Curator's note: Happy February, curious readers. This month in the Cabinet, you shall find delights centered on the theme of "love," though, of course, with our own special, wicked twists.
No matter how bright or warm the day, the graveyard was always a cold, foggy place. Fingers of shadow reached from headstone to headstone, brushing over dates long past, long forgotten.
Every week, Alice came with her mother, and wandered deep amongst the tombs and statues while her mother stayed at the edge to put flowers on those graves that bore their their family’s name.
“It’s how we remind them that we still love them,” said Alice’s mother, and that was fair enough, but she always felt a chill in the graveyard.
The ground was soggy, sloshy from the recent rains, sucking at the soles of Alice’s boots as she walked. By now, she had memorized almost all of the etchings on the stones, knew which residents had lived long lives, and which had only lived short ones, and it was at old Mr. Fernsby’s spot that she tripped.
Mud splattered everywhere, and this would surely mean a bath later, but there was no point in worrying about such injustices now, not when Alice saw what had made her fall. Even covered in muck, the necklace was a pretty, delicate thing, clearly old, a filigreed heart hung from it on a tiny clasp.
Perhaps it had washed up, she thought, washed up on the bones of the last to wear it. It was a delicious, shivery idea.
“Time to go,” Alice’s mother called, and quickly she slipped the necklace into the pocket of her coat. After dinner, she made sure her parents were occupied with their books before she fetched it again, took it to the kitchen to rinse it clean under the tap. When it shone, all bronze and gold, she dried it carefully and slipped it around her neck.
Nothing happened. It was a disappointment, really, since something ought to happen when one slipped on old jewelry found in creepy graveyards, but Alice felt no different. She hid it beneath her pajamas while she slept, and under her sweater to school the next day.
The following week, it was warmer in the graveyard. Not much. Possibly Alice was imagining it.
“Spring is coming,” said her mother, hands full of daisies, though the shadows still slithered around the headstones.
“I’m going for a walk,” said Alice.
“Don’t go far. I love you.”
“I won’t.” And Alice went off with a smile, eyes adjusting to the gloom. Against her chest, the little heart began to beat.
And the shadows were not just shadows anymore.
Deep, etched wrinkles marred the ghostly face of Mr. Fernsby as he sat on his own headstone, lips pursed in a whistle. Alice stood very still. There was Mrs. Culpepper, young and beautiful and translucent, drifting over the grass in her wedding dress. And Joseph Brown, who was shorter than Alice herself, eyes bright with the fever that had taken him.
Alice wondered if she should be afraid, but she was not.
“You look pale.” Alice’s mother held her hand to Alice’s forehead. “Would you like to stay home today?”
The filigreed heart thumped in time with Alice’s pulse. “No,” she said, throwing off the covers. She wanted to go to school, so she could go to the graveyard after to see if the ghosts were there again. Muscles and bones aching, she tried to pay attention during math and science and art, trembling with cold.
Inside the graveyard gates, the air was warm again, blissfully warm. Alice let go of her mother’s hand. They were everywhere, so many more of the graveyard people than the week before. Gaunt and bloody, old and young, tattered, rotten clothes hanging from pearl-gray limbs.
“Don’t go far,” said her mother, carrying a bunch of lilies right through Mrs. Dankworth, who had a friendly smile.
So her mother couldn’t see them. But to Alice, the ghosts seemed so much more real, more solid than they had the week before.
The metal heart hammered. Old Mr. Fernsby adjusted his tie and touched Alice’s arm with cool, dry fingers. Mrs. Culpepper whirled, arms spread, in her wedding dress.
And the shadows ran away.
That night, Alice fell asleep before she could even eat supper, and the next day she sneaked from the house while her mother was cleaning. In bone-brittle whispers, the ghosts told her their stories. Her great-great grandfather held her on his knee until she was so ill and exhausted she dragged herself home to bed, pretending, when her mother asked, that she had been there the whole time.
Against her chest, the heart was hot, too hot. She tried to pull it off, but it wouldn’t come. The tiny clasp slipped through her hands. She tried to call for her mother, but her voice was silenced, stolen by the graveyard people for their own.
In the graveyard, the people danced, warm and alive for the first time in many years, in centuries for some, as Alice lay in her bed. The door creaked open and Alice’s mother immediately flew into a panic, calling for Alice’s father, for Alice was not in her bed, was nowhere to be seen.
But Alice was there. As her parents rushed downstairs to see if perhaps she was there, Alice dragged herself up and over to the mirror above the chest of drawers.
Lit by the moonlight streaming through the windows, the faintest, ghostliest reflection of Alice, too weak even to cast a shadow, shimmered in the mirror, a tiny, filigreed heart still hung round her neck.