The procession moved along slowly, each pallbearer doing their best to keep the casket level. The wet mud stuck to their soles, staining the black leather with sticky brown patches. The priest waved the thurible back and forth, leaving a cloud of smoke in his trail. Their solemn march led them to the gaping hole in the wet earth, the tombstone awaiting them like an old friend.
A heavy downpour fell over the cemetery of South Withpick. While not the most pleasant of locations on even the sunniest of days, it was during these harsh rains that the small patch of land, decorated with grey markers and statues of weeping angels, shifted to its most macabre look.
The priest began to speak as the six figures slowly lowered the casket down, reciting the prayer that he knew by heart, trying not to rush through it. “Therefore, we commit his body to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he mumbled when the casket touched the ground, ending with a solemn “amen.”
Seconds after making contact with the earth, the dead man’s box flew open with a violent thrust. Its occupant, a withered corpse in tattered clothes, clawed its way out of the hole, digging its phalanges into the mud for a better grip, reaching out to one of the pallbearers.
“Go on, give us a hand,” said Nigel Essex, 1845-1900, his bony hand still extended. “Who’s turn is it next? Anyone up to be the dearly departed?”
“Not me, duckie,” said Basil Urquhart, 1866-1915, taking the remains of his high hat off, letting the rain run into his empty eye sockets. “I think we’re done here for today.”
“I’ll say,” mumbled Henry Biggins, 1856-1880, once again relegated to playing the part of the priest. “The bloody ball of incense is heavy. Me arm is bound to pop off one of these days.”
“Aw, cmon lads. One more go, please. Once more, for the old days” Nigel pleaded, as the others, save for Basil, dispersed and headed back to their respective graves.
“That’s what they are, duckie, the old days. They’re called the bygone days for a reason, love. I mean, really, what’s the point of pretend congregations if we’re the only ones attending?”
“But it’s been ever so long since we had one. No-one comes around here no more, barring the odd young’uns who come here for a quick shag.”
“Mighty disrespectful, I might add,” mutter Alistair Tonkell, 1876-1930, who was already halfway back into his own plot. “Flaunting it in our faces, ’bout just how alive they are. Feeling things we ‘aven’t felt long since we came here. I have a right mind to pop up one day and give ’em a what ho!”
“Don’t you dare. They’ll plow over us with cement by next Friday if you do!” said Henry.
Basil took Nigel’s hand and heaved him out of the hole, whose next occupant was still expectant. “C’mon, duckie. What shall we do with the rest of our day?”
“What we always do, I suppose,” Nigel sighed. “Wait around and be bored, pondering about whether anyone will ever come again.”
“Chin up, duckie. How’s about a few lines of the bard? Act 5, scene 1?”
“I’m not being your bloody Yorrick again,” muttered Alistair from his hole in the earth, who was still miffed by the crack on his cranium, courtesy of Nigel dropping him during a particularly enthusiastic performance.
Nigel walked off, letting the rain wash the dirt from his clothes. His once blue tie was now a tattered rag, dangling from what remained of his neck. He leaned against the headstone of Douglas McGonnal, 1800-1845, who didn’t mind the company due to being trapped in his casket after a particular bad mudslide in 1912.
“’Lo there, luv,” Basil said, gripping his friend’s shoulder with his bony white hand. “What’s bothering you?”
“I tire of this, Basil,” Nigel sighed. “This endless waiting. Counting the days towards nothing.”
“I know, duckie. I know.”
“Did you ever think it would be like this? Sitting around and waiting ’till we turn to nothing?”
“To be honest, I assumed the afterlife would be more writhing bodies. Or at least a decent pint every now and then,” Basil said, joining his friend’s sighs. “But it’s the cards we’ve been dealt. No sense in fussin’ about it, all things considering”
“Why do you think they don’t come here anymore? To bury their freshly dead?” Nigel asked.
“I don’t know, duckie. And there’s no point in pondering ’bout it. Give yourself a headache, you will.”
“Like you did to me,” Alistair grumbled.
“Oh, lay off, you spiteful git,” Basil snapped, nearly dislodging his mandible in anger. “Anyway, what do we really have to gain from more tenants in our little plot?”
“You’re saying you’re not curious about the state of the world? What new books have been written? What new wars have been fought? Who the new bloody king is?”
“Or Queen,” Henry added.
“Yes, Henry, thank you. Or Queen. Aren’t you curious in the slightest?”
“Well, of course I am, duckie. But what are we to do about it? They ‘aven’t added another occupant since poor George came along in ’31. It’s best we accept that we’re on our own, and we just get on with our lives.”
“Poor choice of words,” chuckled Henry, having disrobed himself of his priestly attire and gone back to his old dark green suit, which at one time was gray, but was now another victim of the harsh mold that tended to make home in everyone’s clothes.
Nigel sat down, letting his legs dangle over the edge of the hole. He rubbed his fingers together, once again causing little pieces of bone to crumble off and scatter in the wind. Back when there was still meat on him, he assumed that, once he was completely skeletal, that would be it. True death. But he and the lads kept on going, on and on, forced to kill time and their boredom with games and plays, spiced up with only the odd fight every now and then about who got to be Yorrick this time.
“That thing, about the ashes and dust,” Nigel said. “You suppose that will be it for us?”
“Come now, duckie,” said Basil. “You mustn’t fret so much ’bout things.”
“It’s just, I assumed death would be it. Not this endless waiting. Will it ever end? Suppose we linger about ’till we completely vanish into dust, like our Henry said earlier, and we still keep going on? We’ve got no guarantee of eternal rest.”
“Did we have that before, love?” Basil chuckled. “I just assumed we’d deal with that when the times comes. Now, how’s about we I go over Act 3, scene 1 for a bit? We can do another procession tomorrow when we’re all in better spirits.”
Nigel nodded. “Yes, I suppose I would like that. Shall I be the priest?”
“Please,” grunted Henry, still worried about his arm and the effects of the censer’s weight on it.
Nigel chuckled, and would have smiled, had he the lips to do so. These melancholy moods of his came and went several times a day, but he could always rely on his mates to help him climb out of the hole again, metaphorically speaking. Then, just as he tried to get back up on his feet, his right leg popped loose, falling into the open grave below, hitting the dirt with a soft splat.
“You need me to fetch that for you, duckie?”
“If you could, Basil. If you could.”