Verne was convinced, and if Verne was convinced, Trevel was convinced as well.
“They carried her out the back of the house in some kind of shroud and there was a short noose still attached to her. She was not burned. She must have been dead afore the house ever caught fire is what I am saying.”
And that was that. The two of them were taking the long way around The Hill to the graveyard, intending to break into the Brown’s tomb and see Isla Brown’s corpse. Because Verne was convinced they would see a noose round Isla Brown’s once so lovely neck, and when Verne was convinced…
“Why we walking round the long way?” Trevel had asked Verne.
“‘Cause the godsdamned Brown’s have eyes everywhere. The further we stay from The Hill, the better.” Verne had answered.
Verne always knew best.
Trevel was a bit confused as to why it was so very important to go and gaze upon the corpse of Isla Brown, but he never questioned Verne. There must have been some good reason. Usually silver was involved, or at least the idea of silver. Trevel could not quite conjure up a scheme that involved coin being collected from Isla Brown’s corpse. He was trying, but…
“Nearly there now. There’s Ol’ Collier heading into towne for his nightly cup…” Verne said quietly.
And then the two of them were there, at the entrance to the graveyard. The graveyard was a ghastly big place. Old timers said that it had long ago swallowed up an entire estate in its hungry expansion, some old house and family that no one remembers. The living never stop dying though, and so the graveyard grew and grew. It was immense, a plot of land some fifty acres, covered in stones and mausoleums dating back hundreds of years, and those dated stones were said to be laid on top of graves older still. At night, the whole place was a shadowy tangle of gloom, fraught with grisly potentialities.
Trevel peered into the maze of stones and darkness, and stopped in his tracks. He was thinking about when he was a young lad, some twenty summers ago, when The Watch kept finding dead dockmen in the graveyard. It was a particularly hot summer, and the dockmen were probably seeking a breeze to break the boiling monotony of riverside. One after another, watchmen found them in the graveyard, and after a while everyone began to wonder why the dockmen continued sleeping there. Trevel’s father was a dockman in those days, and the word from he and the other men was that a song drifted out of the graveyard late at night, and not all me could resist the call of the song…
“What keeps you, fool?” Verne asked. He had stopped and turned around to face Trevel.
“I was just thinking about those dead dockmen from that one summer when we was lads. My da told me that a song came out of the graveyard at night and took the men away.” Trevel answered.
“Hmph.” Verne grunted. “I do not ken how a song could kill a man. Your da was a drunkard. Let us be about our business.” Verne said.
Just at that moment, in the darkness of the expansive graveyard behind Verne, Trevel saw something move. Something swift, and silent. He gasped, and pointed.
Verne snatched his head around to see what Trevel was pointing at, but the figure was already gone. “Will you piss yourself like a sackless cur at every movement you see? Fool, the graveyard is full of scoundrels and lovers and the occasional group of watchmen after dark. Wring out your breeches and follow me.” With that, Verne drew his knife, and led the way. Verne’s knife was a three inch iron nub with a clay handle, but it had opened an unfortunate belly or two over the years. It made Trevel feel better seeing that familiar knife.
Moments later, the two of them were well into the graveyard. Now that they were inside, the dull, eerie glow of Lover’s Hill’s graveyard was lighting their way. The custom of the people of Lover’s Hill was to light a candle at fresh graves, and at the anniversary of a loved one’s death a candle was also lit at the grave, one for each year since the person’s death. This custom provided the ancient graveyard with a small amount of light, at certain times of the year and in certain areas of the graveyard, that is. The two men had walked by the fresh grave of Gilliam Redsailes, lit by a candle. They also walked past the Greene family mausoleum, lit by a candle to mark the death of young Rella, a girl of nine who was found dead in her bedchamber a few days previous.
“That one was just a lillun. Damn shame, truly.” Verne said as they passed the mausoleum.
Trevel glanced back at the entrance to the mausoleum, barely glowing from the candle burning there, and saw movement again. Not just one shape, but two. He was not sure why, but he felt that this was the same person or now persons that he had seen earlier. The two shapes darted across the dull glow of the candle for just a moment, and Trevel had made out two of them for certain, both shrouded like haints or revelers on The Night of the Dead. Something trailed in the grass behind one of them as they had disappeared into darkness. The hair stood up on the back of Trevel’s neck.
“I saw ‘em again, Verne. They are stalking us.” Trevel said, fearful.
Verne twisted round and queried Trevel thusly, “Was it The Watch you saw? Old Uncle Iron and his gang? Heh?”
Trevel did not answer.
“Did you see iron caps or not?” Verne asked again.
“No. It were not The Irons. Something else…” Trevel said
Verne pounced on Trevel, clodding him upside the head with his fist. “You oaf! There is no one stalking us! There is naught a reason for any man to stalk us. Have you any value? Do you hear the clink of coin about my person? Now follow me or I shall clout you again, though I doubt it will do much good…” Verne said, and set off at a faster pace.
Trevel followed Verne, and the two of them darted through the maze of graves, getting closer to the old center, where the oldest families had their tombs. Trevel glanced back, seeing how deep they were into the vast necropolis, and shuddered. He had never been this far in.
Finally, they reached the squat, sprawling, stone heap that was the tomb of the Brown family. A candle still burned at the entrance, although it had been nearly two turns of the moon since Isla’s death. The Browns were a proud family, indeed.
“Take down that candle, and hold it high.” Verne said.
Trevel grabbed the candle and held it aloft, but it did little to pierce the gloom inside the old tomb. Verne led the way, and Trevel followed, into the darkness of the tomb. Down the entrance steps and into the cool of the earth, all the sounds of the night air were choked out. The only sounds were their soft, grating footsteps on the stone floor. At the bottom of the entrance stairs there was a long, wide hallway stretching forward, with offshoots to the left and right. Notching the walls of this long hallway were crypt alcoves, one low and one high, most holding a dusty coffin. Just ahead, ten paces from the bottom of the stairs, a candle burned in an alcove holding a coffin.
“That’s her.” Verne said as they stepped up to the alcove with the burning candle. Verne reached out and grasped the lid of the coffin. “Now I will show you the thing that I saw that night. A thing that some would pay to know, and others would pay for others not to know.” he said.
“What?” Trevel did not understand.
“Silver, fool. What’s in this coffin could bring us silver. See.” Verne said, and lifted the lid. Trevel peeked inside the coffin and saw…nothing. Verne cursed.
“May the black goat take my balls, I know what I saw! Those bastards have hidden her away, so as not to expose their lie.” Verne spat out. It was then that a strange voice spoke from the darkness at the bottom of the entrance stairs…
“A clever one, you are.” spoke the strange voice.
Verne and Trevel nearly jumped out of their ragged clothing at the sound of the voice. Verne crouched low and readied his knife.
“I told you someone was stalking us.” Trevel said, trembling. His sweaty hand was slowly losing grip on the candle.
“Two clever ones.” the strange voice said.
“Who is that there? Show yourself, you bastard.” Verne challenged. Trevel took a step backward, away from the stairs and deeper into the tomb as scuffling footsteps began to come their way.
A shrouded figure shambled into the glow of the candle. It was a dead woman, wrapped in a burial shroud, with a short noose still attached to her neck. Trevel could smell the late summer rot coming from her. Verne gasped, and took a step backward.
“Do not be startled, it is only the one you came to see. She is so very hungry, good sirs…” the strange voice said.
Trevel saw the man’s face as he stepped into the glow of the candle. It was one of the singer’s from town, the one who always sang at the corner of Bell Street and the Lonely Avenue. He was holding a length of rope that was also coiled around his shoulder. The end of the rope, hanging from the man’s hand, was cut and frayed. The man smiled at Trevel.
“Nnn…hhunngry…” Isla said, and leapt onto Verne, dragging him down to the floor with her weight. Verne screamed, and plunged his knife into Isla’s neck over and over, producing a quick series of dull popping sounds as he tore through her rotting flesh. She did not bleed. She did not stop. She sank her blackened teeth deep into Verne’s throat and tore out a chunk of it. Verne gurgled out a hideous bellow, losing grip on his knife as his throat spouted blood in nearly every direction. Isla began to eat Verne’s face as he twitched and kicked all over the place, moaning and gurgling. Trevel dropped the candle he was holding, backing away. The singer smiled at Trevel again, and snuffed out the candle in Isla Brown’s alcove, plunging the tomb into absolute darkness. Trevel stumbled backward into the blackness of the tomb.
Half an hour later, Trevel was still hiding in an empty alcove somewhere in the tomb, listening to Isla Brown eat Verne. She tore the flesh from his bones like a hillcat, and greedily slurped down the meat. The sounds of it were driving him mad. If he had his own knife, he would have cut his own throat. There was no way out except past Isla and the singer. The singer called out to Trevel…
“Unfortunately, good sir, she is still very hungry. She has not eaten in so long. She will be done here soon, and we will come for you. We will find you. I can hear your breathing, and smell the stink of your piss. I wish that it were different for you. I wish that it were different for all of us.”
Silence for a moment, as Trevel struggled to understand the strange man’s words, then…
“Have you ever loved, good sir?”
Trevel did not answer.
“Or maybe you have at least been loved, and remember what that was like?” the singer asked.
Trevel did not answer. He thought of his father. A drunkard, yes, but a kind and loving man. Trevel had known love, yes.
A terrible, violent, wet crunching sound could be heard from where Isla was eating Verne. Just as suddenly as the crunching started, it ceased. Wet, shuffling footsteps began to make their way down the hallway and into the darkness where Trevel was hiding.
As Trevel struggled to keep his sobs quiet, the singer spoke again. He and Isla were closer now.
“I ask you if you know of love, sir, but this…” The singer said as he and Isla approached Trevel’s hiding place. The singer had lit a candle, and Trevel could see the terrible, gore blackened form of Isla Brown as she shuffled toward him out of the dark, the singer just behind her. “This…is loveless.” the singer finished.
Trevel screamed for his father as Isla Brown tore him apart and devoured him in the dark.