B. B. Blazkowicz
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The port town of Silvam was the first to spring up amidst the gold rush, and the last to die. Only a fool would mistake resilience for an incremental backslide into oblivion. It was a town of quaint antiquity with wrought iron gates, tall sharp steeples and narrow cobblestone roads. I had landed there not to long before the whole land was abandoned. Through Silvam was about the only way to reach the backcountry, mountains and shanty towns where the heartbeat of gold could be felt. It was there I met a grave keeper named Willis. Everybody else still living kept to themselves. They were despondent and wary of outsiders.
“It’s not everyday you see a preacher in this town. The name is Willis.”
He was eyeing up my ragged cloth while standing over a couple of coffins.
“James, and I’m not a preacher anymore. I’m looking for honest work now.”
“Must not have been a very good preacher then.”
I gave him a weird look.
“What makes you say that, Willis.”
“Because if you were any good at lying, you would be peddling your trade as a politician by now.”
I never claimed that Willis had a gentle soul. No, he was a bitter old man, dirty drunk and mean. Still, he let me stay in his old brick shack. I would liked to have set off north for the gold mines, but I would never make it before dark at this time of the day. Willis did not ask too much in payment, in fact, the only thing he asked of me was to hitch up his wagon and bring the biggest stones I could carry back from the quarry. I had no idea what a grave keeper would need stones like this for. He was not building much of anything. In fact, most of the town was derelict and in disrepair.
He led me over to an small brick barn next to his shack.
“Now don’t mind the Oxen James, she won’t give ya any trouble. Quarry’s on the o’er side of town.” He pat the old sow on the head before handing the reigns to me.
It might have been a slow ride, but it beat carrying the cart myself. I saw nobody on my way through town. It was the main street, and it was completely empty. Only when I got deep into the town did I see anybody. Even then, I only saw them watching me from their windows. A pale, sunken face here and there looking out at me as if I was some kind of curiosity. I began wondering If I even should have came here. I mean I was not being overwhelmed with options, but this is just a little unexpected.
I just hope it’s better off the farther north I get.
I returned several hours later to see Willis bartering with a group of shifty travelers who looked to be on their way out of the port.
“Coin is good, liquor always better. Pay me in the bottle an I ain’t gotta change as many hands ya know?”
The one in front just shook his head.
“That swill is for the Devil.”
Willis snorted and broke into an evil grin before replying.
“Well then ‘at Devil must have ma back , ‘cause God keeps takin’ thar rest of our friends an families.”
He said nothing only handing Willis a bag of coins before leaving with his two compatriots. He gave me a sideways glance as he passed and whispered to me.
“Only fools and drunks stay here preacher. Can’t you see it? God has abandoned this place.”
He then gave me a smug smirk and continued on his way.
After counting the coins, Willis finally noticed I had returned.
“Good’ya got tha stones, James!” He put the bag of coin in his pocket and began sipping from a big bottle of whiskey he picked up from beside his feet. There were more coffins of various qualities and decrepitude than when I left. Curiosity getting the better of me, I inquired to Willis about it.
“The people just leave their dead kinfolk here? No funeral, not even a prayer?” Willis let out a dry chuckle.
“I might like ya yet. Yar funny.”
He then looked off towards the town and said
“Thar all afraid they be joining them if they hang ‘round too long.” He took a hammer hanging off his belt and proceeded to pry one open. Afterwards he started dragging the body out and set it on the ground. It was a woman wearing a clerical collar. I nervously scratched at my neck where mine used to be. I guess not even the cloth was immune to whatever seemed to have a grip on this town.
Now, I was obviously a little put off by his blatant disregard for the deceased. Either he was getting too drunk to notice, or he simply didn’t care.
“What is it you think you are going to do with the body, Willis? They are already in a box, half of the jobs done for you.” He took a long swig of whiskey before replying.
“Burying them is only part o’ the work boy. Ain’t nobody around that cares fer the dead. Why let them valuables go to waste? So I pick their belongin’s clean. Sell off all their gold, their jewels, hell even their fillin’s and shoes! Desperate folks on thar way out, and fools on thar way in pay a nice price for these trinkets.”
After he picked the corpses clean of anything worth a copper coin or more, he put them back in their casket and proceeded to put them below the earth. I tried making passing conversation with him while he worked, but he just ignored me.
After an hour or so of putting bodies in holes that were already dug out before I got there,
Willis did something rather strange. He started taking the stones I carted back, and dropping them in on top of the coffins before he buried them. While I don’t spend a lot of quality time in the cemeteries as of late, I still knew enough that this here was rather unique.
“Willis, might I ask why you feel the need to cover those coffins with such large stones?”Willis stopped for a moment and stared at the hole silently for a few moments.
“Ya help me put dirt over tha dead and maybe I’ll tell ya. Spin ya a yarn or two.” With little else to do in this town for the time being, I shrugged my shoulders and grabbed a shovel.
After we finished burying them all, I said a small prayer. Willis guffawed at this.
“Don’ be wasting yurr breath, those poor fools can’t hear ya.” I told you he was bitter and mean. The sun was beginning to set. He motioned for me to follow him inside. It was unkempt, with empty whiskey bottles everywhere. He pointed to a chair, then sat in the one opposite me.“So ya, wanna know why I throw them heavy rocks down oer those coffins do ya?”
I looked around his shack real quick and replied with a smile.
“Not a whole lot else to do is there?”
He nodded in agreement then leaned in a little closer to me.
Tha gold mines up north been run dry far while. In it’s place came something far worse. Tha river always run down don’ it?” He chuckled to himself at this before continuing.“Somethin’s in that water coming outta the mines. Kills ya real quick.” He paused to take a big swig of whiskey. “…but that don’t mean yer dead.”
He could see I was little perplexed by that proclamation and a devilish smile crept across his face. “Towns-folks starting telling me I’d be diggin my own grave wit the way I took to the whiskey. “YA KNOW WHAT IRONY IS BOY?!” I jumped in my seat a little. He pointed out the window towards the cemetery. “Ther are all cold in those caskets…And im still drinkin’.” He stood up, balancing himself with his hand on the table and pulled up his shirt. There was a series of grisly scars across his chest. they looked to be scratches and a few bites. “This ain’t from no animal James. I told ya, somethin in them gold mines been leakin’ into tha water. Somethin, bringin ‘em back when ’tey ain’t suposs to”
“Ya got no need to say anythin back. Ya’ll be goin up north to them mountains and meet a same fate.” He sat back down, emptied the rest of the bottle. He suddenly got really somber.
“So why ya put the book down. Come all way out ‘ere to this…God forsaken place.”
I looked at him. Through his drunken haze, he looked almost sad now. I sighed and said.
“Just starting having to many questions. Apparently they didn’t like that. Got fed up with it one day. They really didn’t like that. I got the boot, and they got the finger. I heard this island had gold up in the mountains so I went.”
He leaned back a bit staring at me. At this point he might have been trying to figure out if it was the me in the middle or the two on the sides that said.
He then whispered.
“If it ‘eally twas a good book. Ya would think it be better written.”
I laughed a bit at that.
“What about you Willis. you obviously have a better grip than just about anyone on what’s wrong with this place. Why don’t you take your money and leave?”
He looked up at me and I realized he was not quite as old as I thought. He was certainly not young by any stretch. I just saw how tired, and haggard he looked.
“I gots nothin’ left. So why not jus’ have a drink er six, and watch it all fall ‘part.”
He tried saying something else, but he was starting to slur to bad for me to make anything out. After a few moments he got quite and passed out right in the chair.
I looked out the window to the cemetery sitting under the setting sun. It was a tranquil, if somewhat macabre sight. Exhaustion from the hard day began setting in. I fell asleep right there in my chair.
I awoke in the middle of the night to a mass of footsteps outside the door. Startled, I jump up and look out the window.
We missed one.
The cemetery was little more than a field of unearthed graves. Every one had a dirty, mud-caked stone beside it. Except one. It was the one we buried the priestess in. If only that was all.
The door was opened with a gentleness that betrayed their ghastly form. A small horde of ghoulish un-dead piled into that little house. They were all in varying states of decay. The freshest one though, was the priestess. I backed away quickly, while holding up the crucifix around my neck. The priestess looked to me and showed me her own.
That was the last time those ghouls acknowledged my existence. They crowded around Willis as best as they could. Each of them were brandishing a bottle of whiskey. It was at this point Willis woke up. There was no scream. Those things continued to pour whiskey down his throat, bottle after bottle with no pause, and no remorse. Eventually his thrashing went limp, and the sickening wet gagging was silenced. They drowned that old man Willis in his own spirits. After it was obvious he was more than dead, the ghouls picked up his body and started carrying him away. They say curiosity killed the cat, but they never mention the part about the cat dying with no regrets. At this point I felt I had little choice but to see this grisly event through to it’s conclusion. I followed several paces behind them. They traveled through the winding cobblestone streets, past the tall, empty houses with the wrought iron gates of Silvam. They carried him all the way to a hill overlooking the town. There was a hole already dug with a big pile of dirt next to the hole. It looked to have been dug out for awhile. There was a broken bottle next to it. They buried Willis there. The ghouls all took turns hand shoveling the dirt in on top of him. When they were done, the priestess stepped forward and set her crucifix on top of his grave. Afterwards, the ghouls went back to the cemetery and returned to their sleep. I stayed on that hill, unable to fall back asleep. I was waiting for the sight of any boat pulling in to the harbor. It was early morning before I saw one pull in I took that boat I saw out of that accursed town. It was the last boat out, and the last boat in.