They're what have me out here, standing in the cold wind, shivering.
The blue fingernails aren't mine but attached to somebody else.
Some dead guy I've never met before. The Christchurch sun that'd
been burning my skin earlier has gone. It's hidden behind black
clouds rumoring rain. It's the sort of inconsistent weather
I'm used to. An hour ago I was sweating. An hour ago I wanted
to take the day off and head down to the beach. Now I'm glad
I didn't. My own fingernails are probably turning blue, but
I don't dare look.
I stifle a yawn. It's a struggle to keep my eyes open. A struggle
to keep my mind from wandering. I'm here because of a dead guy.
Not the one in the ground ahead of me, but one still down at
the morgue. He's acting as casual as a guy can who's body has
been snipped open and stitched back together like a rag doll.
Casual for a guy who died from arsenic poisoning.
I tighten my coat but it doesn't help against the cold wind.
I should have worn more clothing. Should have looked at the
bright sun this morning and figured where the day was heading.
The long cemetery lawn bends outwards from me in each direction
like ripples, as though I'm the epicenter of this arriving storm.
The nearby trees are thick oaks that creak loudly and drop acorns
around the gravestones. They hit the cement markers, sounding
like bones of the dead tapping out an SOS for help. The air
is cold and clammy like that of a morgue.
I see the first drops of rain on the windscreen of the digger
before I feel them on my face. I turn my eyes to the distant
horizon where gravestones covered in mold roll into the distance
towards the city, death tallying up and heading into town. The
wind picks up, the leaves of the oaks rustle as the branches
let go of more acorns, and I flinch as one hits me in the neck.
I reach up and grab it from my collar.
The digger engine revs loudly as the driver moves into place.
The guy behind the wheel is pushing and pulling at an assortment
of levers, some long, some short, his face rigid with concentration.
His gloves are stained with dirt and grease. The engine hiccups
as he positions the digger next to the gravesite, then shudders
as the scoop bites into the hardened earth. It changes position,
coming up and under and filling with dirt. The cabin of the
digger rotates and the dirt is piled onto a tarpaulin next to
the cemetery caretaker. The caretaker has his head cocked downwards
as he tries to light a cigarette against the strengthening wind,
his hands shaking almost as much as his shoulders. The digger
drops two more piles of dirt before he tucks the cigarettes
back into his pocket, giving up. He gives me a look I can't
quite identify. I'm hoping he doesn't come over to complain
some more about evicting somebody from their internment, but
he doesn't, just goes back to staring at the hallow ground that
is becoming hollow only a few meters away from him.
The vibrations of the digger force their way through my feet
and into my body, making my legs tingle. The tree behind me
can feel them too, because it fires more acorns into my neck.
I step out of the shade and into the drizzle, nearly twisting
my ankle on a few of the thick roots from the oak that have
pushed through the ground.
There is a small lake only about fifteen meters away about the
size of an Olympic swimming pool. It's completely enclosed by
the cemetery grounds, fed by an underground stream. It makes
this cemetery a popular spot for death, but not for recreation.
Some of the gravesites are close to it, and I wonder if the
coffins are affected by moisture. I hope we're not about to
dig up a box full of water.
The driver pauses to wipe a gloved hand across his forehead,
as if operating all of those levers is hot work in these cold
conditions. He looks out at the oak trees and lush lawn, the
still moving lake, and he's probably planning on being buried
out here one day. Everybody thinks that when they see this spot.
Nice place to be buried. Nice and scenic. Restful. Like it makes
a difference. Like you're going to know if somebody comes along
and chops down all the trees. Still, I guess if you have to
be buried somewhere, this place beats out a lot of others I've
A second flatbed truck sweeps its way between the gravestones.
It pulls up next to the gravesite. The pile of dirt is growing
higher and higher. Clumps of it are rolling down the side of
the small mountain from the vibrations. I can see the raindrops
plinking into the lake, making tiny droplets jump towards the
heavens. I make my way over to it. Anything is better than watching
the digger doing its job. I can still feel the vibrations. Small
pieces of dirt are rolling down the bank of the lake and splashing
into the water.
I turn back to the digger when I hear the scoop scrape across
the coffin lid. The caretaker is shaking pretty hard now. He
looks cold and pissed off. Until the moment the digger arrived,
I thought he was going to chain himself to the gravestone to
prevent the uprooting of one of his tenants. He had plenty to
say about the moral implications of what we were doing. He acted
as though we were digging up the coffin to put him inside.
The digger operator and the driver of the flatbed truck, along
with a third guy, all pull on face masks that cover their noses
and mouths before dropping into the grave, disappearing from
my view, as if they have found a hidden entrance into another
world. Maybe it's Hades. Down there with the entire crew of
demons and ghouls. But they're hunched down, figuring out the
mechanics to get the chain attached between the coffin and digger,
Dante and his Inferno perhaps the furthermost things from their
minds. When the chain is secure the driver climbs back into
place. He wipes his gloved hand back over his forehead. Raising
the dead is sweaty work.
The engine lurches and shudders as it takes the weight of the
coffin. The flatbed truck starts up and backs a little closer.
With the two machines vibrating loudly, more dirt spills from
the bank and slides into the water. About five meters away some
bubbles start rising to the surface, then a patch of mud appears.
But there is something else there too. Something dark that looks
like an oil patch raising to the surface. There is a thud as
the coffin is lowered onto the back of the truck. I can hear
the three men talking quickly among themselves, having to nearly
shout to be heard over the engines. The caretaker has disappeared.
The dark patch rising beneath the water breaks the surface.
It looks like a giant black balloon. I've seen these giant black
balloons before. You hope they're one thing, but they're always
another. The rain is getting heavier.
'Hey, Tate, you might want to take a look at this,' one of the
men calls out.
But I'm too busy looking at something else.
'Hey? You listening?' The voice is closer now. 'We've got something
here you need to look at.'
Maybe he ought to take a look at what I'm looking at. For a
moment I think that maybe they've opened the coffin and it's
empty, but of course that won't happen here, and it certainly
won't be done by these men. There are footsteps next to me.
'What the hell is that?' he asks, looking where I'm looking.
The black bubble isn't really a bubble, but the back of a jacket.
It hangs in the water, and connected to it is a soccer ball
sized object. It has hair. The body has been released from the
depths of the lake by the vibrations of the heavy machinery.
And before I can answer another shape bubbles to the surface,
then another, and another, as the lake releases its hold on