Calvin Prichard stared vacuously at the body and wondered how he would explain this to the kids.
It was a bad night, a foul night, a night from which no good could possibly come no matter if God, Jesus and all 12 disciples were standing at your shoulder.
The moon hung low in the sky like even it didn't want to be there and would disappear at any moment, an orange, half-bitten piece of moldy pepperoni stuck against a flat black wall. Blotches of fog twisted the shape of the trees and absorbed the meager light of Calvin's lantern from the view of any car that might pass by on the road a scant 100 yards away.
Calvin sat atop a tree stump, breaking from his stupor only to take long draughts from a flask of whisky followed immediately, and each time, with sucking inhalations from a menthol cigarette burned nearly to the filter.
The light from the cigarette, more than the lantern, illuminated his face, half covered with a beard like a yard left to go to seed. Lines of motor oil and grime covered the other half from which his yellowed eyes peered under the brim of a tattered cap that was covered with the same grime and oil.
A bitter, unhealthy wind scoured the earth, sweeping up rustling dead leaves and hurling them in mini tempests against Calvin's immobile form. Finally he snorted, smashed out the cigarette on the base of the stump, took up the shovel that had lain beside him and stood.
He stretched just a little and began to work on the hole.
The wind came again and this time wafted the maggoty odor of the body toward him.
"Lord a'mighty, Daisy girl, but you done turned pretty quick, didn't cha?" he said, but then bit his tongue at the guilt that sentiment dredged up inside him.
Well, it wasn't like he had wanted to shoot her. She was acting crazy, frothing at the mouth even. It couldn't be helped.
But as the shovel hit the earth with a grating, sizzling sound he thought back over all the good times before this evil night. He remembered how he'd loved her long, blond hair, so fine it felt like water running between his fingers.
And she had loved him unconditionally, no doubt about it. Didn't matter to her if he was just some penniless Georgia onion farmer who drove a croaking, flaking flatbed pickup and lived in that simple, cozy shack in which the kids were even now dreaming childish dreams.
Ah, the children. What would he tell them?
It was lucky he'd shot her while they were all eight of them out at school. He'd fended off their questions as best he could during supper, knowing that her body was just out in the shed awaiting this lonely ceremony.
Maybe he could just tell them she ran off somewhere.
The hole grew until it reached the proper size, then he put aside the shovel and gently laid her in the earth. He took up the shovel once more and covered her. When that was done he picked up the small cross he'd managed to put together from two pieces of the picket fence he'd knocked down the previous winter while returning home from a night at the VFW.
He tapped the cross into one end of the mound of fresh-turned dirt and stood back to check the hasty epitaph he'd inscribed there in black paint.
"Daisy, a good dog," was all it said.
"Yup, I reckon I oughta spring for that ol' rabies shot next time," said Calvin in the only benediction he could think of for his family's golden retriever.
Hoisting up the shovel on one shoulder and taking the lamp in the other hand, Calvin ambled down the trial toward the cabin, toward the children and their mother. He whistled "Amazing Grace" and the sound fought upward toward heaven through that coal-hard black, October night.
"The young-uns'll be fine, I s'pose," he thought to himself. "Halloween's just a few days away, and they love Halloween."
Ed Brock covers public safety (including murders), supernatural events and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, but only on nights with a full moon.