Food: A Blackwater Gulch Vignette
The unnamed Norwegian posed with one boot on a headstone as Eddie Escobar worked the shovel. He said nothing, but watched with eternal patience and a curled upper lip. His cleft palate scar was especially prominent in the greasy kerosene light.
Eddie tried to ignore him as he took up the trade of the ghoul. He tried to distract himself from the cold and the sores by wondering what his employer was after. There was no buried treasure here. In Blackwater Gulch, a warm corpse would be robbed before it hit the ground. Nor would any doctor or man of science have reason to steal from graves past midnight.
It wasn't the steep blackness of the half-moon night or the looming cathedral of redwood trees. He was a country boy and the deep darkness of the wild held no fear for him. Nor was it his employer, who looked down on him with black glass eyes. It was a hundred tiny things... the tight trap of a tense and bitter world where every tiny sensation made his shoulders knot and his trigger finger twitch.
It was the rotten blister on the inside of his cracked leather boot. It was the deep crater of a cavity sucking at the night air. It was the cold drop of sweat that dripped from his armpit to his ribs, and the slow scrape of the shovel against buried stone. A thousand minute stimuli made the hairs on his rank flesh stand, and remind him second by second that this was all so very, very wrong.
For just a moment, his ears tensed at some half-imagined sound. Eddie looked into the vast and epic darkness, and listened hard. He thought he heard the steady tread of footfalls, and but relaxed as realized the sound beat to the rhythm of his own heart. He had never realized it was possible to hear one's own pulse. He took a short, congested breath. The dark was so astonishingly black that without any cues or horizon, he began to lose his balance.
"Continue," the Norwegian prompted. His stilted Scandinavian accent sounded so alien to Eddie's back country ears.
"There it is," Eddie said, taking another short sniff. He had figured out early on that any deep breaths would invite the rank putrefaction. It gripped the insides of his nostrils and burned, the sour scent of old pus and decay.
The Norwegian was not perturbed. He slowly and precisely lowered himself into the grave, saw in hand, and cut choice meats from the resident. Piece by piece he examined the green-gray slabs of awfulness in the lamp light, before placing them in a decaying potato sack.
Eddie's mind slowly seized the inevitable conclusion. Up until now, he discounted the possibility simply because it was unthinkable. But now a chilling certainty twisted around the inescapable truth like a python.
It had been some time since the Gulch's last funeral... and the Norwegian was looking particularly lean.
"So..." Eddie said, cradling the dirty shovel on his shoulder; knowing he would regret the question, "Is that... umm... yer food?"
The Norwegian looked up at him, but returned no expression. He slowly cracked a glacial smile and said with his strange and twisting tongue, "No, my boy, no. I have darker purposes yet."
A drop of sweat touched Eddie's nose.
"It is you who are the food."
Behind him, a canine snarl broke the silence. Yellow eyes gleamed in the dark. Wet breath smelled like warm rot. A too-large paw touched the pile of earth.
Eddie turned, gripped the shovel, and swung as hard as he could.