by SJ Longtaile
Grave Diggers are outcasts, ghosts that work in the night to hide the traces of death.
|As morbid as it may seem, when alls said and done, we all end up in the same place, six feet under in a box.
Death is the greatest equalizer in this world full of aristocrats and all manner of people who think they’re better than one another just because they have more wealth, better looks, fancy clothes, and shiny trinkets. No matter how hard many insist otherwise, we’re all the same in the end. Believe me or not, it doesn’t matter, but this is what I believe, and it’s also what I tend to find myself thinking about more often than not, especially around this time. Another day, another shift, another hole to dig, because that’s my job, I’m a Digger, a Grave Digger that is.
In this harsh and unforgiving world we find ourselves unfortunate enough the live in, there’s but one place suited for entertaining lifeforms such as us, more or less.
Semariand is the lesser evil of the land, bordered by the vast and empty Dunes to the east, the Colossus Groves to the north, and the fierce Stormwater in the west, it’s the only place habitable for small and weak things such as us, for everywhere else but in Semeriand there be monsters and terrifying beasts, or so the stories go.
As for the south you may ask? Well, none really know, for few have ever ventured that way and returned, the farthest south any of us can and have gone is the Valley, which is a scant few miles outside Semariand’s boundaries, and when I say us I mainly mean myself and those who I work alongside. For you see, the Valley, its full name is the Valley of Death’s End, redundant and fundamentally superstitious as names go, is actually a crater of unknown origin, and it’s Semariand’s giant grave yard.
Important as death is, most people prefer to pretend that it’s not an actual thing. People, I’ve learned have a terrible fear of death and it’s ilk, they like to pretend they’re immortal so it’s perfectly natural for them to fear nothing more than their own mortality, at least that’s what I think.
When the fleet of transport and equipment trucks roll to a halt, and the military two-wheeler escort squad turns around and heads back to Central, we all file out into the cold dead of night, lining up more or less neatly to receive our assignments, ready to start our work the moment the moons reach the height of the sky.
On paper, we’re all nicely organized into year units and individual ID numbers, but out here, when there’s no body around but us, we’re divvied up however the current night’s manager chooses. Tonight it’s Caravan, he’s the more fastidious and methodical of the four, and he likes to sort us by skill and dig rate because as always, there’s a lot of holes to be dug and not enough time to do them before the moons give way to the suns that make the days long and hot.
“Merc, Deli, Fox, Meleeny, Bember, Blyster, Owly, and Pip, you’re out at Delta C-09,” Caravan says eventually, causing me to blink at the sound of my name among the others assigned to that spot, it’s one of the more empty areas of the flat stretch of land that makes up the floor of the Valley, it’s also one of the farther areas from the Valley’s gate, nearly half the length of the Valley in fact, which is pretty far considering the place is more than twenty seven thousand square flags across.
Inwardly I groan because that’s really damn far, and I really didn’t feel like going that far tonight, especially not with the likes of Merc and Bember of all people. It’s going to be a very long night. Reluctantly, I head out as soon as we’re dismissed, beginning the long walk from the gate across the flat and dry grave dotted ground, intentionally hanging as far back from the rest of my group as possible.
Not long after we started walking, a truck drives past us by followed by three military two-wheelers, a truck towing a wagon loaded six coffins. It pulls up to a row of already dug graves left over from the night before, the driver and a team of Diggers setting to work unloading the coffins and laying them in the graves while the military escorts standby.
Suddenly there’s a loud ruckus and one of the coffins lurches off the side of the wagon, the lid flying open and a tall, gangly woman scrambling out and making a run for it, screaming,”No! I’m not dead, I’m not dying! You can’t do this to me!”
She doesn’t get very far before the military escorts are on her, tackling her to the ground, kicking up a cloud of pale dust. They haul her up, despite all her struggling and thrashing around, and drag her back to the overturned coffin where the Diggers are already fixing the lid back onto its hinges.
“I’m not sick! I’m fine, it was just a cough!” The woman continues to scream desperately,”Help! Someone help!” She’s frantically looking around at all the nearby Diggers who all seem to have been frozen on the spot and are watching the whole scene, our illuminated goggles giving us an otherworldly appearance.
“Please, no!” She cries, even as they shove her back into the coffin,”I’m not dying!” are her last words as the lid is closed and resealed, muffled sounds still audible likely due to her continuing to struggle to get out, banging on the walls of the coffin, still screaming.
It wasn’t unusual, for that sort of thing to happen, but it wasn’t a regular occurrence. See, the laws say that people cannot lay hands of harm on each other, meaning that it’s forbidden to kill one another. So, those deemed as no longer fit for living, the sickly, the weak, the dying, are all sedated and sealed in coffins to be laid to rest, to be buried alive to wait for death, and some are more prone to the sedation process than others, some like that woman overcome the sedative they are given and wake up and try to escape. It’s unfortunate, but formulators have yet to create a sedative that works and holds strong on everyone, which leads some to suffer the horrific experience of being buried alive while fully conscious, because once they wake up theres no way to sedate them again.
As morbid as it seems, being sedated before being buried is a mercy, one people like that woman won’t be able to get.