On the third day following his untimely death, Father Oswald rose from his resting place in Mulbarton’s small cemetery. Hugh, son of Edric the carpenter, was the first to spot him. Abandoning the family pigs in alarm, he rushed back to the village.
‘What?’ Edric demanded, as the flustered youth appeared in the doorway.
‘Tis judgement day!’ Hugh exclaimed, tugging fearfully at the edge of his tunic. ‘Father Oswald’s risen.’
‘What are you jabbering about, lad?’ Edric flung aside his lathe. ‘And where in hell are the pigs?’
He stormed to the door, then stopped in his tracks as he saw the priest approaching sedately across the common land, oblivious to the swine scattering before him and the grave dirt clinging to his face.
‘By our lady! Tis a miracle!’ Edric strode to the next hut. ‘Widow Aetheling, come see this.’
A woman in her forties, wrinkled and greying, peered out through the gap that passed for a doorway.
‘What is it now? Another turnip in the shape of… Oh my!’
She sank to her knees in the mud, hands held aloft in supplication.
‘Dear lord, have mercy on this poor sinner, and let me enter the gates of heaven with your worthy messenger Oswald.’
‘And the rest of them,’ said Hugh.
‘The rest of what?’
Hugh pointed past pale Oswald at a dozen more figures approaching slowly from the direction of the church. Crows circled overhead, harbingers of revelation.
‘It’s just like them carvings on the church,’ Hugh said. ‘Look at them reaching out to welcome us.’
By now all the villagers were in the street, cares of hearth and field forgotten as they stared at the miracle that shuffled haltingly towards them. Some looked up into the sky, disappointed by the lack of blinding light and roaring trumpets. Others wept with joy to see loved ones again.
‘There’s my Gert,’ the widow Aetheling exclaimed, tears streaming down her face. ‘As perfect as the day the pox took her.’
Hugh gazed at Gert. He’d been closer to her than the widow would have liked, and was pleased as only a young man could be to see her walking again. But even so, something seemed wrong. Her step lacked that enticing bounce, and her face had slipped out of its previously irrepressible smile.
‘I’m not sure…’ he began, but no-one was paying him any attention. They were rushing to meet lost friends and family, now risen to join them on the day of salvation, apparently oblivious to the smell of rot that hung low and nauseating on the breeze.
He turned towards his father, but Edric had stepped forward, reaching out his hand to shake Father Oswald’s.
‘Father!’ the carpenter beamed, then looked down in bemusement at the fleshless fingers that had come away in his firm grasp. ‘Father?’
Oswald groaned and lunged, sinking his teeth deep into Edric’s neck. There were screams as the returning villagers leapt upon their former neighbours, all of them too bewildered to fight back. Blood flowed as the old corpses set to devouring the new.
Hugh looked longingly at Gert, now chewing on her mother’s arm. He thought of running his fingers across her flesh one last time, then thought better of it. Biting aside, who knew which bits of flesh still remained? He turned on his heel and fled, past the wattle huts, down the dirt track and into the forest, heading for the hills and a different kind of salvation.
First published in Alienskin, February 2010