The edge of his cloak whipped round his legs as he strode purposefully through the graveyard. The wind was cold and fierce, but he didn’t react; he didn’t shiver or feel the slightest flicker of discomfort. He had more important things to think about.
He was a Crypt Keeper, one of a dying breed of humans dedicated to the defence of those places where the barriers between the world were at their weakest – the cemeteries. Occasionally, he would meet people, in his travels across the graveyards of Northern Europe, who had heard rumours of his work. He rebuffed them, gently at first, and then more firmly when they inevitably – and predictably – persisted.
He paused for a moment and got his bearings; he was confident in his internal compass, but he didn’t want to be wrong. Not today. Not with this. He touched the knife hanging on his belt again, wanting reassurance that it was still there. It was. He had secured it well. That didn’t stop him from checking a couple more times as he walked, however.
The hood of his cloak hid his face well; if it wasn’t, it would have shown his grey-flecked beard and hair, with thick, brooding eyebrows and a scar that travelled from his left eye down his cheek and disappeared into his full beard. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a strength and musculature that belied his 55 years. He had to be strong in his job. All the Crypt Keepers were strong. If you weren’t, you were dead.
He continued across the provincial graveyard, hidden on the English coast, and he could almost smell the brine from the sea from here, half-a-mile inland. It was 3am and cold, and the rain had been drizzling on and off for the last couple of hours. He didn’t need a torch to see the gravestones; he had spent too many years walking through the dark tombs of savage, horrible corners of the world, and his eyes had long become accustomed to the darkness.
Soon, he found the grave he was after; it was new and freshly-tended, although the wind had knocked over the cut flowers that rested in a glass jam jar next to the gravestone. He reached out to pick the flowers up, fully intending to put them back in position, but then hesitated. What would be the point, after all?
He knew the ritual well, despite it not being one that he’d ever used himself. Despite this, he found himself going over the Latin phrases in his head once more, to make sure he knew what to say, how to say it, and when.
I’ve protected this world all my life, he thought, and now it comes down to this.
He pulled the knife out of its holster and held the sharp blade to his right hand. Drawing it sharply across his open palm, he refused to flinch or cry out as the knife dug into the soft flesh, leaving a nasty wound behind and blood dripping onto the earth below.
Quickly wrapping his hand up with a bandage, he looked down at the vivid red of his blood against the dank, still earth, and he closed his eyes before he could change his mind. Muttering the incantation, he wondered for a moment if he could detect a change in the wind pattern. Was that his doing?
Focus! he told himself, angry at himself for letting his mind wander.
Being a Crypt Keeper was a good job, an honourable one, but it was dying out. Who knew what would happen after today, but he hoped that the profession would still be respected.
He finished the incantation and took a step back. He hadn’t expected it to be immediate, but things moved quickly. The sky had been clear, with stars twinkling down on the graveyard, but dark clouds rumbled in from everywhere, casting out the natural light and making it even darker. The Crypt Keeper was now struggling to see, but he held his ground – although he almost retreated when three bolts of lightning cracked out of the sky and earthed themselves around the grave.
He turned slowly, afraid of what he would see, and yes – there was his granddaughter, 17 years old, looking as gracious and as beautiful as the day she had died, six months ago. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, but a cold motion against his right cheek made him open them again. Rebecca had tried to kiss him on his cheek, but failed.
“What am I?” she asked. “I’m meant to be somewhere else.”
“I’ve brought you back,” he replied. “I couldn’t imagine life with you.”
“But …” Her ethereal jaw tightened with annoyance. “You can’t do that!” she snapped. “You’re meant to uphold the laws, and that means not summoning spirits back to Earth.”
“It’s fine,” he said. “I can manage the rules. I just …” He shook his head. “I couldn’t bear to think of you in that horrible grave, rotting away. At least this way, we still get to be together.”
He was surprised by his granddaughter’s reaction; she had always been a precocious teenager, but they had always been close. He’d thought – imagined – that she would understand. Then he felt the ground rumble underneath him. He stumbled for a moment, but quickly regained his footing. The ground shook again, and again, and then for a fourth time.
He looked around, and saw the earth on the nearby tombs begin to shift. If he looked closely enough, he was sure that he could see a couple of fingers beginning to show.
He turned back to Rebecca, who had angry, yet sad look on her face. “You’ve broken the sacred covenant,” she said. “A good man has broken his vows and turned to darkness. You’ve thrown everything away to bring me back, and now you’ve brought about the end. The planet’s going to be destroyed, and it’s all your fault.”