“You know George Washington
was afraid of being buried alive,” I
said to Green Johnny as we lugged our burden deeper into the darkened swamp. “He
wanted folks to wait three days before they sealed him up, just in case.”
“For real, Priest?”
Green Johnny said in short gasps.
“Oh yeah, it was a real
fear; people even used go so far as to tie
a string attached to a bell to the corpse, feed that thing up through the
coffin and dirt and hire folks to listen just in case they’d made a mistake.
That was the purpose of the graveyard shift. Just some dude sitting there
in the dark listening
for a little bell to ring. If heard the
jingle, then he’d grab his shovel and dig like mad hoping he got the person out
“That shit still happen?”
“I don’t think so,
Medical science has progressed in the last 200 years, but mistakes can
happen, I guess.”
“Do you think…?”
he asked, eyeing the bag in our hands.
“Thompson? No, he’s definitely dead.
Between me carving him up like a Jack O’Lantern and you beating him with
a pipe wrench, he ain’t going to be ringing any bells anytime soon.”
Green Johnny seemed to relax
as we trudged further out in the
swamp, shovel and body in hand both of us watching the light from our
flashlights bouncing in front of us.
It was a shame. Thompson was
a good guy. Knew his basketball and
could throw back beers with the best of them.
Bet a little too much on the Bulls, but he’d always paid before the vig
got too large. This season cleaned him
out, though. He became a big ugly red
mark in the ledger. He was on his way out of town waiting on a red-eye bus at
the depot when Greenie and I caught up to him. That’s what we do: We settle the
books, turn red into black anyway we can.
They call me Priest because
I go about my work with an Old
Green Johnny, from what I hear,
was straight out of a psychiatric
facility when the Boss paired us up a few years ago. I think the Boss seemed to
appreciate the ironic symmetry of us balancing each other while we balanced his
“Fuck this swamp, Priest,”
Greenie said, swatting a mosquito. “Why can’t we just burn
“Because I don’t
Remember those fires out in California?”
“Were those started by
burning a body?”
“No, but they were started by some asshole burning things they shouldn’t burn and
I’m not an asshole. Besides swamps emit
methane and that shit’s flammable. So, we’re not going to burn him. Here’s a
good spot,” I said, looking at a peaceful plot under a tree. “Let’s get this
“Alright,” he said
begrudgingly, “I have matches, though, if you
change your mind.”
We rock, paper, scissor’d
and Green Johnny’s scissors were crushed
by my rock. He spit on his hands and
plunged his shovel into the muck. The
nocturnal residents of the swamp provided a soundtrack for our work over the
sure you don’t want
to burn him?” Greenie asked again, as I helped him out of the hole.
“I don’t know, if
we burn him, we’ll know for sure that he’s dead.”
“You that worried?”
“I am after what you told
me. Being buried alive, man, that’s
just…just plain wrong.”
For a moment, I stood contemplating
in the heavy swamp stink. The
sun would be up in a few hours and we needed to get this done, but I couldn’t
have my partner wracked with guilt. Guilt wasn’t a useful emotion in our
“Do this,” I said.
“I have an old dog collar with a bell on it and
some twine in the truck. Go grab it and
we’ll rig something to help you feel better.”
When Greenie returned, we tied
one end of the string onto Thompson’s
hand and dumped him into the hole. We
tied the other end of the twine onto the dog collar, made an “X” with some
twigs and set the bell in between. If
Thompson twitched or tried to claw his way out of the ground, he’d pull the
string that would yank on the collar that would jangle the bell.
hang out here ‘til the sun comes up just to make
sure he’s dead. Does that work for you?”
I said, leaning against a tree.
“Yeah, that’ll work.”
Greenie said, wiping his hands on his shirt.
We hung around for another few hours, watching the sunrise and
listening to the mosquitoes. The bell
didn’t ring once.
Zachary Wilhide lives in Virginia
Beach, Virginia, with his wife
and cat. He has previously had stories published on Out of the
Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Close to the Bone,
and Shotgun Honey. He is currently working on a novella, slowly.
A. F. Knott is a self-taught collage artist focused on
book layout and book cover design as well networking
in conjunction with Hekate Publishing, one of its missions, bringing together artist and
writer. Sometimes seen selling in New York City's Union Square Park. Work can be found
exchange of ideas welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org