“Damn!” The older man jerked backwards almost dropping his shovel. “It’s been staked.”
“Is that a problem, guv?” asked his young apprentice, hauling up yet another heavy bucketful from the deep hole. He wiped sweat and mud from his forehead as he contemplated the heap of rubble he had created.
“Can be. Buyers generally don’t like it. Their consumers complain like mad when they think they’ve been sold undead.”
Mike Cotton had been farming for over ten years and this was only the second time he had come across a vampire. On that occasion he hadn’t initially grasped the significance of the splinter of wood protruding from the body, the cross-shaped trinkets and the piles of what he had assumed were desiccated onions. He had called out to a fellow-farmer, a Union man, who was busy prying open a nearby mausoleum and who knew about these things. The Union man had explained that policy was to leave it all there, fill in the grave, and attach an ‘Empty’ notice to the stone. Except, wink, wink, the limbs and head can be sold into some of the less regulated markets, no questions asked. Covers the cost of the work done so far. But, tut, tut, not the sort of thing the Union would approve of. Good old Farmers’ Union, Mike had thought at the time. Never gives a straightforward answer.
And so this was his second. He switched on his hand torch and shone the beam of light around the grave and pondered what to do. He wanted the money and he would be happy enough to settle for just limbs and head, but he needed to avoid setting a bad example. Well, not just yet. Anyway, he needed to teach the lad about the stake and all the other paraphernalia.
“Climb down in here, Jimmy Jones, and bring pen and paper. We’ll have a little workshop – you’ll learn something and you’ll be able to tick a box for your CPD.”
Jimmy dropped down and adjusting the lamp on his helmet, took out his note pad and a ballpoint from his overalls top pocket. “Okay, guv. Is this it?”
“Yeah, Jimmy. Your first vampire. You’re lucky. It’s not everyone who experiences this so early. I guess you’ll be buying the drinks in the morning. So, pen to the ready. What do you see?”
Jimmy hummed and hawed, moving his head so the powerful beam from his helmet criss-crossed around the grave stopping every now and then as he paused to write something down.
After a while he spoke. “Okay. What we have here is crop, a body. It’s resting in a metal coffin which we believe to be lead. Samples to be sent to the lab for confirmation. Both inside and outside of the coffin are various metal and plastic items, mostly x-shaped. Plus a lot of very dry what appears to be vegetable matter. The grave is unusually deep, around six foot, with no other bodies on top, suggesting time of burial was during the era before the land shortages and the start of the ten-body-deep practices. The costume suggests female, late twentieth, early twenty first centuries. Protruding from the chest of the crop is a short stake, made from what appears to be wood and heavily inlaid with a shiny metal… .”
“Whoa, whoa. Stop just there. What do you mean, ‘Inlaid with a shiny metal’?”
“It seems like it, guv. I’m pretty sure of it.”
Mike Cotton edged forward and examined the stake. “Hell, get out Jimmy, get out, get out. Don’t touch that thing, just get out.” And scrambled up out of the deep hole, hot on Jimmy’s heels.
At ground level he drew a deep breath. By god, that was a close thing, he thought to himself. So close. Thank god he had the apprentice with him. He would just have pulled out the stake. That would have been… . He couldn’t bring himself to think of the consequences.
“So what’s that all about, guv? Did I do something wrong?”
“Nah, lad. Not you, nor me. It’s just that, well, that stake. Inlaid with gold. That’s an undertaker’s message to people who used to rob graves before they became crops for farmers like us. And it’s a message we take on board. Remember lad, when you come across a vampire, inspect the stake carefully. Don’t touch it, don’t pull it out until you’ve done that. Make sure there’s no gold inlay. Be one hundred percent certain. Even one hundred and ten percent. The gold means it’s not eternally dead. Removing an ordinary wooden stake is fine. The undead remains dead. With the gold, with this one,” kicking some dirt into the hole, “it just ain’t so.”
“You mean… ?”
“I do. Scary isn’t it. Who’d want to be a farmer? So we’re okay this time. Well spotted.”
“So now what, guv?”
“Now? Lid back on. Fill in the hole. ‘Empty’ plaque on the stone; there’s one in the van. You write up your notes for me, copy for college and I’ll also do a report. Oh, and give me two hundred words on ‘Food Retailing and Attitudes to Undead’. Get to it and I’ll meet you in the bar in about, shall we say, two hours. Give us both time to wash off some of this dirt. Say hello to Mary for me.”
Half an hour later, young Jimmy Jones jumped up and down on the mound of soil hoping to flatten it a little in the interest of tidiness (Rule 27: the Apprentice Farmer always leaves his workplace tidy) and proceeded to make a few last rough notes. Ah, the gravestone, he remembered at the last minute. He carefully copied down whatever wording he could still make out. Not much and didn’t make sense to him:
RIP —tcher Pr— Minister——–1-90 Apr-l 2-13
That’s that, he said to himself, kick-starting his replica Triumph Bonneville and speeding off down the grassy lane. Looking forward to that pint.