Thanatopsis Rex

The old man stood facing east, the setting of the all-beholding sun casting his shadow long across the grass, a single sinewy wisp of darkness, inky against the rust of twilight.

There was a storm brewing to the south and, judging by the wind and the intermittent rumblings of thunder, the first drops should fall within the next 30 minutes.

Plenty of time, he thought as he dropped back down, stooped and scooped a handful of dirt from the bottom of his hole. Unlike the clay of the cemetery across town, the earth here was grainy and fine and it felt good, he thought, as it slipped through his fingers, themselves worn to dirt. He slipped back on his work gloves, holes were starting to appear near the palm and at the tips of his fingers—soon he would bury these too.

The sky had an ominous look to it—it was going to be a wild one tonight. The old man returned to his shovel, well worn and worked, its once-shiny finish now displaced like so many loads of dirt, by a patina of grime and grit.

Five minutes and his work was done, he shoved the spade of his shovel into the ground and flung his caked glove out of the hole. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Marlboro, twirling it delicately around his fingers and leaned against the headstone and watched the shelf cloud creep towards him. The smell of burning tobacco mixed with dank autumn air and upturned earth and rotting leaves filled his nostrils. He climbed out of the grave, cigarette dangling precariously from his bottom lip, and tossed the tarp over the hole and mound prepared for Olwhatshisface, oh yeah, Billy Bryant.

“Whisky and fire kinda night,” he exhaled as he walked back to his ’82 Ford, the smoke swirling, rising and dancing away with the wind like the ghosts that surrounded him, he their king and they his loyal serfs.

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