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Tales from the Yard

Dorian always gets antsy when it rains. Panics when the water gets above the soles of his shoes. Always fights to get to the highest point at the first flash of lightning or roll of thunder. He doesn’t like storms, or rain, or dark skies, or clouds. No one can blame him, though no one understands him. Storms can’t hurt him anymore. They haven’t been able to for fourteen years.

Shiv knows it’s PTSD from Katrina and he knows Dorian isn’t the only one who feels it. They only pick on him because he shows it outwardly. A lot of people in this graveyard ended up here because of Katrina, though they play off their own hesitation of storms by picking on Dorian’s. They’ve managed to convince themselves that being scared is ridiculous since they’re dead. Nothing can hurt them anymore, so why is Dorian so scared?

Shiv can see through their taunting, though. He sees the way they eye the sky whenever an unexpected cloud covers the sun. He watches the way they watch the sewers and storm drains get rid of the rainwater and how their (metaphorical) breaths hitch whenever it draining start to slow. He watches but doesn’t voice his observations whenever the teasing starts. He knows they all have their own coping mechanisms. Besides, Dorian allows it. He, too, knows they need their releases and he doesn’t mind them letting it out on him. He can handle it.

The rain is heavier than usual tonight and Dorian is on his usual perch, straddling the highest cross in the yard as he watches the streets beyond the fences. There’s no flooding yet, but the drains aren’t pulling water as fast as it should be. An inch of water already sloshes underneath the tires of passing cars and bumps against the sidewalk in front of the graveyard. A few of the older residents of the yard cautiously hover around the gates, cracking jokes and trying to keep the air light as they watch the steady rain add to the pools on the streets.

“There’s no place to evacuate here,” Anita, another Katrina victim, had whispered to Harvey a few months ago. Shiv had almost felt bad when he eavesdropped behind a tomb a few yards away. He’s always been a nosy person and yes he has a limit of what he’ll listen to, but he hadn’t realized how personal things were giving until it was too late. “How will we get the kids out? What if—”

“Dear,” Harvey cut in with a gentle hand on her cheek. “There’s no need to evacuate the children. This is a graveyard. Everyone here is already dead.”

Like always, Shiv kept his findings to himself.

Tonight, Shiv takes his own usual perch under the same cross Dorian perches on, resting his forehead on the damp stone as the rain glues his shirt to his back. Unlike many people in the Yard, he’s never minded the rain. In fact, he would go as far as saying he loves it. A controversial topic in a graveyard full of flood victims, but no one calls him on it, mostly because, you guessed it, he keeps it to himself. It’s his job to know and keep information, not share his own.

“Do you think the levees will hold tonight?” Dorian asks, same as always.

“Yeah,” Shiv returns, same as always. The repetitiveness of the conversation is something Dorian needs and Shiv understands that. He needs the assurance even though he knows nothing will happen to him. Nothing can happen to him.

“That’s what they said when the big one hit.”

Shiv reaches up and holds Dorian’s knee. He could have gone for a foot for convenience, but Shiv hates feet. Besides, a knee feels more comforting. So he ignore the discomfort he feels at the strain of the reach and gives Dorian’s knee a reassuring squeeze. ‘This isn’t a big one,” he promises. “Just a shower.”

Dorian remains quiet. He unwarps an arm from its place around the cross and lets it hang by his side, his fingers gently moving to wrap around Shiv’s.



Not every day at the Graveyard is gloomy and gray. Take this morning, for example, the day after the storm. The beginning of autumn. Living beings either pray and leave offerings to their past loved ones or wander amongst the tombs with their friends looking for ghosts. The graveyard is supposedly haunted after all. Some even make claims of being of voodoo descent and can feel the presence of spirits. Shiv personally knows that most of the claims are bullshit since he can’t feel any drop of voodoo blood in their veins. He’ll let them have their moment since he knows this type always spook easy.

Another camera snaps to his left and he smiles at the whispers of the group. He wasn’t caught in the photo this time, but he has taught some of the children how to interact with the outside world. Judging by their reactions, they must have caught one of them. Most of them caught on quickly and made a game of ‘spooking’ the most people. Shaking trees, cold winds, whispers, taps, shoves, untying shoelaces, and even full or partial apparitions make up the brunt of what Shiv has taught them. The remainder of the lessons consisted of knot tying, hair braiding, and swearing.

He’ll never claim the swearing, though. They picked that up on their own.

George laughs and races into Shiv’s waiting arms, giggling up a frenzy as Shiv readjusts his hold. “Didja see that?” the excited seven-year-old says. “I spooked them!”

“I saw,” Shiv assures through his own proud smile. “They certainly seem spooked.”

“I listened to your teachings and made myself fuzzy in the picture!” George goes on. “I don’t know if they seed me in the Yard though.”

Shiv shakes his head and turns away from the group, trailing deeper into the blocked off part of the yard. “No matter,” he says. “This graveyard is said to be haunted anyway. If they saw you, it’d add to the fun for them.”

The smile falters on George’s face. “I don’t want them to have fun,” he says. “I want them to be scared.”

Shiv raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything. He does, however, make a mental note to spend a bit less time with George since he seems to be picking up on Shiv’s mannerisms. Whoops.

“Having fun and being scared go hand in hand for some people,” he explains as he sets George down on his tomb. “Until then, you need to sleep.”

“But I’m not tired,” George argues. “I wanna stay up with you.”

“You can’t,” Shiv says. “You gotta be ready for tonight.”

“How come you getta stay up all the time?”

“Cause I have to take care of everything.”

“How come?”

Shiv rolls his eyes and guides George to lie down. “Go to sleep,” he instructs firmly. “We have a big night tonight.”



New arrivals in the Yard are both a joyous occasion and a sad one. On one hand, repeated interactions with the same people every day, such as the interaction between the Residents of the Yard, begin to grate on everyone’s nerves after a year or two. Nothing much changes in the realm of the dead. There’s no need for it since everyone is done in their own way. No one’s going to grow any taller, age any older, lose or gain anymore weight, or get anything new done with their hair. Conversations tend to repeat when you see the same faces everyday and the answers start to do the same.

After a while, the only thing that strikes any sort of interest becomes taking care of the children. Even dead children are still children, and with no other way of settling their endless curiosity, they always have weird questions that need answering or strange conversations to be had. It’s always interesting around children.

A close second to the children become the new arrivals. They add a new blood to the Yard. New stories to be told. New conversations to be had. Newness in general. That seems to be what the Residents crave more than anything. Something new. Excitement, one could say. A well-needed break from the routine of daily activities. From what Shiv was starting to see, the Residents were starting to grow antsy. Antsy Residents are a hassle and, as much as Shiv loves the Yard, he hates dealing with hassles.

It’s been about three years since the last new arrival came to the Yard. Well, one thousand, two hundred and seven days to be exact. Since the Yard isn’t a large one in New Orleans, it doesn’t get new arrivals very often. It still gathers its fair share of tourists and haunted tours around this season, and despite it being well off and marginally popular, the Yard still doesn’t have a proper name. Shiv was the first one to dub it the Yard with a capital Y, mostly because he didn’t like the idea of living in a place that had no claim to anything and it seems to have stuck.

The Yard is a place for the well-off but not wealthy. Middle-class it would be called today. Despite the age of the graveyard, it currently only holds five hundred and seven Residents. Well, five hundred and eight counting the newest arrival, and five o’nine if Shiv were to count himself. Which he won’t. He never does. No matter, there’s always room for more. Roughly three hundred more adults or six hundred children could fit in the remaining space in the Yard by Shiv’s latest count, and that’s including the new arrival everyone surrounds.

Well, everyone minus himself and Dorian. They linger in the back of the group, eyeing the on-goings with a half-hearted attention. Nothing typically goes bad during the Risings and Shiv takes care of the wrongs quickly should something come up. Everyone is in good spirits tonight, chatting lightly and smiling brightly as the young ones chase each other around the tomb. They’re careful not to hit it since graves are sacred and shouldn’t be touched unless permission is given by the grave owner. But it would appear they’re not too sacred as they can’t serve as a centralized location for a game of tag.

Dorian rests against the wall of a nearby family vault, his family to be exact, while Shiv sits cross-legged on the ground by his feet. Shiv rests his head against Dorian’s leg as Dorian gently scratches at his scalp, almost lulling Shiv into a comfortably nap. If it weren’t his duty to oversee the Rising, he most definitely would succumb to the call of sleep. Sometimes he hates his job.

“What do you think happened to him?” Dorian asks, scanning the plaque on the front of the tomb and rereading the name. “‘Christopher Franklin’,” he reads. “Never trust a man with two first names, am I right?”

Shiv smiles and shakes his head. “Weirdos,” he agrees. “All of them.”

He purposefully avoids the question asked since he already knows the reason Christopher is here. Since he’s the resident Keeper, he’s immediately notified of a new Resident’s arrival date, reason for residency, and important life events starting from birth. It all usually comes in the form of a vaguely threatening, extremely unsettling dream, or, most disturbing, a flashback of the new Resident’s death. Shiv is never allowed to share the information without the Resident’s permission, so he always acts like he’s in the dark unless he gets the permission. He never does.

A quick glance to the moon tells him it’s almost time for the Rising. It always happens when the full moon is at its highest, which is strange considering how often Risings happen on a full moon. One would think Arrivals and Risings would be more sporadic or less predictable, but Shiv has learned not to question it. The universe has its ways he supposes.

A faint hiss rolls from the grave and the Yard falls silent, all the residents eagerly watching as a gray haze swirls around Christopher’s tomb. Dorian’s hand ceases its scratching and Shiv frowns but remains silent. He understands everyone wants to focus on the Rising (as he probably should), but he doesn’t understand why Dorian needs to stop scratching his head to do that.

Everyone jumps when a hand clamps around the edge of the tomb, then relaxes when Christopher pulls himself to a sit. Shiv thinks the action is a bit dramatic since other Risings didn’t remind him of zombies coming back. Most of Residents sat up quietly and blinked until they gathered themselves a bit, others screamed about being buried alive and always needed Shiv to explain how ghosts can’t be trapped. It’s a process.

Christopher sits up and blinks hazily at the crowd around him, wavering slightly as if he were drunk. The crowd stares back, waiting for Christopher to make the first move. New Residents say a lot when they first arrive. Right now, Christopher is a wild card and could go either way. The first minutes are crucial. A few children take a few hesitant steps back to where Shiv sits. Shiv himself is unconcerned.

“Uhm,” Christopher says. “I’m sorry, but where am I?”

All eyes flick to Shiv for answers, and Shiv answers the look with a nod. Once the go ahead is given, Anita turns back to the new Resident. “You’re at the Yard, sweetie,” she says carefully. “I’m sorry to tell you but—”

“I’m dead,” Christopher finishes for her. He nods a couple times and rakes his hand through his hair. “Yeah. I figured. I’d be surprised if anyone survived that wreck.”

Dorian glances down to Shiv, who raises an interested eyebrow and remains silent. No one is typically this open about their deaths, so he wants to know how this plays out.

Many of the Residents’ face shift to one of sympathy while the children look confused. “What do you mean?” George asks.


Christopher’s eyes turn glassy with tears and he shakes his head. “It was a terrible accident,” he says. “Some drunk driver came out of nowhere. . . No headlights at night. . .” The last word breaks and he covers his mouth with his hand. Now the older Residents start to tear up. Shiv can’t see a single dry eye from his angle. “I don’t even think we made it to the hospital.”

Andre is the first to move, moving to stand beside Christopher and placing a hand on his should. Andre is a drunk driving victim from before drunk driving was made illegal. Of course he feels for Christopher, and when Andre feels things, everyone does. The older Residents make their way over to comfort the newbie while the children stand in their place in confusion. Dorian hums thoughtfully and resumes scratching Shiv’s head.

“What do you think?” he asks. “Someone worth befriending?”

Shiv remains silent for longer than usual. He’s a wonderful judge of character and it doesn’t take him long to decide whether or not he’s going to like a person. His longest evaluation was twelve seconds, so when the twenty second mark rolls around, Dorian looks down at him.


The anger practically radiates off Shiv in waves as he glares harshly at the Christopher. Dorian has never seen Shiv this upset at a new arrival, not even the one who threw up on his shirt from his nerves. In fact, Dorian can’t think of any time in his fourteen years in the Yard when Shiv got even remotely angry. Well, he’s seen him agitated after a few graverobbing attempts and disturbed by a shooting that happened outside the Yard’s gate, but never angry.

Dorian gently tugs a lock of Shiv’s hair to get his attention. “Hey? Shiv?”

It takes all Shiv has not to lay into Christopher in front of everyone. It was an accident that took the lives of Christopher, one of his friends, and three members of a family in the next car, that much is true. But Shiv bring himself to count Christopher Franklin as a helpless victim in the situation. Christopher Franklin attended a knockoff Mardi Gras party a week and a half ago. Christopher Franklin drank a lot more than he should have that night. Christopher Franklin was the cause of the drunk driving accident, and the fact that he’s trying to make himself out to be the victim sickens Shiv to the very core. Christopher Franklin is a murdering liar and Shiv can’t tell anyone about it.



It takes a few days for Shiv to calm down from the incident, which lines up with the day he’s free to wander outside of the Yard. Well, the whole Yard is allowed out, but Shiv needed out more. If he had to watch Christopher Franklin cry one more time, someone would have had their eyes torn out.

Halloween night is the night the veil between the mortal world and the spirit one is the thinnest, meaning Residents aren’t bound to the Yard and can interact with the living. Children are especially excited during this time since they get to see more people around their age, and the adults enjoy regaining some of the freedom they’ve lost during death. Shiv himself has unlimited freedoms and could come and go as he pleases, but he saw how upset some Residents got when he did and stopped.

Tonight is the famous Voodoo Festival, meaning food, decorations, and lots of costumes. Shops advertise the sale of the usual tourist trap wares at a discounted price for the events. Various jazz and brass bands play down the streets as dancers and other partiers dance in the streets. Strings of lights illuminate the crowds below with the help of the brightly lit shops lining the sidewalks. Colorfully costumed patrons take photos with tourist or excited children while others hide their enthusiasm by taking bites of their food or looking for a drink.

Shiv and Dorian weave their way around the outer rim of the main party blocks, hand in hand, each of them having their own reasons for avoiding crowds. They trail lap after lap around the festivities, chatting idly and taking a tally of those who came out tonight. Like Dorian, not everyone enjoys the crowds of the night and opt to stay at the Yard and ‘welcome’ those leaving offerings. Shiv wishes he could do the same, but his job requires him to keep everyone safe, meaning he has to go out with the wanderers. There are too many bad things can happen to spirits tonight and Shiv needs to be out to make sure none of it happens to his Residents.

“You going to eat that?” Dorian asks, motioning to the uneaten po boy in Shiv’s free hand. “Cause I’m still hungry.”

Shiv pass over the sandwich and watches as a group of his young Residents racing around laughing with a group of living children. Well, at least they will fall asleep quickly when they get back. He’s seen a few of his adult Residents mingling with other partiers and makes mental tabs of where they are. He also makes a note that he’s eventually going to face his discomfort and head into the crowd to gather his residents before three. That’s going to be a task in itself, so he decides to start at around one thirty. A quick glance at the moon gives him a time of roughly twelve twenty. Grand.

“You aren’t listening to me, are you?” Dorian asks through his mouthful of sandwich. “You know, for someone who’s supposed to be this huge, loving figure in the Yard, you aren’t a very good listener.”

“You were asking if I ever wanted to leave the Yard forever,” Shiv says distractedly. “And you also asked if I ever had to use the bathroom cause you never seen me do it. Which is a very weird question.”

Dorian shrugs. “But it’s a valid one.”

“It’s really not.”

“You never answered the questions.”

It’s Shiv’s turn to roll his eyes and he gives Dorian’s hand a squeeze of an unknown emotion. “First off, I’m not alive. So no, I don’t need to use the bathroom,” he says. “And second, no, I don’t think of leaving.”

“Really? Nothing happens at the Yard unless someone dies. Why stay when you don’t have to.”

“It makes the others upset cause they can’t,” Shiv says. “Besides, I’m too lazy to want to go anywhere.”

Dorian smiles and swings their hands again. “Are you sure you don’t just want to spend more time with me?”

“Of course not.”

“You love me.”

“I’d let a lwa drag you to the underworld for half a succulent leaf.”

Dorian pauses. “That is very specific and you only use specifics when you love something. Ergo, you love me.”

Shiv squints in thoughtful confusion. “Who uses the word ergo anymore?”

“Whatever, you- Hey look, a parade’s coming.”

Parades mean crowds. Crowds mean people and his Residents. Ergo (and he hates himself for using the word), his searching job just got easier.

Shiv tugs Dorian over to a closed shopfront door and takes shelter underneath the awning. “We can watch from here,” he says. “Out of the crowd but we can still see everything.”

Dorian hums as he watches the cheering crowd approach. “You’re just lazy and you know you just have to watch for Residents and call them over,” he sums. “But I’ll bite.”

If it were anyone else, Shiv would hate the fact that he’s so easily read. However, he’ll make an exception for Dorian. So instead of making a comment and spouting out a bullshit, but still believable, lie, he shakes his hand from Dorian’s and sits at his feet, resting his head on Dorian’s leg and Dorian leans against one of the awning support poles. Dorian’s hand finds Shiv’s head and he starts twirling a lock of his hair as the brass band’s music makes itself clear over the noise of the city.

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