It was a fact that had become the focus of my entire life, a whisper in my heartbeat, a permanent, insidious presence that punctuated my every breath. I couldn’t escape it, that persistent voice, lingering in the blood pulsing through my veins. It said only one thing, over and over, a repetition of inescapable anguish, the knowledge of a thing that could never be undone.James is dead. James is dead. James is dead. James is dead.
The marine underworld stretched below the ship and embodied many secrets. The disappearance of Olga had become one of the mysteries that would remain with Stefania and her family. The disappearance of her baby sister and sudden departure from her home had taught the ten-year-old that life was filled with uncertainties. But she was willing to forget that for a little while.She jumped down from the barrel and headed toward Liam, Felix, and the other shipmates. They would sing shanties and talk of the constellations, the sea, its creatures, and the legends. It would get her through another night.La Suerte was the only stability for her passengers with the infinite unknown all around them. The waters of the sea, the world below the surface, and the sky that stretched beyond the horizon was a representation of the limitless possibilities and dangers awaiting those aboard.
he night beyond the window was still, mordant white snow, punctuated only by the eerie dark of the trees, gumshoeing their way along the edge of the path outside. Their skeletal fingers clawed up at the stars, held down by an insidious, weightless lacing of snowflakes. I gazed idly at the moon and wondered if it truly had the power to sway the will of men.
The night beyond the window was still, mordant white snow, punctuated only by the eerie dark of the trees, gumshoeing their way along the edge of the path outside. Their skeletal fingers clawed up at the stars, held down by an insidious, weightless lacing of snowflakes. I gazed idly at the moon and wondered if it truly had the power to sway the will of men.
Insects crawled across my skin, legs skittering across my flesh, numbed paths of cold left in their wake. They were the creatures that heralded my ghosts, and I knew them well, yet the revulsion they caused in those moments far exceeded anything I’d felt before.
The original Gothic horror tales focused on personalities deformed through loneliness. Ghouls, vampires, werewolves: all made, not born. But the isolation? Are even such as these ever truly alone? Perhaps the psyche has always been more complex than that, desire eternally more potent than terror. Surely, none prowl entirely in solitude.
In the distance, steel-blue mountains loomed heavy on the horizon, their shoulders burdened with the same accursed snow the gods were currently depositing upon the lowlands. Between us and the mountains, the vast expanse of one of the innumerable caravan sites littering the Welsh shores was dimly visible, and at the far edges of the sands, grey waves tipped a mulch of brown foam up on to the beach, a sudden deposition of wishy-washy creatures that seemed to spider-leg over each other in their haste to reach the shore and see what all the fuss was about.But even these creatures comprised of sea-foam were freaked out by the death-stare, for the little critters swiftly dissipated under the force of a skeletal glower.A skull lay in the sand, its empty sockets staring down the beach at the retreating surge. Their fear wouldn’t last long. Soon they’d realise the skeleton had not engaged in pursuit, their confidence would grow, and they’d encroach, further and further up the bank. Eventually, they’d be close enough to see it was completely inert, and would overrun our position, victoriously sweeping up their fallen foe and dragging it back out with them into the dreary waves.
I imagined her poised, a humerus in one hand, a toothbrush in the other, as she gently brushed away the last remnants of the person who had once used that arm to shake hands, open doors, lift a mug of tea. I wondered if it was so very different from how I myself looked when I sat on the floor of my finds room, perhaps sitting cross-legged, at the centre of a circle of newly cleaned bones, a tibia in one hand, a toothbrush in the other …
It seemed for a moment as if something was there, loitering between the knurled and towering cherry trees, a flash of a presence as stark as the sight of the snow against their bare branches and cracked, piceous bark. Unblinking, I watched the edge of the lake, waiting for it to reappear, but whatever it had been was gone, vanished under cover of a willow tree, lofty and dense, rearing over the lake, its branches dripping all the way to the ground. The tree’s lament had been transformed into a thing of such beauty I was tempted to go and hide within it.
Joshua had always been able to get away with things—things for which he should never have been forgiven. He was a lot like James in that respect, for while my husband had bought his grace with his brilliance, Joshua did so with his looks. I considered that a moment, before turning away, suddenly finding I could not bear to look at him for fear of what I might forgive next.
The past had already been dealt with, to one end or another, it was certain, fixed, the horror of it was already over.For the living at least. They grieved, yes, but they were not trapped in the terror of the moment.Not so for my poor, elegant wraiths. They were like the old-fashioned zoetropes you find at the seaside: a tiny slice of a world in a box, brief yet somehow also eternal.
I found serenity in the towers, especially the highest, even in the midst of winter. The crows also enjoyed the lofts, and I habitually fed them.Often I held conference with the grotesques lining the summit. The gryphon was perhaps my favourite. I’d regularly sat beside them when feeling pensive, even before James’s death, one leg dangling precariously over the edge
She stood in the snow, effervescent, all pale skin and blonde hair, clad in white and bathed in moonlight. She should have looked angelic, instead she looked like a corpse, freshly raised from the grave, frosted in ice and darkness, swaying precariously in a graveyard.
The reflection was that of a putrefying corpse. By some trick of the light, her face seemed sallow and slipping, the patches of darkness giving the appearance of skin sloughing off in small pockets. I’d almost forgotten the knife in my panic; the woman was far more dangerous than the weapon. Blood drizzled down the blade, obscuring the macabre reflection of Natalya’s face and suddenly I was transfixed by a thought that should have been immediate:Whose blood is that?