Steam rose up from the cemetery grounds as the evening’s first light rain was warmed by the earth. Seamus stopped walking. He set down the two shovels he carried and watched the grey wisps emanating from the ground like specters risen from their tombs.
The late April rain had lasted only minutes. The smells of the stone markers mingled with those of the wet grasses. It was almost fragrant and it tantalized the senses, but it wasn’t enough to tear Seamus’ thoughts away from the eerie image of the mist, the macabre mood set by the moonlit graves, or the daunting task that lay ahead. No matter what they may smell like, cemeteries exude death.
Two large men in long coats walked ahead of him. Klaus, the larger of the two, carried a coarse cloth sack slung over his shoulder. Seamus knew it had to be a corpse. The two men had appeared unexpectedly in his cell, soliciting his assistance. They spoke mostly in German, but Seamus was able to determine they had an interest in whether or not he knew how to give last rites. It was a strange request. Catholicism had been under siege from the Nazis. Seamus had spent the last months in fear of his assured execution. He was in no position to ask questions.
“Schnell priester!” Klaus barked.
Seamus bristled. Klaus knew he didn’t speak German, but insisted on using it anyway. He heaved a sigh, hoisted the shovels, and trudged through the cemetery gates. His feet sank into the softened grass as he walked and he imagined the haunted soil was trying to swallow him up.
Josef, the smaller man, came to an abrupt halt about halfway through the cemetery. He tilted his head up as if he was sniffing for something in the air, and then looked about left and right. He took a couple of steps forward before turning and marching over in front of a small twisted tree near the edge of a mausoleum plot.
“Hier!” he announced. Josef seemed to be in charge, but this was the first word he’d spoken since they left the prison. Klaus threw the sack unceremoniously to the ground with a loud thud. He turned to Seamus and pointed at the spot Josef had already pointed out.
“Graben sie,” he instructed.
Seamus looked back at him shock. Klaus obviously expected him to do the digging. He searched his education for what the Seminary had taught for a priest burying the dead in secret. No such lesson jumped from his memory. He signed a cross and began a silent prayer.
“Graben sie!” Klaus repeated, stepping forward and pushing Seamus in the back.
Reluctantly, Seamus took the sharper shovel and laid the other beside the sack on the ground. “Logh dom,” he whispered silently to himself for forgiveness, and he pushed the shovel down into the earth. It sank easily and he tossed the soil aside.
The cemetery grounds seemed hungry, greedily awaiting the body he would feed it. Each shovel full of dirt took Seamus closer to the bowels of the Earth himself. As he sank deeper, the ground seemed to desire his body, and fear began to consume his soul. No one in all of Germany would miss one more Catholic priest. Was this grave he dug to be a grave for two? Harder and harder he dug to fight away the thoughts.
The fear burned in his chest and the labor burned in his arms. Finally, he stopped to rest. He was up over his waist in the hole in the ground. A thin drizzle had started again. He stared at his freckled arms, the dirt turning to mud on the the red hair in the moonlight. Given a chance to relax, he realized that he was trembling.
“Schnell, schnell!” Klaus urged.
He didn’t sound angry, but Seamus could stand no more. “Tochailt é féin!” he snapped, and then in English he knew Josef could understand, “Dig it yourself, if it’s a hurry you’re in!”
Josef and Klaus exchanged glances. They seemed to have a private conversation with their eyes. Expressions changed, shoulders shrugged, hands gestured as if they spoke in an exclusive sign language. Josef turned to meet Seamus’ gaze.
“Only a little more,” he said quietly in English. “Time is not our ally.”
Seamus took a deep breath and turned the shovel to dig again. Pain shooting through his fingers told him they were blistered and open raw now, unaccustomed to work and the rough wooden handle of the spade. He tried to let the calm in Josef’s voice sooth his angst. Just a little further and finally Klaus stopped him.
Relieved, he tossed the shovel aside and stretched up his hand, but Klaus didn’t reach out to take it. Instead he bent down and untied the sack. Pulling it from the feet, he poured the body out onto the ground. Seamus gasped in surprised terror. He instantly recognized the face. The body he was to give its final rite of passage was the body of the Führer himself!
Klaus kicked Adolph Hitler’s blood-soaked body, bound and gagged, into the grave with Seamus. Seamus looked wildly at Josef for an explanation, but Josef simply gestured with his head. Heart pounding in his chest, Seamus knelt over the body and began in English to deliver a prayer of eulogy.
“Nein, nein!” Klaus was excited. “Letzte Ölung!”
Josef looked sternly at him and then explained. “He must be given last rites. Forgive nothing. He must not rise from the dead.”
Seamus was confused, “Last rites are an honor usually reserved for the living,” he protested.
Josef’s sinister smile sent chills through Seamus’ aching body. “Hold him down. Deliver the rites,” he hissed.
Seamus knelt as he was told. He pushed his hands to the Führer’s chest and pulled them back in shock! The heart was still beating!
“Schnell, priester!” Klaus’ voice was anxious now.
His own heartbeat drumming furiously now, Seamus pushed his hands back down on the body’s chest and began to pray in earnest. At first the irony seemed almost amusing. But at the mention of Jesus’ name, the Führer’s eyes shot open. His body began to writhe. Pure hatred burned in those eyes, the prayer of a Jew being said over his body! Seamus cried out. He could feel the evil spirit trying to surge into his own.
“Haltet ihn! Haltet ihn!” Klaus was frantic.
Seamus held the body down and finished the rites. His hands were suddenly seared as if it were the fires of Hell he held down. A shovel full of dirt hit his face and filled his mouth as he tried to cry out. He spat the dirt and began to chant desperately in Latin.
“Spiritus sancti, donum ei requiem!” Another face full of dirt.
“Spiritus sancti, donum ei requiem!” Seamus held his eyes closed tightly for fear that the evil that had possessed this murderer of races would climb through the windows of his soul. Mouth down, he kept repeating the phrase through tears now, over and over. “Spiritus sancti, donum ei requiem!
Both men up top were now shoveling furiously. Seamus felt the dirt filling in the grave around him. He knew his fate now. Death would release this evil spirit; it must be buried alive. He couldn’t let go of the struggling body beneath him. “Spiritus sancti, donum ei requiem!” he repeated until the dirt finally covered his mouth and he could chant no more.
He took one last deep breath and held it as long as he could. Even as blackness swallowed him, he could feel the Führer’s body still struggling beneath. Then Klaus’ strong hand was at his collar pulling him up through the dirt. He lay there gasping for breath as Klaus and Josef filled in the rest of their unholy grave and jumped on it to pack the dirt down.
The rain began to fall harder now, and Josef looked up to greet it. “Gut. Es ist vollbracht,” he said.
Seamus knew it was not done. Somewhere outside Berlin, in an unmarked grave by a crooked tree, the most evil spirit he could ever conceive of would always lie. It would lie there, but it would not rest.
© 2011 Anne Schilde