Welcome to the writing pub! I’m blogging from A to Z this April, sharing bits and pieces of the fictional world I live in through my IMPARTIALS & IMMORTALS series. I apologize if today’s post seems off; I’m writing and posting them on a none-too-reliable mobile phone… By which I mean this is a rewrite. Nonetheless, I hope y’all enjoy!
By general consensus, digging graves is a lousy, dirty, depressing job. But as they say: somebody’s gotta do it. Of course, even in the mundanely ghastly jobs like gravedigging, you’re always going to find the overachiever who runs around being “proactive” and making the others look bad.
Meet the gravedigger.
To you and me, it’s a plump cat or raccoon feasting on the spoils in a dumpster. To the people who know better, it’s a low-ranking Unseelie, resembling a black wolverine with a hardened casing protecting its back and neck. To kill it, you have to get in close and get to its weak underbelly–preferably before it gets a hold of you. Because if it does, it won’t just dig you a grave. It’ll make sure you’re ready to go into it, and like with most Fae, you won’t even be able to stop it: gravedigger venom combines anaesthetic and poison, numbing the area of the bite while enzymes set out beginning the decomposition of death on still-living flesh, muscle, and bone.
But enough from me. Why not sit in on Brenna’s first experience with them?
She couldn’t feel her right arm, but the rest of her was on fire. Or felt like it was. The rest of her was at least a thousand degrees hotter than her shoulder, so hot by comparison that her teeth were chattering even as sweat poured over her. Brenna gritted her teeth and blinked sweat out of her eyes, forcing herself to her feet one shaking limb at a time with her right arm swinging uselessly at her side, even more numb than after getting needles..
The creature standing inches away from her, circling closer on every turn, bared unnaturally sharp teeth in a smile that wasn’t entirely displeased. “Well,” it hissed. “Aren’t we an obstinate one?”
The five-year-old jutted out her chin. “I know what obstinate means,” she snapped, adding as an afterthought, “and yes, I am.” She tensed her muscles when the creature lunged, stopping the shaking just long enough to allow her to thrust the knife in her hand with the speed and accuracy she needed. Even as she brought the knife up, she let herself drop under the hairy weight, held her breath as the smell of rot and cemeteries–not thinking about mama, not now–attacked her nostrils and made her stomach turn. The blade went up as she went down, finding the weak underbelly, with soft fur like the cat she vaguely remembered petting, and embedded itself in the creature’s chest, the suddenness of its own death startling it enough that it tumbled to the ground with no fight. Brenna pushed herself to her feet, trembling violently, and watched until it stopped twitching and died. She walked over to see it with slow, shuffling steps, annoyed at her right arm, and looked down at it. Dead, it looked ugly as all get out, but not particularly harmful, not even with the mouth frozen in what would have been a nasty bite. She nodded to herself, then looked up, blinking owlishly, as her brother and uncle came to her side. They wouldn’t have run, even though Mick would have wanted to. She could always tell by the way he tensed up on the walk over, like he wanted to run but wouldn’t let himself because if his uncle was calm, so was he.
“How’s the shoulder, lass?” her uncle Neil asked as they drew close. His hair was lighter than his niece and nephew’s, though it had the curl of his nephew’s rather than the pin straight quality Brenna’s had. She looked to her shoulder, the torn shirt with torn skin beneath, as if she’d forgotten all about it. Now she wrinkled her nose at the scent of putrefaction rising from her skin.
“Hurts,” she replied, sounding faintly dazed, as she lifted her left hand to prod the shoulder.
Mick rolled his eyes and pursed his lips in the way a twelve-year-old does—trying to look stern or disapproving but instead resembling a miniature of the adult they learned it from. The look in his eyes was more adult than most twelve-year-olds could manage, though. “Of course it hurts. You got bit, you idiot. He meant how badly.”
Brenna pouted in turn. “I know that,” she sulked, glaring at her uncle as he took a small bottle–ostensibly of hydrogen peroxide–out of his coat pocket. “But they have that ana-whatever stuff. I thought getting bit wouldn’t hurt as much.” She glowered suspiciously at the bottle. “That stuff stings.”
“It does, and you’ll bear it if you don’t want that bite to foul up and blacken your arm, lass.” Stern words proving enough to have the girl scowling and pushing her hair out of the way, Neil poured it over the bite in her shoulder, nodding in approval as it bubbled and fizzed and Brenna only hissed.
“If I were a grown up I’d swear right now,” she muttered, eyes sliding to her uncle. “I could swear anyways.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” he replied dispassionately. “Your gran will have my head as it is, we don’t need you spouting off blasphemy as well.”
“She won’t hear me,” the girl reasoned, sounding distinctly more cheerful as she looked from the bits of dead skin shrivelling and falling from the bite to her uncle. Neil rolled his eyes, but his lips twitched in humour.
“Go on, then. One pithy string of foul words. Make it count.”
She bit her lip, considering, then let them fly as her uncle examined her shoulder. “Shit damn ass bugger fuck—ow!” she interrupted herself as her uncle took her by the arm and deftly slid in a hypodermic needle, and was a child again.
“Well done,” her uncle said distractedly as he repeated the process and bandaged the spots where he’d injected the tetanus and rabies shots–couldn’t hurt,n after all–and poked lightly at the washed wound. “Shouldn’t require stitches when the preliminary healing’s done, which is fortunate. There’s only so many times scratches and bites can be passed off as a dog’s doing at a hospital before they insist the poor beast be put down.” He glanced at the quickly decomposing body behind him, then allowed, “Though that’s been nearly taken care of. Mick.” He nodded behind him; with a nod back, Mick took the lighter he was handed and went to work dousing the body in the same potent alcohol used to slough the deadened skin from Brenna’s shoulder.
Neil tore the sleeve of the now-ruined shirt free and bandaged the bite, then held out a comfortable sweater he knew Brenna favoured.
Brenna tugged it on, her eyes on her uncle’s as she waited for what would come next. He always went on forever about what needed fixing when she practised with him; she didn’t doubt that he’d have all kinds of stuff to say about how she’d done actually killing one of the Fae, even a low-caste one.
“You got too close,” he began, scowling. “You should never be so close to a creature you’re fighting. It’s a dance, yes, but a violent one; you don’t actually want to be getting so close to your partner, particularly not one such as our friend here. The entire idea is that it wants to swoop in to kill you, but you intend to do the job first. That’s what allowed you to get bitten; you were focused on getting in to kill it and didn’t think of keeping it from going for you.” He waited while she absorbed the information, then added half-reluctantly, “Other than that, it was a good kill. You used the knife well. Go on and retrieve it and clean it, and then we’ll go home.”
Brenna grinned–that was the closest to singing her praises Uncle Neil had ever come–and hurried over to get the knife from Mick, her stomach growling as they left the quietly burning corpse behind and started walking back to where they’d left the truck.
Her gran was going to have a fit once she saw the bite, Brenna thought happily. She’d keep the sweater on til dessert, and maybe get a second helping out of it while they told Gran about Brenna killing her first Fae.