“Shut up, it’s interesting,” replied Kaye. She hurried to catch up with the small group further down the corridor.
Four thick shelves ran the length of both walls; each held a row of coffins in various states of disrepair. Iron grates or concrete slabs covered some of the loculi. Celia shuddered to think what lay inside the makeshift tombs.
The guide stopped beside an iron grate on the second shelf down. Beyond it lay a narrow coffin. Rot had chewed through the outer oak shell, leaving the lead lining exposed at the end nearest the bars. An illegible plaque hung above the lock.
“This here is the final resting place of Lord Theodore Mountrose. He was a right nasty bugger, according to the gossip of the day.” The guide rapped on the rusty iron grate.
“Really? What did he do?” asked the woman nearest the guide.
“What didn’t he do! He came from a very wealthy family, and was the youngest of four. Some say he was spoiled by his mother, who refused to acknowledge anything he did,” replied the guide. “He fathered his first bastard aged fourteen, with one of the house’s scullery maids. Six months later, she and the child were found dead, drowned in the lake behind Mountrose Hall.”
“Did he kill them?” asked Kaye. Celia elbowed her; it was bad enough she’d had to come on this tour, she didn’t want Kaye drawing attention to them.
“The locals certainly believe he did. By the time the maid died, two more of his father’s maids were in the family way. Both of them died before they could even give birth.”
“What happened to them?” asked a tall bald man. He clutched a dog-eared map of the cemetery.
“One of them jumped off the roof of the house, the other one mysteriously tripped and fell onto a pitchfork. After those scandals, he just got worse. He went from school to school, causing trouble wherever he went. He tried to force his older sister into an incestuous relationship, and she ended up poisoning herself. And-”
A loud knocking interrupted the guide. Soft at first, the gentle rap became an impatient thump. The group looked around the corridor, trying to locate the source of the noise. The guide started back towards the central tunnel. She called to the catacomb warden. Only Celia stared at the coffin behind the grate, her mouth agape.
“Excuse me, you out there! Excuse me! I really do beg to differ!”
The lead lining muffled the voice, but there was no escaping the fact that Lord Mountrose wanted to set the record straight.
* * *
The Dead Do Listen was originally published by Everyday Weirdness in June 2010, and appears in my short story collection, Checkmate & Other Stories. It collects fifteen of the stories I had published between July 2008 and June 2010. You can find it for 99c at Amazon US and Smashwords, or for 77p at Amazon UK.