Genre: horror / suspense
The Spanish Flu of 1818-1819 created an overabundance of souls rushing into Purgatory, also known as Gehenna. At the peak of the pandemic, a nurse, Sister Magdaleine, returns to the army camp in Brest, France, in search of the man she had to leave behind. It’s the Night of All Souls when the gates of Gehenna open to allow the dead to look upon the world they’ve lost, and Sister Magdaleine must fight through the chaos to reach her love.
Where You Can Find It
This story originated from a writing prompt. I set out to write a story that took place during Hallowmas, the three-day period from October 31 through November 2nd. I chose to focus on All Soul’s Day, 11/2, because of its connection to Gehenna and the visitation of souls.
Connecton to Wyrdwood
The visitation of souls that occurs annually takes place during this story, and Sister Magdaleine must deal with the Fomor who are herding souls back into the world to hopefully find closure before they move on to the next stage of their existence. She witnesses their arrival and their departure at dawn. Learn more about the Wyrdwood world at WyrdwoodAngel.com.
The barrier between Earth and Gehenna is lifting. I feel it grow thinner with each passing moment. The sun is disappearing beyond the Atlantic; darkness descends, and spirits walk among the living. I see them. They look much as they did when they died, shriveled with illness or bloodied, skin the gray of death, jaundiced eyes hollowed by misery.
In the convent, I had time for reflection, and this I know: life is the process of dying. From the moment we’re born, Death walks beside us. It haunts us with loving dedication, unwilling to let us forget—for long—that we belong to it. If this Great War has taught me anything, it’s that no one escapes Death or the Judgment that follows—not Evil and not the sainted.
Yesterday, on La Toussaint, we venerated the saints, the martyred hallows, and all who have achieved the sanctity of le Paradis. My prayers to them echo in my heart, and I am replete with hope that, when it is my time, I will join them. I have lived a good life, one of which I am proud. I do not pretend to be worthy of sainthood, however, for I certainly am not.
Besides, today is not for the sainted. It is for the dead, les morts. Today is le Jour des Morts—02 Novembre. Souls held in Gehenna return to look upon the world they lost. No punishment was ever so painful as seeing how life continues after you’re gone. The truth of one’s own insignificance is humbling to those souls ready for absolution, and it is torture to those who are not.
From sunset to sunrise, the visiting spirits crowd around the living. They push and shove, jostling for position so they can whisper questions, curses, or endearments to the people they knew in life, as if they could still touch or even influence them somehow.
I’ve dreaded this return to Brest, but I came to see my friend and mentor, Doctor Benoît Beaulieu. My destination is the military camp where I used to work. I was a nurse, tending soldiers’ bodies and minds, and thus, it is here that Doctor Benoît will look for me. I know this because I’ve seen him twice—always on 02 Novembre, le Jour des Morts—since we were separated by Death.
I enter through the gates, unchallenged; all are welcome on the Night of All Souls. Some call this military installation “Pontanezen Camp,” some “Camp Napoleon,” and others “the rest camp.” It’s anything but restful. Everyone leaves here in only one of two ways: either with rifle to shoulder, headed toward the front, or with rifle emptied, headed toward the grave.
The camp has not changed, except that the smells of latrine, wood smoke, and truck exhaust hover thicker than I remember. There are no vibrant colors in the places of war, perhaps the rains—or the tears—wash them away.
Year written: 2019
Year first published: 2020