Rest In Peace

It is dark. The unmoving air is cold and damp, musty-smelling. I am laying on my back, mind confused and senses fuzzy, vaguely aware that I have been here for a long time. Now I must move. Reaching up, my numb hands touch the lid of the coffin.

The lid of the coffin.

Now I remember. It was a commonplace death, there was nothing unusual or inspiring about it. A long drive, too little sleep. The squeal of brakes, the oncoming lorry, then impact and a single instant of ultimate pain. I died.

Now I have woken.

There should be surprise, shock and fear, but there is none. It is as if I am anaesthetised, barely conscious. Coherent thought is difficult, my awareness fading in and out. For a few moments at a time I grasp who I am, then my individuality seeps away again. What remains is the ruling instinct of a dead man.

That instinct knows what must be done and I push firmly against the lid. It is impossible for me to move it – yet I do. Somehow I have the strength required to break through the wood, to brush aside the splinters then dig upwards through the dank soil.

My arms reach out of the ground into the cool night air and I pull myself up from my grave. Standing, I shake the dirt off my body. Some lumps of flesh also drop away, revealing a glistening dampness beneath. Fortunately I am not long dead and my body has yet to decompose far, but still the breeze wafts a carrion stench of rotting meat around me.

The moonlit world is at a strange angle – the accident that killed me snapped my neck. From this tilted viewpoint I peer around the graveyard, dimly aware of the contradiction of seeing through maggot infested eyeballs. The reality I knew is gone, its rules no longer hold. There is a greater truth at work.

I am not the only dead thing to have risen tonight. A dozen or so of my fellow corpses are nearby. Some stand still, others walk with the slow, staggering gait of our kind. A few have obviously been buried for a long time – they have so little flesh intact that it is impossible even to tell if they are male or female.

Another grave opens as I watch. The body of a young boy, barely into his teens when he died, claws its way out of the soil. His legs are crushed to pulp and he uses his arms to drag himself along the ground. His struggle makes me realise that my broken neck is a minor inconvenience.

To one side of the graveyard stands a small house, doors and windows crudely barricaded against us. I feel myself drawn to it by an irresistible power. The lights suddenly go out – the overhead power line has been wrenched down by one of us. The feeble outpost of civilisation is swallowed up by the night.

To my new, dead senses the dark house appears surrounded by a bright glow. This I know to be the life force of those inside, young and strong. I can also sense their fear. They know that their makeshift defences will not protect them for long. Soon we will force our way in or drive them out. Then we will feast.

The mental fog clears for a moment, awareness breaking through the reverie. This is wrong. I am wrong. Not just because I have risen from the grave – that truth no longer causes surprise. No, what is wrong is the simple fact of my awareness, that I am able to think like this. Looking at the other corpses it is obvious that they do not share even my vestigial consciousness. Where they do still have eyes, those eyes are empty of any awareness. I am one of their number and yet I am different. Some small spark of life force still remains within me.

There is a loud shriek behind me and I turn in its direction. A young woman, a live woman, is backed against a tree. Several of my fellows surround her. They move slowly and she could probably force her way past them, yet she does not. Her screaming face shows the terror that paralyses her; the disgust at the thought of touching that putrid flesh. Her instincts prevent her escape as surely as ours dictate her death.

I begin to shuffle slowly across the damp grass towards her. What remains of my mind is saying that I must help her. But that small, weak voice is drowned out by the vast majority of my new self that is crying out one simple thing.

Food!

We have no working organs yet still we hunger. We hunger for the life force that the woman is radiating so strongly. She has what we lack, what we need and desire most. We must rend her flesh, tear it off and consume it. Crush the skull and devour the precious brain. My hunger mingles with raw emotion – hatred for the living. We will destroy, ravage and feast. It will be good.

No!

This is wrong. I must not do it.

This abomination is not me. It is nightmare enough that I have been reanimated in this way, without the further humiliation of these base desires. Unlike the others I still have some reason, some willpower to exert. I will use it to overcome these evil cravings. What remains of my humanity will win out.

I must be strong and resist; must fight the allure of that life force. The lust for the smell of blood… the delicious taste of warm brains… the glorious consumption of human meat… that sweet desirable flesh… sucking of marrow from cracked bones… the destruction of all that is alive… the overwhelming need to quell the hunger…

To feed.

My mind is ablaze. Without realising I have moved to within a few yards of the woman. She no longer screams nor even moves. I can sense that she is still alive, though barely so. At least she is lucky enough to be unconscious.

The others have begun the work of ripping her clothes away. Soon they will part her skin, revealing the delicacies within. They tear at her body rapidly, for the residue of the life force is already fading. I must get there quickly if I am not to miss the opportunity.

A sudden swathe of headlights cuts across the graveyard. A police car has driven up to the house. Its lone occupant speaks briefly in to his radio then leaps out, gun waving in his hand. He has seen the woman, has decided to try to rescue her. He would be a hero.

He is a fool.

He runs forwards firing shot after shot at the advancing corpses. As if that could harm us. The woman is beyond all hope. As is he now.

The living will provide sustenance for the dead. That is the new order in the world. Once we have finished with these two we will move on to those in the house. Nothing they can do will stop us. Soon we will gorge on their carcasses.

Several of us now surround the policeman. He continues to fire but still we advance. Quickly he goes down and bony fingers claw greedily at his body. He screams as my nails tear at his skin.

One final desperate shot comes in my direction. The bullet pierces my shoulder, leaving a gaping hole as it easily penetrates the yielding flesh. There is no pain, but the shock stops me.

Jolts me back to my senses.

I am once again aware of myself. Of what I am doing. Of what I am about to do. The thought disgusts me.

I will not exist this way.

Standing still I concentrate, summoning all my remaining willpower for one final act of humanity. I hold on hard to my self, pulling what I once was from the swamp of what I have become.

I have no working lungs nor vocal cords, yet somehow I force words from my mouth.

“Help me.”

My fellow corpses turn towards me, knowing now that I am not like them. That one act was enough. I have drawn attention to the precious nugget of life force that remains within me. On which they now intend to feed.

With my arms held wide I welcome them. Only they can give me what I need.

Soon I will once more rest in peace.

Copyright © Trevor Mendham 1998,2016. All rights reserved
This story first appeared in Short Scary Tales, 2001