While the following is true, I still struggle to come to terms with it. Did my eyes really witness such a sight?
Riding across the great plain, I realised I had misjudged the vastness of my journey. Supplies were running low and my horse, was growing tired, his pace decreasing sharply. In what seemed to be endless scrub land I spotted a grave, with a wooden cross tied together with string. It was unmarked. The presence of a grave must mean that people have been here before and may be near. The grave did have one pelicular characteristic though. It was dug out but from the inside out. Simultaneously I felt somewhat confident of finding people yet startled by the mysterious grave.
As the suns rays rained downwards I looked towards the horizon. It looked as a village was flickering into existence. At first I suspected that I was hallucinating but as I moved closer the village faded in, asserting its reality. Moving closer I saw more graves. Some shallow, some entombed by walls and fences, some marked and others unmarked. All of them though shared the dug out nature of the first grave. It could not be the work of grave robbers. These graves where too isolated and grave robbers dig outside in, not inside out. This continued to puzzle me, until I made it to the village, were I saw an utterly surreal occurrence.
The village begins with a cobbled pathway which branches off into side streets and leads to a central square. Buildings are constructed of both wood and stone. They are simple dwellings, the majority resembling huts and shacks. Some are larger and may be buildings of learning and commerce. Still, they appear to be small for these tasks.
As me and my horse wandered around the village I noticed two things. The intense quiet and no noticeable name of the village. At first I could only hear my footsteps and the clopping of the horses hooves. It was at this moment I halted. I heard another noise. But rather than it being the sound of footsteps, it was a rattle coming in two parts.
“Click, Clack, Click, Clack…”
On it went, getting louder. What was making the noise left the side street, stood in plain sight and turned to look at me.
The rattling sound was bones. Stood before me was a human skeleton dressed in a poncho and a wide-brimmed hat. I struggled to comprehend what was before me. As I was thinking how could this be happening, another skeleton wandered by, this time without clothes. I thought about communication but with the correspondents lacking eyes and ears it would have been impossible for them to comprehend me. Yet for all my apprehension they did not seem to be bothered by me. Advancing further into the village I saw skeletons sat on their haunches, wandering around and some riding skeletal horses.
As I tried to make sense of what I was seeing I saw in the background people, actual living people unloading coffins from a cart. Making my way through the skeletal masses I went over to the grave diggers. Though initially wary of me they eventually came round and spoke to me about the village.
“What is this place?”
“Muerto, the village of the dead.”
“As I found out. But do th -”
“The dead reawaken?”
“Yes, and why as skeletons?”
“The land is sacred, blessed by the natives. While they have long since passed, their blessing remains. Once the dead who are buried in the vicinity reach skeletal status they reawaken and head to the village. The village is where the blessing in strongest. It is here where they continue to exist. As skeletons because continued existence has to have a trade-off. A new life but with emotions and feelings sacrificed.”
“And I suppose they awake with the clothes they are buried in?”
“That they do.”
“Right…were do you get the bodies from?”
“Locals who want their relatives and friends to live on”
“In such a basic form of existence?”
“Hey, their choice. Not mine.”
I was allowed to go with the grave diggers to their village for supplies, as skeletons have no need for food and water. As I left Muerto I pondered what I had seen. At first the lives of the dead seemed barren and pointless. Yet on further reflection while lacking, they were also free from bother and problems. They had no need to worry about anything. And as a member of the living, having never experienced death, I have no right to judge the deceased. How do I know its bad to be dead?
Last line inspired by Chuang – Tzu: How do I know that loving life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death I am not like a man who, having left home in his youth, has forgotten the way back?”
Again, taken from Wes “Scoop” Nisker’s The Essential Crazy Wisdom.
Muerto is death in Spanish.
Feedback is welcomed.