Benjamin Wylde‘s short story: An unquiet grave

I never had but one true love,

In cold grave he was lain,

I’ll do as much for my true love

As any a young girl may;

I’ll sit and mourn at his grave,

For twelve month and a day

I have heard that song since I was lain in my cradle. Still it follows me and still I sing it aloud, as though to soothe the child I shall never bare.

I cannot leave this place. My hands, so stricken with the cold, rake the earth that covers my love. The soil is hard and unyielding, the bleak chill of winter has descended. The sky, once so bare in its summer expanse of sapphire blue, has now darkened to bleakest grey, the clouds roll thickly to cover the light of the sun. It offers no warmth, I remember when we wandered these hills, you were so very alive then, you transformed this base and vile plain into a thing of beauty, the sun would shine out all the brighter for you. Now the sun makes to hide its face from me and casts only a sickly pale reflection that can no longer stir my passion.

I wish that I had died with you. My soul leads me to your grave, drawing me ever so inexorably to you, as if by invisible tethers which leads me to your charnel harbour. So utterly nameless, you have not even the dignity of your final monument. I write your epitaph in the dirt with the tips of my fingers, I clutch the soil and rock, tearing my nails until they bleed.

My sight is blinkered with the bitter sting of my tears, my throat is hoarse from my cries. My screams muffled by the earth as I lower my head towards you. I seek your scent, the heady smell of your cologne, the light odour of sweat from our walks, its gentle sheen across your brow. I recall that you would partake of snuff in the late evenings, its miasma was so rich it was almost suffocating. But more keenly do I remember your profile, highlighted by the ember glare of firelight. The skin was almost like velvet were it not for the few stray whiskers you had neglected upon your chin. Stretched neatly over your jaw, your lips were full, soft and as your tongue gently played about and wetted them, I could still detect the smile that lingered in the right-hand corner of your mouth. Kept there always for me.

Your hair was luscious, unkempt, curling lightly at the fringe and so very dark. The nose was full, one might say cherubic, I often imagine it would have been quite the thing to have known you in childhood. Though, I know you would have lost none of your kindness. Your body reclined peacefully in the arm chair, the heavy clothes did little to flatter you. I wonder if you knew, did you ever notice? That I often watched as you undressed for bed, the flesh of your chest the colour of milk, you were so very slender, the muscle gently parcelled about the abdomen, lightly defined lines of palest pink to match the small nipples and so oddly sensual. You had not much hair, not like other men, but that only made me want you all the more.

Now you are gone and I am left with the little that remains to explain the circumstances of your demise. Though it is the pain of seeing your affrighted eyes, whited in terror as you saw death ransom the last breath from your lungs that I fear most. To face that most awful truth that I cannot bear to say… not yet.

The night that falls, like the paws of a prowling cat, black like the thousand midnights that I have endured since your passing, engulfs me. There is nought as I can say to myself to find comfort, and the clucking tongues of strangers would do little to quiet my pain. What would they know of the love we shared? What would they understand of the rapture of love, to hold one’s own sweetheart against the timorous horrors of night. To feel my hands crawl toward the small of his back, his back that was bare, and beneath the soft flesh I feel the sinew of muscle, so pliable while you sleep. Your chest rising heavily, pressed against my own, you dozed so peacefully. Were it not for your strength and the pleasure we shared, I might have mistaken you for a child. I sometimes fancy you were a boy, small and un-prepossessing… I often think that boys should never grow up.

Remain forever in their play-worlds and never disappoint us with the folly of manhood. All men are only ever playing at being grown-ups.

But not you… never you. You were the bronze statues of London, quiet in your gentle placidity, but within you were strong, rigid. You did not flinch from me, did not shy from the mysteries of womanhood like so many of your kin do. Love was ours to hold.

We shared what so many can only imagine, what they can only grasp blindly toward in their desperate, fruitless search for companionship. I have not found with others as I have found with you.

Love was my gift – the cold threatened me – it nibbled, first at the corners, unnoticed, but soon it spread and then it began to bite. Cleaving the flesh of my happiness in great gulps and swallows, the blood pouring over its chin. I saw its teeth in the eyes of the barmaid who gave you a flash of her decorous smile. In the gestures of their flapping hands and how they drew up their skirts to show the ankle, in all their plunging necklines and tight garments. I could see how his head might turn, how his eyes would wonder from me and tear my heart. 

I saw it all. But when I gathered my courage to confront you, you behaved as though you I was mad, as though you were innocent. It was not so… it was not so…

My hands press against the earth. I see you now, I see your face. Your body like mist, like heat blasting from an oven, a hot vapour, tangling in shapes of arms and legs. But your face was the same, still beautiful though now so white. Your hair shifting on the breeze, wavering and coiling out of your face and eyes, as though you linger in water… as though you might be drowning.

Your voice is sonorous as you call my name, but your eyes… they are tinged with a flat, grey sadness. These are not the eyes of the living.

Why’ you ask me. ‘Why did you do this thing?’ Your breath is earthly strong, like the smell of clay in quarry pits.

I love you.’

Your love, was my death. Why do you weep o’er my grave. Why does this murderess come to me!’

The knife lies before me, it glints in the gentle firelight. I thrust the point of the blade forward and it vanishes beneath your shirt, into the soft pulp of your belly and then there is the blood. It seeps out, warm and thick onto my hands. It pulses out onto the floor, the colour of crushed raspberries. But the coppery scent fills the air, rich and fine like an aged wine. I can no more comprehend the blood than I can the expression that you address me. Your eyes question me, there is surprise there, and pity. But I can no more answer that, than I can quite fathom what I have done. For in one moment the knife was on the table and in the next I held it between my fingers. 

I had found the thing to do, and quelled his erstwhile passions.

I killed him and forever cut loose the thread that bound me to him and planted him in the earth like a withered and fruitless vine. That is why there is no tombstone, no sepulchre, it was left out to hide my shame and deny that knowledge even unto myself. These strange workings of the memory that denied me my own guilt, fall away, as if they were a veil and I am left to marvel at the horror of myself.

Ah fear not, my love. For in twelve months and a day I’ll come to you by night and in our bed I will give you a lover’s embrace that will shatter you and steal your life as you stole mine.’

The wispy hands mould into papery thin claws and make their tips to dance about my face and stroke my cold and bitter cheek. The promise of this wraith chilled me, and so wretched was I that I yielded so completely to it. I sank to my knees and felt the torrid air around me move like a poisonous fume.

His touch was so icy cold, it seemed to me to be burning my flesh like fire, searing the tepid pink of my skin. My mouth was slackened and dry, exposing the yellow of my teeth. My lips were cracked and bleeding, on my tongue I beheld the taste of that heady elixir, the ruby red ichor that flowed in my veins now trickled down my chin. Bleeding from the freshets in my dry lips, I cried out in fear. I screamed like a child trapped in darkness, I screamed from the fear of my own damnation that had now been promised and set with date and of the very hour to my undoing.

But I would not wait to suffer his vengeance. From the folds of my skirts I drew the knife. I showed it to him, the instrument of his death and he flashed his white teeth in a vacuous smile. An expression which produced no true effect of mirth in the life-less eyes, catching the pale sun for an instant, they shone a gleaming silver.

Raising my knife above my head, I found out once more the thing to do. I plunged the friendly blade and drove it to the hilt in my chest. There was no pain, rather I began to feel a wonderful tiredness collect in my weary bones. Now the blood which ran out between my fingers was my own and I lay down upon my lover’s grave and watered the earth. 

Now I shall lie here forever more, until my flesh rots and my bones are withered to dust. Entwined we will be and I will make to walk with him through shadows in that world of vile shades. For my love shall weather even the grave and though the sun would not make its face to smile on me in life, I will see the moon’s smiling on me in death instead.

From out dying breaths I plead with him; ‘Kiss me.’

He lowers his head to grant me this final mercy. The lips that brush against mine are as cold and as hard as the lips of stone angels, and as the life seeps from me into the frozen mire beneath, and I am reminded once more of the song I once heard sung to me in the cradle:

Cold blows the wind from my sweetheart,

And ne’er shall live again.

If I should kiss, your cold clay lips,

Your days will not be long.

When will we meet again sweetheart, when will we meet again,

When the Autumn leaves that fall from trees,

Are green and spring up, again.

Benjamin Wylde is a young writer living and working in Sheffield, South Yorkshire UK. he is fascinated by gothic horror stories, in particular those of M.R. James. This story was partly inspired by Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover and by the folk song ‘The Unquiet Grave’.

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