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Art by A. F. Knott 2020

Gravedigger Sunrise

Zachary Wilhide


“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 in time.

“That shit still happen?”

“I don’t think so, Greenie.  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 Testament mentality.

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 books.

“Fuck this swamp, Priest,” Greenie said, swatting a mosquito.   “Why can’t we just burn him?”

“Because I don’t want to.  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 done.”

“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 next hour.

 "You 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 profession.

“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.

“Alright, we’ll 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 OnlineSpelk FictionClose 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 on 

flickr.com/photos/afknott/ Any exchange of ideas welcome: anthony_knott@hekatepublishing.com

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020