It was nearly sunset.
The graverobber stood a few paces away from the couple, silently observing their relief and joy at being reunited. His hands were still covered in the sticky black dirt from the morgue, and he was exhausted from the effort.
Time passed as they continued their reunion, but his work would stretch long into the night. Another town, another morgue, another soul to guide back to the land of the living. He brushed the dirt from his hands and gathered his tools to leave. He didn’t feel much emotion anymore, but there was a particular satisfaction of a job well done that he still enjoyed. He had a purpose, and that was enough.
“How much do we owe you, sir?”
The woman had broken her embrace with her wife, and turned tearfully to the graverobber. He could see the tinge of fear in her eyes. The common folk always believed the stories.
“There is nothing owed today. The Collectors will assess your grave tax, but I assure you it will be a pittance. Your wife’s death was an accident.”
She nodded, thankful, but still tried to press a few Brass into his hands. He would need to record the donation to make sure their contracts were updated accordingly, he supposed.
Outside, the light was dimming but still bright enough. He blinked and shaded his red eyes. Normally this kind of work happened in the dead of the night, and he never really adjusted to the light of the surface.
A man stood across the road watching him leave, obviously drunk. A Texican perhaps? Maybe a Baywalker. But probably a Texican. The graverobber turned and headed back to his caravan.
“Tax man here to collect his blood money! Tell me tax man!” Spittle flew from the drunk’s lips on each word of the insult.
“If an apple keeps the sawbones away, what keeps you Council fucks away?” The drunken man’s words were slurred, but the challenge was clear.
Not every doctor was sanctioned by the Grave Council, but he was. Gathering his anger, he composed it into a fiery, dead-eyed stare and turned deliberately to face the man.
“Stephen. Joseph. Clark.”
The blood rushed from the face of the Merican as he realized his taunt had been successful. Most graverobbers would have ignored him. Not today.
“How.. how.. do you know my name?”
The graverobber took a menacing step towards the man. The graverobber’s eyes seemed to glow with a pale deathly light.
“We know what happens in the night, Stephen.”
A step closer.
“We see your dalliances. We assess your crimes. We remember that night in Essex.”
“The tax will come due.”
Another step. The graverobber could smell the stench of the cheap hooch on the man’s breath.
“All will pay the tax when it is due. Perhaps when your pitiful life is over, cut short by a life of booze or even a raider blade at your neck in the night when you forget to lock your doors...”
A step closer.
“A hand like mine will reach out to help even the likes of you, Stephen.”
A final step. He could smell the bitter tang of piss. The terrified man had pissed himself. It figured.
“But the tax will come due.”
A long moment passed, and then Merican was alone once more, shivering in a pool of his own urine. The graverobber stopped, and looked back at the pitiful retch.
“Remember Stephen. There are only two things certain in this life. Death and taxes.”
The final words whispered across the road.
The sun was setting, and the balance was once again restored.
A Grave Council vignette by J. Loyd