Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
I’m awoken by Rebecca’s sudden lurch upward.
The whole bed’s shaking from it.
My mind’s jumpstarted awake. Immediately, I’m feeling disorientated. Inactive for many hours, my brain now has to remind me where I am.
The information floods in:
I’m in my bedroom. In my house. It’s dark.
I instinctively look at my alarm clock.
It’s 3:37 in the morning.
Do I have work today? I calmly remind myself I do not.
My brain is telling me I’m very tired, and I should succumb to sleep. At the same time, it’s telling me there’s movement by the corner of my eye. Rebecca. Worry about her. Check on her.
I fight the crust formed on my eye-lids to look over at the other side of the bed.
My wife looks panicked. Her hair is matted and sweaty. And, different. Somehow.
A nightmare? She couldn’t have had a nightmare. I think it’s impossible for her to have those.
* * * * * *
“I forgot how gorgeous these woods could be. I actually, strangely, missed them a bit.”
“I’m glad! I wasn’t sure if you thought it would be… inappropriate.”
“No, no, this is nice. This is where we first met. Regardless of the lonely years I spent around here, it’s nice to be here with you. It cements the idea that this place should be a good memory, instead of a bad one. You know what I mean? We needed this.”
John gave her hand a gentle squeeze, as confirmation that he did know.
The couple continued walking through the trees. Rebecca was enjoying feeling the wind flow through her brown hair. John was worrying about how he would get back.
The trees were spaced evenly. The ground had no distinct markings, or changes in elevation; Like nature had explicitly crafted it to be so precise.
And it was getting dark.
He knew he needed to speed things up.
* * * * * *
The loudest scream I’ve ever heard vocalized escapes from her throat.
My brain is telling me sleep is no longer a concern.
“Rebecca! Becca! It’s John!”
I’m shouting her name, because I have no fucking idea what else to do.
“Who the fuck are you?!” she’s gurgling, through lips that are no longer there.
Her skin is melting off.
* * * * * *
Rebecca stops walking, and lets go of John’s hand.
“Is this for me?”, she says lovingly, as she stoops down, picking up a teddy bear from the earth. Strangely, the bear was laying right outside of a barring patch of dirt. A perfect circle.
“No,” replies John, confused, “It looks burned. Maybe some kids were messing around with a lighter up here.” He chuckles at a memory, something he already had on his mind. “Did I ever tell you how I used to take my Mom’s matches, and burn paper out here? Just, notebook paper from my backpack. I thought it was cool, watching the flame engulf, and burn. It was something I had control over. Mindless destruction. I couldn’t control the loneliness I felt. Couldn’t control my father. But I could burn paper. God, it was so dumb.”
“It wasn’t dumb,” she said with a reassuring smile. Rebecca knew of John’s struggles already. She didn’t want to dawn on them now, so she changed the subject: “I love it when you do that.”
“Go on tangents about things. Just, anything. You view things like an author. I’m a little jealous, actually. I’ve always wanted to be one.”
“I never knew that. We’ve been married for years, and I still have so much to learn about you.”
Rebecca gave him another small smile.
He continued, “It’s almost like you’re a different person sometimes. I feel like if you’ve always wanted to be an author, you would have mentioned it on our first date. Maybe second. Absolutely by the time we got married. When we bought a house together.”
She looked at him, irritated. More than irritated.
The teddy bear returns to the earth.
“What the fuck did you just say to me?”
* * * * * *
I instinctively reach over and grab her arm to comfort her.
My scream collides in the air with hers.
It’s like touching a stovetop, if it was covered in fleshy wax. I’m struggling to pull my hand out of the melting skin.
I manage it, but some flesh has followed.
My hand is still burning, and I can’t tell if the blood gushing out of the air pockets of the epidermal goo is Rebecca’s, or mine. I need to get to our bathroom.
I’m running to our sink. Rebecca’s still screaming in the background.
She’s yelling, “Where am I? Help me! Help me!”
The water is managing to rinse off everything, to my surprise, but not the injuries my hand has sustained. Do I have skin? My hand’s almost black in color. The pain is starting to fade now. Maybe it’s adrenaline. Maybe my nerve endings are just fucked.
It’s my own fault. I knew I shouldn’t have touched her.
I’m not sure what to do, so I’m grabbing a towel from a hook on the wall, and wrapping my hand in it. Still no pain. I kind of wish I did have some. It would mean I have some hope for recovery.
I’m running back to the room.
Rebecca hasn’t moved, but her screams are getting softer.
The skin has almost completely slid off of her now. Unlike my hand, her flesh is not black. It’s perfect; Like she was just born.
The screaming has stopped completely now. Her original, sweet voice breaks through all the horror that’s filled the room: “John, it’s OK. It’s OK. It’s almost done.”
I don’t know what to do at this point. My knees are buckling, and I fall on them.
I’m so tired.
* * * * * *
“You’re still bothered by the other night, aren’t you? I can’t help what happened, John. You knew what this entailed! What this meant!”
“Yes, I did! And it was a fucking stupid thing to take on. I was a kid infatuated with a girl, and I ruined someone else’s life just to fulfill my own selfish desires.”
“Just your desires? I wanted love, too! I wanted freedom from the life I had here! I was the happiest girl in the world when we had our ceremony… You know it’s me, right? It’s me! It’s never her.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
Then the reality of the situation started to dawn on her.
She starts speaking slowly; Angrily, “You didn’t bring me out here to move past what happened, did you? You did it to split us up.”
John freezes for a minute, then reaches into his jacket pocket with his good hand.
He pulls out a cross.
Rebecca’s face becomes the embodiment of rage.
“You’re not going to split us up…”, she growls.
“She doesn’t belong to you or I, Rebecca.” John says, his voice starting to convey fear, “You have to see that. This is wrong. I can’t go to sleep every night wondering if it’s you or her I’m pressed next to. It’s fucked it took me this long to realize what exactly I had done.”
She whispers angrily to him, “Don’t do this, John.”
He calmly says, “I’m sorry.”
She reacts the instant he finishes speaking.
Her host body bends into an unnatural shape. Bones snap and crack, but it won’t slow her down.
She rushes him. Blood from ruptured internal organs waterfalls out of her mouth as she forces the body to move. John knows he can’t outmaneuver her, so he goes for his pocket again. The speed and ferocity of her make him shake, as he uses his now bandaged hand to hold open his jacket, and fishes around in the inside pocket with his other.
He finds the canteen.
She’s right in front of him now. Her jaws snap open into an impossible angle. Bones are proving no match for her hatred.
John fails to pull out the container in time, so with the cross in hand, he strikes a blow to her face.
It stuns her.
He places the cross under his armpit, then fumbles with the lid of the canteen. He gets it to pop off before the girl goes for him again.
Holy water flies out of the canteen as John slings it.
It makes contact with Rebecca’s face, and the effects are immediately clear. No time passes before the flesh is stripped from the horizontal line of liquid that touches down. John thought her screams the other night were bad. These came from the bowels of hell itself.
This time, he rushes her.
With his burned hand, he bashes the crucifix directly where the water had blessed her damned skin, and held it there as long as he could.
Just like before, her skin started to melt. It liquefied and traveled down his hand. He felt no pain. He knew this hand would never serve him again, but he had made peace with that.
Rebecca was shouting curse words into the air, some in another language. Not one from here. John almost considered pulling away. His wife was in pain…
Eventually, the tempest of words ended, and so did Rebecca’s occupancy in this body.
The skin cleared, and underneath it lay a girl.
She was unconscious. John dropped the cross and kneeled down to hold her in his arms. He cradled the girl’s head in his open palm. Her soft, blonde hair fell through his fingers.
“Hey,” John whispered, “The nightmare is over for you. I’m so sorry. I never should have lured you out here years ago. I don’t even know your name. I thought very little of sacrificing your life for my happiness, which tells me a lot about myself. I… I don’t know how I can ever make up the time you’ve lost.”
John didn’t have any more words for the girl, so he stopped talking.
He heard a familiar screaming in the woods. It didn’t phase him. He knew exactly who it was. He knew she couldn’t hurt him in her current state. It was a bittersweet moment. He did love her.
John managed to lift the unconscious girl using his forearms. The car couldn’t be more than a mile or so away. He needed to get her home.
Carrying the girl, he walked through the forest. Even with no well-defined landmarks that he could use as markers, John made it back quickly.
There sat his car. Right where he and Rebecca had parked it.
Thinking of her made the creeping thoughts of loneliness inch into his brain again. He realized, only now, they might never truly go away.
He set the girl in his backseat.
As he got into the driver’s seat, he looked at her in the rearview mirror.
A million sinister thoughts passed through his head.
He put the car into drive, and left.
Credit: Jordan Vanhoozer
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