Holly and Wood – Part 2

This is part 2 of the tale. Don’t forget to read Part 1. The cold creeps in again, swallowing up all the comfort that the weed had given me. Its replaced by paranoia, something I’m

This is part 2 of the tale. Don’t forget to read Part 1.

The cold creeps in again, swallowing up all the comfort that the weed had given me. Its replaced by paranoia, something I’m sure is triggered more by the sight before me than my cheap bit of reefer.

Vandals. That’s what must have happened. You hear about this type of thing all the time in small towns. Teenagers with too much free time and nothing to do so they break into cemeteries and knock over tombstones. This is the first time I’ve heard of them digging up a corpse though. What the hell would they even want with one? Doesn’t matter, I just need to head back to the church and phone the cops. Or do I still reek too much of weed? I can put this off until tomorrow, not like anyone would—

Something hits me from the side, knocking me off my feet again. I try to scream, but something hits my chest like a sledgehammer, robbing me of my breath. I flail about on the ground, trying to slip away from my attacker. I manage to get on my feet for a moment, but then my attacker knocks me down on my back just as easily as before. I never learned how to fight back, what was the point? Who the hell in their right mind would attack a preacher?

“Mark.”

My name comes out in a long snarl. I blink, the moonlight reflects off the bald and wrinkled head of Abraham Hall. He glowers down at me, his eyes are black clouds, swallowing up the whites of his eyes. I’m hallucinating, stupid fucking redneck dealer sold me some weed cut with bath salts or something. But then those hands wrap around my throat, the same clammy cold digits that I had touched at Abe’s funeral. His grip tightens around my throat.

“Mark, where are my flowers?”

Again with the goddamaned flowers? I open my mouth trying to tell the old dead bastard that I can’t get him any flowers if he strangles me. The words are cut off as his grip tightens. My hands grasp at his, my nails dig into his arm, ripping up to his elbows and tearing away flesh. But I don’t draw any blood. Cold, foul, chemicals drip from what may as well be steel pylons cutting my air off. My vision blurs, and I surprise myself by doing something I never thought I would do. I pray.

Not to God. Even with a dead man choking me I’m not sure that He exists. But to Mamaw Holly. Ever since she died I try not to think about her, my lack of belief always made it certain that I would never see her again. But if there’s someplace out there after we die I hope she’s happy. I hope she’s not looking down and seeing me getting strangled in a graveyard. And I hope I see her again, but I know if there is life after death, there’s no way in hell that we’ll end up in the same place.

A strange calm washes over me while Abe starts screaming. The stench of burned flesh wafts up to my nostrils and I choke on it, coughing and sucking in fresh breaths. Realizing I can breathe, I raise my hand to my throat and try to stand, but the effort only knocks my ass to the ground again.

Abe is standing across from me. I thought he looked pissed before but now his face is contorted in a mask of agony and anger. Smoke rises from his hands, the skin blisters and crisps black, like they’ve caught on fire from the inside. He looks up at me and howls, and I brace myself for his next attack. He takes one step and then a glint of steel reflects through Abe’s hairless scalp. He stands there for a moment, a shovel’s head cleaved through his forehead. His dark eyes close and the body topples over, shovel and all.

“My best goddamn shovel,” Jerry Wood, the sexton says and places his foot on the body of the corpse. That’s what it is again isn’t it? A corpse? I stare at it, waiting for it to get up and attack me again while demanding flowers. After a couple of tugs, Jerry manages to yank his shovel free, chunks of red and grey clinging to it.

“I knew it.” He glowers down at me. “From the day we met, I knew you were going to make my job harder. I ain’t had to put down a restless in over a decade, and then here you come, dragging my ass out of bed in the dead of the night.”

He offers one of his hands and I take it; his fist crunches my hand as he hoists me to my feet. Aggravation washes over his face again at having to do that much.

“What…” My voice comes out in a rough whisper that cuts my throat on the way out. I rub my neck and try again. “…what the fuck was that?”

“Restless.” He says, and swears at my vacant expression again. “Undead. They don’t cover that in church school no more?”

“Must have missed that class.” I may not have been the most diligent student, but I’m pretty sure I would remember anything detailing a phenomenon like this. “So, like…zombies then?”

“If he was after brains, would he be looking for some damned fool trouncing around a graveyard at night?” Jerry shakes his head. “No, preacher. He’s undead. Restless. They rise up on the full moon when someone doesn’t put them to rest properly.”

His tone emphasizes the word “someone,” but I’m still trying to wrap my head around what just happened. “Full moon? So like werewolves then?”

“Bit like werewolves, bit like vampires, bit like zombies, bit like all undead. But different. We ain’t got time to play twenty questions, help me bury this ornery son-bitch.”

“Bury him?”

“Yeah, bury. People will stop coming here if they learned we got a restless problem. Church people are funny like that. And I don’t know about you, but I need this job.”

Jerry walks over next to Abe’s feet and grabs him by the shoes he had been buried in. The polished black loafers are caked in a thick coat of fresh earth. I stop at the head and look down, remembering that cold strong grip on my throat and shiver. Jerry swears in frustration again and drops the feet. He walks to my end and smacks Abe in the head. The body moves with the blow, but other than that, nothing.

“He’s not going anywhere now, I scrambled his brains like an egg.” He frowns at me and waves his hand at the feet. “Fine, take that end. Been doing the heavy lifting all night, why stop now?”

I take Abe’s legs in my hands while Jerry grabs him by the shoulders, swearing the whole time as we carry the corpse back to its grave. Jerry counts off like we’re about to toss a sack of potatoes, both of us rocking the body back and forth, then we chuck Abe in the hole. He lands with a thud and looking down I see him, face-up, staring back at me. The gash in his head has spread with the impact exposing fractured and dented pieces of skull in a splash of blood and brain matter. Something rises in my gut and out my mouth, landing on Abe’s face. The site only adds to the disgust, and I heave again.

“Great,” Jerry frowns and dumps dirt on Abe’s head, marring the gruesome visage and dimming the stench of my thrown-up dinner. “Now he’ll rise up next full moon too.”

“What?” I turn on him. “You bashed his fucking head in!”

“Restless ain’t living. Ain’t quite dead either. That’ll slow them down, but it ain’t his brain that brought him back. It’s not being laid to rest properly. You think cracking his skull and puking on the man is any better sendoff than that shitty funeral you gave?”

“So, what do I do?”

“Shit, preacher, it ain’t rocket surgery.” Jerry doesn’t stop shoveling dirt as he answers. “Say some pretty words, talk about what a swell guy he was, how he’s in a better place.”

“I did that!”

“And mean it.”

“Oh.” I rub the back of my neck. “Well, that may be a problem.”

“No shit.” Jerry plants his shovel in the ground and leans against it. “Look here, you are one piss-poor preacher. No arguments here. But when cue ball here grabbed you, you tapped into something. It’s what burned him. You got faith in something. Use that next time, it’s the only thing that’ll stop a restless.”

“A shovel to the head sounds easier.”

For the first time since I’ve known him, Jerry grins a little. “Speaking of shovels, grab that spare there and help me out here.”

Jerry and I don’t say a word as we fill Abe in his hole again. By the time we’re done my back is aching and my hands are dotted with burst open blisters. The sun has inched over the top of the mountains as Jerry pads the mound of dirt, smoothing it out with his shovel. It looks as it did before, you never would know that Abe had been out of his grave.

Jerry mumbles something that I don’t get. He stifles a yawn and picks up both shovels and begins clomping back to his shack at the top of the graveyard. I walk exhausted back to the church, until I’m out of Jerry’s view, then run back to my room. I chuck all my belongings into my suitcases, flopping my ass up and down on them a couple of times to get them to shut. I’ve had it up to here with ministry work, time to look for a new job. The work might be harder, but anything has to be better than dealing with pissed off dead people.

I look around for my laptop before remembering I left it in my office. Bursting through the door I’m greeted by Will Arnett’s gravelly voice and a faint glow from the screen. The internet must have started working. I sink into my chair and reach for my laptop, ready to close it and get the hell out of Dodge, but then I hesitate. Instead, I open up the web browser and bring up my student loan balance.

Eighty thousand dollars. Money that I didn’t have, money that I would have to pay back if I left my post.

I stare at the balance and weigh my options. The restless only come back on the full moon, that’s what, once a month? And that’s only if I can’t muster up enough faith and effort to lay them to rest properly. I pick up my laptop and head back into my room and drop my suitcases by the door. Restless Abe may have been creepy, but student loans are fucking terrifying.

I lie down on my bed and pick up the Bible from off my nightstand. Just some nice words and a little faith, I think as I light up the remains of the joint. How hard can it be?

The End…for now.

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