The slab slid aside. Inside the crypt, it was dark and the air was like soup, motes of decomposed flesh and insects’ droppings filling it until it seemed impossible that it could sustain any form of life. There may have been a few cracks large enough to admit small rodents, but it was inconceivable that anything else could survive there.
A small figure emerged from the casket, its head and shoulders pushing up through the wedge-shaped opening. Its hands were roughly bandaged but its head was fully swathed, eyes being of little use in total darkness. It would have to find its way using memory and touch.
The moon was shining outside above the graveyard. It was a full moon and it was wreathed in clouds, shadows striping the graves as it pushed feebly through them, giving the illusion of motion. There were usually few people present here at this time but tonight there were two, the sexton and the gravedigger, the pair of them busy reopening a grave so the police could examine the remains within it, neither of them concerned about being where they were in the dark. They’d hoped they could save themselves time later when the officers were present, always feeling ill-at-ease when people were watching them at work, this never being a problem for them when they’d only the dead for company.
Horace was waist-deep in the grave, throwing soil to one side. He’d created a fair-sized pile already and was beginning to feel uncomfortable, the earth rising above him as though he was being buried himself. The sexton was smoking a cigar, using its odour to disguise the smell of decomposition that was always a problem when they had to exhume a corpse, Horace being blessed with an inability to smell anything at all.
A dull thud disturbed them, the marble cross topping one of the tombs falling away in slow-motion, the masonry carving hitting the grass on the opposite side of the hole. The sexton dropped his cigar, its glowing nub disappearing into the hole and Horace swore softly, dropping to his knees to avoid both items. This job was usually safe, the second person assigned to be a watcher, the soil sides of the graves rarely collapsing onto the digger. A third figure appeared, walking hesitantly, arms outstretched. It walked forward and then tripped, pitching head-first into the hole.
Horace reappeared from the grave first, spooked by the newcomer. The bandage-clad corpse emerged next, clutching the cigar. Its dressings had already begun to smoulder, and it thrust the smoking stub back at the sexton, holding it with one hand whilst beating out the hotter charred patches with the other. The sexton nodded, took the cigar, raised it to his mouth and then puffed it into life again. “You see that, Horace,” he said, wafting away the stench that had begun to rise. “Some people don’t even let death get in the way of them providing a service. You could learn a lot from this individual.”