Francis Meade. (chilled.)
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Date Posted: 01:56:22 03/05/11 Sat
I know this must seem a bit strange, but for the last two years I have been sharing my house with a zombie.
It all started just after New Years Day 2009. I had recently moved into a house, not two streets away from Wimbledon cemetery in South West London. The house which I took at a rent of £1000 per month was a typical Edwardian terraced house, one of many in that once genteel part of the great metropolis.
As, is often the case with rented properties, it was semi furnished. That is to say that there was a very sorry looking sofa in the living room, and a new fridge and cooker in the kitchen. Also in the living room there was a large upright piano, and piano stool. The letting agent explained that the musical instrument had belonged to the late owner of the house, and that the landlord had decided to leave it there, as a "character piece" to give a bit of class to the otherwise empty house. My long experience of landlords had taught me that it was more likely that he could see no profit in employing several men to take the piano away, so it was left in situ.
Still as I enjoyed pretending, in a one fingered sort of way that I was a musician, I readily agreed that the piano lent ambience to the room, and I was delighted to see it remain.
It didnt take me too long to settle into the house. I brought my bed and television, my favourite books, my trusty computer, and of course my beloved three year old tabby cat, from my old flat. After a visit to Wimbledon to acquire some new furniture I was as content as it was possible to be.
As always happens after one has moved into a new area I decided that I should explore my environs to see what the local attractions might be, and to find out where such neccesaries as the nearest supermarket, newsagent, cafe etc might be. I have always had a fascination with local history, and an amost morbid attraction to reading the inscriptions on headstones, and on the tombs that are a feature of the victorian cemeteries that populate all the outer boroughs of the city.
Consequently one of the first places that I explored was the very same Wimbledon cemetery that got mentioned in my first paragraph.
Wimbledon cemetery is a large and sprawling place, not very distinguished looking, with two rather shabby looking chapels of rest close to the main gate. The graves are all laid out in straight rows, with the headstones standing to attention as though they are sentinels listening for the last trumpet. Here and there one or two are fallen over, as if a soldier that had too much to drink was spoiling the parade. A couple of large Yew trees cast their sombre shadow over the ranks of the dead.
I dont exactly know how this happened, but when I entered through the wrought iron gates of the borough necropolis I felt an irrisistble urge to strike off to my left, rather than exploring the chapels of rest, which would normally have been my first port of call. It was as if there was someone directing my steps. I even imagined that there was a voice in my head saying
"this way please. I am waiting for you"
In the distance there was a large pitched roofed tomb, and it was in it's direction that my steps seemed to be directed. When I approached nearer I could see that there was a large pair of double doors, cast in heavy iron, that gave entrance to whatever ghastly secrets lay within. There was an inscription embossed on the doors in long greened brass. This is what the inscription said.
Here lieth the mortal remains of
Late of this parish.
He was for many years organist to the Church of St Margaret.
His brilliant musianship turned many souls to God.
While I stood there contemplating on the life of the late Julian, the voice in my head seemed to come again.
"Speak to me" was the message conveyed.
I suddenly found myself talking out loud.
"Julian Faversham. If you were such a brilliant musician, why dont you move in with me. I have a beautiful piano you might like to play"
A banging noise came from the mausoleum, followed by a crash, and a splintering sound, as if a very heavy box had fallen on the floor within.
The spell was broken, and I fled from the cemetery, and didnt stop until I had slammed the door of my new residence behind me.
That night I lay sleepless in my bed. I was turning over and over in my head memories of the frightening incident in the graveyard. Did it really happen? or was it just that the atmosphere in the cemetery had induced hallucinations in my over active imagination.
I had decided that it was my imagination, and was just drifting off into sleep, when I heard a key turning in the front door downstairs.
Immediately all notion of slumber vanished, and I shot bolt upright in the bed. I could feel my heart almost bursting forth from it's fleshy cavity, so fast was it beating.
The front door opened, and then was slowly pushed closed. Somebody was moving ponderously down the corridor in the direction of the living room. It sounded as if the intruder was very old. There were no steps, just repetitive shufflng sounds. Each "slither" put ice cold shivers into my very core.
I tried to breathe.
I tried to move.
It was as if someone had dropped me into a deep freeze, and locked the door. I really was petrified with terror.
The shuffling sound stopped at the door of the living room.
Through my palsied nostrils wafted a smell so noisome, and so awful that my stomach was forced to heave, and my dinner of earlier that night was deposited all over the new duvet cover that I had purchased only that week.
Once when I was young I came across the body of a sheep that had fallen into a country stream and been left there to lie by a negligent farmer. It must have been there for some months. The smell that drifted up my stairs reminded me of that long dead herbivore. The recollection did not fill me with good cheer as to the identity or intentions of my intruder below.
The living room door opened, and was closed again as steathily as had the door of the house. I could hear the shuffling noise cross the floor of the room. then there was a sound as if someone was pulling out the piano stool in order to sit at the piano.
Slowly the unmistakable sound of the E flat noctourne by Chopin started to fill the house.
The music seemed to have a soothing effect on my dread. I still felt fearful, but it was as if someone who could produce such gorgeous sounds could not possibly be a homicidal maniac.
The beating in my heart subsided, and I found myself gradually being able to breathe more normally. I even managed to pinch myself to see if I was really awake.
The noctourne petered out, and it was immediately replaced by the lively jingle of Mozart,s Turkish Rondo, to be followed by the the Military Polanaise,(another Chopin Masterpiece).
By this time my courage had completly returned, and I started to think about the effect spirited renditions of Chopin's martial music might have on the neighbours, if it woke them in the middle of the night.
So, plucking up my courage, I descended to the living room in order to gain the acquaintance of my midnight caller.
I knocked on the door.
Immediately the music stopped.
A voice that was identical to the one I had heard in my head in the graveyard said
When I went into the room, the figure that had been sitting at the piano got up, turned to me, and gave an old fashioned courteous bow.
He was not a pretty sight.
His skin seemed to have dried out, and it was shrunken, so that it barely covered the outlines of the skull. If there were any eyes, they were sunk so far into the sockets as to be invisible. Some of the parchment eperdimis, that was clinging to the neck, had come away and was hanging loose like wallpaper that was partially stripped.
The hand, that this cadaver extended to me to shake, was green with mould, and the skeletal tips of the fingers were emerging from the crumbling remnants of skin that covered the palms and wrists.
"Julian Faversham at your service" it said.
I declined to shake the decaying appendage.
"I would be obliged to you sir if you could tell me what you are doing in my house, and whether you intend to continue causing disturbance to this respectable neighbourhood by playing my piano in the middle of the night".
I said firmly
"You invited me" was the reply
"Furthermore you did yourself actually ask me to stay, and I would entertain you with beautiful music. I promise not to play the piano at night, and I will give you free music lessons instead of rent"
I had to admit that there was a measure of justice in the zombies case. I had invited him.
"How did you get in", I asked, hoping to wrong foot him somehow.
"Why did you have a key"?
The answer that he gave really floored me.
"I used to live here. That was my piano. I have been waiting in that dark tomb for almost eighty years for someone to invite me to return to my beloved instrument.
My awful son used to live in this house until he died last year. He would never invite me back.
I sensed ,straightaway, that you had a kind heart, so I put it into your head to invite me when you entered the cemetery".
"But what will you eat" I asked apprehensively.
I had always heard that zombies eat human flesh, and music or not, I had no intention of placing myself in the position of being this corpse's next meal.
"You have a cat" came the sepulchral reply.
" You are not eating my beloved tabby you mouldy bastard" I shouted at at him.
"Relax" the zombie said.
"It is a lie propagated by generations of B Movies that zombies eat humans, or any live thing. I only asked about your cat because, if your budget could run to another couple of tins of catfood a week, that would be all I require for sustenance".
"But you stink" I said. "I cannot live with that awful stench in the house".
"Easily solved. Just invest in plenty of strong airfreshener for the first couple of weeks. Then if you get me some proprietary furniture polish, I can rub it into my skin. It should get rid of the smell permanently, and it will stop my skin from crumbling all the time".
All objections seemed to be covered by this stage, so I agreed that he could stay. He has been in residence ever since.
He does not require a bed. He sleeps in a cupboard in the living room. I have made an arrangement with him, that when I have any guests, he must remain quietly out of sight.
Very occasionally he revisits the graveyard. I do not encourage these expeditions. Once he brought a female cadaver back for a one night stand.
I did not sleep that night. I may be broadminded, but the sound of rustling parchment, and heaving bones, coming from the room beneath my own, does not float my boat.
Besides it was left to me to hoover up the flaky bits in the morning.
I have made it a house rule that necrophiliac coupling can only now happen when I am on holidays.
Apart from these few teething problems, Julian is a brilliant housemate. He still plays the piano divinely. If we can find some way to disguise his appearence, he hopes to enter for Britain's got Talent this year.
Simon Cowell will be impressed.
For another take on this tale read
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