So when you read the heading, what do you think?
If you are Charli Mills it would be the gravestone. Her latest prompt is
October 22, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a creepy story. It can be prompted by the green fog in the photo, an imaginative idea about the Beals or take place in a cemetery. If other creepy ideas take hold, go for it! We’ll all shudder and be in the mood for Halloween–or grateful for its passing.
This was itself prompted by a visit to a cemetery. Do look at the spooky picture Charli took and tell me your rational mind is still winning the battle.
For those still wondering at the title, the Magnificent Seven are a string of cemeteries that circumnavigate London and were created when London grew so big in the 19th Century that the existing cemeteries were running out of space. Back then you always buried your dead – cremation didn’t become legal until 1884 (strictly it wasn’t illegal but the religious pressure made it seem so; thus legislation was needed to boost the alternatives). Traditional Christian theology required burial in order for resurrection to take effect on Judgement Day so it was an attitude that took some shifting. Until the change and the gradual acceptance of cremation (the Ashes, those glorious embers that England and Australia fight over in cricket every two years, were created, in effect, as a follow up to a lobbying campaign to legalise cremation in the UK) you needed space in abundance.
Perhaps Highgate Cemetary, home to Karl Marx’s remains, is the most famous but all seven have magnificent histories. My local ‘seven’ is at Nunhead and a fabulous place to walk the dog. There are so many weird and wonderful graves here that you can easily lose yourself in the woods, amongst elaborate Grecian ruins and toppled plinths or stumble onto some marble excrescence dedicated to a Victorian milk-monopolist. Empty mausoleums (mausolea?) dot the site, their contents long since removed for safety elsewhere.
The one in north-west London, at Abney Park is the spookyist as it has a large non conformist section ( the Booths, founders of the Salvation Army are buried there for instance). Some of the graves are fantastic. Here’s a gallery of images.
One thing we did notice on a recent visit to Nunhead; it behoved Victorians to stay up late. So many good souls ‘went to sleep’ and the next thing they were six feet under. Indeed the one at the top of this post (after the cowboys) has the deceased joining the Choir – since the Textiliste is now singing in a pop choir, maybe I should be concerned.
Another good reason to visit cemeteries is to collect surnames for characters. Christian names are more tricky given fashions – not much call for an Ebenezer today. We went to a cemetary in Clun once (great name, Clun – a small town on the Welsh Marches near Ludlow – I’ve always speculated on what the inhabitants are known as: Cluners? Clunites? Clunts?); there were some fab names and one is a leading character in a book I’m editing just now.
Back in 1978 I went to France with three university friends – my first time abroad. We visited the war cemeteries in Northern France and I couldn’t comprehend the row after row of simple white crosses. I was 20 and had learnt about WW1 and WW2 at school, about the death tolls and the blood letting in the trenches and on the Normandy beaches but seeing those lines and rows brought to life the numbers I had been told about – 50,000 dead in one day on the Somme. Each cross a person not a statistic. I blubbed, not an easy thing to do in front of friends. None of us could talk. We all took a different path around the cemetery. I had no tools to process what I was seeing other than to think ‘how the **** did anyone let this happen?’ A good lesson in the futility of war and why it is never glorious. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Wilfred Owen was right. Bollocks.
Hmm, seems like I’ve just gone off in one. So, to lighten the mood, as the next picture shows, cemeteries can be places of joy; it is an odd thing that we imagine sinister goings on in Churchyards when a large number of events thereabouts are happy ones – christenings and marriages. Like mine. Cue picture. All go ‘Isn’t she gorgeous’!
So anyway, to the flash. This week I will cheat a little. Mary and her problems continue but I have also included a short story I wrote for a competition about a graveyard. As usual here is a link to Mary’s saga if you need a refresher.
‘Penny needs cheering up. She’s been miserable since Scotland.’
Paul touched his wife quickly. ‘Course not. But we did promise.’
Mary nodded. For sure they needed to do something. ‘Does he have a name?’
‘Penny can choose.’
‘He’s mine? Wow!’
‘You can name him.’
Penny said immediately. ‘Peter. Look, he has grandpa’s eyebrows.’
Mary stared. It was true. They were just like her late father’s. The dog held her gaze and winked. No-one else noticed. Mary spoke slowly. ‘When did you say he was born?’
‘Four months ago.’
Mary nodded. When her father died.
And here is the short story.