Ever since I was a child I’ve been known for my restlessness—it’s one of my defining qualities. I always ran too far, laughed too loud, smiled too wide, said too much. It was unbecoming, they told me, for a lady to live with such lust in her heart.
I wonder now, what would they say, if they could see me? What would they call me now if they could press their ears to my chest and listen for that chaotic beat that always called out for more, more, more?
I wonder because I have stilled my thoughts and my breath and strained to hear my own heart in the darkness of the night. I have tried to hear that restless thrum that I once knew so well, that stuttering thump that once kept me awake, gazing at the moon’s white face, fecund as a pregnant belly. I dreamt of so many things then: My wedding night, the scent of certain flowers that I’d only read the names of but never seen, what I would name the children who would spring from me, hungry and restless as their mother.
Now, the moon is dead marble, cold and white as tombs. My heart has fallen silent. I have not felt it beat in hours, days, weeks. And I do not dream.
But oh, I walk and wander. I am restless, ever-wanting.
I do not know what they would call me. I don’t have the word for it in any language. But there is a word I call myself:
Cold satin, finer than any bedclothes I’ve ever known, softly skimming my skin. I’d been dreaming of my wedding night: Arthur, my Arthur, beneath me, beside me, behind me, inside me. I’d had dreams like this before, many times, and Arthur had worn many different faces, but the denouement was different: Instead of shudders and sighs, this had ended with snarling my fingers into his damp curls, twisting until he cried out, pulling his head back hard and exposing his soft throat. I could see the blood rich and red beneath his pale skin, I could smell him, sweeter than the roast flesh of a Christmas goose dripping fat into the fire. I sank my teeth into him and he was Arthur, my Arthur, as always: Delicious.
I woke myself up laughing and aching. A hunger like nothing I’d ever known. I tried to turn, to stretch, to call out for my maids, and I wondered why my eyes weren’t adjusting, why they were steadfastly refusing to find the light that must surely be there, even if it was not yet dawn. I reached a hand in front of my face, and that was when I felt it: Wood, cold and smooth as the satin that cocooned me. That’s when I knew that I was not snug-safe in my bed. No, I was not at home at all.
I was in a box.
The scream rose up from somewhere deep within me, somewhere so deep that I wasn’t even aware that I was the one making the sound that was shredding the stillness around me.
That dream would be my last. That thirst, the first.
That first night, I did not venture forth. I lay there, screaming into the satin, until my screams became sobs and my sobs became silence. I slept. For how long, I do not know. I can’t be sure that it was even sleep that took me — perhaps something stronger than sleep, perhaps death itself stilled me. All I know is that when I opened my eyes again, I no longer cared where I was, or who, or how I got there. I wanted only one thing, and that wanting consumed me. And so I opened my eyes, placed my palms against the cold wood, and pushed.
It opened, easily. And I smiled then, despite myself, at my strength. And when I did, I noticed: On my lips, something smooth, new. Something hard against my softness. I ran my tongue across my teeth, little white soldiers all in a row, and it was then I felt them, so sharp they sliced my tongue as it teased across and around them.
I grinned, feral, and felt that ache burn through my veins like a flame. I could feel it in every fingertip, in my toenails, in the ends of my hair.
I knew then: I would be no man’s wife. Instead, an eternal bride, wedded only to the darkness.
But first, I had to feed. I pushed open the mausoleum’s marble door and stepped onto the moon-drenched lawn. And then, like a river, the current of the night buoyed me up and carried me away.
Their sweet faces, delicate like flowers stretching up toward a sun I would never see. I found them easily enough, the children — crouched in doorways, huddled beneath bridges, shielding themselves from the cold I would never feel. They were so small, vulnerable. I didn’t even have to strategize, to plan. What I did could hardly be called hunting.
They came to me, really.
All I had to do was walk by, my shroud trailing like a bridal train, and they flocked to me like little sheep. I was surprised the night I felt that first little hand in mine. I’d been wandering, with no guide but that hunger, that thirst, my mind empty of all but the persistent ache that was my only companion, and suddenly in my hand I felt her, soft and small and oven-warm. I stopped, peered down, wondering if she would see then what was in my eyes, if she would run.
Her hair was brown and tousled into knots, her clothes soot-smeared and torn, but when she turned her head and smiled up at me she looked like nothing so much as certain cherubs I’ve seen painted on the ceilings of cathedrals. She was resplendent in her innocence. What can I say? She tugged at something deep within me, some urge that had been dormant in my heart since the moment it stopped beating, the second my bed became a satin-lined box in that lonely churchyard. Suddenly, it all came back to me: Little fingers, little toes, tiny teeth like seed pearls, long eyelashes dancing across the tops of rosy cheeks with every blink. Some reminder of who I used to be, and of what I once wanted, came flooding back into my heart. I swear, I almost felt it stir, for a moment there. For a moment.
Every woman dreams of little ones.
I bent down, brought my face close to hers. “Bloofer lady,” she whispered, shyly, shifting her gaze to the ground as her clumsy tongue contorted, struggled with the word beautiful. I almost laughed, but I’d already forgotten how.
Gently, with one long finger beneath her chin, I nudged her face back up.
“Would you like to come with me, little one?”
She nodded, her raggedy curls bouncing against her shoulders. I reached beneath her arms and scooped her up; she leaned her head against my chest, listening for a heartbeat that would never sound.
I could smell the blood pulsing in her tiny throat, and that was when I knew: I could still dream. I do dream. I dream.
I dream red.
Before, my hunger had always been manageable, my thirst inconsequential. I longed to try so many things, yet I wanted for nothing. But that night, I stood beneath the plump white moon low like fruit on a branch, and all the tea in England couldn’t match my thirst.
I held her tighter to me as I turned back toward the churchyard.
I always wanted to be a mother.
O Lucy, my Lucy. To be here with you in this house of the dead when you were always so alive — to try to find you here among the headstones — feels so unnatural as to be unimaginable.
You should be warm in my bed, my Lucy. Not cold in this terrible tomb.
What we bring to your grave hardly seems suitable. You should have a thousand roses to perfume the air so still around you, amillion candles to light your way to heaven. But we have no candles, no flowers, no trinkets or treasures; instead, a stake, an axe, a torch. And for what?
The lid is lifting now, Lucy, my Lucy, and I must turn my head because I can scarcely bear to see you in this state — can’t bring my eyes to look upon you lifeless — and yet…
The satin lining bears your shape, bruised with the weight of you like a thumbprint in an overripe peach, but you are not there. Lucy, where? Where are you?
A sound behind me. I turn, torch in hand, and the firelight spills golden over you, and you are beautiful, my Lucy, as beautiful as ever. And you are holding — can it be? Can it really be you are holding a child?
I sink to my knees, sure that my fevered dreams have been made flesh through sheer force of wanting. I see you before me, dressed as you were the day you died, clad all in white, my forbidden bride, clutching the child I had dreamed would grow in your belly, would never grow now, could never grow now, and yet here you are, and here she is, oh my sweet Lucy. But now I see —
“Arthur,” you whisper, “my Arthur.” And my heart stirs and leaps like the flames across your face, across your breasts, across the stain spreading from your wide open lips. White dress now red, oh Lucy…
What have you become?
My fingers wrap around the wood. I raise my hands high, higher. I lunge.
Oh, Lucy. What have I done?
Arthur tried. He did. And in truth, I would have welcomed it. That kiss of the wood as the stake speared my flesh could have been sweeter than any kiss he had given me in life. It could have been freedom, a reprieve from that ceaseless ache. An end to the hunger.
Alas. The resolve of his heart did not quite match the strength of his hand. These men with their tools and toys were not, as they say, up to the task. And so I wander still, every night, ever hungry, ever restless. And sometimes I think of him, and pity him, my poor Arthur — he didn’t know, couldn’t know.
They say you should never wake a sleepwalker.
And now he knows.
Melissa Pleckham lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two dapper tuxedo cats. Her work has been featured in Francesca Lia Block’s Lit Angels Literary Journal, Sliced Up Press’ Sand, Salt, Blood sea horror anthology, Rooster Republic Press, DarkWinter Literary Magazine, Luna Luna, Flame Tree Fiction, and more. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association. Find her online at melissapleckham.com and on Instagram @mpleckham.