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Confessions of an Aspiring Resurrectionist - part 3


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Continued from part 2.

Part 3: A First For Everything

For three days Pete bounced frantically between trying to organize the impossible chaos of Dietrich’s former office, handling any new corpses being delivered for burial or cremation, and continuing his fevered research into the operation of the metal shapes that were the key to resurrectionist magic. He barely slept or ate, snacking occasionally on the cache of dried meats that Dietrich had stashed in his desk. At the same time, he was consumed with worry about what the next week or two would bring. He had four days until the paymaster’s return and an opportunity to send a communique back to the Guild offices informing them of Dietrich Dassault’s death and requesting a replacement to take over management of the cemetery. He assumed that a new manager, at the very least an interim one, would be arriving shortly thereafter. That gave Pete at most seven more days to get the office in order and get whatever experimentation he wanted to perform on the shapes. He doubted his new supervisor would be terribly forgiving if he was discovered dabbling in forbidden magics.

The office was turning out to be easier than Pete had expected. Dietrich had emphasized repeatedly the importance and complexity of the paperwork that he collected, but Pete found that most of it could be categorized fairly easily. There were documents requesting burial/cremation and the corresponding paperwork confirming completion, documents regarding employees and documents documenting the expenses of the cemetery. Hopefully that was enough organization that a new cemetery manager could step in with minimal confusion. Pete also found the diagrams showing how to locate the cemetery plots, and was even able to understand the nomenclature based on a few of the burial documents. He kept his notes on the location of the various bodies he had interred recently in a prominent place, knowing that eventually he would be forced to translate his poorly defined mapping into the much more exact cemetery jargon.

As Pete worked on the office or dug graves for the new arrivals, his mind kept returning to the metal shapes and the diagrams on the paper. They swam in his head and interconnected at unexpected angles. He was realizing that the depth and potential that was expressed in the scholarly looking notes in the lacquered box that held the shapes. It had taken precious little time to discover Dietrich’s mistake. It was as obvious to Pete now as if someone was digging a hole with the handle of a shovel. The correct tool was used, but in entirely the wrong way. Pete saw clearly through the diagrams that Dietrich’s “focusing shape” was pouring his own life force into the corpse. It was enough to get small reactions, such as the tiny finger lift that Pete had witnessed, but over weeks of experimentation it had stressed Dietrich’s body to the point of breaking. Pete knew he could do what Dietrich could not, but he was terrified to try after witnessing Dietrich’s sudden end. He was terrified, but also becoming more obsessed by the idea.

Eventually, obsession won out over fear.

It was six days after Dietrich’s death, five days since the paymaster’s last visit, that Pete resolved to try what he had learned. A cart carrying the latest customer had rolled leisurely up the road to the cemetery, and Pete had accepted the body in the crude box and the associated paperwork. Pete knew the driver of the cart, a local man contracted by the Guild to sometimes haul bodies of indigents to Shady Rest.

“How’s business, Pete?” the driver asked.

“I’m buried it it, Lloyd!” Pete answered, following through with the joke the two of them traditionally shared each time they met. They both laughed. Pete became suddenly serious. “Dietrich died.”

Lloyd paused, not sure if this was an awkward continuation of the joking. When Pete did not provide a punch line he knew it was no joke. “What happened? He was old, but I thought he had a lot of years left in him”

Pete stammered for a second. “We were just sitting in the crematorium talking, and he just stopped talking. When I looked over he was dead. I picked a nice spot and buried him.”

“That’s too bad,” Lloyd said sadly. He and Dietrich had known each other for years, but only in passing. Lloyd had no patience for the man’s self-aggrandizing tales. “Are they sending a replacement out?”

“Not yet. The paymaster is returning Wednesday and he’ll be taking a letter back to the main office explaining what happened and asking for someone to take over. I’m sure they’ll get it straightened out in no time.” Pete looked back at the simple coffin on the back of the cart. “Until then I’m just taking care of business. Nothing out of the ordinary at all.”

“Well, that’s good,” Lloyd said. “Let’s get this one off the cart and I’ll let you get back to it.” The two of them carried the box over to Pete’s cart, then Lloyd clambered back onto his own cart. “I’ll be seeing you then, Pete. Good luck with doings before they get someone here.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you soon!” Pete called to Lloyd as he started off.

“Hopefully in the front of the cart and not the back!” Lloyd responded, as he always did. They both laughed again.

Pete walked back to the office to file the paperwork and select a plot for the new arrival. The office was looking quite tidy by this time, and Pete had become comfortable enough with the location specifics that he was able to choose a vacant plot location on the cemetery map and name it correctly on the paperwork. He looked around the neat organization of the office with a feeling of pride. He had actually managed to get things in order, at least as far as he knew, and when the new manager arrived it would reflect well on him. A moment later, the flash of panic set in. There was so little time to experiment with and study the metal shapes. After the new boss got settled in Pete would be relegated to skulking about in the dark of night to do anything with them. He looked down at the paperwork in his hand.

“Emily Fairfield,” he read aloud. “Age 22. Executed May 21 for unspecified crimes.” Pete glanced out the door at the cart holding the coffin. Executed prisoners were nothing new ot Shady Rest, but a woman, hardly more than a girl, was unusual. Perhaps it was less unusual than he thought, since Dietrich seldom shared details like the age of the deceased or manner of death. Pete filed the paper in the correct place, having made note of the plot location on a sheet to take with him, and walked out toward the cart. The plot chosen was on the far end of the property, a fair clip even off the rough trail. Pete threw the digging tools and the ladder with the attached rope onto the cart and started pulling. He followed the trail along the perimeter of the cemetery for a while then turned and headed inward, struggling to pull the cart up a hill.

“If I was smarter I’d have picked someplace flat and leave this plot for when I had someone to help pull the stinking cart,” he complained to himself. “Oh, and I suppose you find this pretty funny, missy,” he said to the coffin. Pete felt self-conscious about talking to the corpse, something he was not in the habit of doing, and looked around to see if anyone happened to be nearby to overhear. As always in this remote place, there was nobody. Only the chatter of birds and squirrels tinted the sound of wind on the hill. Pete chuckled at his own embarrassment, then got to work digging.

When the grave was complete, Pete climbed out using his ladder and observed his handiwork. It may not have been up Dietrich’s standards, but it was plenty good enough for the task at hand. He suspended some planks across the grave and wrestled the coffin into place over them. Once in place he set up a wooden frame with a simple rope winch over the coffin. Pete had seldom used the winch, which was time consuming to set up and tear down, since he and Dietrich could lower a coffin by hand using ropes far faster. Only when faced with lowering the box alone did he resort to mechanical assistance. Over the past week he had become quite adept at it. He raised the coffin a bit and removed the planks, then let the winch ratchet slowly downward. The coffin caught on an uneven edge briefly, but Pete raised it up with the winch slightly and managed to ease it past the offending outcrop of dirt. Once in place, he retrieved the rope, stowed the winch on the cart and filled in the grave.

Pete mopped his brow and took in his surroundings. The sun was just beginning to set, and the view from his elevated position was beautiful. He was slightly above the treeline and could see for miles it seemed. He saw Dietrich’s cabin on the far opposite side of the cemetery property, and wondered if the new cemetery manager would live there. What would become of Dietrich’s possessions? Pete sat on the cart and watched the landscape increasingly bathed in red as the sun set further. Somewhat refreshed, he decided that getting the cart back before dark would be a good idea, and so he started back. The return trip was a good deal easier, being both downhill and the cart not encumbered with an occupant.

Back at the office, Pete lit an oil lamp and opened the lacquered box containing the resurrectionist artifacts. He spread the oddly shaped metal pieces on the desk and flipped through the papers until he got to the particular diagram he was searching for. Triangles inscribed in circles, inscribed in other triangles wound downward until they were almost too small to see. The combination on the paper looked like they were trailing off into the distance. Other overlapping series of triangles and circles combined with the first to make even more elaborate shapes. Pete had been thinking about this particular diagram on and off all day and was looking forward to applying his thought toward combining the metal shapes. He sifted through the pile until he found the pieces he was looking for and attached them at the carefully chosen angles.

“What am I going to call you?” he asked the metal shapes. The writings found with the shapes in the hermit’s hovel gave no indication as to their proper name. In fact, the more Pete read the papers the more he realized that what he held was an incomplete set, a portion of some larger text that had been separated from the whole and kept with the shapes based on their subject matter. “Maybe I can name you,” he mused. He toyed with a few names, all awkward combinations of “metal”, “resurrection” and “pieces” but could not come up with anything nearly clever or mysterious sounding enough to do them justice. He gave up and put his mind on the assembly he was creating. As Pete contemplated the growing collection of shapes in his hands, the next shape needed always seemed to be right in front of him. Fourteen shapes in place, the assembly was complete and Pete admired his handiwork. Peering in through the various holes in the shape led one to see other shapes that seemed to fold in on themselves. Pete thought he could get lost in those endless tunnels, trails his thoughts could take that would lead to more ideas and more trails and a maze so dense that there was no escape. He pulled this thoughts back, thinking about Dietrich’s last encounter with the magic harnessed by those insignificant looking metal shapes. It was tempting to lose himself in the spiraling shape, but Pete most certainly did not want to overstep the bounds of safety. As enthralling as the new magic was, his fear of it still chilled him.

Drawing back and starting over, he started to get a sense of the paths to take in his mind to utilize this particular combination of shapes. He had chosen this particular assembly for the sole reason of trying what Dietrich had not been able to perform. A full reanimation frightened and excited him, and he was sure he could do it. Dietrich had been using something similar to the right shape to accomplish the task at hand but in entirely the wrong way. Dietrich’s notes made it abundantly clear what he had thought, which was a gross misinterpretation of the actual writings. Pete wondered how someone as smart as Dietrich could have made such an obvious mistake, but he supposed that he would have made the same mistake if he didn’t have Dietrich’s notes to show him where he went wrong. He stood up and pushed the drapes aside to see complete darkness had overcome the cemetery. As eager as Pete was to try his first act of resurrectionist magic, the idea of a reanimated corpse in the dead of night put a fear in him that overcame his enthusiasm again. He would try in the morning. He would wait until light.

Pete thought about making the walk home to his cottage, but decided to sleep instead on the cot that Dietrich had kept in the crematorium for naps of opportunity. When first light came he would choose a suitable grave and see the dead rise at his command. The thought gave him an excited shiver. He lay himself down on the cot, expecting anticipation for the morning to rob him of sleep. Instead, the day’s labor caught up to him and he drifted off in very little time at all.

Peter Green dreamed that night. He dreamed of graves, and of sleeping at the bottom of one. He dreamed of clawing frantically toward the surface and emerging into the cold night air. He dreamed he was pursued by shambling figures of unknown intention. He commanded them to cease their relentless march, but they followed him regardless. He dreamed of a vast field, stretching as far as the eye could see, and under that field the restless turning of untold souls anxious for... something. He dreamed of riding a horse, something he had never done, terrified and frothing as it galloped madly beneath him. He dreamed but did not wake until first light.

The songbirds were the first thing Pete was aware of. They perched in the tree outside the window and sounded their frantic chirps and tweets. Pete opened his eyes and sat up, briefly getting his bearing on where he was and why. The excitement started when he realized why he had slept on the old cot. Today was the day. Pete jumped up and practically ran into the office. The assembly of shapes he had constructed the night before had collapsed while he slept, but he was confident that he could rebuild it quickly enough. The difficulty came in knowing why to put each shape where, not the actual placing of them. Having reasoned it through once was enough. He splashed his face with some water from a jug in the office and proceeded to recreate last night’s accomplishment.

Choosing the grave turned out to be harder than he had expected. The idea of raising Emily Fairfield was enticing, but after consideration he decided against it. Pete was unsure enough of what this was going to be like and did not want the added complexity of the reanimated corpse being female, possibly even pretty. He was notoriously awkward around the fairer sex. The prominent location of that particular grave made Ms. Fairfield an unwise choice as well. In the end he chose a middle aged indigent buried in a remote area of the cemetery, away from any road traffic and not visible from the office.

Lacquered box in hand, Pete headed out the door striding with purpose toward the grave of one Mr. Robert Cumberland. The paperwork noted that he had been found after freezing to death in an alleyway, an obvious beggar. He had been identified by the U.S. Army discharge paperwork and the gold and red Spanish Campaign medal found in his motley assortment of belongings, assuming it was indeed his. The age was similar enough for convenient identification. Another man of distinction brought to an ignominious end.

Checking his landmarks, Pete found the correct grave, marked with a wooden stake. He looked around one last time to ensure that no roads or paths were immediately visible from the site. Grave visitors at Shady Rest were not a concern. People ended up there because nobody cared enough to put them elsewhere. Robert Cumberland’s final rest was a handful of yards from a large, shady tree like the one Dietrich Dassault had come to rest under. As Pete opened the lacquered box to remove the assembly, he heard more squirrels chattering at each other in its branches.

“Keep it quiet there,” he warned. “I don’t need to be distracted.” Pete kneeled before the grave and held the assembly close to him, peering into its complicated geometry. He slowly traversed the paths of it, and it guided him further down, slowly into a trance state. Pete extended his perception, and began to feel the potential under the ground, the death waiting there for life, anxious to be given permission to move. This is where Dietrich had failed. Dietrich had poured himself into the corpse, slowly killing himself in the process. Pete focused the corpse’s life back onto itself, acting as a conduit to return what was lost. As he channeled life back into the corpse, he felt the first stirrings of life again and almost lost his concentration. It was working! He let the shapes guide his endeavor and direct his thought as he gathered more and more of the lost life and poured it back into the dead thing.

Something under the ground stirred.

Pete knew it the moment it moved. He could feel the paths coming to an end and the shape had guided him to success. Something was clawing its way up from the ground, frantically grasping earth and stone as it rose to the surface. Pete could feel it coming, and he was afraid. What then? What do you do with a person who was once dead, but now isn’t? For the first time since arriving at Robert Cumberland’s grave, Pete wondered if he had made a serious mistake.

Upward it clawed, getting close now. Pete grimaced as he saw the earth begin to shift. It wouldn’t be long now. He held the assembled shapes close to his chest, as if they could shield him from the terror he felt. The shifting earth started to turn upward slightly, revealing fertile soil. It was here.

A small claw emerged from the ground, thrust skyward. It grasped air for a moment, then turned to push on the surface, pulling a rancid, fur covered head from the ground. Pete watched the pronounced incisors gnash at nothing as the beast dragged the rest of its form from the ground. It flopped onto the grass, then pulled itself up on its hind legs to regard Pete with glazed, cataract covered eyes. It made a sickly sound, like a tiny wet cough, and twitched its once furry tail.

“I don’t suppose your name is Robert?” Pete asked the decayed creature.

Continued in part 4.

Edited by hakoMike
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Bobby the Undead Squirrel - a great start to Pete's career :)

I don't know if you want constructive criticism, and if not, you can ignore the next bit :)

I am enjoying this, although this installment was noticeably more languid and slower-paced than the other two. The interaction with Lloyd was good, but the burial of Emily took a long time to resolve, without any obvious payoff in terms of character, setting or plot. Your scene setting was done in Parts 1 and 2, so I am not sure why you couldn't have got Emily in the ground much faster than you did. It's only three paragraphs, but I did stumble over it, because the story is at a point where I want the plot to evolve.

Edited by Sholto
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I would love any constructive criticism! Thank you!

Emily's burial is a pace change, meant to be a moment of calm before the storm, but I ended using it to get a few things out of the way before the "big resurrection scene" lol. I'm thinking that's why it was too dense, especially after a dialog scene, and broke the pace. I wanted to remind the readers about Dietrich's cottage. I wanted to answer a question I'd been asking myself... how did Pete bury all those bodies alone?

There are a couple more things, but I don't want to spill every detail yet. :-)

Again, thanks! If you are reading it closely enough to have critique that makes my day. Btw, next part probably won't be until next weekend (end of July.)

Edited by hakoMike
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