The thought of being buried alive is enough to make even the bravest of us break out in a cold sweat. The following short story is in two parts, the second half of which I will post tomorrow. Whether you like it or not.
Although the story itself is fictional (you will be pleased to note that I do not make a habit of going around burying my friends alive for school projects, although sometimes it was tempting) some of the Victorian devices detailed below were actually tested. The mind boggles…
“And such was the fear of being buried alive,” the lecturer warbled, “that all sorts of devices were created in the event that such a horror might happen.” The three of us sat transfixed, staring at the projector screen. “Here you can see an early diagram of a grave. You will see there is a bell above ground with a cord running down into the coffin itself. The idea was that should you wake up in your coffin after burial, you just pulled on the rope and rang the bell until someone came and rescued you.”
“What a horrible thought,” I whispered to my friend, Colette. “Imagine waking up in a coffin!”
“That’s why I’m going to be cremated,” Maria muttered. “No chance of waking up then, is there?”
“What if you woke up in the oven?” Colette raised an eyebrow. Maria went quiet.
“I never thought of that,” she muttered.
“Here you can see another diagram of a coffin with a tube going down into it, too,” the lecturer continued. “If you were lucky enough to be discovered after having been buried alive then they could feed you through the tube until they dug you up again. This set up was actually tested out and someone managed to eat a full dinner from his coffin. What sort of a mess he came out in, I can only imagine.” She paused while a ripple of laughter surged around the auditorium. “However, once you started to smell, they removed the bell, cord and so on and filled the hole in as it was safely assumed you were well and truly dead.”
“That’s well and truly disgusting,” I muttered, flicking my hair out of my face.
“I find it all really interesting,” Colette disagreed. “Death was such a big thing to the Victorians. Imagine burying one of your nearest and dearest but not being completely sure they were dead?”
“I’m trying not to,” I scowled, wishing she would change the subject.
“Do you think that actually worked?” Maria asked as we packed up our books and headed out into the hallway. “I mean, if you woke up in the dark, trapped in a coffin, wouldn’t you just panic? I wouldn’t think about looking for a little cord to pull.”
“They probably tied the cord to your finger or something,” I said. “Besides, I suppose once you’d been down there for a while you’d feel about for a way out and would find the cord then.”
“Feel about for a way out?” Maria snapped. “Where are they going to go? Didn’t you hear what she said about people digging up coffins and finding bodies lying in tortured positions and… and nail marks in the lid of the coffin?”
Colette pursed her lips in thought.
“I reckon people just died of suffocation in the end,” she said airily as if we were just discussing the weather. “I mean, there can’t be much air in those body boxes.”
We walked on for a few minutes in silence, each pondering what it must be like to be buried alive. It held a kind of romantic horror for us. It fascinated us in the worst way.
“How’s this for an idea,” Colette tapped me on the arm. She had a glint in her eye that I didn’t like.
“Go on,” I muttered, rolling my eyes.
“For our end of term paper, why don’t we investigate what it was like being buried alive?” Maria glanced at me and shook her head despairingly. It took a moment for Collette’s words to sink in.
“What do you mean?” I ventured.
“Exactly what I said,” Colette replied, brightly. “I want to know if those daft Victorian ideas actually worked. I mean, just because that lecturer says you can eat a full dinner through a pipe while you’re in a coffin, how do we know? Did you see those contraptions ? Did you see the one where a flag pops up to warn the vicar that you’re still alive when he makes his daily rounds of the cemetery? Come on, what do you reckon a vicar would do if that ever happened?”
“Probably pop the flag back down and keep right on walking,” Maria grinned.
“That’s a terrible thing to say!” I gasped but I couldn’t help smiling too.
“Well, would a vicar really want people to know that his parishioners were being buried alive in his graveyard? It would be bad for business,” Colette retorted. “So what do you think of my idea? At least it would be interesting. Unlike your idea of writing a paper on – what was it? – the life and times of a Victorian maid? Thrilling.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that subject,” I said, sounding hurt.
“I never said there was anything wrong with it,” Colette said soothingly, “but wouldn’t my topic be more interesting?”
“It could be fun, I suppose,” Maria conceded reluctantly. They both looked at me and I wilted under the weight of their combined stares.
“Oh… whatever you like,” I muttered sulkily.
PLEASE VISIT TOMORROW FOR PART II
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010