The gate to the graveyard squeaked as Jonah pushed it open. We both froze, staring into the dark, straining to hear if anyone was coming for us. “Sorry,” he whispered and grabbed the gate more firmly. He heaved the heavy iron up, trying to prevent the rusted metal hinges from rubbing against each other. A shriek filled the night, and the gate toppled over, slamming into the ground with more commotion than a group of ghouls around a freshly buried corpse. I looked at the gate, the twisted hinges, and Jonah.
“Sorry.” He shrugged his massive shoulders, not looking the least sorry.
“You are a blithering idiot.” My ears lay flat against my head, and my tail was twice the size. Going into graveyards at night was risky business. Unfortunately, risky business was kind of our brand of business. I would just prefer it not to be suicidal.
Something flicked near a group of bushes. We both turned to face it.
“Did you ring the meat?” I asked Jonah.
“Of course I did. I’m not completely useless.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a bag. He ripped the plastic, and the stench of rotting meat spread into the night. We both gagged as he threw it toward the bushes. It landed with a wet thud, and the content spilled unto the grass.
We waited, not moving an inch. A dark paw materialized on the grass. The rotting meat moved, pushed around before a chunk of it disappeared. An ear appeared, then a red eye. Some chest and a shoulder. As more meat was eaten, the more corporal the black dog became. When the last piece was consumed, the black dog looked up at us, wagging his tail.
“There’s a good boy,” I said and held out my hand. The black dog walked closer and licked my hand, leaving behind a trail of foul-smelling freezing drool. The guardian dogs of the graveyards were vicious beasts, but thankfully they could be won over.
A bone-chilling cry pierced the night, and the dog looked over his shoulder. He growled, twisted around, and disappeared.
“Okay, time for us to get to work,” I said. We moved deeper into the graveyard.
Before magic crashed into our lives seven years ago, graveyards had been a logical place to bury the dead. The problem with graveyards, though, was that it was a place where a lot of dead people were buried. And magic liked to infect the dead. Graveyards, which had been a place of peace, were transformed into a breeding ground for all kinds of monsters that wanted to kill us. Luckily, graveyards had a natural boundary. They had been considered hallowed ground, and people’s belief in this had shaped the magic when it appeared, creating a ward of sorts that kept most monsters inside.
Most people kept out of graveyards, day or night, and the dead was burned, not buried. But, something was disturbing this specific graveyard. Monsters had left, scarred off. Ghouls had been roaming around, going through peoples’ trashcans. No less than two zombies had been seen walking down main street. Zombies didn’t want your brains, but they carried all sorts of deceases and had a nasty tendency to bite.
“So, where do you think we should look?” I asked.
“The crypt seems like the best bet. It’s the perfect place to hide, and the crypt keeper was found haunting a rose garden yesterday. Apparently, some little old lady had walked out into her rose garden and found a half-rotten skeleton trambling her roses. Instead of running off, she grabbed a shovel and looped the crypt keeper’s head off. When the police arrived, the headless corpse was running around in circles, and the lady was chopping the hissing head into pieces.”
I couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled up. Magic had changed the world a lot, and people had had to learn to deal with the new reality. Some adapted better than others.
The crypt door stood open, and light shone onto the ground. We looked at each other, and I drew my knives. Jonah loosened the great battleaxe he carried on his back and hefted it with one hand, swinging it easily in front of him. It was good to be a half-giant.
We snuck a careful look inside, blinking against the light. I watched the scene unfold, my mouth hanging open. Jonah looked at me, and I saw the same disbelief written on his scarred face that I felt.
“What the fuck?” I mouthed and looked back inside. Seven people, dressed in midnight blue robes, were standing in a circle. A stack of half-rotten bodies lay in the middle. A low hum came from them, and then one of them started to chant.
Oh, dreadful Kalma, you of death
Come to us in our hour of need
Oh, fearless Kalma, you of death
To support and strengthen our claim
Oh, terrible Kalma, you of death…
Right, the idiots were trying to call upon the god of graves because nothing ever went wrong when trying to force gods into existence. Jonah gave a bellow, and we both jumped into the room. The chanting stopped, and seven pairs of frightful eyes looked at us. We both froze Jonah with his axe raised and me with my knives ready. The six ghosts blinked out of existence, leaving the old woman standing alone.
“Mrs. Johnson?” Jonah asked, lowering his axe.
“Hello, my dear.” The old woman said. She pushed the hood back, revealing a mass of silver-grey hair styled into perfect curls.
“What are you doing here?” Jonah asked. I wanted to know too. Old Mrs. Johnson was a sweet, slightly crazy woman who lived near our shop. She had too many cats and often forgot to close her curtains when she walked around naked, but she was sweet as could be.
“Nothing dear, nothing.” She tried to fall into her old lady act, but I saw the gleam in her eyes.
“Jonah,” I said in warning. He nodded. He had seen it too.
The creature that looked like old Mrs. Johnson smiled, revealing rows of sharp teeth. She hissed and struck out unnaturally fast. I hissed at her and grabbed her hand. She might be fast, but I was half cat. Jonah’s axe swung over my head, so close I felt it touch the hairs on the top of my ears. The body tumbled over, and the head fell to the ground in front of me, rolling against my feet and splattered blood all over my shoes.
“Great, thanks, Jonah.” I poked the head with my shoe.
“A skinwalker,” Jonah grumbled. Skinwalkers were nasty creatures, and it meant that old Mrs. Johnson was dead.
“Yeah.” I bent down and grabbed the head by the hair. “Did you bring a bag? We need to deliver this to the station before we can get the money.”
“Did I bring the bag? First, it’s the meat, now the bag. When did I turn into your errand boy?” Jonah held out the bag, and I dumped the head into it.
“Since you bit Hades’ dog, and I had to bail you out, which ruined my date.”
Jonah pushed the stack of rotting corpses with his axe. “They still seem quite dead.”
“Come on, smart ass, I’ll buy you a beer. If I have to stay in here any longer, I might just throw up the dinner you cocked earlier.”
“Hey, no throwing up. That lasagna took me two hours to make.”
I laughed, and Jonah followed me out of the crypt. Bloody shoes and a head in a bag. Just another day’s work.