Zombie Romance Pt. 12

~~~MAISIE~~~

The weekend has come and I pull in front of Travis’ house with nerves in my stomach.
I’m half relieved and half sick with nerves when I see his truck in the driveway.
When he opens the door, I almost don’t recognize him. He’s red-eyed and stubbly, in a dirty, ragged green t-shirt.
“Travis? Hello. I was hoping we could talk.”
Does he know who I am? He stares at me blankly for a minute, and then nods and steps back, motioning me in. “Sure, Maisie. Come in.”
I guess he does recognize me.
He leads the way to the couch through stacks of newspapers and pizza boxes. “I’m sorry, I haven’t really had the chance to clean much lately.” He has to clean trash off the couch for me to have a place to sit down, and I do, hoping whatever stains are on the cushions won’t transfer to my skirt.
He moves to the chair across from me and lowers the sound of the t.v. “What can I do for you?” The coffee table between us is covered in beer cans, and he reaches out to shake a couple until he finds one with liquid in it and downs it. That explains the smell and his red eyes. He’s drunk.
At 11 a.m.
“Well, I…I thought I’d stop by and see how you’ve been.”
“I’ve been great.”
Yeah, I can tell. He looks like a different man from the one Grady worked with, from the sympathetic man that attended my husband’s funeral in a clean, if outdated, suit. He’s shabby, smelly, and his eyes… they’re dull.
I tug on the hem of my skirt in nervousness. “Actually… I’m not really here for a social visit, so I’m just going to jump right in.” I don’t know how to make small talk with Travis. Something about him makes me uncomfortable. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, Grady’s accident.”
“Yeah, me too. I think about it a lot.”
He did?
He takes another swig of beer. “He was a good guy, you know? A really solid fellow.” He looks down at the can in his hand, avoiding my eyes. “We weren’t friends, didn’t really get along. Too different I guess. He was always such a hard-ass about the rules. But I would’ve never wished anything bad on him. Not seriously anyway,” he ends in a grumble. “I was really sorry about what happened to him. Really sorry.” He crushes the now empty can and sets it in a plastic bag by his chair.
“I know,” I say, momentarily at a loss for words. I didn’t expect Travis to open up to me, didn’t expect for him to need to. Like he said, he and Grady weren’t really friends.
“It’ll be two months on Wednesday,” he murmurs, almost to himself, staring at the carpet at his feet.
With a start, I realize he’s right. The two-month anniversary of Grady’s death is this week. “Yes. Yes, it is.” Normally, I would have been dreading the day far in advance. Every day had been awful, but the anniversaries were the worst. All the anniversaries; the anniversaries of his death, his burial. The first day, the first week, the first month without him. Before Grady’d reappeared, I’d been counting off the days, minutes, seconds, in some kind of macabre countdown of the time since I’d lost him.
The question is, why does Travis know the exact day of the two-month anniversary? Why is Travis counting down the days? It makes sense for me, his wife, his widow. But Travis was just a co-worker, not even really a friend. Why is he taking Grady’s death so hard? Still?
My instincts are screaming that he knows something.
We sit in uncomfortable silence for a moment before I screw up the nerve to continue. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, the accident. And things Grady said before his death. Just random things, you know, that I didn’t think twice about before. But I think they could add up to something.” I take a deep breath and meet Travis’ wary eyes. “I think Biff had something to do with his death.”
“Oh?” His question seems like feigned surprise to me.
“Do you think it could be true?”
His brows drop, casting his face in anger. “I told the police everything I knew already. Which is exactly nothing. I wasn’t there when he had his accident.”
“Oh, I know you did,” I say, trying to soothe him. I need him to think that we’re on the same side. “I just thought maybe you remembered something, or realized something. Remembered a small but significant detail perhaps. Anything at all that might help. I think Biff staged the accident, but I have no proof.” Other than the memories of a dead man. “So if you know something, anything, about the circumstances that the police don’t know, I need you to tell me. And I think you do.” I’m bluffing. Grady hasn’t remembered everything yet. Maybe Travis knows nothing. Maybe it was just Biff and no one else.
“I’m sorry, but no. I already told the police. We all left at five p.m., I went home, and I didn’t know about the accident until the next day when I arrived at work.”
Neat, simple, faultless.
“Travis, please. My husband is dead.” Undead technically, but either way, someone had killed him. “And I don’t think it was an accident. I need to know the truth.”
He pales, and then flushes a bright red. “Biff is a great boss, a great guy. He takes care of his workers. He would never do something like that. He would never kill anyone.”
Why the weird emphasis in his words? “Do you know anything about some red barrels?”
Travis’ gaze darts up to meet mine, face paling. But then he looks away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
But he does, I know he does. If I wasn’t so sure from what Grady said, I might have missed it. But there is something unspoken all over his face.
I go for it. “Travis, I know that Biff was burying something at the construction site. Something in red barrels. Maybe—maybe Grady somehow found out and someone hurt him for it. I just need to know who. I just want justice for my husband—”
He cuts me off. “I know nothing of what you’re talking about, and I think you should leave.”
My hands clench in my skirt. I can’t leave yet. He knows something more, and we need to know what it is. “Travis, please!” At my outburst, he looks at me again. “Grady is—Grady is— He’s still here. And he’s telling me there’s more to his death.” In my desperation, I almost tell him Grady is back from the dead to get what he knows. I swallow. I hope I just sound like the crazy grieving widow I was a week ago. “And I just want to have peace about it.” But the tears stinging my cheeks are real, and I realize I’m speaking the truth. My husband came back from the dead, after being murdered, and he’s a zombie, and I’m still reeling from everything. I have no peace about any of it. “Please,” I whisper. Maybe if we could solve his murder, we could move on to just trying to be a married couple again.
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing more to say,” Travis says, pointing to the door. “Now it’s time for you to go.”
I’m at a loss for what else I can say to convince him, so I leave in defeat.
The door is not even shut behind me before I hear Travis popping the top on a fresh can of beer.

 

~~~GRADY~~~

I pace the driveway in my hoodie, phone in my hand, waiting for Maisie to return. I’m hungry, but I don’t want to leave until Maisie gets back and we discuss her visit.
She’d texted me as she left that she was on her way, so at least I know she’s safe. And as much as I want to know what she knows, I want to keep her that way, so I don’t pester her with texts while she’s driving.
It’s hard. But before I realize how much time has passed, she’s pulling in. I rush to her door before the engine is even off, but I can tell by the expression on her face that she doesn’t have any good news.
I open her door for her, but she doesn’t get out yet. She just looks at me. It feels like pity.
“Grady, he said he didn’t know anything more, and if he does, he wouldn’t tell me.”
“Damn it.” I push my hair back. “Tell me what he said. Tell me everything.”
She does, her still in the car and me standing in the armpit of her door. She tells me everything Travis said, how he seemed to be deeply depressed and more impacted by my death than he ought to be.
Good, let him suffer is my immediate thought, but I don’t know why.
She also tells me how he wouldn’t come out and say anything about Biff. “But he did seem kind of bitter toward him at the same time, so I don’t know.” She gives what is probably her tenth shrug.
I cross my arms on the roof of the car and rest my head on them.
I’d been so sure we’d come away with a concrete answer one way or the other, but we had nothing more than I’d left with.
“What do we do now?” she asks softly.
“We have no one left to ask, no avenues left to investigate.” I peer at her. “We’re going to have to confront Biff. We have no other choice now.”
She nods. She must have come to the same conclusion. “But how do I get him to confess? How do I get him to tell the truth? How do I even know what the truth is?” She throws her hands up. She’s frustrated by her unproductive visit with Travis.
I squat beside her, thinking. “What if you go in with some of the details of my death, and see if he will corroborate them, or fill in some missing ones? You can tell him about some of the things you shouldn’t know about since you weren’t there. Like the barrels. If he changes his story then, you know he’s lying. And if he still won’t confess…” I clench my fists on my thighs. “…then I’ll confront him myself.”
“But you can’t get him to confess to killing you if you’re standing right in front of him.”
Holding her eyes with my own, I hiss, “Can’t I?” She flinches back. My vision pulses with black, and I know my eyes have gone red.
My eyes fall to the pulse at the side of her neck where I can hear, where I can smell, her heart rate increasing in alarm.
“That’s your plan then? To reveal that you’re a zombie?” she murmurs. She’s brave in the face of my slip of control, and that helps me reign myself back in. “But what if he didn’t do it?”
The possibility leaves me adrift for a moment. “Then he has to know who did. We’ve been saying that since the beginning. Maybe he’s not guilty of anything. Maybe he really did find me in the morning, crushed by the excavator. But he has to at least know who was there that night. I remember his voice, his face.”
“And you’re sure it’s from that night? Not all jumbled up in your memories like Travis’ face?”
I pop up and pace away, hands in my hair. I’m not sure.
She gets out of the car and shuts the door, and then her hand lands softly on my tense shoulder.
“If he knows anything, we’ll find out. If he’s responsible, we’ll find out. And if he isn’t, then we’ll find out who is.”
Always optimistic, my Maisie. I nod, dropping my arms around her back in a loose hug. She leans in and we just stand there a moment in the autumn breeze, dry leaves skipping by on the sidewalk, unfallen ones applauding in the tall tree above us. I close my eyes, focusing on the serenity and the blessing of the moment. I take a deep breath in, just soaking up the moment. Treasuring it. If it weren’t for the gnawing hunger way down in my gut, and the fact that we were going to confront my killer tomorrow, it would be just like any other day. And despite the dead end with Travis, I’m feeling hopeful.
My wife knows what I am, and accepts me. She still holds the same love for me that she had before, even though I’ve changed.
We have a plan, and it seems like a pretty good one. We’re going to work a confession out of Biff, and if he won’t give it, I’m going to show up and surprise him and see what he knows. He can’t deny the truth with it standing in front of him, right? And if he tries to, I’ll remind him of all the things I will tell the police if he doesn’t. The blood and chemicals in the pit where I was buried, for starters.
I feel a rare peace that I haven’t felt since I came back. At least until my stomach growls with all the force of a rabid dog.
I pull back from our embrace and give her a quick kiss on the forehead. “I need to go hunting.”
Her brow wrinkles. “But didn’t you just go yesterday?”
“You need to eat every day, don’t you?” I snap.
Her lips thin and instantly I regret my outburst.
“I’m sorry. I’m just hungry. I thought I got enough yesterday, but I must not have. I apologize, okay?”
“Okay,” she nods.
“I’m going to go eat so I’m not an asshole to you anymore. I’ll be back in a bit.” I kiss her head again and turn down the sidewalk.
My nape prickles under her gaze as I walk away.
The truth is, I did get enough yesterday. But I’m hungry again today anyway. The truth is, I’m eating more and lasting less time between meals. Can zombies have growth spurts? Maybe I am ill or something, and the extra calories are going to repair my body. Or maybe I need more food because I’m getting less sleep. My energy has to come from somewhere.
However, as I walk my path through the forest, I notice more and more discarded carcasses. They get fresher the farther in I go.
I stop in a clearing, surrounded by the sound of buzzing flies. There’s too many carcases, more than the scavengers can eat, and as far as I can tell, they’re all mine.
And I don’t remember eating half of them.