The Passion of the Fallen, oil on canvas, by Darwin Leon.
She couldn’t scream loud enough to scare the vultures away, tired as she was of them picking at her corpse and feasting on the rotting heart that she felt so distantly attached to.
May was her favorite time of year, the night sky looked clear beyond the haze of her imagination and the stars shone lucidly through the pink fractals floating through the sky. She couldn’t make out the figures on her watchface but it didn’t matter, one hour blurred into the next, and the next, until she was staring at an orange dawn though in truth it was still the dead of night. She yawned against her rucksack clutched to her chest as the stars came back into view and the trees spun lazily around her like fireflies, glowing with their own ethereal light.
She stood. The morning was raw in her mouth, infused with stale vodka and the taste of cigarettes. She took a sip from a bottle of water and dressed herself like a zombie, empty-headed with an instinctual hatred of the dawn. The carpet under her feet crunched like ice, the remnants of a thousand hasty junk food meals that she would never clean and she descended the stairs in a haze. She walked to the kitchen and sat down at the table, running a brush hastily through her tangled mass of hair and pinning it out of the way as her eyes fell to the program that stared up at her from the tarnished wood. “In loving memory” it said, “Elena Moore: January ’56 – March ’07. Gone but not forgotten.” She collected her handbag, straightened her long white dress and walked out of the door, tripping as she did on the pile of unsorted letters she couldn’t bear to touch.
She fell. Face down onto the dewy grass, her limbs contorted and not responding to her requests. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply the scent of the moist earth, trying to connect herself with reality though the fractal pictures haunted her even here, inside of her own eyelids. Her mind tried to grasp something, anything in this place that would take her back to that beautiful moment of enlightenment several hours previously, but her mind was racing, her decaying limbs, the dancing trees, her mother, the water-drop maggots that edged their way across her face. With an effort she braced herself against the ground and pushed.
She rolled over. Her neighbor stood over her, proffering a hand and asking if she was okay. She took vague stock of her bloodied knees poking through the tear in her dress like a corpse in the snow and stood of her own accord, ignoring the offer, neglecting to return to change her clothes or clean away the crimson fluid that worked its way down to her shoes. She walked to the car and got in, the engine roaring to life, sounding dull in her ears and she drove instinctively towards the graveyard. Stopping outside she saw them, the guests, the ghosts, all in white and moving around like specters come to haunt the last lingering memory of her mother. Moving towards them in her own otherworldly way she stared blindly, ignoring the comments, the condolences, the whispered fears of her state. It was then she saw it, the first thing she had taken notice of all day. The pale face, a deathly pallor accentuated by sleepless eyes ringed with tired bruises, the hair slicked down with two weeks worth of grease and the eyes, haunted, blind, dull, missing some vital indication of the soul that should lie within. She dismissed this vision and moved on, walking into the church and clenching her fists at her side.
The earth felt good as her fists clenched harder, digging her fingers into the ground, burying herself, grounding herself, finding a hold on something stable. Her breathing sped up to inhuman levels but she didn’t notice. She believed she had stopped breathing hours ago. The fractals in the night sky increased in number, illuminating the darkness, scraping across the canvas like fast-moving clouds, twisting and curving, and before long the stars joined in with their macabre dance. She hauled herself onto her knees, weeping bitterly and unknowingly, and tried to stand, swaying and tripping as with a final effort she managed to get to her feet and take stock of the field around her. Shapes moved in the darkness, demons come to take her away to the underworld, and she ran fitfully towards the trees that surrounded her, moving closer, then farther away, and closer again until she ran into one, shattering her wrist but not noticing the pain. The world tilted. She had taken too much. Pressing her back against the rough oak she slid towards the ground.
She sat down. The front pew of the church in sight of everyone, so much pity and scorn directed at her. She was alone here, no other family to speak of but her mother’s many friends behind. She stared at the coffin, barely seeing it as she had seen nothing that day, her mother’s rotting corpse a distant consideration in an otherwise blank mind. The priest began to speak, condolences and best wishes for the aggrieved, sentiments about Elena, stories from her life, joking and forlorn like an old friend though he had never known her. The service seemed to pass in a blur and she was the first to exit, unhurriedly, walking through a dream that just wouldn’t end. Someone grabbed her arm.
“Jennifer? What on earth happened to you?”
She was confused at first, but then followed the newcomer’s line of sight to her knees, crusted blood now brown like shit smeared across her, the scabs cracking and weeping like she herself. She looked up, unable to speak, unable to recognize the face of the intruder upon her solace, unable to understand what to do through the powerful and desperate need to go home. She tried to pull her arm away.
“Jennifer? Are you okay? Jennifer??” said the newcomer, eyes wide with fright, as were Jennifer’s own. She tugged harder, furiously trying to get away and the grip finally broke. She ran away from the watching crowd, ran to her car and got in, picking up the rucksack in the passenger seat and clinging to it in a daze.
She clung to the tree as an infant clings to its mother’s breast, desperate for the contact of something familiar in this alien world she now inhabited. Her heartbeat had sped unnoticed to a dangerous level and her mouth was dusty as ash. She bent like an animal and began licking the dew from the grass, ripping up the earth and shoving handfuls into her mouth, but it didn’t help. She could taste death. Beyond the rising panic, beyond the forgetfulness of reality she remembered her rucksack, left in the field when she ran to the trees. She tried to stand and fell, openly sobbing as she tried to claw her way back to her bag, crawling in fits and starts as the rigor mortis set in to her festering limbs and her body seized up. The world had become a carousel, everything spinning in one direction, blurred, unfocused, unable to make out either the mass of trees or a single blade of grass, but she felt where her rucksack lay, she knew it, and she knew she had to be with it. After what seemed an eternity she felt it under her hand, damp, and she clutched it to her chest though the small wave of relief was quickly swallowed back into the panic. She lay on her side and undid the fastenings. She opened it.
She opened the door, not closing it or taking off her shoes. She wasn’t even sure that she was coming back. She placed her rucksack on the kitchen table and stared at it for a long while, a small glimmer of common sense trying to slip in through the horror. Eventually she relented, as she always knew she would, and she reached into the rucksack, fingers resting longingly on something unseen inside before shifting to her focus and pulling out a dirty make-up bag. She walked to the sink and grabbed a spoon from the drawer, bent and blackened like most of them were, and began to cook her fix. As the needle penetrated her skin and released its poison she relaxed, pulling herself back to the fringes of normal, a vague sense of peace washing over her. But it was at that point, now, that it didn’t give her what she was looking for. It killed the paranoia, the feeling of detachment and brought her closer to a normal state of mind than she could have been without it, but through that normality the pain of her mother’s tragic death began to seep. She started to cry, fully realizing her emotions and flew into anger, throwing the make-up bag to the floor, screaming to the heavens and dry-heaving with grief and rage and hatred. She picked up the bag and cooked up another batch, and another, and another, each stab into her vein bringing numbness and relief from emotions she didn’t know how to deal with any more. Leaving the paraphernalia by the sink she grabbed the rucksack and left her mother’s house for the last time, clicking the key in the lock as she went.
The lock snapped open. The pages of the diary she had pulled from the rucksack were covered in an elegant hand in blue ink with hearts and flowers and happy faces doodled in the margins. She could not see this. She was so far gone that she was navigating the pages through touch. She felt for the crease, the crease that marked the last page her mother had written on and she ran her fingers tenderly across the script. She couldn’t see the vultures any more but she knew they were there, the vultures and the demons come to collect her body and her soul respectively. Her chest on fire and her heart close to bursting, she shook with a tremor that threatened to push the diary from her hand but she would take the thing to Hell if need be, to remind her, to always remind her, of the part she had played in her mother’s death, of the reason she was going to die today. She couldn’t see the writing but she knew it by heart, that last diary entry: “9/11 2001. Going to the city today. After more phone calls than I can count I have finally found an affordable place. Doctor Stevens seems a pleasant man and he says they have a high success rate. I have high hopes for Jennifer now, she’s willing to quit, she wants to quit…but she needs help. I’ll do a bit of sightseeing as well, take some pictures for her so she doesn’t get scared about the move. Hoping the facility is nice. I love her so much….” Jennifer closed the diary and clutched it to her chest. She curled into a ball as a sharp pain exploded through her chest and her body gave in to the poison in her system. She couldn’t scream loud enough.
Danica Green is a UK-based writer with work appearing in over 50 literary journals and anthologies, including Smokelong Quarterly, Neon Magazine, PANK and Eclectic Flash.