“The graves of the world are packed with the silently screaming dead.”
That is what the Master told those who served him. He paid us well, and his kindness earned him our loyalty. But such pronouncements from a man prone to peculiar beliefs and unwholesome thoughts made us shudder.
The Master lived with his wife in the decaying manor reared by his ancestors. The echoes of old grandeur flitted through cobwebbed halls, while the lowest sub-basements held peculiar stenches that no amount of incense could fully cover. The Master spent his days studying the old books and curious artifacts left to him by his forefathers.
In time the lady fell sick. Some in the nearby village judged it a natural illness, but others whispered that the Master’s unnatural habits and unhealthy home were to blame. Though the doctor was summoned and subsequently attended her throughout, the arts of the medical profession were insufficient to combat the affliction. The household grieved her passing.
The Master commanded that a pyre be erected on the property, and that her body be burned. “Those who die remain awake and aware of themselves,” he claimed. “Pity the poor wretches lowered into the earth, trapped in their decaying shells, buried under the earth in eternal darkness!” Though we thought it indeed peculiar, and though the vicar was shocked by this outburst of seeming heresy, none gainsaid his wishes.
In time the Master remarried. He was a frugal man, and the estate was considerable, leaving no shortage of interested parties. The New Mistress was a conventionally religious woman, ignorant of the persistent rumors of the Master’s habits. Her establishment within the household led to strained discussions, which we listened to through keyholes and thin walls, but the Master honored her wishes to put away the most esoteric of his researches and take up more wholesome pursuits.
In due course, the Master himself fell ill. “Remember my wishes,” he told us privately. “A pyre upon the grounds. Do not send me into the cold earth while still conscious.” His passing brought us great grief, and greater still when the New Mistress heard his wishes. “A pyre? Heathen madness!” she declared. Promptly she contacted the vicar, whose cooperation she easily obtained, to facilitate a proper burial. We said nothing, and attended the burial service in silence.
It was a year later that we found the New Mistress one morning. The inspector concluded that only awild beast, enraged by injury, would have been capable of the savage cruelty we found. We did not speak to the police of the words on the wall of the bedroom, splashed there in the lifeblood of the deceased, whose existence we hurriedly effaced before contacting the police. We speculated amongst ourselves that there must be some distant member of the family, also a student of the old mysteries the Master had loved, who had gone mad upon learning of his kinsman’s final fate. No other sane explanation might motivate a killer to have written “you should have burned me”.
The New Mistress’s wishes were carried out, of course. The vicar arranged the matter. And mindful of the Master’s last words, those of us loyal to him watched silently as the woman who had ignored his wishes was lowered slowly into the earth.