Now and Forever
Рэй Дуглас Брэдбери

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He worked swiftly, clearing away the earth, and bent to tug at the edge of the coffin, at which moment he heard a single sound.

A footstep.

Yes! he thought wildly, happily.

She’s here again. She had to come find me, and take me home. She …

His heartbeat hammered and then slowed.

Slowly, Cardiff rose by the open grave.

Elias Culpepper stood by the iron gate, trying to figure out just what to say to Cardiff, who was digging where no one should dig.

Cardiff let the spade fall. ‘Mr Culpepper?’

Elias Culpepper responded. ‘Oh God, God, go on. Lift the lid. Do it!’ And when Cardiff hesitated, said, ‘Now!’

Cardiff bent and pulled at the coffin lid. It was neither nailed nor locked. He swung back the lid and stared down into the coffin.

Elias Culpepper came to stand beside him.

They both stared down at …

An empty coffin.

‘I suspect,’ said Elias Culpepper, ‘you are in need of a drink.’

‘Two,’ said Cardiff, ‘would be fine.’

SIXTEEN (#ulink_979e930c-972e-5b10-89b7-d1419c7503e8)

They were smoking fine cigars and drinking nameless wine in the middle of the night. Cardiff leaned back in his wicker chair, eyes tight shut.

‘You been noticing things?’ inquired Elias Culpepper.

‘A baker’s dozen. When Claude took me on the bread and muffin tour I couldn’t help but notice there are no signs – anywhere – for doctors. Not one funeral parlor that I could see.’

‘Must be somewhere,’ said Culpepper.

‘How come not in the phone book yellow pages? No doctors, no surgeons, no mortuary offices.’

‘An oversight.’

Cardiff studied his notes.

‘Lord, you don’t even have a hospital in this almost ghost town!’

‘We got one small one.’

Cardiff underlined an entry on his list. ‘An outpatient clinic thirty feet square? Is that all that ever happens, so you don’t need a big facility?’

‘That,’ said Culpepper, ‘would about describe it.’

‘All you ever have is cut fingers, bee-stings, and the occasional sprained ankle?’

‘You’ve whittled it down fine,’ said the other, ‘but that’s the sum. Continue.’

‘That,’ said Cardiff, gazing down on the town from the high verandah, ‘that tells why all the gravestones are unfinished and all the coffins empty!’

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