This week I want to share a story I wrote a couple of years ago that caused me a lot of heartache. This story made me question everything I was doing and everything I thought I wanted.
This was one of the first stories I brought to workshop in Grad school. And it was torn apart. Torn apart so bad and in such a way, I thought about dropping out. The reason they hated it so much? It’s about a zombie. It was highly offensive to serious, literary writing. I know now I was foolish to think I could get away with that, but I didn’t think their response would be so severe…
I learned my lesson, and from then on did my best to write how they wanted me to write, while still trying to be myself. It was a difficult balancing act. This story reminds me that even when other people think I’m weird or that I don’t belong, that it’s okay. I believe in myself.
I’m going to post it in two parts. I’ll post part two next Sunday.
I hope you enjoy it.
With Screams and Axes,
Over the hills and through the woods he kept his pace, followed by half-hearted ghouls with brains on their tongues and avoided by those with everything to fear. He did not fear, not any more. The forest creatures concealed in the leafy night, with gold eyes twinkling from places high or hidden, hushed as he passed. Only a crow braved to caw: silence; he walks. They knew that he had nothing to fear, not anymore. He was traveling to his old house, following the footsteps of his family before him. But he didn’t know that, some instinctual urge decided it for him. The blood on his hands kept his mind mechanical and his pace slow, his eyes wide and barely able to understand what they saw. The land was alone now, like an egg dropped behind the chicken coop, forgotten, with a crack forking across the shell and smeared with grime. He was alone now, but he didn’t want to be. So he walked, and traveled where his feet felt others had walked. They had trampled these grasses, and he followed their scent, longing to have them within arm’s reach.
She had barely escaped the city with his Mother, Father, Brother and Sister. He had stayed behind to protect and defend, to bloody and kill. As masses fled and fed in the chaotic streets, they had promised to meet at the final destination: the summer home in the countryside. He was a good soldier who stayed his ground, who did what he was ordered, and who’d never desert his comrades. She was a good wife. Before, she had waited for him at home far away from war, the battles and gore. She couldn’t ask him not to go, no matter how vehemently she wished it. But now the war had come to their home, and it was she that had to go far away. As she ran from the city with his parents and siblings, she imagined him in his uniform, firing his gun, refusing escape from a war no one wanted to fight, and maintaining a barricade threatened by a mob of thrashing limbs. She prayed he wasn’t that good a man.
He came upon a barn. Inside shriveled cows lay in the dust, ropes around their crooked necks hanging them to their posts. Hens with wide eyes and patchy feathers hopped upon the remains. Their scratches and pecks marked the skin. He felt nothing in the face of death and disease. Death had claimed a part of him, but allowed him to survive without it. He carried on with the piece missing. In the farmhouse, the milk was spoiled. And the corpses in the kitchen spoiled as well. He held a dried hand in his palm, shaking it lightly, a relic of an old connection. The house had been tidy and comfortable once, but now the windows were broken and the doors hung ajar and blew open and closed freely in the wind. No one lived here, and it was hard to picture the husks on the floor as once alive. To him, there was hardly any difference. He foraged for what was left, what could be salvaged and consumed so that he could keep on. It was all he could do.
She remembered the last time he went away. On the night before he was leaving, they stayed at home together and she was quiet and solemn. She wasn’t allowed to be angry, she wasn’t allowed to be resentful, and she wasn’t allowed to upset him before he went away. She was supposed to be supportive and faithful, and to remind him to be careful, and tell him how much she loved him and how proud she was. That’s what the other wives had told her to do. They had luncheons to discuss these matters, and to keep each other from being driven crazy with worry. She sat at the kitchen table with him after dinner.
“Are you all packed?” She asked.
“Will you write?”
“Of course,” he promised.
“I don’t want to forget your handwriting.”
“It’s one of those things. One of those little secret things about a person that’s easy to forget.”
“What else do you forget?”
“The way your skin smells just after you’ve gotten out of the shower, your eyes when you’ve stayed up too late, how you take your coffee and the noises you make when you eat. And your hands. Sometimes I have trouble remembering what they look like, feel like.”
He took her hand.
“How could you forget that?”
He came upon a girl on a rooftop. She murmured and paced, her voice rose and fell as she cried at his approach. He gazed up at her, longing to find a way to bring her back down. Her brown hair fell over her face in long strands and her clothes hung from her frame. She shrieked at him “Go away!” and cried. He was past the point of being able to understand her words, but felt her hatred and fear. The smell of it wafted down from her perch and stung his nose. His hunger cracked the whip. He went into the house only to find the staircase destroyed. There was no way up to her. No way for him to wrap his arms around her shoulders. He stood in the yard moaning, staring into her as she cursed him and hated him for the gun at his hip, his torn uniform and his soiled skin. She wailed and sobbed, but eventually hushed. When she hushed he departed. It was all he could do.