“Are you lost?”
The girl’s head shot up, taking a cautious step backwards.
“No, I can find my way, thank you very much.”
“Just enjoying the night?”
She took another step back, giggling nervously.
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“It certainly is lovely tonight.”
She visibly relaxed when I stepped into the light.
“Yes, it is.”
I surveyed her. All things considered, she was quite pretty.
She was a timid little thing, absently playing with her raggedy hair, hiding herself behind it. She was covered, as most of us were, with wounds that would not heal, cuts and bruises. Battle scars.
But there was something else, something slightly off, a vague unfocused sense of….. panic radiating off of her.
“Are you sure you don’t need help finding your way home?”
She bit her lip, glancing across the cemetery. I suddenly understood.
“It’s ok. I hate this place too,” I reassured her.
And who wouldn’t? After years and years and years of being trapped, helpless, buried below the surface, we all hated the cemeteries.
Well, at least those of us who hadn’t been….. sent back.
She was embarrassed. “It’s so much scarier at nighttime.”
“Want me to hold your hand?”
She hesitated, torn between wanting the company and the risk of trusting a stranger. Finally she shivered, then nodded.
My rotting flesh took her hand, so gently, so protectively.
Her eyes widened as she bit back a sudden scream.
I was confused for merely a moment, as I felt the warmth of her hand, heard the sudden pounding of her heart and put 2 and 2 together.
She was still alive. She had never been dead.
And in that moment, I realized how much danger I was in. We were enemies, both just as likely to kill the other without so much as a second thought. We looked at each other long and hard, both wary now.
“Please,” she whispered. “I just want to get home.”
My heart ached, just a little, as I realized how afraid she was of me.
“Then go,” I whispered back.
She glanced down apologetically, referring to my hand that was still wrapped tightly around hers.
“Oh, yeah,” I muttered, glancing down as well.
I had never thought myself hideous until then. Seeing my dead decaying hand, gray and slimy, wrapped around her perfect porcelain skin. It was soft, and her delicate fingers were tiny as they intertwined around my own.
How had she managed to stay alive for so long?
She was so fragile, so breakable, such an easy kill.
If not by me right now, undoubtedly by someone else tomorrow. The thought made me sigh.
“It’s not safe for you to be out here on your own. I’ll walk you home.”
“Thank you,” she breathed.
I gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and we stepped into the cemetery, shadows and smoke rising from the ground as our footsteps threatened to disturb the dead. As we walked in silence I considered the situation.
Why should something as meaningless as life keep us from being friends? She had thought I was still alive, I had thought she was dead, we had gotten along well enough, and we were still the same people that we were then. Weren’t we? Why did things have to change?
We never asked for this war, it wasn’t her fault she was alive, it wasn’t my fault I was dead. Those were but tiny insignificant details. Weren’t they? Or at least, shouldn’t they be?
She must have been thinking the same thing because suddenly she blurted out, almost as if she was trying to convince herself, “Dead people are supposed to stay dead.”
I cringed. So much for being friends.
She blushed, realizing how her statement must’ve sounded to me, but she pursed her lips, a lovely shade of purple now thanks to the cold, refusing to apologize.
“If I had stayed dead you’d be walking through the cemetery alone,” I reminded her.
“If you had stayed dead I wouldn’t need protection walking through the cemetery alone,” she shot back, glancing nervously over her shoulder as a twig snapped behind us.
I looked down at her sympathetically. “You need to try and calm down. The only thing that is going to give you away is your heartbeat. It gets louder when you’re scared.” She stiffened, ever so slightly as I reached out subconsciously, letting my fingers linger as they gently brushed across her collar bone in an attempt to quiet the pounding.
“Well, the heartbeat and the warmth that comes through your blood flow, but nobody is going to be close enough to feel how warm you are.”
“You’re close enough,” she whispered.
Her breath caught in her throat as my fingers found their way up her neck, brushing the hair out of her eyes.
“Please just make it quick,” she begged, closing her eyes, accepting her fate.
“I’m not going to kill you,” I assured her, but she wasn’t listening.
She had seemed to shrink, the weight of resignation heavy on her shoulders. “I really don’t mind. If not you right now, it will be someone else tomorrow.”
Hearing her echo my thoughts of earlier sent a sickening jolt of pain through my heart.
Because she was right.
She was right and I hated it.
I hated all of this.
“What if it doesn’t have to be like this,” I whispered, the spark of protection I’d felt earlier now a full blown forest fire raging through me. “I can keep you safe.”
She was quiet for a long moment, trying to make sense of the possibilities.
“Do you really think we could…?” she let her whisper trail off, unwilling or unable to voice her hopes aloud.
She hesitated, once again torn between wanting the company and the risk of trusting a stranger, not even a stranger at this point, but a known enemy. Finally she shivered, then nodded.
“I trust you.”
And with that we disappeared into the night in search of a world where life and death weren’t things to be feared but things to be enjoyed. Beautifully. Together.