A lantern bobbed in the fog enshrouding St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
The chilled air was thick with the smell of rain and rot and in the gloom of near-dawn headstones emerged from the mist as jagged, crumbling gray isles overridden with moss. Two men, disparate in height and expression, plodded across the soggy grounds with shovels slung over their shoulders, mud and grass already staining the hems of their trousers.
Cecil MacIntyre was the taller and thinner of the two. He bore a lantern of flickering flame that cast a pale glow across his narrow face, long nose, and a left cheek pockmarked by scars of childhood pox. He held the lantern low to provide reading light for the man beside him who was scrutinizing a map of the cemetery and stopping every few meters to investigate the names on the headstones they encountered. Burton Lee was a full head shorter than Cecil, with a square, stubbled jaw and a mouth that curled in a perpetual scowl. His dark hair was receding, making his forehead look rather large. The fog dampened all sound save for what was confined to the dim circle of light the lantern provided, making the squelch of their boots seem overloud in the stillness.
“Zebra,” Cecil said.
“You what?” Burt replied. Neither of them stopped walking, through he looked askance at Cecil rather than the map.
“X marks the spot,” Cecil said instead. He thrust his shovel into the soft, wet earth before the object of their search. The headstone was so new that moss hadn’t the chance to encroach on the letters yet. It read:
Private Eugene Gibbous Quagmire
Royal Irish Regiment
24th March 1918 Age 24
“No, what did you say, Cec?” Burt insisted as Cecil set their lantern atop the headstone. “Zeb—what?”
“Five across. What’s the name for a striped animal?”
Burt roughly folded up their map and stuffed it into one of his coat pockets. “A bleeding ‘zebra,’ I suppose?” he snapped.
“Impressed are you?” Cecil replied with a grin. “It’s from the crossword. Thea’s got me doing ‘em every morning nowadays. Says they’ll keep my mind sharp. You know what a zebra is?”
“Ta,” Burt grunted, because he did not. When Cecil laughed at him, he barked, “Shove off! Rain’ll start any minute now. Help me dig this hole before the wailers come out. Or worse, Father Misery.”
“Y’know, Burtie, you’ve got to work on improving your vocabulary,” Cecil said cheerfully, yanking his shovel out of the dirt. “How’re you gonna land a bird like my sweet Thea if you don’t know what words go right where?”
“Nutter you are, bangin’ on about your bird,” Burt said, burying his shovel in front of the headstone and turning over a pile of grass and pulpy earth. “Maybe you heard what I said about helping me dig?”
“No need to rush unless he brings out a live one, aye?” Cecil said, joining him on the plot. They stood shoulder to shoulder as they began digging Eugene Gibbous Quagmire’s grave.
“Keen eye, Cec, you great git,” Burt retorted testily, driving his shovel into the ground with greater force. “As if they haven’t been living all month.”
After a quarter of an hour, the grave was two meters deep and half a meter wide. They were still standing in it when they heard the sound of a wheelbarrow trundling through the grass from the general direction of the church. The fog was too thick to tell where the steeple was, much less the church itself, and it took another minute before the black of Father Misery’s cassock became visible. Appearing first as a dark smudge that gradually darkened, it nearly came as a shock when the man himself emerged from the fog’s gnarled grasp. Father Ignatius Misery was a stout man sporting a full head of curly grey hair and a wrinkled, cherubic face. Sitting in his wheelbarrow was a dirty, bulging potato sack.
“Hullo, lads,” he said pleasantly.
“G’morning,” Burt grunted.
“Morning, sir!” Cecil said with considerably more enthusiasm.
“Fancy a spot of tea when you’re done?” Father Misery said, leaning on one of the wheelbarrow’s handles.
“Every day you offer, every day I says yes, Father,” Cecil replied with a laugh. He wiped the sweat off his brow with a thin handkerchief before climbing out of the grave. He offered Burt a hand up, as he was too short to climb out without embarrassing himself.
“Does me good to hear, all the same — oh dear me.” Father Misery sighed as he watched the potato sack in his wheelbarrow begin to wriggle. A moan warbled from within as one trembling, rotten and gangrenous arm began to snake out of the opening. “Can you believe Mr. Quagmire refuses to stay dead, and even after I wasted my last good cricket bat on the poor bugger?”
“Best if I take care of it, sir,” Burt said, raising his shovel.
“Yes, very well,” Father Misery said. He opened the potato sack so Burt could cleave the very undead Eugene Gibbous Quagmire’s head in two.
Anna Nicole Torres is an MFA student at Saint Mary’s College of California. Her work was previously published in the Sad Girls Club Literary Blog. She loves writing horror, but not watching or reading it.