"The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?"
-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Premature Burial"
Although Clarence was an old man he walked faster than Wallace. Wallace did his best to keep up, since Clarence had the lantern and Wallace did not want to be left alone in the dark. Not here of all places.
He stepped around a grave. "Which one are we digging up?" he said.
"Digging? Do you see a shovel with us, you empty-headed fool?" said Clarence.
"Then why are we here?" said Wallace.
"You've not a brain in your head, boy," said Clarence, holding his hat so it wouldn't be blown away by the wind. "Don't you worry about what we're here for. Just keep up."
There had been a fog out when they started, but it was gone now. Wallace missed it. True, the fog was cold and did nothing to make the graveyard look less ghoulish, but at least he couldn't see far in the fog. He couldn't see the rows of graves or the weeks choking the ground, and he didn't have to think about the dead, and how many of them there were, and how the dead outnumbered the living, always.
"Do you see the mausoleum?" said Clarence. He pointed a gnarled finger.
"We're robbing the mausoleum?" said Wallace.
Clarence grinned. There wasn't a single tooth in his head. "You bet we are. Now hold the lantern and keep a lookout."
Wallace looked over his shoulder. "A lookout for what?"
"Oh, headstones, grave plots, stray ghosts."
Wallace started and Clarence rolled his eyes.
"For the caretaker, you dolt," he said.
Wallace shivered. He wanted to go home. He heard the mausoleum gate creak.
"Why isn't it locked?" said Wallace.
"Stole the key years back," said Clarence. "Now the caretaker just leaves it open rather than change the lock. Doesn't want anyone to know he's a fool on top of a drunk."
Clarence went in, and Wallace stuck as close to him as a shadow. Clarence might be an old ghoul, but at least he was company. Wallace couldn't think of anything worse than being here alone. Except being here along for all eternity.
The mausoleum was a single room, filthy and moss-ridden with a dozen caskets lining the interior. It smelled damp. Wallace's skin crawled.
"Who are they?" he said. "Why are they in here?"
"Because of the cold snap," said Clarence. "The ground froze early this year, and the caretaker is an old man, so there'll be no new graves dug until the spring thaw. In the meantime anyone what croaks is put in here for safekeeping. Easy pickings."
Clarence handed Wallace a crowbar. It was heavy. He looked around, unsure what to do, then approached a coffin.
"Not that one," said Clarence, "I've already done that one. That was that snake, Judge Harper. He always said he'd see me hang before he died. Well, tough break, Your Honor!"
"And this one here was the widow Ramson, the tight-fisted shrew. Oh yes, we have a lot old friends in here, but this one is who we're visiting today, a gal from out of town. April Constant was her name. A chill got her, and they shipped her here from the big city to be buried next to her father. Would have gotten to her last night, but you never rob a grave on All Hallow's."
"You just don't, muttonhead. Take my word on it." Clarence got in close and leered. "You're a lucky boy Wallace; I saw her once when she was alive, and there never was a more beautiful girl. Now you're going to be the last one who ever gets to see her."
Wallace's mouth went dry. "You want me to open her coffin?"
"Well of course I do!" said Clarence. He stopped to light his pipe. "What do you think we're doing in here, admiring the view? Get that prying bar and open her up!"
Wallace shook his head. He tried to talk but his teeth were chattering.
"What, you feeling shy?" said Clarence, sneering. "Listen here Thom Wallace; the dead are nothing to be afraid of, but me, I'm alive. You owe me money and you can't pay, so that means you work for me until I say we're even. Now, let's pay Miss Constant a visit."
He gave Wallace the evil eye. Wallace swallowed. Clarence was only an old man, but Wallace knew what happened to people who didn't pay their debts to him. Most of them were probably in these boxes.
Wallace set the end of the crowbar against the coffin lid and pushed down as hard as he could. It didn't budge.
"Is that the best you can do?" said Clarence. "Put some back into it! Sweet Jesus, fifty nine years old I am and I can crack any box they make."
"I'm trying!" said Wallace, leaning his full weight on the bar. It slipped and he fell, almost smashing his skull on the lid.
"Disgraceful!" said Clarence. "You'd better be good for something sooner or later boy, or you'll be in a heap of trouble. Keep a lookout here while I go get the other pry bar from the cart. Maybe if we both give it a go she'll open."
"You can't leave me in here!" said Wallace.
"The hell I can't. I ought to leave you in the dark is what I ought to do, but since I know you're just a wee one I'll leave the lantern for ya."
Wallace began to sweat despite the cold. Clarence paused at the door and looked over his shoulder. "Just remember, if any of them start to knock on the lids, just give them two short and one long back." He laughed and walked away, and Wallace was alone, with the dead.
He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. Then he realized that he was sitting on top of a coffin and jumped up. He moved the lantern closer. More light made him feel a bit better. He hoped Clarence would hurry back, though he suspected that the entire reason the old man left was to punish him, and would take his time returning.
Wallace looked at the coffin as if he expected it to move. Of course, it didn't.
He paused, and looked closer. He realized that the lid was in two sections, and only the bottom was screwed on. Someone had left the top half unsecured. They must have had it open for the funeral, and then the old caretaker had been too lazy to close it up. Wallace could just open that end.
He reached out, then stopped. He didn't want to see the dead woman. But maybe if the job was done when Clarence got back it would buy Wallace a little good will? And the quicker they finished, the quicker they could leave. Mustering up his courage, he pushed on the lid.
April Constant was staring at him.
Wallace screamed and let the lid drop. It closed with a bang. He backed away, heart racing, then after a moment felt foolish. Sometimes a person dies with their eyes open, he knew, that's why undertakers put coins over the eyes of the dead. Hers must have slid off when she was pushed in here. Clarence would want those coins, and maybe once he had them he'd settle for that and they could go.
Bracing himself again, Wallace opened the coffin. April stared up at him. She clutched a bouquet of wilted lilies to her chest. Wallace dared to look at her face; Clarence was right, she had been beautiful. Even now, pale and blue-lipped and wracked by sickness, Wallace could see it. It seemed a shame. But not as much of a shame as what would happen to him if he got Clarence angry again.
He shined the lantern inside. Where were the coins? He spotted one against the purple velvet lining, just next to her head, resting against her auburn curls. Gritting his teeth, he reached for it. He leaned as far over as he could in hopes that his fingers would not touch the dead woman's cheek. Almost there...
She turned her head.
Wallace's fingers were just grazing the coin when April Constant turned her head and looked right at him. Then she blinked. Her fingers moved, disturbing the petals of the lilies.
Before Wallace knew it he was running. He knocked the lantern over on his way out. He wondered who was screaming, then realized that it was him. He ran into something at the crypt gate, and felt gnarled hands on his collar
"Boy! Boy! Idiot!" Clarence screamed in his face. "What in the hollows of hell is wrong with you, raising all this racket! The caretaker is drunk, but he's not deaf. And you broke the damn lantern, what do you expect us to do now, wheel her out and pick her pockets by moonlight?"
Wallace tried to speak, but his voice was gone. His blood was ice in his veins. The gate was shut behind him. He looked in, but saw only shadows. He started to cry.
"Look at you, what a disgrace," said Clarence. "Now you listen to me boy; I'm going to go back for a new light, and then we're going to wait a while just in case the old codger gets suspicious about this noise and has a look around. You come back and meet me here in three hours, do you hear me, three hours, and not a minute longer, or even the devil himself won't be able to save you. Do you hear me? Do you?"
Wallace managed to nod, and then he ran. He ran through the cemetery, and out the gates, and into the street, and he didn't stop running until he got to his room, and fell onto his mattress, curling up into a ball, crying and wailing like a small child afraid of the dark.
Wallace wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep. It was still night. Had it been three hours? Would Clarence be looking for him?
He got out of bed and sat down at the little table. He looked around his tiny, one-room house and ran his fingers through his hair, rocking back and forth. What was he going to do? He couldn't go back to the graveyard, not ever. He would just have to tell Clarence what happened. And when Clarence didn't believe him? Then what? Wallace felt like crying again.
He was terrified of the dark, so he lit the lamp. It didn't help much. He could not stop shaking. It'll be all right, he told himself. Somehow it will be all right. There's nothing to-
He stopped. With the lamp lit, he saw something on the table.
It was a bouquet of wilted lilies.
A pale hand reached out and turned the lamp down. A scream stuck in Wallace's throat.
A chair scraped across the floor, and April Constant sat down next to him. She looked at him with sunken eyes, folding her hands on her lap and smoothing the wrinkles out of the dress she was buried in.
I'm dreaming, Wallace thought. Please God, let me be dreaming.
April cleared her throat. Wallace felt like he was having a heart attack. "Hello," she said.
"I hope you don't mind that I let myself in. You were sleeping so soundly and I didn't want to wake you."
She nodded. "You're Wallace, right? Thom Wallace, is what the other man called you? I don't think- my word, you're shaking?"
"Please don't hurt me," Wallace said.
"Hurt you?" said April. "Why would I do that?"
"I...I opened your coffin?"
She smiled a little. "And it was very sweet of you."
"Oh yes. I was so bored in there. And when I saw you I thought you were terribly handsome, and I thought to myself 'This is the kind of man I wish I'd met before I died.' And then you touched my cheek so gently. It was the most romantic thing that's ever happened to me."
"It was? I mean, it was."
She nodded, and he guessed that she would be blushing if it were possible. Instead she grew even more pale.
"Is there any heat, Wallace?" she said. "I'm so cold."
He lit a fire. She sat very close. The yellow and orange light made her complexion look closer to normal. Wallace sat a little way away and tried not to look directly at her. She held her hands to the grate.
"Is that better?" he said.
"Not really," she said. "But it's not your fault."
"I don't get many guests."
"Neither do I," she said, and he actually laughed.
She smiled at him. "It's nice to hear someone laugh. You have no idea how dull it is, being dead." She sighed.
"How did you-? I mean, how is it that you're-?"
"Well, you should have known it would happen," she said. "You never rob a grave on All Saints' Day."
"I thought it was never rob a grave on All Hallow's Eve?"
"Nope. All Saints' Day. See?" She gestured to herself. "I guess I have to go back. But I wanted to thank you for, well, paying attention to me I guess. It was very nice meeting you."
She stood and collected her bouquet. Wallace stood up, meaning to show her to the door, but stopped, not wanting to get too close. She paused as well, looking at the floor and biting her lip. Then she said:
"Can I ask a favor?"
He blinked. "Yes?"
"Can I...can I have a kiss?"
Wallace felt a weight in the pit of his stomach. "A kiss?"
"Oh, I know it's terribly inappropriate. We're not even married. But still," said April, "it'll be the last I ever have. It'll make it easier to go back, I think. Please?"
She clutched her dead flowers and looked at him with shining eyes. Wallace's stomach turned over, but he leaned in, trying very hard not to inhale. He pecked her on the lips once, and then gagged. He couldn't help it. He tried to stifle the noise, but it didn't work.
Her lip trembled, and then she threw herself down, burying her head in her arms. She made a strange sound like a hiccup. It took Wallace a minute to realize that she was trying to cry.
"I'm sorry!" he said.
"Oh, it's not your fault," she said, "it's mine. I'm such a fool. I was letting myself feel sad abut my life, and then you showed up, and I thought about second chances, so I came here and...God, I'm so silly. I'll just go."
She stood, but he caught her hand. It was cold and made him want to cry out, but he stopped himself.
"Wait," he said. "I'm sorry, really, I am. You don't have to go," he said.
Wait, he thought, she doesn't?
"It's all right," she said. "I know you must be afraid of me. I mean, look at me." And she tried to cry again. Wallace felt his heart break.
"It's okay," he said. "You're very pretty. Beautiful, even."
April perked up a little. "I am?"
"Yes," said Wallace, and meant it. "Strange. But beautiful."
She smiled, and now she really was blushing. In fact, she was flushed all over, and looked a little different, less wan and wasted. She was still pale, but it seemed a healthier shade, somehow. She sat back down at the fire and tried to warm her hands again.
"I can feel it a little," she said. "It feels so good."
Wallace sat next to her, this time not looking away. She looked happy.
"You miss things like this, you know?" she said. "I haven't even been dead for very long, but you can't imagine how much you miss things when you think you'll never do them again."
She smiled, and now Wallace blushed, and when he did a little more color returned to her face. She leaned away from the fire now, looking content.
"You look different," he said.
Wallace nodded. "Less, um, cadaverous."
Now her eyes, once glassy, became bright and alive. Her lips turned from blue to pink, and her hair, lank from the damp, moldering atmosphere of the crypt, gained body.
"I feel warm," she said. "Not just from the fire, but me, all over." She ran to the mirror, taking the lamp with her. "Look at me!" she said, laughing. "I look alive again, really alive!"
She grabbed his hand. "How do I feel? Do I feel warm? Is my skin soft?"
"Um," said Wallace, now blushing more. "Yes. It certainly is."
She grinned. "Did you really mean it when you said I was beautiful?"
He nodded. She leaned in.
"Kiss me again," she said.
When she whispered he felt hot breath on his mouth, and she smelled sweet. So he kissed her again. She sighed and almost swooned.
"I feel something," she said, head cocked to one side. "My heart is beating! Feel it!" She put his hand on her chest. "It is, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Wallace, "but why?"
"I think it's because of you," said April.
"But that doesn't make any sense at...my hand in on your chest..."
She nodded. "Yes, it is."
"I should move it."
"If you want to."
He kept it there. She kissed him again. Her lips were now almost red, and they were very soft, and she was panting a little, breaths so hot he thought they might burn him. She was pulling him to the bed. He let her.
What he was thinking about seemed obscene, perhaps something he'd never be forgiven for. But she was beautiful, and when she put her arms around his neck and nestled close it was easy to forget about the crypt, and not think about what any of this meant, or what would happen tomorrow.
April wriggled out of her dress, and Wallace saw her shiver. "I can actually feel the draft!" she said. She ran her hands over her own naked breasts, checking to make sure that she was really alive all over. Wallace tried to put his hands on her body but she slapped them away, then giggled, winking..
They lay in each other's arms, kissing, touching, and sighing. In the dim lamplight, Wallace saw April's face take on a faraway look.
"Wallace?" she said.
"Is this happening? Is this all really happening? I'm not dreaming?"
"I don't know. Do you dream, still?"
"I don't know either," she said. Then she met him with an open-mouthed kiss, tongue passing into his mouth, circling her arms around his waist and dragging her nails over his bare back.
"Did that feel real?" she said.
Wallace winced. "Yes."
He buried his face in the side of her neck, kissing the spot where it curved into her shoulder. He cupped her breasts with both hands, rolling her erect nipples against his palms and squeezing, and she started to shake. Her body wasn't just warm now but hot; she was like a glowing ember.
After a few minutes she sat up on all fours, wiggling her hips at him the way he'd seen the working girls do when he passed the market square late at night. He ran his hands over her hips, thighs, and rear. The bed groaned under them.
April gripped the headboard with both hands, letting out a small "Oh!" when Wallace squeezed her backside. He was hard and aching when he pushed up against her. He started guiding himself between her legs when a thought occurred to him, and he stopped.
"Do you have a husband?"
"I'm sorry," he said. "I only ask because, well, I don't know anything about your-"
He blushed in the dark. "If you'll pardon the term."
"I had a husband, but I don't anymore."
"No, I did."
Wallace decided that was good enough. He pushed against her again. He heard her take a deep breath and hold it. He slid in, the tip first, then the rest one inch at a time. Her muscles clenched around him, then gradually relaxed. After a few seconds, he began to work in and out gently.
He massaged her shoulders with both hands, kneading, then started rocking back and forth in a short motion inside of her. In and out, in and out, the gentle motion sent shivers through both of their bodies.
"Wallace?" she said.
"Do you have a wife?"
He was so shocked that he stopped, and for a second he didn't know what to say. Then, in the dark, he heard a giggle.
"You-!" he said.
She wiggled her hips again. "Never mind," she said.
"I wouldn't care even if you did. Please," she whispered, fingers clawing the sheets. "Please, fill me..."
He began to thrust up into her again. She moaned.
His thick, swollen shaft penetrated her. The bed frame groaned under them. Before long he was grunting with exertion. His hands roamed across her shoulders, and down the slope of her back, and around the curve of her hips, and back up to fondle her breasts as they jiggled.
He took a double handful and squeezed again. He pinched her swollen nipples, twisting. She shuddered through and through. His hands slid lower, across her belly. He was pumping steadily now, and she spread open to accept him
He reached under her, fingers rubbing her engorged clit, and she almost collapsed. Her body was on fire. She pushed her face into his thin pillow, trying to muffle her screams.
"Oh god oh god oh god oh god..."
He felt wetness dribbling down the inside of her thighs. She was sopping wet, and he was buried all the way in, fucking her in a tight circular motion, grinding against her insides. He was covered in sweat, muscles aching, hair damp.
The rest came out as a long scream. Wallace, felt his cock squirt, pumping a hot stream into her. They froze in that position for a long time, waiting for the climax to recede, and then they both fell over, panting and red-faced. She winced as he pulled out, and they kissed in the dark.
"I'm sorry!" he said, gasping.
She blinked. "What for?"
"Well, I, um, didn't take very long..."
"Really? My husband was always done a long time before that. Isn't that normal?"
They both began to laugh. April rolled on top of him, kissing him, and said "I bet you can do more."
Her fingers wrapped around him. He grunted.
"That might be a lot to ask," he said.
"All sorts of things are returning unexpectedly tonight," she said. "I think we're due for one more."
She ran a hand up and down the length of him, and he sucked his breath between his teeth. She lay a hand on his forehead and told him to relax. He closed his eyes and tried not to think too hard. She tightened her grip and started to pump him with her fist. He was still wet from her body, and her hand slid around him easily. She circled two fingers around the tip and tugged, once, twice, three times, and he felt himself stiffening, a dull throb starting at the base and moving up.
"There we are," she said. "See? You don't give yourself enough credit."
She swung one leg over him and pressed him between her thighs. He tried to sit up but she pushed him back down again. "Just relax," she said, positioning herself over him and then pushing down. They came together again. She rocked back and forth on him, her fingers digging into his bare shoulders.
Wallace cupped her breasts and squeezed them as she rode up and down. She leaned over far enough for his mouth to reach one, and he licked a wet circle around one nipple. She gasped and he did it again with the other. She wiggled her hips back and forth, and braced herself against the wall to push down on him harder. He sucked one breast into his mouth, pushing the firm nipple against his teeth. She moaned.
April pushed back and forth on him, and tiny electric jolts ran up his body. He'd only been with two women before, and only one he'd really enjoyed, but April showed an exuberance even she hadn't. He could tell that she was thinking about nothing else except the feeling of him inside of her, and he tried to block everything out of his mind too. Now and then an image of the graveyard swam into his mind, but he pushed it all back.
April sighed and murmured. "Do you know, I think I feel more alive now than I ever have. What do you-"
"Someone's at the door."
He looked. "There's no one."
"No, there is, I saw him trying to look into the windows."
Wallace saw no one, but to reassure her he went and opened the door. "Clarence!" he said.
"Oh, you remember my name? Well, goody goody. Are any other memories starting to stir, like where in the hell you're supposed to be?"
Clarence pushed him out of the way and came in, taking off his hat with one hand and shoving his pipe in Wallace's face with the other.
"Three hours boy!" he said. "What did I tell you but three hours? Oh, you're on thin ice now, very, very thin ice!"
"Clarence, wait," said Wallace. "Something has happened."
"Unless that something is that you've forgot how to tell time or walk out of your own damn house then I don't give a rat's ass. I think you're going to be in for-"
Clarence stopped. He saw April. She lay on the bed, sheet wrapped around her body, breasts exposed, staring. Clarence's jaw dropped.
"You-" he said, turning to Wallace, mouth working but not able to speak for a moment. "You're a sick man, Thom Wallace!"
"It's not what you think!"
"Sick! Sick, I tell you, sick! Now, I'm not above a little body snatching when times are tight, but I take 'em to the university labs. I'm a patron of the sciences is what I am. But this, this is wrong, boy, filthy and wrong!"
"Clarence, you don't understand, she's alive!" He looked at April. "Tell him! Show him what happened."
April said nothing. She didn't move. Her expression did not change.
"April?" said Wallace.
"Sick, sick!" said Clarence.
"Clarence, let me explain."
Clarence backed away, out the door. "Don't you come near me! You just keep those clammy hands of yours off. There'll be hell to pay for this boy, you hear me, hell to pay!"
The old man turned and ran. Wallace watched him go, then closed the door. April sat up.
"Was that your partner?" she said.
Wallace looked at her. "Why didn't you say something to him?"
"Well, I was embarrassed," she said, pulling the sheets up over her breasts. "I was naked and a strange man burst in."
Wallace hung his head. "Don't you see? He's going to fetch the law, or worse."
April shook her head. "I don't think he will."
"Well, when I got out of my coffin I didn't know where to find you. I'm not from around here you know. So I woke a few people up to ask if anyone knew you."
"We have to get out before-" Wallace stopped. "Wait. What do you mean, woke a few people up?"
April knitted her brow. "Actually, truth be told, I think it was quite a lot of people..."
Clarence's knees were killing him, but he didn't slow down. He wanted to get to the inn as fast as possible, as a night like this called for drinking. A stooped old woman blocked his way.
"Out of the way, you hag," he said.
"My rings," said the old woman.
Clarence stopped. "What's that?"
The woman picked her head up. Clarence saw a ghoulish blue face under her bonnet.
"Give me back my rings!" said Widow Ramson.
Clarence's heart stopped. The widow reached out, and he backed away.
"No!" he said, and then something struck him on the arm. It was a black cane, which had once had a silver head, now missing.
"Evening, Clarence," said Judge Harper.
Clarence tried to run, but there were more of them now, all around him, people with pale faces and glassy eyes and grasping, outstretched fingers. They crowded him and forced him backwards.
"My watch!" said one.
"My necklace!" said one.
"My gold tooth!" said another.
They corralled him into an alley.
"Give us back what you took!"
"Give it back! Give it back!"
"No, no, no!" screamed Clarence. "I don't have it anymore, it's all gone, it's spent! And what were you going to do with it anyway? What good will it do you now?"
"That doesn't matter," said Widow Ramson. "They were ours, and you stole them. You're a thief, Archibald Clarence! Thief, thief, thief!"
The crowd set on him, tearing his coat with their pale, grasping hands.
"What's that, Clarence?" said Judge Harper. "Can't pay your debts? The law goes hard on a man who can't pay his debts." The judge took Clarence's hat and put it on his own head, then grinned. His teeth were black.
Clarence went to his knees and grabbed the tail of the judge's coat. "Have mercy on me, Your Honor! I'm an old man, a poor man, and I've learned the error of my ways, really, I have!"
"Oh, it's too late for that," said the judge, pushing Clarence down with a moldering hand. "You'll have to pay your dues, now."
Clarence trembled. "What are you going to do?"
The judge smiled. "I always said I'd see you hang before I died, Clarence. Better late than never."
Shane put his shovel down and took up the crowbar, prying open the coffin lid. A sour smell greeted him, and he saw the old man, withered away to bones now, and the watch chain in his hand. He reached for it.
"Wait," said a voice. Shane looked up.
"Yes, Mr. Wallace?"
The older man bent down by the graveside, looking in. "You can't just go and take it like that. There are rules for these things, boy."
Shane frowned. "What kind of rules?"
In answer, Mr. Wallace's wife slid down into the grave beside Shane. She was a strange woman, very beautiful but very pale, and he swore sometimes that her feet never quite touched the ground.
Mrs. Wallace put her face right next to the dead man's skull. Shane thought she was whispering, but he couldn't hear what was said. Then there was a rustling sound, and, eyes wide, Shane saw the dead man's skeletal hand lift up, and hold out the chain.
"There now," said Mr. Wallace. "Go ahead, boy. Take it."
Shane's hands shook. He was trying to remember the words to a prayer, any prayer, but it had been a long time since he'd needed one.
"Take it," said Mr. Wallace.
Shane snatched the chain, and the hand fell back down. Mr. Wallace helped him out of the grave, and Mrs. Wallace was out too, though he hadn't seen her climb up. Mr. Wallace clapped him on the shoulder.
"That's a lesson I learned when I was your age," he said, brushing dirt off of Shane's coat. "You can't just take whatever you want from the dead, you always have to ask first. The dead don't put much value by gold and jewels, but what they do value is consideration, and they have long memories."
Mr. Wallace jabbed a finger in Shane's face. "Keep that in mind, boy. The dead remember."
Mrs. Wallace looked at him, and Shane couldn't help but shiver.