I hang on to Maisie for dear life, eyes burning, trying not to break into sobs like a baby. I’d been so scared about what would happen if she found out. I thought she’d freak out and run away again, maybe permanently. Or call the police, or the government, or a priest for God’s sake. But she’s taking it so well. I didn’t give her enough credit. I don’t think many people who have handled the news as well as she did. I’m not sure I’m handling it as well as she is, and I’ve had a bit longer to adjust.
Maisie had figured it out. She knew my secret. And if I am being honest, showing her had felt easier than telling her. I’d tried to tell her before, and she couldn’t believe it, couldn’t accept it. But she believed me now.
And still loved me.
As crazy as things had been, still were, and as much as they still had to figure out, I felt relief so profound I was almost giddy. Giddy too, at the depth of her love for me. It was infinite.
Probably. Hopefully. She didn’t know about the deer, or our neighbor’s dog, or about that scary dark place I went to when I ate. Unaware and out of control.
I’d tried to stay present, to not go to that dark place while I was eating. And maybe it was because I’d just eaten at Ms. Josephine’s recently, but I’d been able to keep my head. Just barely.
We were still sitting on the bathroom floor, my arm around her as she leaned against me, talking. She has questions.
A lot of them I’d just had answered by Ms. Josephine, but a lot of them I don’t have answers to yet.
Like who killed me.
“We have to try talk to your boss again,” she says.
We pull apart and look at each other. “You think Biff did this.”
“I’m not sure, but I think he at least knows more than he’s letting on. He has to. He was at the site when you left. You remembered his voice. He’s the one who called in the accident. He identified you to the police.” She counts the facts off on her fingers. “And all that doesn’t mean he was the one who—who—” She pauses there, and I can tell she’s struggling to say it out loud.
“Who killed me,” I finish for her.
She nods, swallows. “Right. But he must be hiding something. He must know more about what happened.”
I know I died, but I don’t know why, and I don’t who. Someone hurt me, buried me in the ground, suffocated me. But who? Was it really Biff? Or could it have been Travis, whose mutinous expression is stuck in my brain? Or maybe it was the two faceless shadows, or the skeleton man. Either way, my former co-workers had to know more than they were letting on.
“We do need to talk to Biff. But I feel like we can’t confront him until I have my memory back or we have some kind of proof, or some kind of affirmation from someone else.” But Ms. Josephine doesn’t know anything about it, and there isn’t anyone else to ask.
“What about asking Travis?”
I tense, and she looks up at me.
“What is it?”
“He was there. That night. I don’t know how or why, but I remember his face.”
“That’s good, then, right? I could go talk to him, see if he knows anything that would help us with Biff. He was pretty torn up at your funeral. More so than Biff.” She frowns. “I had barely noted in my grief-numbed mind. But…that’s kind of odd, right? Maybe he knows something.”
“And what if he’s the one responsible? You might be in danger.” I brush her hair back from her face. “And the last thing I want to do is put you at risk.”
“But if Travis is the one responsible, don’t you think we should try to find out before we go accusing Biff?”
“Good point.” I frown into the distance. We can’t confront Biff yet.
“I should go talk to Travis. Try to catch him in a lie or get him to give up something on Biff. Or maybe we’ve got everything wrong, and he’ll give us a new lead.”
“I don’t like it,” I grumble. Yet what other choice do we have? “But okay. We’ll try this weekend, when he should be off.”
“Okay. Before then, I need you to tell me everything you remember. So I know if Travis lies. It might help to look at it now that we know your…condition.”
Condition. Sounds like we’re describing a medical problem, not an undead problem. “Yeah. Okay.”
Then I tell her every snippet of memory I have about that day, in as much detail as I can. Everything I told Ms. Josephine. The snow, Ms. Josephine, the lights. The barrels, the faces, the pain. And once again, I’m forced to relive a memory that no one should have to; the awful moment of my death.
It’s better for me this time, with her by my side, to smell her and have her here to anchor me.
But it’s hard on her. She’s crying again, hand over her mouth, eyes dark with sympathetic pain.
“I’m so sorry,” she sobs and dives into my arms. “I was so worried that you had suffered, and you did!”
I squeeze her tight and stroke a hand down her head. “It’s okay now. I’m here.” For now. I still haven’t told her all of it yet. That even my undeath could end soon. And as hard as she’s taking all of this, I don’t think I can right now.
With her in my arms, I rise up and readjust her so her legs are over my other arm. I finally get to use my increased strength for something good.
She nestles against my shoulder and I carry her to the bedroom.
I’ve stayed on the couch every night since I came back. Will she let me join her in our bed again? Should I?
I lay her down gently, and as our arms slide apart, her hand grasps mine.
She doesn’t let me go, and instead slides over, and I almost crumble to the floor on weak knees from gratitude.
I join her on the bed, facing her, hands clasped between us.
“What is it like?” she asks, staring at me.
My forehead wrinkles as I try to formulate an answer. “I don’t really feel that much different. Except that I can’t really sleep much, especially after eating. And yet if I wait too long, I’m tired and slow, and I can’t think straight. And I get cranky.”
“Ohhhh,” she says, awareness in her eyes.
“Yeah.” I know she’s gotten the brunt of it a few times. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know why at first, and then when I figured it out…” I toss a hand into the air, and she nods.
She reaches out and puts her hand on my chest, over my heart, feeling it beat. Occasionally. “It’s so slow,” she murmurs.
I nod. “But it’s beating. Ms. Josephine said I’m not an animated corpse. I’m…something else. Straddling the world of the dead and the world of the living.”
“So nothing is going to rot and fall off?”
I grin, because though she doesn’t say it, I’ve known her long enough to know what she’s thinking of. “No, nothing is going to fall off. I was lucky enough to be buried in whatever chemicals were leaking from the barrels I remember.” My smile fades, because I’m still not sure if I’m lucky, or cursed. “They regenerated my body, and I still heal normally as long as I eat.”
“Do you ever feel like eating…me?” Her voice is small.
“No! Never,” I say, immediately. “Only animals. Never humans.” But I don’t want to scare her, especially when she seems to be coping so well. So I don’t tell her about the black-outs, the things I do in them, the worry about what else might happen. I’ll just stay on top of my eating, and make sure I never go to that place in her presence, ever.
I can do that, right?
We lay facing each other on the bed as I try to process everything.
My husband died, but then he came back. It’s him, but he’s not the same. And neither am I. I’m still in love with him, but in some ways, I feel like he’s a stranger.
But maybe he’s not a stranger, exactly. Maybe he’s just strange, and I’ve sensed that all along.
My husband’s a zombie. He died, he came back, and he’s lying beside me instead of in his grave. It’s still throwing me for a loop, though he seems much calmer about it.
A thought strikes me, and I stop stroking his chest.
“How long have you known?” He looks down at me, eyebrows raising. “How long have you known you were…undead?” The term seems much more preferable to ‘zombie’.
He looks off to the side. “Not that long. But I’ve suspected since my flashback when we drove past my work.”
He gets that look. That hollow, haunted look. I now recognize it as being the look of someone who recalls their own traumatic death.
I rest my chin on the hand touching his chest. “I wondered why you believed Ms. Josephine so quickly. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
His eyes roll all the way up and over until he’s looking at me again. “And how I was I supposed to do that? Would you have believed me then? You wouldn’t even believe me when I said I’d died and come back, much less that I was…” He gestures up and down his body.
He’s right. I shake my head. I’d known something was off, wrong, but I wouldn’t have believed him if he’d told me he thought he was a zombie. That’s not something someone could tell you. It’s something you have to come to believe yourself. It took watching him eat raw meat before I could put everything together, before I could believe it.
“I’m not even sure I really do believe it yet,” I say, finishing my thought out loud.
“I still have trouble with it sometimes. It shouldn’t be possible, shouldn’t be real. But I’m living proof.”
I chew on my lip, trying not to say what it on the tip of my tongue. But in the end, I can’t resist. Humor’s a coping mechanism. Or at least it had been before grief drained all the lighter parts of me away. “Well, not living proof. Undead proof.”
He huffs out a laugh and brushes my hair back in a familiar gesture that used to mean he was about to kiss me. “Right. Undead proof.” Then he pulls back slightly. No kiss. “Besides. I wasn’t sure you could accept it, accept me, even if you did believe me. It’s a lot. It’s unnatural.” He looks away. “I thought you might run away again, for good.”
His voice is tight with pain, and a little bit of fear, as if he’s still worried I might.
I don’t know what to say, because I did run before. And it’s pretty reasonable to think most people would if confronted with the same situation. I say the only thing I can. “I’m not running away. Not now, and not ever.”
“I know. Thank you.” He strokes my hair back again, staring. He wants to kiss me.
And I want to kiss him back. But maybe I shouldn’t. He’s a zombie, for goodness sake. The fact just keeps circling back to the front of my mind.
It helps to know he is not an animated corpse, not dead; but ‘undead’, which is another thing entirely. Like the vampires in books and movies. A supernatural being, rather than the walking dead.
The distinction matters, because he is also my husband. He smells like my husband, feels like my husband. The sprinkling of hair on his chest feels the same to my fingers as I rub his chest. His chest is warm, and rising and falling in a normal pattern, if a little slow. His heartbeat beneath my palm is also pretty slow. Sluggish, as if he were sound asleep rather than awake and staring at me.
He’s my husband in every way, and I’ve missed him. I’ve starved for his touch, cried at the desperate need for him to hold me, touch me again.
And here he is, beside me now. And yet…
What did it say about me if I didn’t quite feel safe laying in bed with him? That I’m afraid of what him being a zombie means? Is he going to bite me? Eat me? Turn me into one?
Can I really love him, and be a little afraid of him at the same time? Is it real love if I don’t trust him completely?
What did it say about me if I didn’t want to kiss him, or sleep with him, for him to touch me?
And what did it say about me if I did?
I run a fingertip across his lips. They’re warm and soft, and the same lips I’ve kissed a thousand times.
I’d kissed him in the bathroom earlier, but that had been in a rush of pain, fear, and love. If I kiss him now, it will be because I want to. Because I want him.
And so help me God, I do.
I raise my mouth to his and give him a gentle kiss. He responds timidly, tenderly.
I deepen the kiss slightly.
With my eyes closed, it feels exactly the same. It feels like the night he didn’t come home never happened. Like his funeral and burial never happened. Like everything since he came back hadn’t happened.
This is my husband, and I love him with all my heart and soul and mind, and I do trust him, even in this state.
I pull back and open my eyes, staring into his warm brown ones. “I love you so much.” I can’t help the tears that prick my eyes when I say that, because I’d once mourned that I’d never be able to say it to him again, and yet this is the first time I’ve said it to him since he came back.
He grabs my hand in his own and brings it up to his lips and kisses it fervently. “I know. And I love you too. I couldn’t leave you. Ms. Josephine may have resurrected me, but it’s our love that made me want to live.”
I give him another quick kiss and lay my head back on his chest to blink away tears as he rubs his fingers through my hair.
His sweet words both soothe me and sting me. I should tell him about the baby, right now.
But I can’t.
There really couldn’t be a worse time. He’s caught somewhere between life and death I’m caught between mourning and hope, and we’re both just trying to cope with one impossible situation stacked on top of another, trying to grasp at happiness while we can. Would knowing about the baby make things better, or worse?
I would have been nervous about telling him in normal circumstances. The news of a baby can be stressful for anyone. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and now I’m downright terrified.
I still need more time and space to get all my emotions together before I add his to the mix.
So instead I just focus on having him in my arms again, having him beside me on the bed again.
Him coming back could have been a nightmare, but here in bed with him, I can’t see it as anything but a blessing.
He didn’t leave me. He didn’t cheat on me. He wasn’t involved in anything shady. He didn’t fake his death. He is the same good, honest man I’ve always known.
And soon, we’d be one step closer to finding out who took him away from me.
Which reminded me. I should tell Ms. Josephine thank you. I’d made some awful conclusions about her at first, unable to consider what she’d been saying as truth. I need to apologize and to thank her, because she’d given my husband back his life, and me my heart.
“Hey, are you an optimist or a pessimist?” I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this question, but I ask him anyway.
“I’m an optimist I suppose,” he replies. “Why?”
The corner of my mouth twitches. “I’m just wondering if you consider yourself a ‘half alive’ or a ‘half dead’ person.”
It’s not that funny, but we both laugh, his chest bouncing beneath my head.
I haven’t been able to laugh in so long. I haven’t felt joy, or pleasure, or comfort, and if ever I came close to feeling any of those in the last few weeks, irrational guilt for feeling them in the first place had drained them away.
Now I want to feel them all. Now I can feel them all. I have permission from the universe because my life, my love, is back with me. Forever.