The text message said, “Hi Molly, I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you at work. I know you’re busy. The thing is, I don’t know if it’s night or day at the moment. I can’t see either way. It’s awfully dark in here, and getting quite smelly, if I’m honest. Dear, I think I’ve been buried in the ground, as if I’m dead! I woke up and found myself in what appears to be a silk lined box just big enough for my length, and no more. I can’t find an opening anywhere, and I can’t hear anything about, not even Ethel’s dog barking next door. My mobile phone is with me, of course, and what feels like a rose, I think. But nothing else. Is there any possibility you could shed some light on my predicament, literally?”
Molly, quite understandably, read this text more than a few times, possibly hoping the words would rearrange themselves, or disappear. But mostly she read it through again and again and again because she needed time to process the fact that her Aunt Celia had texted, apparently from her grave.
The funeral had been very dignified, but not too fussy. Aunt Celia didn’t like fussy. She didn’t like to feel a nuisance to anyone. Of course, she liked to keep up with her correspondence. A letter to her favourite chat show, at least once a week. Her fortnightly four page gossip to her Australian cousin. And she never missed a day without calling her friends or paying them a visit. And now there was text messaging. A marvellous way of keeping in touch with her favourite niece throughout the day. Molly had bought Aunt Celia the mobile phone to keep with her at all times since her husband, Frank, passed and she was living alone. Aunt Celia had no children of her own, and living only a street away Molly felt she needed to keep an eye on her. It turned out to be the other way round, however. Aunt Celia doted on Molly, whether from gratitude, validation, or boredom, she wasn’t sure. But, inconvenient as it sometimes was, Molly felt she was doing the right thing. It made her feel good that Aunt Celia felt good about making Molly feel good. Which was good.
But this, THIS…made her feel bad. Very bad. Was this a cruel trick, or had she actually buried her Aunt alive? She’d placed the phone in the casket, as she knew how attached Aunt Celia had become to it. Instant communication in writing! “A marvel,” Aunt Celia had called it. With comprehensive support from Molly, she had filled it with the numbers of her friends who had also been given mobile phones by their loved ones, just in case, and had also found it a most convenient way to communicate the smallest of observations to whoever they fancied, day and night. And now, it turned out, alive or dead!
Molly, managed to coerce her shaking hands into dialling her husband’s work number on her mobile phone, which connected and rang.
“Hello? Molly? What’s wrong?”
Her husband’s tone conveyed the type of worrisome curiosity that an unexpected and unusual phone call does from a spouse on a week day when such communication during the grey and grinding not-to-be-disturbed working day can only mean disaster. A text message was for orders of milk or toilet roll, which can be picked up during the walk from office to car park; a part of the transition from hard-work-head to soft-relaxed-at-home-head. But a phone call meant serious business. As did the muffled silence at the other end of the line.
“Molly?” he repeated.
Molly found out very quickly just how incomprehensible a shock she found herself in. The words would not form. How could they? In what order could they be arranged to convey such….such….terrible and…bizarre news?
“Er…” she managed. Then, “Dave…”
“What’s wrong, Molly, for god’s sake!”
“I think,” Molly quivered, “We’ve made a terrible mistake with Aunt Celia.”
Dave managed good time in the light and lazy afternoon traffic. Tea had been ceremoniously brewed, and the dining table took the weight of stoic elbows. A decision must be made. Firstly, was one of them losing it? Secondly, were both of them losing it? Thirdly, were both of them fine and this was actually happening? Fourthly, what the hell did they do now? Dave went through the various stages at which it should have been picked up that Aunt Celia was still alive. The paramedics when they examined her still in her bed on a Tuesday lunchtime. The pathologist when he opened her up to confirm she’d died of a ‘cerebrovascular accident’ in her sleep. The funeral home when they made her up before placing her in her silk lined casket and drove her to the church. All logical places encompassing qualified people who had all, seemingly, concluded it was a corpse they were dealing with, not just someone having a nap for a week. The facts were: Aunt Celia had died seven days ago; Aunt Celia had been buried with her mobile phone; Unless the grave had been robbed, Aunt Celia was indeed texting them from her very own mobile phone, from within her grave.
Molly and Dave pulled up in the unusually busy car park near the church, having not uttered a word to each other since they’d made the decision to check Aunt Celia’s grave for themselves – to check the reality of the situation as well as the state of the grave. They wanted to find the coffin exposed to the air with crowbar marks on the rim. They wanted to find poor DECEASED Aunt Celia lying there, bereft of her beloved mobile phone. This sick, sadistic world was capable of such horrors, they hoped.
The first thing they noticed were the people hovering about the vast graveyard, gathering in clusters. They seemed upset, which of course is not unusual in such a place, but they also seemed a bit sort of worried? Paranoid? Freaked out? Aunt Celia’s grave lay undisturbed. Molly and Dave stared at it, trying to hide the monster of fear creeping inside their heads. Then, in the distance someone shouted, “We have to get them out! Now!” A stick-like balding man with unruly side hair was running as fast as he could across the slippy grass. He lost the battle and fell just short of the gravel path, leaving a damp, greenish stain across the knee of his beige slacks. The clusters of people turned as one to the scene. He scrambled to the path and dashed into the church, yelling for some…any kind of assistance, divine or otherwise.
The media arrived within minutes of an army of diggers, ordered by, firstly, the rich, eager to prove having money is worth it in a crisis, and then the local council, who, bombarded by such horrific pleads, tears, insults and threats, felt it wise to help their voting citizens by enabling them to dig up their dead. Designated individuals within each cluster were frantically texting on their mobile phones, informing their interred loved ones of the latest of news from above, reassuring and smiley-faced. Molly had already sent hers. Aunt Celia was busy texting Margaret, who had died within a day of Celia and now found herself in a similar situation. Margaret, however, had a news app on her mobile phone and had become quite the hub of undead interaction within the subterranean network. She’d set up a Facebook page too, which was thriving! But her closest friends hadn’t entered that social media world yet and required the more intimate yet slightly formal text message. Burying loved ones with their mobile phones was a relatively new fad, but it seemed to be turning into quite popular tradition. The modern equivalent to the Victorian grave bell to some (who were now quite smugly correct in their thinking), but mostly for sentimental reasons, or so they could continue to grow their small holding on FarmVille in the afterlife.
That evening, Tesco One Stop shops reported a rise in tea bag sales. The clusters had moved to their respective dining tables, bringing in the occasional chair from the hallway to accommodate the extra ‘body’ at the table, just like at Christmas, and the healing process began. Aunt Celia was still a bit shaken by events. The pink wafer finger was helping though, and the second round of tea in her familiar porcelain flowered cup was definitely hitting the spot.
“Hundreds of loved ones presumed dead have risen from their graves in an unexplained phenomenon sweeping the globe,” the Six O’clock News reported. “Thanks only to modern technology via mobile phones buried with them did these ‘undead’ manage to alert their family and friends.”
“It was lucky I could get a signal,” squawked Maureen from Telford, gaunt yet perky, “It’s usually terrible round my way. I mean, HEAVEN KNOWS what would have happened! You know. Mm.”
Cut to shot of Maureen surrounded by wide eyed, brave faced, stiff upper lipped family, the father of which staunchly declared it to be an awful shock all round. The twitch in his usually solid left eyelid confirmed this to be true. A contrived image filled the screen, the family, all together again, tea in hand, squashed into an inadequate cream leather settee, watching Pointless. Aunt Celia beeped in an early noughties Nokia way. “Ooh, a text message from Sylvia,” she peeped, and got on to it straight away. Molly was in a self-sustaining cycle of tea making, drinking, and expelling. Dave was asleep, in his fantasies. He drank the tea, stared at the TV, and avoided thinking.
As the weeks trundled by Aunt Celia was living life to the full. Fuller than ever before, in fact. She’d bought herself a smartphone, on Maureen’s recommendation, and had downloaded the Facebook app. She had 24 friends, and was now an admin on the ‘Buried Alive and Survived!’ page. They began to meet on Thursday mornings at Clayton’s Cafe on Shriver Street for tea and iced buns. The younger ones met elsewhere, but cordially communicated online via the page. They were unequivocally connected now, young and old, rich and poor, male and female. A commonality between generations, genres, and gender. The undead dead consoled those who had been nearly dead. Those who wanted to be dead whinged about their inability to be dead to those who wished they were dead. Death was extinct. The earth mourned its ally.
Experiences were shared and recognised, stories were told and printed, books were written, gimmicky chat-shows made a comeback with double the amount of mailbags. Various officials were conveyed across the news broadcasts speaking in solemn tones regarding their inability to fathom this event. Politicians squirmed within their grim suits giving contrived statements, being probed by media trained journalists. Medical professionals postulated unsubstantiated theories and carried out tests, and tests on the tests. Philosophers wrote papers, then had breakdowns realising that they couldn’t even end the pointlessness of existence with suicide. Mental health services cried out for more funding to meet the demand. Social workers begged for more houses to be built and for hotels to open themselves up to accommodate the growing undead.
Then, on Thursday 27th of June, two months, three days, sixteen hours, and thirty three minutes after that first text message from the grave had been sent, nine million, seven hundred and ninety-two thousand, four hundred and fifty-three people died, all at once, across the globe. This, sadly, included Aunt Celia. Happily, she was at her Thursday morning gathering in Clayton’s when it happened, so she wasn’t alone. This, of course, meant a logistical nightmare for the funeral industry. Thankful for something vote-winningly heroic to do requiring ‘large scale coordination’ and ‘mobilisation of various government resources’, UK politicians charged to the nearest news bulletin to make clear their plans to aid the electorate at this difficult time, and that therefore there was no need for families to take matters into their own hands and fill that space between beloved Jake the Jack Russell and the buddleia bush.
The diggers were deployed, funeral parlours were put on 24 hour duty, as were priests, registrars, and florists. Employers were subsidised for authorised absences as the whole world took bereavement days within the space of a fortnight. Mass mourning gripped those who lived, iced in sickly-sweet melancholy by the media. The Facebook page was closed, but preserved. The last chapter of the book was written. The uncanny incident was over.
Molly and Dave sat watching Pointless with a cup of tea and an iced bun. The funeral had been nice. Not too fussy. There was a queue after all. Aunt Celia would have approved. She looked peaceful as she lay there, smartphone next to her right hand. Molly picked up her phone and checked for any red bubbles loitering around her messages app. Dave put his arm round his wife and held her safe.
Funnily enough, everyone from then on requested they be buried with their mobile phone. Coffin makers were offering wind up phone chargers and signal boosters as added extras. And all those still living, especially those recently bereaved, checked their mobile phones a little more often.
Death brushed a biscuit crumb from his infinitely dark robe and stared at the empty in-trays, the shelves full of completed paperwork. He sipped his cup of tea with satisfaction.
“Holidays,” he said, “Are all very good, but the backlog it creates just isn’t worth it.”