This is the story that I wrote for a short story contest where I was assigned to write a ghost story about a wedding dress. Included here is its submitted form, without the haunting revisions.

“Well, ‘e’s down there somewhere. You jus’ keep on digging, aye, Tom, like you’re getting paid for to do.”

Tom did not dig.

“You said six pounds for one hole. This here’s the second hole.”

“Now, now, let’s not get into a quib over the particulars. I said six pounds per grave, and so far as we can see, this ‘ere’s a hole, not a grave, and without a grave to rob, us grave robbers haven’t any more to our credit than a pile of dirt! You jus’ keep on working.”

“I’m tellin’ you, there isn’t a thing here! I’m seven feet in already. There isn’t even a stone here.” He spat into the solid dirt beside him, leaned on the hilt of his spade. The hole was well over his head.

The older man pulled at his salt-and-pepper beard and looked around. An imprint in the grass, now grown over and nearly hidden, marked the head of the plot. It was difficult to make out burial customs of an unfamiliar country in the clouded moonlight.

“Aye, the stone’s been nicked, but look around, there’s a mark at the head of most of ‘em, right like this one. Keep digging, there’s a rich man’s fortune down there yet, lad!”

Muttering came out of the hole followed by dirt, then a chill in the summer night slivered through their bones as the spade struck wood. In the moonlight, the small man’s crooked gold smile flashed from under his beard. More dirt, more muttering, and then out came an old shod of a coffin, rotten through at the edges, crumbling as the two odd thieves struggled it up and out to the grass.

“Y’see, lad, ye young Tomcat, I’ve still got a right mind about me! Still got a nose for gold, McCready has, can still smell a fortune in the ground, even after fifty-seven miserable years!”

A howl from somewhere far beyond the graveyard filled the air. The top of the worn box, its rusted nails pried out carelessly, was set aside.

“It’s bloody empty!” the old thief cried. The hundred-year old coffin, once used for shipping, now held the remains of an unlucky bride and her dusty white dress. He took the dress out, threw it aside, searching for anything valuable. “Jus’ a pile of bones! The bloody dame, not even a ring! What kind of a bloody poor beggar wife feeds the worms without ‘er ring! And would you look at that, the bottom of the lid there, clawed up to slivers! Must’ve been alive for some time! Of all the miserable luck, eh lad? Well, there’s enough night left for another try, one with a stone, I think this time. A religious inscription. I’d wager well there’s a hundred gold crosses out ‘ere!”

“I’m not digging another hole till you pay me for this one.”

McCready stopped walking and turned back to face his sturdy partner. “What are you saying there, lad? We talked about this, aye: no grave, no robbing. If I had the sense to pull gold coins from my arse to pay you, you think I might’a done that by now? Aye, come now, there’s a stone over ‘ere, and there’ll be money in it for both of us!”

“This here’s a grave,” Thomas said, “so either I get six pounds, or I’ll take what’s here and be on.”

“Take what’s here! Going to play a bit of dress-up, are you!” McCready laughed, but being the only one amused, stopped. “Fine, if you don’t want half the fortune, leave me the spade and get on with it.”

Thomas tucked the dress under his arm, then the ox-strong man walked out of the graveyard and down the long carriage-beaten path to the inn at the center of town, where he was staying with Rebecca.

Truth to tell, young Thomas Gordon was not a thief; not by trade and not by habit. He’d come across the idea very much by accident when McCready offered him work, a friendly proposition from a stranger in a pub, the specifics kept to himself. They were both only passing through the area, and after enough pints of questionable lager, it all seemed to him entirely harmless. Now, with only a dirty wedding dress to show for his effort, simply carrying it at all gave him a feeling of unease that he hoped would pass.

Thomas found Rebecca fast asleep. He set the dress down on the back of a chair, washed up with the last of the water in the basin, got into bed, and fell himself fast asleep.

In the morning, Thomas woke and saw Rebecca wearing the stolen dress and admiring herself. When she saw him watching, she smiled even greater. “Oh, Thomas, it’s beautiful! And it fits like a dream, an absolute dream! Will we really get married, Thomas?”

He didn’t answer her, did not quite know what to say. He stared at her with a worried look on his face.

“I hope you don’t mind, I washed it, and I just had to try it on! I can’t believe you bought this for me, Thomas! Oh, it’s so beautiful!”

“Rebecca, dear,” he said slowly, not to frighten her. “Your face…”

She was losing colour, going pale and cold, skin hanging loose and lifeless. Her hair, long and hazel, fell to the ground around her bit by bit. She touched her cheeks with fragile fingers, a skeleton with skin that was quickly fading. With the bright morning sun shining in the window, the woman collapsed, calling her love’s name, while he watched helplessly from the bed. In the middle of the small room was the dress, inside it, bones. Nothing else remained.

Until the sun set much later that day, Thomas did not leave his room at the inn, and when he did, he took the dress with him. The streets were empty and the night sky clouded, hiding the moon, stars, and countryside in shadows. He walked to the edge of town and up a carriage path, the weight of the dress making him more uneasy than he’d been the night before. He did not like it and he did not know what else to do with it.

Somewhere, he stopped, and in the distance saw a woman walking towards him. He followed her unusual stride, weightless, soft blue light trickling between the clouds and across her body. She moved towards him, somehow passing through the tall grass without disturbing it, until her bare body was within reach.

“Miss?” Thomas asked. “Are you all right?”

“I… I’m cold…”

He handed her the dress. “Of course you are, you’re not wearing anything! Here, take this. It’s not much, but at least it’s something. What happened to you? Why are you out here undressed?”

“I… I’m not sure. I woke up and my clothes were missing. I’ve been looking, but I can hardly recall what they look like. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them.”

“Well, this dress fits you well. You can keep it, I’ve no need for it anymore.”

“It’s a wedding dress, though, surely your wife…”

Thomas thought of Rebecca and looked to the ground. A tear formed and fell down his cheek, and the pale woman reached out and wiped it away kindly, letting her fingers drag slowly across his skin. Her touch was wet and cold, colder than the night.

“How did she die?” the woman asked.

“She was wearing that dress, the one you have now, and then… she simply turned to bone.”

The woman thought a moment, then said to him, “I remember once being told not to wear the clothes of the dead. When someone is killed, their clothes capture death. There can never be life in them.”

“If that’s true,” Thomas began, “then the dress…”

“The dress fits well, stranger, thank-you.”

Her smile was a sudden bone white. She turned and left the way she had come, disappearing into the shadows before she was out of sight. Thomas touched his face, found streaks of blood where she had touched him. A second later, it had dried and flaked away like it had never been there at all.

Thomas walked back to the inn. In the room, there was one bag that was his and another
that belonged to Rebecca. All that they held was clothing. He did not stay long. Instead, he followed a trail that went to the next town, walking empty-handed in the darkness, listening to the sound of the night and an echo of the pale woman’s warning.