Murder left a bad taste in the victim's mouth.
|I had a beastly time of it, keeping the smile off my face during the funeral. But it was an open casket affair, and the undertaker hadn't set one on my lips. So I manfully refrained, though the obsequies were most amusing, especially when Henry took the pulpit to deliver a fraternal farewell over me. Tempting too it was to pop my eyes open and sit up when I heard the mourners filing past. Lady Thrushmouth was bound to be one of them—she and Mother had been loathsomely close—and it would have been most amusing to see the old bat shriek and faint away.
Respiration, fortunately, is a function of the autonomic systems, so I didn't have to remind myself not to breathe.
At last the final strains of the organ died away, and the lid fell, and my casket swayed as the pallbearers bore me to the hearse. I will credit Henry this far: He hadn't stinted on the coffin. It was very plush, and the silk lining rustled in a lovely way. I've always liked silk. It was my taste for fine silk, in fact, along with cigars and brandy and the baccarat tables, that first drove a wedge between my brother and me after Father's death. I insisted that a fine front, and the expensive entertainment of clients, would repay itself many times over for the firm. But Henry was of the "a penny saved is a penny earned" school, and accused me of indulging my vanities and vices.
But here it seemed at the end that he had come around to my way of thinking. Probably, though, he had only sprung for my kind of a send-off because he didn't want anyone suspecting his hand at the back of it.
I could have laughed, let alone smiled: Henry would have given me a fine Viking funeral—a burning boat on the high seas—if he knew what kind of insurance I had taken out against just this kind of wrinkle in our partnership.
My casket swayed pleasantly on the drive out, then wobbled less pleasantly as I was hauled out again. I heard muffled voices—an official prayer no doubt—then felt myself being lowered into the ground. For a long time I rested there before I heard and felt the soft thump of earth being thrown onto my coffin.
My fine, beautiful coffin. I should have, I now thought, taken the trouble to procure a mausoleum.
The thump of earth grew fainter and fainter, and at last died away. I rested. I suppose I even dozed: "eternal rest," even of the modified sort I had arranged, will have a soporific effect. For awhile, I felt so pleasant that I even gave some thought to abandoning the scheme.
Alas, I do have a conscience, and I share my brother's interest in dividend-bearing investments this far: Having sprung for the blasted ceremony upon detecting Henry's first, tentative moves against me, I thought now it would be a waste not to go through with it.
So I unfolded my arms and pressed my palms against the underside of the coffin lid.
As with erosion, a weak force persistently applied will accomplish with time the effects of a stronger force. I was by no means weak, even in my deceased state, but it was patience rather than strength that at last forced the earth to shift and the lid to rise. Naturally, it ruined my burial suit when the muck poured in, and it was a thing of rags by the time I swam to the surface. I gave myself a vigorous rub down and did a few jumping jacks for good measure, then ambled off in the direction of Old Beastly, as Henry and I in our youth had baptised the country seat. I knew he'd be there, enjoying at last with a clear conscience—he only objected to my spendthrift ways, not my murder—those delicacies I had invested in over the years.
I have to say, it did bother me to imagine him enjoying my Louis Latour Chablis (1910) without my palate. But then—I spat out a bit of dirt as I shambled across some dark, muddy fields—my own palate was not exactly fit at the moment either.
The lights were on in the library as I crossed the patio to fumble at the latch of the French doors. I paused and listened, for I thought it would make a fine, theatrical tableau for Henry to hurl back the curtains and find me—Yes! Me! Returned to wreak vengeance!—glowering on the patio.
But the silence continued, so I put my hand through a pane and wriggled at the key in the lock.
And what the deuce should I find but that I had to track him down in the bloody pantry! No theatricality there!
Well, he did give a highly satisfactory scream once he recognized me, and he snatched up a cleaver and went at me like the damned revenant I'd paid some local Satanists a good chunk of coin to become. I did manage to break his jaw, I fancy, and tore a good chunk from his calf once he had me on the floor. After that, he showed great pluck in carving me up at the joints. More pluck than I'd have expected from a rat and a sneak-thief who'd poisoned his brother in order to cover up his own embezzlements under said brother's more sagacious extravagances.
My head he put in a hat box, but I felt it still as he distributed my other remains about the countryside. Most of me he buried, but a few pieces of me he kept aboveground, probably in the hope of being carried off as carrion.
Poor Henry! That only made it easier for me to start drawing them back toward the house.
And my second, more piecemeal visit, I foresaw, would be an even greater delight!
Writing Prompt: "No Grave Can Hold Me"
Yes, okay: This is basically Clark Ashton Smith's "Return of the Sorcerer" told from another point of view.