Agatha followed the small funeral party out to the gravesite, where a green tent had been erected to keep out the rain. The priest waited for them there, a small man almost perfectly hairless, and the gravedigger sat scrolling through his phone in the front loader parked a few plots over.
The party consisted of Agatha and her two cousins, Emily and Chandler, all of them middle-aged and childless, the last remaining blood relatives of Uncle Hector, among whom the considerable estate had been divided. No one else had bothered to come.
With the rain pattering on the green canvas and gusting in on the wind, everyone shivered as the priest read from the New Testament in a high-pitched voice. “‘I am the resurrection and life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’”
It was at this moment that Agatha noticed movement.
Just a stray drop of rain, she thought, washing down over Uncle Hector’s black suit and the putter clutched in his powdered hands.
But the green tent was secure, untorn. No raindrops dripped through.
Then both his hands shot up, still holding that putter, his second-most prized possession – after the money.
Everyone gasped but Agatha.
Nerves, she thought.
Uncle Hector’s eyelids shot open, the mouth gaped wide. Milky, yellow eyes stared up at the bereaved, whose mouths incidentally were also gaping. He groaned and cricked upward into a crook-shouldered standing position, then shambled out of the coffin.
The coroner will be hearing a word from me, Agatha thought. And the mortician too. In fact, the funeral company won’t be getting a penny from uncle’s estate.
“Then again,” she whispered aloud, “neither will we.”
The shrill ring of the phone roused him. DeSantis plucked up the headset, smacking his lips. “Yes?”
“We’ve got a clog in Section Q75.”
“Who’s on duty? Verno?”
“Yeah, and he’s stuck welding a leak in the Hall of Melted Flesh. Bit of a shitstorm tonight.”
“I’ll say. Gimme twenty minutes or so. Need some coffee.” There was a nasty taste in his mouth.
“DeSantis, we’re not talking a slow drain here. Everything’s backed up. We got overflow.”
DeSantis grunted and scratched the lip of flesh around the horn in his forehead. “Haven’t had overflow since…”
“Mid 90s, Haiti.”
The priest, being closest to the walking corpse, was the first to go. After a hasty blessing, he managed to stab Uncle Hector in the eye with his crucifix before having his throat ripped out by a pair of pearly white implanted dentures.
Cousin Emily stumbled as she fled, when Uncle Hector grabbed ahold of her dress and dragged the screaming woman-in-mourning onto the mound of dirt.
Then there came the rumble of an engine and the front loader barreled forward, collided with Uncle Hector, knocking him into his grave with an explosion of dirt.
The gravedigger leapt out as the truck began to tip forward into the grave.
Emily, unscathed, scrambled free, only to bump into the newly-revived priest, his frock bathed in blood, throat like a nest of worms.
As the priest began gnawing on her face, the gravedigger stepped forward, ready to lop off his head with a shovel, when Uncle Hector grabbed him from behind and–
Agatha, frozen to the spot, turned away as the fountain of blood spattered her dress and veil.
From the promenade, you could view the entirety of the Sea of Souls, nothing more than a seething pit of bodies, all told about the size of Loch Ness. Six out of seven pipes were releasing a steady flow of loose-limbed bodies into the sea. A drinking buddy of his, Tyrell, down in the Department of Statistics, had put the count around 103 billion souls, a total of around 6.47 cubic kilometers worth.
Many of the demons in bureaucratic jobs came to the promenade during lunch, their binoculars trained on the pit, watching the Overseers striding over the damned, branding and flaying and pitchforking the quivering mass.
And 103 billion throats screaming at once – that’s loud.
One animated corpse had by this time become four: Uncle, priest, gravedigger, and Emily.
Cousin Chandler had darted off into the rain, but slid when his loafers made contact with the slick grass. He hydroplaned into a tombstone, tumbled over it, and the pack of undead descended upon him.
All but Uncle Hector, who had dropped his putter but was holding the arm of the gravedigger, which in turn was holding the shovel.
DeSantis turned off of the promenade, entering a bony tunnel at the base of section Q. He knew the Palace of the Damned like the scales on the back of his claw and in five minutes had climbed several hundred rungs of a snaky ribcage, then walked along the wavy surface of some ancient leviathan’s skull, entering into a cavity that might have once been an ear.
Here was the pipe in question – he was certain of it the minute he laid eyes on the infected column of flesh.
As Agatha backed through the rows of empty chairs she noticed the putter on the ground. She bent over and plucked it up, right as Uncle Hector fell upon her.
His chomping implants aimed for her delicate, narrow nose, but they met the tapered titanium shaft of the putter instead.
With all she had she pushed the golf club past his jaws, like bridling an unwilling horse. She managed to turn him over, squatted on top, and kept pushing the bar down. Past his molars. Tearing the bloodless flesh of his mouth.
Her back was to the remaining ghouls – now four again with Cousin Chandler. They were stumbling towards her.
DeSantis pulled a dagger from his belt and went straight for the carbuncular center of the infection.
Pus spurted everywhere, the flesh writhing and squealing.
“Pipe it down. You’ll regenerate.”
He carved out a circle half a foot in diameter, not enough to let a soul squeeze through. Inside, he could see the naked, greenish flesh of the dead.
Boy, was it ripe.
He plunged his claw inside, past wailing mouths, felt around, and–
Agatha was screaming.
She’d cracked Uncle Hector’s jaw, torn past the uvula, into the back of the throat. She kept going, putting all her weight on it, practically jumping up and down, till she heard his spine crick – and the top of Uncle Hector’s bloodless head rolled off.
She stood unsteadily as all the ghouls toppled over, properly dead.
She tidied her dress, straightened her veil.
Guess I’ll be getting the bulk of the estate after all, she thought.
DeSantis paused for a smoke in the promenade before returning home. He kept an eye on the main, the steady drip of bodies into the Sea of Souls, all of them naked, a few clinging to cherished possessions, effects that had absorbed some of their essence: a piece of jewelry, a hairpiece, a cat.
He was thinking about what Tyrell had told him, how soon there’d be no more room in Hell, all the pipes backed up. About 150,000 die each day, 95% of ‘em hellbound. There was only capacity for 6.6 cubic kilometers, and they’d reach that figure in a heartbeat.
The cigarette tasted off. He crushed it beneath his hoof and examined the putter he had pulled from the clogged pipe.
Just a little clog today.
But, damn, Hell was getting crowded.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Boiteau lives in Michigan with his wife and son. He is a Writers of the Future winner and author of the dark fantasy novel The Drummer Girl.