This is part one in an ongoing series of short fiction.
Let it be known that this is a tale of most grievous madness, horror, and cruelty to the human mind and heart. A love story most tragic and unsettling, as much as it is a eulogy to good taste and the bonds of friendship. Plus, supernatural murder and zombies. Zombies who enjoy a rousing game of tennis.
The story begins with the dismantling of a relationship, brick by brick, kiss by kiss.
It was a shocking moment. Like sticking a fork in a toaster or a wet finger in a socket. Or attaching a car battery to your nipples because sometimes a cup of coffee isn’t enough in the morning. With a heavy sigh and cracking voice, I let slip with hollow breath my lone question; “It’s over?”
“I don’t think there’s much left to be saved. Sometimes, you have to let go of the Tupperware when the leftovers have been in the fridge too long.”
“So… I’m just Tupperware?”
“You’re the leftovers. Like forgotten meatloaf that is now green and coated in frost and fungus.”
“Meatloaf?” I was surprised by her metaphor. Not because it was elegant, but maddeningly insulting. For both me and meatloaf. “Then, you’re the Tupperware?”
“I’m the fridge. There’s a stench of long-expired food that needs to be washed away. The fridge needs to be cleaned out. I’m cleaning you out of my life. I’m sorry.”
“No, no. No. No. Don’t be. What can apologies do to repair my hurt? My devastation? I’m just meatloaf so past its prime that it has latched itself as a symbiotic entity to a helpless plastic container; a vessel of life preservation that has failed! and now I’m cast out in the swirling cosmos of rejection and isolation awaiting certain oblivion! On behalf of all sentient meatloaf everywhere, I say, damn you!”
“Are you finished with your little…performance? This diatribe of insecure masculinity manifested by hurt feelings and poor comprehension?” She sneered these words. She wore a grimace of contempt and content; she was beholding satisfaction in her evisceration of my emotional essence.
“That you break up with me, compare me to moldy leftovers, and then are upset with me when I have a reaction, paints a pretty picture that you are an ugly and vile person! I should be glad to be rid of you!” I felt somewhat proud. I’m not sure. Pride is an alien feeling. I think it was most likely shame.
“Within a few days, you’ll regret those words because, if I know you well like I do, you’ll be curled up on the floor of your apartment crying uncontrollably and calling for divine intervention to reunite us.”
“And what of you? Is your will stronger than mine?”
“Yes. Yes, it is. It has always been. I’ve always had to carry you through this relationship. Taking of you, giving of myself without so much as any effort on your part. It’s exhausting. It drained me, Cy. You drained me of so much. All of my love for you. You make me so constantly tired, I have nothing left for anything else. Every day I spend propping you up, trying to hold you together is a fucking chore that I can no longer perform for such poor compensation. It is fucking ridiculous. You have damaged me by making me your crutch.”
Her words were like razors. Though not sharp and clean ones that leave a neat linear cut along your arms. No, these were filthy and dull. Ones that you had to press hard just to penetrate the skin and the cuts were angular and would take longer to heal properly. I felt as though I should get a tetanus shot.
“Oh, well, fuck. You. Fuck you, Lorraine. Fuck off. Just fuck off and die then.” And as soon as those words left my mouth, I knew I had pushed myself across a line. An imaginary yet pivotal line. The line was a barrier between reconciliation and isolation. I talked myself into isolation.
“Don’t ever think we’ll get back together. Don’t ever think we’ll be friends. Why would I ever want to be with you? You don’t deserve me, you don’t deserve anyone except yourself. I hope you find happiness in being lonely, Cy, I really do.” That last line was spoken with all the subtlety of a bomb-drop. Her grimace reappeared. She ought to patent that grimace: it was a million-dollar grimace. It harbored all her disgust and anguish and hatred of me. All bad feelings she held at bay with love, patience, and humility in being my partner.
It was never easy for either of us. Blame is such a delicate and misleading word and thing to pass about. I think we both just grew exhausted with the frequency and intensity of the fights. They eroded our tough exteriors to smooth, polished yet vulnerable bone. Recovery was always an elixir of tears, apologies, embraces, sex, and tender kisses upon our engorged organs. This was a time for me to say goodbye forever to her ample bosom, those breasts that I’ve been so fond of for some time. My heart was heavy and sinking within my chest, as though it had been shot and was now sliding down against a wall, blood smearing behind it. She was exiting stage left and I was stranded stage center, the spotlight dimming to darkness and curtains slowly drawing to a close.
I wish all break ups could be as simple and thoughtless as I imagined that one to be. Truth is, they aren’t. Thought is always put into every break up because we either want to spare feelings or damage nerves. I think I’ve applied various coats of gloss (alcohol) to the memory of that break up. Reality could have been that she was never clear in her termination of our relationship. She might have used vague words and allusions to future plotlines but she held the fate of the production in balance and had secretly canceled the show.
Waking up alone isn’t a new thing for me. I’ve done it daily for a great portion of my life, if not all of it. Lorraine and I never lived together. She still attended university while I had been graduated about a year and have been working. Not a glamorous job by any means. I got burnt out working psych services and took whatever job paid well without destroying me mentally, knowing I could not handle further erosion to my fragile psyche. I have been hoping for a rebound but, and this is a considerable but, I find myself dreading any form of professional responsibility. I want to slip in and never be noticed. Blend into the background, just be another cog in the machine. I don’t need my career to define me for I have other pursuits outside of a job. Of course, I can’t be bothered with any of those because all I want to do when I wake up is get fucked up so I can’t function and therefor just go back to sleep.
Lucky me, I had the week off from work. Coincidental vacation; I had no indication that this would have been the week Lorraine would finally terminate the relationship. I mean, I had inclinations, feelings that she would soon, but part of me was drunkenly optimistic in that she might reconsider and applaud my efforts to fix myself. I had started therapy, but that last only a month before my insurance would no longer cover the co-pay. Even so, I felt like I was beginning to have a break-through of sorts. Then again, maybe I’m deluded and it is just cheaper to find introspection and realization in a cocktail of vodka and pills. Alcohol is all the therapy I need. Good old self-medication. So now I had my week all planned out.
On that thought, I decide to vacate my bed and shuffle to the bathroom. My head is throbbing with the pulse of my heartbeat and it is unnerving. A couple of tabs over the counter pain reliver and a nice cold soda should do the trick. Every night, I go to bed with heaviness in my head and a crushing tightness in my chest and evert morning I wake up with the tightness relaxed and an empty head, but often with a dull ache. This morning, the ache was much more pronounced than usual. It caused to me wince at the sunlight that bled through the curtains, though, I normally do regardless.
Once I got to the bathroom, I turned on the light and stared at myself in the mirror. The reflection was of someone that looked like me but I didn’t trust actually was. I’d blink in hopes they’d disappear and the real me would be the one to stare back. Too much wishing. The reflection never changed. My hair was unkempt, in need of a good combing. My beard was scraggly, in need of a good shave. My cheeks slightly full, I think I had gained twenty pounds in the last few months, on top of an additional twenty pounds I had gained in the year since I had graduated college. The stress of my job, the deterioration of my relationship, and the poor eating habits coupled with infrequent exercise led to this. I was letting go of the fit, well-together man I was, which was possibly a fucking illusion. It was all show. I looked well on the outside but I was coming apart within, all the time. All it took was the right pluck of the proper thread to allow me to unravel.
The strongest pluck on the weakest thread.
To avoid the shame of my reflection, I followed a steady diet of various mind-altering substances in effort to relax my gaze. Of course, the habitual abuse soon shifted from being means to cope with who I was in the wake of emotional devastation; the result of having your heart ripped from your chest, slammed to the ground, and danced upon with sick glee. It would soon be a means to detach myself from the fact that my dearest friend, Lindon Swells, was dead.
Loss is heaviness. It is a weight that sinks in you quickly but never settles right. It’s rough, jagged, and sharp and it’s hot. Like an iron poker stabbing at you from within, clean through the soft tissue that holds you together. You are slashed and drained. Hollowed out and everything replaced with lead organs and bones. Still you but… lacking everything that makes a person alive in the unobserved, philosophical sense. You can carry out all normal motor functions because your brain is still there, it operates fine, but communication between everything else has been shut down. The neurons fire along the synapses but they collide into each other blindly like worms in the dark, finding dead nerve endings. Your will is absent, as if it never existed and you are like a zombie. Actually, less than a zombie. At least zombies have a drive. They hunt and eat the flesh of the living. In this state, you’re not driven to much of anything, if at all. You’re throbbing growth of dead tissue and calcified bone.
About a day or two following the emotional equivalent of a fifty-car pile-up on the interstate that was caused by a tanker truck that was the break-up with Lorraine, I received a phone call. It was from my friend Penny, Lindon’s sister. I had known both since high school, but I was really friends with Lindon first as we were both in the same grade and Penny was his younger sister and I apparently freaked her out. In later, more comfortable times, she would reveal that I frightened her because all I did was sit and stare, not say anything. To be fair, I didn’t like talking to most people and I wasn’t coming to her house to hang out with her, I was there to hang out with Lindon. It’s not like people who don’t really know each other beyond their names just go hang out for the hell of it, talk about their dreams or whether or not they should try a new brand of toilet paper because it has triple the absorbent power of the standard brand. No, I wasn’t there to entertain her nor should she ever have expected to entertain me. Of course, if I frightened her in anyway, it was all accidental. I was an angry young man. Struggling with dark thoughts and darker truths about how I felt about myself. Truths that would eventually be reconciled.
Anyway, Penny called me to inform me that Lindon, my dearest friend, a man I saw as a brother, was dead. She said that his body was found on campus. Lindon was completing his PhD and had been wrapping up some late-night research. They think it was an animal attack, they’re not sure, she’s not sure. They’ll know more once they arrive at the university hospital to claim the body. Penny and her mother would be leaving that night and go to the hospital in the morning. Then they would make funeral arrangements. I asked if there was anything I could do. She said to just stay alert and safe. She would take care of everything for now. I said okay and left it at that. The call ended. I felt like whatever was left of my humanity was scraped out of me, like when you scoop the guts out of a pumpkin and you’re just pulling out the flesh after all the pulp and seeds have been extracted. Eventually you’re just making the shell thinner from the inside out, therefor weakening the pumpkin. Making it easier to crush. I was so easy to crush, you wouldn’t need to apply much force. You could take the average textbook, hold it an inch above my skull and let it drop. I’d flatten like they do in cartoons when they drop those big fucking safes from great heights.
I was crushed and in my eyes, the only way to fix myself was taking a swim in a fermented lake. My friend was dead and gone and nothing could bring him back. Not by the chants of a priest, or planting a large pole in his body to be struck by lightning, or even some miracle injection to revitalize him. He was dead, rotting flesh, stored in a meat locker waiting transport to his final destination. Waiting to come home so I could say goodbye to a vacant corpse.
The passage of time for me in these bouts of celebrated alcoholism was nothing I couldn’t figure out. It would take me a while to get the math straight, but eventually, once I factored in Pi and accounted for the variable of how long it takes for me take of my pants, I could guess how many days have passed. And from what I could calculate, it had been only two days. Two days since Penny first called me to say that Lindon was dead and they didn’t really know how. Two days since they had left to get the body and get some closure. Two days since I last heard from anyone about anything. Until that night.
That night I had decided to be social and went to a bar, thinking it would be better to drink in the company of others instead of drinking alone. I didn’t close down the bar as much as I was told to leave since it was only myself, the bartender, and the career alcoholic. That guy is a champion and I don’t think anyone could ever take up his mantle once he decides that sampling every alcohol in a bar fifteen times over is a bad idea and isn’t the winning formula for lifelong happiness. So I was shooed away. I managed to walk myself back to my apartment, because, lucky me, they were just down the street. As I was trying to unhook my keys from my beltloop, I felt my pants vibrate. At first, it really felt like I might have pissed myself and I panicked for a second before I realized that it was my phone. Then I felt relief that I had pissed myself, but also that I hadn’t lost my phone. I pulled out the phone and answered it. It was Penny.
“Uh, yeah, hi, Pennish.”
“Cy… Cy? Are you okay? Were you sleeping?”
“What? No! Never. You die that way. What’s up?”
“Okay. Um, well… how do I say this.”
“Say it. That’s the only way you’ll know for sure.”
“So, you know we went to go claim Lindon’s body a couple days ago, right?”
“Yeah. Otherwise they were gonna dump it.”
I managed to finally get my keys off my belt loop and got myself through the main door. I don’t think, in my current state of drunken obliviousness, that I was capable of doing two things at the same time, so I might have sacrificed concentration on one front to aid another, thus explaining my less than polite candor. “Sorry, I’m… struggling with… things. Anyway…” I was making my way up the stairs to my apartment as Penny carried on.
“So we got there and we saw the body, and Cy, it was horrid. I’ve been meaning to call you since then but it’s been too difficult for me to process.”
“Penny, no worries. I understand that this is difficult for you. This was your brother. I trust you. I trust you to be honest with me, but I trust you talk to me when you’re ready, not just for my benefit.” This would be the most coherent I would be at this time. I was now on the second floor and only two doors away from my apartment. I did that fast walk drunk people do to make it seem like they’re not drunk, to create the illusion that they’re sober because can’t you see how smooth I’m walking? It’s almost a straight line, just don’t ask me to look down!
I got to my door and was unlocking it when Penny spoke up. “Well, we got home later that day. We had arranged for the body to delivered to the funeral home. His body was supposed to arrive today, this morning. It kept getting later and later and we never heard from the funeral home so we called them and they said that the body never arrived.” I got through the door, closed and locked it behind me. “It never arrived?”
“No. Then we called the hospital to ask if there was a problem with the delivery. Maybe, they had the wrong address, I don’t know. We called and…”
My eyes were adjusting to the darkness of the apartment, but I swore I saw a shape in the living room. A new, unfamiliar shape. But, it could be the double vision that comes from carrying out a weeklong bender in one day.
“And they said that… um…”
And there was a smell. As if the plumbing in the building had backed up, or maybe someone had left out some fish all day and forgot to cook them.
“The body was missing.”
As I approached the living room, towards the shape, the shape that I thought was all in my mind, floating about the couch, moved. The shape moved. And the stench got stronger and fouler. “I’m… sorry? What?”
“Lindon’s body is missing! He’s missing, Cy! They don’t know where he is, or what happened!”
In shock and fright, I did the one sensible thing of the evening, and that was turn on my light so I could get a better view of what was really in my apartment and maybe figure out what was causing the smell. And once I did, I wish I hadn’t.
A figure shot up straight and turned to face me. It was tall, a mess of shaggy hair atop its form. Long, gangly arms hanging by its side, limp and crooked, like the contorted branches of a tree. There was a face to this figure. It was hard to recognize because, well, maybe half of the face was still there. The other half was missing, most likely. Hidden behind dried blood and shredded flesh clinging to the skull. There was a mess of jagged scars like twistng vines wrapped around the arms. There was little flesh left, you could easily see the bone.
Multiple blinks assured me that this wasn’t a hallucination. As I stood there dumbfounded, the shape waved at me and I nearly shat myself. “Uh, Penny… this is a lot to take in but, can I call you back tomorrow? I uh, there’s a prostitute in my apartment and I need to fuck her now. Or I lose my security deposit.” I ended the call and took a step forward. Slowly. Carefully. I waved back at the figure.
All I wanted was for the night to end. There’s only so much insanity one person can take while they’re trying to annihilate all sense of self, and between Lindon’s body going missing and some mutilated figure standing in my apartment…
Oh my god, it was Lindon. Standing in my apartment, dead and rotting. Except, somehow, he was alive. The question on my mind wasn’t how much did I drink tonight, but what combination of alcohol did I consume to communicate with dead spirits?
“‘Sup, dude? Hope you don’t mind me being here.”
“Uh…” In that moment, I did the only thing that I could do: I made my way to the bathroom, stuck my head in the toilet, puked my guts clean and then passed out on the cold tile floor.