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Science Fiction Mystery Horror

“I know this is just our first date, but I need to tell you something.”

“OK, sure,” Jake said, lowering his wine glass from his lips back down onto the checkered tablecloth. Jake savored the mildly acidic burn as the riesling coated his tongue and slipped down his throat. He smiled at his date, taking in her long, brown hair and green eyes while the busy restaurant hummed around them. The evening had been going so well that the potentially concerning nature of Stacy’s plea didn’t even register with him. 

“I’m not really alive,” Stacy said.  

“Oh,” Jake said, voice muffled by the hunk of bread he’d just shoved into his mouth. “Yeah, I hear ya.” He swallowed. “The way we’re always sucked into what’s happening on our phones and just, you know, the, like, existential dread of living through climate change and all that stuff. Hard to really feel alive.”

“No,” Stacy said, “that’s not quite what I meant.” 

The waiter came over, momentarily halting their conversation. He assured them that their food would be out any minute. Jake waved him off, happy to have this natural extension to his evening with Stacy. His friends had been right. What had taken him so long to try online dating? Jake thanked the waiter and ordered another bottle of wine to share. 

“Well,” Jake said, eyes returning to Stacy. She couldn’t seem to meet his gaze. “Can you tell me what you mean?” 

“I mean, I haven’t been alive for a long time. 67 years to be exact. I’ve been dead since 1953.” 

The waiter returned, placing the fresh bottle of wine into the bucket of ice water with a light splash. He turned and headed back towards the kitchen. 

“Um. OK,” Jake said. Was this some kind of joke? He was always terrible at reading these situations. He thought he might try to play along. He casually lifted the wine from the bucket and began to fill Stacy’s empty glass. “So, how did you die?” 

“I had just taken a job at a clothing factory. Women’s blouses, mostly. I was careless and some strands of my hair had slipped out from my kerchief. I tilted my head back and some of the strands got caught in the gears of a machine. Anyway, it got a grip on my hair really fast. There was enough force to rip my head off, and that’s exactly what happened. Just really quick like that.” 

Jake had been pouring wine into his own glass and realized it was about to overflow. He quickly lifted up the bottle and placed it back in the bucket. Now what was he supposed to say? Was this some kind of game that had been going around online where people were supposed to outdo each other with the most gruesome way to die?

“Wow. Well yeah, that is very interesting,” Jake said. “You know, I’ve been dead a solid 20 years myself. Was jaywalking and got hit by a car. Went over the top of it and everything.” Damn, he really was terrible at these things. 

“Jake, I don’t think you’re quite grasping this,” Stacy said, as the waiter finally set their entrees down in front of them. Stacy picked up her fork and began to break off small chunks of her salmon.   

“I mean,” Jake started, but then got lost staring down at his chicken parmesan. He followed some mozzarella as it oozed off the side of his chicken and plopped down onto the plate. 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Stacy. I’m not grasping this. Is this something I should know? Some TikTok thing?” 

“No, this has nothing to do with any of that. This is real, Jake. That’s really how I died in 1953.” Stacy speared a piece of salmon and popped it into her mouth. “I’m sorry, I understand how very odd this must sound to you. I can’t really explain it myself. I could tell you the whole story though. That is, if you don’t just want to leave now. I would understand completely if you do.” 

There was more to this story? Jake was having a hard time reconciling the girl who had just told him with a straight face that she’d been dead for 67 years, with the sweet and funny girl he seemed to have clicked with from the moment they sat down together. He bought some time with a few gulps of the chilled riesling. When he lowered his glass again, Jake could see Stacy with her eyes down on her plate, face stricken, making little swirls in her risotto with her fork. It seemed like she was bracing for his inevitable departure. Jake wondered how many guys she had told that story to. If she’d been on the LyfePartnr app for over a year, there was no way this was her first date. How many times had she told that story and had guys walk out on her? Was she trying to push him away? No -- she’d been enjoying the evening just as much as he’d been, Jake was sure of it. If she was telling him this story, it must have been because she really felt like he needed to hear it.  

“OK, Stacy,” Jake said, with a faint smile. Jake couldn’t deny the attraction he felt for her. “Tell me what happened.” 

Stacy immediately brightened up, beaming across the table at Jake. The look of relief on her face was like nothing Jake had ever seen. He could be the one to finally hear her. Stacy relaxed her shoulders, put down her fork, and started into her story. 

“OK, I know it’s hard to believe, but here’s what happened to me.” Stacy had both hands down on the table now, tilting her body forwards towards Jake. “I already told you about my death. But honestly, I felt no pain. I woke up, so to speak, immediately after it happened.” Stacy picked up her fork again and took another bite of salmon, followed by a sip of wine. 

“It was an out-of-body experience. Have you ever had one of those? Except this one was for real. I was still in the factory, just standing there, looking down at my headless body. I could see and hear everyone around me, but they couldn’t see or hear me. It was just awful,” Stacy added with a shudder. “I tried and tried to get anyone to notice me, but nothing worked. It actually occurred pretty quickly to me that I was dead. I didn’t understand why I was still around though. Why I hadn’t gone to either place.”

“Everything OK?” The waiter was back. Well apart from my date telling me she’s a dead woman, sure, everything’s fantastic! “Yes,” Jake said, “we’re good, thanks.” 

Stacy took another sip of wine and went on. 

“Eventually, I gave up trying to get anyone to notice me. I was able to see my arms, my legs, my whole body, as if I were still alive, but apparently nobody else could. It was just the strangest thing.” 

Strange is one word for it, thought Jake. Still, he couldn’t help but be taken by Stacy’s sincerity. She really seemed to believe every word she was saying. Her green eyes practically generated electricity as she spoke. Jake took another gulp of wine. 

“So that’s the way I went on, for somewhere around 40 years,” Stacy continued. “It turned out I felt no hunger and didn’t need to eat or drink. Everything else was basically the same as before though. I learned to just drift from place to place, taking in the sights and sounds and smells around me. That was my sustenance. My connection. Or at least it was, until the world wide web came along.” 

Jake had been chewing on a piece of chicken but stopped mid-bite when he heard that one. Where is she going with this? 

“I know, Jake, I know,” Stacy said with a laugh. “But please, this is honestly how it happened. This is how I started to come back.” 

“Stacy,” Jake said, putting his fork down for emphasis, “you have to understand how this sounds to me. You do understand how it sounds, don’t you?” 

“Yes, Jake. I understand how it sounds. But what I want you to understand is how much it means to me that I can tell this to you.” Stacy glanced down at her nearly empty plate and then looked back up at Jake. “It’s -- this has all been so hard.” Tears began to form in her eyes, but she didn’t avert her gaze. Jake noticed that tears only made her green eyes shine even more. 

“OK,” Jake said, eyes locked on his dining companion across the table. “Please, Stacy, keep going. I want to hear what happened.”   

“Thank you, Jake.” Stacy smiled, dabbed at her eyes with her napkin, and went on. 

“So yes, the Internet is what did it. I’d previously discovered that I could use computers. I could type and use the mouse, and as long as I just went into libraries after closing time, I could do as I pleased. They are amazing machines, aren’t they? Eventually, I found my way to chat rooms, and the most amazing thing happened. I was able to talk with people again! Of course, they couldn’t hear me or see me, but I could talk with them, just the same way anybody else could online. Oh, you can’t imagine how exciting it was when I discovered this, Jake! For years, these chats sustained me. But of course, I still had a craving for more connection. I wanted a real relationship with someone.”

The waiter came over and placed the check on the table. “Whenever you’re ready,” he said. Jake slipped a credit card into the faux-leather folder and Stacy went on. 

“I started playing around on a few different dating and social media sites, making profiles using my real information. It happened gradually, almost unnoticeably, at first, but with each profile I made, I found that something about me would change. I became a little more solid. If I walked past someone on the street or was sitting in a cafe somewhere, people would start to glance in my direction, before deciding that nothing was there. But I was there, Jake. I was starting to really be there!” 

“I’ll be right back.” The waiter grabbed the bill from the table. 

“So how did you get to the point you’re at now?” Jake asked. “Where I can see you and hear you and touch -- I can touch you, right?” 

“Yes,” Stacy said with a giggle, “you can touch me. Here, give it a try.” Stacy slid her hand forward across the table, palm down. Jake reached out and touched her. It felt just like any other hand, save for the spark of attraction. They slipped their fingers together and allowed them to intertwine. 

“I got to the point where I’m at now, where you can see me, hear me, touch me -- with a selfie!” Stacy laughed. “One day I went to my usual library and saw that a camera had been attached to the top of it. I thought I would just give it a try -- why not, you know? I wasn’t expecting anything, but thought maybe there’d be some chance that the camera could capture some part of me. Not my full reflection, but maybe some essence that I figured had to still be there. I know it sounds silly, and at first when I opened the photography application all that I could see on the screen was the wall behind me. That put a damper on my hopes, but I decided to try to take the picture anyway. I clicked the mouse, and just about fell out of my chair when I found I was staring right back at myself! It wasn’t until I tried to pass through the library door though that I realized I was actually solid again. I was me again!”

“Thank you, have a great night,” the waiter said, returning with the bill. Jake loosened his fingers from Stacy’s. He took the bill from the folder and scrawled his name across the bottom. 

“Stacy, I mean -- that really is an incredible story,” Jake said. “Why -- why do you think all this happened to you?” 

“Well, I have a theory about that,” Stacy said. “I’m someone who believes everything happens for a reason. And I think that maybe I wasn’t meant to be alive at that time, you know? Maybe my real destiny meant that my life basically needed to be paused for a while. I don’t think I’m fully alive, but I don’t think I’m really dead either -- at least not anymore.” 

Jake started to get up from the table. Stacy slid out of her seat and grabbed her coat from the back of the chair, buttoning it up as she walked towards Jake, until they were eye-to-eye.  

“I think that maybe there’s something important that I’m supposed to do, Jake. Or maybe someone important I’m supposed to meet. Someone who can truly make me fully alive. And maybe I can help them feel fully alive too.” 

Jake slipped his arms around Stacy’s waist while she draped hers around his shoulders. “Come on,” Jake said, “I’ll take you home.” 

* * * * *

The Lyft pulled up to Stacy’s modest apartment building. “This is my place,” Stacy said. “I’ve lived here a couple years now. You can’t imagine how fun it was once I was really me again. Getting a job at the coffee shop was such a thrill! It was a bit of a shock needing to actually find a place to live again though. Took me a little bit to save up for this, but it suits me just fine now.” 

Jake kept his hand on Stacy’s in the backseat of the Lyft. “Yeah,” he said, his eyes meeting hers. “Looks like a great place.” 

“Do you want to come see inside? Just for another drink maybe?” Stacy asked. 

“Sure,” Jake said, heart rate starting to accelerate. “I’d like that.” 

They got out of the Lyft and stepped through the door, taking the stairs up to the third floor. Stacy led Jake to apartment 3B and unlocked the door. There was a tidy kitchenette just beside the door, with a well-made bed at the other end of the room. At the foot of the bed was a simple couch. Jake took a seat there while Stacy poured two glasses of wine. 

“Well, Jake,” Stacy said, handing Jake a glass while she sat down beside him. “I have to give you credit for sticking with me this far after hearing that story. You just seem like a really good guy.” 

Is this where she tells me it was all made up? Jake wondered. That this was some kind of test or something? Jake didn’t have much time to wonder, though, because Stacy had gone in for the kiss, and all other thoughts drifted out of his head. 

It wasn’t much longer before all of his thoughts were completely gone, and Jake was asleep. 

* * * * *

When Jake woke up, he found himself chained to the bed. He was in his underwear. Whoa, he thought. Was I really that drunk? He looked up and could just make out Stacy’s silhouette in the darkness. She was standing on the couch at the foot of the bed, looking straight at him. 

“Stacy,” Jake said, “I know this sounds bad, but I really can’t remember anything we did. What exactly -- are you OK? You’re not moving at all.” 

Stacy remained standing there for one final second before the transformation happened. Suddenly, her neck and shoulders contorted in unnatural ways, ways that no human body should have been able to withstand. Something was happening around her mouth. It looked like it was expanding -- expanding beyond the contours of her cheeks and her chin, until it grew to such a large size that it seemed like Stacy had sprouted a watermelon somewhere between her nose and her neck. Jake could see pointed, razor sharp teeth, moistened with saliva, glinting in the soft light coming from the kitchenette. 

“Stacy, what -- what,” Jake could only stammer. “What -- what the hell is this? What is happening?” 

“I have to tell you the whole story, Jake. That’s the rule.” Stacy’s sweet voice coming out of such a disfigured, oversized mouth would have been comical, had it not been so completely terrifying. “I have to be completely open with you, tell you the whole truth, not a single lie, or else the sacrifice simply doesn’t work. It was so good of you to listen, Jake. I can’t thank you enough for that.” 

“The whole truth!” Jake shouted. “Stacy, what -- you told me, told me that whole story. You -- you said you were dead. Or just not alive. Or whatever the hell it was you said!” Jake tried scrunching himself up as far as he could towards the head of the bed as Stacy started crawling towards him. “You didn’t say anything about this!”

“Oh yes, I guess that’s true,” Stacy said, with a small giggle. She was right on top of Jake now, green eyes still shining as spit dripped from her mouth onto Jake’s chest. “Well, the whole truth, except for the part about the soul exchange. The camera might have been the final piece, Jake, but being reborn again doesn’t come free. It requires sacrifice. You’re the sacrifice now, Jake.”

Stacy lifted her body up for a moment and closed her eyes. “May his blood cleanse and refresh me,” she said. She looked back down at Jake. “And that’s it. I’m now free of my obligation to speak only truth to you.” 

Jake cowered beneath Stacy as she placed one hand on his head and the other on his shoulder, giving her a place to sink her teeth into. 

“Don’t worry,” Stacy said. “This won’t hurt a bit.” 

November 20, 2020 03:21

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