The Last Grave

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Excerpt from my new Gothic Horror Novella

I can’t give up, she thought. There has to be at least one house on this damn road. Oh please, God. Give that at least. But as the sun’s last beams of light where choked out by the charcoal clouds above, any hope Joanne had was drained as well.

Exhausted and defeated, Joanne allowed the bike to slow to a stop. Her hot tears mixed with the cold rain as she cried out in frustration and fright. However, her voice was drowned out by a peal of thunder. Raising a defiant hand at the nearly black sky, she shouted, “You won, Mom! You hear that?! You were right! I didn’t find him! And he probably doesn’t even care!”

Hanging her head down on the handle bars, Joanne let out another choking sob as she realized that she may very well die out here. Her dress offered little protection from the elements, and there was nothing in her backpack that would keep out weather this severe. And since no one knew where she was, she may never be found. Newspaper obituaries and missing persons’ flyers flashed across her eyes. But the young woman did not have long to wallow in self pity. In between the bouts of thunder, her ears picked up what sounded like a growl.

Slowly, she lifted her head. Joanne’s racing heart skipped a beat as she saw what seemed like a large, black dog in the middle of the road. Barely illuminated by the bike’s dim light, it stared at her with bared teeth. She had never had a fear of dogs, but the look on the mangy canine’s eyes showed a kind of desperate hunger that no domesticated animal ever had.

For a few minutes the two stared at each other in silence, Joanne’s mind racing to try and think of what she could do to protect herself. She had a small pocketknife in her boot, but she doubted that she would be fast enough grab it. And the thing was more akin to a letter opener than a weapon.

But just has she was about to try and reach for it anyway, Joanne heard two more deep barks. Snapping her head around to look behind her, she let out a gasp. A strike of lightning momentarily revealed that the dog was not alone. There were two other dogs, both looking nearly as big and ravenous as the first.

I’m going to die, Joanne thought as the dogs slowly began to circle around her. They sniffed and continued to growl as they ventured closer, waiting for an opportunity to strike. I’m going to be eaten by dogs and die alone.

The clarity that the statement brought, along with a particularly loud blast of thunder, suddenly gave her a boost of adrenaline. Within seconds, she shot down the road, pushing her freezing legs as fast as they could possibly go.

Though initially left behind, the starving mutts did not take long before they were side by side with her once again. Snarling madly, they started to snap at her calves. A few times they succeeding in breaking the skin, but the pain and sight of her blood only made her go faster. Joanne’s wide eyes then caught something as another bolt of lightning struck the sky.

There was a large, ornate gate off to her left, just a few meters off the road. It looked slightly dilapidated, but at this point she was willing to take any chance at getting help from another human.

Turning the bike onto grass the wheels began to wobble, though Joanne continued to plow on through. The resulting decrease in speed, however, was just enough for the dog pack’s leader to gain the upper hand and smack all its weight into the back wheel. Within moments, Joanne was sprawled on the wet ground. The abrupt landing injured her ankle and it quickly began to swell.

 Before she could catch her breath from the impact, another dog tried to spring at her face. Instinctively, she put her arm up in defense.  Joanne felt a sharp pain as its yellowed fangs sank into her flesh.

With a yell, she angrily beat the dog’s muzzle with her other fist and managed to shove it off. She then started to head towards the gate’s entrance, limping as her ankle made it too excruciating to run. Even so, she knew it was hopeless. I’m not going to make it, she cried internally.

Joanne was then forced to the ground once again as one of the dogs pounced on her back. She screamed as she felt its jaws near her neck. With a sharp growl it ripped off the thin pink scarf she was wearing. Her voice went silent as Joanne then felt its teeth on her skin; intent on going in for the kill. In a final act of defiance before the inevitable, she grabbed the bottom of the open gate and used the last of her strength to push herself through the crumbling arch.

Just as she was prepared to accept death, Joanne suddenly felt the animal on her back retreat. With a pathetic whine, she turned to see the dogs quickly run away from the gate. Their skinny tails tucked under their bodies. Even the largest black dog, after a moment of staring straight at her in rage, ran off into the darkness with a whimper.

Confused, Joanne lay on the ground for a few minutes, trying to assess what just happened. Why had the dogs intent on killing her suddenly just bolted simply because she passed through a broken down gate?

But as the water started to rise towards her mouth, she knew she had to keep moving. Looking up, she saw what seemed to be a large mansion at the end of the pathway.

No, there’s no way I can reach that, she thought hopelessly, spitting out a bit of mud.

Instead, Joanne began to make her way up a small nearby hill on all fours; stopping every few feet to rest in the drenched weeds and dirt. Eventually, she made it under the summit’s great oak. The thick branches kept out most of the rain, a small relief to her pain-ridden body. As her heavy lids threatened to close, she curled herself into a tight ball in an attempt to gain any sliver of warmth. With a heavy shiver, Joanne wondered if she would even wake up if she dared to go to sleep.

 Reaching underneath her green summer dress, her pale hand pulled out porcelain locket on a gold chain. She had been surprised to find that her lover the night before had not stolen it, but perhaps even he had not been that cruel to steal such a personal item. Or maybe her mother had been right about it — recalling the day she had brought it home — and it really was worthless.

 Too weak to open it, Joanne merely read the thin, faded words on the back.

To the most lovely daughter in the world

Love, Dad

She closed her eyes as remembered the last time she’d seen her father walk out the door. He had promised he’d take her out to the mall the next day. Just the two of them; like the day he had gotten her the locket. They had always had fun together, without her mother’s critical eyes to ruin the mood. It was the only promise her father had ever broken.

Her chest shook as she held the smooth pendant tightly. Too tired to care anymore, she let out a horrible sob. The kind that she had not done since she was a child; filled with nothing but pure grief.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” Joanne whispered, remembering the last moment they had together. She had been right. The trip out here had been a pointless mess and now she was going to die alone. “I’m sorry I was so stupid.”

The words were drowned out the storm, but Joanne hoped that in some way her mother could hear them. Her breath began to slow as she allowed her eyes to close. And just as her mind faded into darkness, Joanne swore she heard a soft voice whisper in her ear.

Mine…


 

“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” Léopold asked, staring into the fire intently. “Nightmares… They invade the one place which should be your fortress. The place you should be safe. Instead, it’s as if your very mind is being torn apart from within. They can destroy even the greatest man.”

Joanne tightened the grip on the cane’s head, the words echoing in her head. “The greatest falls are always from within,” she said quietly. “I guess the only thing people can do is look for support in others.”

Léopold slowly turned to look at her, his sapphire eyes somber. “But what if you end up bringing them down with you?”

She paused for a moment, and then turned to meet his gaze. “If they truly care for you, they’ll take that chance.”

Then he kissed her. And after only second’s hesitation, she began to kiss him back.

The slow kisses quickly turned passionate as Léopold held her face close to his. Joanne reciprocated by digging her fingers into his curly hair. Its softness and smell only made her want more. And he gave her more. She could feel as his tongue explored her mouth, and she explored his.

Joanne let out a soft moan as he then moved to her ear. As he took small, tantalizing nibbles, she put a hand to his chest. She began to feel his silky hair and muscles, craving even more of his soft skin. Encouraged by this, Léopold placed a hand on her breasts; slowly, he felt underneath the silk nightgown. As his fingers touched the sensitive flesh, Joanne felt shivers raise goose bumps throughout her body.

She then held onto him as Léopold moving her to the bed. There they continued to kiss and feel each others’ body, but it was not long before a nagging sensation appeared in the back of her mind.

No, she thought, trying to fight against it.  I want this. I want this… 

But as she thought about that night at the wine festival, as well as dozens of other familiar situations back in Long Island, Joanne became less and less assured. Then came the feelings of unease from his odd behavior. Eventually, she stopped and turned her body away.

Sensing her inactivity, Léopold did as well. And for a while, they just lay in silence.

“I…I’m sorry,” Joanne finally said, trying to hold back tears of mortification. “I shouldn’t have… I didn’t mean to…”

“No… don’t be,” Léopold replied, staring at the ceiling in confusion. “I was the one that started it.”

“Should… should I go?” she asked.

“If you wish,” he answered after a pause, placing a cool hand on her arm. “Although… To be honest… I would still prefer your company.”

Shifting her body to face him, she placed her head on his chest. “So would I,” Joanne said. “I hate sleeping alone.”

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