I’ve been in a dark place since the accident.
I know I need to let her go, to accept that I’m never going to see her again, but I can’t. I can’t rest. I can’t lie still. I can’t move on. All I can do is think about her. My wife. My love. My Lisa.
What’s done is done; what’s dead is dead. I know that—of course, I do. I know she’s in a better place. I know she’s up there somewhere, looking down on me like a guardian angel. And I know I should take comfort in that … but I don’t. The thought makes me livid.
There’s nothing for me here, nothing but suffocating loneliness. It’s like I’m drowning in crude oil, trapped in tar, sinking slowly into an infinite void. There’s no warmth, no light, no hope, just an impenetrable gloom that presses in on me from all sides, threatening to crush me with the grim finality of my situation: I’m alone. Forever and ever, alone.
But … what if I didn’t have to be? What if I could be with her again, even if only for a moment? She’s so close, I can practically touch her. The only thing between us is a few feet of freshly-turned earth. All I have to do is dig.
I know there’s something wrong with me. I know I’m not well. A normal person doesn’t have these kinds of thoughts. But I don’t care. I have to try to reach her, to see her one more time. I need to tell her I love her. I miss her.
And I’m sorry.
The accident was my fault. We wouldn’t even have been on the road in the first place if I hadn’t insisted on leaving her sister’s place instead of spending the night there to wait out the storm. The forecast was calling for 12 to 18 inches of snow in the span of a few hours. An inch-deep carpet of downy white had already blanketed every surface outside.
“You seriously want to drive in this?” Lisa asked. “Why don’t we just stay here for the night?”
“We’ll be fine,” I insisted. The thought of spending even one more minute with Lisa’s vapid sister and her idiot husband turned my stomach. At my urging, we said some hasty goodbyes, made vague promises about visiting again soon, then slip-skated down the driveway to my car.
I regretted the decision almost immediately. The snowfall was so heavy that I could barely see the road in front of me. It was a near-total whiteout, as if a shroud of white gauze had been draped over the windshield. I drove as carefully as I could down the winding mountain road. But I wasn’t careful enough.
We were on a steep downhill stretch when I lost control of the car. A tree had fallen across the road on the far side of a blind curve, completely blocking our lane. Its branches materialized out of the snow-smudged darkness like giant black claws reaching from the nether. My breath caught in my throat as I slammed my foot on the brake and wrenched the wheel. The tires didn’t screech—they whispered, sliding silently on the blanket of snow covering the asphalt. The car fishtailed, spun, then plowed trunk-first through the guardrail and over the side of the cliff.
There was a brief, eerie silence as the car plummeted through open air, then the world exploded in a cacophony of shattering glass and rending metal. Lisa and I were both thrown violently within the confines of our seat belts as the car rolled down the slope and crashed into the trees below.
Once the car came to a stop, everything became a blur. I remember looking over at Lisa as she slumped against the passenger side door, her head hanging loose on her neck. A fine dusting of snow blew in through the gaping hole where the windshield used to be, accumulating on her blood-matted hair like the delicate lace of a bridal veil.
The next thing I knew, I was laying on my back, looking up at the night sky. One of the car’s headlights was still illuminated, sending a beam of white light slicing through the frigid air like a distress beacon. The snow had stopped. There was no moon, just a low cover of clouds that pulsed with red and blue light from the emergency vehicles assembled somewhere on the road above. Muffled voices warbled like the underwater vocalizations of a diver shouting into a snorkel. Then I was floating in the air, rising toward a giant metal bird that beat the air with a whup-whup-whup sound, conjuring a dervish of stinging snow and freezing wind that blasted against my skin.
After a long period of oblivion, I awoke on a table as a doctor wearing a rubber apron and blue nitrile gloves moved above me, silhouetted against the bright light overhead. I tried to call out for Lisa, but I was unable to form any words. It felt like my mouth was stuffed with cotton, like my lips were stitched shut. I remember how cold I was, as if they had opened every window to let in the frigid winter chill. I tried to raise my hand to signal to the doctor to close the windows, but I couldn’t move. My limbs were stiff and numb. They felt almost foreign to me, the arms and legs of a mannequin instead of a human. Never mind the cold, I thought to myself. Where’s Lisa? I resolved that, as soon as I could speak again, I would ask the doctor to wheel me in to see her. Little did I know that it was already too late.
The funeral was horrible. Lisa’s face was deathly pale in contrast to her all-black dress, the rouge on her cheeks garish and overdone in an obvious attempt to bring some color to her ghostly pallor. I remember a parade of forlorn faces streaming past me, awkwardly mumbling their condolences. There were tears. Hugs. Prayers. A eulogy. Grief filled the room like a noxious ether. Lisa’s parents were there. They didn’t speak to me though—they just stared vacantly at me from their seats in the front row.
My suit felt uncomfortable and ill-fitting; the tie was way too tight. At first, I wondered why I had tied it so tightly, before realizing that I had no recollection of tying it at all. Normally it would have been Lisa who tightened it, ensuring that the knot was straight and even, but obviously it hadn’t been her. So who had tied it then? I couldn’t say. Whoever it was, they hadn’t given much thought to my comfort. I couldn’t turn my head. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was wearing a noose.
After the funeral, the darkness settled in. Or rather, I settled into it. I let it envelop me, succumbing to its cold embrace. I didn’t know if there was still a sun in the sky, but even if there was, it didn’t matter—its light couldn’t reach me. I was too far gone. All I could do was think about Lisa, about how we were doomed to spend eternity apart. There was no more us. There was just me and her. Me, here. Her, there. Forever.
I’m not sure how long I allowed myself to suffer in silence before I decided to do something about it. I spent what felt like days in a dissociative fugue, floating outside my body, looking down on myself from above. What I saw made me sick. I didn’t even recognize who I was anymore. I was a shell of my former self, wasting away, disintegrating into nothing. I had given up, allowing myself to succumb to my fate as if it was inevitable, as if there was nothing I could do about it. But there was. I just had to summon the will to do the impossible. The unspeakable. The insane.
I know things between Lisa and I can never fully be restored. There’s no going back to how we were before the accident. Like I said earlier, done is done and dead is dead. I know that. But if there’s even the slightest chance that we can be together again, I have to try.
As I reach up and begin clawing at the silk fabric lining the inside of my coffin, I feel a surge of hope for the first time since the accident. I don’t know how long it will take to dig my way out of here, but it doesn’t matter—I only have forever. I’ll dig my way through silk and wood, past dirt and worms, through grass and mud, emerging from the darkness and back into the light.
I’m coming for you, Lisa. I love you.
I’ll see you soon.
Originally published in RISE: Stories of the Undead via Wicked Shadow Press
— Warren Benedetto writes dark fiction about horrible people, horrible places, and horrible things. He is an award-winning author and a full member of the SFWA. His stories have appeared in publications such as Dark Matter Magazine, The Dread Machine, and Haven Spec; on podcasts such as The NoSleep Podcast, Tales to Terrify, and The Creepy Podcast; and in anthologies from Apex Magazine, Scare Street, Eerie River Publishing, and more. His hobbies include sleeping, hitting snooze, sleeping some more, and naps. For more information, visit warrenbenedetto.com and follow @warrenbenedetto on Twitter and Instagram.