The Lonely Dead: Interlude – by Christopher Cho

Frank was in love. He felt the weight of the ring in his pocket. Outlined the circumference of it with his index finger, before nervously flipping it over and repeating the gesture.

Frank swiped the screen of his phone, checking for missed calls, or excuses via text. Frank was in love, but she had the tendency to be a bit of a flake. The cell lit up in his hand, buzzing and leaping. An auburn-haired girl with big Bambi eyes popped up on the display, and he answered.

“April? What’ s up, is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” There was a tinge of doubt in her voice, her syllables faltering just slightly. Not many would pick up on something small like that, but he did. He could always tell when she was lying to him. “I’m leaving the house now. Can you please tell me what this is about, Frank?”

“I told you, April, it’s a surprise! Don’t make me ruin the surprise.” Honestly, he was a little offended she didn’t suspect more. It was their anniversary, it would be three years today. With any luck, it would be one of many more to come.

There was a slight silence, he swore he could hear her roll those big green eyes.

“Fine. But I told my parents I would meet them after. I can’t stay long. Really, Frank, you know how I feel about surprises.”

Frank punched “End” on his mobile and replaced it in his pocket. He knew he should feel nervous, but he felt uncharacteristically calm. Typically, he hated the heat of the summer, but late July had its perks, most notably the nights, cool and calm. Sitting next to the lake he could feel a breeze.

“You know, she’s too good for you.” A voice spoke up from behind him, a older man dressed in soft light.

For Frank, nothing good had come from the unexpected rising of the dead. Those who were gone were already forgotten in his mind, and without need of remembrance. At best they were mild annoyances, buzzing in the corner as he tried to watch a movie in peace, or existing as a dull throb in the base of his skull when he didn’t see them around. At worst his ghosts were old wounds, flaring up again to remind him of harder times. Walking, talking, scars.

“You know what, Pops? For once you and I agree on something.” And with that, his father was gone again.

April pulled up as the sun took a graceful descent into Meadow-Lake, although it was really more of a pond. The ka-thunk of her car door opening startled Frank out of his daydreams and she was reminded of what a space-case he could be. But for Frank it was simply moving from one dream to another as he shifted his glance from the sunset to April.

She wore a black faux-leather jacket over a pink mini dress. Her hair caught the breeze and swayed like she was in a shampoo commercial. He would never forget the way she looked, and he wanted this moment to last forever. He knew right then, that he was making the right decision.

He stood up from the picnic blanket he had rolled out for them, and walked over to her car. Frank tried to hide the smile that was wrestling its way to the surface of his face. His facade cracked, and he let loose a smirk, causing her to eye him suspiciously.

“I know that look, Frank. Nothing good can come from that look.” It was her superpower, she could always see right through him. “What are you up to?”

“I’m- I’m up to- listen, things have been tough.” Frank said as April to let loose a scoff. “Listen, stop, please. I know things have been tough,” Frank continued. “Tough is an understatement. It’s been tough, and confusing, and hard. The Ghosts showing up… nobody expected that. That doesn’t make any sense. And I know that their presence has changed things. Brought things out in me that-,” He visibly struggled for the words, “That’s not me. You know it’s not me.”

“That’s enough, Frank.” She put up her hands, one foot still in the well of her car. “Why did you bring me out here? My parents know where I am, I told them I was coming to see you. They told me closure would be good. They always liked you.”

“Yeah, well no one’s perfect,” Frank spat, “I called you out here to give you your ring back. It’s yours. I gave it to you. It’s yours to have.” He closed a tight fist around the ring in his pocket, tried grinding it to nothing, but only succeeded in digging a deep gash in his palm. With his other hand he reached out.

“That’s not how these things work, Frank.” April said. “I should go.” She leaned to get back behind the steering wheel of her vehicle.

“No, April, no, please. Just hear me out.” whispered Frank, defeated. His eyes began to fill, she knew this look and wanted nothing more than to go to him and comfort him. “Do you know why I picked this spot?” His hands were trembling, his only breath through sharp intakes. “This is where we met. It would have been three years ago today.”

“I remember, Frank.” She spoke quietly from behind the steering wheel and windshield, door still ajar.

“I was walking Scout. And you jogged by. It wasn’t even the first time I saw you, truth be told.” He closed his eyes, releasing some of the liquid that had been resting uneasily on his lid. His voice quivered, “I actually saw you jogging by earlier that week, but I didn’t have the courage to talk to you. My heart was in my throat. I took Scout out probably seven times a day for the next three days after that. I’d never seen a dog get tired of being outside before. And then finally, I saw you again.”

Frank laughed, opened his eyes again, looked for April’s. He could have sworn she laughed too, but her face was hidden, forehead against the steering wheel like she had passed out from exhaustion. She might have been crying but he couldn’t be sure.

“I don’t know what came over me.” Frank continued. “But you brought it out of me. I had to talk to you. Ask you out. You did that. And every day since then, you’ve always pushed me to do the things that I thought I couldn’t do. And I don’t know what to do without you anymore.”

April slowly lifted her head, her eyes drawn to a light coming from either side of Frank. It was her parents. Her father had a hand appearing to gently rest on Frank’s shoulder. Her mother had an arm wrapped around his waist. They both gestured out to her, waved her towards them. They always liked him. The son they never had.

“April, Honey! We couldn’t wait at home, we’re sorry.” Her father called out. Despite his glimmering ice-like appearance he emanated such a warmth. She wanted so badly to go out to him. Try, in vain, to embrace him in her arms. Embrace them all.

“I… I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m sorry, Daddy. I can’t do what you want. I can’t go back.” She slammed her car door, and slowly shifted into reverse. As she did so, her apparitions disappeared. Frank’s face transformed, from hurt to anger. He rushed her car door, furiously clicking the locked car door and slamming his bloody fist against her window.

She screamed as her car peeled out. Her mother appeared in the rear-view mirror, causing April to momentarily flinch. “Don’t do this to your mother, Dear.” April winced, “Stop the car and get out, Dear. Get out. Get out, get out, get out, get out, get out!” Her mother had her hands in front of her, as if to stop the car, and she was stomping her feet. Her eyes rolled back, grew dark, became nothingness. Her jaw opened wide.

A scream forced it’s way out of April’s diaphragm, uncontrollable. Her father appeared in the seat beside her, wordless, his nothingness eyes fixed on her unmoving. A roar and KRAK sent spiderwebs through her driver’s side window. Frank had found a large rock that he was now using to pound the barrier.

Again and again, KRAK, KRAK.

“April! Get out of the car, April!” Frank was now barking.

“Get out, get out, get out, get out, get out, get out, get out, get out.” Her mother was droning on. April just wanted it all to stop. She wanted it to be over. She felt the energy leave her body and the screams subside. She wanted to give up. Then, as if they could sense it, her ghouls quieted themselves.

    KRAK, CRASH! Glass came raining down on April’s hands and jacket. She saw Frank’s face. Twisted and contorted, like a man possessed, like the devil himself. She slammed on the gas and the car jumped into action, flying backwards, clipping Frank’s arm and throwing him to the ground. Shooting through her mother’s apparition, revived with fury and now screeching like a kettle set to boil over. Her father disapparated again, clearly not expecting a renewal of April’s energy.

Her eyes followed the ghastly figure of her mother as she passed through the car, arms outstretched, grasping for her daughter. April’s small relief turned to confusion as she saw the expression on her mother’s face become something resembling a smile. Her car came to a sudden, crunching, stop as it hit and then bounced off of the trunk of a tree her mother had been obscuring.

Frank crawled to his feet. He observed the wreckage, smoke billowing from the engine, glass shattered. And behind the wheel, barely conscious, his lovely bloodied beloved.

Frank was tired. Frank was tired of feeling happy for other people. He was tired of the people he loved leaving him for the people they loved. He shambled to the driver’s side door, April dazed and only slowly coming to. She caught his eye as he grabbed a handful of hair, dragging her through the broken glass of her window.

Halfway out the window gravity took it’s effect and her body crumpled to the ground, leaving Frank with a fistful of her beautiful auburn locks, torn from her skull. He dropped it and grabbed her by the collar of her dress.

As he dragged her through the dirt, from car to lake, although it was really more of a pond, she saw her parents reappear. Their appearance had entirely changed. They wore the clothes of her parents, but now simply looked hungry.

“P-please…” She whimpered out. “W-What do you want? I’ll do anything you want.”

She was lying, he could always tell when she was lying. He had given her the option to be his, of her own free will. He had come to her, humbled, at his lowest and his most vulnerable, and she had spit in his face. They had reached the edge of the water now, and he dropped his stone. He almost forgot he had been carrying it all this time.

Frank took the ring out of his pocket, it glinted in the moonlight. April slapped at him with what little strength she had left. Silently he wrestled her arm still, pinning it under his knee, but as he tried to force the ring on her she flailed. It was all becoming more trouble than it was worth, no time for vows and formalities, he forced the band on her finger, ignoring the sickening snap, the exposed streak of flesh, from cuticle to knuckle.

He carried her, then, further out, until she was floating and he was wading waist deep. A crimson red wedding train following them out and rippling from their position. He suspected it had always had to end this way. Frank looked at her one last time, her big Bambi eyes with her beautiful auburn hair, floating out around her like a spectre. Frank wrapped his hands around her throat, and pushed.

April never could see too good underwater, but as the darkness slowly pushed in from the periphery of her vision, she swore she could see the shimmering figures of the ghouls surrounding Frank. She saw her parents, some of her friends. And she hoped, despite everything she went through tonight, that they were happy, and that she would be joining them soon. Frank’s father appeared from behind Frank and looked on her with pity, and from behind him, she could have sworn for a moment, that she saw herself.

The convulsions finally stopped. Her limbs, arms and legs, ceased their mechanical, instinctual fighting. Frank was afraid to loosen his grip, and held firm for a few moments longer, not sure what to do next. He wasn’t sure how this worked, and hoped that she would appear to him soon. That she would show up now, and disappear at his beck and call.
It was all Frank ever wanted. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with the love of his life. Frank was in love, and he never wanted to let her go.

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