“Of all the carnal powers; and the blessings of the Shrove of Man; Grant me this small mercy. By the Saints and martyrs - beyond, before, within my blood rite, and without. Guard and protect my soul tonight. I ask all this as your humble servant. E Nomine Patri. Et Fili. E Spiritu Sancti. Amen.”
As the prayer was uttered, the flame flickered. Once the seal was said, the flame was hushed into smoke. William got up from his knees, crossed himself, and kissed the wound beads around his wrist and knuckles. Above the crucifix, there was the corpse of a dead bird. The spirit was hovering - watching him. Staring back at him as if the animal could see straight through William as he took a steadying breath and turned to leave. He hated birds. Always had. They creeped him out. Especially Ravens.
But before he left, he caught sight of a fresh offering of flowers. The Mausoleum was cleaned of cobwebs recently, he noticed as well. But those flowers… African violets. His favorite. Who would know to leave African violets in his mausoleum, no one left alive knew his favorite flower. But then, he wasn’t alive either, was he?
The click of his teeth clenching was so abruptly loud, it almost made him wince as if he thought the sound of his own body was the sound of an unfriendly gunshot. Because there are friendly ones, it was how he died as a matter of fact. He slipped his hand inside his jacket to feel the bullet hole on his abdomen. He could still feel the fear sometimes. He thought Death would be peaceful, but it wasn’t. That was a lie the living tell themselves. If they really knew what awaited them after… after everything, they would… well, they’d at least know. And that was better than not knowing. It was better than speculating.
The astral sound of the Raven cawing at him made William jump. He spun around and glowered at the bird. “That isn’t funny, Muninn. Don’t you think it's time you went home already?”
The bird didn’t answer, but William could have sworn there was the bird equivalent of a smirk around that beaky spectral face of his. Taking one more glance at the flowers, he took the card he saw shoved in there and slipped it in his pocket to read later, and left the Mausoleum before he lost the opportunity. The stupid bird was right. He only had one night a year, he better make the most of this.
And of course, this year, his day landed on fucking Mardi Gras.
The crunch of graveyard gravel under his boots felt like the freedom his ancestors died for. History now, but history has a way of just sticking to the soul, like saltwater grits made slowly in a pot over an open flame, while listening to the crickets serenade the moon until it turns the sun back on again.
His reverie was disrupted when a pebble flew and hit him in the temple. “What the hell?!”
Spinning around and picking up the pebble, he shoved that in his pocket too, then started running among the headstones, trying to see who threw it. There was no one around. He frowned, then he took the pebble out of his pocket.
“Did you think I’d forget?”
William looked up toward the voice. “Crumpet. I should have known it was you.”
The young scraggly youth jumped from the tree he was sitting in and landed on his feet with a grunt, then walked slowly toward the other man.
“It’s our night, Billy. Did you like the flowers?”
Still rubbing his head where the pebble hit, “You know I did. Where the hell do you always find them? And how do you know when the day is and I never do?”
Crumpet tsked. “Oh stop with that, it was just a pebble. Want me to kiss it better?”
The flirt was out as soon as he grabbed the lapel of William’s jacket and pulled him closer. Crumpet stood on tiptoe to brush his cool lips against William’s temple, the frigid ice temperature of his skin would have blushed with heat if he were alive. Turning as Crumpet took a step back, their lips closer now, their eyes locked. Both opaque and glossy with death.
“Don’t mention it.”
Crumpet turned away and then took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, “Did you read my card?” he asked.
William took the paper out of his pocket and opened it. “Splendor of the Invincible City?”
“Yeah. Psalm 48. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The whole year after we went back under. Do you know it?”
“That’s not necessarily a Layman’s Memory Verse, Cavanaugh. What is in it? You think it has a clue?”
“We woke up on Mardi Gras this year.”
Turning to look at William, he smirked, “And don’t call me Cavanaugh, that’s the name of a Deadman. My name is Crumpet. C’mon, let’s go find something to do. We have the rest of the year for banter in Arianrhod's Cradle. I’m here, I’m walking. I want to do some sketchy shit.”
William chuckled. “Like what?”
“I earned my beads on Downing Street with the absinthe from Amsterdam. She told me to keep the bottle and sell it to Uncle Sam. He bid me to fight, said it would not only make me a man, but it would make me the best, shame all the rest. The Big Five talk a lot of Jive, selling countries, souls, and lies glossed up as stories when the truth is there was a time when we could all get out alive. Death belongs to the Big Five, Billy, not the People. They didn’t know what they were doing when they signed all those laws. And now America is one of them.”
“Still on that stupid rhyme are you ?”
“It’s not - How can you say that?”
“Because I’m tired, Crumbs. I’m tired of coming back here to see that nothing ain’t changed a damn bit. It just gets shinier and brighter and more and more expensive. Faster and slower, meaner, and … it makes me wonder if it’s all worth it at all! We come back one day, every year since we died. Why were we the ones charged to make this right?! Why wasn’t someone else made to carry this mantle?! Why us?!”
“You know why.”
“No. No, I don’t. You shot me, remember? And you only think you know!”
Crumpet looked away. And the two of them stood there in that graveyard. Crumpet’s crumbling grave was covered in weeds and nestled by an old gnarled tree - the letters on his headstone almost faded away. William had a mausoleum crypt that was cleaned regularly, privacy, and a sarcophagus to sleep and rest in.
“Must be nice,” Crumpet said in a low voice, then turned to look at William.
“To have so much damn apathy that it makes my privilege look…” He shook his head and ran his hand through his brown hair.
“The parade is soon. Is that sketchy enough for you, Crumbs? Or do you want to sit around and bicker some more?”
“Damn it, Saint-Tropez, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I told you. I’m tired. This isn’t… something I expect you to understand.”
“Oh really? You’re not the one that has to literally climb out of your own grave every year. You are living the high life in death, as I did in life. This damn curse is eating at me. And I just want a little peace. Don’t you get that?”
William laughed. “Haven’t you learned by now, Sylvester, that there is no peace? For none of us. It’s a fucking lie. Creole. Cajun. White. Black. It doesn’t matter. Peace is not real. It’s all just waiting in different forms. We wait while we’re alive to die. And we wait while we’re dead to live again. That’s all. There. Is. No. Peace.”
Crumpet’s lip quivered. “Don’t say shit like that to me. Don’t you fucking dare say that shit to me. You-” He grit his teeth and made a fist in mid-air toward William’s face. And then he shook his head and spit on the ground. “Fuck this. And fuck you. Don’t fucking follow me. Don’t fucking even think of following me, ya’ hear me?”
And then he turned and walked away.
William watched as Crumpet left the gates of the graveyard, turning left, toward the sound of the parade. He took a deep breath. He opened the note again. “Psalm 48. Well, if there was a night to go to church... it would be Mardi Gras, right? Hell, what do I know? I’m used to waking up on a boring day, not a damn holiday.”
Shoving the note back into his pocket, he made his way out of the graveyard as well. Humming softly the prayer he said upon rising, “Of all the carnal powers, the blessings of the shrove of man. Grant me this small mercy, by the saints and martyrs beyond, before, within my blood rite, and without. Guard and protect my soul, your servant, in the name of your only begotten son, christ our lord, amen.”