Ray had spent most of his life in a cemetery. For thirty-seven years, he had been the groundskeeper for a cemetery in western Maine. It was a quiet life, but it suited Ray just fine.
Among cemetery groundskeepers there’s an unspoken code that what happens in one’s lot is one’s own business, but after his retirement in 2007, Ray contacted me to relate a few terrifying experiences.
In the early 1970s (Ray wasn’t sure of the exact year), Ray had to deal with a wave of vandalism at his cemetery just as he was settling into the job. “There was graffiti,” Ray recalls, “and a few headstones was knocked over.”
Ray wanted to protect his lot, but he also wanted to avoid a confrontation, especially if the vandals were using the cemetery to drink and do drugs. “I didn’t need no showdown with a pack of teenagers high on goofballs,” Ray tells me.
So Ray repaired the gate, added an impressive-looking lock, and put up some ‘No Trespassing’ signs. That put an end to the graffiti and the empty beer cans; it seemed the cemetery had lost its appeal.
In the weeks that followed, Ray kept an eye on things from his small house adjacent to the cemetery. With no lights in the cemetery at night, the grounds looked like a blank, black rectangle.
A few weeks later, however, Ray was cutting the grass around the old Butler mausoleum when he noticed something strange sticking up from the weeds. “I reached down to pick it up,” Ray remembers, “and damned if it wasn’t a piece of bone.”
Ray was shocked; being a cemetery man brought one close to bodies and bones, but never this close. Ray held a small piece of very old bone; it nearly crumbled to dust in his hand.
Ray fished the big ring of keys from his pocket and opened the lock on the Butler vault. Inside the still air and layer of dust told Ray that nobody had been in there in a long time. The bone must have come from somewhere else.
“I thought them damn kids got no respect,” Ray tells me. “Drinking your beer in a cemetery is one thing, but messing with the remains is another.”
Ray checked all over his lot for signs of disturbance but found none. Although he didn’t know where the bone had come from, Ray was determined that there wouldn’t be any more hijinks in his cemetery.
That night and for many that followed, Ray kept watch on the cemetery until dawn. He sat by his window, flashlight and shotgun on his lap, and waited for signs of life in the cemetery.
After a week of long nights, Ray’s stakeout finally paid off. It was a clear spring night and the moonlight reflected off the stone and marble grave markers.
For over an hour Ray had been watching the cemetery’s tree-lined border and listening to the sound of something walking through the underbrush.
A pale figure finally emerged from the shadows and scurried up and over the fence. “I ain’t never seen anything move like that thing before,” Ray recalls. “Like a lizard or a bug, but just as big as me.”
Ray figured he was dealing with some nut from the hills who didn’t know better or some freak from town who got his kicks in graveyards. With his shotgun slung over his arm, Ray quietly entered the cemetery.
Ray knew his lot with his eyes closed, so he left the flashlight in his pocket. “The moon that night was so bright, I could’ve seen regardless,” Ray remembers. Among the eerily glowing headstones, Ray carefully made his way in the direction of the intruder.
The cemetery grounds were quiet as Ray swiftly and warily crossed them. “As quiet as the permanent residents,” Ray joked. Ray stopped as he heard a strangely ordinary sound in these macabre surroundings: coughing. Up ahead, Ray could hear a muffled, raspy cough. It sounded near, but somehow muted.
Ray slowly advanced in the shadows until he saw the old Butler mausoleum ahead. Even in the dark, Ray could see that the vault door was slightly ajar – a black shaft in the silvery stone – and he realized that the coughing was coming from inside.
“Well, I’d never heard of no one breaking into a mausoleum,” Ray tells me. “I was getting ready to whup some butt.” Ray crept up to the tomb’s door and peered through the crack to the darkened chamber inside.
“Now there was plenty of moonlight, and there was a grimy little window, so I could see pretty good,” Ray tells me. “But I wish I hadn’t seen.”
Ray still regrets the vision that crouched before him in the mausoleum’s moonlit interior. A pale naked man was hunched over on the floor, his greasy black hair hanging in wisps from his head, his skin pulled taut over his bones. “I could see the backbone sticking out,” Ray tells me.
Ray thought some crazed person had broken into the crypt, but then the figure lifted its head at the sound of a dog barking in the distance.
“This guy – this thing – looked up at the window ‘cause of this dog barking down the street,” Ray recalls, “and, man, I ain’t never seen a face like that before.”
Two sunken eyes cast a dead glance toward the darkened pane. A nose like a ragged gash sat atop a hungry, fanged mouth. The creature’s face was like a dead thing, but also like a feral animal.
“It looked like one of them monsters from a zombie movie,” Ray tells me. “But it had parts what was like a critter.”
The creature turned away again and coughed, and Ray finally noticed what it was doing on the floor. The creature had opened the vaults and was stuffing its mouth with powdery bones and handfuls of dust.
The creature was choking on the earthly remains of the long-gone Butler family.
Ray backed away from the mausoleum, mindful that the creature had not yet detected his presence and that he ought to keep it that way. As he turned to go, Ray heard the creature cough again as long, black claws reached out for more bones to consume.
Ray spent the rest of the night watching from his window as the creature went from mausoleum to mausoleum and then back into the woods. In the morning he investigated the locks, but could find no sign of forced entry or of any entry at all.
“I don’t know how to figure it,” Ray tells me, “except that the door and the locks didn’t want to know that thing was there so they just ignored it.”
Knowing that he needed help, Ray reached out to his local union representative with a much toned-down version of his story. He was quickly referred to the state office and the response he got from them was stunning.
“The boys up in the Bangor office said to sit tight and wait,” Ray recalls, “that things like this tend to take care of themselves, especially with summer coming and the ghouls migrating back north.”
Ray had never heard talk like this before. While he wasn’t sure what to do, waiting seemed like all he could do. Sure enough, by summer, the cemetery was peaceful again.
In the years since, Ray has come to see and hear many more things he never had before. Ray’s advice to any other young caretakers is never stay up to watch your cemetery at night. “It’s best to let it go with the sun,” Ray tells me. “It’s almost like it don’t belong to you at night. It belongs to all them things and all them critters what comes out at night.”