The Dead Man’s Rites

This Week’s Prompt: 53. Hand of dead man writes.

The Research:Dead Man’s Hand

The groundskeepers walked quietly between the fading stones and fog. Willis gestured for the senior of the pair, Morris. They were wandering on a moonless night, shovels in hand, towards those graves that were freshly dug.

“Listen, listen, you can still hear it!” Willis said. Morris strained his ears to hear the distant sound of a small bell. Willis was hurrying a head, careful to not actually walk on any of the graves. When rescuing the living there was no need to disturb the dead. Tiptoeing across the beaten paths, they followed the sound.

Morris had been on station for almost three decades now. He was slower in his approach, his eyes perpetually searching for the source of the sound. If it was a grave bell, if a man had been buried alive, then this would be the first. Of course, when they traced it to the source, there was little surprise.

Graveyard.png

“Figuers a poet would resemble the dead.” Morris said, heaving his shovel over his shoulder. The fresh dirt was a funeral this morning. Arthur Dolander, a small poet from what Morris could tell. His grave had some tripe about going bravely, bravely into the night. That was the mark of an artist among the dead. A desperate insistence that there was something sublime to the last.

The two men began to dig. Willis moved faster, in a near panick. The notion of being buried alive had haunted him for a many years. Even know, as the dirt cleared around the coffin, he could hear the trapped man’s fingers scratching at the wood, a trapped animal buried beneath tons of dirt.

“Mr. Dolander? Can you hear us?” Willis shouted as the coffin came into sight. He tapped lightly with his shovel, and sure enough Mr. Dolander tapped back through the thin wooden coffin.

“Well, I’ll be damned. Guess the poor sod is in shock. Alright, lets get clearing this.” Morris said, setting the shovel aside to get the rest of the dirt out by hand.

“Probably best to take him out before taking out the coffin.” Willis said,bending down to help. Morris nodded, and grabbed the crowbar they had brought.

“Hope it’s actually him in there. Mum used to say the devil himself was in the graves.”Morris said as he passed the crowbar off.

“We got two shovels, and a strong arm. We could knock the devil back down,I’m sure.” Willis said with nervous chuckle. But then he set about his work, placing the crowbar to the coffin. Slowly, he pushed it open. The wood creaked and all was still as the nails were plucked out. Until, at last, Arthor Dolander’s body was staring back at them.

But it was not the lively form they had expected. No, it was still a pallid body, laying still as a stone. With one difference. The right hand was missing. In its place was a cut stump, and a trail of blood. As the two groundskeepers followed the flood up the wooden paneling, they saw what at the time they assumed to be a strange and persisitent rat, curled up and maybe with a finger in it’s mouth. Before they could make it out clearly, the thing scurried up the walls and vanished into the fog of the night.

“Well, best bury him up again.” Morris said, shrugging as he replaced the coffin lid.

“How they hell did a rat get in there?”

“Rats get wherever they want. Did you know their skeletons can collapse?” Morris said, as the two shoveled dirt back in the hole. “Probably fell asleep underneath his arm before they buried him, flattened out to hide.”

“And figured out the bell?”

“Rats are smart, Willis. Rats are damned smart.”

Willis had kept an eye out for the anthrophagus rat over the next few days. He was fairly certain the rat was still around, but its tastes had gotten odd. He’d started collecting things, things he’d notice while walking the fields.

“Are we out of paper again?” He asked Morris when he came back, pockets full.

“Again, yeah. Find out what’s going on with that?” Morris asked, barely glancing up from his book. Willis turned out his pockets, revealing around thirty pages of crumpled paper with strange scribbled equations and symbols.

ALchemicalNotes.png

“There’s more outside. And I saw this one the other day.” Willis said, kneeling down to pull a tightily folded piece of paper out of the floorboard. “Think our friend learned to write?”

“Hmph. Rat is as good a thing for this to be as any. Might as well all be Greek.” Morris said, taking the page Willis held out. “Though it explains the creaking.”

“Doesn’t explain the birds.” Willis said, thumbing at the tree outside. For the last three days, exactly eight birds had sat on the tree. If one left, it was only for another to replace it at the exact same moment. They were all blackbirds, but whether they were blackbirds, crows, or ravens was a distinction that always escaped Willis. They stared at the door, which had been terrifying at first, then startling, and now simply unsettling.

Raven.png

“Maybe they want our friend?” Morris said with a chuckle, tossing the paper aside.

“I imagine rat scholars are rare. But seriously, think we should start walking out at night to catch whoever doing this? Their stuffing papers into graves, pretty sure that’s a problem.”

“Hm…I mean, yeah. Probably better not having gibberish garbage everywhere.” Morris said stretching. “Flashlight and a spade, I think I’ve still got a taser nearby if the idiot causes trouble.”

“Think troubles likely?”

“Well, no, but you gotta wonder about a guy who breaks into a cemetery to stuff papers into graves for no real reason.” Morris said. “Who knows, maybe their spy codes, or messages to drug cartels, or maybe he’s trying to raise the dead. Crazy man it sounds like.”

“True…wonder if we could solve any of this. I mean, its just funny math, right?”

“You figure out what the triangles, crosses, and circles mean, and sure, go for it.” Morris said.

The two again headed into the foggy night. Morris had lent Willis a spare taser of his own. So, Willis with a hand at his side, survey the graves with his light. The columns of moonlight shot between graves and vast shadows of angels and tombs. They began their patrol near the fence of the graveyard.

And there already, stuck between some of the bars, wrapping around them in the wind.

“Well, there coming from outside, at least.” Willis said, shining his light on a few pages scattered in a frenzied paths into the yard. Turning to follow on strand, they found more shoved into the claws of gargoyles, or beneath the chins of votive angels.

Eventually, they heard the crinkling of paper folds nearby. It was from down in the earth, no doubt the sign of the trespasser pressing the messages into the ground. The lights of the two men where brighter then the moonlight and quickly fell on the source of the sound.

DeadHand Cover.png

There was something like a mangled hand, holding a pamphlet between its fingers and driving it into…something else in the dirt. It looked like roots that sprang out of the scroll…or, it seemed to Willis for a moment that had risen to meet it. There was silence, except the buzzing of a fly bursting from the severed limb, frozen in place by the light. The fly rose, in a swerving path as the hand curled towards them. It was so small, bits of bone showing through the peeling skin and ligaments bent spider like. It crawled towards the men. Morris let out a shout and shot it full with the taser. For a moment, it convulsed violently, and the smell of burning flesh was in the air.

And then silence. Willis watched as the roots recoiled down into the ground, taking the writings with them.

Willis made no effort to translate the writings of the dead. He gathered all he could, and tossed them in a great fire. Only one sheet he was aware of survived, buried beneath the earth. And elsewhere, maybe it would return. The final formula of a dead man.

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