In moonlight, a gravedigger slowly prepares a fresh grave, ominously anticipating a death that is sure to happen…
A sheeted corpse lies in a cold and silent morgue. Victor’s eyes open. He looks around, confused, not knowing what this place is or how he got there. The Mortician enters and tells Victor that he is dead and that even now his wife is choosing whether he is to be buried or cremated. A horrified Victor insists that he is alive. The Mortician suggests he’s going to be buried and exits, smiling. Victor screams for Elena.
Elena enters in her nightgown. She reassures Victor that he is not in any morgue, but safe at home on his cot in his studio—that he’s had a nightmare. Victor insists that it is no dream—that a voice had awakened him in the night and led him to his studio to work on a painting of a bridge over water that had somehow drawn him into it— actually inside of it— and that he had been swept underwater to some kind of hell. Elena tries to reason with Victor, telling him that this is pure nonsense— that he needs to leave his lonely studio and morbid obsession with death. Victor refuses. Elena encourages Victor to go back to work then—to paint this demon out of his soul and turn his terror into triumph. Alone and terrified, Victor receives a visit from the Mortician who encourages Victor to eat paint for inspiration, as did the artist Van Gogh.
Victor’s body lies on a slab in the mortuary. The Mortician and her assistants sing of their preparations to embalm him. As they begin, Victor wakes up screaming. Elena is summoned to reassure Victor that he’s been taken to an emergency room, not to a mortuary—that he has poisoned himself by eating his paints. The woman he takes for a mortician is a doctor; the others are nurses. Elena is worried for Victor— worried that his obsession with death is going to actually kill him. The Doctor agrees, warning Victor that a mind turned against itself in this way is capable of creating the very events it fears most. Elena begs Victor to allow the Doctor to administer a sedative that will promote rest and recovery. Victor refuses, recognizing the Doctor as the spirit death itself. Thinking him insane, Elena reluctantly signs a commitment order. The Doctor administers a sedative. She and Elena sing Victor to sleep.
A drugged Victor is led to his coffin in the cemetary where Elena and the mourners are gathered. Victor sings of his acceptance of death as he climbs into the coffin. The Mortician closes the coffin. Elena interrupts the Priest’s eulogy to say that she’s heard something. The Mortician tells her it’s only the wind. The coffin is lowered into the grave and Elena and the others exit. The Gravedigger returns to his song of death as he shovels dirt into the grave. Muffled thumps and screams of terror issue from Victor’s coffin. He is still alive. The Gravedigger smiles and continues shoveling as the cries weaken, then cease altogether.