A Halloween tradition at this ain’t livin’; short fiction! This story is actually the beginning of a larger project I’m working on. I may continue posting excerpts here if people want me to and if I stay focused on this project. These are two fairly large ifs.
Several people pass by the dead woman in the alley before the alarm is sounded. In this part of town, a dead body in an alley is not a terribly remarkable thing, or a cause for mourning. Celebration would perhaps be more apt, as a body represents a treasure trove of items which can be salvaged for use or sale. Bodies left at night will be left for daylight and the tender ministrations of a member of the clergy, a slummer, or a dogooder who has not yet been broken down by the hardship of this corner of the settlement.
This particular body happens to be laden with valuables which are whisked away with great efficiency by the people who inhabit the neighborhood. A cutpurse takes the gold and emerald necklace which might have provided information about the motivation for the crime. A garbage picker takes the soft leather boots which might have given a clue to her identity. A beggar takes her garments, fine linen and soft silk, leaving the body bare while garbage and filth drift around it. A prostitute on her way to her lodgings sees the naked form and, moved by pity, covers her with a rough sack found lying in the street. Other residents of the town miss her entirely, or see her but think that she is sleeping.
It takes a closer examination by a passing priest to recognize that the body is indeed dead, and to summon the reluctant members of the Night Watch, who would prefer that they not have to go into this part of the town at all, if they can avoid it.
A dead woman attracts little attention in these times, and after a cursory inspection, her body is remanded to potter’s field for burial with the rest of the unclaimed dead. The body is wrapped in the same burlap sack which the prostitute used to cover it and tossed into a grave as it is, landing on top of the bones of the previous unknown and unwanted dead sent to potter’s field for disposal.
Though she was unknown, the woman attracts the attention of the grave digger, who notes that while she is filthy and naked, she does not have the distinctive smell of the dead, and she does not bear the marks of a hard life in the streets. Her hands are smooth, her feet lack calluses, and her hands bear the marks of several heavy rings. There is nothing about her which suggests identity, but the gravedigger cannot help but feel a pang of curiosity about who she was before he informs the man who pays him handsomely for intelligence about the cemetery that a fresh body has just been buried, in remarkably good condition.
The grave digger has maintained his relationship with this man for a number of years now, and finds the small comforts which fall his way well worth the occasional pang of conscience. After all, the dead are dead, so surely no one would mind if someone has a better use for their bodies. The bodies are sold to an anatomist or university, and the job of exhuming them is grisly and unpleasant. Retrieving bodies from potter’s field is usually not a task for the faint of heart, as they are often in an advanced state of decay thanks to sitting in the earth, and sometimes it takes several days to collect them, which does not make the experience any more salubrious. The grave digger feels that he has the better end of the deal, as he is never involved in the actual retrieval.
Two men creep their way into the cemetery two nights later to unearth the body. Paid by the body, they usually work in a hurry, both because of the smell and because they want to return to the sluggish corner of the tavern they inhabit when they haven’t found some sort of work, usually manual, to do. It’s cold and the air is sharp and their shoes are thin and they are not precisely looking forward to what they are going to find, let alone to packaging it and dragging it to the dark doorstep in the nice part of town where such “parcels” are left.
What the resurrection men resurrect that night, however, is not what they expected. The woman they uncover after their furtive digging looks as though she is sleeping. No flies hover around the grave, and no signs of decay are present on the pale body. The skin is smooth and supple, and the two men watch, horrified, as the eyes slowly open, blinking clods of dirt out of the way to reveal brown irises which widen in astonishment and sudden knowledge.
The newly made vampire may not know what she is, yet, or how she has come to be where she lies, but instinct is enough to drive her to the sustenance which has presented itself in the form of two confused and terrified men who don’t even have a chance to make a sound before they are dispatched. Guilt and remorse do not figure in her mind, only the need to satisfy the bottomless hunger inside.
The bonesleeper is awake.