This is a story about the things that happen to you when you do things you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to. It contains murk.
“Spare a penny, Absalom Jones?” it rustled from a dark doorway. It sounded like many-legged things slithering through dead leaves. Many many-legged things.
“Who’s there?” asked Absalom Jones. “How do you know my name?” He peered into the darkness, which was like a clot of ink. As he stared, it slowly formed into a man who unpeeled himself from the doorframe and stood within it – a short, dark man with long, dark hair, the colour of leafmould and smelling the same, wearing no shirt but a huge fur coat, and no pants but huge brown boots.
“Who are you?” asked Absalom Jones.
“I asked my question first,” replied the man peevishly. Absalom Jones reached into his pocket and pulled out a copper penny, which he offered the man, all without taking his eyes off him. The man grabbed it. His hands were slick and clammy and cold, and Absalom Jones shivered.
“That’s better,” creaked the man, appraising his coin. Then he returned his attention to Absalom Jones.
“My name is Dee,” he said, and flicked a black tongue over his lips. “And yours is well-known about these parts.”
“It is not,” replied Absalom Jones. “I’ve never been here.”
“Then,” said Dee, “your fame precedes you.”
“I’ve no fame neither,” replied Absalom Jones. “I’m just a grave-digger.” He turned to leave, but a gaunt, hairy hand shot out of the clot of Dee and grabbed him by the forearm.
“Get off!” shouted Absalom Jones, pulling sharply. Dee’s grip was strong and heavy and chilly, like old roots. Absalom Jones struggled more, tottered backwards, and pulled Dee out of the doorway, from where he came with a wet tearing crunch. The dark clot remained in it. In the light of the stars, Absalom could see that Dee’s skin was dark; not dark like the skin of the gypsy dock-workers, but dark like mud, and death, and the water in still ponds. In some places, it seemed to show through to the bones beneath, and the bones were mottled and mossy.
“What manner of demon are you?” yelped Absalom Jones in terror, and crossed himself with his free hand. “Let go, hag!”
“Your fame does preceed you,” nodded Dee, finally letting go. Absalom Jones backed into a wall, and crossed himself again.
“Please let me go,” he whimpered. Dee appraised him with still eyes.
“You have done much wrong, Absalom Jones,” Dee spoke softly, and each word slithered from his lips and dropped like heavy beetles to the cobbles. The rare night air thickened – thickened and begun to smell of the things that have no eyes, that live by sound in moist places, and are nameless.
“I’ve been an good Christian man,” moaned Absalom Jones, to whom no salvation was forthcoming.
“Yes,” agreed Dee. “You have done much wrong.”
“I’m not really Christian,” back-tracked Absalom Jones, teeth chattering in fear. “I’m a Jew!”
“What you are,” spoke Dee, and pulled himself into the air till he stood like Death and fury, “is of little consequence to the crimes you have commited. Repent, Absalom Jones.”
“I repent,” screamed Absalom Jones, as Dee of the roots and the dark places slunk towards him. “I repent, I repent!”
“But why repent when the crime is not known?” whispered Dee in Absalom Jones’ ear. “Shall I tell you?”
Absalom Jones whimpered something in a language only the ones soon to die can speak. The air filled with rot; it hung from the wall behind Absalom Jones in thick slivers of moss, in white stringy roots that crawled into his ears. Huge pale mushrooms burst from the pavement. Absalom Jones crawled with sweat and beetles, with worms and maggots. He screamed, and mould tumbled from him.
“You’ve tombed men in the ground,” spoke Dee in a voice that men only hear once. “Women, too. Children, too, Absalom Jones. You’ve shut them in the loam. They have no place to go. They have no place to be. They rot and decay, Absalom Jones, rot and decay. And their souls rot with them till they look like black mushrooms. And still they stay souls, Absalom Jones. Rotten souls with no escape. That is your crime.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he screamed. “I’m sorry!” But it was far too late for Absalom Jones, for inside he was already crawling with rot, and his eyes turned white and murky, and he slumped like a rag of swamp water to the cobblestones, and stirred no more.
Dee smiled a horrible smile, then limped and slunk away from the alley in Haunt End, and nothing was left there the next morning but the rotten body of Absalom Jones, and a small pale mushroom, and an old parchment card, on which was scrawled the name ‘Dee Kay’.