On Friday, Chuck Wendig said the only thing we need for this Flash Fiction Challenge is a dead body. “Okay,” I said to myself, “let’s pretend that we’re dead.”
Is it still called waking up when you were not asleep, but dead?
It’s one of the questions you struggle with every time you return to consciousness. You are, at least, spared anything resembling a nightmare or even an idle thought while you are in repose; you know for a fact that your brain shuts down completely every time the sun rises. Now that it’s set, you are mobile again. Until that moment when twilight ended and night actually began, anybody finding you would have mistaken you for just another dead body.
It’s cold. The air conditioning unit up in one of the basement windows is kept on full blast during the day so your body’s falling temperature doesn’t stop for hours. That holds off the worst of the rigor mortis, so that when you… wake up? … your body can actually move. Stiffly. You take a moment to sit up slowly, flex your fingers painfully, get your blood circulating again.
The burning in your chest begins very soon after. You look down at the little round hole in your sternum. Every once in a while, you move in such a way that you feel a stabbing pain in the left side of your chest, deep within your ribcage. The bullet – it’s still there, still lodged somewhere in the wall of your heart. No blood comes from the wound, which is closed over. It’s not clotted, the way wounds usually are; there’s just this translucent, milky film over the hole, slightly sticky to the touch. You get a chill down your spine whenever you touch it. You avoid touching it.
Once you’re moving more like a human and less like something from the imagination of George Romero or Robert Kirkland, you put on some clothes and a hooded sweatshirt. Your hands find their way into the sweatshirt’s pockets as you head up the stairs and out of the cellar door. The landlord upstairs only knows that you leave at night and return in the morning, and so far, has asked few questions. You haven’t considered getting a job for two reasons. One, night falls and morning comes at inconsistent times, and you don’t want to be dropping dead in the middle of a shift, or the commute home.
More importantly, though, you need to find your killer.
It was the first thing you thought of the first time you regained consciousness in the morgue. The smell of gunsmoke, wide eyes in the darkness, and a burning sense of indignant rage that your life was so callously ended. You need to remember more. Everything other than that searing moment before things went completely black is a haze. The faces of some friends and family linger in your mind, and you struggle to reconnect with anything resembling a coherent memory.
It’s why you walk away from where you were killed and towards another house not far from your own. You know it’s a bad idea. You know you can’t be seen. You know it’s going to end badly.
But your feet move in that direction anyway, muscle memory in control, your legs knowing the way even if your brain is telling you that you need to be elsewhere. Finding your killer. Earning your rest.
You stop across the street, between two houses, covered in shadow. You look up at the porch. You see them there, the lights of their cigarettes bobbing, the soft sound of beer cans moving, the occasional soft laugh. It’s an uneasy sound, a sound of recovery. They’re hurting, over there. Someone is, at least. You narrow your eyes, trying to make out more than shadows. And then –
Sitting on the porch with your friends, you laugh heartily at a joke and lift your glass. Another rim touches yours. You both drink. This is familiar, comfortable, and safe. No expectations. No awkwardness. No hidden agendas or concealed emotions. Honesty. Trust. Love. Friends. Smiles that light up rooms and make other people curious, if not downright envious.
Your heart clenches. The bullet is a burning coal in your ribcage. You exhale, a name pushing its way out of your dried, cracked throat past blackening teeth. You hear a can drop. The lights of the cigarettes stop moving. Panic shoots through your body. You turn and you run.
The dead have no place among the living.
Still, you make your way back downtown. Into the lights and seething populace of the urban center. You once again walk by where it happened. You hear the gunshot again, a phantom sound in the back of your mind. You scan the ground for clues. You’ve been here often enough to doubt you’ll find anything. But that garbage can wasn’t where it has been before. Someone moved it, probably to carry it to the curb. Under where it was is a small rectangle, and you bend to look –
The business card’s your only lead. Phone inquiries and talking with others in safe environments only goes so far. You need to go to the source to get your answers. Card in hand you head for the address when you get stopped by someone who knows what you’ve been doing, the questions you’ve been asking. You don’t see the gun before it’s too late…
You stagger. Your hand reaches out of the wall nearby. You can’t take your eyes off of the business card. You bend, knees creaking, and pick it up.
Turning, you see people staring at you. Flashing lights in the distance. And in the sky, stars disappearing as dawn looms. How long were you standing there?
You break into a run. You head for the only haven you have. You clutch the card tightly, the grip of the dead. You throw open the cellar door with strength that surprises you, nearly ripping it from its hinges.
You pull off your clothes, lest they start to stink, and climb onto your slab. You still hold the card. You want to cry.
Dawn arrives. You are dead.
Today’s photo courtesy moocat.
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