Warning: Very morbid. Contains graverobbing, vandalism, open graves and talk of death.
“Isn’t it a thing of beauty?” Bernard, the groundskeeper, said in a not-too-convincing manner as he sensed the pair approach from behind him. “A fitting monument to an icon. And in my humble grounds. An honour. Yep, that’s what it is.”
Lilith shrugged. “Personally, I think it’s tacky and ruins the atmosphere.”
Bernard turned swiftly; his face brightening as he laid eyes on his graveyard guest. “My, my, my! Lilith Vatore? It’s been a while; thought you’d gone straight. You look, oh, youthful as ever, look at you.” He turned to Broof; his breath hot and reeking of stale tobacco as he said in a comic whisper, “I swear this one is immortal! Hasn’t aged barely a day in all the years I’ve known her!”
“You flatter me,” Lilith purred. “You know no one ages in Del Sol Valley.”
“True, that is,” Bernard mused, looking back at the Sandy Moss monument. “It really is awful this, isn’t it? Were the searchlights necessary?” He shook his head. “So, what brings you here?”
“I’m visiting Mr. Barnabas Flange.”
“Really now,” he looked towards Broof. “Friend of yours?”
Bernard narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “I don’t know. Haven’t seen you for ages and you turn up with a fancy guy in a suit.”
“He only dresses like that to throw people off.”
Bernard continued to stare at Broof for a while. “I know you.”
Broof stared back, hoping he wasn’t about to be interrogated about his former employer. “No, I don’t think so.”
“I do. You’re the Pa of that little ’un over on west wall with the weird name. Cauliflower?”
“Cabbage. Yeah, I knew it was one of them farty vegetables. Haven’t seen you for a while, either. Night shifts have been pretty quiet here, especially since they stopped the fanatics coming in. But I know how it is; life gets in the way and the dead fall into the background, slowly forgotten.”
Broof bristled. “I haven’t forgotten my daughter, I’ve been—”
“—In prison,” Lilith finished.
Bernard whistled through his teeth, looking suddenly much more interested.
“Really? What did you do?”
“Nothing, he was innocent,” Lilith winked.
Bernard continued to squint – or perhaps he had a lazy eye, Broof couldn’t tell. Eventually the old man nodded, deciding to trust the lying vampire and besuited crook before him.
“Aren’t we all.” He pretended to zip his lips. “A’right, follow me.” He continued to talk as he led the pair through the tangle of vines and huddles of tombstones.
“’Ere we go; Barnabas Flange. Male, late thirties, died alone in an alleyway. It was a few days before anyone noticed, and then it was only because it happened to be bin day. I’m not sure what you’ll get, but… here.” He pointed to where Broof was standing, where the ground softened and yielded beneath their feet.
“Same deal as usual?” he asked Lilith.
She nodded. Bernard nodded back, a silent agreement, the long-standing kind where no further words were needed. He stepped back and started making his way back through the graveyard, whistling as he went.
Broof waited until the old man was out of earshot before he asked Lilith, “What is this deal? Does he know what you’re doing here? What you are? Is he one?”
“Do you want to let me answer one question before you bombard me with another?” Lilith rolled her eyes.
“What is this deal?”
“What do you think? He gets half of the findings. It’s a win-win situation, unless you’re Barnabas Flange.” She waved her hand towards the fresh, but minimalist, headstone.
“Half of the findings?” Broof repeated aghast. “What, so, half of his head? Is he a cannibal?”
“Don’t be an idiot your whole life, Broompig,” Lilith scoffed. “Humans, in general, have at least one of three traits; superstitious, sentimental or stupid. It usually means that when they bury their dead, they stuff the coffin with all manner of sparkly and valuable items, only for it all to rot or waste in the belly of the earth.”
“Wasn’t this man homeless? What will he be buried with?”
“Probably nothing, but I have thought of that.” She tapped her pocket to demonstrate the presence of something metallic within. “One of Caleb’s watches and a neck chain. Solid gold. My guess was that they belonged to Barnabas’s father and they were so sentimental that he couldn’t bring himself to sell them, even when he fell on the hardest times. Not that Bernard will ask. The old crook might as well be a magpie.”
She picked up a shovel from against a nearby headstone and poked it into the soft ground.
“Let me get this straight,” Broof said, interrupting her. “We’re going to dig up this Barnabas Flange, cut his head off, and then give the groundskeeper a piece of jewellery, pretending it was Barnabas’s, in order to buy his silence?”
“Yes. He doesn’t know what I am or why I really come here. He just thinks I’m some post-mortem pickpocket and he’s remarkably relaxed about that.”
Broof chewed his tongue, thinking of the items he’d buried Cabbage with. A silver bracelet. Her favourite pillow. A teddy bear with a button on its tummy that played a lullaby when pressed. Over the years, the repeated usage had impacted the tiny cassette, turning the bouncy lullaby into a woeful drone. But still, she could never sleep without it.
He thought about someone digging her up to take it. Worse, he thought of it rotting under six feet of earth along with his little girl. His stomach lurched.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
“That’s fine,” Lilith shrugged. “Wouldn’t want you ruining your nice trousers.”
“It’s not my trousers I’m worried about,” he insisted, although now it was. “This whole situation; robbing graves? What would his family say? What if someone had done this to my daughter’s grave? I would have been… I would’ve…” he retched. “It’s wrong, on so many levels. I can’t do it. I can’t be a part of it.”
“I’m not asking you to,” Lilith said, matter-of-factly. “You were the one who said you wanted to come here.” She folded her arms. “I know this is godawful, but for what it’s worth, it’s very unlikely Barnabas will have any visiting family.”
Broof watched her for a while as she gently nudged the earth, contemplating it as she went. “Is there another option?”
“Yes, but it’s worse,” she said dryly. “We kill someone.”
“Blimey. Yes, that’s worse,” Broof gasped. “But what if… um… what if the high priestess recognises him?”
“Broof, you’re getting on my nerves,” she hissed, jabbing the shovel into the ground. “There is a method to this that you learn after centuries of avoiding detection. Always choose the ones who no one knew, who no one will miss.”
“No one will miss him? Someone must, surely. He was young. Look, he was buried – someone stumped up for a stone.”
“No one attended his funeral. The stone appeared automatically when he died.”
“No one went to his funeral?”
Broof swallowed hard, looking at the pillowed ground. “That’s so sad.”
“Yes. It happens a lot, though. There are many, many people in this world who fall through the cracks. Barnabas was just another one.”
Broof looked around at the other markers. He’d frequented this graveyard many times to clean and care for his daughter’s resting place, but he was noticing for the first time how many grave stones were leaning, broken or missing. The weeds that grew around their bases, the absence of trinkets and offerings.
“Why do I never hear about these people?”
Lilith glanced up, brushing her fringe back. She tilted her head as if it was a foolish question. “Why would you?”
Faith could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be defined as heavy but carrying her anywhere was a tiresome activity. She had complained that her feet hurt, which was hardly surprising when she insisted on wearing such ridiculous footwear, but she had, of course, refused to take them off.
“Would you stop wriggling?” Seth snarled.
“I can’t help it,” she whined. “One of your knives is jabbing me in the ass. At least, I think it’s a knife,” she purred, writhing against the offending object.
“It’s a knife,” he muttered, setting her down and opening the door to their newest abode. “Home sweet home.”
“Our new digs. Del Sol Valley – I never thought I’d live here!” Faith wandered in, still swaying and staggering in her state, and her excitement quickly died. She huffed. “Is this it?”
Seth made an affirmative noise, already feeling like he couldn’t wait to leave this place. He had known, beforehand, the layout of this apartment and its downsides, but being in here in reality was quite different. If he extended both arms, he could probably reach the parallel walls and with every passing second, the room began to get smaller until it was pressing him in on all sides.
Still, he didn’t plan to be spending a lot of time indoors.
“It’s tiny,” Faith stated the obvious, staggering towards the bedroom, naturally her first attraction.
“Such a man thing to say.”
“You’re no fun,” she moaned at his lack of response, flopping on to the bed. “Ooh fuck, this is comfy. Wanna come join me?”
“No,” he muttered. He didn’t have the energy to argue, to come up with witty quips. He needed to go and sink his teeth into a neck, before it was hers. “I’ll leave you to rest awhile.”
After two seconds of silence without the expected dozen questions about where he was going, he turned to find her curled up on the bed, dead to the world.
Thank the devil. Perhaps with her passed out, this hold she had on him would cease.
He groaned in near-agony as he hauled himself towards the door, trying to listen through the walls to see which of the neighbours might suffice as a sanguinary snack. He stopped in his tracks as an unusual thought wheedled through his tired mind.
She said her feet hurt. You should remove her shoes.
With a heavy sigh he turned back towards the bed and looked forlornly at her sticky shoes. His gazed roamed up her body noticing how tight her jeans were, how the studs pressed into the flesh of her hips.
He wandered up further, wondering if she was wearing a brassiere, if it had a wire in it.
If she had earrings in.
It doesn’t matter! he berated himself. None of those things mattered and yet, they all did.
It’s to save yourself the drama, he reasoned, as he walked back towards the bed to undress her. That’s all it is.
That’s all any of this is.
After much toiling and a hefty amount of swearing the pair had managed to excavate the grave.
Far from being six-feet-under, they had encountered the plastic vault that housed Barnabas’s simple, unadorned coffin a mere two feet in, which had horrified Broof but not as much as Lilith’s nonchalance had.
In fact, knowing how idle the old groundskeeper was, she was surprised he’d gone this deep. Maybe he’d been anticipating her.
Broof had originally refused to participate in the night’s events but, after watching Lilith digging in the dirt for a while, his chivalrous nature – and she used that term with her tongue firmly in her cheek – had won out and he’d offered to help. He was actually pretty good at it.
Barnabas had been delighted with his new, gold watch. He hadn’t even questioned the initials ‘C V’ engraved on the casing and had even offered to refill the grave. He didn’t lift the coffin lid before sliding the wooden box back to its resting place; corpses gave him the creeps, apparently, so Lilith and Broof left him to it without him suspecting a thing.
They wandered back towards the cemetery gates as casually as one could when they had a severed head in their inventory.
“It really is absurd, isn’t it?” Broof commented.
“It is,” Lilith agreed, not knowing for certain what he was referring to, but feeling that that statement encompassed it all. He’d stopped in her path, forcing her to do the same and follow his gaze.
“Oh, that,” she tutted, looking at the Sandy Moss monument. “Yes, it’s hideous. And you know what else was absurd? Of all the surgery requests I ever got, ‘Sandy Moss’s nose’ was the most common one.” She looked around conspiratorially. “How much do you think they’d pay for her actual nose?”
“Y-you’re kidding, right?”
“I am,” Lilith grinned. She turned her attention back to the shapely statue. “She was such a big name, such an inspiration to so many self-conscious or downright deluded people. Was she as glamourous as they all thought?”
“No,” Broof said bluntly. “The world saw a very different woman to what April and I saw.” He looked back at the lit-up resting place. “Sandy Moss’s eternal marker on the planet that loved her, in a world where she could do no wrong. It actually sickens me. Preserved forever as the goddess of the silver screen and a philanthropist, while all those who were closest to her take the fall.”
Lilith felt an usual heat surround her, a waft of warm air, like stepping out into the sun a warm day, or opening a hot oven. It took her a second to realise it was emanating from Broof and another to realise what it was.
She looked up at the statue he was focused on. She had no idea what he was thinking, which part had made him so tense, but she could hazard a guess at what he wanted to do.
“Do it,” she whispered, the devil at his shoulder. “Nobody is looking. Blow it to smithereens.”
For a while after Broof’s anguished cry and the shower of sparkles, nothing happened. Then, slowly, the smallest flames began to lick at the base of the buxom figurine, swallowing the wreaths of flowers and melting the hand-made candles.
“That’s pathetic,” Lilith stated.
“Yes, I know.”
As the fire took hold, the bright flames caught the attention of the groundskeeper a beat before an alarm began to wail.
“Oi! Not again! Bloody kids!”
Lilith turned to grab Broof but he was already fleeing towards the gates, shaking with adrenaline, like a child who had just rung his neighbour’s doorbell.
She followed, overtaking him at some point and stopping him a half mile down the street where he was doubled over, fighting to catch his breath through his laughter, and infecting her with the giggles.
The pair laughed until neither could stand, until the fire truck, the police and a press van had passed them, until the stars blurred and they forgot why they were laughing.
Why was she laughing?
“We should get back,” Lilith whispered mechanically in the silence that had swollen around her, inside her. “We should put this in the fridge.”
“Oh. Yes,” he agreed, stepping back, deflated. “We should do that.”
Lilith turned to walk the long road back home, clutching her night’s earnings. She was walking much faster than usual, but she didn’t need to look back to know that Broof would be following, matching her stride.
She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.