This Week’s Prompt: 92. Man’s body dies—but corpse retains life. Stalks about—tries to conceal odour of decay—detained somewhere—hideous climax.
The Prior Research:Bloodsucking Bodies from the Balkans
Ever since the man in uniform brought Leslie Edgarton news from the front lines—maybe ever since Thomas’s name had shown up in the obituaries—she had made a point of going on morning walks. Abigail, her oldest, found it a bit disconcerting. Leslie would go and walk, and at times it didn’t seem clear she knew where she was going. She usually walked in the park, meandering for an hour or so.
Today, however, she lingered a little longer. She found the grass and trees soothing. Cars and sirens rarely came around to the park, especially in the morning on a Monday. She breathed in, trying to let that peace of mind in. It was then that she saw him.
The man was feeding the ducks some bread out of his pocket—he was wearing a long jacket and heavy shades, his hair a buzz cut. Leslie frowned as he approached. He looked a bit pale, unshaven, but—but something about him seemed familiar. He looked just like Thomas—not just like, maybe after losing some weight, maybe after a bad few months. But he couldn’t be—she’d discussed this with Dr. Reddington. They’d been over this. They’d…but he was right there. Smiling as he fed the ducks along the path.
As Leslie got close, the wind carried the smell of alcohol ahead of the man. He didn’t seem to notice her, stopping and leaning to look in the lake. But it was Tom. It was definitely Thomas, right there. She stopped dead ten feet away and stared. Something held her back, something was unsure. Something in her said this was dangerous.
The man got up, turned, saw her—and left with nothing more than a small smile. She wanted to say something, she wanted to ask if it was him, where had he been, why he had taken so long to come back, was it really him. A hundred questions stuck in her throat, as he continued along the road, and behind the hill. Out of sight.
Leslie struggled not to tell her children about the man. She had considered calling the police, but…well, he was probably just a homeless man who happened to look like Thomas. There were seven billion people in the world. And Dr. Reddington said her pattern recognition might be on the fritz. It wasn’t anything for a few days, it was a thing that nagged her.
And then, that Monday, she got a call from Jesse’s school. A very worried and hushed call.
“Hello, Mrs. Edgarton?” the voice said, quietly.
“Speaking—is something wrong?” She said, quietly closing her office door.
“I’m afraid there is. There was a small incident with Jesse.” the voice continued.
“He’s alright, and everything seems fine but—well, Mrs. Edgarton–”
“Don’t tell me he lashed out again?” Leslie said, rubbing her temples.
“Not exactly. Mrs. Edgarton, Jesse—well, he says he saw his father.”
“Excuse me?” Leslie looked straight ahead.
“He saw his own father. Ma’am, if you could come down here, we’re…well, we’re obviously all worried. Some of his friends saw a man near the school fence, and Jesse ran towards him. When the teachers got there, the man was gone.”
“And Jesse says…”
“It was his father, yes.” The voice said, hesitating a moment. “I know this is hard, Mrs. Edgarton, but you have to understand how worrying this sort of behavior is.”
“Right, I’ll be there right away.”
Leslie felt her heart in her throat. It had been hard enough the first time, explaining what had gone wrong, what had gone terribly wrong. She felt like maybe she should have laid the groundwork—maybe if they had known where Tom was, maybe if the understood his job. Lauren took it best. She was older, she knew a bit better. She resented it more, but still. Jesse had…hadn’t understood for a while. It made sense, in a way, that he’d start seeing things too.
Jesse had been insistent that it was his dad—wearing sunglasses and a heavy coat and gardening gloves, but Leslie…Leslie couldn’t get him to believe it was someone else. Worse, he mentioned seeing him around school for a couple of days. She called the cops—she didn’t want to, if it really was just a homeless guy.
They hadn’t found any trace of him, but someone else had seem him near the high school—near Lauren, Leslie thought. The guy had some sort of cloth over his mouth, but school security chased him off.
Jesse said he smelled like alcohol and eggs, and that he’d been waiting near the playground for a while. Which—the playground butted against an old orchard. It wasn’t unbelievable he’d gotten back there. It was just…she couldn’t understand why Jesse had gotten close. They went over stranger danger a hundred times, but of course…of course…
“He wasn’t a stranger! It was dad!” Jesse said. Leslie held back tears.
It was for the best they stayed home anyway. Jesse had been lethargic since—stress no doubt, plus spring allergies were coming in. He stayed in bed a lot, watching TV. It probably wasn’t healthy, but Leslie didn’t know what else to do.
A week after Jesse saw him, Leslie went a walk again. She made sure Lauren was safe and at school. She even managed to get Jesse to go on the walk with her—she hoped fresh air would help with whatever was going wrong. Fresh air was a cure for everything—and it would stop Jesse from developing cabin fever at least.
There was a lake in the park that they walked to. There were ducks they could feed, but Jesse just liked watching them and walking along the shore. Sometimes things drifted—usually just broken reeds and grass, but sometimes toy boats or bottles. Pencils, pens, lost letters. Not often, but five years walking in the park as a family, looking, you found the strange litter.
Leslie breathed easy for a moment, as the birds sang and flew. Spring was on it’s way—warmth was coming back. Even as the rains and thunder rolled, live was finding away. She watched as Jesse looked through the reeds for a treasure.
“Mom! Mom, you’ve got to see this!” Jesse shouted from the shore. Leslie blinked awake and walked over, smiling—and then she saw what Jesse was holding.
It was small, as he held up in the sun. It shone in her eyes, a small coin with red and blue on the back. Thomas had shown it off, before his last deployment, it was one he’d won in France. Leslie felt her hairs stick on end as Jesse got closer. She looked up, and saw—across the lake, walking measuredly—a man in a long coat and gloves. He had a beanie on, his mouth was covered by a full bandan, and he had sunglasses on. Still. He was the same height, the same shape.
“Jesse we’re leaving.” Leslie said, standing up, staring as he walked—his legs seemed to bend to far, bending and shaking at the joints. She could—the pants where bending, like his legs were breaking.
“Mom–” Jesse started.
“No, now.” She said, grabbing the hand and coin. They walked fast—not too fast, not running, walking quickly and certainly—toward the car. Jesse complained, but Leslie kept going. When they drove off—she saw him. Standing there in the parking lot. Was he looking at her—he stood and stopped at the end of the path. Slowly…he stepped off onto the asphalt as they drove away.
Leslie didn’t explain much to Jesse when she got home. Just to pack his things. Leslie had noticed he was lethargic again, slumping a bit, yawning, complaining about aches or grumbling and groaning. Contact with the coin wasn’t healthy—or maybe it was just seeing that…that thing. That man.
She had already called her sister—they were across town, but she couldn’t stay in the house tonight. If it was Tom…if it was Tom–which she had to now consider, she had to whether she wanted or not—he’d try and come home next. He knew they’d be home, and she couldn’t risk it. Her sister had moved recently—Tom wouldn’t know where she was.
Doris understood, mostly, and the kids treated it like a sleep over. They put on Toy Story to settle in a bit better—it was Jesse’s favorite. Lauren could tolerate it—she’d pick the next movie, that Jesse would probably sleep through. He was barely awake as it was.
Leslie tried to ask about if she’d been followed by anyone, if she’d seen anyone. Anything at all. Lauren wouldn’t answer—but Leslie saw the old luck charm Tom had. She sighed. After tonight, they could talk. They would talk, after a night over.
They were almost done—at the scene with the weird baby spider that somehow didn’t give Jesse nightmares—when Leslie’s phone rang. She glanced down and her blood ran cold.
“Mrs. Edgarton? This is Office Randal. We received a call about a break in at your house, and wanted to make sure you were out of the building.” The voice on the other side buzzed.
“Yes,I’m at my sister’s at the moment. Should—should I stay here longer?”
There was a pause.
“Ma’am, I don’t think that will be necessary. We…we believe we have apprehended the suspect. I would recommend coming home tomorrow afternoon, the clean up will take some time.”
Leslie was quiet for a moment.
“Can I see him?”
“Ma’am, I’m not sure that’s–”
“Just for a second, if it’s safe.”
There was chatter on the other side, talking and sighing and what she imagined was shrugging.
“Ma’am, I can’t stop you but I strongly suggest against it.”
She parked the car on the sidewalk nearby, leaving the driveway open. Stepping out, she saw the smashed window. There was a red stain on the door, blood and cloth on the broken window. There was alcohol and blood and rot rising from the window—the officers nearby saw her and beckoned her closer.
On the other side of the smahsed window, splayed on the couch, was Tom. Or what was left of Tom. His shir twas stained, and looked ten sizes too big. A rib poked through. His coat had nearly slumped off. One of his gloves was gone—fallen on the floor a few feet away. Outstretched was a withered limb, bones poking through in a few places. And then there was his face.
His shades had fallen off, revealing empty holes for eyes.The beanie had sunken down, pushing down bits of hair and skin. His nose was gone, and his bandanna had fallen away. His mouth—the lips were pulled back, making his yellowed teeth look long and sharp. His tongue dropped out and was blackened with decay. Leslie couldn’t help but stare as Tom’s body buzzed with flies, rattling one more time before collapsing.
For this story, I knew I wanted to do something with the idea of loss coming back home. I don’t think I handled the analogy entirely well or to my satisfaction–this week was busier then expected. Still, I think this is as good as some of the earlier “horror laced into reality” stories I managed.
Next week, we talk about villages and towns lost to memory! Come and see!