Sunset Girl

He picked up the spade from where it lay against the tombstone. He inspected it for a moment, cursed. They hadn’t even left him a proper digging tool. The head was chipped and rusted, and the shaft looked like it would snap as soon as he stuck it into the frozen ground. The wind nipped at his chapped, blistered lips. He licked them, hearing his mother’s voice in his head. It’ll only make it worse, Johnny. It’ll only make it worse.

He grimaced. It was cold, damned cold. The wind whirled amongst the graves, stirring up piles of fallen leaves. Winter’s first frost already dusted the tops of the tombstones. Courtesan clouds had waylaid the moon somewhere on his journey across the sky, enshrouded him in a galactic brothel somewhere. Johnny didn’t mind much. He could see well enough as it was. He wrapped his leather overcoat tighter around him, licked his lips again.

The bodies lay against the fencepost. Three of them. Two women and a man. Whatever had killed the man had cut him up pretty badly. Someone had clearly spent a lot of effort to fix him up, but the deep gouges on his neck couldn’t be hidden. The two women Johnny didn’t look at. Dead women gave him a funny feeling. Maybe it was because of his mother. Probably because of his mother. Johnny had thrown a blanket over all three of them. He’d seen dead bodies plenty of times before, of course, but it was best not to look.

He stuck the spade in the ground, used his boot to kick it in deeper. It sunk no more than an inch. He pulled out a chunk of earth no larger than a baseball. Johnny paused for a moment, grabbed the bottle from the base of the willow who’s arms hung over him. He took a long pull, feeling the whiskey warm him as it went down. He looked at the wind kicking the leaves through the graveyard. Then he took another pull, and another.

A couple hours later he had cleared a hole about six feet long and several feet deep. He sat down against the willow tree to rest, reaching for the whiskey.

“You mind sharing?”

The voice startled him. He looked over. It was the dead man. He was sitting on the fence.

“I reckon I deserve a drink, don’t you?” The man craned his neck to one side, pointed. “You see this? Not a good time.” He laughed.

Johnny offered the bottle. Damn. More bullshit to deal with. The man reached across and grabbed it with a pair of pale hands. He drank.

“So what are you digging for?” he asked. “That’s an awful big hole you got there.”

Johnny shrugged. “Just digging.”

The dead man stood up, looked around.

“Does it feel cold? I can’t tell. It’s cold, right? Does it feel cold?”

Johnny licked his lips. “It’s cold, yeah.”

The man nodded, like he had just remembered something. “I’m cold. Yeah, I’m cold.” The man took another pull of whiskey. “You gonna be done soon?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m almost done,” Johnny said. “Why don’t you stay here til I’ve finished. Keep me company.”

The man shrugged. “Sure, I’ve got nowhere to be.”

He paused for a moment, scratched at the gashes in his neck. “Do I have somewhere to be?”

“Nah, where would you have to be on a night like this? It’s late. Stay and keep me company.”

“Alright.”

Johnny jumped back into the hole and dug, faster now. It only needed to be a foot or so deeper. Why had the damn fool come back already? He cursed his luck. He’d drawn a stinker of a hand. He hoped the women hadn’t been dead long. He dug for a few minutes. Then he turned around. The man was gone.

Johnny climbed out of the hole. He scanned the darkness for a few moments before he saw the man, stumbling around with the bottle a ways down the hill.

“Hey!” he called. “Hey, come on up here!”

He jogged down the hill. “Hey! You forgot your jacket!”

The man turned. “My jacket?”

He walked in a circle for a moment. Johnny could hear him talking to himself. Then he started back up the hill. Johnny breathed a sigh of relief.

“My jacket?” the man called again.

“Yeah, it’s up on the fence post! You don’t wanna leave without your jacket, do you? It’s hanging on the fencepost!”

The man was by him now, and they walked up the hill together. Johnny saw that he wasn’t carrying the whiskey bottle anymore. He must have dropped it somewhere down among the graves.

“Thanks. I wouldn’t want to leave without my jacket,” the man said. “I’ve got so many things to do. So many things to do. I’m in love, you know?” The gouges on his neck twisted as he talked.

Johnny shrugged.

“Yep, I’m in love. I’m going to marry her. She’s my sunset girl. She looks like a sunset,” he explained.  “A beautiful sunset. Red and yellow and orange and sparkling and bright and warm.” He smiled. “Funny how a woman can look like the sunset, isn’t it? And my brother, he’s a punk, but he’s got nobody else. Not since Dad left. I’m gonna go see my brother. Good thing I haven’t lost my jacket.”

He looked at Johnny. “It’s cold, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Johnny said. “It’s cold. Real cold.”

“Don’t want to be out in the cold without my jacket.”

Johnny nodded. They were back at the hole beneath the willow now. It was deep enough, he reckoned. It would have to do.

“It’s cold. I need my jacket,” the man was muttering. “I need my jacket. So many things to do.”

Johnny swung the spade. It connected with the man’s head with a crunch. The man toppled into the hole. Johnny hurried over to the bodies of the two women. He threw the blanket back over them, drug them to the hole. Then he filled the hole back in, slung the spade over his shoulder. The moon was back from his foray between the clouds. His pale light glided over the tombstones. Johnny clumped his way down the hill, licking his lips. They weren’t paying him enough.

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