Countryside Crematorium

This is a story I heard from my uncle in junior high. It took place several decades ago, so quite a while back now.

At the time, my uncle was a local government employee for a small town of about 10,000 people. I grew up in that same town myself until I was 18.

Anyway, to the north of the town there are mountains, and the south is full of plains. There aren’t many people, so the entire town is one big rural landscape. Most people live at the foot of the mountains, and there’s also a local crematorium there as well.

The one thing that stands out from the crematorium is its massive chimney. Whenever smoke billows out of it, the villagers realise that somebody must have died recently. Of course, it’s a tiny countryside town, so whenever someone dies, people naturally want to know more. There’s not a lot to do for fun, so the villages take perhaps too much of an interest in other people’s formal affairs. My uncle said that people would often come to his office and ask, “So who died yesterday?”

This all took place long ago, so they didn’t have the same ideas of privacy or the protection of information like we do now. The local government workers would freely tell everything they knew. As such, whenever people informed the government about a death and got a license to use the crematorium, rumours would quickly spread that so and so from this particular area died.

The people who lived close to the crematorium were especially accurate with their information. Whenever one of them mentioned that “so and so just died,” a few days later people would see smoke coming up from that big chimney and realise that they were right, someone had died. And if smoke billowed without rumours of someone’s death beforehand, they would rush to find out who.

Then one day, something strange happened. Although nobody had heard any rumours of a death, smile billowed out of the crematorium’s chimney. At first the villagers tried to make sense of it. “Perhaps they’re cleaning it,” they thought. “Maybe they’re installing a new machine and they’re testing it out.” Yet over the next six months, there were six times that villagers saw smoke billowing from the chimney without any news of a death. No death notices had been delivered to the local government office either. No matter how they looked at it, something was odd.

There was one more strange thing. Everyone knew the crematorium’s hours of operation. It was open from 9 in the morning till 6 in the evening. Yet they saw smoke coming from outside those hours, in the early morning and late at night, and even on days off. The nearby villagers found this awfully suspicious, and so they told my uncle about it.

He also thought it was strange, so to figure out what was going on, he arranged for the villagers who lived near the building to monitor it late at night from afar.

Then, one morning. At 5 a.m., the crematorium worker set out for work, and then a short while later, a station wagon entered the building. The villagers who were watching the scene saw the men from the station wagon drag out a coffin. They were shocked. The crematorium worker was doing secret work away from prying eyes, but what surprised them the most was the ease and familiarity with which he dealt with the shady men.

A short while later, the crematory roared to life. A few minutes after that, the villagers heard a faint scream coming from the building. Shocked and terrified, they quickly ran home.

After that, the villagers pretended not to see anything when smoke billowed out of the crematorium chimney, and nobody dared speak of it. There are some things in this world that people are better off not knowing about.

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