David J Thirteen
Oct 7th 2022
The thumping ran through every beam and board, making sleep impossible. Its tremors traveled up the bed frame and hummed an unnatural song in the mattress. But then, nothing about the heart was natural.
From the moment it had been unearthed, it stood out as peculiar and unique—both bizarre and precious.
The real-estate developers couldn’t have known what they were purchasing along with the crumbling red-brick Victorian. They had the simple plan of subdividing the lot and building houses for families willing to ignore the bleak view of rusting mills to gain a piece of land of their own. The private cemetery the backhoe happened upon was an unwanted surprise.
A dozen others might have been assigned to move the bodies, but through a strange alchemy of chance, this task was given to me.
It wasn’t actually my job. I was an embalmer, not a gravedigger, and my flabby body was more suited to precision work than hefting a shovel. However, my branch of Howard & Sons Funeral Services was the closest. And my manager knew I could be trusted to act with discretion and didn’t have the job security to refuse.
I arrived with two assistants on an April morning, so grey and chilled, it could have been mistaken for November. The developer seemed harried as if pulled straight from his bed to meet with us. There was no greeting, just a nod to our pickup and: “Good. You didn’t bring a hearse.”
The path to the graves led through the frost-rimed mud of the hastily abandoned construction site. Our employer was anxious to leave too, but before departing, he told us: “Don’t let anyone see the coffins. God knows there’s enough stories about this place already.”
Perhaps if I were a local, I’d know these stories.
I’ve often considered seeking them out, along with the history of the dilapidated estate. But I’d come to realize there’d be no information out there that would tell me what I needed to know. Lying awake, listening to the steady drumbeat of that heart had taught me that much.
We dragged out eight caskets of various ages from the thawing ground. Nearly all were crumbling with rot and would need replacements before the bodies could be reinterred at a cemetery.
I ignored my assistants’ grumblings about missing dinner and had them bring the coffins to my lab before I let them leave. I was just as hungry as they were and twice as exhausted, but I had no one waiting at home and never liked leaving a job unfinished.
Was my decision fate? Or was the heart guiding me even then?
I started with the oldest one, a relic from the late 18th century. To my relief, the corpse had been reduced to bones, and all the messy decomposition had taken place long ago. The skeleton had the telltale signs of belonging to a woman. I’d rarely seen so much damage to a body and could only guess she’d suffered a terrible fall. Although that didn’t fit with the condition of her hands and forearms. They looked as though they’d been struck repeatedly with a heavy object.
Her head was caved in, the left side of the frontal bone shattered. Multiple ribs had been fractured as well. While examining the ribcage, I noticed the heart trapped inside.
It was both too large and lacked the decorative Valentine shape to be jewelry. Its size and design suggested an anatomy model. There were even holes where the arteries and veins should connect. The entire surface was etched with arabesques or some foreign script and gleamed like untarnished silver.
Considering its age and craftsmanship, it had to be valuable. And there were plenty of people interested in the macabre, who would pay extra once they learned it was found in a two-hundred-year-old grave.
No one else knew it existed. No one ever missed it.
I brought it home, wondering how best to arrange a sale. I couldn’t just put it on eBay. Graverobbing was the type of thing to get a mortician banned for life. However unlikely, someone from corporate might catch wind of my illicit endeavor.
Late that night, while I dozed on the sofa in front of the television, the heart began to beat.
The slow, constant drumming was a mystery. A water pipe bouncing against a joist, perhaps? Half-awake, I searched out the source. The silver heart still sat on the kitchen counter where I’d left it, but it now convulsed like the real thing and emitted a solid thump throughout the house.
An uneven and shrill laugh escaped me. I’d been a criminal for less than four hours, and already I was in a predicament worthy of Poe.
Rationally, moving it must have activated some internal clockwork. But that didn’t make me breathe any easier, especially when I could find no way to locate the internal mechanism to stop it.
I shut it in a drawer, figuring it would eventually wind down on its own. But each day, it ticked on, growing louder, more invasive, worming into my ears and jarring my bones.
Mechanical or cursed, I needed it gone.
While carrying it from drawer to trash, its warmth filled my hands and melted away my fear. Its song swelled in my chest, and the steady beats spoke of love, desire, and belonging.
I no longer trembled with terror but anticipation.
From then on, the heart told me what it needed.
It was a simple matter to replace a body with stones before burial. Getting it home was more of a challenge. And connecting the woman’s hardening circulatory system to the silver mechanics was near impossible. But now, she lays in my bed, life returning to her with every beat. Her skin warms, and a blush blooms on her cheek.
My beloved is nearly here.
Author Bio: David J. Thirteen is a writer of horror and other dark fiction living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His short fiction has been featured in Lamplight Magazine, Seize the Press Magazine, The Other Stories Podcast, and various anthologies. You can find out more at DavidJThirteen.com or connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @davidjthirteen.
If you loved this story as much as we did, please tell the world on Facebook, Twitter or other fine places.
more stories here
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here.
Follow us for update posts (once or twice a week) here.
Download a free sampler of Wyldblood Magazine here.
Buy the latest Wyldblood Magazine here or get a six issue subscription here.
Read an interview in Black Gate with Wyldblood editor Mark Bilsborough here.
Read the Milford blog about Wyldblood here.
See us reviewed here and here.