Bewildering Stories

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by Eric S. Brown

The sun hung low in the afternoon sky. I stood by the kitchen window, peering out at my neighbors. Rows upon rows of tombstones stretched as far as the eye could see.

Both my new home and the graveyard belonged to my grandfather. He had agreed to let me stay here in this beat up old groundskeeper’s house in exchange for me tidying up the place. The arrangement served us both well as it not only fixed up the place but allowed me time to work on my craft when not slaving away wiping teenage-written scrawl from the grave markers. The young have no respect for the dead and less for themselves.

I may be only twenty-seven, myself, but I have never been young. Not really. I have an old soul, I guess. Perhaps that is why I am an author. I spend my nights alone with the keyboard, the web, and lots of coffee. And it works for me to pass the time.

Picking up my notebook from the table, I head outside into the fields of the dead and feel as if they are wrapping their arms around me. In a way, they are my only family now other than my grandfather now that Rachel is gone. Cancer took her last year and I have never once thought about dating, much less getting remarried. I haven’t thought about a lot things since then.

Finding a grave marker that is comfortable enough, I sit down and open the notebook on my lap, reaching up for the pen tucked behind my ear. The blank page stares up at me, taunting, but I know an idea will come. They always do.

Looking down into the grass at my feet, I watch a mound of maggots slithering and writhing on the soft soil. Their swarming mass smells of decaying flesh and rot. It is a smell I have grown accustomed to here for the little creatures are everywhere in this field. It is not something I can explain. They just seem to seep up through the soil as if searching for something. Often eating each and dying rather than finding their way back below the soil. Such is the way of the world, the strong prey on the weak, but in the end we all die regardless of who and what we are.

The sound of a car engine tears me from my thoughts and I slap my notebook closed. Getting to my feet I peer down below to the road leading up to my home but the car has already rounded the bend in the road and is out of view on its journey up to visit me. I walk towards the house and as I near it I hear the car make it into the drive and shut off its engine. A gray Dodge Shadow with flaking paint and a windshield that has seen better days awaits me. The driver’s door opens and Carson gets out. I blink in shock, then run towards him. He smiles and we embrace. Still slapping my back he looks into my eyes. “It’s good to see you again, Mitch.”

“You too,” I stammer. “I haven’t seen you since...”

“The funeral,” he finishes for me. “Yeah, I know. It’s been a long time, Mitch.”

Sweat glistens on his tan skin for the heat of the sun’s rays and I notice the tiny wrinkles that age has brought the corners of his eyes. When Rachel was alive, Carson had been one of my closer friends and he had been like a brother to her. He had stood by me in the tough years before I won a Hugo and got put on the entertainment world’s map. And more importantly, he had stayed with Rachel in the hospital until the end.

“How are you?” I ask for lack of anything else to say.

“I’m fine.” Carson wipes at the sweat on his brow and takes a look around. “Not exactly where I would expect a guy with your bank accounts to be staying Mitch. Still writing I see.”

I remember the notebook in my hands and nod. “What brings you up here, Carson?”

“You do. I can’t let you live like this any more, Mitch. Rachel wouldn’t have wanted this for you.”

“But this is what I want. I am happy here. I have a lot of new friends here.”

Taking my statement for a joke, Carson laughs. “Look man, please come back into town with me. Mom and Dad miss you. I miss you. It’s not right, you living up here like this.”

“Your parents always hated me, as did Rachel’s... I am glad to see you. You want to come in for some coffee or something?”

I notice a maggot making its way across the hood of his car. Tiny and cooking on the hot metal as struggles to reach the ground once more. For a second I wonder how it got up there, and then Carson is in my face pleading with me.

“Please, Mitch, stop doing this to yourself! You’re not the only person who lost Rachel! But you are the only one who walked out. You walked out on all of us when she died Mitch. Your friends, your family, everybody but your fans and you don’t do anything for them except post your stuff to web these days. You do nothing, have nothing. All you do is rot up here with the rest of the dead!”

“I never cared about any of that Carson and you know it. Rachel was all I cared about and at least I am with her here. Perhaps I want to rot, did you ever think of that? There is nothing wrong with being dead. It’s a part of life.”

“She’s dead; Mitch and you wasting your life like this won’t bring her back. You are still alive whether you like it or not, and you need to get on with living. Please, Mitch. Come with me, or I will have no choice but to get some psychiatric help involved whether you like it or not.”

“I am going to have to ask you to leave now,” I say and turn to start into the house. I don’t look back and Carson doesn’t answer. I imagine him staring at me his face torn between open rage and tears, yet I feel nothing. I only want to go inside and dream of being with my lover. I hear a car door slam behind me and the engine of his car roar to life.

I turn around and watch him tear down the gravel road, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake before heading on inside. I toss the notebook aside and fall onto the couch, closing my eyes and the darkness takes me. My dreams are white and moving. I am with Rachel again at last. I pray it never ends.

As I awake the sun is setting in the sky and dusk has fallen. Carson’s visits have showed me the truth at last. I must go to them. I must act quickly before Carson returns. They are all I have and all that is left of Rachel.

I climb off the couch and stomp over to the basement door, slinging it open. The stairway down is short and I see them before me. A mass of whiteness that covers the entire 750 foot floor. They call to me and I enter their writhing masses. As they borrow through my flesh, eating me alive, I smile and know I am going home at last. And I know too, this is how my Rachel felt in the end.

Copyright © 2004 by Eric S. Brown

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