Exeter, Rhode Island, March 17, 18-
The freshly exhumed corpse of Mary Lena White, 19, gave off the sickly sweet bouquet of tuberculosis - had it not been drowned out by the more robust stench of decay as the earth-stained coffin lid was raised to the screaming of rusty nails by a ragged sexton.
Still it lingered unmistakable– a fragrance easily detected if you had the right kind of nose; the two lurking spectators just inside the shadowed doorway of a nearby ramshackle toolshed, did.
Smirking, nostrils greedily flaring at the scent of violated death, the pair, two lynx-eyed children in the stolen clothes of adulthood, watched the gathering of locals about the raw wound of the newly-opened grave, the stamp of too-close marriages on their pinched hardscrabble faces: the mayor, a minister, a journalist with a notebook, and a doctor, in his fussy old-fashioned black tailcoat with shiny elbows at the reluctant forefront, discreetly trying to shuffle upwind of the coffin and it's rotting contents without giving themselves away to the rest of the gathering.
Their audience sniggered, pale hands covering pale mouths, eyes rolling at one another while the minister bleated random, ill-fitting Bible quotations, followed by something about "for the good of the community and of poor, dear Mary Lena's brother…" who stood swaying between two bearded farmers, coughing harshly into a bloodstained cloth, followed by "…and to rid our God-fearing community of Satan's scourge, the vampire…"
The words "Satan" and "vampire" sent the pair into wild paroxysms of hastily muffled laughter – it would not do to be caught out in the open, even if the sky was grey with the sullenness of March, softening the late-afternoon sun, and… well, to be eliminated by such a lot of inbred country bumpkins, would be utterly, unforgivably… déclassé - one simply did not allow one's self to end in such bad taste – decapitation in a railway accident was far more preferable!
Tasteless endings aside, there was amusement to be had after all in this little country cemetery six miles east of nowhere and four miles south of nothing; to waste time contemplating an insipid ending at the hands of shabby yokels was to miss those same yokels and their little comedy, which was about to be played out with an extremely dead body.
Their unseen audience regained control of themselves, watching eagerly as the minister and the mayor conferred upwind of the open coffin, the journalist in his garish plaid suit scribbling away, before nodding to the shabby doctor, who knelt upon the stony ground, opened his bag, took out a mallet and a chisel more suited for road repairs than surgery, and (after blotting his high bald forehead with a large red handkerchief, much mended, and then tying it over his nose and mouth) broke open the half-rotted corpse's chest cavity to the sound of splintering bone.
The amusing yokels fell back as one and then surged forward, eager to see what there was to be seen even as they held their noses.
The two in the tool shed now stood on tiptoe, craning their necks to see better; tattered finery glinting in the half-light, a rich detail on a dress here, the thick softness of a dusty velvet lapel whispering there, of pomaded hair, of soiled Irish lace, as clots of rotting blood spattered up the doctor's arm and landed on the stingy earth.
The young man with the bloody handkerchief busied himself with more coughing, pale face and dark-ringed eyes growing more pronounced when the wind shifted towards him.
As the crowd of rurals and officials shuffled back upwind, the doctor rummaged about his filthy business before pulling out two blackened lumps, perhaps a heart and a liver, which he placed in an enameled basin before poking at them with a scalpel, hound dog eyes watering above the faded red of his handkerchief turned mask before passing the dish wordlessly to the minister, who passed it wordlessly to the mayor, who, with a queasy expression, passed it to anyone who would take it.
In their ramshackle toolshed-turned-theatre-box, the two viewers laughed softly from behind alabaster masks of pretend adulthood, shaking their heads in amusement as the putrefying heart was placed upon the headstone of Mary Eliza's sister, Olive, doused with lamp oil, and ceremoniously burnt to ashes – only to nearly give themselves away when those ashes were stirred into a cup of water and fed like pudding to a baby to the young man between coughing fits as the sexton slammed the lid back on his sister's malodorous coffin before it was lowered back into its violated grave and quickly reburied.
One of the men watching the earth re-swallow its cadaverous burden crowed, "Granddad told me drinkin' the ashes of yer vampire o' a sister that's been feeding on ya 'll fix it – my granddad was never wrong!"
The couple were now nearly doubled over by, leaning against each other to avoid falling to the rough earthen floor of their shelter in their amusement.
The doctor washed his hands off with dilute carbolic acid from a basin resting upon a nearby gravestone, that of Mary Lena's mother, Mary Eliza, coat bundled to one side for burning because of the stinking filth now spattering it. He shook his head, muttering, "Damned ignorant fools, damned ignorant fools! Not a vampire, not a vampire, but consumption, tuberculosis killedMiss Lena…all the signs were there - what is this, the Dark Ages? Vampires, indeed! It's germs that kill people, not…"
The doctor paused, tired eyes searching the lengthening shadows -was that someone watching him from the tumbledown shed nearby?
Of course not! It was just his imagination: everyone was leaving, congratulating each other for a job well done, Lena's brother's life had been saved, the cause eliminated, as far as they were concerned. Obviously it was his imagination telling him that something moved in the doorway of the nearby eyesore of a shed, perhaps it was a rat he'd seen… …the doctor turned, tossed the contents of the basin away, rolled his sleeves back down, picked up the bundle of his soiled coat and his black bag and followed the locals as they left by cart, by buggy, on foot, still occasionally glancing back at the shed in the lengthening twilight as he climbed into his buggy, "Vampires? Indeed!"
The doctor lit the lamps on either side before slapping the reins against the rump of the elderly mare pulling it, and rattled back towards his little house on the meager town green as arm in arm, Spike and Drusilla moved out of the shadows of the toolshed doorway and into the blue twilight.
Sullied finery shimmering in the half-light of early spring, they promenaded through the meager stones thrusting up from the unforgiving ground like so many broken teeth. Drusilla let out a birdlike trill of laughter as her lover casually struck a match upon the stone where Lena's heart had been burnt to ashes, lit a cheroot, and luxuriously inhaled the acrid smoke before blowing a few derisive rings in the general direction of the departing locals, tittering, "If they only knew!"