I'd bought the old house in an auction for a price too good to refuse, but then I hesitated to move in. The place was nice. My wife loved it. But something about it never felt right. No matter the time of day, it had shadows that shrouded even the brightest hours of those summer days we first spent there. Whatever light filtered through the mossy oak trees seemed to be tinged with an aura of sadness, as though the light was from the last rays of a star that had already expired. There was a charming wrought iron fence with vines and rosebushes. Fountains of smirking cherubs pissed into the quiet air that throbbed with a strange, soulful ache. To sit on a bench in the garden was to bathe in melancholy.

            I fell asleep in the garden one evening in that first autumn, lulled to the sound of crisp leaves clattering, drifting down from the branches of the giant oaks. The waning rays of the fall sun splashed warmth across my face, and I fell into a dream.

            I found myself in a dusky room, sitting next to a bed with a pen and notepad on my lap. A girl lay on her back under the covers, her head propped on a satin pillow with lace frills. She was beautiful. Studying her smooth, pale visage in the low-lit room was like gazing at the moon reflecting on a silent pond. Long, dark flowing curls and a square jawline framed her living portrait. Her eyes gazed toward her feet, half closed, which only added to her serene, mournful beauty.

            "So you had a brother—he's dead now?" I inquired after a moment of careful silence, my pen poised over the page.

            "Yes," said the girl.

            "And how, exactly, did you become a zombie?"

            Silence.

            Her head swiveled slowly toward me. I was sitting so closely to her resting place but it was only then that I saw she wasn't a girl at all but a full-grown woman. And then I saw that her jawline had such a strong appearance because it was a jaw—a jawbone protruding from rotting flesh. And the sorrowful shadows of her eyelids were  near-empty holes in her skull, but there was a flicker of light deep down inside those sockets: the eyes of the corpse glimmered like a pair of candles at the bottom of a dry well. Her perfect teeth gleamed in the silver light of the room: a grinning mouth of pearly whites that began to open as if she were about to answer my strange question....

            She snapped up and bit into the right side of my neck. It happened so fast that I was still holding the pen over the notepad when her teeth sank into me like the flesh of a peach.

            My startled shout quickly drowned into a gurgle. I tried to stand and fell backward to the floor with the monster on top of me. My hands strained against the skeleton that wouldn't let me go. I punched, kicked and thrashed but her bite was an unyielding vice. Her thick hair tangled around my face and my world turned to darkness.

            I woke with a start, jolting upright in bed, unsure of how I got there. The right side of my neck still throbbed, raw and hot to the touch. My lungs still heaved for breath but my wife remained soundly asleep to my left, on her back, eyes closed. I dropped back to my pillow and stared at the ceiling, clutching my neck, telling myself it was only a dream.

            Dawn finally came. I walked into the bathroom and saw in the mirror that there were no bite marks on my neck, though I could feel so clearly where each tooth had been. And staring back at me, I saw two dimly lit candles in the depths of my eyes.

            As days, then weeks, then years went by, I stopped paying attention to life at some point. I zoned out to everything except the cold, infinite darkness within. I ventured out of the house less and less until even my wife could no longer bear the husk that I'd become. It was days before I realized she was gone. She might have said goodbye but I wasn't aware or I can't remember. Now I can barely recall her face. In spite of the happy years we had together, it's strange to think there was a time when I wasn't entirely alone.

            Eventually—I can't say precisely how long ago, but surely it's been years—the outside world became a harsh and searing world of white-hot light. I stopped going outside. I hired a neighbor boy to fetch me my various necessities, and his son now brings these to me. He leaves them inside the door of my screened stoop, but he never dares to knock on the main door. He collects my envelopes of cash, and darts away before the screen clicks closed.

            Every night I have to drink more before I'm able to sleep. That cursed question rolls forever in my hollow skull: "How, exactly, did you become a zombie?"

            How? How.... How....

            How, exactly, did I become this zombie? What is a zombie? All I know is that I've lost my mind, and there is the faintest whisper I hear now forevermore. I hear it in the rasp of the leaves, in the sploosh of water jetting from the fountains of stone cherubs; I hear it everywhere, all around and within me. I can never escape it now, never look away. Initially the words were but a rustle in the November breeze, a pitter-patter at the window, the hum of the fridge on a lonely night, but now all I sense is the creature's voice: 

            Don't think this empty fate

            could never happen to you.

            I drink to silence it. But the more I drink, the more I feel those truths, coursing through my body. The only way I can have any rest is to empty myself of all humanity until I feel utterly hollow. But still, I know what I've become, and I'm helpless to do anything about it, as I was when that beautiful monster turned her gaze to me. Every night, I see her mouth opening, those gleaming teeth—and I embrace her, now, because she's all I have left to fill my arms.

The Empty House cropped skull.jpg
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AuthorDerek Franz