“Ha! Get away from here, you!” Sergei swung his torch at the creature. Alexei barely had a glance at the thing as it scuttled away like a deer on the hoof, easily bounding over the fence. But what he saw was disturbing: darker than the oppressive night that surrounded them both, slick and smooth in the cool night air.

“What was that?” Alexei whispered.

“Barrowmorph,” said Sergei. “Never heard of them?”

His apprentice shook his head.

“I’m not surprised. Death is a taboo topic, and the things that happen to the dead after they no longer have any problems of their own are even more so. Well, consider this entry number one in your bestiary.”

Alexei looked down at where the creature had been as they approached. The lantern light cast stark shadows over a fresh grave, with the earth atop it disturbed down to the coffin. The still-bright triple-beamed cross was visible, giving the reflected lamplight a ghostly sheen of the underworld.

“Shall I fill it in?” Alexei asked.

“Yes, do so. And listen while you work, afterward we’ll set some traps.”

Alexei began to shovel the earth in, while Sergei leaned on a nearby headstone.

“Barrowmorphs come in from the countryside and try to dig up fresh graves,” Sergei said. “I don’t know what they do out there when they’re not graverobbing. Maybe they’re part of the life cycle of something else, I don’t really care. But when you find one, and you will find more, scare it off if you must and shoot it if you can.”

“Should have brought the revolver tonight?” Alexei grunted.

“Normally not a good idea unless you know something foul is about,” said Sergei. “My mentor shot a man laying midnight flowers once.”

“I see.”

“Barrowmorphs try to get into the recently dead. Then they devour the corpse, messy business that, and take on its form. That’s why they like fresh ones, you see. Less to get wrong. The fresher they are, the more of a sense they get of who that person was when they crack open the skull and suck out the brains.”

Alexei’s stomach heaved a bit. “So that barrowmorph…was trying to eat and take the form of whoever was buried here?”

“That’s right.” Sergei glanced at the headstone. “Maria Feororovna here almost wandered back into town wearing her burial clothes. And that we do not want.”

“What…what happens then?”

“It varies, but it’s never pretty. Usually folks catch on pretty quick, and there’s a ruckus as the thing is killed. Pretty traumatic when you’re already in mourning. Some folks, grief-addled, see this thing that looks like their beloved and parrots some of their words. So they bring the damn thing in and start living with it. I think that’s what they want, honestly, to be cared for and fed.”

The dirt was mostly back in the grave, now; Alexei began tamping it down with the shovel blade as he’d been shown earlier. “What if they don’t meet anybody that knew the dead?” he said.

“Well, then you get even more complications. Especially if the barrowmorph is around when somebody else dies—they might just decide they like that form better and have themselves a little feast. In real bad cases, like one up in Zelekhovo, they might sort of hop around for a long time, getting fed and pampered by grieving folks.”

Alexei drove his shovel into the ground. “Why not just let them?” he said.

“What?” said Sergei.

“Let them. Let the things eat up the dead, who have no use for those bodies anymore, and go get fed. What’s the difference?”

“Some folks aren’t approving of their relations getting devoured, for one,” Sergei said. “Not exactly the Resurrection they were promised. Some of the Barrowmorphs are real good mimics, but that’s all they are. Like a parrot. There’s no real soul there, just an animal looking for a meal ticket.”

Alexei shrugged. “Some folks might be okay with that.”

“Most folks aren’t okay with the barrowmorph deciding to cut out the middleman and start murdering folk,” said Sergei. “In Zelekhovo, they found a whole nest of them. One had gotten away, been left alone, and they eventually found twenty-seven dead.”

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