Waking Up Underground
by Richard Marpole
“I’ve started making a mental diary of my thoughts and impressions since I clawed my way out of my grave. It seems like a sane and human thing to do, scientific even; I always liked science.
At first I thought I’d been buried alive.
Which was ridiculous. I am an old, old man and the disease that killed me was a serious one, it took no prisoners.
The people you love have a particular way of looking at you when they know your time is finally running out. My grand-daughter, my favourite human being in the world, looked at me like that just hours before I slipped away. She is almost a woman now, but still too young to deal with death. I reached up out of my chemical-scented hospital bed, held her hand and told her it was ok.
That was the last lie I ever told.
It wasn’t ok, it hurt to die and it hurt even more to wake up in my grave.
The impossibility of that awakening was followed by the insanity of my escape. Even if the disease had left me with a heartbeat, even if the Coroner had somehow not noticed that I was still alive, even if I’d been able to breathe in that airless wooden box; I still shouldn’t have had the strength to smash its solid oak planks and dig through six feet of earth to the surface.
But I did.
Human minds are very good at ignoring the obvious. It was only after I fought free of the earth’s embrace that I noticed the changes in the world, the changes in me.
Night is nearly as bright as day now. Full daylight is like staring into the sun. During the day I have to bury myself again or stick to the shadows if I want to see what I’m doing.
I’m definitely dead and I’m definitely still here. I still can’t breathe but I can walk and see and smell and taste and feel.
Mostly I feel cold.
I’d like a steak; rare and red and dripping. That’s a meal fit for a king.
Not that I like kings any more than I like priests.
I’m quite sure that I don’t have a pulse even though I can’t prove it. I tried pressing fingers to my wrists and neck over and over again, but my nerve endings don’t seem to work properly anymore; all I could feel was the dry rasp of dead skin. I gave up when I realised that my fingernails, longer and sharper than I remember, were tearing my flesh open whenever my hands slipped, which was often.
Guess I’m lucky that my sense of pain is deader than the rest of me.
I’m losing my memories of life.
How did I convince the local authorities to let me be buried in the New Forest? A donation to some charity or other? A bribe? Was I buried illegally?
I do remember why I wanted to rest here though. I didn’t believe in any kind of afterlife but there was something peaceful about the idea of my bones ending up in a place that I’d loved so much in life.
What was my first wife’s name? I know that she was as cruel as she was beautiful and that as a young man that had seemed like a pretty good deal to me.
Were her teeth sharp; like mine are now?
Would she have watched the little squeaking creatures of the forest and drooled with suppressed hunger?
Painted lips opening wide, perfect white teeth snapping closed on a terrified morsel; crunching through fur and flesh and tiny, tiny bones.
No, that doesn’t fit my other images of her.
Not that I would eat the creatures of this forest.
The little rats are too fast for me.
I lost myself for a bit there.
But it’s ok; I didn’t hurt anyone.
I could’ve. There are backpackers and hikers and day-trippers in these woods.
They don’t see me. I’m too clever and too quiet.
I wouldn’t hurt them. But I don’t want to talk to them either. What would I say?
‘Can someone please tell me where I live and who with? I promise not to bite them.’
Or. ‘Hello. I shouldn’t exist so I’d like to donate my body to medical science. Don’t worry, I’ll hold nice and still while the scalpels slice through my desiccated flesh.’
No. Better to wait and watch. Better to hide in dark corners and listen to the arrogant thrum of their hearts, taste the sting of their sweat in the air.
One of the living bodies likes to watch as much as I do.
He smells awful. Unwashed and bubbling over with bad thoughts; what my idiot son would have called sinful thoughts.
Usually it’s the young women he watches. Perhaps he sees them as easier targets. Wolves are like that; they go for the smaller and younger members of the herd. Forget the nobility of nature; all predators are opportunists at heart.
I am faster now. The birds and bugs and other vermin cannot escape my hunger anymore.
Nor can I. The emptiness is a live thing, a beast gnawing at my belly. Nothing satisfies it.
The other watcher is a poor hunter. He catches nothing.
Perhaps I will catch him.
No; that would be insane.
I am still me.
I heard something today that made me feel almost alive.
A high, pure perfect voice.
I slunk through the trees towards it.
A girl. Her scent was familiar; her blood called to me and told me her names.
Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh.
She loved the New Forest as much as I did. Perhaps that was why she was my favourite.
I don’t want her to see me like this.
But I cannot stay away.
I’ll just watch.
In life I demanded reasons for everything. Why does this happen? Why should I accept that on faith?
Now I think that I will never know why I rose from the dead.
Maybe I didn’t. Maybe this is some kind of hell.
She has come again. Tripping through the woods with her friends.
There is a hint of sadness to her; she has not forgotten who showed her these paths. I wish that I’d never brought her here, never shared my love of nature. Then I would be safe from her and she from me.
I nearly killed an old man today. I was so hungry. But he stopped to rub his aching hip the way I used to and some shred of human feeling pulled me out of the leap that would have taken his head. He never even saw me.
Stupid old man.
Today was different. She came back but so did the watcher.
The sickness in his mind was so thick that I wanted to chew it right out of his head.
He followed her.
Waited until her friends had gone ahead.
Jumped out from behind a tree and knocked her down.
He loomed over her and she stared up at him, too stunned to scream.
“It’s ok.” He told her. “You want this. The devil is in you.”
I was on him in the space of a living heartbeat. We fell together, our limbs tangled.
Such a sweet struggle. I sank my teeth into his throat and his blood danced across my tongue. It tasted like steak and champagne and the heat of a woman’s mouth.
He shook and cried but I held him tight. I whispered to him between bites. “It’s ok, it’s ok.”
When he died my hunger died with him.
For that moment I was warm and happy and content; lost in bliss.
When I came back to myself; she was looking at me, face bruised but eyes bright.
At last everything made sense. This was why I was brought back. Some god I didn’t believe in had given me the chance to save the most precious person in the world.
I almost reached out to her.
She spoke to me. “Grandpa? Is that you? What’s wrong with your face Grandpa?”
Too many questions.
Too many hurtful truths.
I ran from her and she from me.
Did I really come back to save you, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh?
Then why am I still here?
You better not come back here, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh.
I’m getting hungry again.”