The Ghost at My Feet
(A Variation of the Tale of Lady Margaret and Sweet William)
By Michael Medlen
For the past three nights, around midnight, the ghost appeared at the foot of my bed dressed in her old white dress. The first night I was scared to death, shivering in my bed. I had never seen a ghost before, and never thought I’d get the chance, not that I wanted to. That night she didn’t say a word to me, only stared, with her cold white eyes that matched her dirty dress. After the first night, I took it for a dream. That is, until she came back the next night. Still, she didn’t speak. Just the stare, while I lay frozen in my bed, too scared to move. Again, the same occurred on the third night. It wasn’t until the fourth that she spoke.
“How do you like your bed?” she asked with a sweet, fair voice.
“It’s quite comfortable,” I said.
“And the sheets that cover you?”
“Even more comfortable.”
“And what about the bride in your arms?”
I dared not to respond, only to hold my new wife in my arms tight. She asked again, to which I did not respond a second time. I held my lovely bride tighter. She asked a third time.
“She’s all I ever wanted,” I replied. The pretty ghost disappeared.
The night slept on, and soon morning woke me up. I had a headache and the memory of a terrible dream, in which my bed was covered in blood. I looked over and noticed my wife wasn’t next to me, and quickly went around the house looking for her. I found her in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. I explained to her my dream and told her it could mean no good.
“Oh sweet William,” she said, “you’ve heard too many stories.”
“Perhaps, but it’s not the only thing I’ve seen. I’ve seen a ghost for the past four nights, who I fear to speak of. Have you not seen her?”
She laughed at what I said.
“Honey, I don’t play you for a fool,” I responded.
“Oh, William, I truly believed your story until you spoke of the ghost. A nice attempt at scaring me, but not believable enough.”
“I don’t intend to scare you, for it is the truth.”
“A silly dream, perhaps, but the truth, Lord no.”
I felt ashamed of myself for such foolishness. For the rest of the day I didn’t speak a single word of the events that had cursed my past nights, partly in fear of feeling like a child, and more in the hope that more nights would not be the same.
The day went normal enough. I worked the field and then came home to a warm meal prepared by my lovely bride. I held her tight throughout the quiet night, unable to sleep. I took a few shots of whiskey and was out.
What felt like hours later, she appeared again at the edge bed. I wasn’t scared this time. I unwrapped my arm from my bride and slowly sat up in my bed. The ghost seemed very beautiful; not even death could dull her long yellow hair.
She repeated her questions from the night before, again I answered her the same.
“And what about the bride in your arms?” she asked.
“She is my most prized position, the only bride I ever wanted,” I lied.
“Indeed, it seems as that you must tell every woman that you’ve shared bed with the same, sweet William.”
Her words stung me deeply, and for a few moments I was at a loss as to what to say.
“Lady Margaret, only two ladies have I shared my bed with, two and no more,” I said.
Nights went by without the ghost. I had trouble falling asleep, and waited impatiently to see her, but each night passed longer and longer. Weeks went by, and soon sleep came more easily. I had given up on the ghost, as well as convincing my bride she ever existed.
With the time that passed, something about the romantic notion of marriage had faded. Fights became frequent, and often I found myself wishing I had been more careful in choosing a wife. This silly notion of lasting love was a waste, all energy I once had seemed drained from my body. I only wished to see the ghost, if only once more.
It was when I had finally forgotten her that she came back. She looked more beautiful than ever before.
“How do you like your bed? And how do you like your sheet? And how do you like your fair young bride, that’s lying in your arms asleep?”
“Very well do I like my bed, much better do I like my sheet, but best of all that fair young girl, that’s standing at my bed feet.”
“Sweet William, I saw you run to the church with her, all ready for marriage. I saw, standing by window, waiting for you so long ago. Why didn’t you come for me?”
“I did not know what I was doing. I fell fool for a feeling that came from my heart, but it seems it is my heart that betrayed me.”
“Your heart wasn’t broken,” she said.
“No, but the burning pride of breaking a heart left a hole.”
The ghost did not reply. Wind from the open window blew her yellow hair. I edged near her in my bed, close to where I could reach out and touch her dead hands. Still, she stayed where she was. I stood up from my bed, carefully climbing out as to not disturb the bride. Once I kissed the ghost’s lily white hand, twice I kissed her cheek, three times I kissed her cold corpsely lips, and slowly I fell into her arms, fast approaching sleep.
Night passed away, and the day came on. I could see into the morning light through the open window in my bedroom. I was on the floor and felt a pain in my head. I stood up and noticed my bride was still in my bed asleep. I did not disturb her. I walked outside and onto my wooden front porch, and lit my pipe. I thought of the dreams I had had during the night, such terrible ones they were. Images came to me of my hands covered in blood. I stood at the edge of my bed, staring at my bride. I knew not of what had happened, but only felt pain in my chest. The rest of the dream I could not remember. I heard my bride wake up and get out of bed upstairs. I put out my pipe. She came out to the porch rubbing her eyes.
“You woke up early this morning. Did you have trouble sleeping?” she asked.
She stood to the left of me, but I stared forward into the morning sun. “Not at all, a rather good night to be sure,” I said.
“That’s odd then, for it felt as if you weren’t near me the whole night. Once I swore I saw you on the floor, but imagined it to be only a dream.”
“Surely it was. Not once did I stir from your side.”
She didn’t respond.
The day went by slow, and night was long to come. When it did, I waited in bed for the bride to fall asleep, her body safely tucked in my arms. I waited a while to be sure she was dreaming, and when I was confident she was, let go of her and turned to my side. Where was Lady Margaret? I thought to myself. Hour after hour I lay there quietly, expecting the fair ghost to appear and ask me of my bed and bride, but she never came. I grew anxious, wanting to kick and scream and shake my bride, but I could not. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I stood from the bed and threw on day clothes. I crept through the house, dodging all the spots that I knew would disturb the peaceful night. Outside, it was pitch black. The whole town was at rest.
I walked past the few houses there were, past the old Rick’s home, past the priest’s house and church. Behind the church was a graveyard, known as Old Holy Rosary Yard. Once as a kid, I ventured through the site at night, scared but driven by a dare. Now, I felt the same, except there was no kid to dare me to go in.
There was a loud squeak as I pushed the gate open. I walked along the rows of tombstones, many familiar. First I walked past the fresh grave of Henry McGee, who died a few days ago from old age, as the doctor said. There were a few Hendricks, and it seemed like the whole Riley family was buried in the lot. I kept walking until I finally reached my destination.
There it was before me. A grave I had never visited, had never glimpsed at. I fell to my knees and struggled to see the words carved in the stone through the moonlight.
Herein lies poor Lady Margaret,
A lady whom none but one could forget,
Once she had hoped for a family,
But now lies dead from a broken dream.
I read and read the words over and over again. I felt my heart sink in my chest. Lady Margaret, I wished, if only I could see your ghost again. I kissed the cold, wet stone. “How I wish I would have placed a thought within my head, instead of my heart,” I whispered. I remained kneeling on the grave, and with no hesitation, dug a handful of dirt from the fresh grave. I dug another, and another, and another, until I had dug a small hole. Through the dark, cold night, I dug. Dirt covered everything, my hands, my clothes; even some had found its way into my hair. I dug until finally I clawed wood.
The casket had begun to rot. There were tiny holes along the top of it. Worms crawled in and out of the holes, back into the dirt, back into the holes. I grabbed the side of the casket and began to pry the lid off but it wouldn’t budge. I swept dirt away, pried again, and repeated the process over and over. After a while, it began to loosen. I pushed my fingertips under the casket to get a firmer grip and tugged. It sprang open, causing me to fall back into a wall of dirt.
I peered over the open lid into the coffin. I hoped I would see the lady whom I had brought misfortune upon, to see her beautiful hair and tell her how I loved her so, but it was like saying it to a statue, cold and uncaring. Not even death had dulled her long yellow hair. Her rotten face was turned towards the wall of the coffin, away from me. Even after death, she was unwilling to forgive me.
I climbed out of the grave without bothering to rebury it. I walked back the way I came. As I passed the gate, I heard a noise. The town drunk was sitting against the fence. He looked old with his gray beard, though his true years were unknown.
“Grave diggin’, I see,” he said. He began to laugh, followed by a hiccup and more laughter. “You don’t look like the grave diggin’ type to me, boy. Suppose it’s so though, way the times been going.”
“Be gone,” I said.
He laughed more. “How many times I heard that, you know. Say, tell me, did you get a glimpse of her?”
“And how was it. Don’t be afraid. You can tell me.”
“It was awful.”
More laughter. “Well, I suppose you’re dumber than a gang of niggers. My drunk self coulda’ told ya’ she wouldn’t be as pretty. Not much of one to take to bed neither.”
I left the drunk to laugh himself sober. By the time I came home, the sun began to poke itself through the morning sky. I went inside and stared in horror. There were footprints leading from the front door and up the stairs. I walked over them and followed the trail into my bedroom, the where they stopped at the foot of the bed. My bride was gone. I heard the front door open and shut. I went back down, and saw her standing in the living room. We looked at each other, but remained silent.
“Is that the ghost you been seeing? Lady Margaret?”
I kept silent.
“William, I saw tonight. I watched you in the graveyard.”
I still didn’t say anything.
“I’m leaving,” she said.
She ran out of the door. I felt dizzy and went back upstairs to the bedroom. I slipped into my bed, barely able to keep my eyes open. I rolled to my side and felt something. A stick? I opened my eyes and stared horrified. Lady Margaret’s corpse was there, her head still facing away from me. Her hair still shining yellow, like the sun’s gold rays. I threw myself out of bed and away from it. My mind must have been playing tricks on me. I was still asleep perhaps. I slapped my face, and still the corpse was in my bed. I felt a pain in my chest. How I had ruined things. I had killed Lady Margaret that day, leaving her waiting for me, as I married the girl I had met at the train station, so new to this town. I had never cared about Margaret, and for once she didn’t care for me. It all felt like a cruel game.
“Victory is bittersweet,” I whispered.
The corpse flung its head up and stared at me. “Oh, how bittersweet it is,” the corpse said.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. The pain increased.
“Oh sweet William, you and your words. How they always seem to ring with truth.”
It felt hard to breath. The corpse’s face was sunk in, the eyes gone from their sockets.
“A poor lady died for you. And for her, what did you do?” it asked.
My mind was fooling me. I was tired. I was awake. Reality had ceased to exist, and yet this felt real as ever. All my life I had known her. And one day I had forgotten her.
“I never knew the sadness I caused you,” I said.
“Sadness cannot describe the pain felt,” the corpse said. Her voice was slow, like a moan, crawling through my head, interrupting my thoughts. It was like a ringing noise.
I could take the words no longer. I grabbed the corpse by the neck and felt the rotten bones crumble in my hands. The room became silent. Silence was all I ever had wanted, and finally I had it. And yet, I wasn’t satisfied. Why had the ghost done this to me? Everything had been fine until she came. The only women I had were both gone, and I was left in silence. I could bear it no longer. I flew down the stairs and out of the house. Morning had set in and the townsfolk were out. They stared as I rushed past them, through the town, past the graveyard and the drunk who was asleep, past the fields. I ran, until I met the bridge. Here had been the place I first kissed Lady Margaret. She worried of what the town would think if they would see us, but I assured her no one would. Here it had been, where we had first expressed our feelings, and here it would end. It was a wooden bridge, a rather old one. Below was water, so far below no man could survive a fall into it, according to rumor. Now was a chance to find out.