The sign read No Trespassing.
A tattered waif of a girl stood before the towering wrought iron gates, contemplating.
She looked around furtively before twisting to slip between a gap in the cold iron. The hunger had thinned her until ribs pushed against skin like a delicate birdcage that gently cradled her persistent heartbeat. Her hands now resembled birch twigs, bundled in pocked wool, and the planes of her face cut with shadows in sharp relief.
The place was brimming with people. Many who were loved and many who were loathed— often both. And not a living soul to be found. Nothing stirred here, in fact, save the curling white of her breath.
But, further in, deeper, where the mausoleums stood stalwart against the weathers of time and the lives told in stone and scripture had begun to lose their sharp edges— something did stir.
And it was deeper that she headed now, seeking the solace of remembrance. Or perhaps just shelter from the night and the cold which had claimed so many like her before.
She had learned of the dangers of the world long ago. She had known from the moment she had first become a solitary creature; left to the scarce mercy of this world by the cruel loss of those who cared for her; forgotten by those who had once cooed and grinned over the lustre of her cap of curls, but now averted their eyes from the lank, matted clumps of it.
She knew it was best to stay where they were comfortable with her being, or risk the violent anger and brutal accusations of just being, as she was. The vitriol was hurled with admonishment and fear, and echoed across her thoughts now, never quite fading as she slunk between the quiet stones.
Their own fault, you know.
Hold your bag closer.
Don’t encourage them.
If the words were all that had been thrown, it might have been alright.
Quick, hungry steps pushed her to the edges of the place. She knew she found what she was seeking when she saw the obvious dilapidation, the single, spluttering lamp, the untrimmed grass. It was the potter’s field, the pauper’s grave, a mass burial for the unclaimed; the only place that knew her now.
She stopped by a raised patch, quite recently disturbed. The rough plot cut starkly from the older growth of sparse brown grass across this area. But, still sparse indeed— the plots here were used frequently, deposits made like sick penance for crimes against proper society.
The girl lowered herself to the ground, and lay her cheek against the raw patch of earth.
Tears cut through the dusting of grime and soot that this way of living had painted across her small face, marking her with the condemning stamp of poverty.
It was there against the cold ground, exposed and trembling, that she heard it.
The sound was low, but not soft. A fine, sharp tremor she felt pass through the ground and into her slight frame.
The dead didn’t make a sound, she thought. She counted on it.
Ice hit her nerves and slithered up her neck.
Her lips popped open, but she choked on the cold.
Too slowly, she scrambled up. She searched for something to lay her back against, to defend.
A cool, white mausoleum door lay open. She took the invitation and sprinted to take refuge inside the thick, close walls.
The tremor became a sharp skitter. Closer now. Closer.
The door was heavy, but fear gave her withered muscles weight as it heaved closed. And shut out the light.
She curled in the corner of the tomb, silent as its inhabitants save her shallow, heaving breath. Outside the door, she heard the noise getting louder, closer.
Skittering against the edges of the door now. Searching for a way in.
A terrible, screeching cry rang out. Frustration at the barrier between a predator and its prey.
Her breathing slowed. She loosed an audible sigh.
The scratching began then. Frantic against the marble door. Something was digging their way through.
There was no way, she thought, no way anything could dig through marble. She would just wait it out, until the sun rose. It would tire out or the sunrise would bring help.
The scratching did not stop. Not for a second.
When she shifted her weight, hours later, to relieve the ache setting in— it sped up, and sharper, angrier noise joined it, like seething breaths through gritted teeth.
Some time later, a tender light melted around the thin gap under the door.
The scratching halted abruptly. It was over.
She stood tentatively, feeling off balance and wrung out like cloth swaying on the line. With numb fingertips, she pushed the door open, slowly.
The shimmering light spilled in, she put a hand up as the sharp white beams of it flashed painfully in her eyes.
But, the light wasn’t coming from the sky, it was much too low…
A lamp lay at her feet, cracked at the base and fizzling.
It had fooled her. It was wise enough to fool her.
She whipped around, pulling at the heavy door with heaving tugs. Her thin shoes scuffed and slipped as she pulled. Desperate, sobbing moans of exertion and terror escaped her lips as spittle and mucous dripped down her chin.
The skittering noise was back, she closed her eyes against it as she threw all of her weight into one final tug.
The door closed securely.
She collapsed, wracked with choking sobs.
The scratching started up again.
But this time… this time, it was coming from behind.
As the day turned to night, the gravedigger picked up the small body of the street girl, ready to drop her into the unmarked plot. Another new resident of the potter’s field, this time they’d made his job easy, walking right into the yard in the middle of the night like a dying beast. Although he could do without the broken lamp, he thought begrudgingly.
He was saddened to see such a young thing, taken by the cold, or maybe the hunger had gotten her first. He hoped it had been a kind way to go, like falling asleep.
He dropped her unceremoniously, face down, and cocked his head curiously at what he saw there.
Dried blood had dripped down the back of her neck, some unseen wound beneath the hair. Maybe it hadn’t been quite so easy a death after all.
He heard a scratching noise from behind the mausoleum where he had found her. Rats, he thought. And he set off to investigate.