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The Graveyard of Dreams

Once she did this—if she did this—there would be no going back

By GK BirdPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 19 min read
The Graveyard of Dreams
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Beth sat at the dining table, flipping through the three letters in her hands like a pack of cards. One letter for Kayla. One letter for Benjamin. One letter for Herb. Can I do this?

Once she did this—if she did this—there would be no going back. Everything would change.

Things had already changed so much over the past couple of years. Beth had finally put her head up, looked around, and didn’t like what she saw. She realised she’d been living most of her life on autopilot with her eyes closed. Fifty-nine insignificant years. What do I have to show for it? Nothing. That’s what. A big ol’ chunk of nothing.

She could see the wasted years for what they were. She now had no job, no close friends, no one who depended on her, no purpose, no meaning in her life. She’d not left a single mark on the world. No one would miss her if she wasn’t around, except for the three people who’d get these letters: her daughter, her son, and her husband. She was such a small blip in their lives even they wouldn’t miss her for long.

She’d written these letters a week ago on one of her bad days. Since then, she’d left them where she would see them every time she walked into the kitchen. Three creamy envelopes with their ragged swirly blue handwriting. They leaned innocently against the small white vase with the small air plant poking its pale green leaves into the air. The letters were supposed to remind her to keep her eyes open and not let the days go by with nothing to mark them. They also dared her to do something.

She reflected on the past week. She still hadn’t done anything. Nothing had changed. Every day was still the same. She was stuck between want and fear, comfort and uncertainty. She put her head down on her arms and wept silently for all the lost days as the big blue clock on the wall tick, tick, ticked its purposeful way through the day. It’s got to be today. If I don’t do this now, I never will.

She lifted her head, sniffled, and wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks. She carefully propped the three envelopes where they couldn’t be missed. She wasn’t sure when Herb was coming home. He’d been gone almost six months, caring for his elderly father hundreds of miles away.

She pictured him clomping in, dropping his backpack on the floor, calling her name. He would see the letters, pick them up, and open the one addressed to him. He’d be upset but that’s how it had to be. She couldn’t think of any other way.

Before she could doubt herself again, she stood up and grabbed her purse and car keys.

She got in her car and drove with no destination in mind. She just knew that she had to get away from herself.


A heavy fog silenced the morning. Water droplets dripped from leaves hanging heavy on the eucalypts and wattle trees beside the road. Beth’s headlights glared off the low cloud, blinding her rather than helping her see. Warm air blasted from the car vents, trying to clear the cloudy windscreen.

Even though she could barely see a car length ahead, she pressed harder on the accelerator and turned her music up louder. Frank Carter screamed his pain through the speakers and she screamed along with him. She smiled at the thought of people being appalled that someone her age could enjoy this type of music.

She had no idea where she was and hadn’t seen a single car since she’d left the outskirts of the city. She was being reckless but right now she didn’t care. Now she’d started, she couldn’t stop. Whatever was going to happen would happen.

She was moving too fast around a sweeping bend when she felt the tyres start to slip on the wet road. The rear of the car started to fishtail as she fought the slide. She put her foot down harder to power through but the car was having none of it. The car started to spin and a feeling of immense calm acceptance came over her. A huge tree trunk loomed in front of her and she stopped fighting. She closed her eyes and let go of the steering wheel.


Beth didn’t know how long she sat there before opening her eyes. Am I dead?

The fog was gone and the day was bright, intense with colour. The sun shone overhead in a brilliant azure sky speckled with small white cloud puffs. The car tinked contentedly as the engine and panels cooled down. Leaving the keys in the ignition, she pushed the door open and stepped out.

Birds called and sang and chattered. A light breeze ruffled her hair. A smell of recently mown grass wafted past, making her think of her father mowing the lawn every Sunday morning when she was a kid. I haven’t thought about Dad for a long time.

A tiny rabbit ducked out of the grass in front of her, then paused. Judging her as no threat, it ambled up and sniffed her toes. Its whiskers tickled her sandaled feet and made her smile. She wiggled her toes and the rabbit looked up at her before moving off to nibble on a clump of the brightest green grass she’d ever seen.

She was standing on the side of a well-maintained dirt road, which was odd because the road she’d been on had been bitumen. Her car was positioned as if she’d deliberately pulled off the road and stopped to look at this idyllic rural setting. Grassy paddocks, dotted with white clumps of sheep and dark bulky cattle, stretched into the distance on the side of the road she was standing on. Woods dominated the other side, with trees and bushes and vines crowding and pushing each other so she couldn’t see very far in.

She was on the verge of a wide sweeping curve, like the one she’d just slid off, and she couldn’t see ahead to where the road straightened out. She looked back and couldn’t see the start of the bend either. She decided to go forwards. I’ve been going backwards my whole life and, even if I’m dead, it’s time to stop that.

She left everything in the car, didn’t bother to lock it, and started walking, keen to see what was at the end of the bend.


After about ten minutes, she stopped and looked back. She couldn’t see her car anymore. She tilted her head up slightly, closed her eyes, and kept walking, using her senses in a way she rarely did these days.

She felt the comfortable warmth of the sunshine on her face and shoulders, the light pressure of the breeze in her hair and on her arms. A magpie warbled nearby and her shoes pat, pat, patted in the gravel. She breathed in and smelled apples, which made her think about her mother. Her taste buds remembered the combination of sweetness and tartness of the pies her mother used to bake. Her stomach rumbled and it felt good. Her mind was still. This was the calmest she’d felt in a very long time.

Another ten minutes brought her to the entrance of a narrow dirt track that disappeared into the woods. She still couldn’t see the end of the curving road so she crossed over and decided to see where the track would take her.

Potholed and rough, the track was about the width of a car. If you were driving on it, you wouldn’t want to meet a car coming the other way. The closeness of the trees on the sides and the way they leaned over to touch the trees opposite, as if holding hands and deliberately blocking out the sunlight, made it feel like walking through an abandoned tunnel. Beth shivered, suddenly claustrophobic after the openness of the fields.

She picked up her pace and soon found herself back in the light and at the end of the track. Towering over her was a huge archway made from chunky rough-cut grey stone blocks. The walls on both sides were made of the same stones and stretched each way as far as she could see. A pair of gothic iron gates, like something from a horror movie, hung in the middle of the arch, creaking in the wind, making her feel small and vulnerable.

She moved closer to the gates, curious to see what was on the other side, then gasped and took a step back. It was a graveyard. Row upon row upon row of grey wooden crosses poked their heads above a carpet of short green grass and wildflowers. It seemed to go on forever. There were no flowers in jars or wreaths; no evidence that anyone ever visited their loved ones here.

Taking a deep breath, she shoved the left gate open and stepped through. A gravel path separated the stone wall from the grass. Spaced evenly along the wall, old cast iron garden seats, with their backs to the wall, overlooked the field of graves.

An old man was sitting on one of the seats to Beth’s right. He raised his hand in greeting and she did the same before heading over to him.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” he said without looking at her as she sat down next to him. He wore a long black robe, like a priest’s cassock, and a black Amish-style hat with a flat brim. His face was lined and worn. Thin wire-rimmed glasses framed crinkly eyes above a bulbous nose and a bushy black beard speckled with grey. A smooth oaken walking stick leaned against his legs.

“It is,” she replied. They sat in silence for a few minutes before Beth spoke again. “Who’s buried here?”

The old man smiled. “This is the Graveyard of Dreams.”

“I don’t understand,” she replied. “Am I dreaming? Am I dead?”

“I don’t believe so but what would I know?” he said. He stood up, leaning heavily on his stick, and smiled down at her. “Let me show you.”

She nodded and stood up. They walked side-by-side to the wooden cross closest to them and Beth bent down to read the epitaph.

“Johnny Lockwood – Firefighter. 7 January 1957 – 6 July 1963,” she read out loud. “I don’t get it. How could he be a firefighter if he was only 5 years old?”

“Johnny wasn’t born in 1957 and he didn’t die in 1963,” the old man said. “His dream of being a firefighter was born in 1957 when he was 7 years old. He loved seeing the red fire engines racing around town. He desperately wanted to drive one of those engines and be a hero like the firefighters. He had a red plastic helmet and wore it everywhere. Then he started high school and some of his classmates ridiculed him when he told them what he wanted to be. He came to believe he could never achieve it so he gave up and his firefighter dream died. And this is where it's buried.”

Beth walked to the next cross and read that one.

“Hey, this is Johnny again,” she said. “Johnny Lockwood – Professional Basketball Player. 5 March 1965 – 17 September 1968.”

“In high school, Johnny joined the basketball team and thought he might like to play professionally,” the old man said. “He showed a lot of promise, but his father never believed in him. Johnny listened to his father’s doubts and came to believe it was just a pipe dream. This dream died when he decided to go to university and study accounting. Many people have more than one dream in their life. One dies and another takes over until they reach the point where they give up dreaming for good and just let life take them where it will.”

“That’s so sad,” said Beth.

“It’s even sadder for those who never have any dreams, any aspirations, at all,” nodded the old man.

Beth moved on to the next cross. “Susanna Reeves – Pop Star. 5 July 1997 – 2 January 2001.”

“That one was a real shame,” said the old man. “Susanna had a wonderful voice and a brilliant mind for songwriting. At fifteen she decided that music would be her life and she won several competitions. But she married her high school sweetheart straight out of school and had her first child at nineteen. Her husband didn’t want a famous wife that earned more than him or that wouldn’t be home when he wanted her to be. He bullied her into killing her music dream.”

“That’s awful,” said Beth sadly.

Tears prickled in Beth’s eyes as they wandered slowly down the row of graves. She read the inscriptions out and the old man told the stories of death after death of someone’s hopes and dreams.

They’d passed a dozen or so graves when something occurred to her. She stopped and put her hand on the old man’s arm. “Are my dreams here?”

“Of course they are, Beth,” replied the old man, gently placing his hand over hers. “Everyone’s dead dreams are here.”

“Can you show me?” she asked. She hadn’t told the man her name but she accepted his knowing it as just another peculiarity of this weird day.


There were hundreds, thousands, millions of dead dreams in this graveyard and all the markers looked the same. Beth wondered how the old man could distinguish one from another, but he led her confidently through the grass, between identical graves. At the top of a small rise, she stopped. She felt like she couldn’t breathe when she saw more crosses than her mind could comprehend. The old man stopped and waited until she was ready to walk on.

As they walked, she tried to remember the dreams she’d had at different points in her life. She could barely remember her childhood, let alone what she’d wanted to be and do. She was pretty sure she’d had some dreams but she struggled to remember them. How many of these crosses are mine?

The old man stopped and pointed his stick at a cross that looked like every other cross. “There’s one.”

Beth knelt on the grass. “Beth Keneally – Professional Horse Woman. 5 May 1976 – 14 August 1981.”

She looked up at the old man.

“I remember this,” she whispered, running her hand over the inscription. “I started riding horses when I was twelve. My parents bought me my first horse for my fourteenth birthday. I wanted to be a three-day eventer or a dressage rider and represent my country overseas. I always thought I’d work in some capacity with horses, then someone told me I shouldn’t. He said there was no money in it and I’d be struggling every day of my life and I believed him. I secretly still wanted it until I turned 19 and got an office job, a good wage, and a boyfriend who wasn’t interested in horses. That was when I let the horse dream die for good.”

She moved on to another cross. “Beth Keneally – Gym Owner. 4 April 1986 – 11 April 1964.”

She looked up at the old man again with tears running freely down her face.

“My husband and I had a dream to own a gym but we got too comfortable in our 9 to 5 jobs with their regular paychecks, and everyone said we should buy a house. So we didn’t ever do anything about it. We could never get enough savings together to start or buy a gym, then the kids came along and that dream died.”

The old man looked at her with sympathy but said nothing.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, dashing the water from her eyes. “I don’t regret having the kids. They’re everything to me and I wouldn’t trade them for any dream, big or small. But I do regret that I never put more effort and action into doing something I’d wanted to do for so long. We could have made it work but life just carried us along until it seemed too late to do anything about it.”

The next cross was the one that she felt as a physical blow to her heart. Physical pain radiated across her chest as she read.

“Beth Keneally – Writer. 2 September 1972 – 10 January 2010.”

The old man stood in silence as she sat in front of the cross and cried more tears than she’d ever realised a human body could hold.

Beth had always been an avid reader. She had a substantial library at home and always had a book with her, wherever she went. Her favourite place was a bookshop. She often joked that she’d never die as long as she had an unfinished book because she’d have to live to know what happened at the end. She knew it was silly, but she always had at least two books going so that she’d always be partway through one. She figured that when she was ready to die, she’d finish all the books she was reading and then die peacefully in her sleep.

As a child, she’d written stories, a habit that followed her into adulthood. She wrote stories for Kayla and Benjamin when they were small and encouraged them to write too. She had notebooks filled with handwritten scrawls of ideas, scenes, and dialogue. Half-finished stories filled her desk drawers and her computer. She dreamed of publishing a book but never quite believed in her talent. She never had the courage to put herself out there and find out if she was any good. She hadn’t even realised that this dream had died until she saw it here in the Graveyard of Dreams.

“It can’t be gone forever,” she pleaded, looking up at the old man. “There must be something I can do?”

The old man stared at her for what seemed like forever. “Well,” he said.

“What?” she cried, standing up and gripping his shoulders, her face inches from his. “What can I do? How do I get it back? I’m not ready for this dream to be gone forever.”

“Not many people realise but it’s never too late to revive a dream,” murmured the old man. “It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long it’s been dead. You can always dig the dream up and revive it if you really want to. But it’s not easy. It could be buried deep. A dream held for such a long time is heavy and it sinks deeper every year following its death.”

“How?” said Beth. She wanted to shake him but she restrained herself. She let go of him and stepped back. “How do I dig it up?”

“You could use that,” he said, pointing to a half-dug grave that she swore hadn’t been there seconds ago.

A long-handled shovel was pushed into the loose earth waiting for the gravedigger to return. She grabbed it and started to dig. The ground was hard. At first, she could barely push the sharp edge of the shovel into the hard-packed dirt but she persisted until what started as a small dent began to grow larger.

Breathing heavily, she got into a rhythm, thrusting the shovel in and dumping the dirt out. Sour sweat filled her nose and her damp shirt clung to her chest and under her arms. She dug as if it was one of her kids she was trying to rescue.

“What am I looking for?” she asked, rubbing sweat from her face with her sleeve. She had to keep stopping to rest and catch her breath. Her shoulders and back muscles screamed at her like one of her heavy metal bands, but she ignored them. It had been a long time since she’d exercised like this and, although it hurt, it was a good hurt.

“You’ll know it when you see it,” replied the old man.

The sun had shifted overhead and the light was starting to dim by the time the shovel clunked on something, sending a jarring sensation up her arms. She was standing in a hole with the ground well above her head. It was getting more difficult with each swing to throw the loose dirt out and some of it had fallen back onto her, streaking her hair and face and clothes.

She knelt and wiped the dirt from the top of a small wooden box. Digging around the sides with her fingers, she pried it out. She’d expected something like a coffin, the size of a person, but what she pulled out of the ground was a cube, a hand’s width long, wide, and deep. The lid swung open easily and she took out what looked like a snow globe. She shook it and one lone piece of glitter swirled dejectedly in the liquid before settling on a small sculpture of an open book.

Something hit her on the head She looked up and saw a rope ladder hanging down the side of the hole. She put the snow globe back in the box, put the box under her arm, and climbed out of the hole, ignoring her groaning knees.

Once at ground level, she took the snow globe out of the box again and showed it to the old man.

“Hmm, just in time,” he said, taking it from her, shaking it, and watching the single piece of glitter dance. “It’s even harder to restart a dream from nothing.”

“What do I do?” Beth asked eagerly. “How do I bring it back to life?”

The old man didn’t answer but started walking back to the seat near the wall where Beth had first met him. Once they were both seated, he shook the snow globe again.

“Are you sure you want to?” he asked. “Are you going back?”

Beth thought about her nothing life that had existed this morning, just a few hours ago. She thought about Herb and Benjamin and Kayla and decided she wasn’t ready to leave them. She wasn’t ready to give up completely even though she’d thought she was.

“Yes,” said Beth with determination. “I’m going back and I’m going to feed this dream. I’m going to bring meaning into my life and write like I’ve never written before. I’ll be so prolific, people are going to be sick of hearing my name.”

She took the snow globe from the old man and shook it. To her surprise, a few more pieces of glitter joined the first one, capering with joy around the book.

“Take it back with you,” the old man said smiling. “Put it somewhere you can see it. Every time you do something to further your dream, more snow will appear. You have to do it though, not just think about it or talk about it. You have to actually do it.”

“I will,” she promised. She realised she was promising not just the old man, but herself too.

She started to walk towards the old iron gates of the Graveyard of Dreams. She was pulling it closed behind her when she remembered something.

She started to run. She had to hurry. She had to get home before someone found the letters.

Short Story

About the Creator

GK Bird

Australian fiction writer and reader, always on the lookout for good writing.

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