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Grave Robbing

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She had spotted the grave the day before, recently filled and in a field outside of town. Jelly was posted by the only road nearby, but she didn't expect anyone to come by at this time of night.

Ziggy dropped her satchel at her feet and firmly planted her spade in the ground. One shovel, two shovels, she dug down methodically. She was counting on the grave not being very deep. It was unmarked, probably a pauper's grave, so she was also counting on no one coming to visit soon after.

When her spade finally hit cloth, she was relieved. Her joints ached already. She uncovered the rest of the shroud-covered body, careful not to tear the tattered fabric or injure the body beneath. At last she bent down and gently moved the cloth aside, revealing a gaunt face, one cheek already chewed through by maggots and the other showing a deep cut. The rest of the body didn't fare much better. Still, it was a good bet.

After inspecting the body, she sat back at the edge of the slope and took a deep breath. It was way past time for this.

"Hey there, fella," she said to the corpse.

"Who... who the hell are you ," the corpse replied.

Ziggy suppressed a chuckle. It was a fairly common response as far as these things went, but never ceased to amuse her. Still, the first impression was crucial here. "Just a chatty traveler, and you?"

"A chatty traveler who just digs up graves to talk to- wait. How am I talking to you? I'm... Oh god." Here it came. "I'm... dead, aren't I?" There it was.

Ziggy had to cut off the existential dread before it properly set in. Waking corpses was a risky business, but not primarily for the reasons people suspected. "Looks like it. But it's not that bad, is it? How are you feeling?"

This seemed to throw the recently deceased's spirit for a loop. He took a while to reply, "Okay, actually. I'm not feeling a whole lot of anything. That's not what I expected, really. Not after..." He trailed off.

For a while they just sat in companionable silence. Then the spirit said, "So, what now? Is this the afterlife? What's going to happen to me now?"

"Well, it's kind of up to you. I was going to ask you about it actually. How'd you feel about traveling around with me?" Ziggy paused for dramatic effect. "See the sights, smell the smells, eat the foods, all the stuff you haven't gotten around to yet." Now Ziggy had to set the right expectations. "Of course, there's a condition. A practical consideration, if you will."

"And that would be?"

"Your body wouldn't actually be your body anymore. I'll be the one piloting it, but you're free to hang around for as long as you like."

This was usually the tricky part to sell. Having someone else control your body was a nightmare that ranked pretty high generally, but most people Ziggy had met ended up liking it more than they'd thought. She decided not to advertise it too much, that usually just raised more doubts than put them to rest. Plus, she didn't have a problem with being mostly honest.

Surprisingly, the spirit didn't question the logistics. "And what if I refuse?"

"Well then I'm going to spend the remainder of the night shoveling you up again. Can't have you all laid out as a crows banquet, can I?"

"And I'll just stay here forever?"

"Pretty much. I mean, you don't have to be awake for it if that's what you're worried about. Anyhow, think about it. You'll get to head out there again."

Ziggy heard a distinct scoffing sound. "And you think I'd like that?"

"I don't!" Ziggy replied cheerfully and got to her feet, "but you might. So, what do you say?" She didn't want to rush his decision, but the sky was slowly lightening and she had to be out of here soon, with or without a new body. A glance to Jelly over in the distance told her everything was still quiet.

The spirit finally answered. "Okay. Go ahead. I do have one condition: make me walk away as far as possible from here."

Ziggy nodded, but the gesture was probably lost on a spirit. "You got it. Sit tight for a moment."

She climbed down the short slope and bent down at an awkward angle. She scrambled for a proper grip, but when she had it, she gently lifted the body out of its shroud and out of its grave, onto the soft grass. Then Ziggy lay down.

The next moment was a blur and a high-voltage punch to the chest, like grabbing onto the metaphorical afterlife current. Images, memories, emotions all flooded into Ziggy's consciousness. Each overwhelming the senses, demanding full attention, demanding to be felt, panic, confusion, being dragged from an alleyway, fear, shouting, chains, a crowd, shame, anger- The body jerked and gasped to life.

Ziggy took a deep breath into new lungs and exhaled slowly. "Oh, oh buddy ..."

The spirit remained silent, but Ziggy new he was there.

Slowly, carefully, Ziggy moved his limbs. Muscles strained, joints ground, and he was pretty sure he felt skin tearing.

"Hey, careful!" The sudden return to life clearly unsettled the spirit.

"Sorry about that." Ziggy stopped moving and waited for his body to regenerate. It would never really be the same again, but the illusion tricked anyone, including laws of locomotion. Skin mended, muscles attached themselves to bones and joints became functional. "See? All better."

The next feeling of his new body was hunger. Overwhelming, inescapable hunger. He lurched forward, his body barely ready for it. Blindly he reached for the satchel next to him and pulled it into his lap. He had learned to come prepared.

Inside it were several sandwiches, fresh bread filled with grilled cheepchi, sliced sunhat tomatoes and kingbean pesto. He had gotten the ingredients the same day in town, had even splurged on some baurun mozzarella. It wasn't what he'd put forward in a competition, but comfort food was vastly underrated in those anyway.

He bit into it ferociously. For a while everything was quiet in the field and in his head save for the sound of devouring a sandwich.

"That was surprisingly satisfying," the spirit said.

"Surprisingly? Do you mean the eating-as-a-corpse or my cooking?" Ziggy said in mock hurt. "Just kidding. Tell me what you liked about it, and I'll make you another one later."

"I don't know, I haven't eaten... in a while."

"Well, you've clearly been missing out."

His hunger sated, he leaned back for a moment. Then he glanced into the grave. Ziggy felt the spirit in his head recoiling at the sight of the old woman lying in it.

"Who is she?" Together they looked down at the woman, her eyes were closed and gray-streaked hair framed her pallid face. "Why is she silent?"

"She's very, very tired," Ziggy replied. "Best to let her rest."

Getting back upright took considerable effort, both for the body having just inhaled food for the first time in weeks and for suddenly possessing limbs twice the length he was used to. He'd have to get the hang of this body before running into anyone.

Once he felt safe being so far away from the ground he crouched next to the woman's still form. He reverently covered her with the same shroud that had just covered his new body. Ziggy reached for his old companion's spirit, but there was nothing. She had moved on.

He felt his new companion watching him intently.

Ziggy picked up the spade again and began spreading the earth back onto the grave. At first gently scattering it, then shoveling in earnest, the body disappearing bit by bit back into the ground. By the time the sky had turned a soft pink, Ziggy had finished returning the earth to a small mound. He stood looking down for a while.

"So... I was thinking of making it to the capital one day." The spirit interrupted the quiet.

Ziggy breathed deeply. "Sounds good to me! I hear there’s a lot going on this time of year." He grabbed the empty satchel and folded up his spade. "Let's go and meet up with Jelly."

"Who's... Jelly?

"You'll see. I'm sure you two will get along great."