This exercise is part of the writing course I am busy with through Future Learn. For my final story, I decided to return to Aidan Wright, and planned to write a story of about 6 000 words… but that will have to wait for Camp NaNo, as the story for the course may not be longer than 1 000 words. Therefore, I decided to rather focus on only part of Aidan’s story and not squash everything that I had planned into 1 000 words.
That said, this is the first draft of the final story — completely unedited. I’ve incorporated the one “character sketch” of Aidan Wright that I did, as it seemed to fit perfectly with what I had wanted to do.
A Corpse and a Ghost Flower
At night the muted sounds and earthy smell of the graveyard seemed more potent and visceral. Aidan picked his way through the rows of graves with their silent-sentinel tombstones. An owl screeched and Aidan looked to the ancient elm tree, blood churning in his ears. He ran a hand through his short, dark hair. The owl had only gotten a fright from the spectral figure he called Gizelle. She was forever waiting by the tree when it was full moon and he had long since gotten used to the ever-present restless spirits of the graveyard. Like his uncle before him, Aidan had even started to grow fond of some of them and regarded them almost as friends. At the very least they usually helped him to find the elusive ghost flowers that were so sought after and was said to be able to heal a thousand maladies. And in a large city there was always more than enough maladies to go around.
The lantern he carried spluttered and he took a moment to check the wick and oil before moving on. This was the oldest part of the cemetery, most graves long forgotten and the tombstones bearing dates seeming to date an age ago before all the factories, machines, and smoke drenched the city and its huddling masses in black fog.
The only ghost that still remained in this part of the cemetery was that of a girl no older than five, dressed in the clothing of days gone by and she was sitting idly on one of the tombstones now, legs dangling down as if it was a garden bench.
“I found a ghost flower,” she said and grinned a grin showing two missing front teeth.
“Really?” Aidan asked. “Where?” He held out his hand for her to take as if she was a flesh-and-blood child as she jumped down from the tombstone and skipped over to him. The hand that slipped into his was icy cold.
His dark eyes roved over the grass and dead leaves until he spotted the sage-like plant with its burning white seven-petalled flowers. He knelt down, placing the lantern carefully on the ground. Hands that may, in a different life, have been suited to play the piano, had been hardened by work, the soil of the graveyard worked into his skin so that he felt as if he could never quite be rid of it. As a gravedigger and groundsman he was as much a part of the graveyard as it was of him.
He took a knife from the pocket of the old mended coat he wore and cut one of the three flowers from the plant. Aidan grimaced as the plant left its red, blood-like sap on his fingers. He wrapped the flower in a clean cloth and slipped it into his pocket after the knife. When he straightened, the ghost-girl had disappeared and he started his walk back to the new graves alone. He patted his pocket. The flower — and the health it would return to his neighbour’s daughter — would be penance for the other job he had tonight. He had to pay his debts somehow.
Aidan left the damp soil of the graveyard behind him, shifting the heavy canvas into a more comfortable position on his shoulder. He shuddered. For all the times he had done this, he still gagged at the idea – and smell – of carrying a dead body through the dark streets of London just after the witching hour. He struggled down the night-black alleys as fast as his limp would take him, an old handkerchief bound over the lower part of his face to try and keep the smells at bay.
When at last he reached the correct door, he carefully put the body down on the ground and knocked twice. Muffled footsteps came closer until an older man opened the whitewashed door, a lantern with the flame turned right down, in his hand. The light lit Aidan’s large brown eyes, making him squint and lift a dirt-covered hand in front of his face.
“Brought him,” Aidan said in a low voice.
“Put it inside.”
Aidan heaved the body into his arm and carried the corpse inside to one of the tables. His hand lingered on the dead man’s brow for a moment, a silent prayer sounding in his mind.
“I’ll need a new one next week.”
“Mister Wright, I do believe you have forgotten something.”
“I –“ Aidan began, checking the canvas in his hands and then realising what the surgeon was referring to. “Thank you for your help,” he stuttered and headed back out into the cold of the early morning, making for home. He wrapped his patched coat around him as the wind tousled his dark hair. In the distance a bell tolled twice.
This week will be spent editing the story! Though, I do not think it is too bad for a first draft…