Harker Dawes asleep was certainly no prettier or better looking asleep than he was when he was awake. You know how people will say about a demonically possessed child that causes chaos and havoc and dread in the lives of the people who gave life to him, “He looks like such an angel when he’s sleeping”? Well, no one ever said that about Harker. Even when he was a child, he looked more like a deformed potato with its eyes shut when he was sleeping. His balding head had an odd dent in the crown that had been there since birth. His kinky-curly red-brown hair was only a fringe around his ears and the back of his head that could accurately be described (and usually was by local Iowans) as Bozo-the-Clown-hair. His eyes were somewhat bugged out of their sockets, giving him a look of being permanently surprised by life… or more accurately… permanently stupefied. Mercifully those goofy-looking eyes were closed in slumber.
It was a benefit to Harker himself that his eyes were closed and he was sleeping. And this was because he had accidentally fallen asleep on Poppy’s grave in the Norwall cemetery. And also because he was currently surrounded by skeletons, members of the local un-quiet dead, standing in a semi-circle and ogling Harker with their eye-less eye sockets.
“Do we have to eat him?” asked the tall male skeleton with the seed-corn company baseball cap on his head. “I mean, if it’s all the same, I’d really rather not.”
“I think you only have to eat his brain,” said the little boy skeleton. “I don’t know for sure because that Night of the Living Dead movie didn’t become popular around here until years after I died and video tapes became popular.”
“How do you know about that then?” asked the church lady skeleton. It was obvious that she was the remains of a church lady because she still had quite a bit of long white hair on her skull, along with a pillbox hat, and she was dressed in a tattered church-lady-type dress of green rayon with a printed pattern of red roses turned brownish gray by years under the mud.
“When I wandered into town one Halloween night in the 80’s, I looked in the living room window of the Martin family, and the two boys were watching that movie on what they call a VCR.”
“Was the movie any good?” asked the skeleton in the cap. “I heard of it in life, but never watched it. It would’ve been too scary for my daughter, the Princess.”
“The zombies were all fake. And when they ate human flesh, you could tell it was all special effects. They should’ve asked me. I could have shown them how it really looks.”
“Heavens!” said the church lady, “They don’t actually kill people when they make a movie, do they?”
“I don’t think so,” said the boy. “That may have changed since I passed away in the 60’s.”
“I still don’t think I really want to eat him,” said the skeleton in the cap, “even if it’s just the brain.”
“We can’t start the Zombie Apocalypse without eating brains and making new walking dead,” said the boy.
The other two skeletons turned and looked at the little boy skeleton. Both of them let their bottom jaws drop open, but without flesh, it was impossible to tell if that was an expression of surprise, disgust, or… hunger.
“Do we really need to end the world with a Zombie Apocalypse?” asked the church lady. “I’m not sure eating living people’s brains is a very Christian thing to do.”
“Aren’t there supposed to be bad consequences for falling asleep in a graveyard?” asked the skeleton in the cap.
It was then that they noticed a fourth skeleton had joined the group.
“Why, Bill Styvessant,” greeted the church lady, “I haven’t seen you in half a century!”
“True. You were but a girl in the late 40’s when I passed on from a broken heart.”
“You remember me in life?” asked the church lady.
“Of course I do. You are Ona White. I sat with you the night you died, under the street light on Pesch Street. You were mauled by those two dogs that shouldn’t have been loose. I tried to comfort you as you passed away from shock and blood loss.”
“I thought you were an angel, Bill.”
“I was. Angels take many forms. An angel is merely a message from God.”
“Wait a minute! How can a skeleton know who another skeleton was in life?” asked the skeleton in the cap. “Especially if you died many years before she did?”
“It’s in the nature of angels, Kyle. I know you too. I watched over your family several times when evil lurked near… for a couple years after your suicide. You are ready to take over that job now.”
“Kyle Clarke?” asked the church lady. “You’re Kyle Clarke? What’s this about a suicide?”
“You died before me,” said Kyle, “so you wouldn’t have heard. I lost a third of the family farm to the bank in the early 80’s. The shame and despair was so overwhelming that I shot myself to death in the barn. It was the stupidest act of my entire life.”
“Well, I should think so,” said Ona White.
“Is that why we walk the Earth?” the child skeleton asked Bill. “We all had a tragic death and were doomed to walk for all eternity? How did you die, Bill?”
“Of a broken heart,” the old skeleton said. “My wife died while mourning our son Christian who died in Germany during World War Two. I lived alone for a short while and then simply expired from the weight of my sadness.”
“You didn’t join your loved ones?” asked Ona.
“Of course I did. The same way you joined your father and mother, Ona. Also the way little Bobby Zeffer here was joined by his father a couple of years ago.”
“You are Bobby Zeffer?” asked Ona, surprised. “The little boy who died of Hemophilia?”
“Of course. Who’d ya think I was?”
“But I don’t understand,” moaned Ona, “how did we get to be walking dead when we already have one foot in Heaven?”
“People die, Ona, but the memory of them lives on, and they continue to impact people’s lives in many ways. We walk not as ghosts, but as metaphorical spirits of the past. No man could live in the present if there had not been those who walked the Earth before him. A life doesn’t end with death. And the word angel has many meanings.”
“So we don’t have to eat this man who is sleeping on the grave of his father?” asked Kyle.
“Of course not. I think that might have a very negative effect on the poor man’s dreams.”
“I don’t think he would taste good anyway,” said Bobby. “He looks like a deformed potato, and I hate potatoes.”
“You can all go back to your rest,” said Bill. “I’ll watch over this one and protect him.”
The skeletons all faded gratefully from view.
Harker Dawes woke up, stretched his arms and yawned. He looked around at the graveyard and the dark of the night. He smiled to himself. He only ever seemed to remember the good dreams.