Good morning, oh ghoulish Internet browsers. It’s time for candy and costumes and spirits and a whole other brand of escapism today. Halloween. Do you have your mask all picked out?
Forgive me for not bringing any traditional treats to the party, but I do have a new spooky story for you…it might even touch your heart, though probably not in that whole, “Kalimaaaa” sort of way. Enjoy: “What Lies Beneath,” and, if you’d prefer to hear me read it aloud to you in a dark room (you creepers, you), I’m also recorded it on soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/galforc/what-lies-beneath
WHAT LIES BENEATH
October had lost its color. Autumn was frost, the rigid huddling of dirt against dirt in dire opposition to his shovel, a squeezing of the lungs that would not dissipate. The air was white with his breath, white against the sliver of moon by which kids stole corn husks from the neighboring fields. By contrast the night was black, slick in his hands, an opaque, reflective thing, but black regardless. Raymond had come to think of these as obsidian days, pondered if the marble tombstone had been misbegotten.
“Please,” he whispered to that stone, “it’s time. It’s only time.” Still the ground fought him, every time it fought him, no matter how many times she dug herself back out.
The battery-powered lamp was all but flickers beside him. In every shadow he saw her face, every time a touch harsher than the last.
Months before, when they had first bid their farewells, he had drunk himself into a stupor. When she first returned to him, stumbling up the lawn in that god awful suit with which they had buried her cancer-eaten body, he had thought her a cruel trick of alcoholism. He had hid in his bathroom and rocked himself to sleep.
“They spoke of peace, Ray. They didn’t mention the silence,” Britney said when he emerged in the morning.
She was still there, pale, porcelain-preserved skin dragging mud and worms into their bed. It seemed as though she had sat there all night, waiting. She no longer needed to sleep. She made a sound like Britney used to make, when those Sarah McLachlan commercials used to come on for the shelters. Only thing was, she had no more tears to give.
He very nearly broke down right there.
The thing was, everyone knew it was a possibility. It was all over the news, since the last red meteor. Call it a fluke or call it magic, for most people it was just a nuisance. Necromancers. Satanists. Punk Rockers. You never knew who might call up the dead anymore. They tended toward the rich and famous, though. Not little people, like him.
“I love you, I’ll always love you.”
He kept repeating it like a mantra, even as he took her back to the hill and buried her in the earth. He got a different priest, just to be sure, and paid the groundskeeper extra to make sure her grave got the proper care. Raymond didn’t like the notion of vengeful spirits due to someone else’s lack of care.
“Why?” she asked, time and again, after that. “Don’t you love me anymore?”
“The words,” he choked, becoming harder with repetition, “say ‘til death do us part, love. I will always love the person you were, but you’re gone. You’re gone and I’m still here. You told me to keep living.”
“But I’m scared, Ray…”
He felt monstrous. It bid him dig still deeper. He covered her grave in flowers and stood, sometimes, watching the bend of the cypress tree there besides, its intangible whirls and knots, twisting into the night. One by one, its leaves fell.
Yet she kept coming back. Each time she did, there was a little less of the woman he had known, a little more of the grave. People said it was the soul that animated. Given that it was her mind he watched deteriorate, he thought that might have something more to do with it. Anger began to move her, instead of regret.
“I’ve never been able to sleep alone,” she said, the last time she pulled herself up.
It was the rot, he told himself. Bits of her were shutting down, but not fast enough for his liking.
All he wanted was the quiet, the calm. He longed to come to peace, to be allowed the silence of release. Her return deadened him, but in ways he had never wanted to be. Familiarity was supposed to humanize, not harden.
The cemetery was a long walk from his house, and it was not long before he wrapped the coat still tighter about his body. Winter was practically here. There had been no leaves left on the tree, this night.
Autumn passed at a shuffling gait, a whisper of death on the open air. He stood still, turning back across the long asphalt. What was imagination in a world where such things existed? He did not have to imagine it. She was there. She must have been digging before he even finished patting down the hole.
Barely any skin left. Her nails had continued to grow, but they were cracked, flaky. Most of what had made her Britney in his eyes had dissolved to bare creation. She no longer had any lips.
“Why?” he asked at last, nothing else left to offer her.
Closer she came, and closer. “I don’t want to be alone…”
His fingers, folding as if in prayer, groped around the empty pocket he had once promised held a ring. Another empty hole, promises forgotten by dark of night.