Title: The Engraver
Author: Sierra Phoenix
Disclaimer: I don't own BtVS.
Summary: She saved the world a lot, he said, and in that moment I believed him. (Post-The Gift)
A/N: Had this sitting around collecting dust on my computer and I thought I'd post it while I wait for the Muse to get past the mini-road block on DR. This is probably not one of my better examples of writing…not that I really consider any of my writing very good.
At my age I've seen a lot of strange things and not just on the job. In this town strange is a lifestyle, but the people here have an uncanny knack for seeing what they want to see…or rather ignoring the things they don't want to see. If Sunnydale has a few too many cemeteries for a town its size or the obituary column a few too many pages a week, no one notices.
I notice, of course. When you make death your business it's in your monetary interest to notice such things. In most towns the death business is small potatoes, but in Sunnydale it's a flourishing industry. Sunnydale's a small suburb city with a mortality rate that rivals Los Angeles. It keeps the bills paid so I don't complain too much, but deep down I know it's unnatural. My counterparts – the embalmers, the coffin makers, the gravediggers – I know they must be feeling it too. Death visits this town like they're old drinkin' buddies.
I've heard the rumors, of course; you can't go much of anywhere in this town without hearing about the werewolves out on lover's lane, the sea monster at the docks, or the vampires in the alley behind the Laundromat. And on Saturday mornings at the café or at the bar on late afternoons, when that California sun is shining, it's all a good laugh. And I laugh right along with them. At 67 years old I'm not about to start believing in the bogeyman. But if I happen to take fewer walks at night and if I happen to carry that old rosary of mom's, an old carry-over from my catholic school boy days…well a little superstition never hurt anyone.
I've seen a lot of weird things on the job too. After spending more than half my life carving names into stone, I thought for sure I'd heard everything. You'll get plenty of your normal ones. Beloved father. Faithful husband. Our little angel.
And, when in doubt, the tried and true Rest in Peace
is always a good standard to fall back on.
Some, however, come in a little more bitter than most. I've had more than a few Good Riddance's, Rot in Hell, Cheating Bastard
, and even one highly creative Money Pinching Tight-Wad
I simply nod and it write it down on my clipboard – names, dates, and all – before I lead them out back to pick out a headstone. To most people in the neighborhood it seems creepy, but I've long since gotten over having what looks like a mini-cemetery in my backyard. The tombstones are just for show, all still blank, and as far as I know there aren't any bodies buried back there. It's all just business to me.
On one of my stranger days I had a man come in for his own tombstone, the date of death to be just a few days away. He'd told me with a smile and a manic glint in his eye, and I didn't want consider it too much. The message to be engraved was Just You Wait
. It sounded a bit ominous and dredged up some of those vampire superstitions that I tended to keep carefully locked away. I decided I didn't want to consider that too much either.
Just when I thought I'd seen it all, I had a day that I knew I wouldn't be able to shake anytime soon. It started off normal enough. A group of four came in for a tombstone, an older man, a young man and woman, and an even younger girl. They looked normal enough, in that they had the same look about them that anyone who's just lost a loved one has. You can tell they'd really rather be anywhere but here and doing anything but what they're doing, but they're there. Because reality is just too damn unforgiving for anything else.
I greeted them with a sympathetic smile that I've had years perfecting, got the name and date. Then I asked about the epitaph.
They thought quietly for a moment. One of the men, the oldest of the four, glanced at the youngest before suggesting in a somewhat stilted, British accent, "Beloved sister?"
The youngest, who I now presumed to be the sister and whose eyes had not until that point looked anywhere other than her own feet, turned red-rimmed eyes on the man and gave him a nod and a pained smile.
The young red-headed woman took up the dialogue then, "I think…devoted friend?" I could hear the tears threatening to break her voice, but she managed to keep the waterworks in check.
They fell into silence again, and for a moment I thought that was it. Then the girl spoke quietly, "She saved the world a lot."
I had heard a lot but I wasn't sure what to make of this. As my eyebrows arched in disbelief I vaguely wondered if they were going to attach supergirl to the list as well.
The older three looked at each other, and I have the feeling an entire conversation was being played out in their stares and from their expressions I couldn't even begin to guess what was going through their minds.
Whatever it was though, a conclusion was reached without a word having been said, and when they turned to look at me I was surprised by what I saw in their faces. There was more than just grief there; there was a darkness. They had the look of those who had seen something more than just death, had looked into the abyss and seen something there that was beyond horrifying and even just seeing it reflected in their eyes gave me a chill. I locked those faces in with the vampires, ghosts, and all those other things I didn't want to consider too much.
"She saved the world a lot," the young, dark-haired man said in an even voice that carried a hint of steel as if daring me to contradict him. He looked me straight in the eye, gaze never wavering, and in that moment I believed him.
I did what I always do. I simply nodded and copied down the message on my clipboard. They picked out their headstone, a simple cut in gray marble, and told me they'd pick it up and set it themselves. It was a bit of a strange request, but at this point I wasn't going to argue with anything.
I got out my hammer and chisel and went about engraving letters into stone. Usually I engrave the names and then forget them, but not this one. Even now, years later, on nights when the howling outside my window sounds more like a wolf than that of the neighborhood dogs, that name springs to mind. And on those nights the dark seems a little darker and the world feels a little less safe. And that locked up closet, with its vampire and demons and eyes that have seen too much, spills open. I remember a name engraved in gray stone, a savior of the world, and I wonder just how safe I really am. And if I happen to clutch my rosary a little tighter in my hands and if I happen to leave the light on and check under the bed before I go to sleep…well, better superstitious than sorry, right?