All Are Safe and Sound (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters)

“Justice, in a word. In a word, I think it's about justice.” “You're just spouting nonsense now, Rick. You have a full on case of brain freeze.” Rick, who was tall and lanky, led the way. Mort, stumpy and weak willed, followed. “Why aren't we frozen to death yet, Mort?” A white wind slashed across the eyes of both travelers and blinded them. Mort shivered. “Not yet, perhaps soon.” “I'll tell you, I've spent seven winters here and not once seen a flake of snow, much less a whole damned blizzard.” “I think Meg said she saw it snow once.” “Bull, Meg is even more Yankee than I am, and no authority on Louisiana weather. Meg says things she doesn't know.” “But why are we going to all this trouble, Rick? Does it really matter whether or not there is a body buried out here?” “Meg acted like she knew for sure that there was was nothing buried here. I distinctly remember 'Clarence Stills' right in the middle of the old farm, buried under a gray piece of rock. Clarence is here, waiting to be found.” “Why does it matter, Rick? Seems like a lot of works.” “It doesn't matter, only that we are men, and that men don't need to make sense. All that matters is that men do what they set out to do.” “Are you doing all this to try and impress Meg? She's probably worried sick.”

Mort screwed his eyes and could just barely make out Rick's lanky shape, taking huge steps in the Tabula rasa beneath. He ran his hands up and down the handle of his shovel. If he did get splinters, he wasn't sure he'd know it until he got out of this cold. One step. Two step. Three step. Four step. “Are we almost there, Rick?” “How in the hell should I know, Mort?” “I think this was a really drunk idea, Rick.” “Doesn't really matter. We're closer to the grave now than we are to home, I think.” Mort was now losing feeling in his feet, and the chills were beginning to creep up his legs. The wind roared deafeningly for a long stretch of time, and every word that Mort said was lost and shattered. Had the world continued to be so silent and white for much longer, Mort would have to begin imagining things to hear and see, because the walls around him were all Tabula rasa. Once, Mort slipped and thought he might fall on his face, but found himself suddenly upright. In this snow, he couldn't even tell up from down. Finally, the wind subsided a bit, and he could see Rick's lanky shape again before him. Perhaps it was an illusion of the snow, but Rick appeared to have become more slim and slender. Mort had little value for his senses at this point, so he kept walking. He looked up and focused on the sky long enough to make out a big, round moon. It was the whitest moon he had ever scene. When snow began to fall in his eyes he went back to his task, trudging through an ever deepening blankness. He gazed at Rick again, and this time he seemed even more starved, even skeletal. “Rick, how will we know when we've found it?” he asked the figure ahead of him. “Just leave all that worrying to me, I can see just fine.” the voice that spoke came from behind. Mort turned and saw Rick, shadowy and right by his shoulder. He gasped and looked ahead. The figure leading was took off running the moment he looked back, taking great strides with its dark legs that were way to slim to belong to any living person. Mort gasped and stopped and tried to say something until he simply inhaled too much cold and couldn't bear to keep his mouth open any longer. “Just a little beyond here.” Rick stated “I recognized that twisted tree back there.” Mort, half senseless and nearly as white as the snow, complied. The two walked on, deeper and deeper into white. They walked on and on, getting colder and more confused with each step. Finally, at long last, a bit of the snow began to settle, and they were left with clearer view. Out before them lay a a long, shadowy field, with crooked trees on every side. They were a ways off from a precipice, fenced

off by a rotting, wormwood fence. The moon hung high up in the sky, mingling its bright element with the snow, and the sky was tinted red. In the very center of this little macabre stage was a single stone crucifix, a tombstone. “And you doubted me.” Rick snarked “Here it is, the old grave I was telling you about. Now, let's dig him up and give him a look. If we find a man at all, that will be one I can hold over Meg.” Mort clung tightly to the handle of his shovel, which now felt as though it was almost frozen to his hand. It was frozen. He could not let go. He had come too far, followed Rick all the way into a world of Gothic horrors and antebellum wonders. “Now! Let's get to exhuming!” as Rick approached the grave his light boots barely made a mark on the snow. Mort looked back over the way they'd come. He could still barely see anything in the distance but white. He was still in the cage, still trapped. “Are you going to get over here or are you just going to fondle the shovel?” The vigilante resurrection-man joined his fellow, and the two put their two first bruises into the ground, piercing through layers and layers of crystal before touching the frozen soil. After a few hard blows they managed to peel off some of the skin, a triangular clump of dirt with frozen grass, then they beat into the ground like vicious killers striking a witness. Mort thought briefly that he saw a red flicker in Rick's eyes. He kept digging. He became manic with fear, with doubt, with cold and he just kept digging. Finally they struck something truly solid. Rick cackled like an imp. “Let's see that face of yours, Mister . . .” Mort looked up at the tombstone. The air was now clear enough to allow him to read the name “Clarence Stills.” he cackled again and thrust his shovel downward with all his might. To his chagrin, it sunk down into a deeper layer of soil. “They call it six feet under for a reason, I guess.” he sighed “I guess we just have to keep digging.” “Rick . . .” Mort shuttered “If we leave now, we might be able to make it back to the car before the storm starts up again.” “I didn't come all this way to turn my damn tail!” Rick hissed, and for a second, Mort was fully convinced that Rick would kill him and bury in the fresh hole they'd dug. He made no more complaints, but just kept digging. He gazed around him with a stupefied kind of wonder while he dug, watching the line that divided the world from the under world rise slowly higher. His eyes began to read the shadows, and imagine people in the trees. A birch with snowy leaves held its single finger up to the pursed lips on its trunkface, gesturing for silence. “The dirt actually feels like its getting softer.” Rick cried cheerily “We should be there soon.”

The earth's mouth finally rose above Mort's head, and all he could do to keep calm was gaze straight up while he dug, beholding the white moon in the red sky. By now, he could barely feel any part of his body, and his thoughts were all turning white. He looked up at the tombstone for which they slaved. Here Lies Clarence Stills He shivered one last shiver, the last shiver his body would have the power to sense. He was senseless, and he realized it before the storm started again. The white dust came back with a renewed vigor, bleaching the sky, the moon, the earth, turning white to whiter. Mort gazed up one more time and thought for sure he saw two tombstones. They were still digging when the snow came in and destroyed their senses, and Mort thought that he could hear Rick crying out with ecstasy, and he thought that he could see a strange light shinning in the deep. He drove himself on in the midst of oblivion, cutting the earth with every bit of sharpness he had left, trying to make her bleed purpose, and she bled light. The snow became overshadowed, the cold was calmed, the wind was silenced. The shovel struck into something new. There was a blue sky, green grass, yellow sun, all of the colors in there proper place. It was daylight, shinning brightly. The barrier between the living and the dead was cut open. Clarence Stills cried out with glee, having finished his backbreaking excavation. It had taken him all morning, but he had managed to dig up that old coffin by the farmhouse. It was a strange old coffin in which two corpses lay side by side with their eyes wide open.