Not the light rain, but the soaking, gasping rain, the rain that wet you to your skin, the rain that drenched the sudden clouds and overflowed like a river tipped out. The rain that filled the trees and dripped from the Spanish moss onto the graves below.
That woke them.
The first time I heard them, twilight sullen and dark in the rain, I had leapt from my perch on one of the headstones, hands outstretched, ready to — something. Ready to do whatever it was that needed to be done.
But I was not needed. Though the cemetery was alive with hidden scratching and gnawing, rattling and sighing, the ground stayed smooth, undisturbed. The dead were not rising; they were merely restless. Woken.
By the time the sun shone through the moss, the graves were silent again.
And so was I. As the day grew hot and the sun burnt away the memory of the storms, I sat on a massive headstone crusted with red lichen, my knees drawn up, my wings hanging behind me, and watched tourists walk through the graveyard. They were like tacky flowers, the tourists, in a thousand different colors pulled from a faraway jungle. They didn’t even see me — didn’t want to see me. Some of the graves were beautiful, topped with sad angels and hopeful cherubs, and these inspired murmured awe and digital flashes.
I inspired neither. I was the grave you did not step on.
Afternoon came and with it the summer thunderstorms. I waited, still and silent, as night fell and the rain ran off the feathers of my wings and dripped from the moss onto the graves.
I wondered what the scratching sounds were. Fingernails on coffin lid? Finger bones against finger bones? Teeth against
There was a soft sound. A hissing hint of soil whispering against soil.
The sound of my wings surprised me as I jumped from the headstone, spraying rain water all around me. I spun — looking, looking — seeing nothing. In the pitch black, I was sure of nothing but my own flesh. In the back of my mind, though, instinct called to me, reminding me that I was more than I had been.
I closed my eyes and turned again. Slowly, this time. Listening. Scenting. Hands outstretched, feeling the thick night air.
When I opened my eyes again, I was pointed right at her. I expected the sticky gauze of a soul or even a half-rotten corpse. I didn’t expect a girl.
She was only ten or eleven — had been eleven or twelve, I reminded myself — with a sodden white grave-dress clinging to her body. Her legs were bent and pulled against her as she huddled against her own headstone. She turned luminous blue eyes to me, large and light in this always-darkness, and I saw that she was staring at my wings.
Instinct again spoke into my ear, and I lifted my hand toward her. I felt the pull of the ground, of the soil, of the dead, and I said,
“O restless dead, lay in your hole
dream of the day
this night is not yet the dead’s.”
She stood up, gripping a handful of her dress in each fist. The soil beneath her feet was turned and broken, but her skin was unsmudged. She seemed unaware that it was not Samhain; that she should still be in her grave. “I want to find my mother.”
I said, “Your mother is dead.”
No instinct whispered the answer in my ear, but it didn’t need to. One of the dates on the girl’s headstone was 1803.
“I don’t like it here,” she said.
“Sleep, o soul.” The voice was mine, whatever ‘mine’ was now, but the words belonged to the same force as my wings. “Sleep, and forget.” Some part of me — the part of me that could almost remember my name — thought the words were useless; this girl was not an old soul looking for a body to cling to or a pool of water to float in. She still remembered what it was like to suck in a breath. To feel someone’s arms around her.
A song inside me sang dully, the words telling me to put my hand upon her head, to push her down into the earth again, to press my thumbs to her eyes to hide her memories of her human life. The ground sighed in its desire for her. The rain dripped from the invisible moss around us, each drop making the dead still buried scratch and tear and rip, anxious for Samhain and their release.
I reached my hand out to her, my fingers poised over her fair hair. My hands were not large, but they were long, and I felt like a giant next to her. I looked at the knobs of my fingers, thought suddenly what they would look like splayed on piano keys. On the strings of a violin. On a lover’s body.
The girl looked up at me. I saw now that the hem of her dress was filthy; the only evidence that she had fought her way out of her grave.
I knelt, tucking my wings low so that I felt them dragging in the mud. And I opened my arms. Hesitantly, the girl stepped forward, and then she sagged against me, her face buried in my shoulder. My killing hands were on her, but she was already dead.
I could not promise her anything. I had nothing at all for her, but my savage brand of peace. I had only this to give her, my arms wrapped around her like she was something now instead of something that had been.
I suddenly remembered my name.