The Night Shift

It was a cold night, with damp mist that clung to Rose’s face and hair as she patrolled the church grounds. Her dog, Matilda, followed at her heel, stopping here and there to sniff nooks and crannies, making snuffling noises. The torch only just penetrated the misty darkness, throwing a beam that bounced off the enveloping damp. There was a mossy peaty smell hanging in the air, as if peat had been burned somewhere in the distance. Rose had been the church security warden for the past year and a half; most nights it involved checking the doors of the church were secure, patrolling the grounds for a bit, checking the gate to the graveyard was secure and no youths were loitering. Most kids didn’t bother anyway; it was the kind of village where everyone knew and recognised each other.

Satisfied that there was nothing out of the ordinary, Rose began to walk to the church kitchen around the back, where she usually had a cup of tea before her last check of the night. Walking past the cemetery gates, looming in a sinister way in the mist, she saw a flash of white out of the corner of her eye. Startled, she held up her flashlight. Matilda made a high pitched whining noise, breaking the chill silence, struggling at the lead and backing away from the gates. The hairs on Rose’s arms and her neck stood up. Alarmed, she saw a woman dressed in a long white dress, digging in the graveyard dirt with a shovel. She was sobbing in gasps and making strange keening noises.

‘Hey there!’ Rose yelled, her heart pounding. Her voice echoed and her breath came out in a mist. She moved forward, bold, sure in her conviction that someone was defiling a grave.

The grave digger froze and the air crackled. Twitching, she turned towards Rose. Her face was covered with a veil and framed with stringy black hair. The woman stared, frozen. Rose scrabbled for the keys to the graveyard gate, intending to apprehend the trespasser. Her police training in her mind, she remembered that she hadn’t brought any handcuffs. ‘Oh, bloody hell,’ she cursed, under her breath.

The woman in the graveyard was still frozen. All at once, she jolted, looking up, as if listening to something that Rose couldn’t hear. ‘Stay where you are!’ Rose yelled, as she tried to get the key to turn the lock on the gate. Damn, this isn’t working. The woman’s attention snapped back to Rose, contemplating something. Then suddenly, as Rose watched in dismay, she jerkily turned around and ran off in a cantering trot. Matilda was whimpering, quieter now. ‘It’s alright, girl. Be quiet now.’ Rose said. Matilda went quiet and sat down.

Rose didn’t know what to do. The gate lock appeared to be frozen shut. She groaned in frustration. Only thing to do would be to report the incident, try to get into the graveyard and examine the ground. She would call her mate at the station and ask if they could get the shovel dusted for fingerprints. She had not had anything this exciting happen to her since she had left the force, but she had left it for a reason, disillusioned.

She decided to go back to the church and find her cutting tool for the gate padlock. I need to call the station and the boss. What was that? Matty was so frightened. Rose kneeled down and scratched Matilda behind her ears.  ‘Poor thing. Let’s get you inside and warmed up.’ Her heavy boots clumped on the stone path, as she dashed towards the kitchen, to get her bag of tools. Inside, she shut the door and let Matty off the lead. Dialing the station number, she let it ring. They always took a while to pick up.

Someone finally picked up. No need to be quick in a village where the biggest complaint was the town’s resident drunk.

‘Hi, this is Rose Taylor, the church warden. Somebody has been trespassing in the graveyard and I need someone to come and check the crime scene for prints.’

Matilda curled up in the dog basket, shivering and subdued.

A man she knew as Mike answered, not her friend Chris. ‘Alright, we’ll send someone over. A crime team probably won’t reach us until tomorrow morning. Could you cover the scene to protect the prints? Did you recognise the culprit?’

‘Okay, I have some tarps to cover the scene. No, I didn’t recognise them. It was someone dressed in a long white dress, with untidy black hair and strong enough to dig with a heavy shovel. Their face was covered by a lace veil.’ Rose almost laughed at how clichéd the description sounded. It was classic horror movie fare.

‘Maybe it was someone disguised. I’m sure we’ll get them in custody in no time.’ Mike’s voice on the phone seemed sure, complacent. Rose ended the call and then pressed the call sign under ‘Boss’. He might be a problem.

When he picked up, she went full steam ahead.

‘This is Rose. Sorry to disturb you at this time of night, but there’s been an incident in the graveyard. I’ve called the station, they’re sending someone over. Don’t worry, it’s all being dealt with.’ She let a breath out, waiting.

‘Rose. What exactly is the nature of this incident? Did Matty dig in sanctified ground and disturb those at rest? I told you to leave your dog at home.’ Damn, he sounded cranky.

‘Father Wyatt, you know that Matty is a very well behaved dog. She’s been on her lead most of the night anyway. No, this is something else. Someone has been digging in the graveyard. I’ve got a team coming round, like I said, to get fingerprints.’

‘I suppose this is what I pay you for. Let me know of any developments. I’ll see you tomorrow, I trust.’ He ended the call abruptly, without waiting for her reply.

Father Wyatt was not one of her biggest fans; he thought that a thirty five year old unattached woman should have a husband. It also didn’t help that she didn’t come to church every Sunday, as he believed that true morality could only be gained from religion. She was sure he knew that she thought the whole thing was irrelevant; despite how often she had nodded when he was pontificating on the importance of faith for today’s youth. Rose was not a believer. She believed in science, evolution and a big dose of common sense.

Rose grabbed her bag of tools, some tarp, and made sure Matty was warm and comfortable. Switching on her flashlight, she made her way down to the graveyard in haste. Something felt wrong. The mist seemed thicker and more intense. She shivered, aware of how much colder it was. The air was cloying and she found it harder to breathe, her breaths coming out in shallow gasps. Coming to a stop outside the graveyard gates, she knew immediately that something had gone badly wrong. The gates were wide open, one side twisted and warped, the strong iron metal looking as if it had been melted. She backed up, frightened. The mist over the graveyard had receded, revealing something that made her skin crawl and her heart jump into her mouth. Every single one of the graves had black holes where the coffins were supposed to be.

Rose jumped when a voice spoke in her ear.

‘It’s okay Rose. Have you called the Police?’

It belonged to a tall man with black hair, crinkly eyes and a wicked smile.

‘God, you gave me a fright! What are you doing here, anyway?’ Rose tried to calm her racing heart, which had a whole new reason to speed up. Cormac gave new meaning to the words ‘tall, dark and mysterious’. As much as Rose tried to avoid being burned by a man again, Cormac seemed to be showing up wherever she was recently.

‘I, erm…wanted to talk to you about something.’ He smiled. ‘I think I know what happened here,’ he said.

Surprised, Rose stared at him. ‘What do you mean? Who could have done such a thing, and so quickly too?’ Rose was nonplussed.

‘I thought you weren’t superstitious?’ said Cormac, his eyebrows raised.

‘No, but you have to admit this is seriously weird. Unless there was someone for every single grave, I can’t see how one person could have done this in ten minutes.’

‘There are things you don’t know about this place, Rose. I’ve seen things that would make you run screaming.’ He grinned wickedly.

‘Don’t be ridiculous. Besides, I’ve seen my fair share of the nasty side of human life.’ He must be winding me up, she thought.

‘Seriously. Why do you think they advertised for a church warden with previous police experience? They wanted someone who was level headed and had lots of common sense, remember? You told me all about it,’ Cormac said, grinning.

‘What has that got to do with anything?’ They both stared at the gaping holes in the earth.

‘It was all hushed up. Father Wyatt called me in to deal with it. There had been some…problems. He didn’t want the police knowing anything about it. He was convinced that it was his punishment for neglecting the night watch duties.’

‘What problems? Does it have anything to do with this?’ Rose was intrigued.

‘Yes. It has everything to do with this. I made a mess of it last time, doing what I did. So he decided to sort it out by ignoring it. Sure, it went away, but it’s happened again.’ He inclined his head towards the graveyard.

‘What do you mean? Do you mean grave robbing or something?’

‘No…like you said, no person could do this in ten minutes. It’s much worse than that. It’s not sanctified anymore. That’s why the police shouldn’t be involved. I’ll sort it out.’ He looked into the distance, as if she wasn’t quite there.

‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re getting at. How can you sort it out? You’re still not explaining anything. In fact, you keep avoiding my questions.’

‘This is what I mean,’ he said, motioning with his arm across the length of the graveyard.

Out of the retreating mist, a brilliant blue light illuminated the graveyard. It streamed out, though Rose couldn’t tell from where. Cormac’s lips were moving, with no sound coming out. The light streamed, shining on dark, hunched figures, staring out at them with black, hooded, wicked eyes. They were still, waiting. Rose stifled a scream, her eyes popping in their sockets. The woman in the white dress had her veil drawn back, and there was only emptiness, where there should have been a face. She could feel dark, creeping, twisted hostility rolling towards her. Why are they waiting?!? What do they want?! Rose was fixed to the ground, unable to move. No…this isn’t possible. Rose flashed back to her worst childhood nightmare. There was nobody to wake her up from this. She was falling, unable to hold on to anything. She reached out, trying to find something, anything, to save her from the void. Time stretched out, endless. She could hear something, even in this vacuum of solid black. ‘Rose…Rose! Get up…get up!’ It sounded far away, tinny. Closer now. ‘Rose! Wake up!’ She felt a slap, stinging. Cormac?

She opened her eyes. Cormac was kneeling over her, frantic. ‘Rose! Thank god.’ He had a small gash on the right side of his face. ‘Let’s get out of here. They’re gone, but I can’t take any chances.’ He held out his hand, lifting her up. Supporting each other, they hobbled towards the church. ‘We’ll get Matty and go,’ he said.

Afterwards, as the sun came up, she wondered if it had all been a dream. The sun filtered through her mind, clearing the cobwebs. There was no rational explanation. Cormac had explained that the light had cleared the last of the darkness. There had been a time freeze, he had said. His explanation fell miles short for her; he was a ‘witch’, apparently. Still, she couldn’t help thinking that it was very odd indeed. Yes, living in the village would never be the same again.