The moon is a glowing, golden grin in an obsidian sky as the rhythmic sound of my shovel piercing the damp soil disturbs the deathly silence clinging to this hallowed ground. Curling like fingers in the air, my breath fogs as I inhale and exhale roughly. No matter how many times I unearth a grave, I am unable to grow accustomed to the physical exertion the task requires.
The ornate headstone of the recently departed Lady Lafleur seems to watch me accusingly as I stand waist deep in her freshly dug grave in the midst of an ancient cemetery situated in the French countryside. She was a fruit from a very old, very wealthy family tree that boasts deep roots. A perfect target for a ghoul such as I. My lips curve into a grin that mimics the crescent moon overhead as my imagination swims with the possibilities. Was she buried with priceless family jewels? Perhaps a necklace boasting fat rubies, or a ring framing a diamond as large as my knuckle awaits me at the end of this exhausting exercise.
Finally, after what seems like a tense eternity, the unmistakable sound of my shovel colliding with the coffin resounds. It seems to echo off the nearby crypts and bounces back at me, now sounding more akin to a ghostly laugh. If I was not so blinded by my greed and anticipation, perhaps I would have taken notice of the shift in the air as I uncovered the smooth, lacquered surface of the coffin. The moon seemed to glow brighter, more ominously. The shadows appeared to take on a more tangible form as they crowded around me, silently spectating what was to come. But all I can see are my fanciful musings as to what treasures await me at the bottom of this grave.
With a grunt of effort, I pry open the lid, eyes wide and excited as I obtain my first glimpse inside. A woman of middle age, with a neatly combed swath of wheat colored hair that contrasts starkly against the pallid tone of her lifeless complexion, lies in a bed of cream colored silk.
I descend upon the contents of the coffin like a pack of hyenas, making quick work of finding the jewelry adorning her corpse. Just as I had hoped, exquisite jewels glitter up at me from her ghastly grey skin. Emeralds, sapphires, and magnificent diamonds faceted into a necklace, a bracelet, and a grand ring find themselves snatched up by my avaricious hands. Any past sentiments of reverence towards the deceased, or any flutters of remorse I may have felt at another time have long since been abandoned. I have been at this for too long for such trivial notions.
Once the bejeweled treasures have been safely stashed into the pocket of my overcoat, I then search for any trinkets that may have been left by her family to keep her company in her decay. It is a pity that they shall be keeping me company instead; at least until I barter them away.
I am disappointed to find that what was left with her are nothing more than maudlin trinkets, some letters, and a gold locket that may at least prove to be of some worth. I shake off my dissatisfaction, contenting myself with stunning lavaliere that I managed to apprehend.
Just as I am about to let the coffin close for the final time, a flash of black catches my gaze. There, tucked under one of her unnaturally stiff hands, is a delicate book. Macabre curiosity has me reaching for it, struggling to dislodge it from Lady Lafleur's tight grip. I stumble back inelegantly as it suddenly comes free. Huffing, I tuck it into my pocket before making hasty work of reburying the coffin.
Once the last shovel of dirt is laid, the ground packed, and everything left for all intents and purposes as it once was, I creep through the darkness of the cemetery, a sense of giddiness thrumming within as I steal away from the scene of my crime. The need to put substantial distance between myself and the site of my wrongdoing should encourage me to keep walking, but my pocket feels laden with the weight of the mysteries encased in the tiny book I swiped on some morbid, irreverent whim. It is as though some unseen voice is beckoning to me, urging me to open it at once.
As though not by my own will, my slightly trembling fingers fish the item out of my pocket, and I stand near a street lantern in search of more light than the eerie moon is willing to offer. The tome is bound in supple, ebony leather with intricate gilded filigree on the untitled cover. A crimson silk ribbon dangles out from the bottom of the book, nestled in between the slightly yellowed parchment of its pages.
A foreign sense of trepidation takes hold of me. Perhaps it is my more trustworthy instincts warning me, pleading with me to stop; to toss the small book into the street and forget that I ever laid eyes on the unsettling thing. But I cannot. I must, I must know what it says. Why I must, I cannot say.
Taking a deep breath, I steel my nerve, gently opening the tome. My brows furrow as I am met with nothing but blank pages. A breathless, nervous sort of chuckle passes through my cold lips. I worked up a fright for no reason at all. Feeling foolish and somewhat disenchanted, I idly flip through all of the pages. Nothing. Finding it strange and more than a bit silly that they would bury a blank book with Lady Lafleur, I debate once again on throwing it away. But that same, shadowy influence exerts itself over me once more, and I tuck it safely back into my pocket.
It is not until I arrive back at my home in the more unsavory sector of the sparkling city of Paris that I think of the black book again. I just manage to step off of the carriage at my doorstep before I find my fingers curling around the item concealed in my coat. The urge to open it once more grips me.
Retreating into the privacy of my home, I take a seat inside and eagerly fish the leather object out. I am not sure what it is I am expecting, but I open it again to the page bookmarked by the ribbon. Only, instead of blank parchment greeting my eyes, an address scrawled in neat black ink reveals itself to me. A skitter of unease creates a trail down my spine. I am certain that this book was entirely empty the last I opened it. So, how is it that there is now something written here?
Further investigation reveals that the rest of the book is indeed as empty as it had been before, save for the lone address written on one of the pages. Is it possible that I missed it in the dim light of that street lamp? Perhaps; but a sense of dread has me doubting the possibility.
It does not take much inquiry to learn that the address is situated in a remote village tucked away in some obscure corner of France. It also does not take much time for me to decide to visit it. I have not debated the consequences of the action, but that unearthly, hidden force that drove me to take the book is guiding my hand as I now stand hesitantly in front of a ruined chapel: the location that was penned into the yellowing parchment.
Grey blocks of stone are crumbling to the ground. There are no buildings near this dilapidated place of worship; the chapel situated on the far edge of a minute village. It is at once clear that this church is abandoned, and has been for at least a century if my eyes are to be believed. The situation keeps growing in strangeness as I wonder, unsettled, why Lady Lafleur was buried with a book only containing the address to a church ruin.
Seeing as how I troubled myself to make the two week journey to this place, I haltingly make my way through the half fallen archway into the carcass of the chapel. Only some of the roof remains intact, and water drips from it into well established puddles littering the ground. The structure is not large, and before long I have walked through all of it. There is absolutely nothing here save for crumbling stone and overgrowth.
Dejected, I am on the cusp of departing unfulfilled before a small glitter of light catches my notice. There, between some of the stone blocks near the altar, is a ray of golden light trickling out of the crevice betwixt the stones. It is not sunlight, as a heavy sky weighed down by storm clouds hangs above.
A sense of dread snakes through my veins as I approach the source of the light. The crack is too narrow to peer through, and I notice that the stones are loose. Hesitantly, I heave one out of the way. My eyes widen as they fall on the sight of a brilliant golden door standing between two burning torches concealed behind the stone wall. Who lit them is a mystery that I find I am not keen to discover the answer to.
I remove a few more of the heavy stone blocks until I can manage to squeeze my body through the gap. The book seems to burn me in my pocket as I gawk at the magnificent hidden door. It appears to be fashioned from solid gold. Once again, my instincts attempt to warn me, but their pleas fall on deaf ears as I take hold of the handle and wrench the door open with a grunt of exertion.
As though guided by some invisible hand, I am lead down a long, well lit staircase that descends deep into the earth. It seems to swallow me up, and I vaguely hear the door I entered through slamming shut behind me. In a daze, a dream, or perhaps a nightmare, I feel no disquiet at the realization that the door closed on its own, nor by the possibility that maybe, someone else is the one that shut it.
After an indeterminable length of time, the staircase bottoms out into a cavernous room that steals the breath from my lungs with its splendor. Resplendent artwork in gilded frames, intricate marble sculptures, Persian rugs, and massive mosaics spread themselves out before me. Perhaps a vault, or a treasure chamber come the closest to explaining what sight greets my eyes.
In the center of the spacious area is a coffin-sized chest of rosewood with jewels and silver inlaid into it. With unsteady legs, I approach it, consumed by its beckoning call as it summons me closer. Trembling hands lift the creaking lid. Eyes glazed over widen at the sight of what must be twenty thousand francs flooding the interior of the chest. Greed has my fingers surging towards the coins, letting the metal slip between them in ecstasy. A hysterical laugh bubbles from my mouth. I will never need to loot moldering corpses again, not now that I have found this treasure trove!
So enraptured am I by the bounty that I fail to notice when my fingers slowly, ever so slowly, begin to fall apart, my flesh transforming into dust as I blindly, madly keep trying to touch the coins. But now, my hands are no more, so I rub my arms against the gleaming currency in my delirium. When they are gone, I shakily climb into the chest, allowing my entire body to rest on the treasure that has bewitched me with some preternatural curse. And as I am rendered into nothing but dust, the lid of the chest closes, entombing me until someone else comes to rob what is now my grave, as I had done to so many.