Since posting the first draft of “A Corpse and a Ghost Flower”, I spent some time editing the story, which included adding a new part of about 150 words as well. Now I feel like it is coming together!
A Corpse and a Ghost Flower
Beneath the full moon the muted sounds and earthy smell of the graveyard seemed more visceral than in the brightness of the day. Aidan picked his way through the rows of graves and sentinel-like tombstones. An owl hooted and Aidan looked towards the ancient elm tree, running a hand through short, dark hair. Widened brown eyes relaxed when he realised that the owl had only taken a fright from the spectral figure he called Gizelle. She was always waiting by the tree when the moon was full. He lifted a hand in greeting. Like his uncle before him, Aidan had even started to grow fond of some of them. At the very least they 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.
He reached the oldest part of the cemetery where most of the lichen and moss covered graves had been long forgotten. They had been here long before all the factories, machines, and smoke drenched the city and its mases in black fog. The lantern he carried spluttered and he took a moment to check it before moving on.
The only ghost that still remained in this part of the cemetery was that of a girl no older than five, dressed in her best white dress. 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. Her grin showed two missing front teeth.
“Really?” Aidan asked. “Where?” He held out his hand to her, as if she was a flesh-and-blood child, when she jumped down from the tombstone and skipped over to him. The hand that slipped into his was deathly cold.
Aidan’s dark eyes roved over the grass and dead leaves until he spotted the sage-like plant with its moonlight white seven-petalled flowers that had sprung up during the night. 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 handed-down coat he wore and cut one of the three flowers from the plant. Aidan grimaced as the ghost flower left its red, blood-like sap on his fingers. He wrapped the flower in a clean cloth and slopped it into his pocket after the knife. When he straightened, the ghost girl had once again disappeared and he started his walk back to the newer graves alone. He patted his pocket. The flower – and the health it would return to his neighbour’s daughter – would serve as penance for the other job he had tonight. The long breath he let out misted in the air in front of him. He had to pay his debts somehow.
He fetched a shovel and canvas and headed to one of the newest graves.
“They tell me you were an awful miser,” Aidan said. “That some of the biggest buildings in the slums belong to you,” his voice trailed off. “Yet I am still sorry that I cannot leave you undisturbed. But I am not taking the woman who died in childbirth. And that is the only other grave new enough. Or perhaps this will be some payback for all the suffering you have caused. Who knows. All I know is I would be dead before I see a ghost flower bloom on your grave.”
Once the top of the casket was revealed, he broke it open and heaved the man from his resting place. It did not take long to strip him of his clothes and wrap him in canvas. He made sure to fill the grave once more before leaving the damp soil of the cemetery behind him.
Aidan shifted 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 the city 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 placed the corpse on the ground and knocked twice. Muffled footsteps came closer until a man not much older than Aidan opened the whitewashed door. He clutched a lantern in one hand. The light shone into Aidan’s eyes, making him squint and lift a dirt-covered hand in front of his face.
“Good evening, Gregory,” Aidan said in a low voice. “I brought him.”
“Put it inside.”
“Aidan heaved the body into his arms and carried it 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,” Gregory’s voice broke through the holy words Aidan were reciting.
Aidan nodded. He knew his fate all too well; the freedom he had sacrificed for Gregory’s medical help.
“Mister Wright, I do believe you have forgotten something.”
“I —”Aidan began, checking the canvas before realising what Gregory 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 win tousled his hair and stung his nose and ears. In the distance a bell tolled.
I will probably to one or two more passes on the story before handing it in. This will be more line edits, and will only be done after I’ve left the story alone for a few days.