By CJ Erick
This one was small. Maybe ninety pounds at the most. She wouldn’t be happy. Carl followed the trail in the beam of the headlamp strapped around his scalp. It was hot, sticky, his T-shirt clung under his arms, and he smelled his own sweat. Anything out there could smell him. The bobbing yellow-white circle of light illuminated dried twigs and dried dirt, and he felt like that, all dried on the inside, especially his throat. He’d saved his last three bottles of beer for later, and he would need them.
The chanting started before he’d even pulled the cloth-wrapped body through the spot in the fence where he’s clipped the grating so it could be moved aside. “Bring-bring. Bring-bring,” it went, faint, high-pitched, and trembling, like an old British TV telephone heard through a room fan. “Bring-bring.”
“I’m bringing,” he muttered, in a whisper.
He switched off the headlamp and paused to let his eyes adjust. The half-moon lit the cemetery well enough, lit the stone like so many solitary books standing on their ends. It would have to do. The electric light wasn’t wanted.
He dragged the wrapped bundle and lay it in the dirt near the grave, just to the side. As he had done a dozen times previously. The chanting was louder now, more insistent and ominous. His task was easier before the cemetery had been shut down, when bodies were still brought there once a month or even less, in steel boxes, covered over with dirt and tears and sometimes the raising and falling voices of clergy persons. All he had to do was dig, break the lids open, and step away.
He thumped the ground with the back of the shovel blade, then eased away. He hated when she came up right under his feet.
Luckily, this time it was the soil at the tree line that stirred. Then, quivering fingers pressed through the dirt, then stuttering fingers rose, like a fast-motion film of purple-pink plant leaves pushing through the soil, upward toward the sun, but there was no sun here then, and it felt like there never would be.
The fingers squirmed and writhed and flowed, and her arms emerged; you could make out things, worms, reptiles, beetles and centipedes and millipedes, and other creatures, all climbing over each other to reach the surface. And then the hands pressed down palms first, and she pushed herself out, head, then shoulders, then legs, like a swimmer rising from a pool, the water dripping from them, only these droplets were tiny insects and nematodes falling away.
She lay, facing him, like Cleopatra facing Caesar. Her face took form, filled in, cheeks the pale pink of earthworms, eyes dark, eyes that moved with fluttering wings. She smiled with salamander lips. Tiffany. With eyes like shining jewels.
“Hello, Carl,” she said, her voice a growl.
She eyed the wrapped bundle, the body of the old school marm he’d snatched from the mortuary morgue. He was good with locks now.
“I hope this one will last you awhile,” he said, finding a log to sit on several yards away. “They’re getting harder to come by.”
“You’ll make do, darling,” she trilled. “You always do. And you must.” She leaned back on her elbows, like some beachside Lolita, pushing her chest out. Her nipples rose and spun, scarlet scarabs crawling around each other like a yin-yang of identical beetles.
“Why don’t you lay with me, Carl, like we used to? Don’t you remember how that was?”
Yes, he remembered, how could he not? Why would he keep coming back if he didn’t? He often thought about before the virus, when they would come here with a cooler and blanket and have cheese and crackers and cheap beer in the moonlight, and make love under the open sky. No one would bother them here.
He looked at her now, in the same pose he remembered, her eyes still on him, too dark and beckoning and hollow, more than a mere college come hither.
There’d been no reports of this symptom, this posthumous condition. And yet, here she was, night after night.
“Come lay with me, Carl,” she implored again, “like we always did. I can make it better than ever.”
“Lay-lay, lay-lay,” the chant rose around him, not just from where Tiff lay—not Tiffany, but whatever this Tiff-thing was, the horror of what called it together, called them together, how they could do this. The chant was all around, as if forming inside his head. The virus compelled things, like the fungus-bearing Varroa mites infecting zombie bees, compelling them to throw themselves to their deaths so the fungus could continue to dine on them.
“Lay-lay, lay-lay,” it intoned.
Perhaps the virus was in his head, and he was hallucinating her, hallucinating all of this, listening to a burning bush. Perhaps he shouldn’t trust his senses. A zombie servant, bringing dead bodies for the feast.
“Come, Carl,” she said again.
“Who will feed you, if I’m here with you?”
“We shall see. But do you think I must stay here, when this little patch of heaven has died? We can go wherever we want. We can go together.”
“But I’m not infected,” he said.
“Tsk, lover. I have plenty for both of us, for all of us.”
All of us.
He shuddered. Maybe he was his fungus, and he was a mindless honey bee. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
But he went to her, lay beside her, and closed his eyes.