It was dark and it was cold and it was a cemetery. Kay shook as he squinted into the night, looking for tell tale signs as to the quickest way to get out. No matter how many of these places he ended up in, no matter how certain he was that he was the scariest thing in them, it never got any easier.
Looking down he could see that his sign was gone, another idea to cross off of the list of potential solutions. ‘Not dead, do not bury’ – how much clearer could he have been? And why did people never listen? A bird made a noise in the distance and Kay let out a brief gasp of fear. Why did everything have to be so goddamn atmospheric? If he had to have his… condition, then why did they always have to take him to the most gothic, spooky, Hammer Horror place they could? Why was it never a nice clean morgue that he woke up in? Why was the graveyard never a brightly lit one overlooking the sea? Was it him? Well, of course it was. Things like this never happened to people who weren’t him after all. Normal people didn’t have to worry about falling asleep in case the coroner came to haul them off, but then normal people didn’t look like the walking dead. For the fiftieth time he reminded himself that whoever had interred him here had probably meant well, in their own way. No point being angry about it. And at least they hadn’t buried him, that was a definite plus, a crypt was infinitely preferable to another six hours spent scraping away at wood and dirt in a desperate bid for the surface.
His night vision was kicking in now, he could see the obligatory gothic gravestones all around him, the elaborate angels carved over the mausoleum he’d just exited, the desiccated trees which never seemed to grow any leaves. He suspected there was some janitor whose sole duty it was to hack off any sign of green shoots in places like this, an aging Goth probably, revelling in the aesthetic continuity of it all.
There was a crack. A loud one that sent Kay leaping a foot into the air, which played havoc on his barely hung together knees. That wasn’t a bird, not unless it was an ostrich anyway.
With luck it would be a groundskeeper, or a late night mourner, even some Emo kids out playing at being vampires and having sex between the graves would do. Any of them might, after suitable persuading that he wasn’t a zombie, give him a lift back to civilisation, or at least a pointer in the right direction. Kay held his breath for a heartbeat as he strained to hear a reply, a bit of a pointless exercise given that he neither breathed nor had a beating heart – facts which had led him to his unfortunate funereal routine.
Knees giving way he did his best lurch back to the doorway of the crypt he’d just emerged from, cowering in the meagre security of only having the definitely dead behind him and the growling darkness in front.
There was shuffling and more low-pitched grunting, definitely not a bird although teenagers still weren’t out of the question. And then he saw her, shambling out of the night, skin tattered and rotting, eyes sunken into black pits, desiccated orbs glaring at him with an unnatural glow that he recognised from his own fleeting experiences with mirrors. And she smiled at him, as best she could through wasted cheeks and with blackened teeth.
“You alright there? Sorry about the growling.”
Kay saw the world rising around him before he noticed that his legs were buckling, just in time to grab onto the wings of a passing marble angel adorning the doorway. A grunt was all he could manage as the natural urge to either grab a pitchfork and get to stabbing or to run to the hills washed over him. A process of inertia which lasted just long enough for the woman to drag her clumsy form over to him and stick out a welcoming hand.
“I’m Lou-Anne, pleased to meet you.”
Kay reached out tentatively and shook her hand, for once in his life as wary of someone elses fingers becoming detached in the process as he was of his own.
“So, got a name there?”
“Kay, I’m Kay, and you are?”
“Lou-Anne, like I just told you. Shit, don’t tell me you’re one of those ones whose brain has rotted away, if you are I’ll take a lighter to you myself now, save the angry mob the trouble.”
Rushing to martial what remained of his motor skills Kay pulled himself back into something resembling an upright position and grunted in what he hoped was an eloquently coherent way to buy himself a few more seconds to gather some words.
“No, my brain works good. I mean, no, it hasn’t rotted away. You’re… like me?”
“No flies on you there Kay. Well, obviously some flies, but that comes with the territory, yes, I’m dead, just like you. First time meeting one of your own eh?”
Kay took a second to consider the question, half aware that his jaw was hanging slack as he stared at her. Technically speaking he had known for a while that he was dead. The lack of a heartbeat, the lack of breathing, not needing food, being hit by that bus, they’d all been clues that a more willing mind might have picked up on. Then again, he’d also been successfully walking around, talking and even, occasionally, working for the last three years despite those minor disabilities so the idea had been an easy enough one to avoid. Barring the occasional good Samaritan hauling him off to the with grave ceremony when he fell asleep of course, something he did his best to avoid given that the ‘sleep of the dead’ seemed to be a genuine thing which could endure all sorts of autopsies, funerals and internments. Faced with one of ‘his own’ though he couldn’t do much to deny his somewhat unliving state.
“Yeah, erm, yes… I suppose I hadn’t really thought about there being others…”
Lou-Anne smiled again, a few flakes of skin falling away as she did so. Kay did his best not to register disgust, after all, he was no oil painting himself. Unless it was an oil painting of a cadaver of course.
“Well, don’t worry, you’re not alone and we all process it in our own way. Anyway, fall asleep did you? Gotta be careful about that, the more you do it the deeper you go, heck, it was only when they tried to cremate me that I got the message about doing that. Best to stay awake eh? Avoid all confusion.”
“I had a sign, it said I wasn’t dead.”
She nodded sympathetically.
“Nice idea, always hard to convince people though eh? Especially when you reach the point you’re at, I mean, you know your nose has fallen off right?”
Kay didn’t, although he had been feeling like something important was missing recently, but mirrors were always something to avoid if you could.
“No need to look so glum there Kay, it’s not the end of the world. If it makes you feel a bit better I’ve got a box of spares somewhere – prosthetics you know – we can sort a new one for you. Something nice, you’ll feel like a new man.”
“Are there a lot of… us?”
“Oh yeah, there’s a fair few. That’s why I come down here, never know when you’ll find a stray like you wandering around. Always in the spooky graveyards too, never been sure why that is. I like to pick ‘em up and get them back into society, you know? Doing something productive with themselves.”
Kay wondered to himself if ‘productive’ meant shambling around and growling but it felt rude to ask.
“Y’see, Kay, there’s all sorts of things you can do with yourself now you’re dead. I’m guessing that so far you’ve just drifted right? Lost your motivation? Lost that lust for life you used to have? Well it doesn’t have to be that way, sure society might see us as abominations but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for us. Just look at reality TV, there’s a place for everyone in this world.”
The situation was starting to sink into it’s own normality, as the shock wore off Kay started picking up the slighty manic tone in Lou-Anne’s voice. She sounded like an evangelical, a TV preacher, her words just that little bit too enthusiastic. He smiled politely, he hoped, and started scuffing his feet a bit, trying not to let the awkwardness in the air show.
“Oh yeah, it’s a whole new world Kay, there are all sorts of things you can do and I’m here to make sure you find your way. We have meetings you know, every week, kind of like a support group – which trust me some of us need when bits start falling off! You’ll have to come along, get involved in the community.”
Kay could feel his smile growing stiffer, becoming a rictus grin that he vaguely suspected would never fade. Taking a step or two sideways, out of the doorway and away from Lou-Anne, he started to trawl his dusty and decaying brain for excuses to make a move.
“Well, that sounds great and all, but I really need to go.”
“Oh Kay, where could you possibly need to go? You’re dead, remember? Come on, I’ll take you to meet the crew, we’ve got a meeting tonight and Stewie’s bringing his ukulele! We’re going to have a sing a-long. It helps keep the mind active you know, very important when you’re one of us. Of course he does struggle a bit, poor guy, always losing fingers in the strings but we’re there to keep him going.”
With a surprising turn of speed her hand shot out once again and clamped itself on his shoulder, pulling him in closer with the inevitability to of a black hole. Before he knew it she was steering him into the night, radiating an iron will that his atrophied muscles felt helpless to reject. She was still talking too, something about an annual summer camp and a mentoring programme. His limbs surrendering to her guiding hand Kay gave out a low growl of his own.
Why did it always have to be somewhere like this that they left him?
For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks.