The Near Shore by Michelle Markey Butler
The wagon stubbed over a rut. Byre bumped, shroud shifted, coins fell from closed eyes. Hidden beneath the linen. No one saw.
But, then, he could. A half-sight not of eyes but spirit Unencumbered by the winding sheet.How strange to watch his own burial. Bound form lowered into a fresh scar In a graveyard maimed by too many, and too new. He felt as much as heard the coins slip, Lost in folds until they fell free. One to the turned soil beneath, one to the sparse grass beside.
The baker's boy scooped it up, fast as a frog.Habit, perhaps, kept him near the mound As it greened, and sunk. Where else should he go? Without passage, the farther shore was barred. He had no wish to haunt his relations. He had been well-tended in his illness despite their fear, Well-treated until the waggoner grew careless and no one saw.
Soon enough, more graves joined his, And no relations remained to haunt.He had known burials did not stay In crowded churchyards. His eviction was still a shock. He brooded his scattered bones like a hen.
When the anatomist came on a moonless night, he followed.Coins changed hands But did not come near the empty sockets of his eyes. A pang, that. He felt trapped, as he had not since The first moments the dirt sat down upon his shroud.
Days spun themselves into weeks, Wove into years like fine linen. The alchemist collected coins until he could buy books.The far shore, it was said, was unchanging. Not so the alchemist's rooms. Men visited, bought and traded A tidal crew of glass and gold, gems and needles.
His skull braced the alchemist’s favorite volumes, On a shadowed shelf lest they catch an eye. The ones that stayed. That he loved, and meant to keep.
Michelle Markey Butler is a Lecturer in the College of Information Studies and the Honors College at the University of Maryland College Park, where she teaches medieval literature and Tolkien. She has published on medieval and early modern drama, but her current research project focuses on internet memes as literary and cultural criticism. She is the author of SF/F stories and a debut novel, HOMEGOING, which releases in December 2014 from Pink Narcissus Press. michellemarkeybutler.com.