I was shocked with the sudden certainty which could not be mistaken--his countenance in a few minutes became nearly black. I should have attributed so rapid a change to poison, had I not been aware that he had no opportunity of receiving it unperceived. The day was declining, the body was rapidly altering, and nothing remained but to fulfill his request...
Between astonishment and grief, I was tearless.--Byron
A long, low drainage ditch that tunneled under a little-traveled street on the south side of town. A cave with two open ends, darkness in the middle, and no way out.
He was trapped by sunlight.
He had left a trail of two dead bodies, blood, burglarized convenience stores and Cheetos bags across the town. The cops were still investigating the two dead bodies. I had followed the trail they couldn't see.
Skills, you see.
Cheetos. My g-d, Cheetos. Sometimes I see things that are impossible to relate without sounding like some sophomoric horror film. "Cheetos?" you're thinking, "what the hell?"
Sometimes...many times the transition to a reanimated dead body is not accepted by the tiny human part of the brain that still remains. The insanity that results is manifested in many ways. The undead entity is, above all else, hungry. Feeding itself and afterward hiding from danger are the only two real motivations for a it. It exists for nothing else. One form of undead insanity is a fixation on a specific food, most likely something that the human enjoyed when he was alive. Unfortunately for the undead, what's left of its digestive system can process only blood, and nothing else. So when its favorite food has had the time to fester in its stomach for a while, it vomits it back up. Then it gets hungry again, so it eats more. Vomits. Sometimes it can take a while before it realizes it really needs blood.
This one must have really loved Cheetos.
The tunnel reeked of an animal stench of vomit, blood, death and cheese puffs. I stood still and listened. The breeze soughed through the grass. Somewhere a bird sang. A thin stream of water trickled through the ditch. And somewhere inside there something was breathing, an irregular, catching breath that was desperate with fear and the need to survive. He knew I was out here.
The sunlight extended several feet into the tunnel before it was eclipsed by the street above. I dried my palms on my shirt and went in. A small but bright beam of light lanced into the gloom from my flashlight, and I stopped and shied back involuntarily from revulsion and fear. He was there, all right.
Almost naked but for the tattered remains of pants, pants that were soiled with the horrendous black semi-liquid excrement which is the price of eternal life. He was covered with a maroon slime that I could only imagine--damn my imagination!--was an unspeakable mix of vomit, blood and Cheetos dust.
Good g-d, I wanted to scream. I wanted to laugh. I wanted not to be there, but the only way out was to leave final death behind. The tunnel would muffle the sound of a gun shot. He lunged toward me but stopped, frustrated and screaming with rage and fear at the edge of the sunlight.
It was a very old gun, loaded from the muzzle with black powder and a heavy, .75-caliber lozenge-shaped slug. A small hole had been drilled in the tip of the slug, filled with silver chloride, and capped with a light seal of wax.
The slug blew most of the top of his head off, the soft lead expanding, the wax tearing away, silver chloride sprinkling the tissues of his brain with swift and certain death. The concussion of the shot, pent inside the tunnel, was painful and disorienting. Next time use ear plugs, I told myself.
I put on the gloves and dragged his body into the sunlight. He was dead, as in fully and completely, but it would take a long time for his body to decay in the darkness. The sunlight would take care of it in a few minutes.
Sometimes I had the urge to know who this person had been--if there was any way to let someone know the person was dead. Someone who might miss him, might remember him the way he had been, or the way he should have been. So I walked back through the tunnel.
The floor was strewn a foot deep in Cheetos bags, and slippery with vomit. I couldn't bring myself to search through it, even with gloves on. It was all I could do not to throw up myself. As I began to walk toward the opening, my flashlight played on a bit of paper wedged into a crack in the wall.
A photo. It was him. When he was still alive, and smiling. He was sitting, posed on a bale of hay, with a little girl on his knee. She was wearing blue gingham and a white cowboy hat. He was wearing western clothes as well. And a bolo tie.
I stood there in the tunnel, up to my knees in empty foil bags and orange vomit. I should not have been surprised, but I was. The almost mindless animal I had just killed had been a father...a daddy. Somewhere, it was likely that a little girl was missing him, possibly a wife who missed him as well. But I had nothing else, nothing that might tell me who they were.
I tucked the photo into my shirt pocket. Someday I might see her, might discover who she was and how she had lived her life, might know if she still wore a blue gingham dress. Not likely, but sometimes you have to cling to a slim hope to keep from screaming.
I walked out of that place of death and insanity with the man's last memory in my pocket. Like Byron, between astonishment and grief, I was tearless.