“Oi!” The Grave-Digger yelled furiously. “Get yer arse outa there, ya little shite, ya!”
The Grave-Robber’s head bolted out of the rectangular burial pit he was trying to exhume. The Grave-Digger saw the colour drain from his face. It gave him an odd sense of satisfaction to know that people were scared of him. At least, when he was swinging his rusty shovel around in his dirt riddled hands.
The Robber couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. Poor thing probably thought this would make him bit of dosh! That was the usual excuse the Grave-Digger heard when he reefed them out of the ground red-handed. Or, brown-handed, he guessed would be a more accurate way to describe it. Even if their hands weren’t stained, he could tell that there pants were.
The Grave-Robber started squirming his way out of the grave. The Grave-Digger broke into a half-hearted sprint down the gentle slope to the hole but the little bugger had managed to scramble his way out of the six foot deep ditch. He scampered away to the green painted fencing before his shaky legs gave way underneath his big yellow belly. From there he simply dragged himself over the fence with his hands and flopped onto the path on the other side. The Grave-Digger came to a stop beside the defiled grave and shouted out into the night: “Come ‘ere again and I’ll knife you!”
The Grave-Robber suddenly gained the courage to laugh at the old man, and even flipped him the bird. The Grave-Digger feigned a lunge and the poor little thing leapt back into a battered old jeep. Its siren screamed through his bruised head as he lolloped away with shame.
The Grave-Digger grumbled under his breath and scratched his thickly bearded chin. It was the fifth time that week that the rascal had tried to nick something off the dead. He wasn’t going to call the police though. If anyone was going to smack him over the head, the Grave-Digger was going to make sure he did it!
He withdrew a torch from the inner pocket of his tattered leather duster and flicked it on. He pointed it at the grave and peered inside. Looked like the Robber had just gotten to the lid of the coffin. First time he’d managed to get this far. If there was one good thing the Grave-Digger could say about that hooligan it was that the little bastard was determined.
He put his torch back into his pocket and hefted the shovel up with both hands and sunk its steel tip into the soggy pile of earth and flung it back onto the corpse box. It was tough work, but he didn’t mind it. He appreciated the exercise. Kept his old bones strong. He could remember his first dig so clearly, even now, all these years later.
It was an oddly bright day. He had strained himself all day to toss the bone dry dirt over his shoulder. His face had turned red, his arms were burning and his hands stung from gripping the shovel’s shaft so tightly. The radiant weather only made things worse.
It was for an elderly woman who had passed away in her sleep only a few days earlier. She was only eighty-two years young. The mourners frowned and kept their eyes low, but he could see the hope in their eyes. They honestly believed she was in a better place. She’d lived a long life, he guessed.
She’d been lucky enough to.
The Grave-Digger stabbed his spade deep into the earthen mound and shut his eyes tight. He felt his chest seizing up from emotion. It flowed into his throat like some terrible storm pouring its unforgiving waters into a river. He gritted his teeth and hoped the river banks wouldn’t burst. He took a deep breath and let it out in a shaky sigh.
That was seventeen years ago.
His wife had passed away only a month beforehand.
She had not been given the mercy of a peaceful death. He had not even been given the gift of knowing her suffering of some terminal ailment had ended. She had been taken from him and his children one day, without a moment’s warning.
It was a Friday. She was supposed to take the day off work only to realize that morning she’d left her purse at her desk. He had tried to convince her to just call someone in the office and ask them to come round to the house with it, but she insisted that she should go and get it. She didn’t want to bother anyone with such a menial little task.
Exactly three hours and forty nine minutes later a police car stopped in the driveway. He opened the door with his heart full of horrific predictions that were confirmed when the officers removed their caps. He didn’t cry, he didn’t break down, he didn’t even blink away tears. He just felt his soul being ripped out of his chest. He only felt numb. He felt hollow.
The kids came home from school to the news that their mother had died in a car crash. That some drunkard had decided to get hammered and smash into their mother’s car. He remembered his oldest son coming back from college, walking in the door with his girlfriend, the pair giggling together like idiots. Later he was balling his eyes out on her shoulder while she held him close and whispered soothing words into his ear. She was a lovely girl, she was, sincere and caring. The Grave-Digger wished he could’ve been the same.
After the funeral, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the graveyard. He just couldn’t believe any of it. He couldn’t accept any of it. He didn’t want to accept any of it. She had been ripped away from him and buried under a half tonne of dirt.
He thought that, maybe if he stayed here, she would too. She would still be with him.
The kids managed fine on their own. The youngest was only eighteen anyway, they could handle themselves. He hoped. He honestly didn’t know.
The Grave-Digger pushed the memories away. They were too painful. He instead focused his mind on pouring the sludge pile back into the pit full of roots and worms for the next hour. Eventually he finished and gave the mound a final pat with the tip of his shovel and walked back over the hill to the big oak tree he liked to sleep under. It provided adequate shelter from the elements. Should he need to answer nature’s call, he had a set of keys to the church.
He just wanted to sleep and get the day over with. He yawned and stretched out his arms and heard a crack. But it wasn’t his bones. It was a twig.
He looked to his right, where he thought he’d heard it from. He squinted his eyes to see through the dim drizzle. He couldn’t see anything. Maybe he’d just stepped on a stick and not realized it. He shrugged and continued on for a few feet before he heard it again.
But this time, he saw a shape dart between the trees. That little grave-robbing thief had decided to come back for another round of tag, had he? The Grave-Digger was not going to stand for this. His eyes came alive with a raging fire and he stormed across the grass to the small cluster of trees and barked at them: “What did I tell ya, ya cheeky little arse wipe, next time I see you I’ll batter ya!”
He rounded the tree, shovel in hand ready to strike, but was surprised to see that the Grave-Robber had not, in fact, returned.
In fact, it was three men. They were all bald, or at least shaved, with square jaws and pointed noses like a dog’s. They were all very well built, with their biceps bulging against the seams of their tailor-made silk suits. They each wore a pair of sunglasses to hide their eyes. None of them looked friendly.
The Grave-Digger couldn’t help but wonder if they were triplets.
He blinked, before lowering his shovel, but still maintained an aggressive stance. He noticed that two of them were carrying a very exquisitely carved coffin between them. He looked at the one closest to him. “What are yous doin’ here?” He inquired.
Their faces remained completely neutral. “I am here on business.” One of the men lifting the coffin answered simply, as if that explained the situation.
“What business? Exhumation?” He retorted. He saw all three men grit their teeth.
“Well, honestly, sir,” The one beside him began. “It is no business of yours.” He turned away from him and the three tried to walk off. But the Grave-Digger was not having any of that. You don’t see three men walking around a graveyard at night with a coffin unless they’ve stolen it.
He strode toward them. “Get back here ya ponces ya and put that coffin back where ya got it before I call the police on yous! Hey, are yous even listening!? Oi!” The Grave-Digger reached out and grabbed the shoulder of the man he’d just been speaking too.
The man twisted around quicker than the old man could imagine and gave him a vicious look. There was a heavy squelch and suddenly one of the other coffin carriers had zoomed in and crashed his fist into the old man’s stomach. The Grave-Digger felt his feet leave the ground and the wind rush out of his body. He hit the ground hard a few feet away and gasped for air as both men approached him. He looked up to see that the angry one’s sunglasses had become a deep shade of red. “Do not touch me you mortal scum!” He roared, his voice guttural and as coarse as gravel.
The Grave-Digger tried to stand up and apologize but he could only sit their and wheeze at the anger rising up in the man. It did not help the situation. The man growled and his eyes slowly lit up like fairy lights on a Christmas tree. He was obviously trying to control the anger, but it was a battle he was losing and in a fit of rage he ripped off his sunglasses and crushed them in his hands. The cracked glass and broken plastic didn’t leave a mark on his skin, but that’s not what caught the Grave-Digger’s attention.
It was his eyes. They were slits of inky black against dying red suns. They were fueled by pure rage, and their attention was directed at the Grave-Digger.
Red-eyes glanced at the other man, and he staggered toward the Grave-Digger with a clear intention. The Grave-Digger scrambled backwards with a yelp of fear but he wasn’t able to move fast enough. The man got his hands around his neck and hoisted him up into the air with one arm. The Grave-Digger slapped at his thick forearm pathetically. He was losing consciousness. He could see tendrils of darkness licking at the edges of his vision.
The man who’d first spoken approached Red-eyes. “Maybe I should let him down. He could be useful.”
Red-eyes looked at him curiously. “How could he be a help to me? Look at him, he’s a feeble old fool.”
“Yes,” the man responded. “But he’s a feeble old fool who probably digs graves for a living.” Some gears seemed to click into place for Red-eyes. He nodded and the other man dropped the Grave-Digger like a stone.
The Grave-Digger took in barrel fulls of glorious, life giving air as quickly as he could. The tendrils vanished and he could see clearly. Red-eyes’ eyes had stopped glowing, but they were still a vivid shade of volcanic red. He noticed the hands of the man who’d hefted him against the tree were smoking, and wrinkled. Red-eyes looked down at him like he’d gotten a bad taste in his mouth.
“What are yous?” The Grave-Digger asked meekly.
Red-eyes smiled. “I am not ‘what’, good sir, I am ‘he’. And it would be wise to recognise me as such, and refer to me only when you are spoken to, like a good little human vermin, do you understand?”
The Grave-Digger nodded.
“Good.” Red-eyes pointed at the shovel. “Now start digging.”