Lady of Graves
At witching hour, Claire arrives at the graveyard. While looking for a hiding place, she spots the woman with red curly hair and glasses missing one lens. Like a queen, she sits on a candlelit tombstone next to the entrance, holds a glass of burning booze in her hand and her black dress flows smoothly into the darkness.
„Mother Bridget!“, Claire gasps and bows her head submissively.
Even in a hurry, you have to show a loa respect. You may end up depending on their help one day.
„You are disturbing my midnight drink, child“, Mother Bridget flutes and sips from her glass. Ember bathes her lips, her look is stern. „You came without any offering at that. Explain your insolence!“
„Marinette is after me“, Claire admits with tears running over her cheeks. „Have mercy on me, Lady of the Graves! I seek refuge.“
Mother Bridget sits up. The candles surrounding her grow to the size of torches.
„You dare leading that abomination to my sanctum?“, the spirit woman scolds, making Claire burst into shivers. „And now you even have the nerve to claim asylum?“ After a deep sigh, she adds: “Maybe I should throw you to Marinette and watch her devouring you.”
A howl echoes nearby. Claire's pursuer approaches.
“Don't do that, I beg you!”, she cries. Her heartbeat almost drowns her voice.
“Ghede, my husband, prohibits me from doing so”, Mother Bridget explains displeasured. “As keeper of souls, he will grant you refuge.”
Claire sighs with relief. “Where can I find him?”
The loa points to the darkness of the cemetery. “Over there, at the center of my realm. Follow only the path that you know best, any other path belongs to the lost and forsaken.”
“The lost and forsaken?”, Claire asks, looking down the somber way.
Brigitte laughs in response, a cackle of spite. Claire turns to her, but the tombstone lies abandoned. The candles extinguish one after another. The laughter fades away into an eerie silence.
Marinette's howling makes Claire to get a move on. She follows the path deeper into the cemetery. At the first crossroads, which is surrounded by crypts, her throat begins to feel constricted. She has three directions to choose from, but only one will lead her to Ghede. Frantically considering her choice, she takes a look around in the pale moonlight.
Claire touches a crypt wall on her right and, as the stone begins to chuckle, she pulls it away again. The wall, even the whole path to the right joins into a choir of children laughing. There is a carefreeness in their voices, which Claire has never heard before.
Curious, she risks a step out into the crossroads. Shadows are conceal each path. Claire can't see the origin of the carefreeness. Instead, she hears vocals and music from up ahead. Cheerful sounds bathe Claire's heart in happiness.
Suddenly, screams of a woman, as if in torments of hell, yell from the left and Claire's happiness comes to a sudden end. Claire covers her ears with shock, but involuntarily heads towards the screams. Her guts are feeling something familiar. Something, which the other directions lack.
Darkness embraces her, the moonlight fades, until she is all alone, except for the screams. Claire walks on going with her guts. After a few steps, a fissure of light opens at her side. At the same time, the screams of the woman fade. A baby's cries take their place. Claire peeks through the fissure, into a bedroom, where a mother rocks her newborn child. She sighs of fatigue and happiness.
“Mom?”, slips out of Claire's mouth, remembering that face.
The bedroom fades, the locked entrance to a crypt surfaces in the returning moonlight instead. Claire wonders about this vision. Does she have to follow her feelings to find the right path? While she is reflecting, she arrives at the next crossroads.
Lights of invisible lamps are dancing over the tombstones there, inviting the shadows to a roundelay. Claire looks round the left corner. A lighting crashes down onto the mud right next to her. The subsequent thunderclap drowns her scream. More lightnings erupt in an earsplitting concert. Claire jumps backwards, looking for a place to crawl away into. As suddenly as the thunderstorm came, it ceases again.
Claire cringes. Panicked by the storm, she has entered the opposite path. She is already standing half a dozen steps away from the crossroads. The lights stop dancing, silence sets in.
Claire is relieved, she has taken the right path.
She looks around, only to face the pale visage of a girl. Claire gasps. Dead eyes are staring at her. Rags are draping a gaunt frame of a body.
“Who are you?”, Claire hesitantly asks, striving to keep her cool. “Is this the way to Ghede?”
“Come with me”, the girl rasps, her skinny fingers reach for Claire. “Take my hand.”
Claire shies away from this gesture. “That is not what I asked”, she notices. Why did this being avoid her question? “Tell me whether this is the way to Ghede or not.”
“Take my hand”, the skinny girl repeats insistently.
Claire shakes her head, shies away even further. Her father always tells her that answers speak the most malicious tongues. They are a lie to every question, yet penal to no law.
The girl jumps at Claire. “Take my hand!”, she hisses. “Take my place!”
Mother Bridget's words flash through Claire's mind. This has to be a girl which wandered from the path! Claire trips at the crossroads. The lost girl looms above her like impending doom.
Claire whims – and notices a harmony with the path she ignored in her panic. Encouraged, she pulls herself out under the wraith. The lost girl strikes into nothing, while Claire takes her new path on all fours. Her attacker hisses angrily, right before darkness engulfs her.
Two candles enkindle at Claire's side. In the light of the first candle, she sees her own shape, cowering, burying her face in her own hands. The second candlelight shows a boy, who approaches her and soothingly lays a hand on her shoulders.
“Jean?”, Claire whispers, “is that you?”
She shakes her head. It cannot be! Her brother Jean died, fatally stabbed right in front of her eyes.
Once again, Claire enters a intersection, hoping to find Ghede in this labyrinth soon. As she spots the three gates, each one blocking a path with iron bars, her hopes fail. The gate in front of her is secured with a padlock, while the one to the right only seems to be off the latch. The gate on the left has neither lock nor hinge at all. Claire spots a key on a pedestal, which towers beyond the lockless gate.
A familiar shout lets Claire turn to the gate in the middle. Moonlight pierces through it like spotlight on a stage. Jean is standing on the other side. His face is stricken with horror, he rattles at the iron bars.
“Brother!”, Claire rejoices, completely forgetting the facts.
“Help me!”, Jean begs. “They are coming!”
Vicious voices sound behind him, blades flash in the twilight. The robbers, Claire remembers now. She remembers with chills running down her spine. They are after Jean's life! Claire's mind works faster than her soul, she assumes that the key behind the lockless bars will open the gate to Jean. Determined, Claire reaches through the braces.
“Hurry up!”, Jean urges her.
As Claire touches the key with her fingertips, she stops. Her brother never calls for her help. On the contrary, he always saves her. He would rather urge Claire to save her own life than begging for her help. This Jean over there is an illusion.
It has to be.
The real Jean is dead.
Claire shies away from the key.
The gate around her arm tightens like a snare. She escapes the trap by a hair. Then she runs through the open gate, not looking back at the murderous iron. For the second time, Claire had to leave her brother behind, had to let it happen again, because this is the chapter of her life. How much torment does she have to bear, before she'll finally find Ghede?
The next crossroads are as extensive as a plaza, with another pedestal at its center. Four flames are hovering above it, their blazing attracts Claire like a moth to the light. She doesn't stop until she sees Jean's laid out body beneath the flames. Like a storm, fear and despair surge inside her.
Why is he in this place? He is lying on the street, miles away from here. Her eyes wheel around. The plaza looks more and more like a splitting image of the place where Jean died. She did everything to get away from there. This can't be happening!
Marinette howls somewhere nearby.
The horrible scene makes Claire cry, she lowers her head on the pedestal. The scene pierces her heart, she feels feeble.
Spiteful laughter resounds around her, but the cackle of Mother Bridget's sets itself apart from it. Claire looks to the side, where the loa, sitting on a tombstone, raises her rum glass. She is surrounded by transparent figures, which are as pallid as the moonlight itself. Their nebulous outlines resemble humans or, at least, what is left of it. Every figure raises its glass, as if they are about to propose a toast.
“Mother Bridget”, a powerless Claire whispers. “Please, help me...”
“I won't help you”, the loa distinctly answers. “I came on behalf of this ghosts to welcome you properly.”
The ghosts raise their glasses to Claire, hooting with laughter. She doesn't know those figures, what do they want from her? Her feet have no power to run away, so she whispers: “Welcome me... to where?”
“To the society of lost souls”, Mother Bridget announces. “Accept her in your midst with all due respect, my friends.”
The ghosts already float towards Claire, nebulous fingers reach out for her. She hasn't the power to run away, she can't even whim in fear anymore. Why is Mother Bridget letting it happen? All this fear of Marinette, yet the Lady of Graves is no better. Claire feels the frostiness of the restless souls grabbing after her.
The clunk of metal on stone makes her jump up, as if it stirred Claire's body with new energy. The ghosts, on the other hand, petrify at the sight of the man in a gravedigger's garment, who suddenly appeared on the other side of the pedestal. His top hat clads his face in deep shadows. The shovel, which he carries along, scrapes across the ground.
Mother Bridget jumps up. “Ghede!”
With relief, Claire bursts into tears. He finally found her!
Ghede grumpily takes a puff of his cigar. “Enough of this”, he growls. Smoke flows over his lips. “I forbid you to touch this child!”
He knocks his shovel on the ground once again. The ghosts scatter as fast as the wind. Ghede reaches out to help Claire stand up, interposes between her and Mother Bridget.
“Stop delighting in this girl's pain!”, the loa demands. “The labyrinth already torments her enough! Leave at once.”
Mother Bridget snorts despicably. “I was going to leave anyway. Your appearance nipped my fun in the bud. What a spoilsport you are...” Just as she speaks the last word, she disappears into a burst of flames.
Claire and Ghede sigh simultaneously. Er shakes his head, seemingly annoyed about his wife's behavior.
Claire takes the opportunity: “Oh my Loa! I need your help...”
She is interrupted by Ghede himself: “I watched your brother being stabbed to death from afar. And I saw Marinette showing up, who is chasing you ever since. She will be here any moment. The labyrinth won't put a stop to her, not at all.” He puffs a cloud of smoke into the air. “I can't help you, I'm afraid.”
Claire gasps as the shock runs down her spine. She expected many answers, but not this one.
“Please!”, Claire shouts in despair. “Don't leave me alone!”
Ghede takes a step back. “This is, why am I powerless.”
A clank of chain draws nearer. Fear chokes Claire, as the creature called Marinette enters the plaza. She resembles a skeleton, spanned with dry skin, with red eyes and maned. Her ankles and knuckles are shackled in chains, which she trails behind.
“You won't escape me, child!”, she grates. “I'll devour you!”
Claire starts to move, but the loa raises her hand. A chain wraps around the girl's lower arm. Cold is the iron, and yet it seems to sear Claire's skin. She screams, yells for Ghede's help, who doesn't move an inch.
“Let me go!”, Claire begs. The chain tenses. “Go away!”
Marinette pulls the links, hauls her catch in. “You called for me!”
“I'd never call for you!” Claire doesn't understand this reproach, resists the loa in vain. “You liar!”
“Marinette speaks the truth”, Ghede explains from the shadows. “You know that, child.”
Claire shakes her head unwillingly. Just as Marinette's eyes meet her own, the memories return to her mind. When she cowered on Jean's lifeless body, when wrath embraced her. Two scumbags daggered her only brother, only because he wanted to save her innocence from being raped. He died because of Claire, what injustice! Her wrath turned to hate, when she saw the culprits running away. So many people watched the crime, but nobody turned the scumbags in. Claire demanded vengeance above anything else. A moment later, the clank of chain already manifested, along with the gruesome figure.
“Release your wrath!”, Marinette screams in arousal. “Let it consume your heart and soul! Settle blood with blood! I'll get you the vengeance you desire so badly! Come to me!”
Claire gives in, drifts towards the loa. Yes, she wants vengeance, she is thirsting for the blood of those who took her brother away forever. Why did she run away in the first place?
“What a shame”, Ghede sighs. “Your guilt will push more souls into this labyrinth.”
Claire agrees. If it wasn't for her, Jean would still be alive. She feels guilty, it fed her rage from the very beginning. Her heart almost bursts of wrath.
“Yes, come to me!”, Marinette laughs, as the girl comes closer to her. “Let others feel your pain. Put others in those chains.”
All of a sudden, Claire stops, realizing Ghede's words from before. Another way unwinds itself before her. She gets down to the root of her troubles. “No, I won't come to you”, she announces. “As guilty as I feel, it won't bring Jean back. No bloodshed in this world will ever bring him back.”
With a hiss, Marinette tears at the chain. “Nothing will save you now, child!”
The links tense, but Claire doesn't move. She looks at her brother and whispers: “Rest in peace, Jean. I'll manage somehow.”
His body dissolves into a sphere of light. At the same time, the chain around Claire's lower arm gets rusty. Marinette can't accept it, tries to tear the girl towards her. Then, Ghede's shovel comes down on the iron, shatters the links.
“Let her go”, the gravedigger demands. “There is no more wrath inside her.”
Marinette turns to dust instantly. With no rage to feed on, she must return to the spirit world Guinee hungry.
Claire hugs Ghede. “Thank you, thank you so much!”
“You owe me no thanks.” He softly pushes the girl away and gives her one of the flames from above the pedestal. “Go now. This cemetery won't dare to torment any living who carries this fire. Don't lose it.”
With the flame in one hand, Claire goes back to the gate, where Mother Bridget is already waiting for her.
“You live”, the loa remarks, “and yet, there is one more new grave on my turf beside your brother's. Who is buried there?”
“You already know it, Lady of Graves”, Claire replies and walks towards her future.