After Annabel Lee

The clock chimes 2 which means it’s time to get up. The house is deathly silent, with only the creaking and pops of wood floors and drafty windows breaking the eerie stillness. Out of the window, I see the moon as clear as sunlight dappled through the trees, the remaining leaves clinging on for dear life as the late autumn takes a stranglehold upon the world.

I begin my routine.

I tread silently down the stairs; why is anyone’s guess — the staff have left for the night and I am the last occupant of this once busy house. Feeling the brisk chill on opening the door, I pull on my heavier overcoat. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier as we’re well into October and I should know after all this time when it’s right to wear a coat at this hour. How long I have been doing this is impossible to say, I stopped counting the years when it became clear to me that the passing of time was no longer important.

Once outside, I take a small well worn leather-bound notebook out of my breast pocket and make some observations. I note it is a particularly bracing night; the wind has picked up a great deal over the last few days and the grounds of the manor are littered with far more leaves than this time last week. That is interesting. I also note that the groundskeeper has already started to put the jack-o-lanterns on his doorstep to ward off the spirits; a most superstitious fellow as these country types often are and with good reason.

Once past his cottage, I trudge through the now bare orchard, and into the thicket of pines that sit on the edge of the estate, next to the cliffs. The trees here are packed so tightly, I can barely see the moonlight. Wind and fog are rolling in from the coast making visibility virtually non-existent. Moving carefully so as to not trip on the uneven ground, I search for the clearing, navigating using the markers I’ve left on the tree trunks over time. I pass the first, second, then third, the fourth eludes me. The sound of the wind moaning in the branches makes my blood run cold; I look at my watch and it reads quarter to three. Conscious that time is running short, I pick up the pace and find number four, which means it’s time to light my pipe and put out the torch and use the glow of the tobacco to find my way from here, as I have always done. Five. Six will be a few paces from here. Six. Now turn to the right. And here we are. It is now four minutes to three.

The clearing is, by my last measure, around 12 feet by 17. A solid beam of moonlight shines into the pitch dark of the pines onto a fallen log fashioned into a rudimentary bench. There is a burned out fire from the last time I was here. I would build one tonight but the ground is damp and the wind too strong; I make a quick note of the conditions in my book, alongside the fact no fire has been made.

3 paces to the left of the log stands a peculiarly gnarled pine with a trunk much thicker than the others. Carved into it are a set of initials. My heart sinks. Even the sight of those letters fills me with emotions I am too afraid and broken to explain. How long has it been since we were here together? How long since I last held her? How long since she passed? 10 years? Longer? What did I look like when she loved me? Would she even recognise me now? I look at my hands in my moonlight and barely recognise what I see. I suddenly feel the burden of time and age sit heavily upon me.

It’s no good, I have work to do. From my overcoat pockets I pull out a candle and matches. Pushing the log to one side, I find underneath a small metal tobacco box, now rusty and falling to pieces, containing:

  • One small candle holder
  • A photograph
  • A bundle of hairs tied tightly with a black ribbon

The photograph is of her at her loveliest. It may be faded but I can still make it out clear as day. We had spent the day at the beach near the estate; she smelt of salt and sea air. In the photograph, she is looking over her shoulder at me and smiling widely, her hair a mess of waves in the wind. Moments later I had kissed her. It was the most perfect moment of my life.

The lock of hair I took from her when she was in the casket. I was allowed to sit with her alone in the funeral parlour for a while before the burial. I was kept away from the service as it was feared I would upset the rest of the family. I talked to her, I cried, I pleaded for her not to leave me. With my penknife, I cut a small section of hair from the back of her head when I finally said my goodbyes. What had been a full and lush crop of hair was now dry and brittle, reduced to nothing but a few strands.

The ribbon I had cut from some flowers left on the grave; it was now dirty and frayed. After the family and other guests had left, I paid my respects alone. My grief feels as raw now as it did all that time ago but then, as a brokenhearted young man, I could not contain it. Her memorial was the loveliest thing you ever did see; a grand sepulchre of pale grey with elegant carved roses and ivy surrounding the inscription, and on top stood a large, looming stone angel. The inscription read in cursive “In loving memory… now at peace”. There I sat for hours, cold and drenched to the bone in the gloomy drizzle. Amidst my tears, I noticed a small bouquet of chrysanthemums tied neatly with a black silk ribbon at the centre of the vast bunches of blooms that had been left by the mourners. These were her favourite flowers and I took it as a sign.

When I first began this ritual however long ago, I had come back here to our favourite place to be alone with my thoughts for the first time since her death. This was where we had first kissed, where I first told her of my feelings, where she had promised to marry me when the time was right. It was a full moon, just like this evening. I lit a candle beneath the carved initials, carefully placing the photograph behind and tightly clutched the lock of hair. I felt a cold yet consoling hand on my shoulder; it was her. She was not as she had been; her complexion was greyer, her hair full of soil and she couldn’t speak. But her eyes burned as brightly as if she were still breathing. We spent hours together; I talked, I held her hand, and she sat quietly, smiling. We embraced and kissed without the fear of being discovered as we had been when she was alive. Her mouth was dry and icy, her hands damp and starting to show signs of rot. She smelt earthy, musty and sulfine. None of this mattered; when you are captivated by adulation, not even the all encompassing smell of death will quiet your passion. These hours were precious, but I had succumbed to sleep and when I awoke she was gone.

I check my watch; 3.03. Nothing is happening. Have I set everything up correctly? The candle is not burning as brightly as I would like; it’s too damp and windy. I go back over my notes from month to month to see if there’s anything I’ve missed. It’s then I realise it has been 9 full moons since she last came to me. Has it really been that long? Looking back, our last encounter was brief; she stayed for little more than 10 minutes and was more like vapour than human form. I pleaded for her to stay longer but she barely seemed to see me let alone hear. The visits had been getting shorter for some time prior to that. Every time she was less of what she had been. She wasn’t as enraptured by my expressions of love and devotion as she had been in the first few months or years of our visits. I could no longer touch her or smell her or lay with her. Her eyes had become clouded and vacant. She hardly acknowledged I was even there.

3.15 and no sign of anything. I start to panic. I take my penknife and slash open my palm in desperation, smothering the totems with my blood, thinking that might bring her back to me. Another 10 minutes pass and still nothing. A wave of grief fills my heart; I realise that she is not coming and it is truly over. I wonder what happens when a ghost forgets the living; is it because our lives are short and time ravages us, while they are fixed at the moment in which they left? Do they tire of our grief? Are we just no longer important? Has she forgotten me or has she once again been stolen from me? Whatever the reason, I knew then that’s what I was to her — gone. Forgotten. Lost. Little more than a spectre myself.

I think about whether it would be better for me to at last leave behind my rituals, accept and eventually forget and move on. But what use is there? What could I do now? I had never married, never sired any heirs. What was the point in building a future in this plain of existence when all I longed for was to be dead and beside my love? Why would I want to have any stake in a world that robbed me of the only thing that gave my life meaning?

I steady myself. There’s little use in falling into despair now. It is too late. Too much time has passed for me to look back and think what might have been. That would only drive me to fall into the precipice on which I have teetered since… . No. I will go back to the house and back to my bed and plan for the next full moon. If she will not see me when I am awake, I will see her in my dreams.

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Alexandra

Alexandra

London-based goth intent on writing ridiculous ghost stories, nonsense about politics and whatever else comes to mind