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This is a story from a short story collection of mine:
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
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.
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.
What have you become?