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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4. Chapter 4

Later that day, Calael sat by the patio doors with his laptop on his knee, overlooking the wilted garden as the light of the day smouldered into a sky of burnt orange and pastel pink. A slight smile tugged at his lips, observing how the tops of the pine trees that bordered Semper Place turned darker and darker against the golden backdrop of the setting sun. Instinctively, he lifted his phone up to capture the beautiful scene, snapping a few photos. Perhaps they'd become fuel for a painting or two. Though he'd always preferred art where people were the subjects, nature was another passion of his, and elegantly combining the two had made his art famous.

More accurately perhaps, his parents had helped do that. Owning a successful business gave the two some rich and eccentric contacts, and his art had been passed quickly along the grapevine the moment he'd lifted the brush from his first canvas piece. Being a 'starving artist' was certainly a poetic concept, substituting a comfortable and secure place in life for one of satisfaction and happiness, but it was an unfamiliar idea to Calael. The young man was satisfied and secure, or at the very least satisfied with his career path.

He closed his tab on Amazon, and set the laptop down on a pine side table, beside his cup of herbal tea. He'd drank so many cups of the beverage that self proclaimed mental health experts held to the regard of ambrosia, that it now had a tendency to turn his stomach, and had the opposite of the desired effect. He associated it solely with stress. And so, barely a centimeter from the top of the mug, it had gone stone cold. Still, he'd likely make another cup before bed. 

Calael rose from the couch and stretched out his arms with a yawn, then flicked the switches on a few of the LED candles for some gentle light. His mind wandered back to what his dad had told him, and a slightly uneasy feeling came over him. A suicide in the house, he thought to himself. Some dark part of him wanted to know more. Largely, he wanted to know if this suicide was in any way connected to the memorial he'd discovered in his attic, if it was a memorial at all.. There was every reason for it to be. 

 Was it the man in the photograph, Artemus Moon? The man who's personal letters were tucked into his robe?

He swallowed hard, and did what any curious mind in the 21st century would do in such a situation. He returned quickly to his laptop and pulled up a swift web search.

Semper place death 1939

Google seemed mostly vacant, eager to tell him every other sodding thing that had happened in 1939, from the blitz to the precise bowel movements of the royal family. However maybe three pages down, the search produced a page from the local archives. A newspaper, scanned in. He had to zoom in to read the obituaries, where his heart dropped into his stomach upon reading that familiar name in the small print.

Local florist Artemus Moon, son of Victor Moon, found hanged in the attic of his home two nights ago on the 5th of November. Scotland yard ruled the death as an act of self-murder, and determined the time of death to be 5am, at the age of twenty-two.

"Artemus Moon," Calael breathed, his brow furrowed. He recalled learning as a boy that suicide had been ruled as self-murder up until the 1960s; a criminal act in direct defiance of God himself, and the ultimate sin. He'd always found it tragically ironic.

His brow furrowed and he went to close the laptop completely, but noticed something strange before it could shut. He opened it again slowly, to see that the screen had apparently been zoomed in closer than he had left it. It was still zooming, in fact.. The screen was adjusting  very slowly, closer in on the article.

Calael reached out and touched the mouse-pad, but the glitch wasn't so hard to break and his pointer wouldn't budge. The screen was focusing in still, homing in on one sentence. Then, onto one individual word.

Self-murder.

Calael's eyes widened and he swiped his finger across the mouse-pad again back and forth, attempting to stop this. He rapidly tapped down on the keyboard, only for it to keep zooming. Closer, closer in on that word..

The man jerked forward and slammed the laptop shut, moving away from it and yanking out the power chord. He was beyond startled, but knew that he needed to compose himself. He was acting irrationally. It was a simple computer glitch, and a word like that was bound to elicit an emotional reaction. It was a coincidence that it happened to zoom there.

Still, a cold feeling had come over him, making him tighten his robe. The article had told him what he wanted to know but also left him with an even stronger sense of curiosity regarding the letters he'd found. And so, he pulled them slowly from his pocket. Each envelope was addressed to Artemus Moon at this address, with no return address included, and they were stamped with a seal of approval from the war office. Calael knew little of the world wars other than whatever they played on TV on remembrance day each year, having failed history, but he knew of the concept of censorship, and a felt a certain sympathy at the thought of having your private letters read and scrutinised.

He opened the first envelope, with the oldest date. September 1939. The handwriting was neat and rather pretty, as though the writer had taken great care in their presentation.

My dearest Artie,

I have arrived in Calais, and the sight of a flower shop made me miss you right away. How is your shop? How is your family? I hope that your grandmother is doing better now.

France is a beautiful place. I know you've always wanted to visit, and I will take you myself one day. When Hitler is defeated, you and I will go to Paris and take a boat ride along the Seine, and eat at those little cafes without the need for rationing, and I'm sure that the street artists will stop you in their droves to capture your essence, and I'll be able to say proudly 'he is mine, he is my lover.' One day we'll have that security, you and I.

The days are long without you, but I am on occasion lucky enough to see you in my dreams. Sometimes it makes me miss you more, a temporary reminder of what I do not have beside me; your warmth, and the softness of your skin, and the scent of flowers on your clothes. But still I wake smiling and have you to thank. You give me hope.

Faithfully yours, E.

Calael finally exhaled, his heart beating so softly that it almost mirrored the bass of a love song. He was overcome by a familiar sadness. It certainly all made little sense, knowing that the receiver of these letters would be dead only three months later.. Artemus seemed to have such love in this unknown admirer. But he knew all too well that seemingly perfect things could often be destroyed by life in the blink of an eye. Who was this mysterious 'E', and what business did they have in France? Why the sense of secrecy in the signing of the letter?

Hoping for answers, he continued to open the letters, and read through each one. There was a certain trend, however, in the slackening of the immaculate handwriting. It seemed as though with each letter that went by, the writer had far less time on their hands, and far stiffer fingers. 

Dearest Artemus,

I miss you more and more every day. When I am cold, I imagine your arms around me, or your legs pressed to mine underneath your satin sheets. Imagining can sometimes help, but occasionally makes everything worse.

Your last letter troubled me greatly. If I understand your wording correctly, I do not understand how your brother would find out about us, but I do hope he's only bluffing about the blackmail.. I don't want to come home to find you locked away.

I love you. I know that I love you, surely and confidently. I want to marry you one day and share a name. Yours is much prettier than mine and I'll gladly take it. I hope for a future where this is our reality. Hold onto that future, Artie, and don't let the ugliness of the present consume you.

Yours, E

My Artemus,

You worry me more and more. I want to be there for you, to help, yet I'm stuck here. I'd protect you from their laughs and jeers if I could, or at the very least help preserve your sanity.

It grows less and less bearable here too. You are the only thing that keeps me going, but your last letter was so much colder than usual. I hope that this misfortune is not tainting your softness. To be soft in a hard world like this is to be a diamond in the rough.

E

Artemus,

This comes late. I'm sorry. My hands are cold as I write and we aren't staying long here. My love, how are you? I hope that things are better. You lacked warmth again. I need your warmth again, Artie, I fear losing your heart. I fear losing mine.

E

The final letter was perhaps the most tragic of all. Written across the back of the envelope read the chilling words 'send in the event of my death.' Calael wasn't sure he could bring himself to read this one, but he had come this far, and he needed to know the love story's conclusion. Looking at it like that, as a story, made it less painful to take in, but felt completely wrong all at once. Artemus Moon and the mysterious E had been people, taken in a terrible time and separated. And if E had died.. Perhaps that shed light on why Artemus would choose to pass over to the other side as well.

He slipped the letter from it's envelope, taking in the messily scrawled handwriting, and did his best to decipher it.

Artie

We're trapped. Closing in. Fear I don't have long. I need to tell you I love you. I love you. I love you. My flower, my sun. I love you enough for both of us.

E

A deep melancholy came over Caleb. For the briefest of moments, his mind turned red and went to Harry, but he banished the intrusive thoughts as quickly as they came. Before he knew it, he'd grabbed his phone from the couch beside him, gathering the letters back up and binding them in string. He rushed to his feet, and headed hurriedly into the kitchen, his mission set out for him.

There were flowers - bright scarlet roses - on the windowsill, left over by the nice old retail agent as a present. Calael took them from their vase, planning simply to buy more for the kitchen at a later date, and was on his way up to the attic without a second thought.

The vase was still there, as well as the frame. After returning the letters to their place in the cardboard box, he fetched them both away from the dimly lit room and back down to his newly decorated studio. The room where he would see them often.

His studio was laid out with a desk in the corner, cluttered with boxes of pencils, paints and sketch pads. One tray had been left out still covered in a layer of drying oil paint he planned to re-use. On the wall above he had taped a few of his sketches, but on the wall behind was his easel, a string of fairy lights to provide non-migraine inducing lighting, and a shelf of succulent plants his mother had said he 'wouldn't be able to kill easily.'

The steep windowsill however was currently bare. He'd planned to fill it with pillows and turn it into a meditation corner, perhaps. For now however it would play home to Artemus' shrine.

He set down the photo frame first, followed closely by the vase, within which he neatly slotted his handful of roses. Roses were far more fitting of the male than garden weeds, he thought. Roses were the flower of passion, romance, beauty, all of which he felt resonated with this stranger whom the mysterious E had loved with their whole heart until the end. There was mystery surrounding their story, but also the kind of poetic adoration he'd thought only existed in the pages of poorly written novels.

It was in that moment, however, staring down at the black and white face of a long dead boy, that Calael felt a hand upon his shoulder. It was a definitive, undeniable touch, with a cold palm and five long fingers, resting there over the top of his sleeve. It was enough to make him jerk and swear loudly in shock, whirling around and stepping back against the wall in fear of an intruder. Only to be greeted by an empty room. The touch had left him almost as though the hand had been pulled away by his movement.

Calael thought of what his dad had said. About grief making one perceive things that simply aren't there. And, right now, even in his realists mind of facts and figures, he could not bring himself to believe that he was alone in this room. He had not imagined that touch.

"Who is there?" he demanded, pressing himself back into the wall as though somehow that could protect him from the presence within his studio. He needed to calm himself. He needed to relax long enough to think rationally. But the most rational action that Calael could think of was to address the individual he was truly convinced had touched him..

"Artemus Moon.. Are you here, in this room with me? Did you touch me?"

A flash of red caught his attention, and Calael's eyes widened as he watched an image slowly manifest itself against the blank canvas he'd set upon his easel. As though pressed into the tray of oil paint, the print of a hand appeared right in front of him, in that bright crimson colour, with three words finger painted underneath it in a messy scrawl..

I am here.

"Oh my god," Calael whispered, his hands flying to his face. He let out a sound reminiscent of a whimper, and slipped down to his knees uncontrollably. A strange kind of fear had taken root in his mind. It was not a fear of Artemus, no. Artemus was just a person. But rather, the fear of the unknown. Fear of undeniable evidence of something he had spent his entire life refusing to believe.

"Artemus," he breathed, his voice trembling. "I.. Oh my god. You really are here. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that you died here so young and I'm so sorry about your lover, I-" he dry swallowed hard, a bead of sweat running down his temple. "You can interact with the things in the house, yes? You moved my phone, and the key, and you tampered with the light.. And was it you downstairs with my laptop too..? Can you.. Can you reveal yourself to me now, Artemus? Can I please - for the love of God - can I please see you?"

A silence fell upon the room so intensely that he could practically hear his own heart pounding with fear. Until, he heard the rustle of something behind him, and then that presence yet again. That touch upon his shoulder.

Only this time, he could actually see the pale, dainty hand.

Artemus Moon was sitting in his windowsill, beside the flowers and the photo frame, and he was smiling.

"Mister Black.. My God, you have no idea how long I've waited to be found."

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