To kick off Coffin Hop on this blog I'm posting a Halloween treat for you - A never before published short story called Burial Rites. You can either read it here, or if you would prefer, you can go to the Wattpad page HERE.
Ever since the sixteen year old Lillian Gladstone had been the unfortunate child to have been locked in the play chest as a playful prank, her worst fear was being buried alive; the thought of suffocating on her own screams plagued her dreams for years. Most nights she was woken by the sound of them.
In an attempt to know her enemy better, Lillian had become obsessed with all things death – it was an obsession that both her parents and her peers thought too weird to be loveable, and so death ironically both her dearest companion and her most fearful foe.
Lillian didn’t know that necrophilia was anything other than some sick pervert wanting to sleep with dead people; which is true, but not the only presentation of the psychological disorder. A Greek word, it literally translates as lover of death, ranging in intensity and form from an interest in the aesthetics of death to a grave addiction.
In Lillian’s case, her blossoming relationship with death was never going to be a happy ever after kind of marriage. Death rarely smiles.
Lillian set of on her daily vigil to the cemetery. It wasn’t that she was trying to be purposefully weird, but when you lived in the concrete jungle, the cemetery offered one of the few green spaces; as if in death, life could flourish – and it had benches, which was better than sitting on the railway embankment amongst the nettles and the fox-shit. She was also far less likely to be molested by some weird wino in the cemetery because as her granny had always said, “There’s naught to fear about the dead, love, it’s the living you got to worry about.” She hoped it was true, as her granny had died shortly imparting this sage advise.
Settling herself down on her favourite bench, she recovered her dog-eared book from the rucksack (it was a cheery little number in which an ordinary girl finds herself in love with a vampire, one of the many she’d read with a limited variation of theme over the last several years.) It didn’t matter that the plot was predictable, or that some of the imagery was cliché, it allowed her to escape into a well worn and familiar fantasy in which she could escape the general feeling of loneliness and disconnect that she felt with the rest of the world. Within the pages of these books, Lillian felt a kinship, she felt understood and it did something that nothing in life had managed to give her to this point – understanding.
At first her parents had laughed good humoredly as the heavy dark eye-shadow and the alternative clothing. They had not quite been laughing when she had returned from town with her nose pierced – oh no indeed. In fact all laughter had been replaced with that heavy brooding silence of disappointment; you know the kind that rots your guts and soul from the inside out. This single act, had in her father’s mind particularly, marked this phase not as a phase at all, but as a choice his daughter was making about her life, which he could no longer pretend to fathom. In that moment, their daughter became a stranger to them, and death became a more familiar and accepting companion.
Today, her reading trip to the cemetery was like any other, and the cemetery, a classic high Victorian folly, betrayed no hint of anything amiss. Littered with weeping angels in various states of decay and ruin, large ornate toppling crucifixes, Lillian’s particular favourite were the playful stone cherubs – although it didn’t pay to dwell too long on the symbolism of them.
Lillian opened her book out of habit but her eyes were preoccupied by the way the sunlight filtered the through the tree canopy, casting a green light with the effect of being under the surface of a stagnant lake. It was pretty and the sunlight felt like warm kisses on her skin. She sighed heavily. Being sixteen was hard work – the overwhelming beauty and terror of everything exhausted the mind if one dwelt on it too long; and at sixteen there was far too much dwelling time. It was enough to let the imagination take control of your reason. Why only yesterday, Lillian had looked up from reading her book a the sight of something moving at the corner of her eye. For one crazy moment she had thought it had been one of those stone cherubs, loosened from its heavy base, and running freely amongst the tombstones. By the times her eyes had fully adjusted to the bright shafts of sun, everything had been still. She put it down to the perfectly rational explanation of somebody having been walking along the path.
And she’d been right, it had been somebody on the path, and they had been watching Lillian intensely until she had stirred. Momentarily she felt spooked, but it soon passed. She was used to feeling spooked when she visited the cemetery; it was amazing how much life existed in the quite, largely undisturbed eco-system of the grave yard; nesting birds, squirrels, fox cubs. The rare appearance of a mourner would cause quite a panic within the animal communities.
Lillian had noted how the mourners all seemed to be ancient, as if it were only old folk who seemed to truly understand the importance in investing time getting to know the place. Young people, she mused, were too foolish to think that the cemetery really had anything to do with them – yet.
Lillian closed her eyes. She was in danger of cat napping. She had not been sleeping well due to the nightmares. Always the same suffocation and the same screams, although they had taken a slightly more sinister twist of late, now there was another sensation layer to the nightmare; one of somebody watching her. More shadow than human, but still with enough form to be a vessel for untold terrors. The sensation would creep up on her, before the screaming would start but by the time her eyes adjusted to the gloom, the form slipped away back into the dark labyrinth of her imagination.
It was the calling of her name that caused her to open her eyes and for her thoughts to flee. Nobody knew that this was where she hung out, moreover, nobody she could think of, cared.
The voice felt cold and serpent like. But the effect was curious, invoking both inexplicable and simultaneous pleasure and alarm. However, just like the visitor to her room, by the time she had focused her eyes, whoever it had been had gone.
She glanced around the cemetery, taking comfort in the fact that the grounds-man was tending to the grass and the thought that surely she was safe because horror stories never happen when the sun is shining so prettily.
She returned her eyes to her book and waited for her heart to calm. It did not take her long to slip back into the fantasy of her book; it had gripped her from page one; fodder for her adolescent fantasies. Oh, how she secretly longed to be wooed by a creature of the night, one the preferably wouldn’t actually kill her. Even she knew that reality wasn’t quite the same as fantasy. It was only a few minutes before the cemetery was nothing but a blur and the sound of reality was left far behind in an increasingly silent hum.
Behind the bench, a shadow loomed. It might have been explained as having been cast by the limbs of the large gnarled tree, but if more than a glimpse was given the features of a living being were unmistakable. The shadow leaned in, as if quite captivated by the sight of the pretty, auburn haired Lillian. It lingered, curling its form around her neck inhaling her perfume. Half sensing the disturbance of air around her, she flicked her hair and smoothed her neck with the cup of her hand, subconsciously protecting it from harm.
The shadow faded to nothing, but it wasn’t leaving, merely repositioning itself to make its introduction more impressive. Lillian glanced up at the sky, the sun had been swamped by opaque grey clouds that threatened the day’s kindness, She gathered her book and stuck in to her bag, temporarily removing the bottle of mineral water to take a drink. She packed her bag and stood up with the intention of heading home before she ran the risk of getting a soaking.
The gate was located in the oldest part of the cemetery and so it was strange that she should discover a freshly dug grave to the left of her path. Despite having spent many hours in the cemetery, Lillian had never actually faced her fear in the face by looking into a grave. Her curiosity prickled and she stepped forward to take a look – thinking that maybe confrontation might offer a sudden cure. Stepping over the curb and looking down into the hole, was an instantly regretted action. If she hadn’t lost the capacity to process the vision in front of her, then she might have instantly screamed. As it was everything fell into slow motion and her mouth fell wide open but remained silent.
The tidy seven-foot by two foot rectangle had been sharply dug and the soil placed into a neat pile by the side but this is where the sense of order finished. The abomination that lay in the coffin was exposed by a careless neglect to place the coffin lid on, and now Lillian was faced with the full horror of seeing her dead self lying in the grave.
Despite the fear and desperate desire to recoil, she couldn’t. Instead she was transfixed, caught as if turned into a living photograph. She watched as a maggot crawled from up under her cheek and out of her lower eye-lid. Eventually, after an arduous journey, it flopped out onto her sallow cheek.
Around her, the leaves rustled with a stirring breeze causing them to sing softly. “Take your place, take your place.”
The mouth of the Dead Lillian started to move and ripple into a grotesque undulating smile before bursting open into a maggot-full laugh.
Al at once Lillian found herself running towards the cemetery gates. The heavy gravel did its best to turn and twist her over, eventually succeeding in causing her to skid. Something fell from her rucksack but she didn’t care. Her one and only focus was the gate – but despite her speed, and the palpitations of her heart and the fire raging in her lungs, the gates never grew any closer. Impossibly, she had covered no ground at all. The grave still mocked her at her left and the trees still soughed their invitation.
“Time to join us,” a deep stony voice said from behind her. “We’ve been waiting for you. You promised you would come.”
Lillian squeezed her eyes together but it was the wrong receptacle and the voice still leaked into her head. “We’ve see you long for us. We’ve come to love you, Lillian. Especially the children.”
“Who are you?” she cried.
Cold invasive fingers stroked the hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear.
“it’s time, my darling.”
“No – I’m too young to die.”
The shadow enveloped her, manifesting itself into a full human form. Slowly she dared to open her eyes to look upon the thing that had come to claim her.
“And so beautiful,” the creature crooned.
Her head, unable to hold all of the terror she felt, broke down into fragments, causing everything to become like a Picasso painting. She saw a head of pearl polished bone that shone luminescent like the moon. It might have been defined as beautiful, if it hadn’t been so much like an exposed skull. The eye sockets were deep velveteen dark, in which green unearthly darkness flickered weakly.
The creature withdrew its cracking fingers from Lillian’s warm and soft-peach flesh, but even after they had left, she felt as if they remained, staining her with something rotten and dark. Lillian’s lips quivered. A line of poetry sprang into her mind “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” She couldn’t remember where she had heard it, but there was something that suddenly seemed so desperately important about them. She forced herself to look into the pits of its eyes, thinking that she might be able to convey the fight still in her soul. But as her eyes locked onto those infinite orbs of dark despondency, all fight left her.
Her mind went blank and she realized that everything in the world had fallen silent, including the birds. There was nothing left to say, the die was cast. She had no idea how long she stood like this, in the roaring silence, starring into the face, but suddenly she became of a bird singing, and the sense that time was moving onwards, once more. The figure in front of her disintegrated until nothing remained.
Staring at the gate, she breathe deeply knowing that she was only minutes from freedom and life, but those minutes may as well be eons. She had no idea as to what had happened, why Death had come, or more importantly what had caused him to suddenly flee but she wasn’t going to stay around and see if he was still lurking around. Never had she felt such a desire to see her parents and enter that soft, claustrophobic world of home. But, before she left, she returned her gaze to the open grave and forced herself to look down into it. She needed to be certain that it had all been a trick of her over active imagination. It was empty.
Stumbling to grab her bag, she rand down the path and out of the gate. The sun had returned and Lillian was beginning to think that everything that had happened was nothing more than some wild and startling daydream. It was because she was so lost in these thoughts that she did not stop to check the road.
The impact of hard cold metal and soft young flesh was fatal. For Lillian, the world ended with the flicking of a switch. The ambulance served the purpose of a hearse. She bypassed A&E and went straight to the morgue before her transfer to a funeral home. Pronounced dead on arrival (DOA) by the paramedics, nobody thought to waste precious resources look too closely. Maybe if they had, they would have noticed that although only very faint, a pulse still ran and a brain, although sleeping, still lived.
The funeral took place quickly; everything seemed to have been done in a rush, as if her youthful sense of impetuousness followed her into the grave.
A spattering of school friends (to call them such was a little stretch of the truth) and several teachers who had happened to be free of classes, along with a handful of pick-and-mix relatives lined the graveside.
As the undertakers lowered the simple white coffin into the ground, the rope snapped unceremoniously, causing the coffin to lurch, and the congregation to mutter little cries at the indignity of it.
The movement jarred Lillian’s body and her head knocked the side of the coffin. Her eyes opened with such force that it tore the stiches that the undertaker had used to hold them shut. (Their stubborn refusal to stay shut really aught to have been a sign that maybe she wasn’t in fact completely dead)
For a moment, the hot searing pain blinded her from understanding exactly where she was. It was a momentary delay to the horror that would hit her when she realized she was not tucked up nicely in some hospital bed surrounded by concerned relatives, but was trapped in coffin. This understanding hit her only a second before her screaming started.
Perhaps if it hadn’t been for the torrential rain, the thunder and lightening storm breaking out at that precise moment, and the passing of a police siren on the road outside the cemetery gates, then maybe somebody might have heard her before they rushed off, heads bowed from the onslaught of almost supernatural weather that bombarded them.
It is amazing how quickly screams burn up oxygen in a confined space. Within minutes she was light headed and dizzy, her screams weakened by the understanding that nobody was coming – that the only thing that was waiting to envelop her in its arms was Death.
After every living creature had left for the sad little wake, which was to be held at the school hall, a dark figure approached her freshly lain grave. All at once she was calm. The sensation of floating made her feel faint and it took her a moment to understand that she was no longer trapped within the six foot pine box, but standing at the edge of her own grave, and she was not alone.
Death carried a rotten rose in his bony grasp. “A flower for my sweet young bride,” he said with a voice full of stony soil.
Lillian looked on her husband with eyes of empty sorrow. Tears mingled with the dried blood that stained her cheeks. She went to sigh, but found that her lungs no longer worked. She panicked, gasping her mouth open and closed, convinced that if she didn’t get air into them, then she would….
Suddenly she stopped, pulled up tight by a thought and muttered “I can’t die because I’m… I’m already… dead.” She relaxed her mouth and felt the strange unearthly feeling of just being.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Death reach out his hand from under his black velvet jacket. “Love me for eternity?” he asked.
She did not answer at first as she was captivated by the sight of the rose turning from black to the most fragile blush of pink. If this was not extraordinary enough, cream-pale flesh filled out the bones of the figure in front of her. Nervously she raised her eyes to look back into that hideous, eyeless skull, and found that like the hand, delicate, exquisite flesh now graced the bone. The boy that stood in front of her was truly beautiful. The hood of his jacket slipped down to reveal deep chestnut waves. His green-gold eyes matched her own.
He smiled, and it was full of promise. “Love me!” This time it was not a question but a command.