Originally posted August 8, 2022
With the click of a button the room fills with the mournful sounds of a funerary dirge, a piano's mournful notes weaving through droning prayers and grief-filled tears. The music drips down the cold stone walls and across the marble slab—
"Ugh, it's so cold in here ..."
The body on the slab shifts just enough to stare at its companion. She's shivering in a lacy black dress and mourning veil, nipples hard and skin goosebumped.
"It's a crypt. Of course it's cold."
"Yeah, but, like, it was warm outside! I didn't know I'd need a coat."
The body shrugs, its loose skin shifting uncomfortably around the motion of its bones. "Do you want to go get one, Rue?"
"No, I just ... look, I'm sorry. Can we start over?"
"Sure. I'm not in any rush."
The music stops with another firm click.
Rue does her best to ground herself, breathing in and out, wrapping her body in the warmth that flows out of her with every exhalation. Her face's soft skin shifts almost imperceptibly behind her veil: her flesh becoming the mask that always lurks beneath.
The music restarts with another click.
Rue takes her time lining up the candles around the body, thick cylinders of bone-white wax; the sort of candle that could burn for hours, that would spread ghostly scorched-white rivulets in layered flows all around—
She puts two at the body's shoulders and two at its hips and two at its feet, and the final candle waits in a little saucer just between its breasts.
"That's right, isn't it?"
"Good. Where did I put the lighter ..."
She turns off the crypt's cold and entirely-out-of-place light just as soon as her grasping hands find the smooth little not-quite-cylinder in the depths of her bag, letting the darkness rush in to fill every last inch with its susurrating waves—
And then a soft click.
The lighter's flame is feeble and wane, less a source of warmth than the suggestion of it: a light too weak to do anything but spark another fire, giving of itself to coax each of the candle's wicks into warm and vibrant life.
A vital part of a result it will never see.
"Is this dramatic enough for you?"
"It really is, Rue. Thank you."
"Well, on to the next part ..."
Rue's hands don't shake as she presses them against the body's skin, not even when it breaks beneath them and rivulets of blackened rot ooze out around her fingers.
The seventh candle blazes between them, a beacon of light drenching Rue's face in dripping warmth—a thin coat of orange-yellow oozing down her face, lingering in the hollows beneath her eyes and the curve of her lips and down further to stain her black dress and paint her hands—
Her tongue darts out to taste the smoky-sweet of it, like all those half-remembered memories of rolling blackouts and campfire nights. It tastes like pine needles and blackened hotdogs, like instant hot chocolate and too-sweet nut bars crumbling and spilling down to the dirt—
It's a taste she could get lost in, and she does.
The body's voice intrudes.
It taints the memory with its spreading rot, with all the truths of the past: the pain and dissociation, the regrets and fears, the locked box buried at the heart of her soul—
"... fuck, sorry. Uh. Where was I?"
"You were about to start pouring the wax."
"Right, right ..."
The seventh candle's little saucer is already full of stray drops, little flows escaping through cracks in the edge of the liquid lake forming around the wick.
"How long ...?"
The body doesn't answer, and later she will be thankful for that mercy.
Her hands shake for just a second as she cups them around the saucer and raises the candle, feeling the corpse-chilled metal wicking away her warmth just as it cools every drop of wax that touches it—
"Are you ready?"
"... yeah, I think so."
"Take your time, Rue. I can wait."
"But not for too long, right?"
"... yeah. Not for too long."
She breathes again, steadying herself; filling her hands with rock and steel, fixing her feet with anchoring roots. And then—
The first drop sizzles against the body's thin skin, makes it wince and shiver. It shouldn't be able to feel anything, not long-dead as it is, but ...
There's something different here, something different now. The touch of the wax's heat, the threads sinking into it. A blotch of skin suddenly smooth and pliable, suddenly warmed with something that is not quite life.
Rue raises the candle an inch before she lets the next drop fall, a tiny gesture but one that the body appreciates even so. Some pain is inevitable, but not all.
When the seventh candle's wax is exhausted and the body's torso is coated in a fresh waxen skin Rue trades it for the fifth and sixth, shifting down to dribble wax all along its legs; and then the fourth and third for its arms, and the second for its head, and, finally—
The body is no longer a walking corpse when she helps it sit up. Its fraying skin is waxy and smooth, and its blood runs with something entirely unlike rot; but its body still gives beneath her hands as she pries its chest open, spreading its ribs to reveal the cavity inside—
The last candle fits perfectly within, in the empty space where its heart and lungs once lived.
The body inhales for the first time in as long as it's been dead and the flame within it shivers with something that is entirely unlike a heartbeat.
"Oh, that's good ..."
Rue smiles up at it as she carefully folds its chest back together.
It carefully stretches its arms, enjoying their new-found flexibility, the way its waxy skin feels against its slowly warming bones; it's such an unfamiliar feeling. It feels so right.
"... thank you, Rue."
"Of course! I, uh. No one should have to rot if they don't want to, you know?"
"Yeah. It's such a process, though ..."
"I think that some of the ritual isn't actually necessary, but, uh. Better safe than sorry!"
"And next time I'll teach you how to do it yourself, okay? As much as I can. At least replacing the candle."
"... that would be wonderful."
Rue doesn't reply, just keeps on smiling at it as it slowly finds that it's able to smile back.