This is the sixth chapter of the series about The Undertaker From Mokvas. If you haven’t done it yet, read the previous chapters first:
Days passed. They turned into weeks and weeks to months. Of a sudden, the solitude the Undertaker welcomed and was used to for so many years became too restrictive, too disturbing. The missing presence of the woman whom had grown on him during such a short time harassed him in his dreams. He recalled the phrase of a hermit he once met: The most cruel loss is the one of something never gained. The widow lived in this city. And he could find her if he tried. But instead he decided not to. No one should disturb his serenity anymore. Ever.
New waves of purges and mass executions hit the city. Rumors were spreading about some serious defeats of the revolutionary armies in their fights against the seemingly rotting and decadent Northern Realm. Of course, the propaganda of the domain controlled by the great chairman Trevor Ociph (officially proclaimed as Ociphate) would not tolerate any negative news.
Anyone who allowed himself to admit setbacks, to claim that the revolution wasn’t winning or to question its goals, was with eagerness publicly prosecuted. The luckiest ones were hanged. The less fortunate ones were first tortured. It routinely occured that bodies were delivered without tongues, eyeballs, teeth, nails, digits or entrails. Usually one out of ten were allowed to be buried at the cemetery. The rest were recycled – or industrialized. According to rumors, the skincoats had set up their own manufacturing plants for the processing of skin, hair, bones, fat, brains or flesh.
During a period of only twenty days, some hundred bodies of the publicly executed were brought to the gravedigger’s hands. Most of them had been hanged, several crucified, a few beheaded, two impaled, one burned. The Undertaker routinely arranged the carts near the house so the corpses were accessible to relatives or carpenters. After he parked one of the wagons, something caught his eye. From beneath a sheet covering the corpses a tangle overhung the wooden planks. A tangle of sturdy dense hair. Now knotty, greasy and thick with dirt.
He picked up the linen and drew it aside.
The same black robe, same pale collar bones. Cherry lips. Cut noose still around her neck. Noodles of dried blood sprouting from her nose covered her mouth. The hangman hadn’t even bothered to close her eyes.
The Undertaker took the body of the widow into his arms and carried it carefully into his house. He locked himself away inside. Then he approached the bed and pulled it aside.
The nearly invisible outlines of a trapdoor appeared. The gravedigger opened the hideout and with the body back in his hands, began his descent.
In the familiar dark, he placed the widow onto a large smooth marbled table. The underground space was deep, vast and rimmed with massive walls of polished granite stone. He lit several torches. The light revealed a sort of crypt which at the same time resembled some ancient reverence chamber.
On the table the Undertaker stripped the body off its clothes. He immediately recognized the changes. Swollen leaking breasts and loose belly skin. The woman had given birth recently. He recalled their time when excavating the skincoats – it might have been ten or probably even eleven months ago.
For an uncertain moment he remained petrified, just staring at her. Then he concluded that the child would be dead or, in better case, in somebody’s care already.
He submerged the corpse into a basin of cold water. There he washed it carefully. From dried blood, sweat, dirt and urine. Especially the hair so it would become soft and gentle again. Back on the table he opened her veins so all the cadaverous dark blood could be drained – it ran into thin marbled gutters leading to a duct disappearing beneath the ground. Then he pumped brine enriched with a silky glowing substance into her veins. To preserve the body further, the gravedigger rubbed it liberally with an embalming ointment. His fingers caressed and massaged her for the last time to release the rigor mortis and restore the youthful elasticity even after death. Now she was pretty again, her color returned. She seemed to sleep, just indefinitely.
He wrapped the body in cotton strips. Finished, the Undertaker moved a heavy monolith revealing another trap door leading further into the deep and dark. With the mummy in his hands he stepped through, walking down a long robust staircase. In a vault he could barely see, he approached an empty sarcophagus. There he put the widow to her final rest and closed the massive lid.
Back in the yellow sunlight of a prematurely departing autumn he took care of other examples of the delivered deceased. Some were mourned, credited with a coffin, flowers and epitaphs, others were left to their anonymous fate in another mass grave.
With sun already set behind the narrow endless horizon the gravedigger returned from his daily duty with his shovel on his shoulder. He was about to lock the gates when he recognized a silhouette erratically rushing towards the cemetery. A gasping corpulent woman with a basket, shouting something from a distance. Usually he would turn his back on her and leave her to return in the morning. Unless she was carrying rocks with her. But now he remained motionless and waited.
The arriving woman halted at the gate and panted for breath. They both stared at each other without saying a word. Finally, the visitor started:
“Are you the Undertaker from Mokvas?”
“No, I’m the Gardener from Dumbass,” he answered. He enjoyed her brief confusion and before she could react, he added: “What do you want?”
“I have here something belonging to you, sir.” The woman thrust out the basket. She pulled aside the rags and the Undertaker spotted a face. Tiny, fragile, with closed eyes and long eyelashes. “Her mother was hanged this morning. She left the kid with your address.”
The gravedigger glared at the sleeping child, unable to get a sound past his teeth.
“By the way, you owe me fifteen silver denarii.”
“What?” the Undertaker woke from his lethargy.
“Fifteen denarii, sir,” the woman repeated irritably. “Do you think walking across the whole city with this load is a pleasant deed?”
“Then you shouldn’t walk,” he noted dry.
“Maybe I had to fly!” the woman sputtered.
“Rolling would better fit your stature,” the gravedigger snapped back.
“Fifteen denarii, sir,” she insisted. “Or…”
“Or I’ll take the child and dump it into the moat behind the walls.”
“Suit yourself,” the Undertaker answered unimpressed and was about to lock the gate.
Out of the corner of his eye he watched the anger seizing the woman. She literally began trembling with fury.
“Then do it yourself!” she screeched with a high pitched voice and tossed the basket at the foot of the fence. “You cursed ugly bastard!”
The child yawned, squirmed and mumped slightly but kept sleeping. At the same time the woman trampled snottering away and at first sight it appeared she’d indeed roll off.
However the basket remained at the foot of the fence even after he had closed the gate. Somehow it refused to vanish from the gravedigger’s reality. Despite this, he turned and walked slowly back to his shack. A thin layer of foggy evening’s chill was already setting upon the city. A cold night was about to come.
Something made him stop. The cry of a newborn behind the bars.
He heard it well. The liability. A burden. A disturbance. Exactly what he disallowed himself in his life. He knew the cry would grow stronger. It would become pleading and desperate until it would fade away back into silence. Within an hour or two the newborn would freeze to death.
The Undertaker could turn back and carry it to his house. Without any idea what to do beyond that. Or he could simply leave it there and withstand the weeping. And in the morning he’d bury it.
Now it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide.
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