rayday eve, or the late hours of
Fastday if you so want, certainly make a good time for keeping one’s accounts.
When the week has come to its close, and another business free day still lies
ahead, you know that a new chapter is not about to begin before Washday. Time
for a perfect standstill. Hence, Prayday eve is the ideal day for bookkeepers:
to check the numbers, to verify their accuracy, to compare them with others, to
plan ahead and make sure that figures will still add up somewhere down the line.
So it was as well with someone who had one of the town’s most undesirable
professions: the undertaker. The lonesome fellow was seated in his small study
one Fastday evening; it was late autumn and he had just returned from a funeral
– for sometimes the dead also demand to be buried on a Fastday. As he was the
man for it, the undertaker had done his duty, and now that everything was
settled he had returned to his office. The gravedigger's small study served as a
workshop as well by the way: If you only looked a bit closer you would see that
the gaunt, sinewy man was surrounded by a couple of fresh pinewood coffins
leaning against the wall of the otherwise scarcely furnished room. There they
all stood in file and order, arranged by size, ready and waiting for soon to be
expected tragic occasions that meant further business for someone whose trade
were the dead. Well, the Rat Queen didn't disappoint and harvested with brazen
regularity wielding her scythe; this time of the year often times was quite a
profitable one. The undertaker was well aware of that: death had its season when
frost gnawed on the poor man’s bones.
Thus, to be prepared for any event, the gravedigger was still busy in his study
on said Prayday eve. The lit ceremonial candelabra were sitting next to him on
his desk casting shadows on the wall that showed the silhouette of the somber
figure. The gravedigger was now hunched over an open book, his bony finger
tracing line after line on the page before him. Earnings and expenses were
listed there, and all the coffins that he had prepared and those that he
intended to put together in the next few days based on past year’s calculations.
Every now and then a number would escape the man's thin lips, followed by a
whispered comment to himself, to which he either nodded or shook his head in
disbelief. From time to time he'd make a note.
After leafing a bit through the worn pages the black-clad figure at last got up;
taking the candelabra with him, his heavy boots clacking on the floor, he
trudged through the study. The flickering candles bit by bit unveiled the
details of the gruesome setting. “One... two... three…” he then murmured, adding
one more to his count whenever the flare revealed the shape of another casket.
“Four... five... six... seven... eight…” A closer look under some spread out
cloths in the corner revealed one more narrow box hiding there, destined for the
next unfortunate little one that Queprur would call to her this winter.
“Nine,” the undertaker concluded, dipping his quill into the bottle of ink on
his desk, and that was the number he wrote down.
Aye, Prayday eve certainly is a
good time for keeping one’s accounts.
So it was also with the young fellow who was squatting over a carved chest of
sycamore up there in his attic – an attic by the way which was just a few houses
further down the undertaker's lane. Next to the lad stood a greasy oil lamp on
the damp and smelly floorboards – for the roof leaked! –, illuminating nothing
but the small recess the fellow occupied. On the floor also lay a book he had
brought with him, in which he just had scribbled a few words. As it was, the
young man had not long ago returned from an occasion others would have found
most distressing: the wake of his own father. However, he had shaken the
undertaker’s hand one final time with relief, eager to pay his bill, get out of
that dreary workshop and return home; aye, get back to the abode which finally
belonged to himself, and only himself indeed. Now that his old man, that
domineering, self-opinionated, nitpicking, controlling miser, was gone forever,
he was the master of the house, and everything that was in it was his –
his, his, only his. All that thanks to the meticulous work he had
invested in brewing a lethal concoction, that had helped matters along a bit
once it had found its way into a bowl of chicken soup...
Now that he was alone the young murderer had been searching the whole evening to
uncover that one secret place, the stash which would contain all the money he
had ever dreamed of. The old man had withheld it from him all his life as if it
were the only purpose of his pathetic being. At last, after he had turned
everything upside down, first in the basement and then in the old man's bedroom,
the villain had struck gold, literally! Up there in the attic, stowed away
behind a couple of old picture frames, dusty trunks and brittle crates, was the
answer to his efforts: a tiny, but heavy carved chest of sycamore! The key he
had already found tucked away under the dead man’s mattress, and with it he was
now about to unlock his fortune and future...
There: A click, a clack – lo and behold, the key fits! –, and up went the lid,
with a muted creaking that almost sounded like an elated moan: Ah… Filled with
shiny, sparkling coins the chest was, with coins, coins and still more coins!
After all I can lay my hands on it! the evildoer thought and his eyes
sparkled with ecstatic delight. There were even some rings, necklaces, and a
precious looking bracelet hidden in the coffer as well, stored away in an
unassuming looking pouch at the bottom of the case – pieces of jewelry the old
man must have inherited himself, as the young lad had never seen his late mother
wearing any of it. What a miser he had been! Indeed, a true treasure trove it
was, well worth the vile deed! Bristling with enthusiasm the villain went on to
register the various items he had found in his book. To see it all written down
gave him double pleasure: There were all those riches in front of him, and then
a second time again, nicely arranged now as a documentation of his immense
wealth, ready for disposal...
Thereafter, once the gleeful murderer had catalogued all his jewelry, he went on
to the most exciting part of it all: counting the coins. As there were so many
of them, the endeavor took him quite a while. He enjoyed every moment. “Two
hundred seventy-nine, two hundred and eighty, two hundred eighty-one…” he was
just counting when the oil lamp overcame a nervous flicker, caused by a sudden
icy draft that had found its way into the attic through a hole in the roof. The
villain only moved his lamp and continued counting. He would fix the roof, he
vowed, but then he thought: I'll rather buy my own house – why not? Oh, and
I'll always dine out from now on, I'll wear the finest garments and live in the
lap of luxury! Yes, yes, that's what I'll do! Until there is no money left I'll
live my life to the fullest! And then he went on counting, wallowing in the
pleasures of his incited imagination.
“Seven hundred and eighteen,” was the number he arrived at when he was done, and
his voice was loud and assured as he said it, for a dream had become reality.
Nobody could take these coins away from him now! The deed was done, the old man
six feet under and the gold in his hands. It had all worked out so well.
“Seven hundred and eighteen,” he repeated, still shaking his head when he
thought about how lucky he was, and then he wrote the number down to look at it
again and again. He couldn't get enough of it.
Aye, Prayday eve certainly is a
good time for keeping one’s accounts.
So it was also with that other one: the one, who was right there with the young
lad while he was so preoccupied with counting his new-found treasure in his
attic. That other one indeed, that mysterious presence, that shapeless, ageless,
timeless creature and unspeakable, unfathomable, nameless visitor. Well, as it
was the young fellow didn’t have an inkling that there was an unbidden guest
lurking, least of all why and how it existed. But it was there nevertheless,
watching his every move, hunkering just next to him in its dark, moldy corner,
for that's where it was hiding. It liked it there, in those drab corners.
Wrapped in cobwebs it was, rats milling around its unseen feet, the icy breeze
playing with its invisible gown that draped its abysmal nothingness. All it did
was staring: It stared at the murderous son, that unscrupulous money counter and
that black soul of his. As it was, the creature couldn’t be seen by anyone
mortal or dead, it couldn’t speak or make any sounds, and it didn’t even need
any books for its unique bookkeeping, but it counted still – in its very own
“One…” it would have said if one had only listened hard enough and instead of
one’s ears had used a bit of imagination. “One…” it would have said. “One
So it happened that Prayday eve
late in autumn: All the bookkeepers tended their accounts, each in their own
way. Some were busy counting coffins, some their riches, and some others souls.
To each his own, I guess one could say – as long as everything has its order.