A Short Story
She traversed the foggy graveyard seeking the tomb of her lover. With torch in hand and flowers in the other, she walked slowly and surely, taking gentle care to avoid the damp putrid mud that spotted the landscape. Amidst the fog she could hear the screech and hoots of owls flying over head but unfazed she carried on, nothing to distract her from her path. The fog came thicker, obscuring the far up stars, isolating her, trapping her. Continuing undaunted, she swept her long brunette hair out of her eyes. Passing tombstone after tombstone, some cracked and unkempt, some pristine and gleaming, she shone her torch at each name engraved upon the stone.
There was a whooshing sound as an owl took flight from its nest in the enormous oak tree that overlooked the cemetery. The woman barely batted an eyelid, all focus upon her destination. Round another corner, steady as a rock, her eyes narrowed, the light of her torch illuminating a cracked marble headstone lying straight ahead. Her mind registered the name engraved upon it. Her lover. Her guard fell, she began to run. The light of the torch flickering, battery dying. But no matter for she had reached her destination and stood triumphantly in front of the grave. Dead flowers decorated it, flowers gathered from her last visit one year before. Bending down, she scooped up the carcass of the flowers and threw them to the night air. Still clutching the new flowers in her hand she set them gently in the allotted place. Taking a moment to stare, lovestruck, at the headstone, she did not notice the fog vanish all at once and the light of the moon shine brilliantly upon the tombs of the departed all around.
The moonlight illuminated them with gentle force, as a strange unknowable feeling encased them. The woman felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Then as she turned away it happened. A ghastly crack sounded through the quiet air as loud as the crack of a ringleader’s whip. For the first time, she felt scared and alone. The faint light of the dying torch faded away…A howl echoed through the graves. And she stood, rooted to the spot, unable to run, unable to hide. Her body gleaming in the moonlight stood out among the grey. Another loud crack, ghastlier than the first. The woman screwed up her eyes, not daring to face the danger. The sound of mud shifting upwards filled her ears but she could not open her eyes to see, skeletal hands protruded out of the graves except her lovers. Then she was surrounded. The Dead, the dispossessed, the forgotten, the despised all surrounded her watching through eyeless sockets. Each skeletal body clicked their necks from left to right and began to advance towards her. Eyes still closed, she could feel the putrid stench of their rotting rags enveloping her.
The air felt cold. She shivered, teeth chattering. Yet still she could not move for sake of fear. The dead moved closer. The stench grew. She could almost feel the bony hands upon her already. They encircled her, closing in from all sides. Then, they came to a stop inches from her shaking body. She willed herself to open her eyes, to look upon her tormenters. Opening ever s o slowly, she glimpsed the unmoving dead watching her and her heart turned to ice. They were so close, close enough to touch, yet they advanced no further. She stared, bewitched. Their ghoulish power overcoming her. She turned her head from side to side taking in the magnitude of the encirclement. At last she could bear it no more,
“What do you want?” she screamed as loud as her lungs could bear. The dead said nothing but merely bared their fang-like teeth. A stream of stale air washed over her and all at once she felt dizzy, lightheaded. Then she felt the icy touch of their skeletal hands upon her body. Unnerved, she felt the touch through her clothes. Her body, cold as snow, struggled to shake away the deathly grip but to no avail. The full horror became apparent.
She stared down at her hands, seeing the flesh turn white as bone until she realised with abject terror that the flesh was bone, her life energy draining away like power from a battery. Concentrating, she tried to wrench their grip away from her.
“We know what you did…” A slimy voice issued from the centre-most skeletal figure. Her life continuing to drain, she began to feel sleepy. “We know what you did…” The speaker raised his ghastly hand and placed it under her chin, holding her head up so that her eyes looked direct into his sockets. “You must pay the penalty…” His grip tightened. “Become one of the dead. Know what you did.” Her clothes felt baggy. Her face hollow and sunken. “Remember.” Two great hands clasped upon her head and squeezed. “Remember!”
She could see herself as a teen, so many years gone by. Her hair wild, her eyes like slits, surveying all around. She saw that her younger self held a bloodied knife clutched in her hand. Yet she wasn’t scared. To her disgust she saw herself look somehow satisfied as though a deed had just taken place to her advantage. Staring into her eyes she was met with unforgiving, unredeemable, unrepentant evil. This could not be the truth. Could it? Horrorstruck she watched herself lift the knife to her a face and lick the blood clean from it. And then she moved away at last. She saw the bodies. Piled on top of each other by unloving hands. And at last she knew her assailers. The memory came flooding back. But not all. Something else was missing. As she searched her mind she could swear that she alone had not done the deed. That someone else had guided her on this path. A susceptible teenager commanded by an older man.
“Now do you understand?” She found her voice at last.
“That isn’t the whole truth!” she cried.
“We are those you killed, those you butchered and in doing so we repay the favour!”
“But I was not alone!” Little life remained inside her body now as she determinedly fought her corner.
“It does not matter,” the speaker said emotionlessly. “The other is long since departed from this life, the accomplice who remains must join him in deathly slumber.” His grip on her head tightened further. Compressing her skull. She felt no pain anymore. She simply concentrated her remaining energy upon the tomb of her lover, the man who had led her down this path. She could feel her clothes drop away revealing a body almost as skeletal as those who surrounded her yet still lightly covered by a layer of palest skin. She felt no breeze upon her naked self. Her hair blew in the win elegantly as she closed her eyes and willed her lover’s tomb. At last her will paid off. Summoning all her strength she clenched her hands like fists and then released the energy. The tombstone emitted a crack more subtle than those that had come before. A hand, skeletal as hers, covered in lightest skin emerged from the grave. She could feel his warmth overcome her. Opening her eyes she saw her lover’s face stare back. The skeletal assailers were mesmerised. The leader of the pack relinquished his grip upon her face and turned to face the new intruder. At his command the others retained their grip on her body, continuing to drain her life. Her lover moved forwards.
“You will relinquish your hold!” he commanded them authoritatively.
“Or what?” the leader sneered back.
“Or else I will make you suffer in death.” The leader merely laughed hollowly.
“Empty threat! Even we know that there is no suffering in death!”
“Exactly.” And he said it with such grim determination and focused hatred that the leader felt enchanted by alien fear. The woman saw her lover raise both hands and point them at where the leader’s heart and once resided. “I say once more, you will relinquish your hold!” The leader stared down his hands as if staring down the barrel of a gun.
“I humbly reject your command.”
“So be it.” Her lover clicked his fingers and the leader was as dust, crumbling to the ground in agony. Without a head to guide them the other figures simply let go of her and melted away into the dark, hiding from the reaper that had come for them a second time. Barely alive, she collapsed to the cold hard ground breathless and scared. Her lover picked up the flowers she had laid upon his grave and sniffed the fresh smell of the red lilies.
“Red lilies, the only flowers I can bear,” he said softly. He breathed upon them and placed them next to her face so that she could smell their sweet reward. The smell of the red lilies wafted over her nostrils and she could feel her life force return to her once more. “It is not time for you to join me yet,” she could hear her lover tell her. “You have many more moons to see in this life…Shush now. Sleep…” And she did sleep. And when she awoke her lover was gone, returned to his own slumber. She thought about what they had done together in life. And searching among her fallen clothes she found the knife that had caused so much pain. Closing her eyes she remembered. Her teenage self hand in hand with older lover cutting, garrotting, ripping, tearing, wrenching the life from chosen targets.
She watched as they laughed together. Loving every minute of their deed. And at last she knew. Her lover had never been of this mortal world, he was as death personified and she, his mortal bride. Their targets not killed out of brutal lust, but of unchanging necessity. And now she decided her time had come against death’s will. She raised the ancient knife to her throat. She felt regret soar over her, regret of her deed, regret of obeying the reaper. She knew now that she did not want to spend another waking minute in this mortal life. She had turned away from God so young in life and with finality she opened her heart to Him once more. Taking one last look at the blood red lilies she closed her eyes and slit her throat. Warm blood flowed down her body like a river that had burst its banks. She was at peace and fell, lifeless to the ground, the only sound, the clatter of the knife as it hit the earth beside her. In death, she rejected death.