Simon had just loaded the skeleton onto his cart when he heard shouting coming from the fresh grave beside him. He pulled his shovel back out and began moving the dirt from the shouting to the grave that he’d just finished digging. Having gotten the skeleton, all he had left to do was fill it back in, anyway.
It didn’t take him long to get that grave dug again. He shouted that he was coming, so that they could at least stop panicking too much. When he first got down to the coffin, he dropped the shovel and started trying to pull it up out of the grave. Then he remembered that the person inside was alive and would be able to pull themselves out. So, if he could just open the coffin, whoever was inside would just come out. There was no need for him to try pulling the coffin out of the grave.
But before he did anything else he stopped and thought. And they weren’t good thoughts, but Simon felt like they were thoughts he needed to have, regardless.
Simon’s job as gravedigger actually involved moving remains more than anything else. He had a list in the morning of what graves needed to be dug up and moved to make room for new bodies. Most municipalities had decided years before that devoting more space to the dead was a waste.
So, they hired the desperate, like Simon, to dig up graves and bring the remains back to be sorted out. The accredited undertakers then sorted carefully through the remains and kept the skulls to store in the basement area of the chapel. The rest of the skeleton was treated with respect, but ultimately cremated. Instead of actual gravestones, they’d taken to just using plaques to identify the gravesites. Those were easy to dig up and move.
In any case, though the general public knew about the movements, they largely seemed to put it out of mind. They weren’t thrilled about it, but they didn’t have much choice. Being on the front-end, doing the actual digging seemed unthinkable. The whole thing was unthinkable to them. And there wasn’t anyone who wanted to force them to think about it. The last thing anyone wanted was to have the whole thing brought to their attention. And if Simon rescued someone who’d been wrongfully buried, attention was going to happen.
He knew that he’d be touted as a savior for a while at least. But soon they’d just be talking to whoever he rescued. Simon knew he wasn’t one to hold attention. He knew that he’d never be able to turn that focus into something that lasted.
And then there’d be inquiries and stuff. They might even decide that this was somehow Simon’s fault. He didn’t know how they’d do it, but he was sure that people above him would figure out how to do it.
And they’d want him gone. He’d have drawn attention to the movements, and they’d be happy to get rid of him. Once all the attention was on the guy who came out of the grave instead of him, they’d be able to fire him. After the fuss was over. After they’d taken over and made sure that it was still going to be all right to move the remains.
So, after a while, Simon stepped out of the grave and started reburying the coffin. The occupant must have heard the dirt spattering on the lid, and he started shouting again. Simon forced himself to ignore it. It might be years before he could find another job. Though it was definitely going to be a lifetime to remember this.
And that made him stop. Simon felt stupid about a great many things, but this wasn’t just something to feel stupid about. This was a fundamental shift in how he saw himself. He wasn’t exactly going to be a murderer, but this was closer than he’d ever thought he’d be.
But Simon hadn’t done it. And it was really just chance that he’d even discovered the mistake. It wasn’t his fault, even though he was the one who was going to pay for it.
But he also knew that there wasn’t time for this kind of uncertainty. The guy was running out of air. Even the shouting had stopped.
In fact, there was an eerie silence coming from the grave. After some more hesitation, Simon began to shovel dirt on the grave again. He also started trying to accept that there was now even more knowledge of himself that he didn’t like. He began wondering if there was such a thing as voluntary amnesia that he could sign up for.