I watched as my deceased cousin’s wife ascended to the pulpit. Her face was stony, cold and beneath it I was sure emotion must be roiling, however it wasn’t obvious and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was bothered about it at all. But I settled myself and as my cousin-in-law opened her mouth, I prepared myself for what she was about to say.
She didn’t recount the happy times she spent with him. She didn’t start by telling us how lucky she was to be married to him. All she said was:
“What you’re about to hear will not be something you’ve ever heard before.” And then she began.
“We were married in the south-east of England, in Dover, as I’m sure you all know as relatives of Edmund. We were both born from not very well-off families, so even our combined money couldn’t get us abroad for our honeymoon. This led us to visit Edmund’s parents in Scotland, as it didn’t cost much money, it was a change of scene, and we could stay at my new parents-in-law’s house. We loved going for walks in the countryside also, so it seemed like the perfect place.
“Three days into the honeymoon, we went for a nice walk half an hour away from Edmund’s parents’ house. It was on a marsh and we had planned to be out for the whole day, arriving back at around 7 o’clock, and we decided to have lunch at a tavern on the middle of the marsh. There, we had a meagre lunch, as much as we could afford, and Edmund had a pint of beer.
“I thought there must’ve been something in the beer, as only an hour later as we continued our walk, he doubled over and started coughing violently. I tended to him and eventually I decided that I must at least get him back to the tavern, for he would catch his death in the cold and we wouldn’t be able to get him back to his parents’ house.
“It took us over 2 hours, but I hauled him into the tavern and asked for a room, for they had some for travellers around the area. It was most of the rest of our gold, but we did it anyway. We stayed overnight and I didn’t get much sleep as Edmund was so ill: coughing sickly, racked with violent shivers and occasionally throwing up. I couldn’t think of any illness that matched the description.
“There was nothing I could do, so I thought I had better try to get some sleep. I slept fitfully, tossing and turning, but when I woke up, Edmund was sleeping peacefully and he no longer looked pale. I wondered if it had all just been a bad dream.
“I knew Edmund’s parents must have been worrying about where we were, so we decided to walk back that day as Edmund was feeling cheerful and much better. It took us only a few hours and I explained the whole incident to my mother-and-father-in-law. They shrugged it all off and said I must’ve imagined it, and that made me feel a bit stupid.
“Our honeymoon finished successfully and I decided that I must’ve imagined it. There was no other explanation. We returned home to Dover and settled into our little cottage by the sea. Edmund began his job and we were happy.
“Then one day about a week and a half after our honeymoon, I woke up in the morning to see the other side of our bed empty and realised it hadn’t been slept in. I wrapped myself in my threadbare dressing gown, rushed downstairs and searched the entire house, finding nothing. By this time, I was very worried. I didn’t bother to get dressed when I ran out of the cottage and spied a figure in the distance.
“I stumbled hurriedly over to the shape, hoping it was him and it was. I was so relieved, I started blabbering to him about how worried I was. He didn’t reply. He didn’t even look at me. His gaze was fixed on the sea and the clouds. I shook his shoulder and begged him to look at me and he finally obliged.
“But his eyes bore into me and they were black and soulless – there was nothing human in them. For a moment, I thought he was going to throw me off the cliff. But then the moment passed and his eyes returned to a fresh blue and he hugged me and told me there was nothing to worry about. I put it down to my imagination again.
“However, progressively over the next few weeks, he grew nastier and nastier to me. He seemed to speak to me less and every night I found his bed unslept in and his figure staring out at the sea from the cliffs. I grew unhappy and told him so one night when I decided that things needed to change. He quickly grew angry and he snarled at me, gripping my shoulders so tightly that there were bruises and claw marks in them for days.
“I tried running away, but he caught me every time and beat me, every time worse and worse. Once, he broke my arm and wouldn’t allow a doctor into the house to treat me, so he bought medical supplies and put it in a sling. I spent weeks in bed, too weak to try to leave. After a long time, Edmund managed to fix my arm and it healed. I recovered, able to try to run away for the first time in two months.
“So I did. No matter what, I knew I had to get out of that house and away from him. I got out the front door and ran as fast as I could across the clifftops. It wasn’t long before a figure started getting closer and closer behind me. I changed direction, making a beeline for the cliff edge. I thought that even if I couldn’t get away, I could by throwing myself off the side. But he caught me just as I reached it.
“He gripped my shoulder tightly and I thrashed, trying to drag myself away. He was too strong. But I had grown stronger too. Something changed within him and his eyes went black and fear grew in me for I knew that look. I struggled harder, but Edmund had changed tactics and he went for my neck, pressing hard. I knew he was trying to kill me. I stumbled backwards and brought my hands up to clench his wrists.
“Eventually, short of breath, I managed to pull them free and with adrenaline coursing through me, I shoved him away from me and over the cliff. I will never forget the look on his face as he fell. His eyes became blue again and they widened. His calloused, dirty hands reached up to me, he called my name and I knew it was my Edmund – the Edmund I had known. I regretted every second of it. I forgot what he’d done to me. I just wanted my husband back.
“But it was too late. Edmund’s body hit the rocks far below with a sickening thwack and his face went cold. I was about to turn away – run away before anyone saw what I had done, when a thick pale cloud rose from his open mouth. It sped away from his body and headed straight for me. I staggered back a few paces, staring in wonder, for it had a face.
“Soulless black eyes dripped tears down grey, grimy cheeks leading to the mouth below that was full of sharp teeth. From its canine-like-teeth, gore hung – but there was something in it. Pictures of Edmund when he was happy. Him smiling on our first date, when he first met me, laughing with me and how he looked when he slipped my wedding ring onto my finger.
“The creature left me with a realisation. On the marsh that fateful day in our honeymoon, the ghost had entered Edmund. It had slowly been feeding off him, filling his soul with more of the ghost’s character every day. It was why my husband had grown nastier and nastier – why he ignored me more and had that glint in his eye that terrified me.
“You may believe me. Or you may not. But if I go to prison for what I’ve done, that is what I deserve and I will not struggle. I have seen enough in my lifetime.”
My cousin’s wife descended from the stage, tears running down her smooth cheeks. I was speechless – the whole church was quiet. I didn’t believe her of course, but it was a chilling ghost story that sent a shiver down my spine. There was only one other strange thing that happened that day.
After the funeral had finished, I went to the toilet and I heard a strange laughing coming from the women’s bathroom. Curious, I slowly pushed open the door. It made no creak, so the person in the bathroom didn’t hear me. I peered in and what I saw was something I’d never forget.
Edmund’s widow was standing facing the window and tears still soaked her grimy grey skin, her eyes were black and as she laughed, thousands of sharp teeth could be seen. I shook it off, knowing I was still immersed in the woman’s ghost story. Of course it wasn’t real. My imagination was tricking me. Imaginations can do that, you know.