The Graveyard

In the French countryside, at the outskirts of a graveyard, Claudette waited with a dying bouquet of flowers in her hand. She was nineteen, waif-like, almost frail; pretty and young, her lashes long and lips plump. But today, she was gray all over. Her frown looked heavy.

Her father came up from behind her, placing his hand delicately on her shoulder. “You may say your goodbyes, but then it must be over. No more black clothes, no more somberness . . . it will be done with, yes?”

“Yes. Done and buried—like him.” There was a quiver to her words.

She didn’t see her father sigh behind her, the tiredness clear in his eyes. She wouldn’t have understood even if she had.

“I will meet you here once you’ve had your closure,” he said.

With a jerky nod of her head, she started through the graveyard in long, slow strides. Her black dress swayed around her, the flowers she held drooping as if in exhaustion. The reason she was there—the boy with the impish smile, the dark eyes, the silky-smooth laugh—was lurking in the back of her mind. Unspoken but always there. Mon amour, she thought, and she clutched the bouquet tighter. A dying petal dripped from it like a tear.

A soft breeze rippled through the trees. Fallen leaves came to life, nipping at her ankles and blowing through the air. The ones that remained on the ground crunched beneath her shoes. She walked by tombstones, careful to not read what was written on them, terrified she’d see a name she’d recognized. Another boy perhaps, taken too soon. Another boy with an impish smile, and dark eyes, and a silky-smooth laugh.

She hummed to herself as she walked, an old song from her childhood that her mother used to sing. Overhead, the sky darkened. She thought of ghosts and corpses and nighttime, things when combined were like poison to her, choking her with fear.

But then she reached his tombstone, and it calmed her nerves.

The slab of rock protruded from the earth like the trunk of a tree—simple, almost earnest. If it had been prettier, perhaps the tombstone would’ve even reminded her of him.

She got down on her knees, letting her dress stain, and put the bouquet right at the grave. She read the words printed on the stone as she had read many, many times before, running her fingers along his name.

The sky turned a deep shade of gray and rumbled. She imagined it was the clouds’ way of telling her a storm was coming. She looked up, saw the first drops of rain, felt them land on the tip of her nose. She did not have much time.

“I must make this quick,” she told the stone, which stared back emptily as always. “You were my everything. I don’t know what to do without you. I can’t . . . I can’t think straight anymore.”

She didn’t cry. She never did. Claudette expressed her sadness through wearing black clothes and writing cryptic poetry. Crying held no appeal.

She lowered her head to the ground, to the wet earth. And she kissed it, but not before whispering, “Come back to me, amour.” Her voice was pleading. Hungry.

And when she lifted her lips off the dirt, she thought that was the end of it. But it wasn’t. Because, like a bolt of lightning, a hand shot out from the soil and reached up toward her face, yanking her long brown curls to the ground.

The hand was blue, rotted and dead, covered by spots of an unearthly black and the occasional wiggling insect. Yet despite its ragged condition, she found the hand to be horribly familiar. It was the hand she had held countless on starry nights in Paris, walking through empty parks or down long city streets. The hand that had once caressed her cheek.

She let out a scream and pulled away, stumbling to her feet. “Démon!” she screamed, the word razor-sharp. It cut through the cemetery, disrupting the quiet. In the distance, birds scattered from a tree.

Claudette turned away—and finally, she let herself cry: the tears streamed down her cheeks as she ran back toward the edge of the graveyard. She hardly felt them. And she did not hear the words coming from beneath the dirt, from her cold, dead lover’s lips:

“Come back to me, amour.