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The Airshaft by Lucious Vaughn

The Airshaft by Lucious Vaughn

Fiction, Vol. 2.2, June 2008

Dove was a woman who roamed on a cemetery road. Her face was on to nightfall. Her dark hair was above the shoulders. Her oxfords were brown leather; they were high tops. The shoes were up around her ankles. They were not hard on her feet. She was not very tall but had big bones, for picking things up and for laying them down. Her roaming dress was made of a cloth that gave off a rustling sound like heavy silk when she moved, like heavy silk; those specialty talismans often tied around the waistline of a roamer were not flailing or jingling about her and she had no special day that she did not roam.

The road was winding inside of the cemetery by the edge of the woods. She pushed a cart; it resembled a rickshaw rolling on some high casters. The road wound around the charnel house: sumptuous desolation was its condition. It had once been posh, befitting its role as the accumulator of the dead. Dove was attracted to the window: the casement was a dark dormer; it was unreflecting and a renovation of it came to her mind. The house was the property of the ambitious undertaker and Dove wanted the rusty key to the charnel house from him. She was a peddler and she sold the things from the cart to the pedestrians by the wayside.

The undertaker officiated until the body was interred. He dismissed the attendees to go their several ways. He found Dove and they trudged through the cemetery together. The evergreens encroached to the bottoms of the mausoleums. The tombstones were jutting askance, tilted over in the field. They read the epitaphs etched on the tombstones. Some of the birth and death dates chiseled on the granite stones predated Dove’s own age and time, for she was born in 1919. The bud vases were iron; they were cast out of an iron mold similar to that of the headstones. The vases were attached to the headstones with braided iron chains; the vases were set up on the burial plots. The silk and plastic flowers in them were perennials. The perennials were the exception to the overall dishevelment in the cemetery.

Dove challenged the undertaker’s authority head-on and told him, “I chide you to mend the unkemptness.”

The ambitious undertaker asked Dove, “Are you robbing the graves?”

“Who, me?  Of course not.” Dove coaxed the undertaker to take the donation she handed him. The undertaker skirted the issue–not to accept the gratuity, since its acceptance could come back to haunt him. As accepting graft was the issue, he took the donation for the overall look of dishevelment in the cemetery and he put the charnel house key in Dove’s hand.

”See, that is what I am saying,” she muttered. “Ambitious. They will just come right out and say a body was robbing a dead person. What if the vault was around them?”

The cemetery trees hid where the cart was parked, where Dove had put the cart to the side of the charnel house when she was not pushing it. Dove put the key in it and passed into the charnel house.

Once inside the charnel house, the haze that had attracted her to the casement was inside as well as outside. The haze was as durable as permafrost; the house was bleak. Dove had come by the glass masonry bricks locally; from the house renovations cash and carry depot; she got them for the renovation of the window that had come to her mind. She put the renovation up to the casement herself.

The unreflecting charnel house window was composed of the deadlight and it went away when she renovated it. And there was beside it the outline for the beginnings of a plaque that began to read Resolved, but the rest faded away off the stone canvas. The steps were in the extreme rear end of the first floor, which she came into upon entering the house.

Dove descended the steps. She came into the charnel house basement. It was an area spare of accoutrements or notable pieces of furniture; for those had been moved out. The wall candles were electric and the electricity came down when she turned it on.  Like on the prior floor, a divan was under the electric candle. The divans had possibly been part of a collectable décor. They were put there recently to be notable places for a body to sit down on, but Dove did not sit down on them. She appeared to be at work in the charnel house, in the basement. She imagined that she saw the face of the undertaker momentarily glower down at her from the basement ceiling and then, his face faded away from her thought that she had imagined him.

The extension of a coil was there, down the wall to where Dove was; it was a textured cable coil strung through the tails of the seahorse hooks on the basement ceiling. The seahorses were painted white, extended across the ceiling. It was tied to the grate that was over the basement window. This grate was cast out of an iron mold. Metal strips were overlaid above the grate; horizontal strips were overlaid across the vertical ones; overlaid that way, the squares were acrostic as the squares of a crossword puzzle. The basement window had iron bars and no glass pane, so the solid iron grate covered over the iron bars. Dove pulled the cable coil that was extended down by her; the tug on it lifted the grate from over the bars.

Dove hooked the coil on the piece of a hook that was for it, by the wall, so it would keep the grate lifted up from covering the basement window. The four basement walls each had a door; the four corners of the basement walls had a place to enter. Dove opened that door; the air came in a whoosh torrentially, rushing on the airshaft glide path into the basement and up toward the bars to vanish outside toward the ground of the cemetery. Dove went through the door and was in the conduit that was the tunnel to the subterranean. It was a cavernous area where she had arrived at her goal.

When Dove was done exploring the subterranean of the charnel house interior, she went out of it at that time, pushed the cart away from the house for it to roll on the cemetery road; the cart listed as if it were heavy-laden. Some sunken gravestones peered up to Dove, some spires that were the tombstones leaned athwart on the road; some cemetery tumbleweed rolled past the gaze of the rickshaw. The cemetery trees were dazzlingly dead, deciduously barren. The marsh vines climbed up them.

Off the cemetery road, Dove arrived at the wayside and parked the cart. She took the tiniest key on her key ring and inserted it into the lock, twisted the spool knob, and pulled back the doors. The cabinet doors of the cart swung open.  The cart itself was the transaction counter. Laid out was an array of pins, brooches, beads, a sleeve of watches and gold and silver rings.

A pedestrian spied Dove when she came out of the cemetery. He saw her park the cart by the wayside. She was a seller of things from that cart. He approached her. His eyes were on the array. He attempted to bid his say-so for items that were variously displayed.

He asked Dove, Had she heard? The casket was found on the top of the ground in the cemetery; it had been exhumed by vandals. It was opened; the remains were not in it. The bones, which were found, were surrounding the casket and were deliberately strewn about by the vandals when they exhumed the casket. But these bones were not determined to be the remains of the person who was buried in the casket.

Dove acknowledged the pedestrian had a say-so; he tended to bide with her concern for appearances in the cemetery. ”Yes, I heard, it was the way the news said it at 6 o’clock; it made me look up. A caretaker had not guarded against it. That is, a casket was exhumed by vandalism. It contributed to the overall dishevelment in the cemetery. In general, a casket was exhumed with a formidable request for a quiet ceremony, and, persons who exhumed caskets might be surprised that they received such a request in general: Notably, the casket of Mrs. En was entombed in a mausoleum. It was the first casket that our generation who attended the interment ever saw directly parked in a mausoleum. The most, it was there for three months. We were told on a Wednesday of a week that her casket was moved out of its entombment to another cemetery. Her casket was put in a mausoleum far across town.”

The pedestrian said, “Some are disinterred, and some are unentombed. I am satisfied with these selections,” he said, and paid Dove cash.

Dove was the by-the-wayside seller, and registered her own spiel for what she sold by the wayside. An object he got from her by the wayside was the fleur de haberdashery pin. He tried it on his hat, and after, tried a tie clasp, which was pinned on his lapel. He put a silver ring on his finger. He took the Timex from the sleeve of watches. The second hand moved around the watch face; he let it tick to his ear.

He went and was crossing at the roadside. There was an amber signal for the four-way crossing at the intersection. The one-eye traffic light blinked, on and off perpetually, for slow and caution. The pedestrian stepped into the road.

An automobile roared through the lights and hit him. The impact sailed him through the air. The EMTs could not revive him. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital. The traffic death made some of the other uproarious drivers react differently to hypertension that was excited among motorists the livelong day.

Nightfall brought calm back. Dove closed down her cart stall, rolled it on the cemetery road; the crickets were chirping en masse the livelong night.

Then, in the course of the next week, Dove was reeling from the casualty of the pedestrian who bought the things she sold by the wayside. His death was unsettling to her from the onset. What was unsettling was her feelings of mourning for him. Dove had donned a somber sable and attended his wake. Then, inside the charnel house, her attention was quickened; her poise was sharp. Dove stood by the window and sung, “I Was Standing By My Window On A Cold And Cloudy Day!” The black limousine led the cortege; the pallbearers’ images came through the glass brick like bent images on a ghost channel. The ambitious undertaker officiated entirely and committed the body to the ground. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

The attendees were bid to go about the highways and byways without any road rage, and were dismissed.

Dove went to the far end of the entrance floor she was on and around the banister of the risers. She descended those steps and was again in the charnel house basement. The four walls each had the doors, and the basement was a squarely-constructed basement; the four corners of each of the walls had recesses in each corner; the reaches were places to enter. Dove was sweeping the octagon of the basement, compassing about. She pulled the line of the cable, it pulled up the grate and hooked it; she put the key into it and opened the door. Whoosh, was the archetypical sound of the airshaft; the air glided through the tunnel, came out of the opened door, the same one as Dove first explored, went up to the grate and went under it, lifted up and through the bars and was vanishing outside to the cemetery ground. No chaff blew on Dove.

The ambitious undertaker had previously answered a summons and renovated the previous conditions. He let them afford refrigeration without burial, as it was the law; the tunnel was clear as she went into it. That faint, curious odor was loose and lingering about in the charnel house. Dove came to the grids upon the tunnel ceiling, and they were numbered. A slab table was on the floor, the rectangular size of the ceiling grid. The slab was on a tubular pedestal that, with the maneuver of a lever, could go up to a grid and come down from it. The pedestal was on a roller and could roll back and forth and around, and was maneuverable beneath the grids in the cavernous tunnel.

Dove manipulated the lever. The winding chain wound up and the winding chain wound down. The winding chain supported the old-fashioned weight of the slab table. Dove maneuvered the lever for automations devised by the ambitious undertaker.

The slab table escalated up on the pedestal directly underneath a grid. The screwdrivers that were devised on the table were skewed. The screwdrivers launched into the grid and unscrewed it and it came loose on the slab table.

The grid was the bottom of the coffin above it. To cover the toll of the dirt which would roil when a grid was about to be removed, Dove heard the dirt roll away into the bins of the automatons when the chains rolled over. Going up and coming down, the bins rolled over and held beside the top of the coffin.

The slab table de-escalated to Dove. The casket came resting on the grid in front of Dove. She breached the casket, opened it underground in the subterranean tunnel; the man in the casket had just been committed to the ground in the cemetery by the edge of the woods. She was in awe of the spectacle, she herself incited. Images came to her and quickened her activity: she had exhumed him from the ground; she had not taken him from entombment in the mausoleum. Dove stripped the items off his corpse: The Timex. The silver ring. The fleur de haberdashery pin.

The black burial suit he wore was his own.

Dove closed the casket on the pedestrian hit in the intersection. Dove maneuvered the lever. The machinations escalated the grid with the casket on it onto the slab table. The bins roiled the toll of the dirt. The chains winding up and winding down put it back into the ground. The cover of dirt over the grave above ground settled it back. The sight of the sunken grave from the cemetery ground caused a body to suppress an unsettling. The screwdrivers fastened down the grid from the bottom of the grave that was numbered on the ceiling.

Dove pushed the cart and sold her wares by the wayside. The amber signal blinked on and off for caution in the intersection.

The Object of Desire by Gary Pedler

Ebbing by Tammy Ho and Reid Mitchell

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