As John took his own spade and began shoveling dirt into the pit, he thought back on the long night and just how difficult it would be for him to continue with a job like this. Night after night of patrolling the graveyard, looking for plague-infested bodies that hungered for human flesh, dealing with skeletal monstrosities living in black goo, and having to battle wits with a cadre of ghosts? This was simply too much for eight-year-old!
“Leonard?” John said as they continued with their work, breaking the silence.
“Yeah kid?” He replied.
“I don’t think I can do this…”
“Relax kid, it’s filling a hole. No real way to do it wrong.” Leonard snorted, tossing another shovel-full of dark soil into the hole.
“I mean go on working in the graveyard.” John clarified, looking over at Leonard as he stopped for a moment.
Leonard stopped at this statement as well, looking over at John with an unreadable expression. For a brief few moments, John was worried the older man might go off, but instead he merely continued shoveling.
“We’ll talk about it once we’ve finished up with this lot.” Leonard said with a tone of finality.
They finished the mass grave just as the sun crested the outer walls of the graveyard, both men drenched in sweat as they breathed heavily, resting their weight on their respective shovels. Leonard nodded to John, motioning for him to follow. John tossed his spade onto a long stone coffin and moved to follow.
“So the life of a gravedigger is too much for you, eh lad?” Leonard said as they descended the slight hill heading towards the ramshackle building near the front gate. “Too many spooks and ghouls out and about for your liking?”
“Yes sir, that’s the main problem.”
“And what’s the other then?” Leonard growled, fumbling in his pocket for the keys to the shack.
“I don’t much like working for the dead either.” John said after a moment’s pause, staring at Leonard’s back as he stopped his movements.
The man stood still as could be, staring at the door with the keys in his hands. “When’d you figure it out?”
“When I got away from the ghosts.” John said with a slightly smug tone. “I was cornered by a scary looking one, long black hair and spindly arms…”
“Grinn, Melisa Grinn. She is, was, a serial killer. Killed her fair share of people buried here I’d dare say.” Leonard said, once again moving to unlock the door.
“Well, Miss Grinn cornered me and demanded I give her something… so I gave her your whiskey, to warm her up.” John continued, eyes locked on Leonard’s back as he spoke. “It made her more solid, more real… and much more tolerable. But she was still cold to the touch… just like you.”
John turned his hands over in front of himself, rubbing them together as if to chase away some bitter cold. “Yeah, we tend to have that problem. I’ve found whiskey makes me tolerable, which is how Paul and I got to know each other in death as we had in life.”
Leonard opened the door and pushed it slightly inward, sliding in fluidly. “Come on in lad, I’ve a story to tell you before you go and quit on me.”
John wanted to leave, wanted to run and hide and seek the comfort of his mother’s arms and forget all about this night… but then again, Leonard hadn’t done anything too rash to him, even going so far as to save his life a few times. So, with great hesitation, John slinked in through the narrow opening, following the spirit into the darkened room.
“There’s a lantern by the door that you can light if you’d like to see.” Leonard’s voice came from the darkness, far more hollow and watery than it had sounded previously.
John grabbed a matchstick from his pocket, swiping it against the rough grain of the wooden wall to spark a small fire to life before opening the lantern and lighting it, turning the small clamp to allow a little more oil to filter up and brighten the room. Turning, John fell back onto his hands against the wall, eyes wide with terror.
Sitting at a table overflowing with coins was a ragged old corpse, dressed in the same clothing that Leonard wore. Its lidless gaze was locked onto John, dust and cobwebs showing that the body hadn’t moved in quite some time. Leonard as John knew him stood by the body, staring at it with a mixture of revulsion and pity.
“I loved the drink, and it was the drink that killed me.” He said drolly, as if reciting a particularly bad poem. Shaking his head, he looked over at John and motioned for him to sit down. “Now come on lad, you’ve seen worse than this…”
John nodded slowly before moving to the offered chair in front of the corpse, slowly taking a seat across from where it sat rotting. Leonard moved behind it, stroking his chin in thought.
“Been eight years now, give or take, that I’ve been tending the lots here like this. Got up one evening and just went about my duties, not even noticing I was dead.” He said with a slight hint of amusement in his voice. “Was a real shocker when I came, I tell you.”
“I can only imagine.” John replied.
“Didn’t stop me from working though… which didn’t stop the church from paying me. Every week I get a stipend for food and lodgings, dropped off in a small lockbox outside. And every week I just bring it all in here and stack it up nice and neat on this table.”
John could only nod as he stared at the gathered silver coins in amazement. There must have been thousands of them stacked up high in front of the rancid corpse.
“Problem is, the church officials have begun making comments about my lack of aging. They seem to think it’s… unnatural.” Leonard continued, scratching at his chin. “They’ll start poking about in here soon enough if I don’t get a replacement. That’s where Paul came in.”
John merely nodded slowly, following along with the story as his eyes slowly counted the gathered coins before him. There was enough here for his entire family to be fed and clothed for a decade!
“So when Paul came by to visit one evening, I revealed to him my new supernatural status to him, and convinced him to find me a young lad to come take my place.” Leonard explained, motioning to the coin. “You’d owe Paul about ten percent of what’s here, but if you stay on and act as the gravedigger for the church, I’ll help you out for a few years before you properly bury me… you know, let me move on and all that.”
“Why wait?” John asked, before having the decency to at least look ashamed at the sudden question. “I mean, it’s not that I’m not appreciative of the offer… I am! But why stay on and tutor me for so long?”
Leonard looks a little hesitant to continue, so John presses on. “I mean if I were you, I’d want to move on and rest for once, instead of having to work for no reason.”
“You’re still a young lad, so you might not understand this… but I wasn’t a good man in life. I left my wife and two children, slummed with the whores of Paris, and sold off some of the stranger specimens that go bump in the night to some unscrupulous folks every now and again. The way I figure it, if I stay on and help train a suitable replacement after giving him all my hard-earned money, then I may have whittled away some of my sin in the eyes of the heavenly father.”
John nodded at that reasoning. “So if I stay on and replace you, I get all of this and still have you help me?”
“That’s the size of it, yup. You think that’s a fair enough trade?”
John grinned from ear to ear. “More than fair… boss.”