Memento Mori

(Malexmale) Struck by tragedy, Calael Black - a popular young artist - isolates himself in his new home in the countryside in a desperate bid to save his sanity. However, Semper Place is far from empty and abandoned, and the ghost that haunts the property is neither malevolent nor disinterested in him. On the contrary, the spirit of the beautiful Artemus Moon has been alone for too long, and the two isolated souls soon find themselves locked in a dark, toxic romance, reliant on each other for happiness.

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3. Chapter 3

The following morning, Calael was roused from unconsciousness by an astute knocking at his front door. He took a long, dizzy moment to come around from sleep, before finally registering the sound and sitting bolt upright.

Frowning, he glanced over at his phone for the time. He could have sworn his alarm was set for eight, since he never turned it off, but as he flicked to the home screen the time read '05:15.'

How could that be? He hadn't bothered to draw the blinds, so he could clearly see the light of day shining through. And if his dad was already here, then it had to be nine already. But the time on his phone had never just frozen before.. Clocks were temperamental, but a brand new iPhone was supposed to surpass the days of clocks glitching at the witching hour.

He slowly rose, clutching his phone in his hand and tapping at the screen as he headed out into the hallway, barefoot on the plush carpet. Jogging down the old, creaking staircase, he unlocked the front door to see his father standing out on the door mat. It was a chilly morning, the type where ones breath occupies the air a little longer than it should, and the tall and lean man had one hand buried in his duffer coat, the other blotched white and pink and clutching a Waitrose carrier bag filled to the brim. He had a grey knit scarf wound around his neck and tossed over one shoulder, and a rather eccentric flat cap pulled over his greying hair. Seamus was a kind looking man, though his features told of years of hard work and toil. Something in his face gave the impression of a character suitable for motivational speeches and enigmatic business proposals, his teeth unnaturally white and his facial hair groomed to precision. Still, there was that wild Northern soul in him that was telling in his smile lines. "Morning, lad. Oversleep, did you?"

"Something like that," Calael murmured, reaching up to scratch his head a little, finding his chestnut hair to be tousled and messy where he'd had a restless night. The grease of two weeks without washing it certainly didn't help. He stepped aside to let his dad pass, and the man arched an immaculate eyebrow at him as he stepped inside. Calael shut the door, and Seamus finally grinned a little.

"It's not like you to sleep in. Or to answer the door with a mop-head like that.. Didn't I teach you about the importance of checking your alarms after your little, ah, high school attendance situation?

"I did set my alarm, dad. When have I ever been late? Look, I swear my phone is more god damn temperamental than mum's sense of humour," Calael sighed, producing the device from his pocket to display the screen. However, it was now showing '09:03' and he had to blink hard to check he wasn't simply seeing what he wanted to see.

"What am I supposed to be looking at exactly?" Seamus asked dubiously. "Aren't you gonna let me get in and sit down? I brought you tea bags and everything."

"Let yourself in, but the living room is in something of a state.. The past owner was very inconvenient, and left almost everything. I'll need your help getting it all up into the attic," Calael said, taking the bag from him without a word and taking it into the kitchen to unpack.

Rather than going straight to sit down, Seamus lingered in the doorway, his expression distinctly concerned in a very unsubtle manner. "Calael," he said, softer now.

Calael paused, but didn't turn around. He recognised that tone of voice all too well. That pitying tone, one that he'd been practically conditioned to expect over the past three months. He immediately didn't like where this conversation was headed, and answered in a droll tone. "Yes, dad?"

"I'm worried. I'm worried about my son. You haven't shaved in weeks, and you're beginning to look on the thin side.. I wasn't going to mention it but, how long's it been since you showered, lad? Your mum's sister - Aunt Margaret - you know, the psychiatrist? She said that, well, when a person starts to let themself go, it's characteristic of - of depression of the mind, and- are you certain you don't want to start those sessions with her? Or, anyone else, Lael. Just try the therapy, for heaven's sake, it could really help you!"

"I don't need help, dad. I'm fine," Calael stated, and turned to face him with a practised smile. "Perfectly fine."

"I raised you Calael. We're close, or at least we were until late. I know you smile with teeth when you're really fine," Seamus breathed, and Calael's expression slowly faded. He simply turned around again, and continued to stack slices of bread in the bread bin.

"This place will help. This place will fix it. I'm not a child anymore, dad, I'm twenty-four years old, I can take care of myself just fine."

"Sure looks like it," Seamus murmured. In the man's experience, taking care of oneself physically or economically was an entirely different matter to doing so mentally. Margaret had so helpfully informed him that it was often difficult to trace the physical signs of mental disarray until it was too late, and even with Calael's expertise when it came to masking negative emotions, a parent always knows. Call it a sixth sense. He knew his son, who used to take so much pride in maintaining an appealing aesthetic, was now without a confident reason to care anymore, and that troubled him deeply.

"Lael," Seamus went on, tentatively now. "I'm just saying, you need to talk about Harry. Forcing what happened to the back of your mind isn't going to make it any better."

"Don't say his name."

"I didn't mean tha-"

Calael slammed the cupboard door shut. He leaned on his hands in a moment of breathy silence and Seamus took a slow step closer, going to speak again. That was, before he was cut off by a soft, almost saccharine laugh escaping his son. Somehow, the delirium of it all only worried him more. He couldn't look at his shaking shoulders, and his gaze instead flitted to the vase of fresh, painfully red roses on the windowsill. 

The young man finally looked over his shoulder at his father though, with cracks showing through a falsified smile, still very much hunched over the counter. "Dad, just - go and figure out which key fits the attic door, hm?"

Seamus knew better than to push the matter further. Watching him for every second he moved, he slipped silently out, to the hook by the front door where the retail agent had left the keys. Calael remained in the kitchen for a minute longer after he had left, leaning against the counter and steeling himself.

"Get your shit together Calael," he whispered to himself, before wringing his head in his hands, forcing his fingers to work back through the knots in his hair. The dull sting was a wake-up call, that emotional outbursts would get him nowhere.

"Calael?" Seamus called from upstairs, and Calael promptly pushed off the counter and made his way to him, spotting his father standing below the hatch to the attic with the keys in hand. The man looked over at him with an eyebrow arched. "Did you try to sleep-clean? The key was already here on the ground. You drop it and forget?"

Calael froze for a brief moment at the top of the stairs, his eyes a little wider, before rushing forward to pick up the key. It was freezing cold to the touch, and had been seemingly placed directly underneath the hatch, as though for easy access. Still, the key cover was bright crimson, and he'd passed through here several times now, so it made absolutely no sense that he hadn't spotted it sooner..

"You're certain you didn't drop it, dad?"

"Positive. I swear, you must still be half asleep. Can you reach?"

"Yeah, yeah; I'm six foot two, don't get me confused with mum," Calael murmured as he reached up, turning the key in the lock. He saw the handle shift, and stepped back to yank the hatch door down, allowing him to reach up for the pull-out wooden steps. They promptly unfolded down to the carpeted floor, but brought a cloud of thick dust with them.

"Jesus christ-" Seamus spluttered, tugging his scarf up over his mouth and nose and hacking into it. "How long's it been since someone went up there?"

"No idea," Calael groaned, waving a hand infront of his face to clear the air with a repulsed expression. "Doesn't seem like they've been keeping a secret function room up there.. Head down, grab one of the boxes labelled as unwanted, and I'll go up and check for rats," he offered. He'd never say it directly, but Seamus feared rats almost as much as one would fear the venomous snake that eats it, and so his dad smiled gratefully before heading off downstairs.

Sighing in exasperation, Calael now pressed his phone securely into his back pocket before beginning his ascent into the attic. It was an unbearably stuffy space, the dust in the air tickling the back of his throat. A stream of light from a small, triangular window in the centre of the sloping far wall captured the particles in the air and shed some perspective on the organization of this small alcove. Bizarrely, it wasn't empty. A few very old looking boxes of what appeared to be someones personal belongings had been left set against the wall, only one half opened, the others tightly bound in duct tape.

Atop the stacked, closed boxes, most bizarrely sat a vase. The glass was stained from age, likely left unpolished for a very long time. Held within it was a handful of pathetic garden flowers. They could barely qualify as flowers, infact, and more closely resembled weeds, with the exception of one or two wilting daisies. Yet still, they were not dry. They were fresh enough to be maybe a few days old at the most, and Calael couldn't understand why or how that would be. If this was a gift from the retail agent, it was certainly strange indeed. And, frankly, underwhelming.

He approached slowly, and now noticed another detail. Beside the vase was a photo frame. Frowning, Calael reached out and touched it, studying the portrait encased behind the glass.

The man pictured was exceptionally attractive, even in the faded black and white print. He had the sort of delicately beautiful features that could not be strictly defined by either masculine nor feminine standards; an androgynous quality, with his rose petal lips, pixie like nose, and eyes of a hue so clear that he could only assume that they would be the most picturesque of blues. Yet still, sculpted cheekbones were well defined by flattering shadows. His blonde curls were outgrown and framed his face, bound with a ribbon that let the small ponytail hang over one shoulder. Contrasting this effeminate style, he wore a crisp white shirt telling of rather broad shoulders, and black braces against it.

Calael stared, somewhat captivated by this stranger of the past. He'd never seen a person quite so attractive before, not in photography nor in person. Had he lived here before? Would his face be old and withered now from the passage of time? Or would he have passed over to the other side, where surely he'd fit in among the angels? The flowers there told of some kind of pathetic memorial to the dead, perhaps, and the thought saddened him a little. If that was indeed what they were for, why were there simple weeds here to mourn this man rather than grand roses? And how exactly did they get here when the house had been empty? Why would someone still be mourning a person who - from the state of the photo - looked to have died decades ago?

Calael found himself flooded with curiousity. He turned the photo over slowly, to see that the name was still written on the wood at the back, where it must have once been collected from a photography shop upon request.

"Artemus Moon," he whispered, tracing one finger absent-mindedly over the A. It was a strange but beautiful name, like a character from renaissance literature or roman mythology, and if it belonged to the fair haired man then he could certainly envision the name as the centre of romantic poetry. He set the photo down slowly, and knelt to open the box that had been left unbound. It was indeed someone's personal effects, maybe Artemus Moon's, including a couple of men's jumpers that were soft to the touch and patched up in parts, a book of botany, and another scrap book which - upon opening - was filled with a multitude of pressed flowers, identified by notation in almost illegible yet elegant cursive. At the bottom of the box, was a pack of letters in envelopes, bound together by string. He reached out to pick them up, but was jerked from his stupor when he heard his dad calling from downstairs.

"Calael get over here, I'll pass the box up to you!"

"Yeah!" he returned quickly, getting up and setting across the room to the hatch, where he knelt down and lifted the box handed to him with a grunt. There were rather a few, the contents of which he currently had no idea what to do with. Maybe he could sell it all online, or maybe Aunt Margaret - a collector of antiques - would take them off his hands. Since when did houses come decked out with so much old decor anyway? Particularly when he'd bought the property for such a steal to begin with..

Glancing back once at the boxes and the flowers, he decided to return, his curiousity overtaking him as he picked up the pack of letters, tucked them into his dressing gown pocket and descended back down the attic steps. Yes, he'd been raised with enough decency not to read another person's private letters. But if they belonged to the dead, surely it was more about keeping a person's story alive rather than snooping into their personal affairs.. Admittedly, Calael was overwhelmingly curious about the man in the photograph. Finding that mysterious key to the attic had almost been like a sign from fate - that is, if he believed in fate - that those letters and those flowers were meant to be found.

The remainder of the day went by slowly, but thankfully without any further unexplained incidents. Moving vans were called to take the old furniture away - the parts that he'd decided not to keep - and the place was beginning to look more like his own home, no matter how upsetting seeing it might have been in the back of his mind. Tragic nostalgia could come in even the happiest of moments. Especially in the happiest of moments.

It was when Seamus offered to help decorate the bedroom that Calael grew tense. Something about that bedroom made chills race down his spine after the events of last night. "Perhaps we could start with the studio.. Or tomorrow, even."

"You know I can't come tomorrow.. Look, I'd love to, I really would! But the meeting I cancelled today- anyway, God knows you'll get no rest in a hideous room like that.. Da vinci would turn in his grave to look at it. It's so.. Gaudy. We'll fix it today."

"It's not the wallpaper that's bothering me," Calael muttered, and Seamus seemed in that moment to take a very deep breath and steel himself.

"Lael. Talk to me. When something is bothering you, talk to me."

"You're going to think I've gone insane. Maybe I have, I have no idea.. Just, there have been a number of things happening since I arrived that I can't explain away with logic and reason.. Lights turning on and off, my phone being physically moved and.. That key. That key wasn't in my possession, I swear, I don't even clearly remember seeing it on the hook.."

"No successful man ever did believe in ghost stories, Lael," Seamus said mildly, then sighed and rested his hands in the doorway of the bedroom where his son stood. "Whatever happened to realism?"

"You're thinking of pessimism. I'm just seeing the world for what is is, and I'm not making this up."

"I'm not suggesting that you are. I'm just trying to explain to you, grief can show itself in some very unique and ugly ways from person to person, lad. It can make you see and hear things that split from reality. This is just a house. An old house, yes, but houses don't have souls, they don't have memories. There's nothing to be afraid of."

"Memories?" Calael repeated, frowning. "What do memories have to do with anything?"

Seamus hesitated. He leaned against the bannister and took a deep breath before he spoke again. "I wasn't planning on telling you about this."

"Oh here we bloody go- look, if you've been keeping something from me, you might as well spit it out now!"

"Hey, watch your mouth now, I'm still your father.. For full disclosure, the retail agents have to report any deaths on the property in the last hundred years. They mentioned to me a man - no, just a boy - who died in the house not long before the first family moved out in 1939. That must have been why they did. It was a real tragedy, a death by suicide; I just, didn't want you pondering on more death right now. It's so macabre and I know that's exactly what you're trying to break away from.. Try not to let it taint your view of the house, yeah? It's a beautiful place and it's a miracle we could pay what we did for it!"

"You still should have told me," Calael breathed, slowly wrapping his arms around himself. His back was to the bedroom and a chilling feeling was washing over him, so he stepped out past his father into the hallway, facing him. "Do you truly think I'm so fragile?" he asked softly, with an expression of shame. "Do you think I'm gonna off myself the moment you leave?"

Seamus' eyes widened. "No! Of course I don't!"

"Then act like it! Dad, you can go now. Thanks for the help, it's, whatever.. Appreciated I suppose. But I want you to go now. I can handle the rest myself."

Seamus looked dejected. He coughed quietly as he straightened his cap, and began to shuffle slowly back towards the staircase, "Ah.. Well, I suppose I've outstayed my welcome then. It's, uh.. It's been nice to see you, Lael."

Calael said nothing back. He walked his dad down to the front door, handing him his duffer coat from the rack, and the man hesitated on the door mat. "You'll be sure to call me when you decide to talk, won't you?"

He nodded, though he had no intention of doing so. Seamus had barely turned to walk out to his land rover when the door was closed abruptly in his face, and a relieved yet unbearably lonely feeling came over the young man. The kind of loneliness that a man willingly shutting himself in seclusion would never admit to himself.

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