Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gravedigger Blues by Peter DiChellis

Gravedigger Blues

Dixon saw nothing but problems with the new gravedigger. The man stood tall as a giant and looked strong as a gorilla, not like the old gravedigger, the little skinny one who put caskets in such shallow holes for so many years.

“This new fella will bury ‘em deep,” Dixon told Pervis. “And pack the dirt tight on top of ‘em.”

And that meant trouble. Because Dixon and Pervis made a living robbing graves. And it was easy here. Whenever a big storm sent rainwater streaming down the hills that surrounded the isolated graveyard, the entire cemetery would flood, and caskets floated out of the shallow graves, the loose dirt and thin sod unable to hold them.

That’s when Dixon and Pervis would sneak through the night, pop the casket lids open, and rob the bodies of jewelry and watches. And then they’d close the lids to make the caskets look proper again, drive to a distant town, and sell their loot to a shady pawnbroker they knew. It had been steady work. The cemetery served all the neighboring towns, so Dixon and Pervis could rob graves almost every rainstorm. But with this new gravedigger...

“Hell fire, we're gonna be unemployed,” Dixon continued. “Goddamn throwed out of work by a big gravedigger.”

That was depressing for both men. These were hard times to find good work. And Dixon and Pervis, friends since grade school, were built for work. Tall and stocky, big hard bellies, wide backs. Their eyes set them apart, though. Pervis wore a mean stare he’d crafted in county jail, while Dixon’s eyes shone warm as a friendly hound dog’s, a lingering reminder of his boyhood dream to become a salesman, to joke and laugh with customers, and travel to cities and towns all over the state.

Dixon mulled a recent grave robbing. With rain pounding down on them, he and Pervis had wrestled floating caskets, slipped on wet grass, and kneeled and sat in sloppy mud. Dixon had found a rich casket that night, an old burial. The woman’s hair had grown wild, bunching into a tangled gray pillow beneath her withered face. Deep crevices split her skin. Her sunken eye sockets stared upward while an earthy smell fought its way into Dixon’s nose and squatted in his throat. But the woman had a gold wedding band on her bony finger, a silver bracelet on her scrawny wrist. Payday.

“Yessir, I've worked worse jobs than snatchin' these floaters,” Dixon said. “You’re outdoors, not on your feet the whole time, and you know your workday's comin' with the weather.”

“How you like reachin’ around them dead bodies?” Pervis asked.

“Some look frightful, no denyin' it. But every line of work has drawbacks.”

Dixon and Pervis knew how to overcome drawbacks. For example, sometimes the same caskets they'd already robbed floated again. But Dixon, who remembered people, always spotted the repeaters as soon as the casket came open.

“It's that bald fella again,” he might say. “The one who used to have such a nice watch.”

What to do now?

“I gotta put food on the table,” Dixon said. “I need work.”

“We’ll rob live people,” Pervis decided. “Least we can see what they got without pullin’ off a lid.”

“Don’t make sense,” Dixon said. “Live ones fight back.”

“We’ll rob old ones, near to dead. No fight in those.”

So they drove to another town, where nobody knew them. The town was much like theirs. Grubby stores and cinderblock apartments bordered ancient factories that once hired workers, but were automated with machines now.

Dixon considered the lonesome factory buildings. “Caskets for jobs,” he said.

He and Pervis watched and waited, smoked cigarettes, and nipped whiskey from a half-pint Pervis kept in his ramshackle car. Two determined hillbillies with no work skills, dirt under their fingernails, and families to feed.

As dusk became darkness, the half-pint emptied and an old woman tottered past. A streetlight revealed her tiny frame, grandma white hair, and a ring and necklace. She wasn’t wearing a watch.

“Good as a floater,” Pervis said.

The two robbers yanked her into a filthy alley. The necklace looked like cheap crap, but the ring was worth plenty, Pervis saw.

“Gimme the ring,” he told her.

“Kiss my ass, butt face,” she screeched. “This ring belonged to my mother!”

Pervis grabbed her, covered her mouth.

“Get the damn ring,” he told Dixon. He spun the woman around and jammed her throat into the crook of his elbow, squeezing.

“It’s tight on her finger,” Dixon said. “Gonna take a minute.”

When Dixon got the ring, Pervis let go of the woman. She dropped to the ground, motionless.

“Oh Lord, is she dead?” Dixon asked.

“Ain’t staying to find out.”

They drove away to visit the shady pawnbroker. He figured the ring at about five grand, so he paid the two robbers $150 each.

“Lookit here,” Pervis cackled. He waved his share of the money at Dixon and grinned. “What’d I say about them old ones, near to dead?”

“Yessir,” Dixon said. “We got a new line of work. Though I do wonder what became of that poor old woman.”

A week later, the big gravedigger returned to a fresh gravesite, dug yesterday. The casket lay in the open grave, the dirt not shoveled in and packed down yet. The mourners had left, the sun had set.

The gravedigger raised the casket and lifted the lid. A tiny old woman with grandma white hair. Wearing her best dress, no doubt. No ring, no watch, just a crappy-looking necklace.

He took it. Better than nothing, he thought.


This story originally appeared in YELLOW MAMA (October 2013).

Bio Peter DiChellis concocts sinister tales for anthologies, ezines, and magazines. He is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and an Active (published author) member of the Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. For more, visit his site Murder and Fries at


  1. Feed the authors, show em some love.

  2. Thank you, Jason. I appreciate it!

  3. Excellent story, Peter. I especially enjoyed the dialogue.

  4. Thank you, Gail. Appreciated! And thanks to Mark at Story and Grit for publishing my gravedigger tale.