"The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and the other begins?"
-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Premature Burial"
Wallace dreaded nothing more than being alone in the dark, here of all places. Clarence had the lantern, and although he was an old man he was faster, so Wallace had to run to keep up, shivering each time he stepped over a grave. "Which one are we digging up?" he said, horrified even as the words left his mouth.
His answer came with a snort. "We're not digging. Do you see a shovel anywhere? You've not a brain in your head, boy." Clarence held his hat so that the wind couldn't blow it away. "There had been a fog out when they started, but it was gone now. Wallace missed it. In the fog he hadn't been able to see far enough to make out things like the rows of graves or the looming statues or bare, grasping branches of the trees. Every grave plot he looked at was a reminder that the dead always outnumber the living. Clarence stopped him. "There," he said, pointing with a gnarled finger. "Up on the hill: the mausoleum."
"We're robbing the mausoleum?"
Clarence grinned. There wasn't a single tooth in his head. "You bet we are. Hold the lantern and keep a lookout."
"A lookout for what?"
"Wandering ghosts." Wallace started. Clarence rolled his eyes. "For the caretaker. Dolt."
Wallace shivered again. He wanted to go home. He heard the mausoleum gate creak on its old hinges. "Why isn't it locked?" he said.
"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 to him like shadow. Clarence might be an old ghoul, but at least he was a living breathing human being. Wallace couldn't think of anything worse than being here alone. Except being here alone for all eternity. The mausoleum was a single moss-ridden room with a half dozen caskets lining it. It smelled damp. Wallace's skin crawled. "Why are they in here?"
"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."
He handed Wallace a crowbar. It was heavy. He looked around, unsure what to do, and 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. Tough break, Your Honor. And this one here was that tight-fisted shrew the Widow Whatley. Oh yes, we have a lot old friends in here. But the gal we're visiting today is from out of town: April Constant. 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. "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?"
"What do you think we're doing here? Admiring the view?" Clarence stopped to light his pipe. "Get that prying bar."
Wallace shook his head. He tried to talk but his teeth were chattering
"Feeling shy?" Clarence said. "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. Either pay Miss Constant a visit right now or start measuring yourself for a spot right next to hers. Your choice."
Nobody gave the Evil Eye like old Clarence. Wallace swallowed. Old man or not, he knew what happened to people who tried to shirk their debts to Clarence. Wallace set the crowbar against the coffin lid and pushed as hard as he could. It didn't budge.
"Is that the best you can do?" said Clarence. "Sweet Jesus, fifty nine years old I am and I can crack any box they make."
"I'm trying!" said Wallace, leaning with his full weight. He slipped, almost smashing his skull on the lid. The mausoleum floor was gritty and cold.
"Disgraceful," said Clarence. "You'd better be good for something sooner or later 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 to teach you who's in charge, but since I know you're just a wee one I'll let you keep the lantern. "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."
His laugh grew faint as he walked away, and then Wallace was alone. With the dead.
He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. Then he realized that he was sitting on the coffin and jumped up. He moved the lantern closer. 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. At least, he didn't think so...
He paused and looked closer. The lid was in two sections, and only the bottom was screwed shut. He reached for the topmost section—then pulled his hand back. 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 goodwill? And the quicker they finished, the quicker they could leave. Mustering up his courage, he threw the coffin open...
April Constant was staring at him.
Wallace screamed and let the lid drop with a bang. But he felt foolish immediately: Sometimes a person dies with their eyes open, he knew. That's why undertakers put coins over the eyes of the dead. April's must have slid off. Clarence would want those coins, Wallace thought. If he was lucky, maybe that's all Clarence would want, and once he had them there'd be no need to stay any longer. Bracing himself, Wallace opened the coffin again. April stared up at him. He whimpered. The dead woman clutched a bouquet of wilted lilies to her chest. Clarence was right: She had been beautiful. Even now, pale and blue-lipped and withered from her 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.
Where were the coins? He spotted one against the purple velvet lining, resting in the auburn curls that pillowed her head. Gritting his teeth, Wallace 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...
And then April Constant turned her head. She looked right at him. She blinked. Her fingers moved, disturbing the petals of the lilies...
Before Wallace knew it he was running. He wondered who was screaming, then realized that it was himself. He ran into something at the crypt gate and felt gnarled hands on his collar and this only made him scream more, struggling against the withered, skeletal thing that came out of the darkness and grabbed him.
Of course, it was only Clarence
"What in the hollows of hell is wrong with you raising all this racket? The caretaker is drunk, but he's not deaf," Clarence said, hissing. "And look, you broke the damn lantern. What do you expect us to do now, wheel her out and pick her pockets by moonlight?"
Wallace wanted to say, "She's not dead," but he couldn't make any words. His blood was ice. He started to cry.
"Disgraceful," Clarence said again. "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 meet me here again in three hours and not a minute longer, or even the devil himself won't be able to save you. Do you hear me?"
Wallace managed to nod, and when Clarence let him go he ran. He didn't stop running until he got to his room in the town and fell onto his mattress, curling up into a ball, crying like a 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 at the little table. What was he going to do? He couldn't go back to the graveyard. 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 of the darkness and turned the lamp down. 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. "Hello," she said.
"I hope you don't mind that I let myself in. You were sleeping so soundly I didn't want to wake you. You're Wallace, right? I don't think—my word, you're shaking?"
"Please don't hurt me," Wallace said.
April looked dumbfounded. "Why would I do that?"
"I...opened your coffin."
She smiled a little. "And it was very sweet of you."
"I was terribly bored in there. And then you came to me and you were so very handsome. I thought, 'This is the kind of man I wish I'd met before I died.' You touched my cheek so gently..." She sighed. "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?" 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, but that's not your fault" she said.
"I don't get many guests."
"Neither do I."
He actually laughed.
"You have no idea how dull it is, being dead," she said.
"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. I'm really not supposed to be up and wandering around. 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. Then she paused, looking at the floor and biting her lip. She said, "Can I ask a favor?"
"Can I...have a kiss?"
An awful feeling settled in the pit of Wallace's stomach, as if a snake with icy skin were crawling through his innards.
"I know it's terribly inappropriate," she continued. "We're not even married. But it's the last chance I'll ever have. Please?"
She clutched her dead flowers and looked at him with shining eyes. Wallace wanted to say no; actually, he wanted to shout it. But one look at those eyes and he just couldn't bear the idea. He leaned in and she tilted her head back, a pose he was familiar with from the covers of the cheaper novels that he couldn't read on the sale racks of book sellers.
He pecked her on the mouth, and then he gagged. He couldn't help it. The cold, leathery feeling of her lips was too awful. He tried to stifle the noise, but heard it anyway. April's lip trembled, and then she threw herself to the floor, 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.
"It's my fault," she said. "I'm such a fool. I was lying there feeling sorry about being dead and then you showed up and I thought about what my mother always said about second chances, so I came here and...God, I'm so silly. I'll just go."
He caught her hand. It was cold and his skin crawled, but he didn't let go. "I'm really sorry," he said. "You don't have to go." Wait, he thought, she doesn't?
"You don't have to be nice. I mean, look at me." And she tried to cry again. Wallace's heart broke.
"You're very pretty," he said. "Beautiful, even."
April perked up a little. "I am?"
"Yes," said Wallace, and meant it. "Strange. But beautiful."
Now she really was blushing. In fact, she was flushed all over. 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. "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."
"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, previously lank from the damp, moldering atmosphere of the crypt, gained body.
"I feel warm," she said. "Not just from the fire, 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? Is my skin soft?"
"Um," said Wallace, now blushing too. "Yes. It certainly is."
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. She almost swooned. "I feel something," she said, head cocked to one side. "My heart is beating!"
"I can feel it," said Wallace. "But why?"
"I think it's because of you," said April.
"But that doesn't make any...my hand in on your chest."
"Yes, it is."
"I should move it."
"If you want to."
He kept it there. She kissed him more. Her lips were now almost red. She pulled him to the bed. What he was thinking about seemed obscene, perhaps even 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 what any of this meant or what would happen tomorrow.
April wriggled out of her dress. "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. She swatted him away, but playfully. They lay in each other's arms, kissing, touching, and sighing. In the dim lamplight, "Is this happening?" she said. " I'm not dreaming?"
"I don't know. Do you dream still?"
"I don't know either," she said. Then she dragged her nails over his bare back. "Did that feel real?"
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?" he said.
"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. She took a deep breath and held it. He slid in, the tip first, and 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, and 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. He thrust deeper into her and she moaned: "Please..." 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, pinching her swollen nipples. 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.
"Oh God, Wallace I'm going to...I'm going to...I'm going to—!"
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?"
"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 and said "I bet you can do more."
He grunted. "That might be a lot to ask," he said.
"All sorts of things are returning unexpectedly tonight," she said.
She ran a hand up and down the length of him, and he sucked his breath between his teeth. She told him to relax. 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 stiffen, a dull throb starting at the base and moving up. "See?" she said. "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 again, positioning herself over him and 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. 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.
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. April showed exuberance he'd never had before. He could tell that she was thinking about nothing else except the feeling of their bodies, and he tried to block everything out of his mind too. April murmured. "I think I feel more alive now than I ever have. What do you—" She stopped. "Someone's at the door."