She saw it on the edge of her vision and froze. A small, crooked gravestone. Her own name inscribed upon it. Ursula Pendlethwaite. Died 1814.
Ursula shivered. The wind tore the rubbings from her grip.
More thunder. She should go.
She stood. A white light exploded through the air. Her muscles contracted in sudden, intense pain. Something sizzled in her ears. The universe narrowed to the lettering on the gravestone. Ursula Pendlethwaite. Died 1814.
The light vanished. Ursula collapsed. The gravestone bore a jagged crack down its middle. One side crumbled, the words lost. The smell of burnt hair and flesh filled the air. A puff of smoke rose like a ghost from the broken gravestone. Lightning, she realized. She’d been struck by lightning.
The copper bell sounded distant. It hurt her ears. What did it want?
Ursula tried to get up, but her body refused. It lay limp and unresponsive in the rain.
The ground beneath her shifted.
The bell. Ursula remembered. People once had them installed on their coffins as a precaution against being buried alive. A means to alert the living. Her heart beat a strange, broken rhythm. Who was ringing the bell?
The ground heaved beneath her. Something was down there. She tried to scream. Her mouth tasted of smoke and dirt and no sound came.
The undamaged half of the gravestone flashed in the storm. Ursula Died.
The wet ground squelched. Something dark and rotten pulled itself from the grave.
Her breath came fast.
The dark thing lurched toward her.
“Please, just move!” Ursula begged her useless body.
The fiend grew closer, dripping with rain or blood or something much, much worse. A glass eye peered from its misshapen head. It fixed itself upon her.
The fiend staggered to her side. If only she could look away. It climbed upon her chest, weightless. Ursula thrashed inside her mind, desperate to escape. She gagged on the fiend’s cloying odour. Lilies and rotten lunchmeat. The glass eye stared at her from the blackened remains.
She felt the fiend sink below her skin, steady as a chill. “No, no, no!” Ursula thought. She couldn’t bear to be trapped inside with that thing.
The glass eye rolled across her belly as the ghoul disappeared beneath her skin. It fell to the ground.
Ursula’s body convulsed with a violent retch. A dark unconscious overtook her.
She woke to a low sun shining warm onto the graves. Robins sang in the wet autumn leaves. Ursula struggled to sit up. Her body was stiff, but she could move.
She had blackened burns on her hands. Her shoes were missing. The grass surrounding the broken gravestone was singed, but whole. Her head throbbed, whether from the ghoulish hallucinations or lightning strike she wasn’t sure.
A gust of wind caught the copper bell.
She sighed. “I must get Henry to fix that ridiculous bell.”
Ursula froze. She didn’t know any Henry’s.
Something rolled against her foot. She looked down. A glass eye glinted in the sunlight.
Ursula died promised the gravestone.
Jennifer Shelby is known for hunting stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. This story, discovered in the boughs of graveyard maple, is a part of her ongoing catch-and-release program. If you would like to know more about story hunting or Jennifer, please visit her story hunting headquarters at jennifershelby.ca