It was an easy trek, just down the road, not far from where I lived. I guessed it to be about two miles before we caught sight of the iron fence surrounding the cemetery. The moon’s light touched the bare limbs of the trees casting long shadows across the field of headstones. My round-faced friend kept a good pace—a quick two steps, a short hop, then two steps—as though skipping along. There were no exchanges of words or anything of the sort. He kept moving forward, a step, a hop, two steps, holding that box tight against his chest as if protecting a vast fortune that was stolen from a sheik’s palace. He acted as if there were paid thieves closing in, for every once in a while, he’d glance side to side, spying into the night. Our surroundings made me nervous with the moonlight being blocked by a dark wooded area that we soon would be exploring. I noticed his mumbling, which added to our unsettling atmosphere made me wonder if I was headed to my grave with a mad man, a man whose name I didn’t even know.
“What is your name?” I said.
“Here, through this break in the fence.” He waved his hand and ducked behind chest-high brush and disappeared.
A worrisome thought crept into my head, and an uneasy feeling overcame me. “What if he was sent by someone else? Someone who might want to do me harm?” I said in a low voice and stopped at the edge of the bushes. “Don’t be silly, Luc. No one knows you’re an inspectre, and if they do, they’ll soon learn that you’re nothing but an errand boy who’s been recently promoted to handyman,” I said.
I cautiously moved behind the shrub. It was dark like a tunnel and hard to see, which caused me to walk even slower. My guard ready, in case there might be a struggle, I emerged from the opening.
“Is there a problem?” His face was in the shadow of the moon.
He reminded me of a hooded executioner except without his ax, yet maybe he had a blade. I was getting ahead of myself once again. I looked past my friend into a vast field of headstones, weeping willows, old oaks, and the white moon on the horizon.
My mouth open, stunned by the macabre scenery.
Dasu gave a large wave of his arm. “This way to the north end.”
He headed off, and I followed.
“Are you foreign?”
“It’s just Dasu is an unusual name.”
“My parents were quirky and wanted a different name.”
“You sound foreign.”
I pondered for a moment that he didn’t want to talk about where he came from while avoiding tripping over a flat gravestone.
“What’s at the north end?”
He stopped, did a cursory look, and put the box down next to his foot. “Look around you, sir, and tell me what you see.”
“I see headstones, trees, and the moon.”
He chuckled. “Graves, sir. What you see are graves of the dead. That is what is on the north end, but there is more for which your eyes do not see.”
“There are graves at this end as well?”
Dasu did not respond.
I followed at a distance, still unsure about my new friend.
Why did I even bother to come out?
I knew that answer—I was curious to know what was in the box and what it had to do with being in a graveyard at this time of night.
A brisk wind cut through as we crossed, passing by old gray headstones, blowing leaves over the dead. The trees clamored with an alertness that made me feel exposed.
Did trees watch over the dead?
It was a silly question and one better suited for another time, perhaps for Decker when I see him.
Dasu was just in front when he was met by another person. I saw him move quickly to the side, protecting the box, then he relaxed and went forward toward the man. I stopped, keeping my distance, looking over my shoulder for an escape if it came to it.
The two men lingered in hushed tones, and I saw my friend take out a few coins and place them into the hands of the other fellow. The new man was taller, lanky, his shoulders broad, his waist tapered, and his clothes hung on him like that of an oversized suit a clown might wear at a carnival. His features were shaded from under the brim of his hat.
He went behind a tree and came back with a shovel. I didn’t like the looks of it—a shovel, in the middle of a graveyard, at night. I had a fleeting thought to leave but decided to stay. I stayed out of curiosity and a faint thought that it was my duty to carry on with Dasu since he’d been redirected to me in Decker’s absence.
This could be a test.
I felt the silver insignia through the coat pocket. I had not donned it, never thought I would but felt it was important to at least have it.
Dasu waved me on, and I continued to follow behind the two men. The air was dry and crisp, and the leaves under my feet crackled from time to time alerting anyone who might be nearby to our presence.
On our way, I noticed a tiny gravestone, no name engraved into it, only a saying. “Never clothed nor taken one bite, found in the middle of the night.” I thought it must be that of a child.
There was a set of six headstones all identical in shape. On the front were first names, the last being the same. A family, I thought, from nearly forty years ago. All the same day—a fire? Murdered? It was difficult to say. The past was gone, but the present still lingered on.
I trailed behind the two men more than fifteen yards, slowing my pace.
“Here.” It was Dasu’s voice.
The two men stood over a grave. As I got closer, I could clearly see the dirt. This grave must have been dug in the fall. No grass had taken root, and the mound sloped from its center down to its edges. The mound should have flattened out from wind and water erosion, but it hadn’t. Maybe this grave was not from the fall but more recent. Though I couldn’t imagine why anyone would bury a body in winter. Breaking the ground was hard enough, digging down to six feet unlikely. In winter the bodies were stored in a holding vault in a cemetery, a church, or a morgue.
That gave me a thought. Maybe Alarbus’s remains were stored in a holding vault and were no longer at a morgue.
The two men had waited for me and were looking down.
“Here?” I pointed at the unmarked grave. “Is there something we need to do?”
“No, through here.” Dasu led us into a hedge in single file along a path. We came to a crypt surrounded by hedges on all corners. It had a large stone door and statues of angels chiseled out of granite. The angels were armed, one with a sword, gripped by two hands, the other held a shield. Defenders.
Dasu held the box near his waist, opened it, and revealed a pair of goggles—they were tinted green with amber rims, leather padding around edges that cupped the sides of the temples. The lenses were thick like bottled glass. He handed them to me.
“What’s this for?” I said.
“Put them on, and you’ll see what cannot be seen.” He smirked.
I didn’t like his smirking nature, seemed out of place, almost disrespectful among the dead. I took the goggles from him, then said, “Sir, please, the dead might see.” He nodded and motioned with his hands for me to don the goggles. I did.
With the goggles in place, all appeared to be the same, only a little greener. The moonlight shimmered with a glistening stream of green in its rays.
“What am I looking for?” I said.
“I will dig, and you watch,” the gravedigger said.
I pulled the goggles off, and I tamped my foot on the ground. “It’s frozen. You can’t dig in winter.”
“We don’t need to go very deep, just a scrape of the dirt will help. Please put on the goggles, and tell me what you see,” Dasu said.
I wasn’t too keen on doing that. “How about you put the goggles on and demonstrate how they work?”
“No, no. It’s better for you. This is the ideal place, and you need to see for yourself.”
The earth was barren, nothing but a thin layer of dormant grass. What was I supposed to see? I pulled the goggles on and looked at the ground.
“Go on,” I said to the gravedigger.
The edge of the shovel hit the hard surface, scraping along like one might do taking a knife to burnt toast. Over and over he scraped at the dirt, taking thin layers off with each swipe. I watched, still nothing out of the ordinary. I shook my head.
“Scrape harder if you must,” Dasu said to the gravedigger.
The man grated the shovel across the soil. I heard the force, his hard breathing, and watched his strained movements. The older man did it again and again. Hitting the terrain, scraping across it.
“Nothing.” I went to take off the goggles, but Dasu rushed over and put his hand against my arm.
“Be patient. Wait. You’ll see,” Dasu said.
Stifling a groan, I kept the goggles in place. “All right.” I crossed my arms.
The man took the shovel and continued to rake at the hard ground. I edged closer to the marked patch of earth and stared. I saw the shovel head swiping over the area. It’s just a patch of dirt, nothing more.
“Is this some kind of joke?” I said to Dasu.
He came closer.
“It’s no joke, and well, Mr. Decker wasn’t home.”
I looked over at Dasu through the tinted lenses. His face was greener. “Not home? Right, instead you bring me out in the middle of the night, into a cemetery, have me put on these blasted goggles for who knows why only to watch a man who’s likely the next victim of this place scrape off the frozen dirt from an unmarked grave?”
The gravedigger stopped and held a long stare directed at me. “I’ve outlived most in this here ground.”
“Yeah, that was helpful,” I said under my breath.
“Please continue,” Dasu said. He walked over near the man and placed a few more coins into his hand.
“Are you sure you don’t handle accounts?” I said.
Dasu smiled and moved away from our friend. The gravedigger went back to work, scraping the ground.
I watched the shovel’s edge coming into view, scraping across the ground, taking with it a thin layer of dirt. There was nothing out here—just this old man, a foreigner who pretended he didn’t come from a different place, and me. The three of us enjoying a moonlit night in the winter among the dead. Then I saw something.