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A large black dog peels away from the shadows and into the path between tombs, the heavy rain passing through it as easily as it does the air. It’s silent in its patrol despite its mass and doesn’t stir a puddle as it trails toward the church on the edge of the graveyard, appearing more like the shadows it came from than a dog. In fact, one could mistake it for a wolf if they weren’t able to make out the thick, red collar circling its neck. Even then the distinction between dog and wolf would be nearly impossible to make.


The decaying church the dog makes its way to can hardly be called a church anymore. Only two of the four outer walls remain standing and most of the inside has been washed away in Betsy, then buried by Katrina. All that fully remains of the once remarkable structure are the few pews that were trapped in the basement when it flooded, faint imprints of what was the preacher’s stand, bits of tattered cloth that once served as wall covers, and a few of the newer additions that were bolted to the floor when the church was renovated in the thirties. If there weren’t a sign marking the historical landmark, one may believe there wasn’t a church here at all. Nevertheless, the ground is still consecrated and Grim still has its job.


The Grim sniffs the air once it reaches the closest wall, ensuring its solitude in the deepest part of the Yard. After a moment, it forges deeper into the unstable structure and rises onto its hind legs, shifting and shrinking from its impressive nine-foot standing height to a reasonable six foot two inches. Its thick, black fur changes to a long, black fur coat over a black button-down shirt and pants. In under a minute, the Church Grim is gone and Shiv stands in its place, shaking his head to clear the hair from his eyes. He glances around once more for any passersby then slips back out into the Yard, tugging the knee length coat around his shoulder as he plunges into the torrent.

Patrol tonight was easy since graverobbing has become a thing of the past and it’s too early in the season for any ritualists or urban explorers. There was, however, a rabbit who wandered in tonight and made an excellent snack at the exact moment when he was getting puckish, but the night was quiet other than that. One of his tasks as Grim, a nightly patrol, is thankfully over. The patrol typically doesn’t amount to anything except a waste of time nowadays, but a duty is a duty and a Grim is bound by his.


The only upsetting thing about modern patrols is the fact that nothing happens anymore. Shiv almost fondly recalls the days in the past when he would drag at the souls of at least two graverobbers to the underworld per night, and how he’d have to scare off droves of occultists trying to make sacrifices to Madame Laveau, even though she wasn’t buried here. Now all he has to deal with is the occasional thrill seeker, a disappointing shift considering how many people claim to be tough shit or into the occult. No matter, one job down, one to go. A simpler one: ensure the Residents of one’s yard are content.


Dorian always gets antsy when it rains. Panics when the water gets above the soles of his shoes. Always fights to get to the highest point at the first flash of lightning or roll of thunder. He doesn’t like storms, or rain, or dark skies, or clouds. No one can blame him, though no one understands him. Storms can’t hurt him anymore. They haven’t been able to for fourteen years.


The rain is heavier than usual tonight and Dorian is on his usual perch, straddling the highest cross in the yard as he watches the streets beyond the fences. There’s no flooding yet, but the drains aren’t pulling water as fast as it should be. An inch of water already sloshes underneath the tires of passing cars and bumps against the sidewalk in front of the graveyard. A few of the older residents of the yard cautiously hover around the gates, cracking jokes and trying to keep the air light as they watch the steady rain add to the pools on the streets.


Almost a dozen Residents are here because of Katrina, though Dorian is the only one unable to hide his discomfort as everyone else does. They keep their own hesitation in check by picking on Dorian’s, questioning his fear when everyone knows they’re dead. There’s no point in fearing something if it can’t hurt you, right? So they taunt and tease and Dorian allows it, understanding of the fact everyone needs their own outlets to deal with everything. It’s a routine: Dorian sits on his cross when it rains and the others stand by the gate, everyone watching in their own way before the others tease Dorian for his paranoia.


As long as Dorian allows it, so will Shiv.


When he reaches the cross, a nine-foot statue at the horizontal where Dorian sits, Shiv slides his coat from his shoulders and tosses it up, smiling teasingly when the heavy material lands on Dorian’s leg and startles him.


“Hey,” he says when Dorian looks down to glare at him. “How’s it going?”


“You scared the shit out of me,” Dorian says, tugging the coat off his leg and dragging it up to hang over his head. “You do realize there’s no point in this, right? I’m already soaked.”


“Humor me.” Shiv grunts as he throws a leg over the base of the cross and straddles it much like Dorian does above him, already soaked to the bone by the downpour.


“It smells like wet dog.”




The two lapse into silence as a bolt of lightning lights up the sky and thunder rolls heavily after. Shiv watches as the Residents at the gates tense and fall into their own uneasy silence, already knowing Dorian is doing the same. He wishes he could do something to ease their worry but knows he can’t. Some things stay even after death and there’s nothing anyone can do anything about it.


“Do you think the levees will hold tonight?” Dorian asks, same as always.


“Yeah,” Shiv returns, same as always. The repetitiveness of the conversation is something Dorian needs and Shiv understands that. He needs the assurance even though he knows nothing will happen to him. Nothing can happen to him.


“That’s what they said when the big one hit.”


Shiv reaches up and takes hold of Dorian’s ankle. There’s no way to reach his knee, which would be more comforting than the ankle, and said ankle is a pain to reach for. But Shiv hates feet and refuses to touch them even to comfort a Resident, so the ankle will do.


“This isn’t a big one,” he promises. “Just a shower.”


Dorian remains silent as another beat of thunder rolls.


Not every day at the Graveyard is gloomy and gray. Take this morning, for example, the day after the storm. The peak of tourist season. Living beings either pray and leave offerings to their past loved ones or wander amongst the tombs with their friends looking for ghosts. The graveyard is supposedly haunted after all and makes a popular tourist attraction despite the Yard no longer having a proper name.


A camera snaps to his left and he smiles at the whispers of the group. He wasn’t caught in the photo this time, but he has taught some of the children how to interact with the outside world. Judging by their reactions, they must have caught one of them. Most of the kids caught on quickly and made a game of ‘spooking’ the most people. Shaking trees, cold winds, whispers, taps, shoves, untying shoelaces, and even full or partial apparitions make up the brunt of what Shiv has taught them. The remainder of the lessons consisted of knot tying, hair braiding, and swearing. He’ll never claim the swearing, though. They picked that up on their own.


George laughs and races into Shiv’s waiting arms, giggling up a frenzy as Shiv readjusts his hold. “Didja see that?” the excited seven-year-old says. “I spooked them!”


“I saw,” Shiv assures through his own proud smile. “They certainly seem spooked.”


“I listened to your teachings and made myself fuzzy in the picture!” George goes on. “I don’t know if they seed me in the Yard though.”


Shiv shakes his head and turns away from the group, trailing deeper into the blocked off part of the yard. “No matter,” he says. “This graveyard is said to be haunted anyway. If they saw you, it’d add to the fun for them.”


The smile falters on George’s face. “I don’t want them to have fun,” he says. “I want them to be scared.”


Shiv raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything. He does, however, make a mental note to spend a bit less time with George since he seems to be picking up on Shiv’s mannerisms.


“Having fun and being scared go hand in hand for some people,” he explains as he sets George down on his tomb. “Until then, you need to sleep.”


“But I’m not tired,” George argues. “I wanna stay up with you.”


“You can’t,” Shiv says. “You gotta be ready for tonight.”


“How come you getta stay up all the time?”


“Cause I have to take care of everything.”


“How come?”


Shiv rolls his eyes and guides George to lie down. “Go to sleep,” he instructs firmly. “We have a big night tonight.”


Halloween night is the night the veil between the mortal world and the spirit one is the thinnest, meaning Residents aren’t bound to the Yard and can interact with the living. Children are especially excited during this time since they get to see more people around their age, and the adults enjoy regaining some of the freedom they’ve lost during death. Shiv himself has unlimited freedoms and could come and go as he pleases, but he saw how upset some Residents got when he did and stopped.


Tonight is the famous Voodoo Festival, meaning food, decorations, and lots of costumes. Shops advertise the sale of the usual tourist trap wares at a discounted price for the events. Various jazz and brass bands play down the streets as dancers and other partiers dance in the streets. Strings of lights illuminate the crowds below with the help of the brightly lit shops lining the sidewalks. Colorfully costumed patrons take photos with tourist or excited children while others hide their enthusiasm by taking bites of their food or looking for a drink.


Shiv and Dorian weave their way around the outer rim of the main party blocks hand in hand, each of them having their own reasons for avoiding crowds. They trail lap after lap around the festivities, chatting idly and taking a tally of those who came out tonight. Like Dorian, not everyone enjoys the crowds of the night and opt to stay at the Yard and ‘welcome’ those leaving offerings. Shiv wishes he could do the same, but his job requires him to keep everyone safe, meaning he has to go out with the wanderers. Too many bad things can happen to spirits tonight and Shiv needs to be out to make sure none of it happens to his Residents.


“You going to eat that?” Dorian asks, motioning to the uneaten po boy in Shiv’s free hand. “Cause I’m still hungry.”


Since it is the only night of the year spirits can eat and he doesn’t want to ruin the fun, Shiv pass over the sandwich and watches as a group of his young Residents racing around laughing with a group of living children. Well, at least they will fall asleep quickly when they get back. He’s seen a few of his adult Residents mingling with other partiers and makes mental tabs of where they are. He also makes a note that he’s eventually going to face his discomfort and head into the crowd to gather his residents before three am. That’s going to be a task in itself, so he decides to start at around one thirty. A quick glance at the moon gives him a time of roughly twelve twenty. Grand.


“You aren’t listening to me, are you?” Dorian asks through his mouthful of sandwich. “You know, for someone who’s supposed to be this huge, loving figure in the Yard, you aren’t a very good listener.”


“You were asking if I ever wanted to leave the Yard forever,” Shiv says distractedly. “And you also asked if I ever had to use the bathroom cause you never seen me do it. Which is a very weird question.”


Dorian shrugs. “But it’s a valid one.”


“It’s really not.”


“You never answered the questions.”


It’s Shiv’s turn to roll his eyes and he gives Dorian’s hand a squeeze of an unknown emotion. “First off, I’m not alive. So no, I don’t need to use the bathroom,” he says. “And second, no, I don’t think of leaving.”


“Really? Nothing happens at the Yard unless someone dies. Why stay when you don’t have to.”


“It makes the others upset cause they can’t,” Shiv says. “Besides, I’m too lazy to want to go anywhere.”


Dorian smiles and swings their hands again. “Are you sure you don’t just want to spend more time with me?”


“Of course not.”


“You love me.”


“I’d let a lwa drag you to the underworld for half a succulent leaf.”


Dorian pauses. “That is very specific and you only use specifics when you love something. Ergo, you love me.”


Shiv squints in thoughtful confusion. “Who uses the word ergo anymore?”


“Whatever, you- Hey look, a parade’s coming.”


Parades mean crowds. Crowds mean people and his Residents. Ergo (and he hates himself for using the word), his searching job just got easier.


Shiv tugs Dorian over to a closed shopfront door and takes shelter underneath the awning. “We can watch from here,” he says. “Out of the crowd but we can still see everything.”


Dorian hums as he watches the cheering crowd approach. “You’re just lazy and you know you just have to watch for Residents and call them over,” he sums. “But I’ll bite.”


If it were anyone else, Shiv would hate the fact that he’s so easily read. However, he’ll make an exception for Dorian. So instead of making a comment and spouting out a bullshit, but still believable, lie, he shakes his hand from Dorian’s and sits at his feet, resting his head on Dorian’s leg as Dorian leans against one of the awning support poles. Dorian’s hand finds Shiv’s head and he starts twirling a lock of his hair as the brass band’s music makes itself clear over the noise of the city.


The parade is a bit longer than Shiv would have liked, but he managed to pick his Residents out from the crowd and get them all home with twenty minutes to spare. Like before, Shiv and Dorian trail behind the crowd and keep everyone in line, ensuring no one gets left behind. Once at the gates, a metaphorical weight lifts from Shiv’s shoulders. There’s no need to worry about his Residents if they’re back on consecrated ground. Nothing can hurt them if—


Dorian stops short and Shiv nearly falls since they’re still holding hands, his free arm pinwheeling to keep himself balanced before turning back to face Dorian. “What?”


“I want to go home.”


Shiv quirks and eyebrow and points a thumb over his shoulder to the Yard.


“Not there,” Dorian elaborates. “Home.”


It takes a few seconds for Shiv to come to the conclusion Dorian is leading him to, and then he jumps in surprise when he does. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he says carefully.


“I know,” Dorian agrees, gently tugging Shiv’s hand back towards him. “But I want to see it.”


Shiv glances back to the Yard as the final straggler staggers back behind the gates. Once she’s inside, he glances to the moon for a time check before sighing in defeat and hanging his head to his chest. “Fine,” he says. “But we have to hurry.” Dorian nods and moves to start down the road, but Shiv stops him with his own tug. “And,” he says, releasing Dorian’s hand and shrugging off his coat, “you have to wear this.”


Dorian’s shoulders slump and he makes a face. “Are you kidding me?” he asks. “That coat always smells like dog and you’re taller than me. I’m going to drown in it. Plus it’s heavy.”


“Tough shit,” Shiv says, extending the coat in his direction. “Put it on.”


Dorian groans deeply and snatches the coat, tugging it on and pulling it closed around him. As he expected, there is a lot of excess fabric around him and it does look like the coat is trying to drag him to the ground under its weight. Dorian himself, barely visible underneath everything, doesn’t look amused. “Happy?”


Shiv smiles. “Perfectly.” He slips his hands in his pants pockets and nods him forward. “Lead the way.”

The two make their way down the road away from the Yard, Shiv trailing behind Dorian and watching the area around them. It’s easier to protect a single Resident than a whole graveyard of them, and his coat masks the scent of a Resident with one of a Grim. Nothing messes with a Grim outside their territory since it means they’re usually on a task, and Grims on tasks aren’t known for their patience. They should be fine.


Five minutes later, Dorian and Shiv stop in front of the skeletal remains of a house. The sun has leached the color from the front of the house and faded the cross code spray painted on the boards covering the door and windows. Weeds have taken over what used to be a beautiful yard and the flowerbeds, a few managing to wind their way up the front of the house.


Dorian inhales deeply and Shiv glance at him from the corner of his eye. Shiv knew he would be uncomfortable coming back and he knew things would probably get emotional. However, nothing registers on Dorian’s face. If Shiv didn’t know him as well as he does, he would say that Dorian doesn’t care about being back. That he finally got over the past and is fine with coming back to the place he died fourteen years ago. Since he does know Dorian very well, Shiv knows he’s in shock.


“They haven’t cleaned it yet?” Dorian says, though Shiv can’t tell if he meant to say it out loud or to himself. “It’s been years.”


Shiv won’t mention how a lot of houses haven’t been touched yet. He doesn’t think it’s the time. Instead, he looks to the moon as it comes from behind a cloud and reaches over to take Dorian’s hand. “We should—”


“Can we get in?”


Shiv pauses and blink. “What?”


Dorian turns his head and looks Shiv straight in the eyes. “I want to go inside.”


There’s an uncertainty in Dorian’s eyes that almost makes Shiv say no, but the plea behind it makes him hold his tongue. As a Grim, he understands the trauma of letting a Resident seeing their death site again. He also knows many other Grims do let their Residents see their sites and deal with their emotions as they do. Sometimes it leads to closure, other times it adds to the trauma and leads to a change. Shiv doesn’t know if he wants to risk it.


However, he knows Dorian already knows what happened to him and nothing dramatic happened to him. Yes, there’s some light emotional issues, but nothing that totally shifted his entire personality from when he was alive. How bad can visiting home be?


With that in mind, Shiv huffs through his nose and nods. “We can spare seven minutes,” he says. “Then we have to go back.”


A ghost of a smile flashes on Dorian’s face and he returns the nod. “Thank you.”


“Shut up.” He looks around the empty street before starting across the yard toward the house. “Go in and wait for me,” he instructs as they reach the bottom of the porch stairs. “I have to look for another way in.”


Dorian doesn’t respond verbally but gives another nod, silently making his way up the stairs before fazing through the door. Shiv tosses another glance down the road to reconfirm his solitude before creeping through the shadows to the backyard. While he technically isn’t alive, he is still very corporal, meaning he has to do some light breaking and entering to get into places. Which is still technically illegal. Only technically. He has permission to enter, but he can’t exactly tell police officers the ghost of the owner of the long-abandoned house told him he can go in. A Grim can’t do their duties if they’re locked in a sanitorium.


Wait, do they still call them sanitoriums? He’ll have to check on that.


There’s a loose board covering the basement window and Shiv picks it as an entry point, wincing and continuously scanning the area as it creaks and cracks under his influence. The board gives after Shiv’s impatience gets the better of him and he gives up on subtly and opts to yank it off in one go. He squirms inside and lands on a wobbly shelf, making sure it’s steady for at least a minute while he replaces the board to look like it’s still in place. He turns to face the darkness and blinks a second while his vision adjusts, allowing him to see the room around him clearly and thank whoever gave him night vision.


Rotten boxes full of rats and roaches lie haphazardly on the mold-stained concreate floor, the scattered boxes punctuated occasionally by the remains of the shelves that used to hold them. Usual stuff in Katrina remains, but what causes Shiv to hesitate is the ankle-deep water that remains on the ground. He doesn’t know how long it’s been there and he doesn’t want to drop in it bare-footed, but he does know Dorian is waiting for him upstairs.


Seeing no other option, Shiv inhales deeply to steel himself before sliding off the shelf and dropping into the pool. A shiver runs up his spine when his feet hit the freezing water and he bites back an uncomfortable whine when a cloud of mosquitos rise around him, forcing himself to focus his energy on getting upstairs where he hopes there’s no water.


Dorian stands at the top of the stairs when Shiv pushes the basement door open, a mild look of amusement in his eyes as he watches Shiv shake his feet off and shiver in discomfort again. “Could you be any more conspicuous?” he teases as Shiv kicks the door shut once again. “I thought your whole thing was supposed to be stealth and mystery.”


“Shut up,” Shiv grumbles. “How are things?”


The amusement shifts to a dream-like nostalgia as Dorian moves his attention to the larger room around them. The carpet, which Shiv assumes used to be either red or a wine color, is now grey-green with mold and dust, matching the dingy atmosphere surrounding the whole room. Mold and spores cover every surface, and that’s covered by an addtional layer of dust. Half of a sectional couch blocks the bottom of the stairs while the other half sits upside down in the middle of the room. There’s no coffee table in sight and the TV is in the kitchen. Books, papers, knick-knacks, and other signs of a former life scatter the floor and everywhere else Katrina decided to drop them.


Judging by the mold, the flood water got much higher than the first floor. Shiv doesn’t know if he wants to try to go upstairs.


“Everything’s still here,” Dorian muses as his eyes wander. “It’s a shame. I thought my shit was worth something. I guess looters don’t think so.”


Shiv offers a half-hearted shrug. “I think it’s the smell,” he says. Dorian shoots him a look. “It’s very potent,” he continues. “I almost puked.”


“Says the one always wearing a coat that smells like a dog,” Dorian shoots back. “I’m surprised your nose even works.”


Shiv shrugs again. “Strange, ain’t it?”


Dorian rolls his eyes and continues to move around the house, taking in the tattered remains of his old house. “Sometimes I swear you are a dog,” he calls as he enters the kitchen. “I can’t remember a time when you didn’t smell like one. I swear it’s the coat.”


Shiv bites back a smile and remains silent, careful to keep his eyes on the ground as he follows behind Dorian.


The two make their way around the house in a silence that’s typically reserved for funerals, heavy and cautious as if the air will shatter with any sudden sound. Dorian doesn’t offer many reactions to the chaos he moves through, simply taking in the sights and letting himself get lost in the memories of what was. He’ll give an occasional smile as he passes the rare flash of color in the dinge but remains otherwise stoic.


Once the tour of downstairs concludes, Dorian makes his way through the couch on the stairs. Shiv catches his wrist before he can finish taking the second step. “Don’t,” he warns quietly. “Don’t put yourself through that.”


Dorian doesn’t say anything or turn around, intensely focused on the world he left behind upstairs. The life he left behind. The house doesn’t have an attic despite the space between the second floor and the roof, meaning Dorian could get out when the water got too high. They both know that. Dorian told Shiv during a particularly bad storm back when Dorian first arrived in the Yard. Of course, Shiv already knew everything since the Church Grim knows everything about his Residents. No one knows Shiv knows and Shiv doesn’t intend to tell them. Grims are keepers of knowledge, not sharers.


“Dorian,” Shiv says again. No response. Shiv squeezes his hand. “Dorian?”


Dorian doesn’t offer anything in place of a reaction for a few seconds, then slowly turns back to Shiv. There’s a faint shine of new tears in his eyes and a sad smile on his face when their gazes meet. Shiv begins to worry that he should have said no to coming, but Dorian descends without protest and surprises Shiv with a hug. Once the initial panic wears off, Shiv forces down his surprise and returns the gesture in equal force. They stand there for a moment before Dorian pulls away and nods.


“Thank you,” he whispers. “Let’s go home.”

One Response to “Tales from the Church Grim (Final)”

  1. Mina: You’ve done a remarkable job crafting such a well-developed, well-written story in so short a period of time. I enjoyed reading this.

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