THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN
lich: from Old English līċ meaning "corpse" is a type of undead creature. Often such a creature is the result of a transformation, as a powerful magician skilled in necromancy or a king striving for eternal life using spells or rituals to bind his intellect and soul to his phylactery and thereby achieving a form of immortality. Liches are depicted as being clearly cadaverous, bodies desiccated or completely skeletal.
Bones snap. Sweet marrow is sucked out with a single, greedy slurp; the hollow shell cast aside and lands upon the top of an ever-growing pile stacked haphazardly in the corner of the room. A shadowed figure kicks its feet of the wooden slab of a desk and rises. Outside, the moon swings high in a blue-velvet sky made soft by wispy clouds leftover from the rainy afternoon. Pale fingers twist a pendant swinging down from a slender neck - a small red crystal worn down to a sphere, nicked in places, and fastened to a chain by thin, twisted wire.
A sigh only in sound passes parted lips; no air escapes, for the lungs have long been shriveled.
A great door swings open. The night chill sweeps in and the shadowed figure steps out onto the lush grass, dampened by a day of passing storms. The door closes. The figure melts into the dark.
“Sloppy,” says a voice down low.
“I don’t recall asking your opinion.”
Magda looks down, one slender eyebrow raised in question or in judgement or perhaps even in both. A pile of sagging skin and bones raises a weary skull and shrugs its knotted shoulders. A gnarled finger taps where its temple should be.
“Then,” it says in a gravelly voice, “shouldn’t...give...this.”
The finger drops down to where the skull’s lips should have been had they not already rotted away and taps there, too. Magda does not grace the skeleton with a response. Instead, a hand emerges from her heavy cloak and proffers a small collection of bloodied scraps: a slice of a liver, a chunk of shriveled smoker’s lung, a tangle of torn veins and fraying arteries. The skeleton slides up on its mossy headstone, peels of its remaining gray skin peeling off and sticking to the rock. The scraps are dropped into its would-be palm and it grinds them all between its once-yellowed, now-browning teeth. As it eats, Magda perches on grave marker, her back to the bones, and swipes her sleeves over her mouth. Still-sticky marrow comes off; sloppy, indeed.
“This,” the skeleton says, “old.”
“So are you,” Magda says.
“And,” the skeleton retorts, “you.”
“You’d be dust without me,” Magda says.
“Be dust,” the skeleton says, “soon...anyway.”
Magda says nothing, but she knows the words are true, and she does not feel like facing the truth. She hasn’t looked the skeleton in the eyes - or sockets now, probably, with maybe something dry and shrunken inside - in decades. This truth used to be commented on, too, but has fallen out of vogue. Magda trains her gaze instead across the large expanse of Duskswallow Cemetery, straight out to the thin black line of the horizon, to the tiny bumps of gravestones perched along it - to one in particular, in the center of the long-stretched row, with weeds so overgrown Magda could spot each leaf from miles away.
A cold touch lights on her cold hand.
“You,” the skeleton says, “still...try?”
“It’s none of your business,” Magda says.
“My business,” says the skeleton, “if...kill me...for it.”
“You’re already dead,” says Magda.
“You,” says the skeleton, “not much...better.”
The words spark flashes of red across Magda’s vision. She rises, rage swelling in her chest, and whirls on the skeleton - that crumpled mass of skin and bones and hair still clinging in places it no longer belonged. She raises her arms, black tendrils pulled from the red crystal around her neck snaking all the way to the tips of her fingers and fizzing in half-broken streams toward the creature on the muddy ground.
A choked sound gurgles from the dead being’s rotten throat and it clutches at its own neck with bony fingers. It looks at Magda, and Magda makes the mistake of looking back - looking at those miraculous eyes still rolling in the sunken sockets, growing wide with alarm.
She drops her hands. The skeleton sags against its tombstone.
“You,” it says, its voice thinner and more garbled, “still,” it huffs, “try.”
Magda drops beside it. She feels drained, and the crystal around her neck glows and warms her throat with scarlet light. She leans against the stone beside the skeleton - beside the skeleton whose name might have been Alexander or might have been Alistair depending on how one interprets the faded letters on its cracked marker.
The fingers touch her hand again.
“You,” says the skeleton, the voice slowly dripping back to normal, “still...care.”
“Maybe,” says Magda.
She thinks of the overgrown grave across the cemetery, the one she’s too afraid to visit, the one untouched for centuries. She thinks about the coffin sunk into the earth there, the body stuck inside.
“I,” the skeleton says, “am...test?”
“An experiment,” Magda says.
“You,” says the skeleton, “keep...try.”
“I fear I might kill you,” she says.
“Already,” the skeleton points out, “dead.”
“Me, too,” Magda says.
“I,” the skeleton continues, “not...who you...want...to live.”
“No,” Magda agrees.
“You,” the skeleton says, “will...drink...my marrow...like...the others.”
“I don’t want to anymore,” Magda relents.
“Not,” the skeleton asks, “kill?”
“No,” she says. She pushes herself to her feet and returns to her spot on the top of the headstone. She feels the skeleton’s tiny eyes on her, following, and she hears its bones scrape against the stone as it climbs up to see what she is seeing. She is stuck on that same grave again, miles away but haunting her nonetheless. Haunting her with memories of touches a thousand years old and a thousand years gone, memories of kisses that still ghost on her lips in the middle of the night, memories of magic too strong and dreams too big to contain between two people. Of spells gone wrong, trials and errors, and a funeral with a single attendee. “I want you to live.”
“Me,” says the skeleton, “or her?”
“Both,” Magda says. “I want you both to live.”
“Then,” says the skeleton, “keep...trying.”
“For centuries more,” Magda agrees. “For centuries more.”