before the sky turned a shade of puke somewhere between
green and yellow and nasty clouds were boiling up above
the trees, we had decided to head back from the gravel
pit on the far side of the broken-down bridge.
dumped the cans of bait – night crawlers and a few
crickets – and grabbed up our cane poles. I wasn’t
sorry to be getting out of there. We hadn’t caught
a damn thing all afternoon. Maybe the fish knew something
we didn’t, and were lying low.
the squall line fat udders of clouds bulged and drooped
down. On TV the weathermen called those kinds of clouds
“mammatocumulus.” We knew what they meant.
“Time to get a move on!” Milo called back.
We tossed the buckets and poles and lit out through rain
coming down hard now and tree limbs thrashing about.
squeezed through a hole in the fence and out into in that
big stretch of graveyard south of the Nickel Plate tracks.
All the headstones were slick with rain and shiny with
lightning. Up ahead was the mausoleum, with the office
beyond that, and the garage where they kept the mowers.
That big overhead door might still be up. We made for
people never messed with that garage because old Amos,
the custodian, kept bees somewhere out back – maybe
five or six hives. People said if you didn’t have
any business being there, he could sic them on you. I
never believed he could order them around like a dog.
But I never wanted to find out, either. And now we didn’t
have much choice.
of a sudden the rain stopped and everything got quiet.
That was another bad sign. A funnel cloud could touch
down out of nowhere and chainsaw straight for the road
where we were hurrying along. We still had a couple of
hundred yards to go, and we were already soaked through
and worn out. We stopped for a second to get our bearings.
ahead somebody was standing at the side of the road and
waving his arms. It was Amos, with a crazy look in his
eyes. He came up and grabbed at us and pointed toward
a big box-elder next to the road. High up in that tree
was something bright and crinkly, like gold candy-wrapper.
One of his hives had swarmed, and he was more concerned
about getting it down than about that black cloud drifting
over the ridge.
couldn’t talk right, all he could do was make noises.
Maybe the bees understood him but we couldn’t. He
shuffled around, making those sounds, and I looked back
and saw it – the funnel cloud touching down with
a big splash maybe half a mile away. If we had stayed
by the creek, we could have crawled under the trestle
bridge, but it was too late now, and the garage was our
began pointing at something else. On the other side of
the road was a mound of fresh dirt with a spade stuck
in it. Milo and I ran that way and sure enough there was
a brand-new grave that went down six feet. We jumped inside
like it was a foxhole in one of those old World War Two
thought Amos would pile in after us, but he was back there
trying to climb that tree to collect that swarm. If anybody
could coax it down in the middle of a tornado, it was
Amos. The funnel cloud was almost on top of us now, making
a noise like a freight train with three Diesel engines.
say your entire life passes before you at such moments,
but while I hugged a corner of that grave, I kept thinking
about Amos, who by this time was probably whirling around
somewhere in the upper stratosphere. He was a weird guy.
He had been married once to a second cousin of my dad’s,
so he was family, sort of, although we didn’t like
to think about it. Amos was rumored to be doing some strange
things out there in that cemetery.
said he played checkers with the stones in the old part,
the part closest to town, where some of the original settlers
had been buried – the pioneers who laid out the
streets and sold the lots, but who didn’t have any
descendents to look after their plots anymore.
lot of those old stones were already worn smooth and didn’t
have much information on them anyway. Most of the people
they belonged to had been underground for at least a hundred
and fifty years. It didn’t matter to them what he
did, or where he put their markers.
said Amos moved the stones around in a wheelbarrow, after
dark, when nobody could see him. They said he tampered
with the plat books, too, to make everything official.
That way he could put people he didn’t like over
next to the drainage ditch. In that town, if you were
concerned about your reputation or your social standing
after you were gone, you didn’t want to mess with
mayor and the police chief let him be, as long as he didn’t
go out into the new part and start switching things around.
There were stories that he did, though nobody ever caught
him at it. Besides, nobody else wanted the job he had.
He was the only one who would do that kind of work.
still dug graves by hand, ever since he found out there
were families willing to pay extra for the privilege –
newcomers, people out in the subdivisions, who thought
it was cool to get buried in a hand-dug grave, and then
have it filled in again by some old man with a shovel.
Sort of like people down in Indianapolis who pay more
for brown eggs than for white, and never realize there’s
no difference between the two.
when Amos had a backlog of graves to dig, the trustee
made him roll out the backhoe and gouge out two or three
holes in a single afternoon. He thought the noise bothered
the bees, but he had to do what he was told. All the mowing
was done by a couple of college boys, home for the summer,
and they worked pretty much on their own.
of the time Amos was out there all by himself, and if
you wanted to find him, you had to go out beyond the garage
to the bottomland, where the weeds were higher than a
man’s head, and the ground was marshy, and you walked
a path of barn siding he had laid out to keep the water
from coming over your shoes.
you came to a stand of Kentucky coffee trees on a bit
of a rise. It was fairly well hidden, like a sugar shack
out in the woods. He didn’t want any teen-agers
coming out there and tipping over his hives.
were stories of people who went out there to see him about
something, and he would be there with bees covering his
arms up to his shoulders, not even wearing a hat with
a net, and not working a smoker, either, but simply walking
around talking to them, making strange sounds, never once
getting stung, and almost seeming to enjoy it.
ever wanted any of the honey those hives produced. People
didn’t like thinking about what all that clover
and chicory had originally pushed up from. I don’t
know what he did with all that honey. Maybe he gave it
to the Salvation Army.
I was crouched down in that grave, things of that nature
ran through my head, and you can look back on a time like
that, and think maybe it took forever, but actually that
twister passed over us in about ten or fifteen seconds
and went right on by.
say if a tornado passes directly overhead, you can look
up through it and see blue sky at twenty or thirty thousand
feet. But both of us knew better than to try. A funnel
cloud looks dirty because it’s sucked up all kinds
of paper and shingles and loose lumber and even glass
and barbed wire.
you’re down in a hole, or a ditch, and you stick
your head up for a look around, you’re liable to
get it sliced off by a piece of galvanized barn roofing
whirling around at ground level. Something like that would
be like the blade of a big scythe rotating at three hundred
miles an hour.
waited and we kept absolutely still. Finally everything
got quiet. Rain pelted the grass. We peeked out. The funnel
was gone, pulled back into the clouds. We helped each
other out of the hole and stood up and looked around,
and you could see the path it made through the rows.
trees weren’t stripped all that much. They would
come back. The swarm of bees up in the box-elder had disappeared.
It was not likely to come back at all A few old Victorian
monuments had been knocked over, but most of the plastic
bouquets and paper-maché flower-holders had been
vacuumed up, and it made the place look a whole lot better.
was nowhere to be seen. Had he been picked up and carried
off by the twister? There were plenty of stories about
people getting lifted up in their cars and carried for
a mile or two and then set down again. Some lost their
lives that way, others wouldn’t get a scratch. Most
of the survivors converted to gospel religion as soon
brushed off the clods and dirt, and went to look for Amos,
and we found him, finally, maybe half a mile away, on
the steps of the Civil War monument at the main entrance.
The soldier with his musket up on top of the column didn’t
got a scratch, either. Amos was sitting there talking
to himself like always.
really do think he got picked up and carried for a spell,
and then set down again. He wasn’t hurt. Didn’t
seem to mind it at all. Maybe he didn’t even notice.
We got him on his feet again and walked him along the
road all the way back to the office.
first thing he wanted to do was go check on those hives,
to see if they were OK. We let him go, and in a few minutes
he came back. The hives were OK. To tell the truth probably
nobody else even noticed what happened out in the middle
of that cemetery. It only lasted for a few seconds and
it really didn’t do much damage.
took Amos into the office and made him sit down in the
trustee’s swivel chair. “You boys gonna be
awright,” he seemed to be saying, although it didn’t
come out that way. But it was not a question. It was a
think he meant he’d leave our headstones alone if
we ever got buried there. He wouldn’t trade them
for some of the town’s more disreputable characters.
He kept talking and then he just leaned over face down
on the desk and started snoring.
when he woke up he’d know some way to find that
missing swarm. Maybe he knew some old dowser who’d
come over, and they’d cut a fresh willow fork, and
wander around for a while until they re-located the bees
up in the top of some other tree. Maybe he was dreaming
about doing that while he was slumped over against the
had boosted me out of that grave, and I had pulled him
up, and our clothes were filthy. We went outside and found
a hose and washed off as much as possible. The sun had
started to come out., and there would probably be a rainbow,
if you knew where to look.
far down the tracks came the steady ding-ding-ding of
a switcher pulling a few empty boxcars. It was headed
for a siding at the pallet factory on the east side of
town. We turned off the hose and ran along the cemetery
road to try to catch that last car. We had a good angle
god they don’t put cabooses on trains anymore. We
caught up with the last car, swung on, climbed up on top,
and rode into town. We decided to get something to eat
at the sandwich shop next to the fire barn. We’d
go back later and find those poles and bait cans, and
then maybe we’d stop and check on Amos, to see if
he was back among the living again.
2006 by Jared Carter