a child is murdered by a wolf in a cemetery, causing the ghosts to rise up in outrage
… there was no time. There was only this one, eternal moment of animal fear. Her breath, harsh in her ears, harsher still in her throat. The copper taste of blood flooding her mouth. The ground, iron-hard, unyielding beneath her pounding feet. The fat, greedy moon casting its bright white spotlight on her, outshining the nearby lights of Fulham Road. The snow, chillingly pure against the dark mausoleums. There was no time, no time to catch her breath, no time to get her bearings. The darkness filled her eyes and ears, lay cold and heavy inside her, snatched away her breath. Dressed in jeans, a dark-red hooded coat and trainers that blinked warningly as she ran, she ran for her life.
Some graveyards tame death, make it neat and pretty, with bright green grass and ordered rows of white crosses. But not Brompton Cemetery, which lay stark; black and white in the moonlight. Not this once-grand Victorian edifice, raised to celebrate the dead; whose headstones tumbled against each other like neglected teeth in a rotten mouth, the ground crumbling beneath them, disturbing the bones of the dead, making the ghosts restless. Not here; where angels and celtic crosses vyed with raised tombs built of grey granite and marble headstones, scored deep and dark with sentiment. Not here, where the sweeping walks of the replica of Rome’s Pantheon was deserted, even of the ghosts of the Victorian mourners who had once strolled here.
The dead watched the child run amongst them, her sobbing breath misting out into the night. Their gaze was colder than the air, chilling her to the bone, though she was too young to understand who they were, or that the dead rarely can see the living, unless the living are themselves close to death. She ran down a path that wound between fallen, chipped headstones and misshapen mounds of earth. The untended grass was long enough to soak the hems of her jeans. The trees were winter-bare, their branches sharp and knotted against the sulphurous night sky. She cried out, a desperate cry, as she tripped over a root and nearly fell, casting a hasty look over her shoulder before stumbling on.
The grey wolf followed her with a steady lope, its breath coming easy through an open mouth, its red tongue lolling to one side. Its eyes were green as a cat’s in the darkness. The child, who was surely no more than eight years old, veered to the left, her feet thudding over the restless dead, weaving her desperate way through the graves. She had nearly reached the Brompton Pantheon, when the wolf caught up with her and, with a vicious, wet snarl, brought her tumbling down to the ground.
Screaming, she fell face forwards onto the grave of a veteran of the last War – one of the last to be buried here. The war veteran’s ghost backed away, her face a mask of horror and disgust, and the child howled as the wolf’s sharp, white teeth bit into her jean-clad leg with a crunch. She begged for mercy, trying to crawl towards the ghost, her bleeding leg dragging behind her. The veteran vanished and the wolf pinned the child down with its suffocating weight, its breath hot and rank on her mouth.
She pleaded, hysterical: “Mum! Mum! Please! Mum!”
The ghosts rose up in outrage, gathered by the veteran. Death was normal to them, nothing to be feared, but murder was an abomination. They were united, determined to stop the horror. They bore down upon the wolf, wrapped the cold tendrils of themselves around it, seeking to bind the wild animal, to pull it off the child. They whispered ghastly threats and breathed icy howls, but the wolf’s thick fur kept out their unnatural cold and they were too weak, too immaterial to restrain its strong limbs.
The child’s scream rose high and shrill and then cut off abruptly, choking wetly to silence as the wolf tore out her throat with one snap of its jaws. The ghosts wailed in horror, but the wolf only flattened its ears and continued with the grisly task of eating its prey. It held the child’s body down with one paw, whilst determinedly butchering it with its large fangs. The child was savaged, unrecognisable even as human; a red, wet thing shining darkly in the night. When the wolf was done, there was nothing left but her bones and a few entrails and her coat, now torn into rags, and her trainers, no longer blinking.
The wolf licked the blood from its mouth and padded back to the gates of the cemetery with a satisfied, leisurely stride. The ghosts, many sobbing uncontrollably, for this was a horror even the dead found hard to endure, returned slowly to the cold comfort of their graves. Only one, the veteran from the last War, did not sink back into the ground, but instead followed the wolf down the path, her eyes narrowed with determination. She was slightly built, a sickly woman in life, barely visible in death. Where the moon’s rays shone brightest, she disappeared completely, but in the shadows she became a faint outline, a shimmering suggestion of long dark hair and dark eyes in a negative of who she’d been when alive.
The wolf showed no signs of knowing it was being followed. It slipped easily between the bars of the cemetery gates, stepping out onto Fulham Road. The ghost stopped at the gates, looked behind her at the sanctuary that was the cemetery. There was no sound and it seemed a peaceful scene, with no hint of the bloody murder, savagely done only a few minutes before. It was as though the cemetery were an ocean and the child and that dark deed had sunk beneath its waves, to disappear forever. The ghost took a deep breath and slunk between the bars of the gate, leaving the dead behind.