“I hope you are dead, friend.”
Malachi Boyle ran a graveyard on the edge of town. Old Man Malachi, they called him. It was an old establishment, and many a resident had been laid to rest there by family members. He supposed so many wished to see their loved ones off in such a location for the same reason they chose to live in this small town; it reminded them of a simpler time.
Olde Boyle Cemetery had been the family business for generations. Holding with tradition, every grave had been dug by the hands of a Boyle, and each had been filled by the hands of a Boyle. It would always be that way at Malachi’s cemetery.
“What relief you must feel, gone from this world… You have been released from such torment. I pray that you linger no longer.”
Malachi thrust his shovel into the dirt and allowed it to fall down onto the coffin below. Inside that coffin was a man whose graveside ceremony had been held a few hours earlier. As Malachi stood shoveling the earth over his remains, the sun had already fallen below the trees in the west. Being a small town, it did not take long for all its residents to learn the circumstances of this man’s death. A suicide throws a town like this into a furious fit of whispers. He was already well aware of the news, of course; he always enjoyed when talk of his work reached his ears. They all spoke of how sad it was, how he had left behind a wife and child, and how he had all but abandoned them by the end. Whatever he had done in his life, he would be remembered for his increasingly selfish acts—his final one most of all.
Malachi cared naught for any of that, however. All he cared for at this stage was seeing to this man’s proper burial, preparing him for his eternal rest. Malachi was very practiced in this sort of thing, and it always left him with a sense of fulfillment when it was done.
“Dead… Dead… Oh, I hope you are truly dead.”He paused as he shoveled off more dirt into the hole, listening. The dirt and rubble rained against the wooden lid with a dull rapid-fire impact. He could swear he had heard something else from below. Looking around, he saw that he was still alone. After watching the coffin for a few moments, he went back to shoveling dirt, satisfied that all was quiet. That was when he heard the unmistakable thud that came from inside the coffin. He froze where he stood; there was no doubt this time.
Though Malachi was an elderly man at this point in his life, he certainly did not lack for strength. The dirt had not yet overtaken the coffin’s top, so Malachi promptly bent down, grabbed one end of the rickety wooden box, and hauled it—and its resident—out of the hole onto level ground. Sweat dripped from his forehead as he bent over the coffin, hesitating. Finally, he gathered his courage, reached down, and unlatched the box. In one quick motion, he raised the lid and stepped immediately back, brandishing his shovel before him in a defensive stance.
The man’s corpse inside was still. It had been cleaned up, but the funeral had clearly been of the closed-casket variety. The gunshot wound had left the remainder of his head in an awful mess. Malachi did not move for several minutes. He stood there, simply staring at the body and allowing the body to stare back at him. A gentle evening breeze kicked up and rustled through the surrounding willow trees; it was allowed to run its course and slowly die back down before any further movement occurred in the cemetery.
Finally, he willed his legs to carry him forward once more. He got down on one knee over the body’s resting place and cautiously raised his hand toward the man’s neck, the shovel still gripped tightly in his other hand. As he did this, his eyes drifted up to the mess still held by that neck. It nearly could have passed for a small, squat, caved-in watermelon, were it not for the human facial features that remained. The thought drifted from Malachi’s mind as his index and middle fingers pressed against cold flesh. No pulse. That didn’t make sense, however. He knew what he had heard.
Carefully, Malachi dropped to both knees. His pulse pounded and his knuckles turned white around the wooden shaft of the shovel. He eased in warily and rested his head against the dead man’s chest. A heartbeat. It was unmistakable, and it confirmed his fears.
“No!” Malachi jumped to his feet and brought his shovel down into the corpse’s neck, parting flesh without a moment’s hesitation. “You’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead!” His face was red, his blood was boiling. He raised the shovel and thrust it back into the man’s pale and lifeless flesh repeatedly, cleaving through muscle and biting into bone. When he was finished, the neck no longer held its prize that it insisted was a human head.
Gasping for air, Malachi checked his surroundings. There was still nobody to be seen, especially in such darkness. He could, however, make out a few rows of the surrounding headstones. His breathing began to calm and a grin crept easily across his face. He took great pride in his work. The job was not without its risks, of course. He was often afraid that one of his released, his freed men, would not truly have left the torments of life behind. It would be less than desirable for one of these individuals to squander his gift, to cling desperately to the familiar constraints that came with the realm of the living. The bond between Malachi and his clients was a special one, and for them to share their secrets just would not do.
Malachi’s gaze returned to the man’s remains. Once he had caught his breath and his blood had sufficiently settled, he closed and latched the lid. He stood up, pressed his foot against the wooden frame, and shoved the box back into its hole. He returned to shoveling dirt into the grave with calm, steady strokes. “Oh, friend. You are gone from us now, I think.”