Horla Fiction (April 2021)

 

CONTAGION – VOLUNTARY BURIAL

by P.F. GRAZIOLI

 

Darkness, cold air, musty smell… but not as old, or stale, or even worse, rotten. I would certainly have reached that condition, but fortunately I woke up…

Yes, I have reopened my eyes in the darkness of a tomb… my hands have touched the soft, comfortable fabric, which covers the walls and the bottom where I am lying.   

To be honest, I felt a sense of comfort and safety. Then, I put my hands at the level of my face, and with my fingers turned out, I held them upwards, but immediately retracted them in horror!

My fingers had just met what felt like a cold, smooth slab of stone, placed a few inches from my face… I was in a sarcophagus!  

A stone coffin that at the first impression, revealed an apparent comfort; but as soon as I touched the cold stone, my being rebelled against that state of apparent death.

I then began to push my hands against the slab that kept me wrapped in total darkness… I pushed with all my strength… I pushed with the knowledge that I was right; I wanted to see the light again, I wanted to breathe pure air, I wanted to return to life! 

Animated by this will, I kept pushing with my arms, but it was the thought of the total rejection of this induced imprisonment that gave me the necessary energy to move the obstacle that was placing between me and my freedom.

It began to move slowly… and as the stone slab opened up, new air entered my nostrils.

I soon realised that it wasn’t the clean, fresh air I expected; it still smelled stuffy and rotten, but much less so than before.

I pushed again, and after a few moments, I managed to move the slab  enough to get out.

I was again wrapped in the thickest darkness; I held out my hands in front of me, groping to see where I was. Then I touched a wall and began to follow it, but as I proceeded in that darkness, I got the feeling to be watched.

Yes… my instinct, which had already avoided trouble on several occasions, was now warning me about the presence of an hidden danger.

I kept moving with my senses on the alert, and jolted when my hand touched an object causing a metallic noise.

It sounded like a squeak… the sound of something rusty, moving after a long time breaking that eternal silence.

Alarmed but determined to find out what it was, I began to touch it in order to form an image in my mind.

It seems to be a cylindrical metal object, but with open spaces on the sides and closed at the top.

I touched it again and I felt it sway… so, it should be hanging on to something.

Of course! If I was in a tomb, it must have been a votive lamp… and if I could light it, get out of there  would be much easier for me!

I then started to try to remove the lamp from the chain on which it was hanging, but soon afterwards, I had the feeling to be in danger again!

I don’t know how to describe what happened… I suddenly began to hear mournful moans; first in the distance, then closer and closer. Their approaching, filling that deathly hush with an anguished chorus of lost souls, whose voices penetrated my ears reaching up to my brain.

I closed my ears with the hands, but in front of my eyes began to float evanescent, skeletal spectres that stuffed me with terror.

Their frightening images were also materialising in my mind, putting my sanity and my certainties at risk; and I admit… I was tempted to seek again the peace and safety of my sarcophagus.

But the spark of reason, which distinguishes a human being from an empty shell, a thinking being from an unconscious ghost, was suddenly rekindled in me, just as the flames of a subterranean riverof lava fire burst out of the earth’s surface.

A new but at the same time ancient energy, began to flow through me; I had forgotten this feeling!

It was then that I realised to be the only one guilty of what had happened to me…

Yes… I agreed to my own burial, silencing my conscience and my critical sense. I condemned my free thought to be locked and forgotten in a cold sarcophagus wearing the funerary mask of false acceptance.

But the freedom of thought cries out, thus awakening consciences!

Now I recognise them! They are the same spectres that terrorized me, annihilating my spirit, by first frightening me with the prospect of a terrible death. 

The spectre of a contagious plague and its progeny, made credible by the ghosts of those whose information becomes ashes of repentance on our heads of doubtful people.

The ghost that drags the chains of false blame and remorse to imprison those who doubt, followed by the spectre of repression of free thought. And they all ride in the shadow of the false flag of the common good.

But now all this must end… I must be able to light the lamp, I must make the light of knowledge scatter the ghosts. But how can I do that? Just a moment… in my pocket there’s something metallic; yes, my Zippo lighter!

It too rested with me… forgotten object and blamed by the spectre of respectability.

 Smoking hurts… I agree in part, because sometimes a good cigar is appropriate!  And then it is my free choice!  Worse than any evil is the deprivation of freedom in the name of a fanatical and obsessive respectability.

The flame of my lighter is already disturbing the spectres; now I can light the lamp.

Wonderful… its light spreads all around, allowing me to move safely and to distinguish where I am.

The light of knowledge… reduced to a weak flame, now begins to spread its glow, but those restless ghosts floating about, hurl down at me.

Covering my face with my arm, I shake the lantern… I see nothing, but I hear the screams of those spectres again; but now they are different… they are fearful and desperate.They scream with the voice of the damned, while the flame of recovered consciousness burns them.

It’s over… only silence remains. I look around and see more stone sarcophagi, all lined up next to each other. There is no doubt… I am in a crypt!

I get closer to look at them, to see who they belong to, but there is no writing on them. But the closer I get with the light, the more I hear noises inside them as if someone is starting to move.

And… if inside each of those graves there is a conscious being that is awakening?

After all… that’s what happened to me. So it is my duty to help them to get out of the state of apparent death in which they are.

The light! No doubt it is the cause of the awakening… but my lantern is not enough. This crypt is very huge, and where I am now, it is only one floor ending in a stone balustrade on either side of which are two rows of stairs.

Leaning over, I can barely light up below me; while looking ahead, I see just an immense darkness from which I can hear the screams of the ghosts in the distance.

Those restless ghosts no longer approach me, but if I would attempt to explore that darkness, the light of my lantern would soon be smothered by those ghosts of a false truth, and I would return to being an empty shell… a living dead!

No! First I have to awaken the others, and I can only do that by turning on the lamps in the crypt… and I don’t think that will be difficult. 

As I light the lanterns, I hear knocking louder and louder from inside the sarcophagi… then, the covers open and slowly those who occupied them come out.

They are people who look lost… they move slowly, shielding their eyes from that sudden light while emitting moans of pain.

They slowly lowered their hands starting to look around, with the astonishment of those who had not been used to seeing other people united together for a long time.

It’ s as if they are waking up from a nightmare… but then, they get more and more confident.

They begin to talk, to recognise each other; while their funeral masks fall to the ground like dead leaves in autumn.

Now they are people again, no longer vegetating in a state of catalepsy…

I see them going towards the balustrade looking in the direction of that darkness and hearing the screams of the ghosts.

They turn and look at me with a questioning attitude, and I simply lift my lantern indicating the others to them.

Immediately I see them rushing towards those lamps covered by cobwebs, which are lighted one after the other, lighting up our part of the crypt.

Now the spectres are shouting louder… they’re trying to scare us, but from the way they’re yelling we can tell that they’re the ones who are scared!

We all look out from the balustrade at the darkness below us… our first thought would be to get out of the crypt; to climb the spiral staircase that would lead us outside, but to do so would render our rebirth useless….

No… what we have to do is to go down those stairs, and let the light finally split the darkness and dissolve the ghosts, bringing back to life the other people who still lie there in their sarcophagi.

Then, all together, in the light of knowledge and strengthened by our awareness, we will emerge from the tomb backing finally to life!

 

***

P.F. Grazioli was born in Perugia, Italy, in 1964. After graduating as a surveyor he travelled extensively in the United States and was particularly drawn to St Louis, birthplace of Vincent Price. Grazioli describes himself as passionate about Gothic horror literature, filmology, archaeology and esotericism. He has published a collection of horror stories titled Lost Souls. He is currently working on another collection of stories

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Title photo credit – Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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