Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

Palingenesis By Rob Nisbet


The tall spike-tipped gate was barely illuminated by the stuttering gas lamp, but Emily could see that it was locked. A precious breath escaped her, misting in the air. She hadn’t the strength to call for help and clung to the railings for support. But the weight of her despair and fatigue was too great. The bitter iron drew the last remnant of heat from her frozen fingers and she slid down into the snow that whispered across the cobbles.

She tugged the knitted shawl tighter around her shoulders, the wind burning the tear stripes on her young cheeks, and closed her eyes.

Mr Gribbin swirled into her mind, seated behind his desk, twirling what had been the key to her lodgings between his clawed fingers. “I’ve never known compassion,” he said, his steel-grey eyes unfocused as if he could see the past. “Like you, my own mother couldn’t pay her rent – she was cast out of her lodgings, and rightly so. I grew up in a workhouse. Hard work and diligence. I don’t regret a moment. I’d advise you to do the same. You only have one life. Do what I did, and make the most of it.”

Emily had sobbed and pulled out a circular amulet that hung from her neck on a leather thread. “I have this,” she said, “my last possession of any value.”

Mr Gribbin leant forward. The amulet held a symbol he recognised. Two snakes formed a circle. Their mouths open, each swallowing the tail of the snake in front. His eyes swept over Emily with contempt. “I said you only have one life.” He snarled at the amulet. “Do you think your pagan beliefs can help you now?”

“I believe in the circle of life,” said Emily; “that the soul is not bound to just one body.”

“Palingenesis!” Mr Gribbin spat the word. “My mother too was a disciple of this absurd fantasy. Much good did it do her. She died; eighteen years ago. Dead. Finished - nothing more.”

“Life isn’t linear,” sobbed Emily. She stared into the grey eyes. “I’m eighteen. Your mother believed in reincarnation, as do I, we could be the same person.”

“Out!” Mr Gribbin had roared. Emily heard the word echo around her as if carried in the swirl of the biting wind. She peered through the locked iron gate. A candle moved behind a window of the workhouse and she was able to imagine staff patrolling the wards, as if at some point, without her knowledge, she had seen inside.

Perhaps she had been Mr Gribbin’s mother. Lived before in this very workhouse. Brought him up to take all he could from a cruel world.

What was left of Emily was too numb to ache with the cold, too weak to shiver. She shrank into a curled huddle of icy flesh and rags. In the morning, her frozen eyes, stared through the railings, hopeful of a better life, next time.


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