Shovel, toss. Shovel, toss. Shovel. Toss.
This had been the past several hours of Christine’s night. Shovelful of dirt, toss it beside the pit. Take another shovelful, toss that one beside the pit. Every muscle in her body ached. Sweat covered her from head to foot, allowing winter’s icy chill to cut straight to her bones. But she wouldn’t stop. Cold and shivering as she was, she couldn’t stop. Not now. Not when she was this close.
Finally, when she felt like she might never see an end, her shovel struck something hard. Her hopes reignited, and she doubled her efforts to uncover the plain wooden box beneath her feet.
She hesitated once the coffin was free. She didn’t want to see this, but she had no choice. She steeled herself, swallowed a dry lump, and flung the lid open.
The corpse she found was half rotted away, its skin blackened and its face twisted in horror. She wasn’t sure if the sight made her want to vomit, or sob. The stench definitely called for the former.
She took a deep breath and pulled it onto her shoulder, ignoring the sticky feeling through its bug eaten uniform. Climbing out of the grave with a corpse on her shoulder was difficult work, but she managed it. As she lay on the ground, panting for breath, she stared at the full, blood red moon over her head. There was no time for rest. The window was closing.
She rolled over and got to her knees, kneeling beside the corpse as she fished a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket. She took a deep, trembling breath, and began to read from it aloud.
The night around her seemed to grow darker. A cold, ominous wind swept in through the trees. She was just over halfway through the incantation, when a voice snapped behind her.
“Alright, alright! that’s enough.”
Christine screamed, throwing her paper in the air and nearly falling in the grave as she whirled. Behind her stood a young, beautiful woman. Her red lips upturned in a smile. She grabbed the piece of paper as it floated down, inspecting it with a frown.
“You don’t have read the whole damn thing, I’m already here. Hm,” she squinted at the lines, “verse. Why do they always write spells in verse? You’d think someone would’ve realized it’s completely unnecessary after all this time. Unless they’re just trying to be intimidating, in which case-”
“You’re… y-you’re-” Christine knew it, but she couldn’t make herself say the name.
The young woman smirked. “Death. That’s the name you’re looking for, yes? Unless you were hoping this spell would give you an audience with someone else?”
“I… n-no, ma’am. Of course not. I-”
“No no, let me guess. It’s about this corpse, isn’t it?” She gestured to the body in front of her, “you want him back.”
Christine hesitated, then nodded. Death sighed.
“No one ever calls just to chat. Of course, if they did, I’d probably be rather upset at being disturbed, but…” she shook her head, “I’m getting off topic. I’m terribly sorry to inform you of this, Ms. Christine, but we have a very simple policy. No refunds, no returns. Period. I’m afraid all your work was for naught.”
Christine stared at her, silent. “… And what about exchanges?”
Death’s expression softened. “Exchanges? Exchanges are… permissable. What did you hope to exchange?”
Christine swallowed. This was it. “Myself. I want you to bring him back, and put me in his place.”
Death shook her head. “My dear girl… there’s no putting you in his place. I have no problem with exchanges, but Upper Management, well… They’d disagree.”
Christine looked puzzled. “Upper Management? But you’re-”
“I’m the ferrywoman, dear. I take people from this plane to the next, but I don’t decide if they stay there. You may make the exchange. But if you do, your soul will never know peace. Do you still accept?”
Christine looked from Death to the corpse, then to its tombstone. ‘William Greene. Father. Husband.
Her face hardened. “I am. Without a doubt.”
Death nodded. “As you wish.”
Christine’s eyes widened. William’s body began to change. Flesh filled back out. Color returned to his skin. The transformation continued, until his chest rose and fell with the first deep breath of sleep.
Christine sobbed, a wide smile spreading across her face. Then Death offered her a hand, and she took it gladly.