From The Grave

Warm, dark and quiet- I could hear the slow rhythm of the beating of my heart, hypnotic in its promise of new sunrises to be seen. Awareness came upon me slowly, stealing up on quiet paws to slowly, carefully prod me back towards understanding. Finally I took in a slow, ragged breath, my chest relaxing as air finally streamed in to my lungs. Oxygen invigorates me and I was finally cognizant of where I was.

The casket was small and I could not easily move. I had to force myself to be calm, to move slowly and deliberately- the supply of air was very, very small- each breath gave a burst of energy that had to be husbanded and applied in a tightly focused manner.

My hands were crossed over my chest, but something was underneath them, between my palms and my breasts- my bag. Joseph had not failed me. Stiff fingers were forced in to painful action, pulling open the loosely sewn seams, allowing me to draw out the small, flat iron tool. I reached up and traced my fingers across the lid inches above my face, feeling in the utter blackness for the edge that I knew must be there… yes, just there.

My casket was plain, just a pine box with no fancy adornments. But in the lid I had had the carpenter cut out a section and put in an inlaid design- a stylized family crest. Not mine, of course, but he had accepted my desire to have it on the casket, though he questioned why I would want it placed as in insert rather than simply attached to the top of the lid. Money had been enough to quell his curiosity and I could now tell that it had been money well spent.

The tool twisted in my grip as I worked it up against the edge of the insert, worrying it in between the lid and the plaque. I had to be careful not to over exert myself- if I used up what little oxygen there was in the casket I would slip in to stasis again and then my only hope for a quick escape would be a very shaky and messy back-up plan. As I pried at the joint I became concerned: the carpenter had done a very thorough job. I was going to have to work a lot harder to loosen it than I had planned.

A noise intruded. Thumping, irregular, scraping and growing louder: Good God, somebody was digging! Had it been that long?

I fumbled with the bag again, caution gone now, for the next few minutes were going to be ugly in the extreme. I clutched the tool in my left hand and in the right I gripped a small one-shot pistol. It could drop a man at close range; otherwise it would merely be an annoyance. I had wanted something larger, but had been constrained by my desire not to provoke Joseph’s curiosity.

I listened carefully, trying to count how many were digging. As they got closer to the casket I could tell there were only two of them, and from the sound of them, they were likely drunk. I jumped when a shovel blade struck the lid of the casket.

“Here it is, Zed!” one grunted. The sounds of scraping and digging continued, the two men muttering to each other in slurred speech.

“C’mon Lester, gi’mee a hand up with this.”

The casket lurched up at the head as they drew it up to an angle, with the head end perched on the edge of the grave. Then they attacked the lid with a pry bar. I closed my eyes and held absolutely still- it was possible I could get out of this cleanly. Unlikely, but possible.

The lid came off with a creaking protest of nails drawn from wood and cool, sweet, fresh air caressed my face, tempting me to draw a deep breath.

“Well, will you look at that,” the one named Zed declared, “she sure don’t look like she been in the ground two weeks.”

“I would’n know, Zed. Damn! There’s the bag!”

I had let the bag drop to my feet. My arms were crossed over my chest, the pistol and the chisel as concealed as I could manage. One of them fetched up the bag and tore it open. I heard my money purse hit the ground and Lester giggled as he hefted it.

“Now why would she be getting’ put in her grave with all this gold?”

They were laughing, counting their treasure and I kept hoping that they would take what they had found and go. But they were greedy.

“Think she’s got any jewelry on ?er?” Lester asked. I felt the hands reach for my arms and I let him pull them forward, then opened my eyes and drew a loud rasping breath through my ruined throat as I cocked the pistol an put the barrel firmly against Lester’s forehead.

For a full second, two seconds, the tableau was frozen. Lester’s eyes went wide and Zed froze. Even in the moonlit darkness I could see the color drain from their faces. Then Zed screamed. Lester’s eyes rolled back and he simply crumpled to the ground in a dead faint. I shifted my aim to Zed, but he was already scrambling backwards out of the grave, twisting around as he lurched to his feet. He made two steps and tripped over one of the shovels, hitting the ground with a sharp ?crack ? as his head struck a pickaxe lying on the ground.

I pulled myself free of the casket as Lester moaned at my feet. I gave him a good thump with the blunt end of the chisel to ensure he remained out until I could decide what to do. Climbing out of the hole I grabbed Lester by his shirt and dragged him up next to Zed, then set about collecting the contents of my bag. Next I took the lid of the casket and did the best I could to pound it back in to place. Finally, I managed to work it back in to the grave just as Lester began moaning.

Time for hard choices to be made.

Lester struggled back to consciousness and promptly began retching up the contents of his stomach. I stood back until he finished and he finally sat up and looked about him, seeing Zed still unconscious on the ground, then turning and seeing me, my pistol trained on him. For a moment I thought he was going to faint again, but he simply stared.

I motioned for him to get up and he crawled unsteadily to his feet. I tried to speak, but all I could manage was a rasping croak, not at all helpful under the circumstances. I motioned to one of the shovels and to the grave. Warily he took up the tool and began filling the hole.

“I don’ know what the hell you are, lady, but Zed an’ I, we wasn’t tryin’ to be… disrespectful…”

I had to grin at that and he saw it, and it seemed to make him relax a bit. I let him go on as he filled the grave because it told me what I most needed to know. I had made certain that a rumor spread that I had been buried with an unspecified treasure in a bag. It had been easy to do- an offhand comment here, a little slip there- just enough information so that after I was buried someone might get just curious enough to decide to see if it were true. Had I been able to escape on my own they would find an empty casket and assume somebody had beaten them to it. Otherwise it was my back-up method to escape; a very messy back-up plan, but a functional one. After all, here I was on the proper side of the grass again, yes?

Zed began stirring and soon was busy filling in the grave beside Lester. It was clear to me that the two of them had heard the rumors, gotten all liquored up, had somehow managed to figure out where Joseph had buried me and had come to see if there was a fortune to be had. In all honesty my plan had been that if I had to wait for somebody to dig me out they would be going in to the grave in my place, but the two of them were just so… pathetic.

When the hole was filled I stood and walked over to where they had tied their horses. I picked the better of the two and mounted up, every muscle in my body sore and protesting. My mind was in a fog and I still was unsure I was doing the right thing, but there had been enough killing in this sad little episode of my life. I trotted up to the two of them and lifted my purse. I still had no voice, managing only a hoarse whisper.

“I suspect the two of you may be wise enough to avoid ever speaking of what happened here tonight.”

“I wouldn’t dare, ma’am.”

“No, ma’am, not a word.”

“Good,” I tossed the purse on the ground before them, “you might want to give up drinking, too. Just a piece of advice.”

With that I wheeled the horse about and set off. The sky was growing light behind me as dawn approached and I had a keen desire to put distance between this place and myself. I had a destination chosen and this time, with just a little luck, no one would be on my heels.

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