John was thrilled to be getting married to Elizabeth. True, they had only known each other for a short time, less than a month, after he had moved to the country to hopefully avoid the cholera epidemic that had been breaking out so suddenly and violently in the city. It had taken only two dances for him to fall in love with her. And it was also true that she had a bit of a strange reputation around her small town, but as an outsider, he assumed that his own reputation around town would be less than kind. She was incredibly beautiful, with pale skin, long black curls, and eyes that lit up with such sparkle when she was excited, you could’ve sworn they would pop out of her skull.
But her life also contained such tragedy, John’s heart broke for her. After a recent trip to the city, her whole family had come down with cholera, and were in the long, slow process of dying at their large manor estate. Luckily, their wealth had afforded them the best in-home care possible, and while nobody in town had seen anyone but Elizabeth for several months, nobody wanted to become infected with cholera, either. Since two people in their town had been accidentally buried alive, poles had been installed in the graveyard. Bells were attached to the poles, and lines of string from the bell’s clappers down into freshly-dug graves could be seen scattered throughout the cemetery.
The thought of accidentally being buried alive… well, it was John’s absolute greatest fear. To awake from sickness in that box, deep under the earth, with a string to pull to notify the world that it’d all been a mistake, he was alive, dammit, was too much to think about. He’d told Elizabeth as such the first night he met her, after he’d learned about her family’s slow descent into death. He would avoid meeting her family until they either miraculously recovered, or he’d sadly visit their graves, supporting Elizabeth through such a terrible occasion. To have your father, mother, two sisters, and little brother all dying at once! His heart broke for her daily, when she would secret out to see him in the field between her house and the churchyard, the graves looking silently at them from a distance. But, of course, as the only surviving heir, she would inherit the entire estate, along with a considerable amount of money, which would soften the blow of losing her family. Plus, he had proposed, and their nuptials were mere days away. He wasn’t short of money, either, with a decent inheritance of his own that he’d barely had time to put a dent in before he hastened away from the city. They could start a new life, a new family, together, in this beautiful countryside, with no worries.
One morning, John was shocked to come downstairs for his morning coffee, only to find Elizabeth, sobbing, waiting in his parlor. “My family…” she started to say, but couldn’t get further without weeping hysterically. “They’re gone!” she managed through shakes and tears. He held her close, and let her cry, soaking through his dressing shirt with her tears and snot. When she finally pulled her head away, though, her eyes were dry and curiously sparkling. “Oh, my husband, we must bury them at once and have our wedding! I cannot stand to not have a family for even a moment longer!” He wasn’t sure if it was the grief, the anxiety, or something else at play, but her face looked… strange. She was still beautiful, of course, but her pale skin looked ashen; her eyes looked almost dead. Her voice was full of emotion, but none of it seemed to reach her face.
He must have looked at her curiously, because she quickly started sobbing again, and threw her face into his chest. “We must! We must! We must!” she yelled, until John pulled her up and looked at her again. Now she looked proper grief-stricken, with watery eyes and a dour countenance. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light, earlier. How s