It had been a decade since I had last stepped foot off of a train onto the cobbled streets of Edinburgh and yet the place still smelled and looked the same: damp, gloomy, mysterious, and medieval.
The wheels of the carriage jolted as they hit each pothole along the way. I could feel each one in my bones.
There were untold secrets, magic lurking in every wynd, every alleyway…
“Here ye go, lassie. The New Calton Cemetery…” The driver paused as he handed me out of the carriage. The dim light of the moments just before sunrise made the concern on his face barely discernible. I handed him a few extra coins. “It is still dark and the ground is drookit. Ain’t ye feart?”
The gate appeared closed but I could see the light, low fog beyond mingling with the dark stones. The graveyard stood on a hill overlooking the city. The watch tower lay just beyond the entrance.
“I will be fine, sir. I am visiting my husband’s grave, I know my way.” Lying had become second nature to me now. I smiled at him.
“Shall I wait fer ye?”
I walked to the gate, pushing gently against the cold metal. I could feel the chill of the ironwork through my gloves. It gave way easily, opening with a slight groan of displeasure. I slipped inside and pulled it closed behind me.
I walked quickly.
There was not much time.
The stones grew older as I went, skeletons, angels of death, skulls…
Soon I could see the dark figure of a woman, also in full mourning dress. Black ghosts in the mist. She lifted her veil as I approached.
“Mrs. Brierly,” I murmured, warily. I was still unsure if I could trust her.
She nodded to me, coldly, a half smile playing upon her lips. The arched stone rose up behind her. It was newer than the other stones around us, just large enough for someone to walk through.
“You are ready?” she asked.
“Yes.” I took a deep breath and drew myself up taller.
She pulled a slip of paper and a small, pointed knife with a gilt handle out of the reticule at her wrist. “Here is the address.”
I glanced at it, then tucked it into my sleeve.
1203 Lauriston Street
“Come here.” She commanded. I stepped closer until I was standing next to the arch itself. “Let me have your right hand.”
I held out my hand to her. She pulled off the glove.
“This will hurt.”
She pricked my ring finger. I winced, resisting the urge to pull away. A drop of dark red blood rose up. Still holding firmly to my wrist, she wiped the blood across a name carved into the stone.
The breath caught in my chest.
It was her name.
Died, October 1st, 1858 aged thirty-one years.
Before I could ask, she released my hand. She pulled the glove off of her own hand and removed her wedding band, handing it to me. She pricked her own finger, wiping it also across the stone letters, murmuring a few unintelligible words.
She pulled a gun from her belt and laid it on the ground. “That is in case this does not work.”
“Why?” I was confused.
Her gaze was distant, far away. “My daughters died in the typhus outbreak seven months ago. Watching your children die one after the other, burning with fever and out of their minds, knowing there is nothing you can do to save them….” Her voice trailed off. She looked at me again, suddenly, fixing me with her determined eyes. “There is nothing left for me here. I would rather die than continue in this hell.”
I felt pity for her.
A few bright rays of sunshine were piercing through the gray of the morning, falling into the archway itself.
“I am running away. Far away,” she said, smiling.
She pulled off the mourning veil and slipped out of the black dress. Beneath she wore clothing that curiously resembled a man’s work clothes. Brown pants. A homespun shirt that buttoned down the front. She pulled her hair out of the braids and mussed the curls. Using the knife, she cut her hair short, jagged, letting the discarded locks fall into a haphazard pile on the ground. A hat then covered the mess. She wore work boots on her feet, thick and crude and had fashioned a pouch around her neck. It appeared heavy and I could hear coins rattling against each other inside.
She stepped into the archway without even speaking another word and was gone.
I circled the stone. Indeed. She had disappeared into thin air.
I touched her blood stained name and a force knocked me backwards to the ground. For a few moments it felt as though I could not breathe.
Slowly the air returned to my lungs and I stood up, looking around. Not a soul was present. At least not of the living kind.
I picked up the gun from the ground. It felt heavy in my hand. I debated taking it but instead put it back down.
I would not be needing it.
I looked closely at the ring in my hand and then slipped it on over my still throbbing finger. It should have been mine in the first place. I replaced the glove.
Dressed in mourning with the long veil, I would be able to slip into the house undetected, even in the bright light of full morning.
My heart sang as I walked back to the waiting carriage.