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Jan 19, 12 at 9:11pm ^The Coffin - Short Story - Complete
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I don’t feel it an exaggeration to say that, the day she died, I died.
Every week, I come back to her grave, to visit her, to remember her. The cemetery is silent, and I am always here alone. I don’t know what to do with my life except wait for us to be together again.
I was rich, once, but it took all of my fortune to have her interred here. It was somewhat fortunate – inside, I feel a bitter laughter – that she died when she did. I had recently qualified as a doctor and begun to earn a wage. I had no debts from my time as a student, so, once I had sold my family house and property, I was still able to live. I learned quickly, had to, to survive in my unfamiliar, impoverished circumstances.
This cemetery is reserved for the very rich, and, even then, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Few people in the world could afford to use it more than once.
The cemetery is protected by security guards, by gates, and by alarms. I show my ID five times before reaching her, ignoring the snide glances of the guards as I grow increasingly shabbier, week by week.
Her coffin is above ground, like an old-style tomb. There are no markings to show what she meant to people; no ‘Beloved Daughter’, no ‘Rest in Peace’. I couldn’t afford to add such things after paying for her interment. All that is marked on her coffin is her name, Helen Flaxman, and her dates.
We were twenty-five, then. I am thirty now.
My visits to the cemetery continued unabated. How could I possibly leave her, knowing that, one day, we will meet again? How could I tell her that, after her death, I abandoned her, lived a life free from her, free from the pain of losing her?
I couldn’t. I can’t. I am hers, and it makes no difference to me that she is interred in this coffin.
The cemetery has gained only two new residents over the past half-decade. Despite advancements in technology, the price has not dropped. The price, after all, is not to cover the cost of interment; it’s simply a deterrent. This cemetery is not for the majority.
Helen explained that to me once. She’d been an economics student, though she’d left before finishing her degree. Her parents had blamed me for that. They’d never realised that, of the two of us, Helen was the more rebellious, the more alive. The irony does not escape me.
Helen and I had met as children. Our parents had been of similar income levels, had discussed stock exchanges on their yachts while we behaved like the five-year-olds we were.
We were fifteen when it struck me that she was beautiful. Until then she’d simply been my friend; suddenly, she was my love. Despite this, we did not become a couple until we were twenty-one. Every day, I was amazed that she had chosen me. She, Helen Flaxman, beautiful, wild, impossible, had chosen me.
Her parents did not approve. By that point, both of my parents had died, and I lived alone, with only my guardian for company. They seemed to view this state of affairs as debauched, something that would corrupt me, and through me, her daughter. As we grew older, it had become apparent that freedom was not something Helen’s parents approved of. They had kept us apart until university, when we had both attended Oxford.
When Helen left, halfway through her third year, to live in a commune and plan protests, her parents had assumed this was due to my influence. Helen had never had a problem with how the world worked in their house, they had argued. She’d never expressed an interest in joining the street gangs of activists before she’d come under my undiluted influence, they believed. Of course, they never realised quite how good Helen had been at fooling them.
She’d asked me to go with her, but had had to forgive me for staying. I had decided to become a doctor upon my parent’s death, vowing to, one day, invent something that could have saved them. I loved Helen, but not enough to give up on my vow if I didn’t have to.
I am forty now. Helen’s sister, Claire, has children of her own. I see pictures of her family in the newspapers, and I try not to think of the children we might have had by now. A little boy with her grey eyes and my blond hair; a dark-haired daughter who looked just like her.
By the time I am sixty, I have moved on from doctoring. Now, I work on coffins, like the one Helen is interred in. Her coffin, as I notice afresh each week, is large, bulky, and, worst of all, slow. If only I’d worked harder, qualified sooner, then perhaps...but no, that thought is torture. There is nothing I could have done about that.
Every week, when I visit, I replay the accident in my mind; piece it together from what I read in the news, what I heard from her friends. It had started because of a disagreement between activists; all agreed that our current system was wrong, but opinions differed greatly over what to do about that. Groups splintered and fractured, and lost contact. It was only a matter of time before they began targeting the same organisations, trying to fix the same problems, getting in each others way.
That’s how Helen died. She got in the way. She’d entered a building, a building that was supposed to be empty, shortly before a bomb went off. There was scarcely enough of her left to inter.
I had convinced the media and the government that Helen had been an innocent victim, covered over her own nefarious purposes in being in that place at that time. The names Flaxman and Hurrell still carry some weight, which greatly helped our case. Without the permission of our leader, I could never have had her interred here, even with the money I raised from selling everything I owned.
The once opaque coffin has cleared slightly, and I can see her sweet face. Her eyes are closed, and she appears to be asleep. Her dark hair is shorn, shorter than it was, but that will grow.
Only fifteen more years to wait.
Finally, it is time.
I am so tired, so broken from waiting for this day. My hair is white, my joints hurt, and I cannot see a thing without my glasses, despite my perfect vision of fifty years ago. I am hunched over. But, more than that, I am lonely. I am so lonely.
As the clock on the coffin ticks down its last few seconds I tremble. My entire life has been built on this moment.
The last second ticks away, and the coffin opens, with a burst of dry ice. Her eyelids flutter, and my heart beats so fast that I fear it will burst through my frail ribs. She shivers, sits up. I wrap a blanket around her shoulders and urge her to drink the water I have brought. I wonder what dreams she has had in her long sleep of death.
I find myself gazing at the lid of her coffin, the wires crude and obvious, much lower quality than the ones I have built since, the ones that can rebuild a person in less than five years.
Her eyes focus on me. I smile at her, as nervous as a teenager, as I was when I was fifteen, and first realised she was beautiful.
“Hurrell,” she reads from my name tag. “Dr Hurrel; what year is it?”
“3083,” I reply. It has been a long fifty years since she was first interred.
She looks at me again, examines my face. “I used to know a Hurrell,” she says. “Is he here? Is Joe here?”
There is no recognition in her eyes.
I look down at the liver spots on my wrinkled, arthritic hands, and start to cry.
Spoiler:A few things I'd like to ask any readers
With this story, I was going for a creeping sense of dread. Hopefully, the reader should feel a growing sense that something is slightly off, leading naturally to the reveal.
I also hope that it is clear why Joe cannot get over Helen. At first, I hope that the reader will find him strangely obsessive, with a very strong belief in an afterlife in which they will be reunited, but, I hope, it becomes clear at the end that he can't get over her because he knows shell be revived.
I'd also like to know if you liked the story, or found it intriguing. Or dull. Please don't feel pressured to try to explain exactly why you feel that way if you find it difficult - I know it can be hard to explain feelings.
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing.
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