From Beyond The Veil – Flash Fic
Another flash-fiction piece for Mr Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge.
From Beyond The Veil
It was a dark, stormy night.
It was the sort of night when people bolted their doors and pulled down the storm shutters over their windows. When woollen blankets, that smelt of mothballs and grandma, came out of storage and were wrapped around shoulders, held closed around shivering bodies by chilled hands. The wind had a way of sliding its icy fingers into every nook and cranny, of finding its way inside regardless of how well closed up a home was.
One person did not shiver, or huddle beneath a musty, rarely-used blanket. Eleanor Dupuis lived in luxury; her 10 year old mansion had been built purposely to look archaic, but it lacked the flaws older properties possessed. The window frames were perfectly level, allowing not even a breath of wind to enter. The floorboards, each one hand-cut from expensive English oak, never creaked – they would not have dared. The roof tiles did not rattle in bad weather, and the roof never leaked, not even a single drop of water making it into the house.
As a particularly strong gust of wind shook the windows of her mansion, Eleanor smiled to herself, and looked around her private library from the warmth and comfort of her armchair in front of the roaring open fire. This room was her pride and joy. She had nursed and nourished it as a new mother doted on her firstborn child. Into the creation and growth of the library went the obsessive care and attention that parents lavished on their children, and for good reason. From a young age – around nine or so, roughly the same time she’d learnt where babies come from – Eleanor had decided that she wasn’t going to be one of those women who popped out baby after baby and stayed home to look after her family. Eleanor had Plans. Very nearly they were Grand Plans.
Her grandfather had been an archaeologist, and to this day, ancient monochrome photographs of him posing in various countries at various dig-sites amongst various local peoples were amongst Eleanor’s most treasured possessions, and now she too was immortalised in print, her pictures framed upon the walls beside Grandpa; her first ever dig in Egypt, where a tip from an elderly local man who’d asked for later payment but then never returned to claim it, had helped her to unearth the lost tomb of an ancient Pharaoh; the expedition of university students she’d led to Machu Picchu when she was thirty six, in search of ancient Incan secrets; her very last expedition before retirement three years ago, a trip to England, to a newly discovered Neolithic settlement which had the potential to rock the boat of the archaeological world.
As Eleanor looked around her library, reflecting on the greatest moment of her life – and there had been many, because she had been a very successful and renowned archaeologist – the room began to shake. At first she ignored the shaking, dismissing it as a symptom of the storm, but when it grew in intensity, causing some of her books to work themselves loose off the shelves, she began to worry. The final straw came when the prize of her collection, an exquisitely hand-crafted jade dolphin figurine she’d unearthed in China, fell from the mantelpiece; victim of gravity and the hard English oak floorboards, it shattered into pieces, and Eleanor’s heart fell from her chest into her stomach.
She pushed herself up from her chair, stepping carefully around the small pieces of jade which littered the floor. Though the room still shook, she made her way to the mantelpiece – one did not become a famous and respected archaeologist by allowing a little earthquake to unnerve them – and pushed some of the other figurines back, securing them in place with her hands.
The shaking stopped. All was quiet, except for the storm outside. Eleanor looked up, into the mirror above the fireplace, and froze. Behind her stood a man in dusty brown robes, his feet clad in brown leather sandals, a wooden staff held in one hand to be used as a walking aid.
Eleanor turned on the spot. She didn’t need to look into the mirror to know the colour had drained from her face. Her eyes felt wide inside her own head as she faced the man.
“Y-you can’t be here,” she stammered. “You should be dead!”
The man did not speak. He merely walked towards Eleanor, his stick held aggressively above his head, and she screamed as the makeshift club was brought down towards her head.
– – – – –
The great lord Osiris, undertaker of the ages, leant his weight against his sturdy shovel as he stood above the fresh grave in front of the tombstone. It was, he thought, and not for the first time, such a shame that Westerners were so fond of interring their bodies in the earth. It made the raising more traumatic for the souls, when they had to rise up through the ground. The Egyptians had gotten it right. Mummification, and eternal rest of the body inside a tomb. Nothing at all traumatic about that.
As he watched, the pale, ethereal form of Eleanor Dupuis rose from the ground. She looked around in fright, and her eyes fell on him once more.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “Why did you do this to me?”
“It is not what I did to you, but what you did to yourself,” he replied. “Do you remember what I said to you, back in Egypt?”
“You said you could make my career, for a price.”
“And you said..?”
“I don’t remember,” she lied.
“You said, ‘For that, I would give you anything.’ So now I am claiming my fee. I have come for your soul.”
“But I wasn’t being serious!” the ghost objected.
The great lord Osiris waved his hand, returning himself to the underworld, and the ghost of Eleanor Dupuis went with him.