There’s a body in the woods outside of town resting in a shallow grave beneath a chestnut tree. It’s been ten years since that body saw sky, ten long years since that body drew breath.
It’s late autumn and the chestnut leaves are falling when a dog digs up a femur and carries it back to town. Someone calls the cops and the cops break out the K-9s. They find that shallow grave on day two and descend on it with the crime lab. Yellow tape stretches between the trees, stark neon among the brown and dying red. They dig up those bones and place them in bags, each one labeled and stored just so.
It’s a girl, one says after looking at the hips. Some poor girl, wasn’t even eighteen.
The cops grimace and shake their heads. They pass around a thermos of coffee, white steam curling out into the chilly air. They all say, we gotta catch the one that did this. We gotta find whoever put this poor girl under.
They are wrong, of course, but they don’t know that yet. What they don’t know and can’t see is that they should bury those bones deep and go back home. Forget about the grave in the woods, leave it unmarked, let nature take it back while they sit at home sipping on apple cider and eating pie. They would all be better off. Safer. Alive.
Boots and paws trample over wards and sigils carved into earth. Shovels split the binding placed upon the grave. They don’t know, so they dig her up.
The coroner stores the bones in the van, clear baggies lined up side by side. He closes the doors with a snap. Key in ignition, engine rumble, van sputters forward.
The radio cuts in and out, static choking the airwaves. The coroner sighs and thumps the dash with his fist. Damn thing, the county won’t spring for a new van, not in the budget this year. The radio squeals, goes quiet, and then clears up. It’s playing Britney Spears.
“Really? Why?” the coroner asks the universe at large, because if he tries to change the channel it will just start the static process all over again.
Movement catches the corner of his eye. The coroner glances in the rearview mirror as the naked bones rise and assemble into a skeleton. The dusty jaw bone pops and settles into place.
“That’s better,” says the skeleton.
The coroner shrieks and jerks the steering wheel. The van crashes through the guardrail. Twisting, shrieking metal tumbles down the hill. The van skids to a stop in the shallow creek, wheels to the sky, windshield busted out.
The coroner opens dazed eyes after a moment. Everything blurs in and out of focus. Something runs down his face. He tries to lift a hand, finds out that he can’t. It’s pinned between his body and the roof at a bad angle, obviously broken in several places.
The skeleton drifts into view. It reaches out a single bony finger and traces through a stream of blood dripping across his face. Then his blood travels up the finger bone and against gravity, bourn by suction or magic or whatever is at work. The coroner opens his mouth to scream, but the air leaves his lungs. Strips of skin follow, peeling from his body to the skeleton, wrapping around the bones like wet leaves. They ripple, expand. The coroner gasps. The pull on his blood grows thick, like what he imagines vampire victims must feel, if vampires were real.
Maybe they are real, he thinks in sluggish horror.
The last thing the coroner sees is his blood and skin knitting together with strands of reddish black light and settling along the bones until it is no longer a skeleton but a young woman with short brown hair and empty eye sockets. Then the coroner’s eyes detach with a sick pop. His vision shorts out, just like that damn radio. The coroner gives up after that, and dies between short gasps as his lungs fold up and squeeze between his naked ribs.
The young woman leans back as the rest of the organs fit into place and skin closes over them, delicate as a rose blooming in reverse. The skeleton of the coroner collapses in his clothing. Sad, really, but the young woman doesn’t dwell on that.
She climbs out of the van and snags a blue bio-suit to cover her body. She stands in the creek a moment, eyes wide open to take in color and sight, toes wiggling in the cold water, and she breathes in deep and sound.
Hell yes, she thinks, and starts the walk into town.