This story is based on characters from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. The inspiration came from Heathcliff's brief account of his strange experiences following Cathy's death as found in chapter twenty-nine; incidents from chapters six and seven, as well as chapters eleven through seventeen are also referenced in this story.
By Ivy Rangee
Chapter One: The Two Burials
"Haunt me, Cathy…you say I am your murderer…haunt me… please, Cathy. Do not betray me in this, too," whispered Heathcliff, who, in his nineteenth year, feared his life forfeit to madness.
Shivering with grief and exhaustion, for he'd not slept since the night before Cathy's death, Heathcliff hid within a copse of trees on the ridge overlooking Gimmerton Church. Tears of grief alternated with cold, hard fear, for without Cathy, he had no source of solace, lost as he was, in a world that rejected him for the shallowest or reasons. With trembling hands, he ripped a piece of tall, ribbon grass from the earth, twirling it between his forefinger and thumb to ease his panic as he whispered his mantra.
"Cathy…haunt me. I beg you do not leave me in this netherworld without you."
His desperate chant ceased when the mort-bell tolled, announcing the arrival of the grim processional that bore Catherine Earnshaw's corpse. With slow, rhythmic steps, the pallbearers tread the rough, granite paving stones to enter the church. Twenty times the bell struck; two for Cathy's gender, then a pause followed by eighteen for her age. With each peal Heathcliff's dread increased. How could this be real? Why hadn't he simply taken her from Thrushcross Grange and found a competent doctor? Why had he listened to Nellie Dean?
On his last visit to Cathy, Nellie had stood sentinel, watching over them like a vulture, until he'd forced her from the room, but the meddling woman must have eavesdropped at the door, for she'd barged in as soon as Cathy fainted – blaming him as usual. Heathcliff wondered what fanciful story Nellie would spread in Gimmerton. No matter, his reputation was beyond repair. But this mattered little, for there was no pleasing this ignorant lot.
"Cathy, leave that meaningless ceremony and come to me. I've stood vigil, waiting. I've not forgotten you for a moment."
Shaking his head at the memory of Cathy's distant gaze, he threw his head back and wept. In truth, he'd known the moment he saw her that Cathy would not survive. She had broken her own heart and mind, choosing to live such a tame sham of a life, a pale reflection of the fate that would have been hers had she waited for him. This is what killed her, not his return, which only brought into focus that which she had sacrificed.
And what was the nature of that lost fate? Heathcliff's heart whispered of something deep, revivifying and all encompassing - a profound and consummate love - rare upon this earth. Somehow it felt so near and yet utterly out of reach, like a reflection in a mirror.
When, on that last day, Edgar had returned from church services, Nellie clamored for Heathcliff's departure before her master found him, but Cathy had begged him to stay. As always, Heathcliff obeyed Cathy's wishes, and, while he rocked her in his arms for the last time, she'd utterly charmed him, whispering in his ear of their deep connection, telling him how he should not mourn too long, because what they shared would remain unbroken even by death.
"Was that just pretty romantic lie, Cathy? If not, then where are you?" he whispered, tears making a water course through the smudges of dirt and blood that stained his face.
From his perch above churchyard, Heathcliff watched, as after a time, the black clad, dreary mourners meandered out of the church, making their way to Cathy's grave site, located on a grassy slope under a crumbling low wall which had lost its battle to restrain the heath. Though the curate had agreed to a service out of respect for the Earnshaw and Linton families, nevertheless, Cathy had been deemed a suicide for her refusal to eat. It had been hushed up because of her position, but in due time, the townspeople would understand and commence their parochial gossiping, for it was common knowledge that this section of the churchyard, though hallowed, had been reserved exclusively for those whose madness drove them to suicide.
A lopsided, sad smile crossed Heathcliff's lips; there was something oddly fitting about this particular resting place. On moonlit nights in all weather, he and Cathy had played in that very area, daring each other to stand on the graves and call forth the unfortunate, melancholy inhabitants. That superstitious lot below believed the wall kept self-murders in their graves, but Heathcliff and Cathy knew better. They'd had it on good authority that the spirits of suicides walk the earth forever, bound to it by the fearfulness of their deed, and, under certain circumstances they could be viewed. Thus, both he and Cathy had firsthand knowledge of the existence of ghosts.
"Shall I stand on your grave and call your name? Will you come to me then?" he cried.
Being in the perpetual state of persona non grata, Heathcliff had not been invited to the funeral. Just as always, he observed from the outside. One day he would find a way to enter her world so he might rest beside her. But he must outlive that idiot she'd married. And how would he manage that? Only this morning he'd put a gun to his head, with the intention of stopping the pain once and for all. But he'd changed his mind. What would his trifling wife, Isabella, do with his body? Bury him with a stake in his heart at a crossroads, no doubt.
Drawing his fist to his mouth, Heathcliff bit his hand to stifle a howl as the pallbearers lowered Cathy's coffin into the earth. Afterward, when the men freed the lowering ropes, a wave of anxiety gripped his chest with such intensity that it felt as if an entity held him fast, stealing his breath. Lightheaded, his heart pounding rapidly, he leaned against a tree, sliding down the trunk and squatting as grief possessed him once more. How could he live when she did not?
Looking to the heavens for relief, he flooded his mind with its infinity, and a momentary calm brought him back. He knew, having bribed several Grange servants for information, that Cathy's death was not, as Ellen said, entirely his fault. Though he had instigated the fight with Edgar, it was not Heathcliff that left her to suffer alone without food or water for three days after one of her fits. This had been the advice of that meddling manipulator, Nellie Dean, and, being a milquetoast, Linton had followed it. What kind of a man would allow his pregnant wife to languish without nourishment for that long?
Heathcliff stood, hatred pouring from heart, as he considered Edgar Linton and the paltry nature of that weakling's marriage vows. Heathcliff and Cathy had no need for the benediction of formal wedding vows. Their promises to each other were etched on their hearts, born of a love that ran endlessly deep, transcending the laws of men and gods. Even now he felt it trembling – so tender and heartbreaking.
Ripping a branch from a tree, he cursed, whipping its trunk, and imaging it to be Edgar Linton. No, a simple beating would not do, thought Heathcliff, dropping to his knees. Something much deeper, and more painful – something closer to the humiliation the Lintons had inflicted on him when he was still a boy.
The thought of Isabella's parents and how they might feel if they knew of his marriage to their useless, spoiled daughter brought on an outburst of hysterical laughter as he recalled how they had thrown him out of their house after Cathy had been bitten by their dog. Mister and Missus Linton deemed him a wicked boy, unfit for a decent household and contemplated hanging him on the spot, though he'd been guilty of nothing more than looking foreign. He'd have to be sure to remind Isabella of that day. She'd called him frightful and ordered him locked in the cellar.
Apparently they had been correct about his dubious character, for according to Nellie Dean his treatment of Isabella was despicable. He should not have embellished so much on the truth, but he couldn't stop himself, unnerved and angered as he had been by Nellie's mean-spirited words regarding Cathy. Of course, what Heathcliff did to Isabella he'd learned from the Earnshaws, the Lintons and even Nellie, herself; so his justifiable actions revealed a kind of beautiful, if perverse, symmetry. However, as badly as he treated her, Isabella lived; and, though pregnant, she was healthy as a horse. On the news of Cathy's death, the indefatigable woman had berated with him savage intensity while he wept. Noxious bitch!
By comparison, under Edgar's care Cathy had perished. He'd left her to starve in her room rather than relent on his demand that she give up her oldest, dearest friend because of his dubious origins, low caste and apparent moral degradation. Too, Heathcliff knew of Nellie's deep involvement – all of the Grange servants did – for she had been heard advising Edgar Linton to leave Cathy to suffer alone as punishment for her fiery temper. Heathcliff would never have listened to Nellie's cold-hearted rationality. If he had been Cathy's husband she would have been cared for - seen a proper doctor immediately. But then Cathy would never have been taken ill had she married him, because, though it might try Heathcliff severely, he would not have stood in the way of her friendship with Edgar, if that was what she wished. For Heathcliff knew denying Cathy would only drive her away, and, too, he had no desire to restrain her.
"Cathy, my love…" he murmured to the sky.
Upon his return to the Heights after his marriage to Isabella, Heathcliff had learned through Joseph of a rumor that Cathy's confinement was due not only to her pregnancy, but also to a grave, life threatening condition. Unable to get a straight answer from the old man, he'd found Ellen on Gimmerton Road and questioned her as to the nature of Cathy's illness, but the stupid woman insisted that Cathy had conjured it up herself.
Heathcliff sought the company of Doctor Kenneth, knowing the man loved to gossip about his patients for the status it brought him. Thus, Heathcliff lingered in the shadows of the local tavern, waiting for the good apothecary to get warmed up with a few drinks. That is how Heathcliff had learned of the true seriousness of Cathy's illness, which had been made worse by her pregnancy.
Always high strung, she'd had an apoplectic attack, a not uncommon occurrence in pregnancy, and that idiot she'd married failed to care for her, because a maidservant said so. Kenneth said she might have regained her faculties had she been bled immediately; as it was the damage proved irreversible. Though she might live, should she throw off her melancholy, she would never be the same.
"Why?" Heathcliff wondered. "Why did you not have faith in me? I would never have abandoned you, Cathy. I needed a way to enter your world – to be your equal."
Edgar Linton would pay, and when Heathcliff brought that simpering fool low, no doubt, he'd simply give up the ghost and die, the pampered weakling. And the sooner Heathcliff completed his revenge the sooner he, too, could die and take his place beside Cathy for there was nothing else for him in this strange, deranged world.
In horror, Heathcliff rose, watching as Edgar Linton walked to the edge of the burial pit and threw a handful of dirt onto his wife's coffin. The other mourners followed suit, and soon after the gravediggers commenced heaving shovel loads of dirt, unceremoniously covering poor Cathy. Heathcliff's body shook in terror at the thought of never seeing her again. How could he survive this violence?
Breathing came hard as he watched the mourners take their leave. He'd been waiting for this; now he would make his way to the churchyard where he would kneel at her graveside, praying she would wait for him, nay haunt him, relentlessly, until he finished with Edgar Linton, the man who had driven Cathy to an early grave. For where had the villain been when Cathy languished alone on the floor of her bedroom for three days – hiding in his library, teaching his dying wife a very permanent lesson. Had Edgar meant to kill her for the sin of loving an orphaned, plow boy?
His face scarlet with rage, Heathcliff followed the path down to the church only to be brought up short when he saw Linton lingering at the grave site. His hands twitched as he considered strangling the master of Thrushcross Grange. How good it would feel to squeeze the life out of that murderer. When that man, with his neck broken, lie staring with dull, unblinking eyes at the heavens, Heathcliff would dig up the grave and kiss Cathy one last time, and then he would make for the Heights where he'd first kill Hindley, then Isabella and finally himself.
But as he advanced on Edgar, he felt a light breath of wind ruffle his hair and something about its warm spring scent brought him to his senses. Stepping out of sight, he rolled his eyes, looking quite mad as he did so, but in truth his rationality returned. If he died now he'd not get his wish to dissolve entwined with Cathy. He did not have the circumstances in place that would allow him to be buried at her side.
Returning to the hill where he'd watched the burial, Heathcliff mounted his horse and sped across the moor, making his way to the cave where he and Cathy had played as children. There he threw himself down on a stone outcropping, rocking back and forth and weeping as he whispered his prayer begging her not abandon him. He did not notice the change in wind direction or the cold air it brought, until a light snow fell. Chilled to the bone, he entered the cave for shelter, relishing the darkness; he'd not return to the Heights until everyone slept, so he might proceed to his bedroom without a confrontation with Isabella.
From the moment he'd returned that woman stalked him day and night; seeking his attention anyway she could get it. Isabella wanted him all the time; in spite of the fact he'd made it perfectly clear from the beginning that he detested her whining, trifling ways, and she obviously felt the same about him for she referred to him as the demon. Yet he would wake to find her in his bed where she played odd tantalizing games that aroused him in spite of his protest, their aversion feeding a dark passion. Where had she learned such things?
Heathcliff recalled Isabella's look of triumph when news of Cathy's death reached the Heights. She had mocked him for his grief. At the moment though, he felt too exhausted to return and confront her; instead, he sat on a rocky ledge as a memory surfaced, unbidden, of the fateful night he and Cathy spied on the Linton children through the parlor window of Thrushcross Grange. The two moronic brats fought over a small dog, attempting to tear it in two rather than share it. How prophetic.
Childhood memories of Edgar and Isabella flooded him; especially the way they'd treated him when he'd entered the Grange to carry Cathy home after their dog had bitten her. How they'd reviled him for his appearance before they threw him out. That night he'd watched through the window as the Linton family waited on Cathy; until then he'd repressed it, but at that moment the heartrending truth shown crystal clear. He did not belong, but she did. Thus their perfect unity was torn asunder.
Later that same night, alone in his garret, he'd suffered the torments only lost children know, and he wondered why. Why did everyone but Cathy despise him? He did his work without grumbling, mostly. He did not fuss when they beat him. He was for the most part quiet, though he rebelled against Sunday church, but then so did Cathy. He truly did not understand how their religion worked; nobody seemed to follow its precepts. Preaching generosity towards others made sense, but he'd never seen anyone put into practice, save Cathy and Mister Earnshaw.
That same night, he'd walked to the garret window and faced its reflection: a dark, dirty, battered, ragged boy, who bore no resemblance to those creatures of light from Thrushcross Grange. He owed his appearance, in part, to Hindley who forced him to work from sunrise to sunset, beat him regularly and refused to pay him or replace his worn clothes. Then, too, these hungry ghosts placed great importance on family trees and places of origin. But Heathcliff could remember neither his family nor his country; however, one thing could not be denied: his skin, eyes and hair were much darker than theirs.
At the time he'd wondered if that made him a creature of darkness. Now he knew it did; he did not resemble them in any way. For though at the time he'd been enthralled by the glamour of Thrushcross Grange, he knew now that he did not crave objects or luxury; the austerity of the Heights, in the terrible beauty of the natural world with all its harshness was all he desired - and Cathy, of course.
When, just before Christmas, Cathy had returned from her recuperation at the Linton's she was utterly changed, having fallen under the spell of all she previously despised. There was indeed a wedge between them, yet Cathy never totally deserted him. On Christmas day, after he'd thrown hot applesauce in Edgar's ugly face, and been beaten and locked in his garret, she'd taken the extraordinary step of climbing through the skylight to be with him. He hoped she would show him the same ingenious mercy now.
Heathcliff searched in the darkness for a flint and one of their old lanterns. After lighting it, he walked onto the moor to find the snow still falling, even as it had grown dark. Gazing up into the overcast sky, he watched the big twirling flakes float slowly down, wondering where Cathy might be and what state she might be in. He prayed she had not become lost in fear; she would need her wits about her to find him. With a mournful sigh he mounted his horse to return to the Heights; he was unsure of the hour, but he'd risk it. Hunger drove him as well as the need to stop the blood that still trickled down his face from the self-inflicted gash on his forehead.
"Oh Cathy, do come."
Holding the lantern aloft, he rode toward the only childhood home he could recollect. Memories of Cathy stirred an intense longing to be in her presence, and it occurred to him that on an evening such as this no one would be about the churchyard. Veering toward Gimmerton Church he slogged through the mud, for the snow had changed to sleet even as the wind had picked up, howling a gale, assuring a solitary visit. Cathy's lamb of a husband would never venture out in a drizzle let alone a full-blown, spring snowstorm.
Entering the graveyard, he rode toward the low wall as the bare branches overhead whipped and clicked in the wind, the tender, budding tips breaking off and falling to the earth. Just as he drew his horse to a halt before the unmarked mound of dark earth that blanketed Cathy, the thick cloud cover broke round a waning gibbous moon; its silver light revealed eerie monstrous shadows cast by the animated trees. Undeterred, he threw the lantern to ground, and dismounting, he knelt beside her grave, weeping while gently running his hand over the damp earth that separated them.
"Cathy, do you remember our game? If I stand on your grave and call your name will you appear to me?"
But he did not try; she would never make it that easy. This would be a deadly serious game to Cathy, and Heathcliff wondered if he had the mettle to play it. He'd have to find it, for he had plans to carry forward; he must lie beside her and such a goal would not be achieved easily. Neither Edgar nor Isabella would allow it.
"You know Cathy, my love, when they bury me next to you, it will cause quite the scandal."
He laughed out loud and the dark crazy sound he'd uttered startled him.
"Did you hear that, Cathy? Something worthy of demon – I guess they must be right about me."
Leaning back on his heels, he realized that the barrier between them consisted of only two yards of wet earth. And for the second time that day he contemplated digging up her grave so he might hold her in his arms one last time.
"Shall I do it, Cathy? I'll hardly notice how cold you are; the night air is so frigid. I'll simply pretend that you sleep in my arms. When they find us in the morning perhaps they won't notice me and mistakenly bury both of us."
As if in answer, the wind rose, its crescendo a gale of such force and violence that it sounded as if horses stampeded over the moor.
"I'll take that as a yes," he shouted, as, wild with excitement, he ran to the sexton's tool shed where he seized a shovel.
Digging with a vengeance, he soon hit the entrance of her little house. Thrilled by her nearness, he threw the shovel aside, falling to his knees and scraping the dirt away with such vigor that the skin tore from his hands to leave bloody stains on the coffin's cover as the wood creaked under his weight, splintering around the metal screws. But then, having almost reached his heart's desire, he stopped, for he heard a deep sigh above him at the graves edge, and thinking he'd been discovered he stood listening.
"Who's there?" he said, his heart beating frantically as he awaited an answer. "Show yourself or I'll throttle you." When no answer came, he recommenced tearing at the coffin lid, shivering as the icy sleet stung him. Frustrated he grabbed the shovel, raising it over his head, but before he could bring it down to shatter the lid, he felt the warm breath of a sigh as if someone stood beside him whispering in his ear.
Though no audible answer came, he did feel one, for the sweet warmth increased, entering his heart and circulating through his tortured mind and aching body.
"Cathy, my love," he whispered, utterly consoled, for though he could not see her with his mortal eyes, he did apprehend her through a more subtle sense.
"Stay by my side, until I may join you," he murmured as placated he climbed forth from the muddy earth as if born anew. For he knew she no longer lived there.
After tenderly refilling her grave, he mounted his horse and waited for a sign. Whether moments went by or hours, he knew not, but after a time his horse lifted its head and, without direction from Heathcliff, trotted out of the churchyard. Heathcliff made no interference, relinquishing control, knowing without doubt that Cathy led the way. So it was that as his horse climbed the icy road to the Heights, Heathcliff heard the gentle tinkling of many tiny bells whispering of something utterly different - their song woven from a strange language that spoke through visions and phantasms. Any attempt to render its meaning into words would only diminish it. It would take volumes to decipher; even a great poet could only approximate its beauty with justice. So why bother with words and books when this precise and breathtaking picture language existed.
"Ah, Cathy, how long must I wait to enter your brave new world?" he smiled, remembering the words of her favorite play. No earthly answer came, instead, Heathcliff saw that he would not be free to leave until he broke the bondage of his fate, and, though that might take what seemed an eternity to him, for Cathy it would be only the blink of an eye.
"And will you stay with me as my Ariel until then?"
He could not tell whether she mocked him for he heard only the laughter of tiny bells. Thus he carried on what might have seemed drunken, delusional rambling to the casual, outside observer, but, for the few with deeper insight, it was clear that he conversed with the glistening shadow of a young woman, who guided him safely home.