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My Boy Builds Coffins by peppersweet
Chapter 1 : My Boy Builds Coffins
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 16

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All lyrics by Florence and the Machine. Anything you recognise belongs to JKR.

On the summer solstice, Lorcan built me a coffin.

It was two months before our wedding, and, although I only half-knew it then, eight before the birth of our daughter. A beautiful summer’s day, the longest of the year, with a sun the colour of egg-yolks that beat down from the sky, sending the London streets shimmering with heat. Colour prevailed as, en masse, people brought out their summer best, and then the streets were packed with rainbows. The scent of flowers seemed to follow me around everywhere. If you got close enough to a flower or a plant, even in the city centre, you could hear the low humming buzz of insects nestled between petals. I counted five butterflies in one street.

Diagon Alley was no exception. The cobbled streets shone in the sunshine, and the hubbub of chatter wove a strong gauze of sound, a lazy sort of noise that might have lulled me to sleep. Two weeks straight of rain had turned London grey, and now it was bright again. Merlin, I had missed the summer.

The streets started to empty when it turned six o’clock. Walking the length of Diagon Alley, the crowds thinned around me. I was going to visit Lorcan at work, to pick him up and bring him home.

He was an undertaker. The funeral home was a small, nondescript building, squeezed in between an Apothecary and a second-hand bookshop. Brighton and Callahan Funeral Directors, a neat sign above the door read. Est 1895. Both Brighton and Callahan were long dead, however, and Lorcan worked where they had set up shop, all those years ago. I used to joke with my friends – yeah, my boy works a nine-to-five week. Pretty normal. Oh, and he’s an undertaker.

My boy builds coffins for the rich and the poor
Kings and queens have all knocked on his door
Beggars and liars, gypsies and thieves
They all come to him cause he's so eager to please

I pushed the door of the business open, breathing in the cool air that played over my face from inside. It was a calm, permanently pristine office, painted in neutral, sympathetic colours. Vases of fresh flowers sat upon every surface, and the air was permeated with the sweet musk smell of roses. At the front desk, the business’ smart Secretary sat up, and smiled – a delicate curve of the lips that suggested sympathy, a smile she was probably trained to give.

‘He’s just upstairs finishing up some arrangements,’ she told me. ‘He’ll be down in ten minutes or so. Take a seat.’

I sat down amongst the flowers. The windows were shaded, letting the light filter in as a soft, muted gold. Lorcan would be upstairs in his office, presumably comforting a weeping widow- he was always good at listening. The customers loved him, sent him thank-you cards that bedecked our mantelpiece at home. Oh, I loved him too, never think for one minute that there was anything discordant to our relationship, anything wrong- it was as perfect as possible, as much of a storybook life as I could have hoped for. We had money, a house, security – a far cry from the tumultuous, destructive relationships my cousin Rose seemed to whirlwind through, or the pittance that my other cousin Lucy survived on, the meagre salary of her photographer’s lifestyle. No, Lorcan and I had it easy.

He was a curious person. I’d thought that when I met him; both his mother and father’s blonde genes had skipped a generation, and Lorcan and his twin had been born with a shock of dark brown hair and shrewd eyes. They were easy to tell apart; Lysander had shorn of his curls to a close crop, whereas Lorcan looked permanently tired, his skin palest white, his hands calloused from years of turning wood into coffins. He was quiet, calculating, observant, clever – he taught me things, morals and proverbs. He had a wise saying for everything. I suppose it came naturally – comforting people was part of his job.

People are fleeting beings, he said. They live and then they die. In the great scheme of things, they’re just another life. But then people have personalities and loves, and even after they’re dead, they live on in memory – photographs, notes, smudges of lipstick on a napkin. After all, though, they’re fleeting. The universe is millions of years old; a typical life is only seventy or so.

Lorcan found other people fascinating. He found their words, their simplest actions infinitely interesting. Like the muggle girl who, headphones blaring, stepped into the road, only to avoid a car by the sheer luck of stopping to sweep back her fringe. Interesting, Lorcan said. If she hadn’t done that, she’d be dead.

He wondered endlessly about these anonymous life, these six billion or so other souls he shared a planet with. I thought it terribly romantic – he had a story for every person he saw, a narrative for every action. But then again, I suppose, at the end of the day, they were all simply people he might one day bury.

My boy builds coffins for better or worse
Some say it’s a blessing, some say it’s a curse
He fits them together in sunshine or rain
Each one is unique, no two are the same

I didn’t have to wait long for him to finish his appointment. At quarter past six we were already leaving Diagon Alley, joining hands to apparate to our lazy London suburb home. Stepping inside the front door, he gave me the briefest of kisses, told me he hoped I’d had a lovely day because he had, and that the weather was nice and we should sit out in the garden – I nodded all along.

‘Wine?’ I asked him, moving for the kitchen. His head dipped sidewards for the briefest of seconds, but then his eyes seemed to spark, as if remembering something. He caught my arm.

‘Hang on, I meant to show you something...’ He said, with a gentle tug on my wrist. I let him lead me through to the back room. A small smile twisted at the corner of his lips, his dark eyes glittering.

‘I hope it’s alright,’ he said. I took his hand and let him pull me through, expecting flowers, a present, something crafted from those calloused hands. A gift.

But there was no gift, no flowers. Propped up against the wall, towering over us, were two coffins.

‘Beautiful, aren’t they?’ he said. ‘Mahogany outer, with gold-plated handles. I’ve been working on them for ages. Yours has got silk lining-’

‘Mine?’ I heard myself squeak. ‘One of these is mine?’

He looked at me, perplexed. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘One for each of us.’

‘But I’m not dead!’ I spluttered. ‘I don’t need a coffin,’

‘It’s not for now,’ he told me, patiently. ‘It’s so that when you do die, you’ll know you’ve already got a really well-built coffin to be laid to rest in, and your family won’t have to fork out for one. Relax, I know it’s going to be ages before they’re needed.’

‘Lorcan,’ my voice shook. ‘You built me a coffin.’

He nodded.

My breath was ragged. They were finely built, I’ll admit to that, but my heart was thudding out a frenzied tempo as my imagination ran away with itself. Here were two coffins, built like people, side by side like husband and wife. His and hers. Till death did them part.

‘Do you want me to die?’ I asked him.

He shook his head frantically, his eyes wide. ‘Of course not,’ he told me. ‘This is just a precaution, Lily. I’d rather die knowing that I had a well-made, sturdy coffin to be built in, and that our family wasn’t going to have to shoulder the debt…you’re upset, aren’t you? I’ve upset you…’

I shook my head, biting back the tears. ‘I’m fine.’ I lied. ‘This is just…it’s a little morbid. Unexpected, that’s all.’

I let him take me from the room. A shiver crept the length of my spine. The world didn’t seem so warm anymore. I had to keep looking over my shoulder, for I was sure that the coffins followed us, but it was only a memory of them. They stood in my mind, anchored to my thoughts, and I could not let go of them.

‘Who else have you made them for?’ I asked, once we reached the kitchen. He didn’t answer at first, busying himself with filling the kettle, putting it on to boil, taking mugs from the cupboards. But then, eventually, he sighed.

‘Nobody else, yet. It’s very time-consuming. Although soon I’ll make them for my parents, and then Lysander too. Just as a precaution.’

It was growing dark outside. My mind was in the future.

‘Would you make them for our children?’ I asked.

He bridled slightly at my question. I could almost see the internal struggle; would he answer this technically, as an undertaker, or as my future husband?

‘We-ell.’ He shrugged. ‘Not really, because children grow.’

‘You answered that as an undertaker,’ I told him. ‘Tell me, would you build coffins for our children?’

It took some time before he moved. Then, he shook his head.

My boy builds coffins he makes them all day
But it's not just for work and it isn't for play
He's made one for himself
One for me too
One of these days, he'll make one for you

I tried to put my mind at ease that night, I swear. I did my best to forget all about the coffins as we had dinner, and I almost managed it when, later that night, I was safe in the shelter of his arms, in the fort of a blanket and pillow, his whispers keeping out the bad dreams and the shadows that lay beyond the moonlight. But then sleep came as it always does, and the whispers turned to silence, his arms slackened and I was left alone, nothing but the coffins on my mind.

That night I dreamed of him, lifeless in his casket, flowers pushing through his wasted, brittle bones, our children dancing over his grave in clouds of dust.

He's made one for himself
One for me too
One of these days, he'll make one for you

I didn’t know what woke me up. All I knew was that it was late, it was still dark outside, and the moon was high, bright, full. Eyes still clouded with sleep and limbs heavy, I somehow slid my way out of bed and into the full glare of the moonlight. Watching. Sleep drove my imagination wild, ran hallucinations through my mind so that for a moment, I thought that the tangled, wild garden was full of deep pits, each six feet deep, dug for me. The wind stirred the trees; through the open window, the night air strafed with the susurration of leaves against branches, of spirits through empty space. Diaphanous mists clung about the moon, rolling and breaking like waves – I remember that I stared up at it, only to keep my mind off the imaginary pits below, and the skeletons that might be waiting there to welcome me.

The plan blossomed in my mind, budded like a flower. I turned to Lorcan, thrown amongst the covers, the filigree of his bones just visible beneath his pale skin. He slept like the dead; unmoving, his breath hardly audible. I knew, in that moment, that the coffins had to be destroyed, or they would haunt me forever.

I made my way downstairs. Mercifully, none of the steps creaked, but I swore my heart was thudding loud and clear like a distress signal – I’m alive. I’m here. Visible, even – I thought, for a second, that it would shatter my ribs and take flight.

The axe was easy to find. Lorcan always kept it propped just inside the back door, but it was difficult not to scream. Shadows loomed over me, engulfed the once bright house. Every so often, the darkness would be punctuated by a bright beam of moonlight, a narrow strip across the floor. Light was my refuge; I stuck close to the windows as I walked through room after room, axe in hand, shivering, even though it was a warm night.

Ghosts followed me. I heard them whispering - or was that the wind, still twining through the trees outside? I imagined spectres stalking me, one footstep behind, waiting for me to act. The ghosts of those that Lorcan had buried in his lifetime, ghosts that may have been my shadows and nothing more.

The door to the back room was already ajar. I nudged it open with my foot, the axe heavy across both my palms. The two coffins stood there, side-by-side, salient in the impenetrable darkness. A single moonbeam fell across them, cutting both in half with a diagonal of pure white light. I raised the axe.

He's made one for himself
One for me too
One of these days, he'll make one for you

The first strike resounded through the silence, a hollow, splintering thud that sounded louder than bomb-blasts, drowning out the whispering trees. I raised the axe again. Another strike. A third. Lorcan’s coffin buckled and cracked beneath the blade, the strong wood splintering but not breaking fully. Fourth strike. A perfect hit; the axe sunk through the lid and splinters flew past me, daggers of wood that scraped my skin, a cloud of fibres as the silk ripped inside. Something hot trickled down my face – blood or tears, I didn’t know, but there were footsteps from upstairs and one coffin was left, towering above me.

I twisted the axe free from the wood and started on my own coffin. First hit; the metal plaque bearing my name snapped in two, falling to the floor in halves. Li, ly. Second hit. A third. A fourth. A fifth. The wood scratched but did not split; my arms felt like lead weights, and the coffin would not break for me.

The footsteps were drawing closer now. I lifted the axe again, my fingers aching, prickling with splinters. Thud. At last, the wood gave way and the blade sunk in, deep, and I finally let go. There was a silence. Then a creak of wood, and then both coffins toppled to the floor, falling separately, divorced from one another in a cloud of sawdust and torn silk.

Lorcan was there, behind, frozen to the spot, breath caught in a gasp – he looked over at me, his eyes not meeting mine. Reaching out, he took hold of my hands, and, gently, started to tug the splinters from beneath the skin. Beads of blood criss-crossed my hands like macabre ribbons.

‘I’m sorry, Lily,’ he said. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have shown them to you.’

He shouldn’t have even built them in the first place. My breath ripped out in tatters. He stepped over the splintered wreckage and started pushing the coffins against the wall, propping them out of the way. I could see his shoulder blades, rising from the pale expanse of his back in sharp angles. My mind flickered back to skeletons again.

‘Lily,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’

There were still splinters left in my fingers. I lifted my hands, curled them experimentally. They stung painfully, and for a second, skeletons and coffins were forgotten as I gritted my teeth and, carefully, started to pull out the wood.

But then Lorcan straightened up, facing me. Moonlight drained him of colour, and he was a perfect monochrome of bone-white and darkest black. His eyes were deep hollows, shadowed, shaded angles making his face skull-like. It took a while for me to catch my breath.

‘Lily.’ he repeated. His hands fell on my shoulders, and then, gradually, pulled me into an embrace.

People are fleeting beings.

Hands that, I supposed, would one day bury me.

One of these days, he’ll make one for you.

A/N: Written for SaladOrCellarDoor's TPBM challenge, with challenge suggested by LindaSnape. It was to write a story using the 'overlooked' next-gen children as main characters with Horror/Dark and Romance as main themes, but not Angst.
Hope it turned out okay (: Any pointers? Please review (:

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