When a soul leaves the body, it retains the shape but carries a scent of geraniums with its frayed appearance akin to a bride walking up a moonlit aisle.
The features appear gradually like an unearthed silver coin having the dirt carefully wiped away from the face of an indignant monarch. The atmosphere, covered by a heavy tapestry hung on a castle wall then quickly removed to arctic temperatures, creates the supernatural electric halo.
But it is the silence that has the balcony seat.
The ears are enveloped in a velvet hush and their introduction to a nether world as startling as bursting stars in terrified eyes.
They are tethered to the world by a profound loss, enacting a final scene as the silent balcony looks on through the ages.
Only love can cut the ropes and let loose a completed life, content that the light above is brighter than that burning in their broken hearts.
Nostalgia is the ghost.
Nestled in a sprawling wood, close to foreboding hills, was Gauntcrief Mortuary.
This Jacobean pile, with its two turrets, one at either end, its tall leaded windows and striking crimson door, appeared as a demon’s head bursting forth from the leafless winter sticks.
The local villages hummed with tales of the horrors within and those that lurked in the sylvan darkness around.
It was said that the infamous witches of Salem were sent here in sherry barrels to be embalmed with Myrrh and Myrtle then buried deep beneath the eldest of the oak trees – their left hand and feet removed, their mouths filled up with fingers and toes and their heads held fast in scolds bridles made from melted silver crucifixes.
This place writhed with dancing spiky shadows, rung with curious half heard sentences and reeked of ill conceived slander.
It rained during the day and cleared to a transparent night as though the heavens had no pores to sweat the labours of the sun.
It was at night that the gas lamps shone out through the windows, giving the demon head glowing eyes and keeping the curious far from there.
Inside its thick walls lined with prayer stuffed crevices and down a long corridor was the room of the dead. This room was out of bounds to all except the mortician, Darquer Challis. Darquer was a tall, wiry man dressed at all times in a dark green suit and matching apron with black leather gloves and a crimson beret. His shoes were the same colour as his beret, but with soles thick with a lifetime of blackened blood and sprigs of holly woven into the laces – to surprise the devils in the floorboards!
When he left the room to conduct business in the parlour, he wore a tall red hat with sprigs of holly – to surprise the devils in the rafters!
His family had lived in the gamekeepers cottage at the end of the path but one by one, like an excruciating domino drop, they succumbed to the dreaded cholera outbreak.
They shrivelled in his arms like the flowers taken inside the mortuary, losing all moisture, all plump goodness becoming the exhumed. These desiccated, cooled coals from the fire in winding sheets with smiles for the counting saint, were his legacy lost to the great scythe.
In his weightless grief, he took from each of them a long bone, either the leg or the arm and carved nine miniature coffins with lids and nine figures of his beloved to rest inside of them, arms neatly folded and drops of gold, from a molten hammered noble, for eyes.
A year danced through the dark ballroom of his mourning, brushing past the drapes to release memories from deep folds. These brief excerpts melted into bitter chocolate shadows around Darquer who performed his duties like a clown spent of mirth.
But late in the evening, after work was completed, he lovingly laid each coffin upon their respective seats in the parlour and lifted the lids. He revealed the tiny figures before taking his own seat, lighting the huge candle next to their portraits on the occasional table and rang a little bell placed to the side. As the wick crackled with balls of flame, sweet violet orbs lifted from the figures and lit the shapes of his family in their places, still and cold yet they filled him with an enveloping warmth.
He would tell them about his day and bless each of them before they retired to their bones and golden eyed slumber.
Each night lovingly recreated and each night his shrivelled heart inflated a little more.
Darquer was content with his lot.
That was until New Year’s Eve, when a storm rolled in from the hills presided over by a blood moon. The woods shook with the high boughs clashing and tearing apart, splitting nine trees open to reveal silver bridles, lank blue black limbs and curses muttered through mouths filled with sheared appendages. Skeletal leaves danced in circles beneath their feet as the nine moved like swaying kelp through a treacle darkness buffeted by tempestuous winds and sharp debris. In their rotted sockets, golden yellow eyes sparked into life and drails of violet smoke snaked behind their insidious procession.
That night, nine evil spirits, looking to be freed, was to descend on the house of the departed.
Darquer lit the candle and rang the bell but no lights appeared. He rang the bell again and still nothing. The whole day had closed in around him filling his bones and blood with dread and he decided to keep his tall red hat on with the holly sprigs.
Suddenly, the windows and doors burst open and nine clouds of swirling leaves with silver bridles set with crucifixes, protruding from the top, shattered his panacea with the stench of calumny.
“What blasphemy is this? You were bound to the woods by ritual, brides of beelzebub. Begone from my house of eternal rest.”
The witches stepped out of their conjured maelstroms and formed a circle around Darquer.
“Thou bereft and scooped out varlet. Didst thou believe the pocked mouth judges that we wouldst stay tied to thy puny rituals? We are loose’d to make good on our promise to the cast out Prince.”
The circle moved in closer around him and Darquer reached into his apron with a wry smile. Below him the floor began to crack and break apart and licks of flame brushed his crimson shoes.
“I have for each of you a gift. Do not deny a condemned man his last wish. Open your right palms and be grateful.”
Darquer placed one of his precious figures into each bloated clawed right hand and closed it up with an amen.
From inside of the clenched fists, a beautiful white light burst like a comet in a summer sky and, one by one, the witches were engulfed in a blinding magnesium flash as huge flames engulfed the smiling mortician, eyes shut and arms open wide.
Dawn broke through the tall leaded windows to a chilled parlour.
On the table nine coffins, with lids beside them, lay empty and on the floor two sprigs of holly smouldered in the orange light. The sprig from the hat was for the dreams and hopes for the future and the sprig from the shoes for the march to realise these dreams and beyond to realise more besides. They were the sun and the moon in eternal struggle.
Every night, at three, the parlour has ten lights on their seats with no bell to ring and no candle flame to summon them from their golden eyed slumber.