This free short story originally appeared as part of Amanda Hocking’s Zombiepalooza event. I used the same fictional setting that I will be using in EMBER, my NaNoWriMo project: Hope, WI. It’s a fictional area based my my five-plus years living in northwestern Wisconsin. I had a lot of fun writing this story. Hope you all enjoy it, too.
“The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs … and appeared to many people.” —Matthew 27:52-53
The relentless sun rose above the wide Wisconsin horizon by rote, as it did every day. For the first time in her adult years, Kacie Morrin failed to beat the sun in rising. Instead, as she had for several mornings now, she pulled her husband’s pillow from its place and hugged it to her body. She buried her nose in it and inhaled. Karl’s distinctive scent was faint now, fading but still there. Axe Cologne Phoenix Scent, sweat, and Michelob Golden Draft, she thought as she drew in a deep breath. That was Karl, all right.
After savoring her husband’s scent longer than she had intended, Kacie carefully returned the pillow to its place on the far side of the king bed. That side was where Karl had snored loudly for nearly fifteen years of marriage. His snoring had robbed her of deep sleep whenever he drifted off before her, which was most of the time, or it had until three days ago.
Kacie recalled the late-night rap on the door of their remote farmhouse, the bleary-eyed state she had been in when she awoke. The bedroom had been awash in the reflection of flashing red lights, and there was no sign of Karl next to her. She remembered the mixture of grief, fear, and determination in Sheriff Ruud’s eyes as he told her about the accident. Karl had perished, he said, when a foolish teen in a Chevy Blazer crossed the center line. The teen had been texting a friend on his cell phone while trying to drive, and had collided with Karl’s ancient Chevy Nova head-on.
Karl’s body was still at the funeral home in Hope. Kacie had been taken to the county morgue that fateful night to identify him, but since then she’d directed the care of his remains only by phone. It had disturbed her, the way Karl’s face had seemed too perfect, too unmarked, to be dead. How could he be gone with a face that perfect? The attendants had shrouded his torso from her, hiding the areas where the worst of the damage had been done, and so all Kacie could recall was that perfect face.
He is not dead, but asleep. Kacie recalled vaguely the words from the Gospel. Her limbs heavy, she turned over in bed and opened her Bible, soaking in the words of comfort she had been focusing on for days. She marked them with a yellow highlighter, which made them shout to her from the page.
“Stop crying,” He said, “the girl is not dead but asleep.”
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up.”
“Three days later, he will rise.”
“And the dead in Messiah shall arise first.”
These were the words Kacie kept mulling over—these, and her own personal mantra: I’m too young to be a widow.
Yet these were not the words she prayed on this morning. She had found something new, something she’d almost looked past in John’s Gospel. The words the Savior had used to raise His friend. Kacie prayed them now, as her eyes landed on them and her hand mechanically highlighted them, exchanging the name of the Savior’s friend for her husband’s.
“Karl,” she prayed, “come forth.”
As she prayed those words, whispering them to the rambling, vacant house, a chill went through her. Was she blaspheming? At the moment she couldn’t muster the concern to worry over it. All she could feel was the ache in her soul created by Karl’s absence. She repeated her prayer, this time above a whisper.
“I’m too young to be a widow. Karl, come forth.”
An even colder chill went through her. Kacie ignored it as drowsiness overcame her, and she slipped once more into oblivion. She dreamed vague, disturbing memories that felt real, even though part of her knew she was asleep. The grief-induced nightmares were preferable to the waking reality of life without Karl. With the funeral still two days away, Kacie had little to do except interact with people who had heard the news. They offered sympathy even though they had never given Karl or her the time of day when Karl was still vibrant and breathing. Kacie’s dream-hazed thoughts turned to the memories of the snoring that had robbed her of deep sleep when Karl was alive. How ironic that it now robbed her of deep sleep by its absence.
In the too-silent bedroom, Kacie slept restlessly, her Bible spread open across her chest. When she next rose, the sun was sinking down in the west, bringing on the night. Her head thick, she realized that her body’s urgent need to use the bathroom had pulled her back to the emptiness of the bedroom.
How long have I been asleep? she wondered. What day is it?
Vaguely, Kacie realized she didn’t care. She arose and took care of her needs in the bathroom, washing up in the sink that was still littered with the remnants of Karl’s last shave. She was careful to wash her hands in a way that did not disturb those last few golden whiskers.
As she dried her hands on the towel Karl had used on his last day on earth, Kacie closed her eyes and recalled his rugged features: his sparkling eyes, his infectious smile, the golden curls of his shoulder-length hair. For a girl born in the remote and heavily wooded reaches of northwestern Wisconsin, she had married well. Karl had been a beautiful boy when they found each other in high school. Through the years, his face had hardened, becoming a bit chiseled as he worked their hobby farm and long hours at Hope Dairy. Despite the hard work, the fresh young boy she’d first known—the boy he’d been before the Michelob bottles began piling too high, too quickly—was still there.
Buried just beneath the surface.
Numb, Kacie finally found her tears for Karl, and as they rose to the surface, overwhelming her with tidal fury, she prayed again, nearly screaming. “I’m too young to be a widow! Karl, come forth!” Another deep chill settled over her, penetrating her bones.
Just then, a slow knock sounded at the door, unsettling Kacie. Whatever the hour, it was now pitch black outside, and late. She figured it was probably some well-intentioned neighbor who had noticed Kacie’s failure to emerge from her house that day. They had probably come to check up on her.
She made her way out of the bedroom and across the living room. As she approached the door, she heard the knock again. A single knock, heavy enough to shake the door on its frame. Who would be ignoring the doorbell? Who would be so loud about knocking at such an hour?
Kacie stopped short when she reached the door. She could hear something on the other side, a labored but familiar breathing pattern. A gust of wind blew a scent through the crack around the door. It was one she knew well. Axe Cologne Phoenix Scent, sweat, and Michelob Golden Draft. Strangely, however, there was something new as well, a distinct odor underlying Karl’s familiar scent. It was like the rank smell of hamburger forgotten on a counter for a long weekend away. It was the smell of rotting meat.
Kacie’s heart raced but she was oddly unable to dredge up any fear or excitement, or even curiosity. She slowly opened the door, and there on the other side stood Karl. His face—his perfect face—was no longer flawless. His skin had gone gray with a sickly pallor. His eyes were vacant and confused, and he seemed lost and lifeless, just as Kacie felt.
“Karl?” she asked, unable to believe the sight that met her own eyes. Excitement finally dawning, Kacie threw herself into his arms. It had all been a dream, or a lie. She was too young to be a widow, and Karl was here after all. He badly needed a shower, but he had returned to her. Karl had arisen—he’d come forth, back to her.
As she hugged him close, Kacie slowly realized he was sniffing her hair, a sign of affection that had occurred between them so often. She snuggled into him more tightly, even though his body felt odd. It seemed as though his flesh were loose, wriggling and alive underneath his ragged clothing. Kacie startled when she felt his tongue on her hair. Why was he using his tongue?
“Kacie…” Karl groaned. His voice sounded like the slow, tortured rasp of a man denied water for a week, like boulders grinding against each other.
“Yes, my love?” she replied.
He licked her head one last time, his teeth lightly scraping her scalp, and then whispered in her ear one final word, the last word Kacie would ever hear.