It was obvious even from a distance that they were not the only ones working in the cemetery that night.
They came to a large tomb, and decided to hide behind it. Peeping around the side of the grave, they had a clear view of an unholy scene.
Three men were hard at work in a grave. A small glass lantern propped against a gravestone illuminated the scene. The shadows it cast were long and grim. Around them lay various tools, and beside them a mound of earth spoil was piled onto a large sheet of canvas. There was a spare shovel and an iron bar with a hooked end. And there was a large canvas bag with a lump inside it—a large, disturbing lump.
“Grave-robbers!” whispered Willow in alarm.
There was no sign of Valerian.
“Come on,” said Boy.
Willow ignored him, trying to work out what was wrong with the scene.
The figures in front of them were shoveling earth back into the grave. It was obvious what was in the large sack next to them on the grass.
“Wait,” said Willow. “They’re going. Let’s wait.”
“Let’s just find Valerian and get out of here.”
“In a minute. Look, they’re going.”
It was true. The men worked fast and as soon as they had finished it took them no more than a second or two to gather their things, including the hideous bag, and leave. They swung away into the night, straight down the center path of the cemetery, as bold as could be.
“He never could keep his nose out,” said one. Boy and Willow started at the sound of his voice. It was high and wavered like that of a dying man.
Boy thought he heard another of them laugh.
Willow meanwhile was scampering over to the grave.
Horrified, Boy hesitated by the tomb, unsure if it was more dangerous to follow or to stay where he was. A glance behind at the yawning rows of death in the darkness convinced him to move.
He caught up with Willow where she crouched on the grass by the grave.
“Willow,” pleaded Boy, “come on. Please. Let’s just—”
“Look,” she said. “You would hardly notice they’d been here. A bit of loose soil, but then if it was a new one it would look like that anyway.”
She nodded at the fresh grave.
“Boy,” she said, “what was wrong with what you just saw?”
Boy frowned at her, but it was wasted in the darkness.
“Apart from the fact they just stole somebody?” he asked, sarcastically.
“Exactly!” she said. “They stole somebody. Well?”
Boy shook his head and looked around, expecting the grave-robbers to return at any moment. He noticed a sickly light in the sky. It was still a fair time until dawn, but they could at least see more easily now.
“Look,” Willow said, “I’m not an expert on the ways of resurrection men, but why would they fill the grave back up once they’d taken the . . . you know?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “All right, so it’s strange, but could we find Valerian and discuss it at home?”
“Surely they’d just run—unless they needed to cover their tracks.”
“Or cover something up,” said Boy, despite himself.
“Or some . . . No, that’s too horrible.”
They were silent as they stared at the freshly turned soil at their feet. The daylight was coming stronger now, casting weak light across the vast sprawling area of decay around them.
“Did you hear . . . !” asked Willow.
Boy nodded, clenching his mouth tight shut and trying not to scream.
From the grave just by their feet, they could hear a faint ticking sound. It grew louder, became a knocking, regular, strong. Then stopped.
Boy and Willow clutched each other. The noise started again.
Then they understood, and both fell scratching and scrabbling madly at the loose pile of cold earth in front of them. Their hands were still numb and sore from their crawl across the cemetery.
They dug with clawlike hands until they were paws of mud, scraping up fist after fist of grave-earth, until finally, gasping and straining, they reached the lid of the box.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick. Copyright © 2004 by Marcus Sedgwick. Excerpted by permission of Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.