Short Fiction: The Caretaker

Hi guys. This is a short writing exercise I did the other day. I used the prompt for October 17th from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. Kind of quickly thrown together, but in the spirit of Halloween, enjoy!

The Caretaker

by Shannon Fox

The caretaker had lived alone on the hill for more than half a century. His hair had grown white, his limbs stiff, his eyes murky, and his tongue clumsy. He rose every morning at dawn and retired at dusk. Then, he would wait for his visitor.

The man in the black boots arrived every night after sundown. If there had been anyone around to ask him, the caretaker would have sworn to nothing about the man’s appearance except for a pair of black boots. The toes were usually scuffed, sometimes covered in mud, sometimes with bits of grass and dew clinging to them, and always bearing a smell the caretaker never mentioned to the visitor.

At eighty-four years of age, the caretaker had grown used to passing his days in much the same way. After a day spent tending the weeds that grew around the headstones and sweeping the dust and dead leaves from the mausoleum, he looked forward to sitting in his old wooden chair and eating his dinner, usually a hearty stew and hunk of bread.

The man in the black boots always came in while he was eating. Taking a seat in the rocking chair opposite the caretaker, he would wait for the man to finish eating before commencing their conversation. The caretaker knew better than to offer the man any food.

It was raining. The caretaker wasn’t worried, though. He had never known the visitor to miss an appointment on account of a storm.

He arrived just as the caretaker took the stew off the stovetop. His shoes were already drying in front of the fire, wet and muddy after a day tending to the dead in the rain.

“Lamb?” the visitor asked.

“This was a good week,” the caretaker replied.

“Have they started paying you more?”

“No. Just the same.”

“How many did you bury this week?”

“Nine,” the caretaker said, cutting his bread. “The last one was a little boy. His mother gave me ten dollars for my time.”

The visitor rocked slowly in his chair. “Not many tips in this business.”

“No,” agreed the caretaker. He sat in his chair with his bowl of stew, his spoon, and his bread.

They sat in silence as the visitor watched the caretaker eat. It continued to rain outside, the wind lashing the water against the windows. The house smelled musty on the driest of days and now it smelled quite damp and mildewed. Finally, the caretaker set his bowl on the floor.

“How many since yesterday?” the visitor asked.

“None. I suspect there will be plenty when the rain lets up.” He turned towards the window. “This is good weather for death.”

The visitor nodded and tapped his boot on the floor.

“Are you ready?” the visitor asked.

The caretaker nodded. “Soon.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Perhaps.” The caretaker continued to stare at the rain. “Someone must tend to the dead.”

The visitor rose. “Then I’ll come back tomorrow.”

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11 thoughts on “Short Fiction: The Caretaker

  1. *The smelled good

    I noticed that you graduated from UCSD — I looked at the homepage for their MFA program the other day with dreamy eyes.

    I like the way you wove death into the dialogue — well done.

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