William and William by Meg Pelliccio

The mist had rolled in and it was creating an ethereal atmosphere as the cloudy veil was pierced by the lights along the roadside. It was a cold night; his breath was rising from his mouth in its own foggy tendrils as he cautiously crept into the glow of the street lamp. With a shaking hand, he took a silver trinket box from his inside coat pocket and turned it over with his thumb and forefinger, feeling the smooth polished exterior beneath his skin. He carefully opened the small box and removed a tiny pinch of the white powder inside, placing the dust on the back on his hand, before leaning forward and inhaling it into his nose in one go. He snorted a little as the sensation hit him, returning his precious cargo to his pocket and continuing his watch with a more glazed look in his eyes.

“William!” the gruff voice called out.

Another man reached the glow of the streetlight, and together the two men huddled in the light as if its very touch might warm them from the winter chill. The first man gave a brief welcoming smile before taking the spade the other man handed him.

“Thanks William,” the first man said with a dry tone, but it never failed to make his guest smile in amusement that they shared the same name.

“Another good night for some digging; the cold will keep the others inside.” The second man said cheerily. Too cheerily for the first man’s liking, who grumbled in consent before following his partner into the gloom of the night.

The two men kept to the shadows as they entered the local churchyard. It never hurt to be cautious. Skulking in the shadows between the gnarled trees and mournful headstones was second nature to them now. It didn’t take long to scout out what they were looking for, the freshly buried grave was distinct to them even in the dark.

“No point wasting the moonlight,” the cheery fellow chirped.

His ill-tempered compatriot grumbled again, taking his shovel from his shoulder and starting to break ground. The two of them worked in silence; mud thrown over their shoulders with a practiced ease, spade after spade. As metal struck wood with a dull thud, the men took a careful glance about them to ensure there was no flicker of light to betray the approach of another.

“Time to meet our new friend,” the cheerful man smiled with a whistle as he stuck the blade of his shovel between the wooden lid and casket and prised the coffin open.

The first William grimaced as the familiar smell hit him. He cared not for who laid prone before him; he just wanted to get the job done. He barely registered the still face of the woman as he and his partner hoisted her up between the two of them and dumped her unceremoniously on the earth. One of them pulled a sack out, and they began to hastily sleeve the stiff figure away feet first into the burlap. Before her peaceful face disappeared under the dirty sacking, the second William pulled some pliers from his pocket and, with the help of his friend, set about extracting the one thing they really wanted: the teeth. Once they were done with the difficult plundering of the body, placing their bounty in a small bag they stowed away, they covered her completely and began to haul the body out into the dark street.

“Let’s get this one to Doctor Knox before the sun rises,” the first William muttered as he shouldered the feet-end of their macabre parcel.

“Aye.”

***

The doctor peered at the corpse atop his table with interest with his one good eye. He nodded to himself as he surveyed his latest specimen, satisfied that it was fresh enough for what he needed. He looked to the two men waiting expectantly in the doorway to his surgery.

“I’ll give you ten pounds for this one.”

Considering that bodies often went for eight pounds each, this was not a bad price, and the two resurrection men were happy with their wage.

As the first William pocketed his five pounds, he contemplated how much harder it was to come by bodies these days. More and more people were taking measures to stop grave robbers, and even when they managed to dig up a corpse, sometimes it was too far gone to be worth taking to Surgeon’s Square. Then there was the real prize here; not the money, but the coveted teeth. People were already too eager to sell their teeth off while still alive to a rich man with a gap in his gum that by the time they came to the grave, if they hadn’t been sold already, they usually were at the point of death by the next of kin. Oh yes, it was getting harder to scrounge a living these days.

***

The two men sat in the parlour of the lodging house. It belonged to the jovial William, though neither man was feeling particularly happy at present as they licked their fingertips to ensure they got every last speck of white dust that had remained on the table top. Their lives had become a pitiful existence, scraping by on what little they could to survive. It was why they had been forced to change their plan of action. No more digging up corpses from the mud in the dead of night, which both men were rather relieved about. Their new venture was hands on in a completely different way, though the second William had taken to it with as much vigour and enthusiasm as any other job they had taken together. Things were working out well for them, money was rolling in faster than before, and even more importantly—the teeth.

And so they waited, like they had done so many nights before this. Sure enough, the sound of the front door opening came to them eventually and the familiar face of Margaret peered into the parlour. She was an old Irish woman who cheery William had fooled into believing that they shared some ancestry. Both Williams bore an Irish accent too, so it wasn’t a difficult feat. After he had built some rapport with her, it was easy enough to convince the old lady to come and visit for a drink or two. The old woman grinned at them, her teeth glinting in the low evening night.

“Come in Maggie,” the happy William said warmly, “come and have a drink with us.”

Margaret didn’t need to be told twice; she shuffled in and took a seat with the two men and immediately helped herself to an empty glass and the bottle of whiskey. After quite a few more drinks, some singing and dancing, the old woman was almost ripe for the harvest. As her head began to droop onto her chest in a drunken stupor, the men made their move.

“Heads or tails?” grinned William with a wink, knowing full well he always took care of the head and the dourer of the two Williams would take care of the rest.

Grabbing a washcloth tight in his hand, the second William stood behind the slightly snoring Margaret and placed the cloth over her mouth and nose. It took only a few seconds for the old woman’s eyes to go wide as she struggled for breath. This was where the first William came in. He grabbed hold of the woman’s arms and held her down as she tried to buck and force the men off of her. It was to no avail. One wizened woman against two far stronger men? She didn’t stand a chance. Besides, the two Williams had already had a lot of practice with this particular sport.

Once the woman had stilled and her eyes had rolled back into her head, the whites of them clearly visible, the two Williams retook their seats and shared another drink. The old woman still sat at the table with them while they enjoyed the last of the whiskey. If one had only glanced quickly at the scene, they might not have realised she was even dead.

“Shall I do the honours?” The Jovial William asked as he pulled the pliers from his pocket.

The other William nodded and watched as his companion took his time in prising each of the white bones from the old woman’s jaws. He laid them out on the table with care, as if each were a valuable gemstone.

“Let’s get the old woman to Knox,” he sighed as he pulled the last molar from her mouth.

“She’ll fetch a few pounds to be sure, but first thing’s first,” his accomplice said as he picked up the pestle and mortar from the side table and placed it next to the teeth.

There was a scuffle of movement just under the windowsill, but neither William heard it over the grinding of bone against bowl. Hurried feet slapped against paving stones as they fled from the gruesome scene they had witnessed.

For the two Williams, it was hard work turning those precious teeth into the fine white powder that they so desperately needed. Their quiet companion turned pale as the evening wore on with the two men working hard to grind the teeth to powder. When the night settled at long last and the light outside had long since vanished, the body of the old woman was cold to the touch when the men were finally finished.

The two Williams were a long way from home; very far indeed. Here they were, trapped in the mortal realm, picking over the leftovers of their family table. Once they had been a part of something far greater, with powers to match. Slipping in unseen at the midnight hour, they had swapped out the teeth of mortals with silver coin from beneath their very pillows. They had been afforded an endless supply of money to bargain for the teeth of the humans, the very thing that fuelled their existence. But now, as outcasts, they scrounged for what they could with whatever means necessary to stay alive. Never allowed to step foot in the golden realm ever again, reduced to live in such a disgusting world with such mediocre creatures.

Once the teeth were all but dust, the two men could not contain themselves and each took a pinch from the mortar and breathed in deeply, allowing the sensation of something more to flood their bodies. For those sweet moments, they felt more than they were, almost whole once again.

Outside, there were careful, cat-quiet footsteps approaching the lodging house. Uniformed men descended on the building, front and back, ensuring there would be no escape. Policemen flooded the small parlour room before the two Williams could even rise from their seats.

“We have arrest warrants for a Mister Burke and a Mister Hare.”


---

Copyright Meg Pelliccio 2019

Meg lives in the beautiful countryside of Devon, where she is lucky enough to be close to both the stunning moorland and the picturesque seaside. By day she gets to work with her gaming passion, and by night she feeds her other obsessions of reading and writing. Heavily encouraged by her parents into fantasy fiction from a young age, Meg grew up on the likes of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, J. R. R. Tolkien, Roald Dahl, and William Horwood. Other favourites include: Wind on Fire series by William Nicholson, The Black Magician series by Trudi Canavan, as well as authors such as Neil Gaiman, Sarah J. Maas, Holly Black, Jennifer Fallon, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, Karen Chance, and so many more! Meg studied English Literature at The University of St Mark and St John where she graduated with upper second class honours. She was delighted to receive a first for her dissertation, "The Evolution of the Vampire Myth", which explored the way our perception of vampires has changed over the years due to its portrayal in literature and film. Meg also received a first for "The Collector", a Gothic short story about a ghoul, which she wrote for her creative writing module as part of her degree.

Comments