, but there’s Bill, the landlord and at the bar, Gary.
“Hi Gaz, you must be thirsty!” I say, seeing his glass almost empty.
He laughs. “What?”
“Well, you drank that quickly!”
“What are you on about?” he says.
“You came back from the church quickly.”
“I’ve not been to the church. I’ve been in here.”
“He has,” says Bill.
“You were telling me about your brother.”
“My brother’s dead and buried, over there in the graveyard.”
“I just saw you.”
Gary puts down his beer, hand shaking. “Jez was my twin. We were identical twins.”
“I could never tell them apart,” says Bill.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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