“He always has the right number of graves at the end of the day,” Tara said. The teenage girl led two women in suits, one white and one black, along the path to the grave keeper’s shack. A rotted-wood cabin as big as two out-houses side by side sat at the top of a grassy hill. The hill faced East and gave them a peek at the rising sun. “He’s usually up early, even if he don’t have any graves to dig; I’m sure he’s awake by now,” the girl said. She kept looking back at the two women as she tried to explain about the grave keeper. On one glance she noticed a strange black cat walking with them that wasn’t there the last time she looked. It had a red pattern atop its head that looked like a skull and seemed to be purposely walking with them.
“If he can see the future why is he digging graves?” Melody asked. Tara shrugged but kept walking toward the shack. The hill grew steeper and she needed to slow her pace.
“We offered him any job he wants, this is it. He says he appreciates the straight forward work and any day he doesn’t work is a good day,” she said with a smile. Even though he mostly kept to himself the old grave keeper was well-respected by the townsfolk. Tara reached the top of the hill before the two women and she froze in her tracks. She stared forward while her mouth fell open in surprise. The women reached the top of the hill and saw why.
A large graveyard occupied most of a sunken plain behind the hill. A tall iron fence enclosed about three football fields worth of land. Inside the fence various headstones, angels and obelisks marked dozens of graves. Outside the fence was another matter entirely. Next to the graveyard, ten rows of five plots were perfectly organized.
“Mornin’!” A tired, old voice said. A lean, weathered man with a long grey beard walked out of the shack. He was wiping his brow with a rag in one hand while his other hand steadied a shovel balanced on his shoulder. He looked at the two women next to Tara. Their suits unintentionally made the girl’s simple blue dress seem shabbier. “Not from around here, huh?” he asked. No one answered the obvious statement. He nodded. “Name’s Hicks. What can I do you for?”
“You can see into the future?” Dana Sharp asked. Hicks nodded. Ms. Sharp glanced out at the new unearthed plots. “That’s a lot of graves this morning,” she said. Again, Hicks nodded.
“Started last night,” he said. “Won’t be enough but there’s something to be said about working for the sake of work.”
“What do you mean it won’t be enough?” Tara asked with a trace of fear in her voice. If Hicks said there was something bad about to happen, then something bad was about to happen. Hicks took a deep breath, then took his time to exhale. Finally, he nodded at Tara, then pointed at the sky.
“Those graves aren’t for anybody, I just wanted to go into the afterlife with some hard work under my belt. Ballisea’s here.”
“Who’s Ballisea?” Tara asked. She turned to see what Hicks pointed at as the question left her lips. She saw a black hole high in the sky raining out white figures.
“Janet,” Ms. Sharp said. “Take Tara back to town and save anyone you can. Don’t touch time. Tara, follow the cat,” she said.
“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” the cat spoke and dashed off toward town. Tara was surprised, but talking animals weren’t unusual to her. She caught a subtle nod from Hicks and followed his instructions, not Ms. Sharp’s.
“And you, Mr. Hicks…,” Dana said. “…have time to gather a few things and Melody will get us to safety.”
“No thank you, Ms. Sharp,” he said. His voice had a firm edge to it now.
“You want to die?” Melody asked. Hicks shook his head and smiled.
“I can see the future. I can see what happens if you…,” he looked Ms. Sharp in the eyes. “…can see the future. Death is much easier to swallow.” Melody stepped forward threateningly, but Dana held up a hand to stop her.
“Home, Melody. Hicks made his choice, I can respect that.”