The moonless sky was dark when Loren got to the last grave in the cemetery, the one belonging to a two-year-old girl named Desdemona. She’d been buried only the day before, and she was frightened. She didn’t understand what had happened to her, or why she suddenly found herself in such a dark place.
Loren knelt before the child’s tombstone. “Don’t be scared, little one,” he said.
This was how he’d spent the last twenty-six years of his life, ever since he was fourteen and had an epiphany while cutting across the cemetery between home and the school house.
On that day so many years ago he’d heard thousands and thousands of voices sobbing all around him–the wailing of the dead.
Then, through the cacophony came the mantra, clear as diamond, “If you’ve found your rest, then rest, but if you wander lost, than hear my voice and know that you are not alone.”
He’d been soothing the pains of the dead with that mantra ever since, and he said it now to Desdemona. “If you’ve found your rest, then rest, but if you wander lost, than hear my voice and know that you are not alone.”
He’d say other things, too, unique to that dead person and that time. Often he’d just chat with them and listen to their stories, consoling them for the mistakes they’d made and couldn’t forgive themselves for. There was a lot of that going on in the cemetery.
It was the mantra, though, that had been spiritually inspired in him. It was his destiny to console and guide the dead in that way. He’d paid a heavy price for keeping to it, but even at fourteen he’d recognized that a man wasn’t much of a man if he turned his back on divine revelation.
Loren may have dedicated his life to that mad destiny, but he wasn’t actually mad, nor was he stupid. He knew he should be out of the cemetery before darkness fell, lest the living get their hands on him. At night, as he knew better than anyone else, the cemetery became a haven for pimps, pushers, thieves and killers of all stripes.
The problem was that the city had been growing quickly over the last few years, and with it the cemetery. It took him longer and longer to complete his routine.
He didn’t let the fear stop him as he spoke to Desdemona, though. He’d not leave the child so frightened on her first night among the dead. That was always the hardest night for them, because they had to figure out where to go. Some were lucky enough to have old friends and family come out to guide them to the next world, but others were left alone.
He was in the middle of talking to the girl when the sound of a gate’s rusty hinges startled him. He turned to see three men and a woman, all dressed in black. They’d seen him already and were coming for him.
There was no time to run or hide. Loren stood and faced them.
“A fucking ragman,” the girl said.
They all laughed.
“Too bad for you, ragman,” one of the men said, “we take either your money or your life, but we always take something.”
“Something tells me you ain’t got any money, so that leaves just the one thing,” the girl added.
They had constellations of blue stars tattooed on their faces. Their clothes were spiked and decorated with razor blades.
The three of them drew wicked, curved blades. They were smiling.
Loren resigned himself to death. A lifetime barely eating and doing nothing more than walking up and down rows of tombstones had not developed his health or his body. He couldn’t outrun or outfight them.
And if this, too, is my destiny, then let me face it with courage.
The killers were almost upon him when the cemetery filled with the sound of sobbing. Loren heard this every day of his life, but this time, his visitors seemed to hear it, too.
The four star-faced killers stopped dead in their tracks. They looked frantically around the cemetery.
“What is that?”
“I don’t fucking know.”
What came next was something not even Loren had ever heard before. The sobbing turned to angry shouting and curses.
All around the cemetery, the earth in front of the tombstones exploded open, and figures in various states of decay staggered out — even little Desdemona, still perfectly maintained in her best Sunday dress.
The dead descended on the bandits. The four went down screaming.
The next day, Loren would tend to them, too.