Dark Ruby

Forever Lost Tear

Death cannot conquer love…

Chapter One

The moon shone brightly in the night sky, moonlight beaming down on the wrought iron gate of the graveyard, guarding it like a solitary watchman, keeping the secrets of the dead. The graveyard had closed at dusk as always. As always the gate had been swung shut by the crippled hands of the caretaker and as always he had forgotten to lock it. Since then it had remained untouched by human hands.

Until now.

A delicate female hand slipped out from the veil of darkness, pale fingers reaching out to grasp the latch. It was lifted, slowly and carefully, before the gate opened with a mournful creak, urged by the vigilant female's hand, alerting the dead to a new and unwanted presence in their territory. A cloud flitted over the moon momentarily, blocking most of the light, but when it remerged there were eyes, two large and beautiful sapphire eyes shining like precious stones in the decrepit darkness. They gazed past the gate and along the winding path to the silent graves.

The young woman hesitated before removing her sly hand from the gate and beckoning to the darkness. Her assistants waited there anxiously, hiding in the shadows.

"Are we alone?" a timid voice asked, full of awe. A trim girl stepped into the moonlight, her golden hair shimmering like silk from some exotic kingdom she would probably never get to visit.

"I believe so," the young woman with the sapphire eyes replied. Her voice was quiet and cautious, as if not to rouse the dead. The wind tousled her dark red curls, making her cheeks pink from the cold air.

"Are you sure there is a grave fresh enough?" the golden haired girl asked, unabashed by the nature of the question. She twiddled the white lace beneath the folds of her cloak, face flushed with excitement.

"I am convinced there is," the other woman reassured her, knowing that neither of their nice dresses would be clean for much longer, "Bring the shovels Annette."

There was distinct movement in the shadows, the disturbance of darkness and a third and final female emerged, the promised Annette, clutching an earth-stained shovel in each hand. She was the eldest of the three sisters and the only one to have been married.

"You know mother and father would kill us if they ever found out we were here like this," Annette was disgruntled, swinging the shovels haphazardly and almost hitting her sisters, "Are you positive we can make some money from this Ruby?"

"For the last time yes," the first female stroked her crimson locks, something her sisters knew she did when she was nervous, "The old man was miserly and he had no surviving family to leave his wealth to. Whatever wasn't stolen was buried with him."

"We need the money Annette," the youngest sister reminded the eldest, her bright eyes darkening with sobriety of their situation. It was not something to be undertaken lightly.

"I know Anastasia. If we do not secure money for father then he will declared penniless. We will lose the mansion and father will have to deal with those horrible men."

Annette's voice quivered with the last few words. It was an unsettling subject for them all, the thought of their beloved father coming to any harm. When Ruby had revealed to them that she had overheard him being threatened with violence it had distressed them, driving them to do something as desperate as this.

"We need the money for father," Ruby said quietly. Anastasia nodded once, determined.

"I know," Annette whimpered like a child, "But there has to be a more moral way of getting money than grave robbing."

"If it is profitable and justifiable for men to do it for medical research to help save lives then it should be perfectly fine for us," Anastasia gave a dignified sniff.

Annette still looked unconvinced.

"This is for father," Ruby insisted, "If we don't help him who will? Where will he get so much money at short notice? You know he is too proud to borrow from his friends and family and loans are how he got into this mess in the first place. He would sooner die…"

"Alright!" Annette exclaimed, then she spoke stiffly, disillusioned by the confidence of her sisters. "Let's get this over with as quickly as possible. I hate graveyards at night."

Ruby wasn't much more fond of them by daylight. Despite all her appearances of bravery she was a little disorientated and very apprehensive about the task that lay ahead, at the thought of trespassing at night, a time when graveyards were meant to be empty of the living. Taking a deep breath to try and steady her heartbeat she took her first wary step over the threshold between life and death, entering a place forbidden by the hours of darkness.

It was darker here, strangely so, as if the dead were sucking all available natural light into the consecrated graves, leaving the sisters vulnerable. Ruby had rejected the idea of a lamp, thinking it would draw too much attention to them. She had hoped the light from the moon and stars would be enough to stave the darkness. Now she regretted that. Fog concealed their feet from view, curling around their cloaks that should have spared them from the brunt of the cold. They had neglected bold colours, wishing to go unseen by anyone that would question why three reputable young ladies would be out so late on such a cold and dark night without a male escort. That was why Ruby had refused the lamp. She had never wanted to go more unnoticed in her life than she did tonight.

It was freezing. The mist carried its own penetrating chill and Ruby shivered from a combination of cold and dread. She had managed to convince herself that this was the only viable option left, and the only solution to save her father's life. It was a constant headache to keep up the appearance of a rich, affluent family that Kingly Mansion had boasted for four centuries. But while they threw grand balls and dined with fancy guests the foundations were festering and the mansion decayed around them, retaining little of the original splendour her ancestors had bestowed upon it. They wouldn't be able to afford the luxury lifestyle for much longer. Perhaps this time her father would invest his money more wisely and they would be able to have parties and pretty dresses and perfume again. Even a life without the finer things would have been fine for Ruby. She would have traded all the dresses in the world for her father's life and she knew her sisters would too. Unfortunately they didn't own enough between them to make such a bargain.

Now that they were here in the flesh, in this uninviting and unpredictable place Ruby could feel her conviction waning, her dare fading, the dead drinking it from her.

"Hurry up!" hissed Annette. She looked uncomfortable. Ruby didn't feel much better, though she wouldn't admit it.

She looked out along the barren path to where the graves began. It weaved between sinking headstones and crooked trees, an unruly river of stone slabs that led to the crumbling church, its congregation long since dead. The moonlight reflected off the stationary brass bell. Her father had told her the last time the bell had been rung was before his birth, when the Kinglys had been much richer and the mansion much grander. She had always been intrigued by family history. The rest of her family believed it was better left buried in the past.

It took Ruby and her sisters over an hour of searching to find the grave they sought. They bent over and crouched down to inspect headstones and monuments, brushing aside grass and ripping out weeds to reveal the inscribed names and dates of birth and death. Some of the people had been wealthy in life and it showed in death with decretive headstones and carvings of angels. One affluent family had a mausoleum dedicated to them. With the older, neglected stones words had been blotted out my mould or warn away, making them illegible.

It took Ruby a while to realise that a new grave wouldn't have yet have a headstone and would probably be marked by a simple wooden cross. They had been looking in all the wrong places. She informed her sisters what to be heedful of. The deceptive darkness and eerie shadows played tricks on their eyes. When they thought they saw a grave without a headstone they called out, only to see upon closer examination the stone had toppled over and been concealed by moss. Some of the stones were black, either from grime or constructed and it was near impossible to see them in the darkness. What was the point in being buried in hallow ground and having a black headstone, the colour that symbolised death and evil?

It didn't make sense to Ruby. When she her headstone would be white marble, white as snow, white as the weeping angels depicted in famous paintings.

They narrowed down their choices to two sites. They didn't have headstones but the ground was disturbed and no grass grew. One was by the path, close to the church. The other was by the graveyard wall, secluded in the back.

"Which one?" Anastasia looked to Ruby for the answer. Annette was looking at her too.

Ruby sighed. Why was it her responsibility to decide? It had only been an idea to go there, she never thought her sisters would agree to it, let alone come along with her. But now they were there, waiting to defy death, neither grave particularly appealing. Whichever one they picked they were going to be confronted by a corpse, a person that once lived and breathed as they did now, a human rotting beneath wood and soil.

Ruby was afraid to make a decision.

"The one close to the wall," she pointed to it after a lengthy deliberation, "The older graves are by the path."

The sisters didn't object. They walked in a single file line to a shovel standing upright in the earth, a marker for one of the proposed sites. Annette reclaimed it from the shunned grave and they proceeded to the other one. Anastasia took up the shovel they had left there.

There was a roughly rectangular mound of earth without a blade of grass. It was damp from the previous night's rain. Ruby imagined the amount of wriggling worms and mangy maggots that would be slithering through the soil. Her flesh crept at the thought of being touch by the slimy, writhing, muddy forms. There was no third shovel for her. She could leave her sisters to the dirty, worm infested digging without feeling too guilty about it. Her guilt was better saved for the displeasure God would have for them for interfering with the cycle of life and death.

Anastasia and Annette were not digging. Did they too fear God's wrath at his heinous act? Or were they waiting for instruction?

"The quicker we do this the quicker we can go home," she reminded them, trying to shed her silly fears. She had always been terrified of the dark and the things that dwelled in it.

Her sisters glanced at each other with doubt before stepping forwards. They used the spades to shovel the incompact earth and deposit it in small piles beside them. They repeated the action again and again. Pink and white things wriggled through the mud in a plight to avoid the surface and escape the spades. Ruby was reluctant to get any closer in case any of those maggots that feasted on decomposing flesh found their way to her.

Annette and Anastasia were filthy, clots of mud clinging to their boots, smeared across their skin and caked under their fingernails. The lace of Anastasia's dress was no longer white. She wiped the sweat from her forehead, leaving a streak of mud there, stark against her fair complexion. The mountain of earth was gradually growing as more squiggling and scuttling creatures were encountered, disturbed by the digging, enough to keep Ruby at bay.

The closer they got to the body the more misgivings she had. She was tempted to suggest they abandon the depraved project, knowing her sisters would agree. Instead she kept her mouth shut. It was their father who would suffer for their failure. They had to see this through to the end.

The grave was deep. Deeper than she expected a grave to be. She wondered how much longer her sister's muscles could cope with the strenuous work. They were women, after all, and as much as their father encouraged them to challenge society and be as educated as men they lacked physical attributes and were at a disadvantage when it came to manual labour.

The hills of earth began to look very suspicious. If anyone was to walk by they would investigate, only to find a grisly dealing in the darkness, three grubby young women descended from noble family unearthing a coffin to steal anything valuable from inside. The community would condemn them for it. Their parents would disown them for such wickedness.

Just as Ruby thought again of what it was to be evil a dark shadow swooped over them.

"Get down!" she gasped in panic, tugging her sisters' sleeves as the shadows swelled, covering them in darkness.

Her sisters dropped the shovels and they got down low. Anastasia was panting intermittently as she tried to master it. The blood roared in Ruby's ears as she strained to hear anything, a voice, a whisper, a heartbeat. Instead there was the rustling of wings and amber eyes glaring down at her from a tree.

"It is only an owl," Anastasia grumbled, snatching her hand back. She stood up and wiped as much dirt as she could off her dress.

It was an owl, perched on the bough of an ancient oak tree, a baby mouse dangling from its beak.

Ruby was still too shocked to speak. The owl's luminous eyes were focused on her, almost as if it was watching her, judging her. She didn't like it.

Her sisters resumed digging. Ruby stood, wishing the owl would finish its meal elsewhere. She was skittish and tried to console herself that nobody would be wandering around a graveyard at night unless they were thieves like they themselves intended to be.

Annette's shovel struck something solid which made a resounding clang, something neither of wood nor earth. Ruby was so keen to have this over with that she jumped into the hole, landing on something intact and wooden that made a thud beneath her feet. What else could be buried here but a coffin?

Anastasia leapt into the hole without any qualms, landing neatly beside the coffin. Annette climbed down with evident unease using the tree roots, standing on the opposite side to Anastasia. All three gazed down silently at the coffin coated with earth. There was tension in the air all around them, a quivering of anticipation, as if the natural elements had sensed the wrongness of them being there and were about to intervene.

"Go ahead," Anastasia said, her eyes glittering with excitement, not a shimmer of fear or doubt. Her sister's courage was a trait she admired. Tonight she wished she could share a little of it.

Ruby crouched down and wiped away some of the dirt, flicking off worms in her haste. Her sisters' hands joined in, Anastasia's enthusiastic, Annette's reluctant. It was Ruby's hand that touched something cold and not made of wood. She brushed away the resilient soil and saw it for the first time.

A cross. A silver cross. It was larger than she span of her hand and hooked onto the coffin lid. It looked like real silver, quite dirty, but incredibly shiny underneath. Something awoke in Ruby, something she hadn't felt in such a long time, the urge to protect her father mingled with the longing for pretty things and so she reached out with filthy fingers…

"No! Don't touch it!"

Ruby's hand stopped, hovering over the cross, the allure of greed staunched by the stern voice. Annette slapped her hand away.

Anastasia scowled.

"Why not?" Ruby demanded, looking up into Annette's wide brown doe eyes and back down to the cross, puzzled. Didn't Annette realise how much money the sale of such a cross would bring? It would be a start to fending off the men who harassed their father. They would be able to keep the house. They would avoid a life of squalor. They wouldn't be snubbed and ridiculed by other families of noble blood. Annette didn't seem to comprehend that.

Anastasia was sulking. Annette had a wealthy husband with an established estate that would be bestowed upon him. He had businesses, money to squander, holidays in the south of France during the summer. She had security, someone to provide for her, someone who loved her dearly and buy her anything she desired. Meanwhile her sisters had to make do with the little they still had.

"It was put there for a reason."

Annette was so serious that Ruby couldn't dismiss it. Annette was eyeing the cross with distrust, her eyes almost glinting black in the darkness.

Ruby looked down at the cross again, the moonlight reflected in the blotchy silver, having fresh reservations of her own.

There was a snort of derisive laughter.

"Oh don't be ludicrous," Anastasia mocked them, "That is a Christian cross. We are in a Christian graveyard, delightfully free of heathens. Many of the coffins here will have crosses buried with them. It's a symbol of faith not some great malevolent evil come to devour us alive. Look at the headstones!"

Ruby did, barely able to see over the mounds of earth. She saw the crosses Anastasia meant, etched into the gravestones around them. Some of the gravestones were carved into crosses. Annette was still frowning.

"Don't lets be silly," Ruby spoke gently, touching her older sibling's arm, "This cross will fetch us plenty of money. There is nothing in the coffin except a dead body, someone who had succumbed to that which we all do. They can't hurt us. They wouldn't care about a cross where they are now."

Annette still looked upset and unwilling despite Ruby's attempts to reassure her. She pressed her lips tightly together but eventually conceded under the unsympathetic glare of Anastasia.

"Oh do as you wish!" she snapped, waving her hands, "But if you are haunted by the spirit of this poor soul then be it on your own heads."

Ruby smiled a little, knowing Annette meant to discourage them with words of vengeful spirits just as she knew that Anastasia wouldn't listen to such a radical concept. Anastasia wasn't concerned with the spiritual or supernatural, there were far too many handsome and rich men for her to pursue and it left very little time to dwell on the mysterious of life and death.

Ruby reached out for the captivating cross again. Anastasia watched her, hunger gleaming in her eyes, the greed of the spoilt child she was. Out them all she was the most selfish when it came to money and pretty things. Annette watched on, disapproving but worried about their father enough to hold her tongue.

Ruby allowed her fingers to stretch and explore every inch of the cross, to stroke the cool, flat edges and then she transferred her fingers to the pointed corners, failing to realise how sharp they actually were. She sliced her finger by accident and gasped. A few drops of blood fell from the wound, dripping into the coffin, absorbed by the wood. It looked black in the darkness, like some foreign, alien blood, no the blood of a frightened human girl. Ignoring the cut and taking a quick breath she prised the cross from the coffin lid, holding it in her hand to admire.

"See," she announced, standing with the cross in her hand. She held it out for them to see in all its glory, "Nothing terrible happened. Nothing at all!"

The moment the words had left her mouth Ruby regretted them as she heard the creaking and cracking of wood.