I drop my case of beers on my great-grandfather’s headstone, leaning my shovel beside it, and get to loading my 12-gauge shotgun. It’s a newer Winchester semi-automatic. When your target moves as fast as a turkey at most, it does the job just fine.
It’s a cold day. It always is, April 1st, the start of the cruellest month. The only good thing about having to come here every damn year is not getting sucked into pranks or juvenile delinquency. But this year is different. I nearly didn’t come.
The house sits high on the hill, looming over the whole area, staring down at this spot. Its windows are blackened eyes, set deep within gabled eye sockets. Of course, I haven’t lived in it for a long time. No one has; not since father passed. It’s a house that expects a lot of us Thomsons. Some would argue it expects too much.
I crack open a beer and take a swig. Not long now. I hear a squawk and look up to see birds line the branches of the ash trees. Others perch upon the metal railings that surround our family plot. Every year, without fail, they sit patiently waiting. Like they know what’s going to happen. A deep, dark secret passed down through families of birds. Keep an eye on this spot. One day, young scavengers, you will hit upon the motherload.
Earthy scents invade my nostrils. And then rotten eggs.
Dull groans surround me. I raise my shotgun, ready to fire. A hand bursts from beneath the matted soil. Earthworms bubble upwards like champagne for the dead. I march toward the disturbed grave and wait. Scrambling forth, one hand becomes two, followed by a desiccated head and shoulders.
“Hey gramps, good to see you.” I pull the trigger and blast his skull into pieces, splattering mulched brain and skull scraps that’ll sink into the earth like Miracle-Gro.
Another fist punches through its natural prison only to be met with a bullet. Someone I never knew, a great uncle, I think. Soon, a third. The investment in the Winchester is really paying off, the recoil of the semi-automatic is much lower impact than the rusty old piece of junk I’d been using up to last year. I was bruised for days after, normally.
I hear a cry, higher pitched than the usual moans and groans, and whirl round, eye down the barrel of my weapon. Ready to take out the next undead Thomson looking to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world of the living. The cawing of crows and squawking of vultures stops. My breathing, ironically, stops.
“April,” I whisper.
I cannot tear my eyes from the small, delicate hands scratching away at the soil. The 12-gauge trembles in my hands. Down the barrel, I see a mess of blonde pigtails emerge. Cute, puffy little cheeks. Button nose. But the eyes are milky and senseless and contain no recognition.
I start forward until I’m a few yards away, watching as my daughter struggles out from her early grave. Groans play upon the air around me, and birdcalls scrap with them for supremacy. A grotesque serenade. April is rising from the rough hole. There isn’t even a headstone, yet.
“I’m sorry, beautiful girl,” I gasp, feeling tears and snot run free down my face. “It should have been me. It should have been me.”
All around me bodies are shoving their way up towards the light, the dim, cold light of April, just as they do every year. The Thomson Curse. Each year the dead arise, each year the family must send them back. And now my beautiful girl. Named after this cursed month – her mother’s doing. I should have seen it was an omen. If only I hadn’t fallen asleep. All I have now is a scar along my hairline. That, and memories.
Bodies stumble forth around me, towards me. I am the enemy. I am dinner. Something looms in my peripheral vision: the house is looking down at me because it knows I am the last. What will happen when I am gone? Who will rebury the dead?
April lunges for me. Not in embrace, but in blind rage.
I pull the trigger, then reload.