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The Nachzehrer

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“My hands are caressing the stones,
Their coldness piercing my skin and creeping to my heart,
The obscurity mixing black and gray.
My blinded eyes open theirs.

Everything there is full of sorrow.
Everything there is crying, forever lost.”

–Nocturnal Depression

 

Grim snowflakes kiss the top of the tombstone, and moonlight shines upon the flakes, glossing them with gloom. I hear them settling above as I relax in this hollow grave, questioning the madness or meaning of it all. Why am I cursed with this immortal soul?  I am really quite a simple man. I have hungers and needs, so beneath every moon I must lurk the nocturnal shadows with a frostbitten heart. I walk past time-worn graves in search of some feeling–a feeling of love, perhaps, or even acceptance. I am forsaken.

I cannot abstain acts of consumption.  God knows I have tried. Cadavers fulfill my appetite, but do they also feed my madness? I avoid such thoughts by praying to the evening star and to the God above.

“Please, Lord, let me live again, please–-just for a little while.”
I dread each second of the mournful day, the snapping of broken nooses, the scraping of dull blades, the funeral chimes echoing for centuries to come. I don’t want to live here anymore, but I’m already seven feet down. I recall how the icy dirt first plagued my skin, chilling a heart that had long ceased beating. Snowflakes iced my eyes, rendering them temporarily blind. I dreamed that divine funeral chords, not the rope, had embraced my neck as the gallows shook.

The mourning winter night seems inhuman and undying. Underneath the moonlight, I creep along the morning’s lifeless ground to the casket before the sun exposes my decay. Flies swarm a fiendish trail as I descend to the coffin with gaping lacerations, my funeral shroud clinging around me, festering with maggots.

As the moon perishes and the sun is reborn, snow caresses the tombstone and fills the letters etched there with ethereal flakes. I brush the flakes away to reveal the pine beneath.

Long yellowed nails protrude from my lifeless hands. I open the tomb. The creak from the lid disturbs the ghastly silence. As I descend into the abyss, I resign myself to obscurity.

I seal my eyes until the moon shows her pale face once more. The muffled cry of a ravenous crow signals nightfall and wake me from stagnation. Alas, a vivacious full moon gazes through the vile clouds. The winds above howl savagely, colliding against dead trees. Sleet glistens in the raging wind, sweeping the ground in an eternal white dust.

I press my hands against the lid, opening it leisurely. The snow coils through long wisps of hair. For some time, I gaze upon a wasteland of trees that dissipate into stillness, as once I did. Hunger pulsates through me, making me cringe, urging me to prowl the town’s shadows to replenish my appetites.

I sit on the snow, feeling as if I recently died. The agony I feel cannot be rivaled, not even by death itself, and a tear courses down my face.

The journey to town is despicable. Snowflakes swirl around me, ghost-like, offering their eerie company, leading me to the shrubs near the necropolis, where a pale face appears in the depths of the cemetery.

I sense the aura of love here. My heart and body follow its presence.

Is this a friend?

I stand far enough away to contemplate this possibility. Tremors spiral down my spine, shivers of admiration I have not felt in centuries. The night is still new, so I shape-shift into my former body—a veil of black hair underneath a brimmed top-hat, a dark tailcoat, with trousers and a shadowy waistcoat.

She’s a young girl, probably mid-twenties–an elegant dress, her waist cinched with a dark corset. Her skin gleams virgin-white under the moon. Candelabras are placed among red roses all around her. I approach in a gentle manner, placing my hand on her shoulder, with a soft voice, “How do you fare in this dark hour?”

She jumps before regaining her composure.

“I fare well enough–just surprised anyone else might walk this old bone yard.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what are your grievances?” I whisper.

Her tender face brushes near mine.

“I have none. You might say I tend to the lonely deceased on nights like this…or I’m alone. I know—I’ve come to believe that if we gave as much respect to the dead as we do for the living, then perhaps our lost ones might be thriving now–but that’s just my eccentric theory!”

My heart flutters with admiration for this mortal girl. I can’t help but fall in love with her every time she speaks. I feel the color rush to my cheeks. Her voice resounds in my mind, “You might say I tend to the lonely deceased…For I’m alone.” If her face is a dream, then, please Lord, leave me to slumber.

She giggles, “My apologies, sir, but who are you?”

“You may laugh,” I say, “I’m of German ancestry–Verhassenleit.”

“I love it,” she laughed, “It’s simply peculiar! Call me Esmeralda.”

“Please, will you accompany me to the forgotten tombs, perhaps spend a day with the buried?  With me? You’ll experience equally peculiar pleasures, I promise.”

“I love odd places,” she laughs.

I forget why I have come along this way or the pains I’ve struggled with to get here. Her presence makes me feel human—even treasured. Esmeralda strolls along with me, leaving her candles and candelabras there as if she’ll return. She holds a book between her breasts and one arm while a lighted candelabrum occupies the other. I entwine my arm with hers, guiding her the way to the sepulcher, draping my trench coat on her naked shoulders. Snow gathers on her dark hair as we ascend to the woods, shimmering underneath the glistening moon.

What if she loves me not in return? I ponder.

Sooner or later, I must tell her what kind of monster I am. Trees pass by us as we trot down the path to the graveyard. She walks closer to me and clings to me for warmth around me down this narrow path. Everything amid this pathway is sheathed by the enduring snow. Branches loom over us with penetrating icicles, like leviathan teeth plundering soft flesh.

“Esmeralda,” I swath my arms and body closer to her, “I cannot hold this secret anymore.”

I sniveled in her arms.

“Please,” she says, “I know we’ve just met, but I’d love to store any secret for you–please tell.”

“I’m a fiend—but not of my own making. But please, my dear, don’t believe the lies they tell. I’ve never pillaged a town nor feasted on a living form. I consume only perished souls, the long forgotten. In dismal times I’ve even feasted on myself, for I have no heart in this forlorn corpse. These clothes only make me look alive, dear—or so I feel.”

I can see her eyes melt with sorrow—not widen with fear.  I tell her of the many things I’ve heard from Hell, from Lucifer himself–that I will never experience any mortal feeling again, save hatred—but that despite these words I do have feelings, of love, even without a heart.

“Do you think me a monster?” I ask. She makes no answer, but frowns gently.

“A monster I am not,” I cry, “but if you think so, please, place a coin in my mouth and behead me. I can no longer live. I beg you, my dear, do not forsake me. I could never stop loving you.”

I reach for her cheek, but kiss her lips.

We stand there, frozen with unexplained emotion. She does not stop me, nor do I finish. Her lips part from mine.

“I care not what you were,” she speaks, “but only what you are now, what you can become. I know my heart belongs to you and you only. If true love exists, it shouldn’t matter how long you’ve known a soul—but how deeply. Verhassenleit, even if the angels or demons do not allow it, I know you deeply. So please, sever my heart—let it become yours, eternally.  Let it fill your heartless body and I shall dwell with you forever.”

A tear stains my hollow cheek, uniting with one of hers. I take a candelabrum from her adoring hand and remove its candle. Its light no longer shines like Esmeralda’s. Her eyes closed and breathing heavily, she positions the brass upon her breast while, together, in one gradual motion, we plunge it through her ribs, until she falls limp in my arms, her soft flesh coiled in my embrace, dead.

Blood trickles down her gown, mixing with our tears. I place her corpse on the snowy floor, watching it turn the pure snow red. The sweet aroma radiates from her veins, but I abstain. My hands stretch high and pluck a daggered icicle from a branch to sever the heart. Even though she appears dead, her heart never stops beating.  Proof, perhaps, that love exists? Not just any love. Our love.

The icicle penetrates the same wound as that of the candelabrum, a circular incision above the heart. My fingers encircle her beating flesh and I lift it from her chest. Its redness makes me cringe with remorse. I sever the organ with closed eyes, sobbing loudly, blocking out as best I can the sounds of butchery, the appalling melody of blade against meat. I reach for the heart, hold it tenderly, like I’d reached for her cheek to kiss it.

I lie next to her corpse under the night sky, gazing above with the beating organ in my hands. I feel my eyes glisten with woe as a single snowflake falls on our heart. It feels like her kiss, gentle and everlasting, as I insert it in my chest.  A heave of love flows though my body– at last. I nuzzle her corpse, grasped her hand.

How can I leave her side?

I’ve given her eternity, and she’s given me the will to live, so I lie next to her under lifetimes of falling snows, whispering winds, and lonely moons–where desolate tombs are remembered. I close my eyes.  Her voice echoes in the breeze.  It brushes my cheek, assuring me that she truly loves me as I serenade her forever with the peculiar pleasure of those words.

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The voice of the Tyrone Area High School
The Nachzehrer