“A Night in the Cemetery”—A Story by #AntonChekov

Please, Ivan Ivanovich, tell us something scary! Ivan Ivanovich stroked his moustache, cleared his throat, smacked his lips, moved closer to the inquiring ladies, and began to tell his story.

My story begins, as do most traditional well-written Russian stories, with the phrase “I was drunk that day.”

It happened after the New Year’s Eve party where I celebrated with one of my best friends, and I got as drunk as a fish. In my defense, I should say that I had a good reason for getting drunk on that night. I believe it is a worthy pursuit for people to feel happy on New Year’s Eve. Every coming year is as bad as the previous one, the only difference being that in most cases it is even worse.

I think that during our traditional New Year’s Eve parties people should fight, be miserable, cry, and attempt suicide. One must remember that each new year leads you closer to death, the bald spot on your head spreads, the wrinkles on your face grow deeper, your wife gets older, and with every new year you have more kids and less money.

As a result of my misfortunes, I got drunk. When I left my friend’s house, the clock tower struck two o’clock in the morning. The weather outside was nasty. Only the devil himself could tell whether it was autumn or winter weather.

It was pitch black around me. Although I tried to look as far ahead as I could, I could not see anything. It was as if someone had put me in an enormous can of black shoe polish. It was also raining cats and dogs. The cold, sharp wind was singing terrible, horrifying notes—howling, moaning, and squeaking, as if an evil being were conducting an orchestra of nature. The mud stuck to my shoes with every slow step. The few streetlights that I accidentally encountered on my way resembled the crying widows one would see at funerals.

It seemed the weather itself felt like vomiting. A thief or a murderer might rejoice to have such weather, but for me, a drunken civil servant, it was very depressing.

“Life is boring,” I philosophized to myself as I tried not to fall. This isn’t a life, but an empty, dull existence. Day after day, year after year, all the while still the same inside, no different than when you were young. Many years pass while you still only drink, eat, and sleep. In the end, they dig a grave for you, bury you, and have a party after your funeral with free food, telling each other, “He was a good man, but he didn’t leave enough money behind for us, the scoundrel.”

I was walking from one end of town to another, which was a very long walk for a man who had just had too many drinks. As I made my way through the dark and narrow side streets, I did not meet a single living soul, nor hear a single sound. At first, I walked on the sidewalk, as I was trying not to wet my boots, but despite my good intentions, my boots became soaking wet. So, I began walking in the middle of the street. This way, I had less chance to hit a lamppost or fall into a ditch.

My way was cloaked with cold, impenetrable darkness. At the beginning of my trip I came across several dim lampposts, but once I had passed a couple of small streets, even those small lamps disappeared from view. It was then that I began trying to find my way by touch. I was trying hard to see anything through the pitch dark, and as I listened to the wind’s howl, I hurried. Little by little, I became filled with an inexplicable fear, which turned to horror as I realized that I had lost my way.

“Hey, taxi,” I cried, with no reply. I then decided I should walk in a straight line, reasoning that sooner or later, I would get to a big street, where there would be lights and taxis.

Without looking back, being afraid to look even to my sides, I started to run.

Ivan Ivanovich paused, downed a shot of vodka, and stroked his moustache, before continuing on.

I don’t really remember how long I ran. The only thing that I remember is bumping against something, badly hurting my knee, and extreme pain.

I remember sensing it was a strange object! I could not see it in the darkness, but felt with my fingers that it was cold, wet and smoothly polished. I sat on it, while I rested. I won’t take advantage of your patience, but I can tell you that after a while, when I lit my match to light a cigarette, I saw that I was sitting on a tombstone!

Around me, I could not see anything but darkness, nor hear a single human sound. Then, I saw a tombstone! In horror, I closed my eyes and jumped to my feet. I took a step away from the tombstone, and stumbled into something else! Imagine my horror as I encountered a wooden cross from the cemetery!

“Oh my God, I am in a graveyard,” I thought, covering my face with my both hands, as I sat back down on the marble tombstone. Instead of the Presnya District Cemetery, I usually went to the Vagankovo Cemetery. As a rule, I am afraid neither of cemeteries nor of the dead. I am not prejudiced, nor do I believe in fairy tales. However, after finding myself among these silent graves in the middle of the night, with the wind howling and dark thoughts filling my mind, I suddenly felt my hair stand on end as a cold shiver went up my spine.

“This cannot be,” I spoke aloud to try and calm myself. “This is just an illusion, a hallucination. It’s all in my imagination, especially since I have recently read a book about spiritualism.

At this moment, lost in my nightmarish thoughts, I heard some very weak and quiet footsteps. Someone was walking toward me, but they didn’t seem like human footsteps, for they were too light and way too frequent.

“A dead man walking,” I thought.

Finally, this mysterious someone drew close to me, touched my knee, and heaved a deep sigh. Then I heard a howl. It was a terrible, deadly howl coming from a grave, pulling at my nerves. If as a child you were scared of your nanny’s fairy tales, and stories about dead men, imagine how I felt as I heard the howl from somewhere near me!

I instantly became sober as I froze in horror. It seemed to me that if I opened my eyes, I would see a pale yellow bony face, covered in half-rotten cloth.

“Oh God! I wish morning would come faster!” I prayed.

However, before morning came, I went through another inexpressible horror, a horror impossible for me to describe. As I sat on the tombstone, listening to the howling of the grave dweller, I suddenly heard new steps.

Someone was coming straight toward me, with heavy rhythmic footsteps.

As soon as he came to me, the creature from the grave let out a deep sigh, and a moment later a cold, heavy and bony hand rested heavily on my shoulder.

At that moment, Ivan Ivanovich had another shot of vodka and cleared his throat for the second time.

“And what then?” the ladies asked him.

I woke up in a small square room. The dawn could hardly shine its light through the small barred window.

“Well, well, well,” I thought. “This must mean the dead men pulled me deep into the graveyard.

Suddenly, I was filled with joy, for I heard human voices behind the wall.

“Where did you find him?”, a low but loud bass voice questioned. “Yes, sir! I found him in front of the Mr. Whitehead’s Monument Store, sir!”, another hoarse voice answered. “Right next to the showroom with tombstones. I saw him sitting there embracing the monument, with a dog howling next to him. My guess is he had quite a few drinks, sir.”

In the morning, when I was completely awake, they released me from the police station.


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