It wasn’t really his idea of a good job, but sometimes you just had to take whatever you were offered. After all, somebody had to be a gravedigger, didn’t they? If nobody did the job, the world would soon be overrun with dead bodies and piles of bones. If he thought about it like that, he was a freakin’ hero. At least that let him feel good about being there in the graveyard in the middle of the night.
Joe just wished the city council would let him have a digger to do the job, just one of those tiny ones would do, nothing fancy. But, no, budget restrictions meant he was here with a shovel attempting to make a dent in the heavy clay. It was backbreaking work; you couldn’t squash the bodies into a shallow grave. Well, you could, but the bosses didn’t like it and he needed to keep this job. Which meant he had to keep scraping away at the thick earth.
“A stick o’ dynamite could hurry things along,” Joe muttered to himself.
There was a dry, hollow laugh from the darkness in response to his comment. He stuck the shovel blade into the ground and looked around. There wasn’t supposed to be anybody in the graveyard, besides him, unless one of the higher-ups was checking up on him.
“Who?” he called, staring into the darkness. Joe couldn’t see anyone; the night was too dark, overcast. He turned towards where he thought the chuckles had come from.
There was the slightest shuffling sound and scuff of gravel and a figure in a long, dark coat and a hat pulled down low manifested out of the night. Joe couldn’t help but jump slightly at the person’s sudden appearance. They chuckled again, although he couldn’t tell if they were laughing at his reaction or were still laughing at what he’d said. He wasn’t too certain he liked the person. If they were one of his bosses, that would be a solid no.
They hadn’t bothered to answer his question, so he asked again: “Who are you?” Then, he added, “What do you want?” He pulled his shovel out from the cloying earth with a slurp! and hefted it in what he hoped was a subtly-threatening manner. “Well?”
The figure chuckled again, as if Joe were making a jest towards them. Their reaction was oddly disturbing. Joe found himself wondering if he’d been approached by an escaped loony.
“Look, answer me,” he demanded. “Who are you?”
“Heh-heh, my name is Bones. Well, that’s what they call me, at any rate.”
“Bones? Your first name ain’t Dem, by any chance?” Joe sneered.
“No, although it might as well be. Knee bones, toe bones, funny bones – I’ve got ‘em all.”
With a shiver, Joe wondered if he was in the company of a bodysnatcher. He’d heard the odd rumour of such things, but had thought them spurious. Now, he wasn’t so sure.
“In fact,” the man said, “I’ve got nothing but bones.” He reached inside his coat and pulled out a rib.
Joe raised his shovel, ready to strike.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” said Bones, “you don’t know how lonely it gets round here. Sure, I’ve got plenty of neighbours, but they ain’t exactly talkative; know what I mean? Course you do, you’re surrounded by them every night. A dead loss, if you’ll excuse the pun.” Bones sighed.
“I just want to be friends,” he continued. “If you’d like, I could help out. I could lend you a hand – literally, if you’d like.”
“Sorry, are you saying you’re a skeleton?” asked Joe.
“Well, yes. Yes, I am. Is it really such a surprise? After all, friend, you’re a skeleton, too; only you’re wrapped in meat.”
“Oh, I’m deadly serious. Or, should I say, deathly serious. After all, I can’t be anything else, can I?”
“In my condition, I mean. See?”
Bones pulled his coat open, as if he were a flasher, and Joe gave an involuntary shriek. Beneath the coat, it seemed he really was all bones.
“No way,” Joe muttered. “It has to be a costume…”
“Oh, yeah,” said Bones.”I go about like this for the good of my health.” He – it – used the spare rib it still held to tap out a tune on its ribs.
“No – no – no…”
“Yes – yes – yes,” Bones replied. It reached up a bony hand and nudged its hat up to show a skull face. It looked as if it were grinning at Joe, but all skulls looked like that, so it was difficult to tell.
Joe reached out with the shovel and poked at Bones’ stomach area and watched the back of the coat it wore sway.
“Convinced?” Bones asked, crossing his arms and cocking his skull.
“Freaked out might be a better description.”
“Oh, come on, we’re not so different, the two of us,” said Bones, uncrossing his arms and putting his hands on his bony hips. “Take away the flesh and blood and you’re just a load of bones hanging out in a graveyard. I thought we could hang out together. Eternity gets lonely, you know.”
“No offence,” Joe said, stepping back and holding the shovel defensively across his chest, “but I’m rather attached to my flesh and blood, and that makes a pretty big difference between us.”
Bones gave a sigh. “I thought you were the one. That you would understand. That you could feel the connection. That you could be like me.”
“Look,” said Joe, continuing to step away from Bones, “as I said, no offence intended, but I don’t like the suggestion I become a skeleton, too. Hell, I don’t even want to hang out with you – I do this for a pay-cheque, not for fun.”
“I’m sorry,” said Bones, cracking his knuckles. “I didn’t mean to give you the impression you had a choice in this; I’m afraid I must insist…”
“Thanks, but no-ohhh!” Joe took another step backwards and felt the ground give way beneath his feet. He lost his grip on the shovel as he fell into the grave he’d been digging. He lay still for a moment, then tried to sit up. He swore as his head swam. Looking up, he saw the skeletal figure in the flapping coat looking down at him, the shovel in his hands.
“Don’t worry,” Bones told him, as he began to shovel the soil back into the open grave, “I was buried alive and it didn’t do me any harm. You’ll claw your way out soon enough. It’s not like you’ve been embalmed or anything. You’ll rot quick enough, then you can join me. I’m sure we can find ways to make the years pass quickly.”
Joe screamed, but Bones just tossed some of the thick earth down onto his head, filling his mouth and silencing his cries.
“Don’t worry,” said Bones, “it’ll soon be over. See you shortly…”
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA and elsewhere, most recently in Amok! (April Moon Books), In Creeps The Night (J.A.Mes Press), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Dark Arts (Hazardous Press) and Cosmic Horror (Dark Hall Press), as well as in Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), All Hallow’s Evil and Undead of Winter (both Mystery & Horror LLC) and Fossil Lake (Sabledrake Enterprises), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dynatox Ministries).
DJ Tyrer’s website is at http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
The Atlantean Publishing website is at http://atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.co.uk/