Among the crumbling memorials and mossy headstones, he stumbled over hallowed ground and upon a single word: relic. He thought of her blonde hair, how the evening sky would reflect--no, refract--against the severe lightness of each strand. He decided she'd look like an angel, if only at night.

The scuffed toes of his boots sank into mud and slick grass with every step, feet making a lewd squishing noise that reminded him of zombie flicks and bad late-night television. Is it porn or horror? He decided she'd laugh at that.

As he trudged along, his calloused fingertips brushed over the tops of forgotten tributes, their textures as varied as the individuals beneath him. To a casual observer, he seemed to be moving without direction. But past midnight in a graveyard there are no casual observers and, besides all that, he had a purpose. The shovel grew heavy in his left hand.

Air huffed out of his mouth more quickly now, relic, relic, relic. His cigarette was mostly ash, a sad cylinder of decay. He grimaced and threw the still-lit butt to the ground, never skipping a beat with his hand on the gravestones. One would feel right. Soon.

And then, as if God or something like it had heard him, the familiar warmth spread over his body. Fresh ground. He ran his thick tongue over the chapped scales of his lips, wetting his mouth and throwing his equipment off to his side as he dropped to his knees. "Yessss," he hissed, bending to sink his thick hands into the mound, pawing at the dirt. The cold yield of the mud made him remember childhood, when he'd made pies out of the stuff and topped them in grass and pine needles. He'd show her all his photographs. She'd love it.

He allowed himself only a moment of revelry before setting at his task. The offensive glow of his digital watch said he had approximately one hour before the groundskeeper would start this way. Gloves from his back pocket, mask and rope from his satchel, shovel plucked from the temporary resting space he'd assigned so arbitrarily before. He grinned, kissed the wooden handle of his partner, and set into the classic hunch. In his head, one word pounded with each beat of his heart: relic.. relic.. relic.. relic.. relic.

Soon after he hit the hollow top of the casket. The coffin was never buried very low at first; he'd come to rely upon the shoddy work of others. He extracted two small handtools from his coat pocket, wedging one just beneath the lid and using the other to slam down upon it. Wood splintered and rose reluctantly; his fingers curling now beneath. With a grunt he hoisted first one end, then the other. Relic.. relic.. relic.. relic.. relic, like an illness in his brain, the word repeated itself. Suddenly it sounded less romantic. The letters and sounds had twisted to seem ugly, almost ridiculously so. Something was wrong.

It was too small. It was much too small. Relic... His eyes widened, the breath rushed out of his lungs as if he'd been hit in the stomach. Relic... Hands shaking, teeth chattering, he wept. Relic, Oh God, relic....

The face of a sleeping angel lay before him, haloed in blonde ringlets. Her tiny hands clutched something formless and soft; he decided it must have been a doll or plush animal of some kind. Years of obsession inundated his thoughts like a tidal wave. Face after still face, each body he'd liberated. No, violated. I violated them and I'm violating her and she's a child and please somebody stop me and they're not relics--I am. Oh, God. I am.

Baptismal streams washed over his face, lips absorbing saline as his nose began to drip. A blubbering, contralto scream echoed through the cemetery. Had it been Halloween, some unsuspecting teenagers might have used the noise to scare each other senseless. On this dark night, however, no one listened but the dead. He bit his lip and seized the rope, terrified at the knowledge that he'd soon join them.

Thank you, though I'm sure it's not what you wanted.

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