No one is ever prepared for the stench that strikes after the third day. It hits like a mighty blow, knocking the wind out of one’s gut, challenging the equilibrium, buckling the knees. They say one can’t smell oneself; or at least I recall them doing before my Big Sleep.
It’s not possible. We’re constantly exposed to our own odor, nullifying its aroma on a minute by minute basis, making it imperceptible in the long run.
But those who preach said rhetoric haven’t been buried six feet under for weeks (months? years?) on end, then risen from eternal sleep, much against their will, their flesh resembling a torn up suit, hanging off their bones like a flimsy curtain. The living talk, they theorize, ponder and mull over; yet the living do not know.
On the fourth day after rising, I split from the undead herd. They wandered aimlessly ahead, their arms dangling like deceased branches of weary trees, their legs leading them as involuntary limbs go. I stopped, receded, then separated. None saw me depart – or they might have, and knowing I would be of little use as sustenance, ignored my exodus. I was free to roam wherever I wanted, and be who I wanted. The dreary loneliness I felt, merely burdensome at first, soon morphed into an affliction I could not shake off.
An overwhelming hunger roared in my crumbling belly, which I hoped would resolve itself in time. When it hadn’t, I fed on dead raccoons and possums I found on the vast nothingness all around me. They were scattered as random gifts from the underworld’s Lords, a charity for those of us who still acknowledged their occasional goodwill. The animals’ carcasses were nearly rotten, swarming with maggots and flies that even scavengers avoided at all costs. Their taste was so pungent that I wondered if starving wouldn’t be a more preferable experience.
I walked for days, strolled about for weeks, and meandered this way and that even longer, or so it seemed. In my soulless state, time was an unfamiliar entity, its passage as still as a towering mountain.
Ultimately, I came across the Hills of Hades, their silhouette swaying back and forth across the horizon like a gentle wave posing for a photograph. If my legs were not weary up until now, they soon would be, for after the strenuous trek in my recent wake, my eyes came across the jagged Gehenna Gradients. Their spiked backs towered into the skies, resembling a lower set of fangs, piercing the dark clouds like vaporized cotton candy. I climbed for what felt like years; in all likelihood, it took even longer.
Seasons changed during my ascent. The sunshine I enjoyed at the halfway point gave way to an endless downpour that turned the path into a thick mud bath, in which I could move not forward nor backwards. Eventually, the ensuing snowfall hardened the soil just enough to make walking a possibility, and despite the poor visibility, I gradually made my way over the summit, which allowed the most magnificent view of the underworld so far.
Soon thereafter, the weather improved again, and I witnessed the blooming of flowers, spurts of grass and efflorescence of leaves amongst the trees, as if they were millions of snapshots running at motion picture speed. My descent towards the crescent moon, during which I tumbled several times, and broke my arm in multiple places, took but the fraction of time that my ascent had. But the discomfort my fractures caused were countered by the grand views before me. In the distance, scattered lights flickered on top of a valley like fireflies across a meadow. A town was within my reach, and hopefully, the end to my present solitude.
The valley upon my descent saw the end of the aforementioned rebirth of nature, and soon gave way to an above ground graveyard. The dead, human and animal alike, were scattered like cosmic dust under my footsteps, the fetor of which I gradually adjusted to, as I did to my own malodor. The outskirts of town were less dreary, and as I passed the obligatory Welcome to Ghoulville sign, the path was illuminated by uncountable carved pumpkins, ghostlike decorations, and mounted scarecrows and skeletons alike. Mid-Autumn festivities were already underway.
I blended in among the locals, like a fitting creature of the night, minding my business, abstaining from offending anyone accidentally. The chilly breeze no longer produced an aroma I recognized (with the exception of my own mustiness), and this I took for a good omen.
And then, a miraculous sight. A wonder, marvel, call it what you will. It was at the intersection of Incubus avenue and Wraith boulevard that I first saw it. Her, to be more exact. She flew above my head on her decrepit besom, her white hair flailing in the frigid wind, the graceful figure reminiscent of an angel from the eternal fires below. The giggle she emitted resonated across the lifeless graveyard of tombstones, the echo of which stayed with me long after she vanished from sight. I walked in the direction of her flight, drawn to her hellish aroma like a magnet to metal, hoping to run into her at some point, by chance or will or a common fiendish destiny.
From the few undead and shifty succubi I came across, I inquired about her name, origin, and general whereabouts. There weren’t too many female conjurers in Ghoulville, so based on the physical description I gave, a bulky werewolf told me her name was Olwyn.
“She hails from the suburbs of Occultown,” he said. “Her father was an ancient mummy, her mother a prosperous sorceress. Olwyn had higher ambitions, so she ventured beyond her hometown. And you’re in luck, for she has a thing for decomposers.”
She has a thing for decomposers. The words echoed in my hollow head, bouncing back and forth between the dusty cranium, until they were the only thought I possessed.
But what if…
I mean, what if she…
and if I… I mean, it could… right?
The thought alone made me giddy with delight and glee. I had to find courage to approach her, charm her softer side, appeal to her kinder senses. If only she could tolerate my decaying flesh, which, in time, will render me a gaunt skeleton. It would be asking a lot of her tolerance, but what the hell: I’ve less than one life to live, and pondering about what ifs at this stage is rather fruitless.
Trick-or-treaters lined up across the burial ground like an army of the soulless and the spectral. It was impossible to tell ghoul from ghost, demon from beast, or goblin from incubus in the misty darkness. Monsters and undead alike marched the cold, silent streets, their baskets resembling crates of bones and bloody organs.
I searched for Olwyn far and wide, my eyes scanning the skies and the ground alike, until I spotted her descending at the far end of the large metal gate. She opened the heavy iron door, the creak of which attracted me to it like a forbidden siren song. My approach was slow, apprehensive, nearly nerve-wracking. Had I possessed a beating heart, it would’ve leapt out of my chest and splattered on Olwyn’s pale, ghost-like face once I stood in front of her.
She wiped down her broom, and saw me approaching from the corner of her eye. At length, she spoke without making eye contact. Her words, like a melodious harmony from the depths of purgatory, sang to my lifeless ears, one of which was barely hanging on (yesterday I secured it using a used piece of tape which had nearly lost its stickiness).
“I’m going for a walk among the tombstones,” she said, her words uttered at the volume of whispers rather than normal speech. “My grandmother is buried around here. If you’ve got nothing to do, you can join me.”
The contentment within me was overwhelming, and the exultation uncanny. Yet I was still self-conscious about the foul smell my body emanated. It had gotten so bad that it repulsed my own nostrils, and those I passed across the dead wasteland flinched and rolled their eyes more often than not. So I kept a distance between Olwyn and myself, hoping it’d be enough to keep her repulsion at bay.
The crispy leaves crunched beneath our feet as we meandered between the dilapidated tombstones and the ominous cobwebs that hung from the decaying tree branches. Olwyn told me of her strict upbringing, and how she wasn’t allowed to date until her eighteenth birthday.
“And even then, my boyfriends had to be either mummies or warlocks,” she said. With each minute she let her guard down, and her smile flashed her rotting teeth the more we exchanged personal revelations from our past. “I detested such limitations, and vowed to venture beyond the silly constraints once I moved to Ghoulville.”
“I never chose my current state,” I said. “One endless night, long after sunset, I woke inside of a crumbling coffin, several meters underground. When I rose, the world as I knew it was a thing of the past, and there was no one I could relate to.”
She listened with her eyes, never overreacting with an unnecessary nod or a perfunctory verbal gesture. Even the glances she directed in my direction were a melancholy collection of sympathy and understanding. I wanted to consume her, to bite into the succulent flesh of her left arm, right there and then, decency be damned. And I would have, if my newfound affection had not superseded my craving for flesh.
When we reached her grandmother’s grave, she stood speechless, and eventually shed a few tears. The dim moonlight mixed with the fog to create an atmosphere of caliginous solemnity. Olwyn graced her grandmother’s stone with her long, bony fingers, and exhaled a condensed breath in the frigid air.
“She taught me all I know,” she said. “How to cast spells, mix potions, how to fly, even how to patch up decaying, rotting flesh.” Her eyes met mine, causing my knees to buckle. “If you’d like, I could help you with that.”
I heard, but had not listened. Could it be? Did she just say what I think she…? No, surely not. I mean, it’s too much, too good, can’t possibly be true. After all, I knew where I was, and nirvana surely this was not.
Or was it?
“W-what…?” I uttered the words without belief, without conviction. “You hardly even know me.”
“That may be, but I know a kind soul, and in the land of the dark and the sinister, a pair of amiable eyes sticks out like a broomstick in a blade field.”
As her final syllable resonated, bouncing off the battered gravestones, my heretofore uncertainty and self-doubt evaporated like mist in the morning sunlight. Here I was, mere nobody, who had lived an insignificant life, only to return as the disintegrating walker, and find elation in the unlikeliest of places. If this was a dream, I hoped never to wake up.
As Olwyn and I walked towards the festivities in the town square, I felt like an undead brought back to life. The omnipresent, newfound night all around us became more dazzling. I could finally embrace my eternal darkness.
The perpetual solitude, which had weighed so heavily on my lifeless heart, at long last melted away, like a fistful of ice held over a scorching flame.
We held hands in the morning watching the sunrise, we held hands in the afternoon as the sun passed the zenith, we held them at eventide as dusk gave way to the crescent moon in the heavens above. Olwyn’s presence was equivalent to a life saving antidote for one who was sure of his imminent demise: she made today bearable, and tomorrow worth looking forward to. We got to know each other’s idiosyncrasies: she preferred to cook her food before consuming it, and I made due with an occasional roadkill here or there (she didn’t mind my ensuing rotten breath, as long as I cleaned the few teeth I had left afterwards with the herbal toothbrush she provided for me). She fixed my leprosy, and my flesh soon resembled that of a living man, in texture if not in color. And the stink that my pores emanated? Gone, like a sinful soul in Hades.
Olwyn introduced me to her friends, and soon I met most of Ghoulville’s locals. We attended various sacrifices, black magic rituals and random offerings to the Gods of darkness. And we would’ve remained a happy couple, for all eternity, and beyond, if not for Milford the Mummy.
He appeared beyond the fiery horizon, aloof and forlorn, looking for company, love, but most of all, to snatch my happiness away. Having crawled out of some ancient tomb, risen from millennia long slumber, and wrapped in an infinitely long bandage, he was nothing more than a rotten corpse masquerading as a layer of decrepit attire. More clever than he initially let on, he must’ve heard the rumors circling the town.
Did you hear about Olwyn and the undead bloke?
Are they a couple? Her taste is crummier than her company, I’d say.
He’s not as rotten as he seems. She helped him with his decay, and he’s better now. Doesn’t even crave living flesh anymore.
Still, no bachelorette in all the underworld can hold a candle to her. She could do better.
We could all do better.
Milford took a keen interest in my one and only like a coyote pouncing on an innocent rabbit. He meandered about wherever she happened to be, his shoulders slouched, and his bandage slightly undone (a deliberate gesture, to be sure). Well aware about the miracles she worked at fixing my leprosy, he clearly hoped she’d sympathize with his ragged affliction, and approach him with her services. I spotted him early on as he impersonated a poor-man’s shadow, tailing us from afar, resembling a foolish schoolboy. I watched his every move, and whether he knew it or not, I suspected his intentions. Not wanting Olwyn to think me a jealous type, I kept my distrust to myself. Deep down, I hoped he’d get bored, lose interest, and go away on his own, to rot away for a few more millenia in some pyramid’s tomb. But alas, seldom do the likes of us get what we want. More often than not, our worst fears pin us down. Like an undesirable virus, the more we avoid it, the more likely it finds its way into our bloodstream.
It was a cool winter afternoon when Olwyn asked me to pick out several roses from the Valentinus garden. I thought the endeavor simple enough, so I ventured in there by my lonesome. Yet my brittle hands struggled to grip, hold and grasp the thorny stems. After multiple attempts, I cut the roses either too short or too long, eventually ending up with various sizes, neither of which was to Olwyn’s liking. When I returned empty handed, my fingers appeared as shattered and mangled as half eaten chicken wings.
“Ouch”, Olwyn said. “Someone’s got clumsy hands.” She bandaged my wounds, adding a touch of healing herbs from the Prashina desert, and two leaves from the dark depths Haelan caves. I could feel the numbness replacing my previous discomfort, and embraced the ensuing tingling; but especially her gentle kisses, which felt like specks from Venus.
Afterwards, Olwyn ventured into Valentinus’ garden, picking the flowers herself, and cutting the stems according to her likes. But her gardening skill was no better than mine; the hands she greeted me with were also wounded, pricked in several places, the blood dripping in her wake, like red sprinkles of warm rain.
“Clumsy hands?” I remarked, a sly grin on my face. “Look who’s talking.”
“If I don’t wrap this properly, I won’t be talking much longer.” The blood now sprayed from her hand like a minuscule sprinkler. Pressing on the wound with the side of my jacket stopped it only temporarily.
“I need to get this bandaged,” she said. “Or you’ll be celebrating our anniversary over my
tombstone.” She found jesting the best cover for a dire situation. Try as I might, I could never reciprocate with the same level of wit.
“If that happens, we’ll share the same coffin.”
“What if it’s too tight? You know how I like to stretch and spread my limbs like an octopus.” I threw my hands up, unable to match her aphorism.
The abandoned Phantom Pharmacy, on the corner of Gul and Vijand, was a testament to the modern ennui of Ghoulville, a landmark of healing and remedies that once was, when the town was known under a different name, and housed citizens who benefited from its remedial qualities. The front windows were broken in several places, and the cracked door could easily be opened from the outside. The interior smelled of dampness and mold, and cobwebs covered the shelves like gossamer that sprouted from darkness itself. I searched the various shelves for bandages, shuffling through packages of expired pills and pain relievers, while Olwyn meandered about, mindlessly walking through webs that eventually covered her face as a veil of crumbliest entanglement.
From the distant corner, adjacent to the deserted front counter, and illuminated by the narrowest stream of afternoon light, a piece of rayon fabric fluttered about. We spotted it at the same time, but Olwyn was closer to it. She grabbed it, and upon pulling on its edge, proceeded to unroll it until the several feet of it made its way to her hand. She wrapped her bleeding finger, and looked for a sharp edge on which to cut it from its source, which was still shrouded in the shadows. A faint sigh, unfamiliar to me in texture and pitch, caused me to turn in the direction beyond the counter. Olwyn was just as surprised by the sight of a shabby mummy, its eyes cloudy windows of both despair and devotion for my beloved. Its wrappings were stained, a thick shade of black and brown dust enveloping the original layer; it was more mud colored than white.
“Oh,” Olwyn uttered, genuinely astonished. “I’m sorry. I…” She still held onto the thing’s linen. With its claw-like nails, the withered creature sliced it, separating itself from Olwyn’s bandage. Remains of her blood were visible on its shriveled end, which exposed part of its rotten arm where the wrap around her finger used to be. In shame, it retreated from her, like a shy child. She stared at it in wonder, her initial shock transforming into sorrow. She extended her hand towards it, frightening it even more.
“It’s all right,” Olwyn said. “Here, I can fix it for you.”
And here I thought she’d only used that line on me.
The thing rose from its cower, embracing her offer, coming out of its shell of bashfulness. Olwyn handled his linen gently, enveloping her hands, and the mummy’s arm until the decay was covered under a fresh wrap, the previous stains gone and seemingly replaced by her glorious fingerprints.
“I’m Milford,” the mummy said. The voice was equivalent to sandpaper rubbing stone. I had heard and seen enough. By the time she turned to look for me, I was already outside, observing the last remnants of the setting sun as if its trajectory mimicked the decline of my own heart from this afterlife into another.
Olwyn had done nothing wrong but help a creature in need, a ghoul of the night like the rest of us, yet I could not shake off the sting. Was that fair to her? Or to Milford? All I knew, all I felt, was the negative fervor within. It was too potent, malicious, and it overwhelmed any logical pushback I may have been able to produce. My bitterness was only accentuated by the length of time she took to finally come outside. The bandaged creature followed her, limping along like a wounded stray dog she had shown the tiniest affection to. They were chatting, giggling at inside jokes, flirting like teenagers. I walked away, hoping it would entice her to join me and pick up the pace.
She never did.
Back at her place, I held my tongue, hoping to speak only as a reply. The smile she flashed while at the pharmacy was still on her face, and judging by the glow in her eyes, the wrapped bag of bones she made friends with was as well.
“He’s sweet, don’t you think?” she said.
“I had not thought of him that way,” I said, my words barely resonating.
“Well, not sweet maybe, but you know, cute. Vulnerable. Like a child, almost.”
“I don’t know any children that are five thousand years old.”
“You know what I mean. He’s just so…”
“Cute? You said that already.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“Oh? I must be hard of hearing. Consequence of my condition, I suppose.”
She rolled her eyes. What did she expect? For me to embrace the sweet/cute/vulnerable nonsense with open arms? This level of naivety I did not expect, not from her.
“He asked me to help him with his skin infection,” she said, avoiding eye contact.
And there it was. She had me in the toughest of spots. If I agree, I’m a dupe. If I object, I’m the overbearing jealous type. There was no way out.
“Say something,” she said. “If you don’t want me to…”
“You’ve helped me with my problem. It’s only fair you help him with his.”
She leapt over and hugged me, thrilled at my response. Yet her hug was a cold one, absent of the typical tenderness I had grown accustomed to. Was this the end? If not, it certainly felt like the beginning of one.
For the next few days, I told Olwyn I was unwell (caught a bug, best to mend it alone) that I’d be on my own, to recover, and spare anyone else the possible infection. But what I really hoped was that my absence would make her appreciate the bond we had, and that no decrepit bag of bones was worthy of ruining it. Hers was a temporary infatuation, a briefest of instances accentuated by the Mummy’s decrepit state, and would surely fade after a few days. It simply had to.
To distract myself from the despair in my shriveled heart, I attended Santiago the Skeleton’s house warming festivities atop of the acute Haunted Hill, over which dark clouds perpetually hovered. Among the lycanthropes, the bloodsuckers and the grim reapers, there was a young apparition from the Victorian era, who, I was told, went by the name of Camryn. She stood solitary by the fireplace, hovering while flipping through old photos of Santiago’s ancestors, while the rest of us feasted on the fresh animal guts out of the blood stained barrel. My stomach having been deprived of food for so long, I got full rather quickly, and wanting to spare myself an involuntary retching, I walked over to her. A little chat with a single girl surely would make me feel better about Olwyn’s friendship with the detestable bandaged dwindle.
Standing behind her, my belching gave me away, and spared me the embarrassing opening line.
“Excuse you,” she said, without looking up.
“Yes, please do.” I covered my mouth in an apologetic gesture. “I fear I may have eaten too much.”
“I don’t know how you can eat that junk. It’s disgusting.”
“One must eat, or perish. You don’t partake in sustenance?”
“Would I look this transparent if I did?”
I extended my hand to her. “I’m —”
“I know who you are,” she said. “You’re Olwyn’s ex.”
“No, I’m her boy—”
“Soon to be, anyway.” She chuckled.
A jest, albeit a poor one. It must have been. Ha ha. To each his own.
“Olwyn and I… we’re…”
“Yesterday’s news. She’s got a new beau, from what I hear.” This got me fuming, against my better nature.
“What would you know about it?”
“More than you, apparently. Olwyn’s been looking for someone like her daddy all these years. She’s finally found him.”
Camryn was an angry, spiteful, malevolent spirit. Unhappy in her life, and even more despondent post-mortem, she found joy in spreading misery among those merrier than her. I was warned of phantoms like her, but never believed I’d actually run across one. Her intention was to make me angry, outraged. If only I hadn’t allowed her to.
“Fuck you,” I said, storming out. Her giggling reverberated down the hall, and followed me outdoors, where I kicked several carved pumpkins until one ultimately got stuck onto my foot. I dragged it all the way to the graveyard, where a parched tree served as my resting place for the night. The visions my nightmares produced were frightful and ghastly, and contributed to me waking several hours prior to sunrise. I sat, awake, attentive and aware, more than I can ever recall being. Simmering in my misery, and the inevitable torment that was to come, I shut my eyes, but could not ignore the harsh, strident sounds that screeched from the merciless world all around me.
Breakfast of rotten eggs, cooked over easy, served with a side of monkey brain, did little to increase my appetite. Olwyn’s preparation was absent of her usual chatter, and felt obligatory rather than joyful. We both expected the other to start the conversation. Little did she know that her stubbornness was nothing compared to mine. I’d take my resentment to the grave, if need be. I already have. At least once.
“Where have you been the last few days?” she asked.
“At Santiago’s.” I chewed the food, but didn’t taste it. At length, I swallowed it; it landed with a thud of a handful of sand. Dull, uninspired, and flat.
“All three days?”
I nodded: yes.
“What about you?” I asked.
“Oh, you know… this and that.”
“Look,” I began. “I’m sorry about the other day. I don’t know what came over me.”
“I’m sorry, too.” She smiled, and we both put the incident in the distant past. I held her hand until it began to sweat, and even thereafter.
“The Headless Horseman is having a bonfire at the edge of town tonight,” Olwyn said. “Everyone’s invited.”
“Including Milford?” I regretted the poor timing of the joke as soon as it left my rotting lips. She let go of my hand, and distanced herself from me, as if I was the plague. My subsequent sorry was a bit too little, too late.
“Wow,” Olwyn said, shaking her head. She grabbed her broom from the corner of the room, leapt on it, and skyrocketed through the crumbling roof until she was but a speck reminiscent of a crow against the gray skies.
The bonfire burned high and bright, its flame nearly reaching the moonlit clouds. Ghoulville’s citizens surrounded it like curious observers of the underworld’s true emblem. Frankie was taken aback by the scorching heat, while Vlad the Vampire embraced the warmth as if it was the sustenance he had been in search of for several millennia. I meandered about alone, greeting Walter the Werewolf (We’re way overdue for a boar-and-elk barbecue!), waving to the Swamp Monster (When will you stop by for a swim? he shouted at me; I shrugged, throwing my arms upwards), and shaking hands with the trio of Killer Clowns, whose acute fangs showed like ebony colored knives every time they flashed their demonic smiles at a familiar acquaintance.
All the while, the fire burned like the infernal pits, its heat perspiring me whole, despite me not possessing sweat glands. There was no sight of Olwyn, and by the time I made a full lap around the pyre, I was a toasty, sweltering mess, and a poor sight even for someone as pathetic as Milford.
He stared at the flame, despondent and alone, watching it with the wonder of a child exposed to his first hellfire. I greeted him out of pity, and only when he turned and waved to me did I notice a loose end of his linen flittering inches away from the flame. I pointed to it, but he was aloof to my meaning.
“Have you ever seen one this big?” he asked. With his face covered, I could not tell if he was joyful or frightened. The loose wrap was kissed by the fire, and began to blaze ever so slowly, unbeknownst to Milford. I wanted to say something, to walk over there and put it out for him, but found my compassionate mind at odds with my bitter heart. The spark expanded, and eventually reached his left arm. He turned and stared at it, frozen.
Did he expect it would go out by itself?
I watched his anticipated demise from where I stood, deciding to abstain from helping.
It’s not my fault. Some fellas are just clumsy, and ought to be more careful.
As the thoughts ran through my head, and Milford found his torso immersed in a blazing fire, several spectators rushed to his aid, only to stop themselves short at the fear of the growing conflagration. Above our heads, a blurred flash zoomed by like a muted flash of lightning; by the time we adjusted our eyes, we saw Olwyn at Milford’s side, covering him with her black robe as his burning arm turned into dissipating smoke. When she was sure he was ok (Are you hurt? Let me see… it doesn’t look too bad. Either way, I have just the ointments for such burns, etc.), she looked around, at length making eye contact with me. Her eyes were angled, narrow, nearly squinting. An iron stare crammed with disapproval and animosity.
“Were you just gonna stand and watch him burn?” she asked.
“I… I was afraid of the flame …” It was a lie I no longer believed, and she least of all. Olwyn helped Milford mount the broom – a spot that was mine not long ago – and as he held onto her, they rocketed into the heavens, and vanished out of sight, leaving a dust of sparks in their wake. The flame flickered, the wood inside it charred and glowing. Its illumination cast long, swaying shadows across the rugged pavement. Absent-mindedly, I watched them lap the bright fire, like drunken members of a folklore dance. Yet, I could not find my own, no matter how hard I tried.
Since rising from the tomb all those weeks ago (or was it months? or perhaps years? decades?), I’ve not experienced the torment as I had that night. Sleep was hard to come by, peace of mind an impossibility, and as for my self-esteem, it was non-existent as the compassionate God they spoke of during my previous life. My arrival in Ghoulville, at first glorious and filled with newfound infatuation, had turned into a burdensome state of resentment towards a woman that I loved, and a walking dead man who had done nothing to me. And I had no one but myself to blame.
Well, no more.
I’ll apologize to Olwyn and Milford, and beg their forgiveness. He is not half as bad as I make him out to be, and without her, I would’ve succumbed to complete decay long ago. If she loves him, and chooses to spend her days by his side, who am I to stand in their way? Her happiness is my utmost priority, even at the expense of my own. I was long overdue for a proper maturation. No time like the present.
The morning mist was still hovering over the garden as I picked several flowers, and placed them in a fading newspaper (I dug it out of a decomposing pile of trash). Their colors, aroma and texture injected me with a newfound warmth I hoped to share with Olwyn and Milford, if only they would accept my atonement.
I sniffed the bouquet all the way to Olwyn’s collapsing home, where I saw her from afar leaning against the fence, with Milford next to her. They were pleasantly chatting, and appeared rather friendly. Very friendly. Yes, perhaps a bit too much.
My eyes were instantly drawn to their hands, fingers which were intertwined in a manner reminiscent of Olwyn and I only recently. At the sight of this unexpected courtship, my stomach turned in a flash. The flowers fell from my grasp, like nature’s delicate porcelain, crashing to smithereens on the soft ground. Whatever I retched on the gravel path smelled neither foul nor sweet, for my sense of smell was absent.
Before I had recovered from the unpleasantness, I watched Olwyn and Milford’s mouths meet, tongues interact, mucus being exchanged. It was the vilest display of my undead existence yet. Nausea overcame me, and the heart in my chest that’s been inactive for so long, began to beat with the force of a thousand generators. I wanted to die, to perish, to cease from this existence and all possible others, yet I felt more alive than ever, much against my desire.
I crouched down, and hid behind the nearby bushes. Not wanting them to see me, I pondered my next move, as tears I didn’t even realize I was capable of producing poured out of my dim eyeballs, like minuscule waterfalls. All strength left me, I felt as weak as a newborn, and just as vulnerable. If cessation was on its way, I’d welcome it with open arms.
I heard Olwyn giggle and chuckle, and was reminded of the joyful laughter we shared in better times. The memory made me even more miserable and wretched, and as the agony gradually passed, it was replaced with a cold, ruthless hatred towards those who brought such suffering upon me. My eyes, my mind, my decrepit frame: all they wanted was to reciprocate such pain onto another.
When I rose, no longer caring about being seen, Olwyn was not by the fence. Milford stood at the same spot, whistling some buoyant tune I associated with the foulest purgatory. It irked me like an itch I could not scratch, and wanting to put it out, I walked towards him, like a soldier no longer afraid of death. His rottenness I could not sense like I once could, yet I wondered if he could sense mine.
“Milford,” I said, with a quivering voice. “You’re looking better.”
“Hey. What brings you here?”
“Is Olwyn around?”
He looked towards the ruin that was her home, then pointed to it.
“What’s the matter? You forgot your tongue in Olwyn’s mouth?”
“Zeke… I …” He put up his hands, as if surrendering. But it was too little, too late.
I grabbed the loose end of his linen, and with a swift motion, pulled it. It rolled rhythmically, causing him to spin several times, as a large part of the wrap ended up in my hands. The more I pulled, the more his decaying flesh was exposed. It resembled a burned victim set infinitely on fire, until the skin was shredded mincemeat. At length, he spun several times, until vertigo overtook him, and by the time I pulled the last strand of his flimsy linen, Milford was nothing but a decrepit bag of bones and dust that masqueraded as flesh. No longer held together by the wrap, he fell apart, like a poorly pieced together lego toy, and collapsed on the ground into infinitesimal pieces of dirt and ancient powder.
The ensuing smoke clouded my weary eyes, and as I coughed up Milford’s remains from my inactive lungs, I saw Olwyn standing just beyond the polluted mist. Her eyes were red, fierce, staring at me with equal disbelief and animosity.
“What have you done?” she shouted. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, YOU MONSTER!?!” She knelt down, scooping her latest lover’s remains in her hand. Her subsequent tears poured and dripped onto the pile of dust. She continued to shout, curse and howl at me, and rightfully so. I was out of words, and out of excuses. Acting out of anger and severe heartbreak, I had done what felt right at the time. Yet now, as seconds and minutes passed, I regretted my action, and wished I could take it back. But some things can no longer be patched, no matter the level of remorse, no matter the regret.
“I’m sorry,” I told her, for whatever it was worth. At this point, likely nothing. She may have heard me, or not. But she did not believe me. Either way, it did not matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
“I’ll be leaving now.” I turned, walked away, and did not stop until I was miles away from the outskirts of Ghoulville.
I never saw Olwyn again.
I know not how long I roamed aimlessly in this underworld. The terrain changed multiple times, the flatlands turned into hills and valleys, then into flat prairies once again. Rain came and went, snow piled on endlessly, only to melt after giving way to soothing sunshine that made everything grow again. When the fields in all directions resembled those of the past, I spotted a slow moving herd meandering about against the blue horizon. Their sluggish and uncoordinated walk drew me towards them, and before nightall, I had caught up.
The first sensation was the unbearable stench, a stink I used to emit myself, but had grown unfamiliar with since. Its absence in my life was equivalent to an unpleasant vegetable I abhorred as a child. Yet now, as an adult, I found a new appreciation for it. Not only did it not bother me, but I found it enticing, alluring, nearly captivating.
The undead herd walked slow but steady, their heads never turning, their eyes never straying from the horizon. I blended in amongst them, and instantly mimicked their wooden movement. We drifted about, chasing the setting sun in slow motion, and I wondered if the herd even noticed my heretofore absence.
Barlow Crassmont is an English teacher who dabbles in poetry and fiction in his spare time. When he’s not juggling and idling in amateur cardistry, he spends hours pondering what kind of fiction would result if fused by the best works of Egar Allan Poe and Jules Verne. Before his hair turns too gray, he aims to experiment with such synthesis.
If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream fiction and poetry with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine.