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The Impatient Dead

by Angela Slatter

I know more about cemeteries than most people. My mother used to take me weekly to visit my father’s grave. My earliest memories are of stone angels and rusting fences. No real feelings beyond a vague sense of having missed out. I do remember my mother, her long dark hair draped around her shoulders like a mourning shawl. If my father was a ghost, my mother was a ragged Ophelia, begging the ground to give up the man she had loved so desperately.

She was mad – what sane woman would take her child to the cemetery with such determination? The unfortunate truth is that madness is hereditary, passed from heart to heart. So it’s really no wonder that sooner or later my heart began to resemble my mother’s.

She disappeared when I was thirteen. I suppose I lost patience with her. I slipped through life’s cracks and made my home among the dead. I grew thin. I ate sadness and drank tears, my soul growing fat and dark. I suppose I was happy. I didn’t know I was lonely until I saw him.

After his mother’s funeral he stayed, whispering secrets he thought no one else could hear. I lay on the roof of a tomb, listening enchanted, as he poured venom into the grave. Spite and hatred and rage moved in a torrent from his lips and I lost myself in the darkness he summoned.

Here was my twin, the balm for an ache I had not known existed. I wanted to lick him and see if he was poison-flavoured. I wanted him to stay with me and never leave. I thought he would feel the same. I was so convinced that I slithered from my perch and rose up before him.

And he was terrified. He threw rocks at me. One grazed my pale forehead and thick blood started. He ran.

No one takes rejection well. I brought him down before he reached the main gates. I know all the shortcuts – it was easy to play with him.

I dragged him back and threw him into the open maw of a mausoleum. I listened as the shouts grew weaker, the silences grew longer and the whimpering finally ceased. He will not leave me. The dead are impatient for company.

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