The Ringing Bells - A Short Story

The Ringing Bells
The Ringing Bells

I can sleep in peace tonight. I had a long tiring day in the wood shop today, even though it's my first day on the job. I am told that it will get more tiring once I learn enough skill. I am happy to have my mind busy all day.

I have not been able to sleep since so many days, the poppy drink hasn't been of much help. I have been hearing the bells every night. This has been the first day since so many days, that I didn't think of the horrors at the graveyard.

I have lost so much weight since the day I took the night watchman job at Brookwood cemetery. It has been a nightmare since Day 1. It's just made worse by the fact that no one believes me. Everyone keeps blaming that I am drunk and back to my old ways, it doesn't matter how much I try to convince them of my sobriety since eighteen months. My close friends and family believe that I am off the alcohol, but they think I am being delusional because of night duty and my fears. I was never scared of working in a graveyard - I was never scared of dead people.

I remember clearly my first shift at the graveyard. Being an exclusive graveyard for the affluent, it's only reasonable that the cemetery have guards all the time. Many of these rich corpses are buried with their favorite jewels, after all. There have been many accounts of robbery where the thieves have completely destroyed not just the coffin, but also the buried. Fingers are cut off to get the rings, as the corpses become stiff. The safety coffins made it easy for the thieves to rob the dead. With growing number of falsely pronounced deaths, more people are getting themselves a safety coffin - which has a lock instead of the lid nailed down completely. Everyone is scared of being buried alive, but only the rich can afford the safety coffins, to be able to survive the dark coffin underground. There are air tubes and bells above the surface - the air tubes are connected to coffin lid to allow the person to breathe and the bells are attached to the limbs of the person to make a sound when they wake up. On my first shift, as I was strolling, I heard a low chime from a burial spot which was two lanes to my left.

I was aware of the accidental ringing of the bells, when it's a fresh corpse swelling and shifting inside the coffin. However, this tombstone appeared quite old. I walked towards it, as I pricked up my ears to listen. I could only hear the rustling of the leaves underneath my feet and the sound of the summer breeze in the trees. As I stood in front of the tombstone, I tried to read the inscription on it. It wasn't clear in the dark and with some squinting, I figured out what it read - "In loving memory of Elizabeth Stephane Wagner". She was born in 1801 and died in 1835 - five years back. I thought it was the Cholera, I would later learn that she has been murdered by her husband. There was a single bell on the tomb, which seemed pretty heavy for the gentle breeze to disturb. I resumed my walking and I caught myself stealing glances at Elizabeth's tomb.

After several hours, long after I have forgotten about the bell, I saw it even before I heard it - the bell ringing loud and ominously. With every ring, my heart pounded more and more. My legs were stiff and I couldn't move. After what seemed like hours, I came to my senses and racked my brain to be rational. But no logic could explain the ringing bell of a five year old corpse. As I took a step to walk towards the tomb, the bell stopped ringing as suddenly as it started to ring. I decided to do what a guard is supposed to do when the bells ring - inform the officials. But I couldn't leave my shift and I had to wait for three more hours for the day watchman to arrive.

I explained what happened to the day watchman and the officials. No one believed me. Everything would be normal when someone else accompanies me to inspect at night. The bell would ring for me alone.

Despite my destitute situation and debts, I have quit the job to gain back my sanity. Long after I have quit, I still heard the bells in my sleep. I have been jumpy and restless all these days. But today at the wood shop, my nerves calmed down. I can sleep in peace tonight.

My ears are ringing. I should have taken a dose of the poppy drink. The ringing isn't stopping, my ears are starting to hurt. I try to wake myself up, but it's like having the Earth itself pinning me down to my bed. The bed is hard too and is closing in upon me. I can't breathe. I can feel my arms flailing around, there's something obstructing them from stretching out. I tried to push it away, my nails were scratching at it. There's blood on my fingers and my ears started bleeding out. I used all my will to open my eyes. A velvet of darkness surrounded me. I realized what's obstructing my hands - it's the coffin lid. A sense of hysteria and panic gripped me. I pounded the lid with all my limbs and I screamed for help, dripped in sweat and blood.

The bells wouldn't stop ringing.

~ The End


Trivia: Safety coffins are a real thing in earlier centuries - as many people were mistakenly pronounced dead often. People were scared of being buried alive. In some cases, a wooden pin would be driven through the dead's heart/brain to ensure that they are dead. The vampire folklore is thought to have an inspiration from the urban legends of  buried alive people.

For more stories, please see Short Stories


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