James clawed his way out of the hole, grabbing at bits of crumbling earth. Barren trees creaked overhead, their boughs bending and twisting like his rigid joints. The sky was empty, no clouds, not even a bird. Silence covered the cemetery like a blanket.
He emerged, brushing himself off. Dust billowed from his tattered clothing. He reached into his front pocket and brought the letter to the place where his nose used to be, remembering she always sprayed her letters with perfume. He fingered the decaying edges and looked up at the stars. Expressionless. He had kept the letter for what seemed like eons, it was the last letter she had ever written him. “We are not two halves, for our love makes us whole. Ours is a love that will transcend time. Yours from now until eternity, Clara.” Half walking, half dragging he made his way out of the cemetery.
His shredded grey clothing matched his sallow skin. He dragged one foot behind him, its leather shoe ripping at the seams, as he made his way through the abandoned town. A single stoplight blinked to direct the nonexistent traffic. Wind howled through the abandoned buildings and empty stores, their shutters swaying back and forth. The houses were ready to give way at any moment, like his fragile bones. Weeds grew wild in the front yards, covering the front doors. He walked until the road came to the rocky shore. The waves crashed and seagulls swarmed above him. Swooping down to grab bits of his macerated flesh as it peeled away from his bones.
He let out a low growl as he walked. Bits of his scalp were missing, as well as pieces of his hamstring, exposing his femur. He came upon an old harbor, and found a small motorboat roped to an abandoned dock. He climbed aboard and motored his way to the island in the distance, the barnacled bow leading the way. The salty brine had rotted the hull from years of neglect. Rust covered every metal surface like a disease. But the tinny engine still chugged its way across the water, leaving billows of black smoke behind it. The vessel bobbed up and down on the crested white peaks. The ocean breeze blew salt to the place where his lips had been. He pulled his hood up over his decaying ears.
He pulled up to an empty dock and stepped onto the broken wooden planks. One of his eyes had been gauged out, but he could still make out the high-rise building and spires in the distance. Past the empty mosques, churches and temples, past the once full stadiums and theatres. The city was now devoid of all warmth, like visiting an ancient civilization. Or like his own body. The colorful city now muted tones, no pinks, reds or oranges. Bikes stood in bike racks, chains clanging. Abandoned cars and taxis were left on the road, doors still open. The fumes and car exhaust were now over taken by the smell of unrefrigerated meat. Some storefronts were boarded up and others were smashed in.
Litter blew like tumbleweeds through streets. The silence so deafening he would have been able to hear his heart beat, if he had one.
Grates puffed up steam, a rotting stench permeated. There was an occasional lost soul running towards him for help until they came too close. Wincing, they would run away screaming, sometimes becoming visibly ill.
He made his way through the city, shuffling along until he came to a train track. He followed the track into the night, lampposts lighting the way. He went up through the mountains and through the dense forest. He was getting close now. He kneeled at the river edge and scoped a handful of water into his mouth, but the water escaped through the hole in his cheek.
He walked until he came to the familiar town. The road barely discernable from the fields of yellow grass. Deserted homes lined the street, doors left open, the inhabitants lost. He went to the old hardware store on the corner, he climbed over the broken glass and left with a shovel, dragging it behind him.
He pushed the gate open with a slow creak. He walked past rows and rows of crumbling stones until he came to her stone under the leafless oak. The engraved words weathered by years of seasons. He began to dig, their wind chime coming alive overhead. He had hung it the day of her funeral. It had been a wedding gift. She loved watching the birds, listening to its sweet tintinnabulation.
He had been digging for hours before he hit it. He brushed the dirt off the rotting cherrywood and opened the casket. The polished sheen and shiny gold handles were now dull, the faux silk lining brown and raggedy. But there she lay, beautiful as ever. Her now lipless mouth hung open, insects burrowing in and out. Maggots nestled feverishly in the gaping holes of her torso. He climbed in and lay down next to her. His dog tags still hung from her cervical spine. She had been his only motivation during the war, he had wanted her buried with them. They belonged to her, as did he.
Clara smiled and caressed his cheek, a layer of skin peeling off in her hand. He smiled and the earth welcomed him back home. Finally they could rest.