Here's something a little different from my usual output...
I wake this day and reach for my wife.
She does not offer her lips to be brushed by my tremulous fingers. She is gone. On this same day she peers on vistas of gold and turquoise, or such is the heaven promised to her by her faith. I think that she has gone to a dark and empty place, a nothingness of forever, for who could have faith in anything now? He doesn’t have faith in us.
I catch the sob in my chest, but it has a will of its own and breaks forth as a belch of phlegm that bubbles on my whiskered chin. Shuffling closer to her, the sweetness of decay is rich. Caring not, I place my lips to her marbled forehead, kissing her gently.
Murky opal eyes stare back at mine, pebbles on the bed of a highland stream viewed through peaty water. There are skeins of threads, broken corpuscles making a scarlet maze amid the yellow and purple lividity of her cheek where it lies on the pillow. Once pretty, a pattern of duck-egg blue flowers, forget me not’s, the pillow is now stained black where the essence of life has spilled from her, sticky and gelatinous and congealing.
It is three days since my wife died. In the night death had come for her, spiralling down from a bruise-ridden sky, a harpy on shattered pinions. While I slept in dreamless exhaustion, the claw-footed thing had alighted on my wife’s breast and stole from her the omega exhalation of her time on earth.
She had been afraid to die. I’d held her and told her not to be frightened. When it’s time I will be there, right beside you, my love. My promise was as cheesecloth carrying water. Well intentioned, yet pointless. I did stay with her and have stayed the three days since, but now I cannot bear to share her bed any longer.
Crawling from the blankets, the stench of my own body on me, I tuck the duvet around her stiffness. Around me stalk the shades of ghouls, flicking back tattered veils to expose drooling maws. Banshees howl, a demented lament calling me home. Goblin shadows crawl through the detritus of our room, and I fancy I hear their claws scraping on the boards. They have no power over me, for it’s not yet my time. But today is the day.
The jug holds enough, and I splash the flammable liquid upon our bed. Pass censure, I care not. I bring flame and set it to her pyre, sending the imagined night fiends scurrying, for flame is anathema to them all.
I stand in the road, watching the breeze chase trash below the overgrown hedges. Behind me, the place that was our marital home thunders in on itself, imploding, sending tendrils of smoke to catch at my ankles.
Where to go? That is the final mystery on the day.
I walk, following a path untrodden, my bare feet sinking in mulch. Beneath the leaf litter, do insects still crawl? Nothing of the air, or land or sea has survived, I am certain. Chitinous-backed things, though, are they the new lords of this world? Had they always been?
The corpse of a dog.
Then other corpses. Not canine. No maggots, no flies or blue bottles, so perhaps they too have been struck down.
More corpses. Male, female, some older and indistinguishable now.
The rank and bloated things are nothing new to my eyes, yet still shake me with unforgiving terror. In them I see my own future.
It is imminent.
This is the day.
Nothing moves between heaven and earth. Cornflower blue, tufts of cotton wool, nary a contrail: the sky is as empty as the heart that rides like a clenched fist in my chest. God once pledged a rainbow as a sign of his promise. Today the sky holds no prism. No promise.
I stand by a river. It smells like corked wine, not least because the bodies of men and women fight for space with the dray beasts piled along the embankments, or hang caught in the tree roots along the edges.
I go on. This is the day but not the place.
It’s later and I stand on a bridge. I know this place. Along the way I’d been drawn back along an anabranch until my feet had again found familiar ground. One foot after the other I walked, dazed, seeking a sign. None came, not at first. The arch of the bridge drew me in, a sliver of steel to a lode stone, and I plodded towards it, my mind feeble, a shuddering ache in my bones. The coughing kept coming, the sputum, claret-rich, flecking my shirtfront. It still comes.
There on that bridge I first kissed my wife. She wasn’t my wife then, but that means nothing now does it? She had been my everything and I want to be with her again. This strange anastomosis, this joining place that had entwined our life blood, made of us one being, it is the place to end it. Right? Damn right.
The river here is broad and deep, such is the way where bridges arch. I stand, bent over the low wall and stare down at the smoked glass waters. The banshees are calling again, their wailing beaten back only by the thrumming of my pulse in my ears. Saddle, stirrup, anvil, all thrum. I force the lamenting things from me. It isn’t time. I am not ready. Deep breath. Exhale. More coughing. More blood. It’s turning black.
On a bent knee, I lean on the wall. Head bowed, hands clutched to my stomach. Not in prayer; I clutch at the burning in my lungs. My lips drool, thick, viscous froth that takes an age to slide to the brassed-current below. As it hits the plop is loud in the still air. Even the breeze holds its breath.
Breathe, goddamn you, I tell the world. Breathe and live again.
As well that I wave a hand and command the dead to rise once more.
Such is my impotence.
My wife was afraid to die. I told her not to be frightened. But I am the king of hypocrites. I am terrified. I am not ready, but it is the day.
If there is such a thing, He has turned His head away in shame. He has judged his greatest creation a failure, and has held closed his fists, giving free rein to Death and all his cohorts. Disease came, Pestilence followed on its filthy heels and they swept the earth. Every man, woman, child, every beast that flew or walked or swam in the oceans, they have all been struck with God’s furious cleansing. The seas rose, the bloated fishes riding the tides, fields were spoiled by the cattle dropping in droves. Planes fell from the skies, cities burned, sewers overflowed and dams failed. It has taken less than eight months all told.
I am the last man alive.
Stumbling, I bring both feet onto the parapet. I scrape a nail out of the bed of my toe, and wince at the pain. Even now, pain can still make me cringe. How sad that I have not the fortitude to face this unflinching.
The flames immolated my wife, but I can not face them. I choose this instead.
God has cheated us. Now I will cheat him.
I step off the bridge. Open my arms, greet the rushing surface of the river. My love I’m coming home too.
For today is the day.
That humankind dies.
Copyright: Matt Hilton 2010