The Dead of Wuthering Heights
By Eimny Coronel
Inspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
When Catherine woke in death, she found herself standing in Wuthering Heights. Though it was dark and cold as she had always known it to be, its utter silence was strange and unsettling. And it was empty, void of any soul but herself. Hesitantly, then frantically, she began to search through the halls and the rooms, finding no signs of life. Even the manor itself was bare of furniture or personal items. Finally, frightened by the lonesome silence, Catherine rushed to open the door to the outside but it did not yield to her efforts.
“I’m afraid, Catherine, you cannot yet leave.” Said a voice behind her.
Catherine spun in an instant, searching to place a body to the unknown voice that broke the maddening silence. The being that stood before her might have been a man, for it was dressed quite like a gentleman, with a locket or two around his neck and small rings over gloved hands— but would not be mistaken for man or indeed a human. The being had no face. Or so she thought.
The longer Catherine looked the more she was able to discern faint features within the shadows. A skeletal face, without skin or muscle. Catherine gasped at the sight, falling weakly against the door.
“Ah, yes. I have been told my appearance may be quite severe,” said the being. The face flickered then blurred until it solidified. Now there was a shadowed face—that of an older man. But it was uncanny. Stiff and expressionless with closed eyes. There was no movement, no color or breath of the living.
“A death mask.” Catherine realized at last, struck by bewilderment. Now she was sure who it was that stood before her.
“I hope it is more comfortable for you.”
“It is not.”
“I scarcely am for most,” said Death, though not in any way sad or regretful. When Catherine made no move to respond or approach, Death retreated further into the manor. Emboldened by the space between them, Catherine forced herself to speak.
“Why am I here?” Morbidly intrigued, she moved around Death, noting the way his head followed her movements. Though the eyes on mask remained closed, it seemed he could still see her. “This is not where I died.”
“It is true,” mused Death, looking around curiously. “You died elsewhere but your attachment to Wuthering Heights is much stronger, hence our current location. I also suppose your spirit came here in an effort to locate Heathcliff.”
“Heathcliff! Yes, I must return to him. Why will you not let me leave this place?”
Death strode soundlessly to a window and parted the curtains. “Look out there, Catherine—just as you have found nothing within, there is nothing good to return to out there. Only darkness. Your Beyond needn’t be so. All you must do is leave the living to themselves.”
Standing beside Death, Catherine gazed out into the darkness. There was nothing she could see no matter how she strained her eyes. “What waits for me, if I should go?”
When the darkness began to confuse her vision, Catherine looked instead to the heavy lockets around Death’s neck. Within the chambers lay strands of dark hair. Both the intricate and simple rings on his hands were inscribed with faint names. She idly wondered whose they once belonged to.
“Right now, I cannot tell you what waits,” admitted Death. “You are, after all, still here. However,” he continued softly, “you could come away with me and move forth. There is more beyond Wuthering Heights.”
Catherine’s sigh rattled in her throat as she dragged herself from the window, beginning to walk deeper into the manor. “Not for me. Not while he lives. I will not go without him. Once he joins me, we shall leave together when the time comes.”
Death, ever at her heels, tilted his head in question. “Leave together? You misunderstand. If you return now, there would be no leaving Wuthering Heights.”
“So be it!” Catherine threw her hands up. “We can stay there for whatever is left of time.”
“You would condemn Heathcliff to a true eternity in Wuthering Heights as your father did before you.”
“My father didn’t care for Heathcliff as I do. He would be with me. I would be content and so would he.”
Death gave something of a laugh. “Content, you say. Yes, a fitting end, I would think. Misery-making keeps Wuthering Heights standing after all, and all your tormented souls would not be out of place. But this would be my kindness to you—to sway you into moving on into the Beyond. Know now, Catherine, it would not be wise to return to him.”
“I don’t care. He’ll want me there.”
“Upon your death he wished for you to wake in torment,” offered Death mildly.
“And so I have! Here! Here and without Heathcliff. I’ve gone and left him behind—Again!”
Catherine paced the room in agitation, tempted to throw something at the expressionless and compassionless Death. Before she could grow further enraged at the lack of things to throw, Death spoke again, very quietly. “You’ve also left behind a child.”
Catherine’s anger alleviated enough for her to remember, very suddenly, that indeed she had been pregnant.
“Oh. Yes, I did. But I’ve had to leave behind many things.”
Death’s silence was unsettling the longer it went on after she answered. As though she had offered an incorrect answer, or if he found himself disappointed in her. Unable to stand the look of the blank death mask, Catherine preferred to look out the window into nothingness.
“If you do as he wishes, your spirit would drive you both into…further madness,” he said at last, mournfully shaking his head.
“As he wishes?”
Death pressed a finger to the lips of his current death mask—a young woman—and both stood in silence. Then, echoing all about her and seeming to come from the very walls themselves, came the devastated voice of Heathcliff. “And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you—haunt me, then!”
The words rang out like a horrid chorus and Catherine might have collapsed at hearing his voice again, and in her emotion, she gripped the specter's hand, unperturbed by the sudden chill at the contact. “You heard him! You did. He wants me there!”
Death wretched his arm away with a huff of displeasure, and after taking a moment to straighten the sleeve of his coat and brush away some unseen befoulment, he spoke. “A fine curse from Heathcliff! Seldom is joy found when the dead cling to the earth. Other spirits like yours have caused a great deal of damage—”
“I do not care for them!” Catherine snapped.
The expressionless death mask regarded her silently yet again. Death became so still he might have been one of the painted figures in a portrait of the dead that hung on the walls of family homes. “No, I suppose you do not care for them.”
Abruptly, Death pushed past Catherine to pick up a chalice which had appeared upon a table. He raised the chalice to her and Catherine noticed a name engraved on its bottom. It may have been a familiar one but Death was quick to tilt it away.
“Then, to the madness you shall continue to wreak, my lady.” The death mask was a man now. Sunken eyes and a narrow, unsmiling face. “And to the living you will continue to haunt.”
Death flicked a gloved hand at the door. It swung open, and a familiar howling of winds began to enter the house, but still Catherine could see nothing beyond the doorway. She started for the door gleefully before pausing. She could feel Death watching her and it made her shiver, even dead as she was.
“Before—you spoke of a curse.”
The darkness of Death was beginning to engulf the hall and the walls. “Heathcliff’s prayer,” he said, “called down a curse upon himself and you.” Death’s voice darkened. “And as it is, desecration of a grave must not go unpunished.”
Catherine lingered in the doorway, wondering at what Death spoke of. Grave desecrations and curses. “You intend to punish us by allowing our reunion. It won’t be so.”
Death did away with the pretense of death masks and relics. Now he was a shrouded figure lingering in the hallway. When his voice came, it was a mere whisper in her ear. “I need not execute punishment when you—living or dead—do a much finer job of it yourselves.”
With her back to Death, Catherine finally stepped through the doorway, certain in her decision for herself and for Heathcliff. For what would Death know of love?