Running Water, Scattered Salt

There are secrets you cannot keep.

In winter, you crawl your way out into a frozen field and hack at the ground with your hands until your nails break off. You press bleeding lips to the shallow earth and whisper what is not unspeakable.

Stumbling home, you veer off course and fall through the ice into still water. Cold as it is, you are colder, and winter is long; you could kick your way to the surface, but to what end? For what purpose? You burrow deep into the mud and wait instead for the first moon of spring.

Months later, wrapped in weeds, you haul yourself up upon the bank. They have nibbled away your nose, your ears, your fingers, your toes; they would have taken your eyes, too, but there are some things you hold on to. The world is warmer, but you are not. You strike out for town, and on the way pass an acre of grass whispering the name you tried to bury.

Felis Domesticus

You hadn’t been much to look at in life, and undeath hasn’t done much to change that. Respectable-looking, that was your lane. You’d had a cat when you were alive, but you’d gradually picked up more in the decades since. It was nice, being surrounded by life; you kept the same crepuscular schedule.

You don’t see people very often, so the cats are good company.  When you get hungry, you pick up some guy at a bar and bring him home and, well. Do what you need to. Once in a very long while you’ll get a visit from the cops, if the bartender could bother to remember your face. You were the last person, that sort of thing.

Yes, you always say. You’ve been lonely, and you’d thought that maybe this time— but you haven’t heard from him since. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, you say. None of them ever come back again.

Half a dozen pairs of eyes shine in the dark.

It’s hard, I know, the cops say. You just have to keep trying. You’ll find someone.

Thank you, you say. I hope so. I hope you find him soon. I hope he’s okay.

Cauled Home

Short days and long nights: you grow even pastier than usual in a light filtered almost entirely through a thin film of water. “You must love it here,” chuckles one of the others, digging an over-familiar elbow into your ribs for the last time.

True enough, you suppose (pause to wipe your lips clean, your chin, your jaw, your neck—you’ll need to replace that shirt now); there’s definitely more room here, more time, more empty corners waiting to be filled, but you find yourself missing the sun somehow more here, rather than less. At least elsewhere you could fret about what you couldn’t have. Here you can stare directly up at the sky at noon and see only a vaguely brighter patch of indifferent sky. It’s all so unsatisfying.

Then too is the cold. You’re always cold, regardless of the weather, but there’s something about the insistent watery chill here that plagues your dreams with images of decay: the eye of a possum misting over, a mouse mildewed into the upholstery of a car seat, mushrooms growing from the corpse of a fallen tree. You pick at your skin obsessively, terrified of moss taking root, of lichen blooming out of some disregarded crack.

Empress Josephine

You woke up in the morgue, the mark of the cannula still worn into your upper lip, more clear-headed than you’d been in years. You sat up, just like that, without thinking about it, without having to plan every step carefully. Standing was an equal joy, no shifting your weight out past your knees, no rocking back and forth, no hoping you’d catch the handles of the walker and not fall on your forearms again. Standing! You laughed, the loudest sound you’d made since you moved up from Olympia, the same clear voice you’d heard in your head, then kept laughing, a minute, two, five, just to see how long you could go. You got bored before you had to stop.

There was someone else in the building with you, you could tell, someone warm, so you went looking, luxuriating just to be moving again.

“Oh, shit, you’re alive!” He was young, 22, maybe. College-aged; he looked like your grandson. He made his face look sympathetic. “Come sit down. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Do you remember your name? We’ll find your family. Let me look at your tag.”

You broke his neck easy as standing, then settled down to eat, still laughing. You’d never felt so alive.

Mycology

You swing between poles: one century you are self-effacing, invisible, a nondescript face in the crowd, forgotten even while they look at you. Other centuries you are a wildfire, the cynosure of civilization, a glorious polar star at the center of your own personal empire. Two sides of one door, you are never completely either, unknowable as deep water.

This decade you are deep-rooted and widespread as a fairy ring. They pass, like this one, this man brilliant as an arc light, into your circle not even recognizing your border. You seep into his lungs, into his soft tissues, and feast small feasts upon his life. He dims, just slightly. They say, who know him, that he has settled into his community: you smile inside their cells.

Death is wasteful, this century. You delight in populations, in aggregate. Porous bones, thickened skin, intermittent fevers. The water is fine, but they take you in with every swallow, every breath of heavy, humid air.