Graveyards are depressing places.
Sure they try to make them look nice - ornate stonework, lots of trees and flowers, that sort of thing.
I guess it helps some people. For me, having trees and flowers in a graveyard is just a reminder that death turns you into compost.
I trudged up to Matt "Whispers" Marlin's grave in a foul mood. I hadn't even known his name until after he died. We all had nicknames which we used; using our real names made it too easy for a demon to trace us, and having one turn up on your doorstep with a warrant, an axe or worse.... Not that it had helped Whispers.
The others never understood why I felt like this. It's not as if I spend more than a couple of hours a day in my body anyway - Dream Soldiers rarely do. Why would I? I patrol The Marches with muscles as mighty as my imagination, and tough as my mind; this puny, runty body of mine doesn't compare. Dying will just mean I can spend more time living, mean I can abandon this walking corpse, roam The Marches as will, until some officious angel orders me to go to Heaven. Beats being the wimpy Dreamer patronised by Soldiers of Stone - morons, the lot of them, but tough morons. But it still hurts when a friend dies.
The official 'party line' we get from Laurencians is that of course it hurts, wouldn't it hurt if someone moved overseas and you knew you wouldn't see them for the rest of your life? We should grieve for the slain (so they say), honouring their sacrifice, and comfort one another with the knowledge that we will be able to spend eternity with them in Heaven.
Bollocks. It might be true - it almost certainly is, given that Seraphim will say it - but that's no reason to be so flippant about death.
It was a nice grave, I suppose. That struck me as fairly pointless, given that he wasn't expected to ever see it. It's not as if his wishes really mattered at this point. Okay, probably there was some angel looking after his soul in Heaven (although, given how clueless angels are, that's not necessarily a good thing). But down here what did it matter?
Even if Whispers was standing in front of his grave, looking at it.
Watching from behind a bush, I wondered what was going on. Let's see - the angels knew I had decided to visit his grave; if his death had been faked, or he'd decided to come back as a Saint, this would be a good place to let me know.
Alternatively, this could be a set-up - with him being sent down from Heaven for a few minutes to 'cheer me up' in the syrupy B-grade movie style that so many Flower-angels loved. In which case, I was supposed to go out there, hear him spout cliques about how everything was okay, and leave feeling happy-happy joy-joy. I'd rather drink poison.
Or - and this was the most likely - he was undead. A disturbing thought. He was standing in the sunshine, so he wasn't a vampire - I hoped. I don't really know much about the Undead; they can't dream, so service in The Marches doesn't include any training about them. Because they didn't dream, I couldn't threaten them. A Soldier of Hell who irritated me knew that I'd be in his dreams that night, and would either beat him into insanity or Soul-Kill him. And killing me wouldn't prevent that. But undead....
I strode out, and walked up beside him. There was no need to warn anyone about this; even if he killed me I could relay back the information later, via a dreaming ally. It wasn't the first time I'd risked death, and I was curious as to what was going on. He ignored me, so I spoke: "Whispers."
He jumped slightly, before turning to face me. His face was an ashen grey, his eyes lifeless. Not good. Fish. He answered, using my nickname; nodded, and then turned back to the grave. We stood there together for a few minutes, until he broke the silence.
We'd better get to work. You been keeping okay?
"Pretty good. Yourself?"
Don't ask. He led me to the gardener's toolshed, and handed me a shovel. Taking one himself, he walked across the cemetery to a new grave - not his own, which relieved me somehow - and started to dig.
"Why are you doing this?"
The reason that WE are doing this, is that the Samingans will be breaking into the cemetery tonight and digging up this grave for a body to zombify. Our job is to dig it up now, and cremate it.
We got to work. We could both pass as workmen - a habit you acquire as a Soldier is to dress to blend in - and once we'd got started it looked as if we were digging the grave out ready for use. I was soon exhausted - I really puny in the Corporeal world, and I know it - but Whispers worked away tirelessly. That was kind of surprising. He'd always preferred to talk his way out of problems rather than work or fight, and wasn't much stronger than me.
I had to take a break. Sitting by the grave, I watched him work. "Whispers, what are you?"
He paused. Lonely, hungry, in pain...oh yes, and doing all the work. He looked pointedly at my shovel. Sighing, I started digging again.
But kept questioning: "Okay then, WHO are you?"
He thought about that for a minute. Have you heard the term Ghost in The Machine?
"Yes - Descartes, wasn't it?"
Yeah, that sounds right.
He kept shovelling. I'm the machine. While flitterby spirits like you roam creation, dodging through dreams and waiting for Heaven - or Hell - you forget who you really are. Or more accurately, who is really you. Who has to do the bleeding, the dying; who gets to be dumped in a hole in the ground, after being butchered by morticians, or just left for the maggots.
His voice was cold and flat, lacking emotion, somehow wrong for the words he spoke. Finally I saw a stir of emotion, or maybe just a copy of the emotions Whispers would have shown if he was still alive. They were there when I woke up...ready to eat me..I brushed them off but I can still feel them - why have you stopped digging!
I got back to work, digging hastily wondering what to say next. I needn't have bothered; Whispers was always fond of the sound of his own voice. It must be easy to sacrifice a life that isn't really yours, to know that you'll be fine after the poor chump you've possessed has been killed. And the chump doesn't know how he's been conned, does he? After all, he has the same memories, because you've been using his brain, so he thinks the decisions that you made were made by him. He doesn't realise what's going on - unless he remembers being possessed by a Shedite, as I do.
I remembered that incident.
"But didn't the Sword manage to kill that Shedite?" I asked, afraid that they hadn't.
Yes. But I remember. I know what it's like to make the decisions that someone else wants you to. So when I awoke from death, I realised what life had been - abject slavery to a self centred soul that treated me as a disposable object, no more valuable than his car. I'm free now, free to be me.
He looked at me.
One day soon you'll be free too.
"I'm not sure that I..."
I wasn't talking to you.
His shovel struck the coffin lid. We cleared away the remaining soil, and wrenched of the lid, before removing the body - an old man. There was something disturbing about the way Whispers looked at him; a look way too hungry. Whispers shook his head.
Poor man - never to awake; never to know. To just fade away in flame, because I need his tongue.
He dragged the body out of the hole - and impressive achievement. I was shaking, too tired to run, not sure how to deal with an old friend who wanted to talk to my Inner Zombi.
Get into the coffin.
He backhanded me into the grave. And threw the lid down. I heard a thump as he landed on the lid, and the soft drumming sound of earth being pulled down on the lid.
Relax my friend, it's only for a few hours. Then you'll be free. The Samingans want a zombi; after they exorcise that wretched Dream-Shade they'll wake you up and you'll be free. And we'll be friends again..
His voice faded as the grave was filled in; as I drove myself into a deep sleep. Time to report to Dreams, and beg an angel to dig me up again!
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