Once again, I awake to the aching growls of the dead and of my boiling stomach.
I’m still trapped in my car on this road that slithers through the woods on the outskirts of Orchard, New Jersey. I’ve already gotten used to the migraine-inducing, rotten stench seeping through, combined with the odor of my canned feces and bottled urine.
What am I waiting for exactly—hope or death? They will both probably arrive at the same time, hand in hand like lovers enjoying the pure joy at the beginning of a relationship. For some, that joy starts to decay as months pass by. Fortunately, things were different for Annie and me, despite being eight hundred miles apart in the beginning. After six months, we finally held hands over distance’s corpse. We went on to enjoy pure joy throughout our three years together.
Now, my joy is rotting next to me.
Seven days ago, death came for Annie on four wheels, crashing into my only hope in an ugly world void of it. From that moment, she was no longer the woman I had been in love with ever since our first video call. She was no longer the woman who had helped me crawl out of the possessive clutches of depression—born from a high school tragedy stitched to my brain. In the end, Annie crawled to me, leaving behind a trail of blood and stripped skin, the sight of which continues to haunt me. I can still hear the sound of her broken bones cracking under her lifeless flesh as she drunkenly dragged herself towards me after the collision.
I had to free her from an undead state born from the bite mark on her neck—a bite mark she had tried to conceal with a scarf. Did she cheat on me with death? Is that why it came back for her? She had refused to answer any questions about it, only saying that it had happened earlier that day.
“What kind of girlfriend are you, Alma?” I kept asking myself. “How could you let this happen?”
I stared deep into the mouth of my shotgun, waiting to see if the answer I deserved would hit me.
I pulled the trigger.
Annie’s remaining memories of us spilled out of her head.
I wish I could see your face again, Annie. It’s gone now. Your head is a decaying rose made of fleshy petals. But you’re still beautiful to me. Like I told you right from the very beginning, you’ll always be a gift to my sight no matter what you do with your appearance. But you didn’t do this to yourself. I did.
I killed you.
These cracked windows around me mirror the ones in the house of horrors walled within my skull. Ever since all this started, I hoped I was just caught in the middle of a love triangle with reality and a hallucination that refused to be a one-night stand. But all this is real, and this wasn’t born from a vial. This has happened because the dead have grown tired of being walked over for so long, throughout their lives and after being buried. Now they walk among us, and they will walk over what’s left of us after they disembowel our bodies.
Staring ahead at the pale, ghastly faces pressed against the bloodstained windshield, I finally understand how they must feel. They’re tortured by this hunger. I feel it, too.
You fed my heart with your love for three years, Annie. Now, if it comes down to it, will you feed me with you?
I’m caked with Annie’s guts.
Leaving the car I’ve been trapped in for days, I now know how it feels to rise out of a coffin to walk among the dead. I’m cloaked by the smell, or perhaps they can sense that I’m as empty as they are—my lifeless heart continues to wait for its time to burst through its ribbed casket.
I take Annie for a slow dance through the moonlit, gore-filled ballroom this city has become, holding her in a way that won’t allow what’s left inside her shattered body to come pouring out of the frown I carved on her stomach. Waves of rancid, cold breath raise every hair on my body as we carefully make our way to Ascension Lawn Cemetery, pushing through a demonic masquerade ball, dancing along with a city-wide ballad of crooked feet.
The state of death has become a flat lie on a monitor. That’s why the dead have been walking among us, and ultimately why I had to kill Annie… twice.
I bury her in a yawning grave that was tirelessly waiting for the return of, as inscribed on the headstone, Juan Puente De La Vega. The leafless, mourning tree overlooking the gravesite has its branches pulled downwards, like a withered hand that had tried to stop Juan from leaving.
Now it’s time to dig up the reanimated truth hidden deep within the guilt-ridden depths of my mind…
We’re all in death’s waiting room—sadly, the elderly I used to take care of knew this all too well. It’s just a matter of who gets called first. After getting bit in the neck, Annie wanted to be ahead of the line. She had lost all hope and was slowly losing herself. She explained it as feeling a cold presence creeping into her veins, flowing throughout her body like a spider restlessly crawling around her.
She had me drive her through the road that would become her paved deathbed, begging me to leave her in the woods so that I wouldn’t have to see her turn into one of them, so that I wouldn’t have to put her down myself.
After a tearful argument about it, I finally obliged. We locked our lips together for the last time, but it felt like the first. Butterflies swarmed my stomach like they did during our first kiss at Newark Airport. Now maggots swarm through what’s left of hers.
When I left Annie on that road, the aroused woods thanked me for my offering with demented moans. The dead were going to take her. They were going to put their skeletal hands all over her body. I refused to let that happen. No one was going to take her from me. No one was going to put their hands on her. No one.
Tears flooded my vision, soon to be replaced with the blood of my beloved. I turned the car around and drove towards Annie at full speed, hoping the collision would be enough to inflict fatal damage to her brain. As I approached her, she looked right at me through the windshield and smiled.
Her mesmerizing smile was then shattered along with every bone in her body.
After several lingering moments of sitting beside her distorted corpse on the side of the road, Annie was reanimated.
The echoing shotgun blast that permanently killed her was also what sentenced me to imprisonment inside my car. The slithering road revealed its monstrous form, coiling around my car like a giant rotting snake made of shambling, gray-skinned corpses with wholly black eyes that never tired.
What’s worse—the dead crawling out of their graves or the monsters that we can’t keep buried in our minds?