A flicker of movement to his side caught his attention, causing him to consider the darkened hedges that surrounded this small grave plot. Crawling like a spider along her belly, a pale looking spirit jerkily moved through the brambles and underbrush, groaning as she crawled. The gathered spirits of the children all shrieked in fear, vanishing like mist on the wind at the mere sight of the specter.
“Oh come on… what now?” John groaned, straightening up while rubbing his back. Thinking back on what he’d seen from everything else in this damned graveyard, he could only guess as to what horror this ghost would reveal itself to be.
He didn’t have to wait long. Flickering from space to space, the crawling spirit quickly covered ground until she was only a few feet away, her arms and legs split out to allow her to walk like a lizard. Her head, framed by long black locks, twisted around until it was facing skyward, a series of pops and cracks emanating from her neck as her head slowly turned.
John didn’t wait for her to finish whatever she was going to do, choosing instead to turn and run as he rightly should have done when he first saw her. But as he turned to run she flickered from her spot on the ground to a stone column, her arms and legs gripping the ivy-choked pillar while her twisted head hissed at John.
“Life! What foul deed brings the taint of a beating heart into my lair?” She hissed, one disjointed arm reaching out to John, brushing against his cheek before he could back away. The chilling touch seemed to freeze the very sweat dripping down his face, forcing him to rub the numbness from his cheek. “Does it come bearing gifts, hmmm? Goods for which it can barter to pass through my realm unscathed?”
Shit… she wants something… John thought as he stared into her black, pitiless eyes. What do the dead want…?
“It’s so quiet, like a grave? Does it have a grave, or should we pick one out for it?” The spirit continued, bending from the waist and curling up to get closer to John, her long arms seemingly growing longer. “I could just drink in the warmth of your life until you were as cold as I… that would be a fair trade, I think.”
John’s eyes widened at the statement, but not out of fear; he had an idea! As her arms began to slowly encircle him he fished into his shirt, pulling the warm flask from one of his inner pockets and holding it up to the spirits face.
The spirit, looking at the small flask, seemed confused by this move and halted her advance.
“What’s this, I wonder?” She said in a clipped voice.
“Warmth. Warmth in a bottle.” John stuttered out, holding the flask ever closer to her face. “This is what I brought to pass through your home. A fair trade, yes?”
“Warmth…” the unearthly woman mumbled as one spindly hand wrapped around the flask, twisting the cap off slowly as her protuberant eyes analyzed the movements. Once the lid was off, she brought the bottle close to her face and peered inside. “Darkness is all we see in here… but we can hear water… this is not warmth!”
“Drink! I mean drink it, and you’ll see. You’ll feel the warmth.” John stammered, urging the spirit to drink from the flask. “Just drink the whole thing, and every time I pass through I’ll have another one ready for you, if you like it.”
“If we don’t like it, then we’ll simply take your warmth.” She said, her voice ending in a high crackle. Still, she put the flask to her colorless lips and tipped it on back, allowing the amber fluid to slosh down into her gullet. John could see the immediate effect of the whiskey as it burned within her mouth, smiling as he watched her go from taking a hesitant sip to guzzling it down greedily, a long black tongue even going so far as to slink into the flask to pull the last few droplets from the canister. Once finished, the spirit sighed dropping the flask to the soft grass below.
“Warmth…” The spirit murmured sleepily, bending back to place her hands on the stone column, crawling up it slowly until she reached the flat top. “Warmth…”
John watched her carefully, stooping down to scoop up the flask, his eyes never leaving her frame as he moved to once again take hold of the dead man’s ankles, tossing his spade atop his slashed stomach and pulling him along the ground like the world’s worst sled. As he passed under the column, he nearly shrieked when one of the spirits cold hands clasped the back of his neck, her black hair tumbling over his head and face, her black tongue lacing out to caress his cheek and ear.
“Bring more warmth if you wish to pass freely…” She slurred, apparently drunken off the slight amount of whiskey she’d down. “Or I’ll bury you where I buried those other children.”
John gulped, slowly nodding without trying to wriggle free. “Yes ma’am, that I’ll do.”
And with that she was gone, her hair whipping away from his face and her grip vanishing immediately. John stood still as could be for a brief few moments, staring ahead of him as he waited for anything else to occur, but all he heard was the faint giggling of children off in the distance.
John made sure to hurry back to the center of the graveyard with his corpse, leaving the spirits of the past behind him.
After nearly half an hour of dragging, he finally caught sight of Leonard, shovel in hand, standing near a circular pit with seven bodies tossed into a casual pile. Leonard looked at John with a glint of anger in his eyes. “What took you so long?”
“Ghosts, if you believe it.” John said wearily, dropping the legs of the heavy corpse and dropping onto it for a comfortable sit. “Some nasty, nasty ghosts.”
“Oh, too right.” Leonard said with a shudder. “Should have warned you about those. Anyway, roll that big one on in and help me bury ‘em. Dawns coming and I don’t want to be working in the daylight when I can just be sleeping.”
“Right,” John grunted, getting up from the bloated corpse and grabbing it by its ankles once more, dragging it to the edge of the pit before kicking it in atop a rather old looking woman. He pretended the cracking noise he heard was just a bundle of sticks and not the woman’s bones… this night had already been too long of one.