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msgardner

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Posts: 1,147 Member Since: 06/14/09

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Feb 28 13 8:51 PM

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This is a story from a short story collection of mine:

 

Dead Hands

 

She was my love.

She was my life.

And on this, the day of her funeral, I fear she has become my taker…

As I walked through the oak double doors of Hodges Funeral Parlor, a foul smell ran across my nostrils; it was coppery, ostensibly seeping from the floral decorated walls. A thousand times over I had told myself that it was just my imagination. That it wasn’t what my war-torn memory told me it was.

I arrived early—before most of the employees, even—so I had no warning of what was to come, or what had already transpired. A dreary classical piece, that if I’m not mistaken had been Sir Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem,” played through several hidden speakers in the background. I cannot begin to describe how the song made me feel other than with each step, each glance at the fake shrubbery and rows of empty seats, my morale declined that much more.

I remember thinking: God, why did you have to take her first?

Why was it her that had to get sick, to suffer indescribable pain, and to watch her loving family as their hope for her survival diminished, the glimmer in their eyes fading with each passing day? Why did it have to be her to… to—

As much as I don’t want to, I need to shake those thoughts. Holding back the tears now seems a little childish, I know, but I can’t summon the courage to release the pain. Doing so, I guess, will only make these final moments even more detestable.

When my tired eyes gazed across that wooden platform and up to the stained walnut casket, I had to fight with all of my being to keep composure. I loved her, and always had. We’d gone through some rough times, but none bad enough to take the slightest of that warming sensation in my heart away. My footfalls creaked along the faded hardwood floor of that ancient place until I stopped just feet before her resting body, the music ceasing at that very moment.

The mortician had done a wonderful job with my wife. Her former pallid complexion still shone through the makeup, and she still wore her timeless smile. She looked peaceful, almost happy. However redundant this may sound, she appeared alive compared to her last few months with us. The wig we’d picked out for her was a haunting reflection of how beautiful she really was. I’m sure to others her appearance would have been offsetting, but that’s love. The midnight-blue V-neck sweater our daughter had bought for her last Christmas fit perfectly, and so did the black pearl necklace her sister, Lorraine, had left her when she died last October.

My wife, she could have passed for living as I’d approached her. If it weren’t for that coffin, I would have thought my eyes had betrayed me.

I stepped up to get a better look. A tear escaped my right eye and dribbled down my cheek until finally it gave way and dropped as I leaned over my slumbering beauty. I watched in a motion as slow as my elderly pace that very tear fall until it splashed on her forehead. I lost it soon after. I closed my eyes while shielding them with my right hand, sucking in breath when my lungs would allow. I couldn’t take it anymore. This point of realization had almost caused my heart to cease functioning right there. Part of me wanted it to so that we could be reunited.

Already it’s been too long.

Minutes had passed, my grip on reality diluted from the endless expanse of sorrow. When I removed my wrinkled hand and opened my eyes, I saw what I thought I’d never see again. Her eyes, they were open… and looking right at me. For a moment I thought I’d been hallucinating, but when her lips began flustering I knew it was real.

“Meredith,” I whispered.

She didn’t answer; she only looked at me and then scanned the room as if looking at the world through a different set of eyes, like an infant taking in everything for the first time. 

I then called for help, not knowing what else to do. Who I was expecting, I couldn’t and can’t say. I just needed someone. To answer my plea, a pair of feet stomped down on the hardwood floor in the next room. The echoes of the footfalls grew louder and faster, harder and meaner, by the second. While I was fighting an internal battle, deciding if my mind had been playing an ill-mannered caper or not, what I can only describe as a guttural roar echoed throughout the place. This forbidden tone, I thought, had to come from some primordial beast, something strong that was motivated by rage and hunger, hate and anguish. Much to my surprise, it had issued from a girl of no more than ten. Her floral dress was stained with the essence of someone’s life—possibly all nine pints of it.

She appeared at the entrance of the viewing room behind me and growled. Her eyes were milky white, like someone had sucked out the irises and pupils. One of them twitched as I began to open my mouth. She bared her teeth, and a thick crimson fluid spilled out and traced her chin while clods of what had to be flesh raced down her thin cheeks. Then I noticed that one side was missing a slab of flesh. The few seconds that I was able to study the young girl’s face revealed what looked like a bite mark. A bite mark!

As I watched, speculating on if my sanity had degenerated to that of a newborn’s, I felt two hands grabbing my shoulders. Each finger dug into my skin as if the jacket and undershirts weren’t even there. I yelped and spun around—at my age it was more like wrestling for balance as my whole world shifted—to find my wife of fifty-one years leaning toward my neck. Her mouth was open, her tongue bouncing over her lower lip as if she were some starved canine, for Christ’s sake! Before I could think about saying something—or even fighting her off—her cold, dead hands wrapped around my throat and stole my breath.

What are you doing, Meredith? I remember thinking as her mouth drew near the nape of my neck. It’s me, honey: your plumber who can’t plumb, your electrician who always gets shocked, your TV guy who can’t find the remote… the most unromantic, unlucky man that never, not once, forgot our anniversary or our first date. Or our first—

“—Kiss,” I said with a hiss of air.

Somehow my hands and arms had worked their way through hers and were pushing her back.

She snarled and scratched, splitting the fat on my cheeks. At that moment a bursting flare of pain shot up from my right calf. The little girl had latched on with her bloodied teeth, which gnashed away, robbing me of my footing.

I fell back to the hardwood and landed with an echoing thump. The air temporarily escaped my lungs and, for a brief moment, I thought those two were going to eat me alive. But the pain coursing through my body forced me to my feet as if the floor had suddenly caught fire.

Meredith lurched toward me, her left hand finding purchase on the cuff of my jacket. I yanked the material free before she could put her hands around my neck again. The little girl behind let out a scream and moved forward. I hadn’t realized her left foot bending back before because, up until then, I’d yet to see her move. But now, as she took one slow, unbalanced step after the other, it was as clear as day.

I blinked hard, doing my best to clear the clouds in my mind, and laid eyes on my wife for what I will regretfully hope to be the last time. Her head craned, and she lifted up her right hand and sucked what blood was there from the scratches on my cheek. I nearly vomited.

Instead I fled from the horror like a defeated army and found a place to hide and recover, and to hopefully wait out the madness in another room’s closet. But she’ll find me; she always does.

My Meredith.

My love.

What have you become?

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