I left this mortal world in the year 1093, but I still wander this earth. I am one of the Undead, now damned to walk among the living unseen, inhabiting in the shadows.
Tonight, I am watching the moon. Slivers of light are dancing upon my night, and I bathe in the moonlight, surrounded by the forest and the wind. It is silent and beautiful.
The sight has not changed in the 800 years since I died. It is still solace for the lonely.
I am, as are all of the Undead, a forlorn soul, invisible to those full of spirit and life. I can see their happiness, hear their laughter, but I have none of my own. All I have are my memories, tainted remnants of my life.
Only mortals in despair may perceive what I am, what we all are; to those people, the desperate ones, the Undead can be seen. With them I can pretend, I can reach out to touch what I was, to relive what has vanished.
I have even heard whispers in the shadows, that to unshackle a despondent soul is to find your own redemption.
I wonder, now and then, if that could be true.
So I am here on this evening, surrounded by woods and decaying leaves, pondering stray thoughts and waiting for Robert Sinclair. He is my own sad, despairing soul, a man with little hope. We have much in common, despite the fact he is yet alive.
We crossed paths two days past when I found him here in these woods, amidst the fallen branches and underbrush. He was in quite a state, covered in blood, and pondering suicide by poison.
My shabby, ghostly form sent him into hysterics; he scrabbled about trying to hide among the fallen trees. He was convinced I was an apparition, come to take him to hell. It took me some time to convince him I meant him no harm.
I coaxed him quietly, speaking as to a child, reassuring his fear. Eventually he confessed the why of his circumstance; how his anger and his guilt had driven him to excess, that his flight from quaint village life was fueled by blood and death.
The poor boy, his tale was so pitiful, so similar to my own. Less than a week previous his mother died, pushed to her death during one of the frequent beatings inflicted by his father. Robert could not bear his rage and subsequently killed his father in revenge.
As his story unfolded, I assumed he was fleeing from punishment, but that was not the case. Both deaths had been regarded as accidents; no doubt the villagers were willing to ignore any unpleasantness.
No, what compelled Robert to the extremes of suicide was his own burden of self-reproach.
I understood that type of sorrow, and improbably, I had felt a tug on my lost heart. Sympathy had overwhelmed my thoughts, and in a wild moment I told him he was not alone, that we were kindred beings.
This is why I agreed to meet him, to tell him of my life, and my death.
I turned my head at the sound of his melancholic voice and beckoned to him. He waved back at me, in greeting.
"I was afraid you would not return."
"I felt I must. You are my fate somehow, and I must know the truth of you. I realize that you understand my misfortunes."
I felt the same; our two souls were of the same substance.
Robert looked about for a seat, finally settling himself down upon an old fallen log. He lost no time with his questions.
"Why is your soul still upon this earth? What sin condemned you?"
I looked down at his sad face.
"My life condemned me, all of my choices."
I said those words with remorse; I regretted most of my choices.
"My sin was born not from evil or selfish desire, but from desperation and anger. I am a lost soul, and so in death I was condemned to a purgatory, forever to walk the earth the shadows obscure and unloved."
"But, why is it that I can see you? I still find that confusing. Why am I so privileged? "
"You are living in your sin, and your misery. You are one of us, here among the living."
Robert smiled at my words, with his lovely, hushed smile.
"You are correct, I am lost and languid among the living, and my sin does occupy my thoughts. But you have given me a strange kind of hope."
"Now keep your promise, tell me of your life."
I looked back up at the moon. I needed a moment, before I faced him.
"I was not very unusual, just an English girl born among the poor in Somerset, and my family were farmers in service. I spent my childhood working at chores in the fields, playing with the other village children."
I smiled at the memories. The years after had made them all the sweeter.
"I was married in my thirteenth year, to the cooper's son. He was twenty-one, and apprenticed to his father. It was considered a good match, and on my wedding day I believed I was quite lucky."
"But you weren't lucky, it was a bad match?"
I gaze back up at the moon, remembering. Staring at the moon was a habit I began after I married. It had made life easier.
"He was a cruel man, drunk or sober. It gave him pleasure to strike out at people, and I was the one most often within his reach. I spent most of my married life with bruises."
"Just like my mother. She always ended up on the wrong end of my father's fist."
"Things don't change. Did he ever hit you, Robert?"
"No," his voice was bitter, "I was the son, not to be touched. Only my mother was punished."
"I am glad he never hit you; children should not be beaten. I believe that, and I tried very hard to protect my babies."
I smiled at the startled look that spread over Robert's face.
"Yes, I had children. Two lovely boys, and I was fiercely protective of them, kept them away from their fathers cruelty as much as possible. But it was not enough." No, it was not enough. I tried, but I did not protect my children.
"My husband regularly became drunk at the local tavern, and came home angry. One night he started beating me, as he did often, and he woke up my son Geoffrey."
I paused, just for a moment, to look at Robert, and compose my thoughts.
"The darling boy tried to rescue me, and it was the last act of his life." My voice caught the words, spilling over the grief that still hovered close.
"My husband hit him, and snapped his small neck."
Robert tried to take my hand, before remembering he could not touch it.
"As I stood in my home, looking at the body of my son, I felt a cold rage. I could hear my husband swearing threats at me, and I picked up a sharp butcher knife, turned around and plunged it into his chest."
I closed my eyes remembering. I could still see the blood pumping out of the wound, when I yanked out the knife, could still hear his curses and yells turn to moans and pleas. His white shirt slowly turned crimson as his blood stained the fabric, and he collapsed into a helpless lump upon our floor. A feeling of joy filled me, as I loomed over his carcass. I think I even laughed.
"When the last breath left him, and I knew he was dead, I sat down on my floor until morning. With the sunrise, I went to my other son, and explained what had happened. Then I sent him to tell the story to the village reeve."
"My poor son William. He never came out of his room during the night, or during the fighting; he knew better. He was very calm in the morning, even after seeing the sprawling bodies of his brother and father. He never said one word to me, just did what he was told."
"The reeve was not sympathetic to my tale, nor were the villagers. I was charged with murder, brought to court, where I was found guilty and sentenced to a beating and exile from the village, as I had no money to pay fines."
"I could have borne this punishment, but for the fact they took away my son. My husband's parents petitioned the court to take my son William, as compensation," I spit out those words, still choking on the memory. "And they were granted their wish, they stole my son."
"I'm sorry. Where did you go, in your exile?"
"Nowhere. Without my son, I had nothing. I managed to procure a sharp knife, and I slit my wrists, before I was banished. I died because I killed myself."
Robert made a small gasp, but said nothing.
"What was one more sin? I could shame my family no more than I had, and the village certainly did not care if I was dead. They threw my corpse in a nameless grave at the crossroad and forgot I ever existed."
Robert looked at me sharply.
"How do you know about your burial? Was your poor soul adrift so soon, to be the Undead?"
"Yes, my soul was condemned from just after the moment of death. I haunted the places I knew for many years; I had no other place to go. I watched over my son, until he was fourteen years. I saw him turned into the same type of man my husband had become, and I could do nothing."
"I eventually left, and traveled where I wished, until I arrived here in Cornwall."
"I am sorry for your heartbreak. Do you know why you were so damned?"
"I sinned; I killed, and I enjoyed it. I took my own life. But mostly, because I had no repentance. These things condemned my soul to wander."
"You must understand, Robert, the Undead are souls who attained no peace with the closing of our mortality. I live in a world between the living and the dead, condemned here because I refused to seek atonement."
Robert's face clouded over.
"So if I repent my sins before I die, my soul will not be as your's has become, and I may find salvation?"
You will not become Undead if you repent, I cannot promise salvation."
"So I may only avoid your fate, if I repent of the murder of my father, the vengeance I sought for the death of my mother, and ask forgiveness for the joy I took in killing him?"
"And if I do not repent these sins? If I embrace them and exist with the guilt I feel for not having remorse?"
"Then when you die, you will wander as I do, forever shut out of the world. It is your choice Robert."
"Leave me, I must think."
So I left him to himself and his thoughts, only to return a few hours later.
I found his body just as I had hoped; crumpled on the ground, lifeless. The vial of poison he had used lay a few inches from his limp hand.
I smiled as I turned around.