James Flowerdew


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hungry


Hungry
If you have just found this note, I have a strange request.
Please endure my tale to the end, or walk away now. See all of me or nothing. Surely every man on earth deserves to be known in full his fate is metered out. For all my sins, I still believe that I deserve this one grace.
Maybe it shouldn’t matter how you regard me, but I suspect that it does as I write this. Your decision may have impact that defies measure.
I want you to read with the knowledge that I have no illusions as to what you may think of my character. I have not started on the best foot, but I will go darker places soon. The grim scene before you is just the beginning.
I would describe myself as a student of sorts; born wealthy enough to indulge myself purely in the pursuit of knowledge. My chosen subject was of ancient cultures and philosophies. Not their histories, but their thoughts.
Perhaps in heart, I am to some degree a relic in myself, finding an affinity in dusty remnants that I would struggle to find among my peers.
To say that I am knowledgeable about such things would be an insult to many scholars, as well as a lie, but suffice it to say I have more than enough curiosity in that direction. Not just for the classics of Greece and Rome, but of ancient texts from around the world.
Mythologies and legends were my staple, but also rarer texts, such as the Ancient Egyptian Amduat, or Icelandic Galdrbok. Texts that delve into areas and practices that many would frown upon. Writings that hint at the means to interact with other worlds, as opposed to conjecture on what to expect.
I also confess that I sometimes dabbled.
Why was I doing this, I hear you ask.
I told myself that it was for noble causes. I felt the world wrong, and was arrogantly bent on the fixing. Maybe with some great magic, I would be able to end suffering, poverty. As a feared mage, I could wave my arms and heroes would cease in their bloody murder. Maybe as a prophet, my voice could thunder and Kings would empty their pockets for their starving subjects. As a kind mage, I could wave my hands over the plagued and relieve their suffering. That almost explains my motives. With this logic I could dress myself as more saint than sinner.
Thinking on it now, I was also perhaps somewhat jaded. Many of my peers bored me, and yet more seemed to find little of interest in me; little in the way of the interest that one would choose. I saw a world full of suffering governed by bullies and preachers; a world echoing with the high words of low men. I saw my role in it, without enchantment, as limited. I would gladly save the world, but would possibly be content with a safe distraction or exit.
Of the rites themselves, many require such miraculous or perverse ingredients as to be almost impossible to enact. Where my physical limits would not stop me, my tastes would.
Many others flatly didn’t work for me. Staring due west in purple habit, chanting forgotten words, tracing strange sigils with hand or pace did nothing. Expensive scents, bright crystals, and complex gesture seemed a repeated waste of time.
Still I devoured anything that I could find, and I was gradually amassing knowledge. In my own way, I was beginning to tie together my own more unified set of superstitions from the multitudes that I read. I was unconsciously growing an understanding that I was comfortable with, if not the means to explore it. A personal mythology that drew from many sources, but had all of the contradictions ironed out.
Of course I had no idea as to how much of it were true, but it eventually led me in a new direction.
Without my noticing, these ideas grew into my one grand idea, the great ritual. Not a ritual mapped out, though. No swathes of diagrams that you might imagine. It was an instinctual ritual, enacted before it was mapped.
Egyptian, Viking, Roman, and many other cultures had an obvious common theme that I latched on to. Where Egyptians had pyramids and grand mansions of Tombs, the Norse had boats loaded with not just treasure, but essentials. Neolithic graves frequently had tools of trade, and even loved pets accompanying their passengers.
It was the Assyrians, however that I directly trace the raw concept to.
There are tablets in existence that seem to describe exorcisms, the banishing of ghosts. Where a minister of god might call on the force of his master to strike fear into the heart of the unwanted spirit, these priests had an earthier approach. They would offer gifts, to ease their sorrows and placate them.
This seemed to underpin a suspicion that maybe the dead never left the earth, and would instead need to wander about looking for food and comfort around their graves or previous dwellings. Souls that are not departed, but roam the earth silently, and without form; guided by the same set of needs and goals as we have in our normal lives. For all the great legends of Elysian Fields, The Duat, or the netherworld, it seemed that many accounts of death had no magical kingdom to go to. No strange rite of passage; just you, out of your body. It is a rather hopeless and sad premise. That we wander the earth with naught but what goods we saw fit to be buried with, but a surprisingly common one.
It made perfect sense to me.
This drew me to the desolate theory that there may be hundreds of restless souls, quite literally scurrying about in graveyards like some crass spook show. By implication, it also suggested the creation of my own experiment. My personal necromancer’s ritual, if you like. A rite so stupidly simple that it’s omission confounded me.
I would take food to the tombs and wait.
A practice obvious enough for me to suspect that it must fail, but I tried anyway.
I brought my offering to this graveyard nightly.
I should mention that fear of reproach was what decided that my adventures would be nocturnal, and not superstition.
I remember that the first two nights were uneventful, but it was summer, and graveyards are not in truth unpleasant places, so I persisted. I would wait maybe two hours, and then have a picnic of my offerings. Perhaps leave one or two tokens of food on a stone of my choosing.
Then on the third night, it happened.
I was about to start tucking in when I saw a shadow, like that of a person kneeling not far away.
I called out, thinking that maybe I had a living visitor, but it just stayed there a while.
I got out my notebook, and noted the event. Literally all I had to describe was a silhouette, and while I was busy writing it went.
I was about to congratulate myself on an auspicious night, when with a shudder I realised that it was now perched beside me.
It was hideous, rough dark leather stretched loosely around a skeleton dressed in rags. For all my propensity for such things, I was petrified; quite frozen to the spot while it leant over into my basket.
A strange morbid puppet show, it mimicked a begging monkey, nervously gauging my reactions as it reached in and “grabbed an apple”.
I say that it grabbed an apple. It raised nothing in its hand, and proceeded ravenously to devour that nothing.
Then it went for more.
I had to a small portion regained my senses, and now it was with a morbid fascination that I watched it reach again, this time through my apple, to a loaf of bread beneath. Again, it devoured the food, while I sat stock still. Its hollow eyes watching me nervously all the time, while it’s teeth chattered through its mimed meal.
Still busy eating; it let out a faint croak, or crackle, like pneumonia. I could not help but recoil at this point, which proved too much for my deathly dinner guest.
It almost leapt away from me, startling me so much that I tipped over, and when I had picked myself up it was as if the whole thing had never happened.
I quickly picked up my notepad and scribbled down my recount of the event, as well as trying my best to draw from what I remembered.
I then waited a while, but nothing returned, so I decided to return to my apartment in town. You will perhaps not think it strange of me that I decided to eat my picnic at home that night, or that I disposed of my food.
You might guess that the next day, I would be elated. In truth, as I regarded my rather crude drawings of skeleton people, and barely legible notes, I almost fancied the experience as my first ravings as a madman; a fear that almost lurks in me now. I did, however, return on that evening.
Somehow the shock that of night was worse. Where ragged skeleton greeted me on the previous night, I now faced a ragged, painfully thin woman, with the skin of a hag. I initially presumed another stranger, but as she ate, I recognised her movement, if not her form, and the same soiled and ragged clothes that clung to her.
Another revelation was that it appeared to have a voice. It could not talk, but seemed sometimes to attempt to do so, making a mumbled hoarse croaking noise.
As I said, somehow this ghoulish person affected me more than the human form ghoul that I had witnessed the night before. I had already felt fear, as I still did, but now it was mingled with other emotions. I felt the gravity and guilt of dealing, or perhaps toying, with another person.
On this night a much fuller meal was consumed, as I sat and quietly watched. When the feast was done, I had another uncomfortable reminder of the humanity that lay somewhere therein. She or it chose to thank me with a rather awkward curtsy before, again, vanishing.
I feel that I should explain that when I say vanishing, you should not picture a Djinn dissolving in a puff of smoke. It was generally more after the style of a cat which is gone when your eyes return to its place. She was gone and it was uncanny, but not dramatically so. Neither was it without noise. On the first night she clattered forth, and on the second she scurried so. I do not want to hide the true magic beneath charlatanry, so I feel that I must share this trifling observation in detail.
After our second meeting, I sat awhile and mused upon my predicament.
I had finally grasped the elusive something that I had so dreamed of until now, but it tasted strangely sour. Strange to think that in all my musings, it had never crossed my mind that it would be real people that I dealt with. In word, of course, I was more than aware, but the reality of it was different.
I had gone chasing sprites and demons, and caught an old lady, or so I thought.
All this, and the knowledge that what awaited myself, and possibly most of humanity was lonely hungry nights beside our names etched in stone. Maybe flowers, if we were lucky.
I tried to make notes, but found myself awkward to the task. I ripped my ugly new page out, and took no notebook on the following evening.
Somehow, I managed to fool myself over the course of the following day, that I was still doing science, but in truth it was guilt as much curiosity that drove me out again that evening.
You might think that I was accustomed to the idea of change by now, but she was still able to shock me afresh on my third encounter. Firstly, she was sitting in my chosen spot of the previous night when I arrived, actually waiting for me. Then, as I approached I could see that she had completely transformed herself. Though pallid as death, her form was youthful, nay elegant. She was slight to the degree that her bones were too apparent for comfort, but graceful, none the less. Her skin had gone from old torn leather to smooth blue porcelain. She was looking straight at me and smiling as I approached. I almost fancied her a living stranger, and might have sneaked away were it not for her eager expression, and familiar rags.
What trickery was this? Against all of my instincts, I had to drag myself to sit beside her.
More discoveries lay ahead of me in this longer session. After an initial frenzy of feeding, she pointed down to the fruit in the basket, and gestured that I was to eat too. I obeyed, guessing that anything else would be inappropriate.
I do not know what any witness would have seen; maybe the freak spectacle of man and ghost silently picnicking in the dark hours, or maybe a lone madman on a midnight picnic with his imaginary friend. Either way, I was fortunate that we had no audience. I would likely be incarcerated or worse for this scene alone.
I had already developed an awkward superstition of discarding the fruit that she ate, or rather, mimed the eating.
My joining in seemed to comfort her greatly and more novelty was to come. She occasionally tried to talk. At first, she failed to form words, but her voice was now a soft woman’s voice.
Finally, she managed to moan out a thank you, before she rose, and curtsied. It was barely discernable as speech, but it was there. Maybe she would talk meaningfully soon enough.
This returned my state from guilty to inquisitive.
I returned nightly for perhaps a month, and in this time we made huge progress. Soon she was talking freely.
Her name was Agnes. She showed me her stone. She was a grocer’s daughter; uneducated, but clever enough to want to know much of what had brought me here. I explained that I was trying magic and had found her thus. This troubled her at first. That it was my first success seemed to comfort her, and that I was unable to exert my will upon her was also soon proved.
I guess that you could call this our first joke, or game. I stood up and commanded her to raise a nearby stone, and she laughed.
I found much to grieve in what I could make of her existence. She had died of some pox or other maybe a hundred years before our meeting, and had seen no one since.
That she was alone confused me. Where were the others? This was a question that seemed to trouble us both, and I’m afraid that the solution still eludes me.
Moving on to what we deduced together. She seemed to be immortal, but only as a grain of herself. She needed food if he was to even think clearly, and my early days with her were like days of convalescence after a coma.
Though her form was of ether, her thoughts were real and dynamic. No actor in a looping play was she. She particularly loved tales of gods, princes, warriors and the like, and was capable of recalling them after my telling. As you might guess I am an almost bottomless source of such tales. I was also to bring her fish, she had favourite dishes.
I must confess that for the first time I had company that I found most enjoyable. I had never felt needed or valued like this before.
Whilst the mirror is no enemy of mine, I am largely a stranger to the opposite sex. I see this as more of a mutual lack of interest than anything malevolent. I do not know whether I would have had any luck, had I attempted to advertise myself as eligible before now. I had always presumed merely that I had something better to do, better than any company, let alone a rather tiresome courtship.
Under the guise of apparition, this girl was maybe inadvertently teaching me that for all her lack of parlour tricks and divine knowledge she had plenty to offer. Our meals became a habit.
It was not until the chilling winds of September that I was reminded again that perhaps we were only together under obligation.
At first a good blanket would help me through, but the cold edge of the autumn nights began to make the graveyard considerably less welcoming and I began to lose my enthusiasm. I still valued her company, but found it harder to keep chatting. Less tempting to stay, and I am sure that she noticed.
Then one night, I missed our meeting.
My fire was cosy, I was tired, and I sat and read in my study. I could not say that I enjoyed that evening, nor that I slept that night. I felt terrible, and had got to a point where I was in the kitchen preparing her food, but then became more nervous of her somehow, and thus procrastinated until the dawn proclaimed me coward.
I slunk into the graveyard like a bad dog on the following evening.
At first she was angry, and then in our talk she moved to extreme sorrow. We both agreed that our friendship was hopeless. Despite the lack of a meal the previous night she had no appetite. She just sat there, occasionally weeping.
I did not know what to do, and was about to duck out of the ordeal for good when her words stopped me.
She was desperate; she lamented the returning hunger, but the threat of returning solitude was the sting that she forcefully impressed upon me. Her words became sobs, and pleas. I couldn’t bear it, and I gave in. Yes, I lied, I would always be there, but she didn’t believe me. She threatened to curse me, to haunt me.
We both knew that these were hollow threats. We’d talked at length about her life, and as far as either of us knew she could do me no harm at all. I knew that she couldn’t even follow me home, as we had tried that one night. All that she could do to me was to shame there and then, a job already done.
All but one thing, she came up with a bizarre notion. She was a woman, she would dance for me. I could not really follow her thinking, but in honesty I agreed as a strange form of guarantee. To her, I now think that this formed a contract that would bind me. It did not make sense in my mind at all, but I wanted her to be reassured, to be happy again.
Thus began yet another act that any man would have marvelled to see. I sat and watched her dancing in the graveyard.
She danced like a goose, but contract or not, something did indeed bind me.
She had gone from crude scientific experiment to forbidden companion in a flash, but her outburst had highlighted that another change had crept in while we were unguarded.
This is a night that troubles me. I must confess that I am not sure what motivated me to continue this. Our deal reassured her, and on that stead I’m good. Then there are factors that I am less proud of, she was now fully as beautiful as any woman I’d ever seen. I had always considered myself as possibly above such base pleasures, but I now surprised myself with a readiness to indulge.
Finally, I’m afraid that I felt a power over her which made me feel secure in myself. A large part of me had wondered if I was merely the provider of sustenance, but suddenly I was more. I was Aladdin, and she was my Djinn, or maybe it was the other way round.
We did this again from time to time; little shows. I think that we both found it fun. As an experiment, I had one day brought a new dress with me, and she could pull ghostly costume from it in much the way that she could pull ghostly sustenance out of living apples. My apartment is now a veritable boutique.
You can imagine, though, that this would not last. Autumn pushed on, with or without our consent. She was impervious to it, but even rolled up like a dumpling in my bedclothes I suffered. Then there was the rain, and my mortal body began to protest. I began to cough regularly and worryingly, as a man coughs when they near their end. It seemed that the gods themselves would not honour our contract.
This weakened state also served to remind us that age, if nothing else, would eventually break our contract. As we stood, her fate was sealed. I was on a stopwatch; she had eternity to reckon with.
It was actually Agnes who came up with a plan, or at least the first one.
Surely somewhere in my collection was a spell that would bring her back fully. Then she could just walk home with me. She knew that I was no master wizard by my own account, but obviously I’d found her so surely something would occur to me.
In truth, there were spells a plenty to summon the dead as slave corpses or interrogations, but little to none that promised sweet new life for their targets. There were certainly none that kept that promise for us.
There was also embodiment; spells to invoke gods or spirits as guests to your own body, as clairvoyants or shamans might do. This initially gave me hope. We had the strong starting point of her definitely being there, and I was willing to try myself. If nothing else it would buy us time, as well as being hugely informative.
Another curious scene, I prayed to her, offering myself as an earthly vessel. The only methods I could fathom were prayers like this. She found this hugely amusing, but nothing meaningful or even promising happened. Whether this was down to my lack of skill, or maybe her personal doubts, I can’t say. Evidently with our collective social skills and appeal we would not be likely to recruit a more appropriate subject, even if we were willing to let another into our fold like that. Living embodiment was abandoned.
We needed something though, and were willing to try anything.
A corpse, I would try to transfer her to another body, but then there was no body. Where would we get this body? You will maybe find some relief that actually harming a living soul was never seriously entertained as an option.
Fate would have it that we only waited and watched a week before we got news of the unfortunate Emily Chalmers. A young girl in the neighbourhood had fallen foul of consumption. Not perfect. We feared that her diseased state may prevent success, but it was worth a shot.
Her parents had chosen to bury in another graveyard about three miles away, so one night, in place of my love, I had the company of another dead woman.
It is strange that for all the petty deeds that are cunningly uncovered, I managed to traverse town with a corpse on my shoulder. My staggering under the poor girl’s weight gave me my disguise. I pretended to be a drunkard, roughly escorting his unconscious lover.
On my return, Agnes held a gestured vigil, whilst I gathered the little else that I needed. She was meant to be keeping watch, but was looking intently at the poor girl. I could almost feel her thoughts, and dare to submit that I probably shared them. Would I learn to love that face, those hands? It was a fine face, gentle, but not hers. Would she also learn to love it in the mirror? Was its owner gone? Would it let her in?
I interrupted her meditation, and told her that I was as ready as I could be. We were both terrified.
She pretended to hug me; we’d never done that before.
By my reckoning, a candle on a staff to catch the spirit, an egg to store it, a corpse to accept it, and some well chosen words would suffice.
It seemed to work, damn that night, right up to the last minute.
I raised the candle and uttered the words. No salt or protective charms needed, it was my love that I was capturing.
On this occasion, she vanished in front of me, in a fashion worthy of a theatrical conjurer. I saw her nervous smile dissolve into the air like sugar in hot tea.
Then the egg, I held the egg over the candle, and felt the reassuring warmth inside it. At first, the heat from the flames, but then maybe from the heart of my beloved, I am sure. I could almost feel it throb in my hand.
Then I went to the girl. Placed the egg in her mouth, and cracked it open.
I chanted the only words that I had needed to invent for the ritual; An inverse exorcism, welcoming the spirit.
The corpse juddered, but then nothing.
Then I waited, but nothing for an hour, or as long as I could wait. I tried moving her, blowing on her lips, opening her eyes, but it was hopeless. It was the lifeless body of Emily Chalmers the looked up at me, and not the living Agnes.
I was a silent wreck. Alone, and faced with the miserable task of hiding a corpse. I would have liked to wait longer, but as I am sure you will be aware, I was in a dangerous situation. Dawn approached.
I could not face the long and dangerous errand of returning her, so I chose the crypt of the Montague family as her final resting place. She now resides there, as the new bed-mate of Anne Montague, who died in 1706. The sun was peeking in the time I had managed to force my way through that iron door and open up the cask within. I placed the girl as carefully as I could, resealed the casket, and then rushed home.
I returned to our usual spot the next evening. I was hoping that at least we were back to the start, but there was nothing, no one. I was alone. Curse that corpse for its failures, but doubly curse that damned candle and the egg for their success. I tried some incantations from earlier days, but they were every bit as useless as they had always been.
It was on this night that I wept, I remember that. That previous night, when I lost everything, I was too busy. Then all day, I had nursed some kind of vain hope, but in the graveyard on this still night all of my emotions were released like water into a scuttled ship.
Was I the spoilt child, weeping over a broken toy, or was this the agony of shattered love, genuine love? I do not know, but this pain was real, and it was to last.
Normal pursuits were no longer bearable, let alone occupying. Without realising, I had gradually filled my life with my unearthly friend. Waking, dressing, reading, and breathing were all navigated by the same star. Somehow, everything that I did had become about her, and now that she was gone, it was all just dust and bones to me. I could no longer even sleep. I tried to bury myself in excesses.
It seems unnecessary for me to recount this in detail. I confess that I started with alcohol, and progressed through all the sins that I could think of.
Fear not, for where my motives were impure enough, even these base choices need a degree of enterprise; a degree of wit that for all my reading I seem to lack.
I struggle to dub these misadventures as sins. Somehow, I perceive excesses as reward based, and on this level the contract was unfulfilled.
Alcohol if anything proved a cruel salt for my wounds. Too cruel to let me even close to the excesses that I intended. Where I hoped to numb the pain, only my defences were softened.
In prostitutes I sought the company of and my indulgence in other women, but it seems that I am equally cursed to piety here. Only one brave soul endured my wild stare and my wild talk long enough to escort me to her sorry bed, and ironically I lost my courage. It is sad that I should not mention that girl by name. I would love to thank her, she was kind and we talked for many hours.
As for opium, it appears to me that opium is good for taking things away. Pain, anger, and possibly fear can all be smothered in its charmed embrace, but not emptiness, or at least not my emptiness.
All of man’s more infamous escape routes proved more of a dead end for me, than a merry precipice. I am perhaps too set in my ways.
I quickly knew that my only escape was on my original path, but I was out of ideas.
There were the thousand rituals that had already worn grooves into my floor with failed promises. Then that list of detestable rites that were rendered impossible either by rarity of props, or by the distaste I that held for them. My failed exercise of that dread evening had shown me beyond doubt what my limits were. Both the sins of these rituals, and the bravery to enact them were now beyond me.
There was only one way that stood before me the whole time. I was desperately thinking of something, anything else to try, but it was always there.
If I was to parley with the dead again, I might need to tread their path.
My only hope was that she had now passed on to somewhere new, and that I could follow her. My incantations of the night were originally intended as a gentle exorcism, a release. Maybe I had sent her somewhere better by mistake.
I had tried calling her back, and now my only option was to go to her. I would seek her, as Orpheus had sought his bride or Hoenir rode out for Baldur. Like the great Ishtar, I might need to walk in the land of the dead to regain my lover.
Unlike any of these mythic peoples, I had only one route, and would likely not come back, but It was the only answer that I was left with. I rushed through my preparations, fearing that I would lose courage and thus prolong my own suffering.
I decided on poison. That would be painful, but my body would be undamaged. Suspecting that my journey would at least feel every bit as bodily and limited as my experience had shown me, I thought to prepare provisions. My suitcase that you see before you contains a couple of books, some clothes for us, and a few tools and charms.
There’s nothing valuable in there, but hopefully it is all useful.
And my basket of fruit; I do hope that nature has not yet spoiled them.
I headed here as soon as it was dark, and dug for hours. Everything is now in its right place, and I am ready.
I would lie if I said that this was easy, or that I had no doubts. What if she is gone forever? What if my soul is judged and sent to some foul place without her? What if she has forgotten me, or found some better man? Maybe I was just a meal and a chat in her lonely world. The thought even crossed my mind that the whole thing was but the concoction of my fanciful mind.
But no, I have to do this, and then it you who must judge me.
You can walk away as if you saw nought, leaving my charge to another stranger. Not a noble choice, but an understandable one.
You could call the police. It would doubtless cause great distress to the nearest and dearest of the late Emily Chalmers, but her body will no doubt be restored to its correct place. Of course, my deeds will be revealed in full to the general public. I will no doubt be removed and burned or dumped elsewhere, amidst great scandal; a scandal that my cursed name more than deserves. All this, but also the scant chance of my seeing my beloved again will be further eroded, whatever cruel fate I have earned in the hereafter.
Finally you could bury me as I wish, with her.
You could just pick up that shovel, and replace the soil that shelters my only love, but with myself added, and my offerings. Then I have the hope.
Think about it. I am truly gone now, and whatever you think of my means, my errand is for love. What should a man not give for love? I have given everything, and ask only for a secret and an hour of your day.
Should you agree, you could place this note in here with me or burn it; your choice. Keep it if you must, but my secrets should be kept for as long as possible. Maybe when I am no longer newsworthy it may be of use as a warning to others.
You would, of course, need to leave that poor girl in the Montague crypt, but her intended place of rest seemed no better to me.
I have left an envelope which will more than reimburse you for this unpleasant task. It is at the rear of the nearby stone of a Mr Robert Andersen who died in 1745.
Please be gentle with the fruit, just in case.


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