This is a piece of fanfiction I wrote for Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. Knowledge of the movie would obviously give you greater understanding for the story, but it is hopefully still enjoyable if you have not seen it.
Call My Name
He has nightmares when he sleeps.
It is a curious thing, to watch Victor drift into unconsciousness while the rest of us remain eternally awake. The dead do not need to rest.
But Victor will always be trapped in a strange in-between place—alive, but not living. None of us really knew what effect the Underworld would have upon someone whose heart was still beating its steady rhythm. I admit to my own naivety; I thought, once he was here, that he would be the same as any of us, never breathing, never eating, never sleeping…
Instead, Victor is caught between death and life: like us, he does not need to eat, nor does he desire to—the pungent creations offered by our chefs, eaten for the pure pleasure of indulgence, repulse Victor; for this, he is grateful to surrender the human vice of sustenance and leave his stomach empty. Unlike us, he still breathes, though I wonder if it is necessary; sometimes I think his lungs merely work on instinct. I’m not even sure the Underworld holds oxygen. But I don’t mind; there is something soothing about watching the smooth ins-and-outs of his chest with each subconscious breath. Even when his hands fumble or his eyes twitch nervously to look around a room, his shoulders rise and fall in a calm and steady tide.
At least until he dreams.
I think his need to sleep is what most strongly distinguishes Victor from the rest of us. There is no day and night in the Underworld. There is only eternal existence, unhindered by time or weariness. And so it is a matter of some fascination for many of the less recent corpses—those who’ve not slept in decades, or even centuries—to watch as Victor’s eyes become heavy and he excuses himself to rest.
I stay with him while he sleeps; he never asked me to, but he never asked me not to, either.
I stay with him and hope that when the nightmares come, I might be able to help him. That when the nightmares come… It will be my name he calls.
It never is.
I quiver sadly, but nonetheless go to him as swiftly as if it were my own name.
“It’s alright, Victor,” I soothe.
He remains entrapped in his own darkness—a nightmarish place I cannot understand, for he never speaks of his dreams. Tossing, turning, and forever calling out for someone else.
The bones of my fingers work a gentle pattern through his hair, gently lulling him into awareness. I always make sure my eyes are dry by the time he gasps and awakens.
* * *
“The vows are binding only until death do you part.”
Elder Gutknecht’s voice is grave, but my mind, filled with dread, can only sluggishly work through his words. “What are you saying?”
With the finality of a falling guillotine, he intones, “…Death has already parted you.”
Horror floods through me; should I still need to breathe, I’m sure I would be near to fainting. “If he finds out, he’ll leave,” I whisper. I know it to be true; my love, my Victor, would swiftly depart should he realise our marriage was false. Back to her—Little Miss Living. My heart, dead and shattered within my chest, blooms with a pain even greater than the moment of my murder. I turn pleadingly, imploringly to Elder Gutknecht. “There must be something you can do.”
Please don’t take him away…
“Well, there is one way.”
Maggot writhes happily within the pages of the book. “Oh, please, please! Let me tell her!”
His enthusiasm is disquieting, but I remain silent.
“It requires the greatest sacrifice,” the Elder continues.
“Go on, get to the good part!” Maggot urges.
“What is it?” I quaver.
It is Maggot who says the words, my less-than-noble conscience, his eyes bright with pleasure. “We have to kill him!”
I recoil immediately. “What?”
The Elder rumbles, “Victor would have to give up the life he had, forever. He would need to repeat his vows in the land of the living… And drink from the wine of ages.”
“Poison,” I gasp.
“This would stop his heart forever,” Gutknecht continues. His depthless eye sockets somehow convey a deep sympathy. “Only then… would he be free to give it to you.”
For a moment, I consider the possibility—Victor, my husband, here with me forever, as he should be. We would have eternity together; he could grow to love me over time; the seed of affection was already planted within him, I was sure. The way he’d looked at me, over the shared keys of the piano… ‘I like your enthusiasm.’
But to kill him? To steal away the pale flush of his cheeks, to rob him of his heart’s determined drumbeat? I wouldn’t merely be taking his life. I would be taking all that made Victor the man that he is, and destroying the woman that I am. I sink to the floor, defeated.
“I could never ask him,” I say.
For a moment, the words hover in the air, reluctantly noble and unanswered. I gaze to the door, imagining Victor striding in, declaring his love, whisking me away to the land of the living one final time… and making me his, forever.
‘With this ring, I ask you to be mine…’
But the doorway is empty. I want to cry.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” Elder Gutknecht murmurs. Even Maggot looks sympathetic; I know he wants only the best for me, but I can’t be as merciless as he is. Of course I want Victor with me always, but I could never kill him.
Why should it ever come to that?
“How would he find out?” I whisper, more to myself than to the others. Nonetheless, Maggot’s eyes narrow curiously; he urges me to continue with a nod of his tiny head. “Nobody else knows that our vows are false… right?” From the cold stone, I gaze up at the Elder. He pauses for the longest time before finally dipping his cracked skull in affirmation.
“Nobody else would ever have reason to ask questions, my dear,” he confirms, his voice gentle and patient.
I rise from the floor in a trance; my right hand absently toys with the ring that fits so perfectly around the bone of my finger. I stand in silence, caught in the ebb and flow of guilt and misgivings, but when I finally speak, my voice is firm.
“Then we shall tell no-one.”
I tear my eyes away from the ring to search the faces of my companions. Maggot, predictably, is squirming happily, nodding his approval of this new plan—I know he will tell nobody of this secret. Gutknecht simply stares. I begin to tremble anew under the intensity of his vacant eye cavities, for if the Elder refuses to accept this plan, I could not possibly go through with it.
But then, with the soft snap of the closing book, Elder Gutknecht bows his head. “As you wish, my dear.”
“No-one will know?” I whisper.
With the clicking of frail bones, he departs. Over a scoured shoulder bone, he answers the true question behind my words: “Victor will never know.”
* * *
I feel myself smile as I watch Victor toss his head back in a genuine laugh. His light-hearted ease amongst the Dead brings me such joy; it seemed to take the longest time for Victor to forge any sort of familiarity with the Underworld.
A great deal of the thanks must go to Mayhew. Victor told me once that the old chauffeur was a kinder father-figure to him than the Van Dort patriarch himself. Despite Victor’s sympathies for the older man’s death, I know he is grateful for the friendly, familiar face. And Mayhew, as a dead man, felt entirely at ease from the moment he arrived in the Underworld, and was more than happy to help his young living friend to adjust.
From where I sit, Victor could easily be as dead as the rest of us. He is sitting so comfortably at the bar, not cringing at the blue coldness of Mayhew’s hand upon his shoulder, nor flinching beneath Bonejangles’ enthusiastic closeness, nor forgetfully trying to scratch behind Scraps’ absent ears.
The decades passed have done well for Victor.
I sigh at this thought—yet another reminder of my husband’s not-quite-here-ness. Victor, with his living brain, cannot seem to retain memory in the same way that we can. Mercifully, he does not seem to forget things; somewhere within his mind, every one of his experiences within the Underworld is retained. I suppose if I am to be specific, it is the passage of time that begets confusion for Victor. He once smiled at me out of the blue and said, “I rather enjoyed myself yesterday. We should dance like that again soon.” I smiled back, pleased by his words but puzzled by the context. It took me a moment to realise he was referring to a slow waltz we’d done under Bonejangles’ crooning voice… A waltz we’d danced three weeks ago, were we to use the Living’s calendar. Some gentle queries informed me that Victor’s memories of that past three weeks were indeed present within his head, but somehow he could not comprehend that such a great deal of time had passed.
I don’t think he realises that he’s been ‘dead’ for seventy-three years.
I don’t think he realises that Miss Victoria Everglot has been dead for almost as long.
* * *
It is at the top of the staircase that I find him. It has already become our staircase in my mind—the place where I told him my name; the place where I first saw him smile.
He is sitting in the same spot on the same bench. Scraps, like any loyal dog should, has jumped up beside him in order to rest his skull upon his master’s knee, offering a sturdy comfort and distraction. Victor’s fingers work intricate patterns along the dog’s spine.
I approach him cautiously, my heart pounding, as if I expect him to read the truth in my eyes.
We’re not married. We’re not married. We’renotmarried.
The words pound through my head as loudly as if Maggot were saying them himself. But Maggot isn’t here. It is my own true conscience that causes me unease. I worryingly twist my wedding ring as I lower myself to sit beside him.
He looks ill and unhappy; my heart wrenches in my chest. The words are on my tongue—‘Are you alright?’—but Victor speaks first.
“I apologise, for… for disappearing like that.”
He looks so guilty at his apparent rudeness, that all I can think to say is, “It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” he sighs. “But thank you.” Scraps’ tail wags at the familiar timbre of his master’s voice. “It’s just…” Victor continues quietly. “Mayhew—the chap at the bar,” he adds for my benefit, “My parents’ chauffeur. He… gave me some rather unfortunate news.”
I want to reach out to him, take his hand, hold him close, seize the agony in his voice and cast it to the wind, but I sit patiently with a quiet, “Oh?”
“He told me—” he breaks off and stares at me. His beautiful eyes widen in a look that I already recognise as being his trepidation of being rude, but I tilt my head with quiet permission to continue, and he does so in a rush. “He told me that Victoria is to be married, or that she may already have done so, and that she’s…”
Gone, I think to myself. Not yours. Unbridled joy bubbles within me, though it writhes unpleasantly with my guilt.
Victor mournfully shakes his head, no longer speaking to me but to himself. “I never thought she could move on so quickly. Do they think that I am dead, or that I’ve…? I don’t know,” he sighs. “I just… I thought we had something. I thought she’d wait for me. I thought I meant something to her.” He chuckles bitterly. A sound so sour has no place coming from his sweet lips. “I thought a lot of things, but none of them are true. I truly am a fool.”
I can resist touching him no longer. I take his hands in a firm but gentle grip; Scraps, jostled by my haste, leaps to the ground, curiously cocking his head. “You are no fool, Victor Van Dort,” I whisper vehemently. Vaguely, I realise how close we are sitting, and how nearer I am drawing with each passing moment. “You are the most talented…” Our noses nearly bump against one another as I gaze into his eyes. “The most gentle…” I can feel the warm tickle of his breath against my lips. “The most perfect man I have ever known. If she can’t see that”—I squeeze his hands within mine; they squeeze back, just ever so slightly—“Then she doesn’t deserve you.”
A blur of movement; a whisper of touch; it takes me a long second to realise that Victor has closed the gap and pressed his lips against mine, and I think to myself: there could have been no greater happiness for me in the land of the living, for my happily ever after was waiting for me here, amongst the Dead, with this single, glorious man.
And then I stop thinking all together.
* * *
That kiss was a turning point for us—an admittance that within us both was a burning need for the other. The difference was that, for me, it was a raging inferno, destroying everything and everyone that dared to keep me from my beloved soul-mate; for Victor, it was a timidly smouldering flicker, like a candle fighting to stay lit in the wind. A candle that withered in comparison to his love for Victoria, even after her apparent betrayal.
Mere months—a blink of an eye, really—after Victor learned of Miss Everglot’s betrothal, after I began lying about our own marriage, and after our first real kiss, I heard word that Little Miss Living’s rosy cheeks and beating heart were no more; she, too, had entered into the world of the Dead.
I thank God everyday that she has never found her way back to Victor.
The Underworld is a massive entity, larger than the Earth and near impossible to journey through. For a corpse as young as Victoria… I dare say that finding her former fiancé would be an impossible task. And if one day, whether it is a decade or a millennia from now, she should come stumbling, unwelcome, into our midst, it will be too late. She will have missed her chance.
The thought always calms me, at least until Victor retreats to the mortal vice of sleep, and I once more hear him plead through a darkness of his own making.
Each time the nightmares come, he calls her name, and I break inside a little more. And for a moment I find myself wondering if, perhaps, I should spread the word out, lure Victoria in, and reunite the young lovers. Maybe then, finally, Victor’s nightmares would be soothed…
Though he tries to hide it, the grey pools of his eyes always hold a tiny glint of disappointment when he awakens to find me, and not Victoria, by his side.
During his waking hours, he is my husband, loving and true. He laughs alongside me, takes hold of my hand without flinching at the bone, blushes when he kisses my cheek in public. I often catch him looking at me when he thinks my attention is elsewhere. Over time, that look has changed—it was once curious and distracted, as though he was trying to trace which paths in his life had led to this outcome. It slowly became kinder, warmer, and just the right amount of possessive. (That was around his fifth year, when he had fully accepted his ‘death’, but was still wary around the jovial corpses and skeletons that clamoured for his friendship. He often took my hand within his own, lest I disappear into the crowd and leave him alone with the Dead. His grip was like a vice; I didn’t mind.)
Now, after almost three-quarters of a century, I think he does love me. Just not enough to call my name.
I have never asked the substance of these nightmares that plague him so dreadfully. I wonder if perhaps the Underworld affects him in this way; I certainly had nightmares during my living years, but never so frequently, nor so fearfully. But we are not meant to sleep once dead, and perhaps Victor, as the sole bead of life in the desolate world of death, is a beacon for all the terrors that have nobody else to attack.
So I stroke his hair, hold his hand, and lull him into awakeness. And I ignore the quiet voice within my head, humming and thoughtful, which notes that I take longer and longer to reach my darling’s side each time he calls for another.
* * *
We intertwine perfectly, chill against warmth, bone against flesh. I can feel the thudding in his ribcage, rapid but slowing as he rests atop me; his gasping breath is hot in my ear and I shiver with delight.
“Victor,” I whisper. “Victor…” I intertwine my fingers above his spine, holding him tight until I can feel his heart’s echo within my own hollow frame. And I know with full certainty that this, this is love. To feel alive, to feel the slow quake of my broken heart as it mends within the gentle, timid hands of this glorious man. “I love you,” I tell him, then again, “I love you”, and again and again and again, murmured words snuck in between kisses that trail along his narrow jaw, his hollow cheeks, his waiting lips.
He does not say it back. I unlock my fingers, trace along his spine in a slow journey to his face. His eyelids flutter at the sensation and I smile. “Victor,” I say again, like a prayer, and then he is looking at me, capturing me in his gaze like a dove in a silver cage, and I exhale lifeless air, enamoured and suddenly shy as I murmur, “Will you marry me?”
It is not at all traditional for those words to come from a woman, but they taste sweet upon my tongue, so very right.
The confusion on Victor’s face is so darling that I momentarily interrupt him with another kiss before he can stutter, “But we… I thought we… Aren’t we?”
“Yes,” I agree. “But I’d like to marry you again, Victor Van Dort—here, where death can’t part us. I want to make you whole, as you have done for me.” I feel the whisper of touch as his fingers twist in my hair, and I cling to him in turn. Interlocked. “I want to lift your sorrow, be your wine, and light your darkness.” I close my eyes and sing to the night. “Will you be mine?”
* * *
My fingers dig trenches into the window’s wooden frame, so tightly is my grip. Seated upon the open sill, I clench my eyes closed and shudder.
Behind me, quivering beneath the scattered blankets, Victor moans—a dagger to my heart. I’d hoped to lose his wordless pleas to the open sky, but still his pain reaches my ears and fills me with guilt.
You are his wife, I remind myself. He needs you.
I force my fingers to loosen from the windowsill, but can’t yet bring myself to pull my legs in, to turn around and face Victor’s anguished face, to see his eyes flicker open in disappointment.
I will wake him. I always do, because I love him. But I must leave him to his nightmares for just a moment longer, so I can selfishly use the seconds to drown my own pain.
“P-pl… ahh… Please…”
“It’s alright, darling,” I whisper to the sky beyond my closed eyes. “I’m here.”
I will always be here.
My eyes flutter open and slowly I turn on the windowsill, pulling my feet inside the room. “Victor?”
For a moment, it seems I imagined it. Victor continues to flinch beneath the sheets, tossing his head across his pillow, gasping in tiny breaths that struggle past his lips. And then—
“Emily… Emily, please…”
And I am there, beside him, as I was always meant to be. I take his hand and pull him through the darkness, kissing those sweet lips until a smile quivers at their corners. He blinks awake, and in those grey pools I see only love and gratitude and relief to see that it is I who hovers above him.
“Emily,” he whispers again, and says nothing more.
He doesn’t need to.
– Love The Bad Guy