The Rotating Grave

Rex Rotograv, the avant garde rotogravurist, left instructions in his will that he was to be buried in a rotating grave. Like William Beckford, the rich and eccentric author of Vathek (1786), he wrote the will in a ship’s cabin, on the hat of a valet. Unlike Beckford, Rotograv did not have his own valet, so, with the aid of his personal magnetism and the promise of a portrait in rotogravure, he commandeered a valet from a passenger berthed in a nobbier part of the ship. Also unlike Beckford, who died in his cabin sailing home from the West Indies, the rotogravurist survived his voyage, as, one hoped, he might, given that in his case the ship was a ferry plying the short distance between the Port of Tongs and Tantarabim, crossing the Great Sopping Wet River four times daily. Upon disembarking, Rotograv realised that he had neglected to produce the promised rotogravure for the valet.

He had already experimented with a rotating grave for one of his dead horses. Rotograv was fond of horses, and liked to go galloping along the clifftop paths of his bailiwick seeking scenic loveliness which he would then “interpret” in his avant garde rotogravures. His artistic skills far outstripped his capabilities as a husbander of horses, however, and the attrition rate was dreadful. Rotograv lost count of the dead horses he buried.

The idea for the rotating grave for the horse Duvet came to him in a dream. Duvet was still alive at the time, but died the very next day, when Rotograv was galloping along the cliffs to see the abandoned lime kilns at Loopy Copse. Poor exhausted Duvet perished from a baffling medical condition the like of which does not bear thinking about, and which you would not understand in any case unless you happened to be a tiptop expert in horse health, and even then you might scratch your head in wonderment.

Duvet’s grave was powered by a pneumatic contraption and did a full 360° rotation every five minutes. Oh, it fairly spun round and round!, disturbing many a mole and other burrowing creatures.

For his own grave, as described in detail with imperishable ink on the valet’s hat, Rotograv envisioned a variable speed of rotation, now fast, now slow, depending on the atmospherics above ground. It would be a stupendously complicated feat of subterranean engineering, but, he thought, and hoped, he had many years ahead of him to finesse the design.

He did not. The day after returning home from across the Great Sopping Wet River, an infuriated and bare-headed valet came rushing up to him in the street, demanding the avant garde rotogravure portrait he had been promised. A fight ensued. Rex Rotograv was unarmed, but the valet, as valets do, carried a stiletto. And so passed from this world a man unparalleled.

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