These pages are a collection of stories from the Writer's Group at Box Hill U3A.
Baz was disappointed. He'd hoped Robbo would move in with him. Robbo'd told him that he was fed up with hostel life. The bloke he shared a room with wasn't too fragrant
"If you get my drift." he'd said. Robbo wasn't one to badmouth anyone, even someone who was a stranger to soap and water. But, when he'd learned that the old place Baz was care- taking was next to the cemetery, he'd dug his heels in. "Not on your life. I keep away from places like that. I don't go to funerals neither. They're morbid. I don't mind having a drink or two when a mate shuffles off, but you won't find me withinn a bull's roar of a - of a place like that. You never know what could happen."
"Well, "said Baz, "what could happen?"
"Well, something could."
"I dunno. But I'm not going to try and find out. That's your problem."
"Ar you're nuts." And with that friendly observation the friends parted.
A few weeks later it was a different story. Robbo's job had folded and the part timer he'd found, wasn't paying the bills, not even his modest outgoings. Luckily, he bumped into Baz outside the op shop. The offer was repeated and this time misgivings were abandoned in favour of reality. Robbo moved in.
Actually, it was pretty good. The house had a high vine-covered fence separating it from the graves so you couldn't see anything. And the lane along the side of the house led to a back gate which was used by the stonemasons from over the road. It was sort of like a light industrial area.
At first, both men had been disconcerted by the cemetery bell. Baz hadn't let on to Robbo that he didn't like it. He'd turn the radio up loud before five o'clock, or else make sure he got home after five. But when Robbo came to live he had to get around it somehow, so on the first day, when Robbo nearly cacked himself when it went off, Baz made a huge joke of it saying it was just like their old school bell, and then he went on about school days and the moment passed.
So they got used to the bell which summoned the living to leave the dead. And things started to turnaround. Robbo got a better job. In a second-hand bookshop of all things. And he started to read. Well, to read more than just the sports' pages. Pretty soon he had quite a collection of paperbacks and not to be left out, Baz started dipping into them as well.
Baz liked science fiction. As a kid he'd gone around wearing pointed plastic ears he'd got from a showbag, pretending he was Mr Spock, and when it was time to help with the dishes he'd disappear under the table yelling, "Beam me up Scottie." But now, he was getting into cyberspace with the occasional vampire thrown in. Surprisingly, considering his dislike of all things funereal, Robbo was also into some vampirish stuff, the antique sort. He'd drawn the line at reading about Vlad the Impaler but he'd got stuck into Dracula. And Frankenstein. Maybe living so close to the cemetery had cured his squeamishness. He'd also liked The Picture of Dorian Grey. He'd been mystified by the way the picture had changed. "And no-one had touched it, Baz. Not even the bloke who painted it." But he wasn't sure whether he was really ready for Edgar Alan Poe. The owner of the shop told him his stuff could be pretty gruesome. And, one of the stories was called The Premature Burial and that was a real put-off.
The boys had now acquired a tele from the next door nature strip. They'd got in first before the Council collection van. All it needed was an aerial and with some old rabbit ears donated by Robbo's boss they were able to watch Channel Two. This was a bit limiting but as it was a freebie they felt they couldn't complain.
What intrigued them both were the black robes worn by the women in the Middle East. Admirers of the female form, they couldn't understand the big cover up as they called it. They sometimes watched the news, but most of the programs they watched didn't have anything to do with religious taboos.
They knew that older Greeks and Italians wore black after their hubbies died, but not the young good-looking sorts. In fact Robbo became something of an expert on black, who wore it, and where and when they wore it. Maybe it was the stuff he was reading. Black was big in the old days and usually meant something nasty was going to happen.
Then, it was winter and Baz got a raise, so a slap- up do was in order. The local pub was within walking distance and the lads celebrated in style, getting stuck into the three courses on offer, plus plenty to wash it down with. It was more booze than they were used to but by the end of the night they were still standing and began the walk home. It had been raining and the pavement was slippery with fallen leaves.
They'd just reached the stonemasons' corner when there was a blinding flash of light. They stumbled to a halt. Ahead of them, coming down the lane from the cemetery was a woman dressed in black. She carried a basket covered with a stark white cloth. She was coming towards them, moving fast. They stood together in the gloom, speechless and wavering when there was another flash. And another woman appeared from the graveyard, dressed identically to the first. She seemed to be moving even faster.
Robbo was making choking sounds as he clutched at Baz who was transfixed, hardly able to breath when a third figure in black appeared. Their legs gave way and they subsided to the ground not wanting to look yet compelled to watch as the three women, leaning forward in haste, turned into the street and ran, one after the other, until they were out of sight.
There was silence. Then a voice, which seemed to come from the sky called out "Cut and print." And the night came alive with people. A camera crane in the stonemason's yard carried the owner of the voice down to earth and the rest of the film crew appeared from various parts of the yard. "You were nearly in the picture boys. Just as well you decided to sit this one out." And chuckling, the director walked off.
The lads got themselves up and very casually and carefully walked over to their gate. A surreptitious glance to the right revealed the three women in black, now carrying their shoes and chatting as they headed for a camper van parked down the street. They stood for a few minutes watching the film crew dismantling the arc lights and packing up the equipment. Then when the rain started again they went inside.
"How about a cuppa?" Tea was Baz's cure-all.
"I reckon I'd throw up. Gawd that was weird wasn't it?"
"Yair. I reckon. Are you gonna tell them at the shop?"
"Well, maybe. Perhaps some of it. I don't think I'll mention the bit when we fell down though."
"Nah. Nobody needs to know that bit."
"It was pretty weird though."
"Yeah. Pretty weird."
With that, the lads went to bed and despite the excitement of the night fell heavily asleep. Outside, the rain had stopped. It was windless and the air was chilled. The temperature was dropping.
They neither saw nor heard the figure in black emerging from the cemetery. It was a woman, moving quickly, almost running, carrying a basket covered with a pristine white cloth. A few yards behind her, a second figure, dressed identically, appeared and scurried after her. Then a third woman, gliding over the ground, came in the wake of the others. As though on an unseen signal, they all picked up speed and sped faster and faster. They passed the house where the lads were sleeping and floated on down the hill, away from the cemetery.