Dinnertime

 

Vernon opened his front door and went inside, mindlessly following his normal routine while his thoughts were elsewhere. He hung his keys on the small hook next to the coat rack.

I don’t know how many ways I can tell Gary that I can’t make paint dry any faster. He unzipped his coveralls and slipped out of them, letting them fall to the floor. The stupid prick should know that. He is the contractor. Isn’t it his job to know things like that. He pulled the respirator over his head dropped them onto the paint splattered coveralls, knowing Lucy would pick it all up later.

As Vernon walked into his living room, he did his best to forget about the morons he had to put up with at work. My home is my castle, he thought. No, not a castle. None of that medieval crap. This is my headquarters, my bat cave. No one ever tells me what to do here, and they sure as hell don’t tell me I’m taking too long drinking my coffee.

Walking into the kitchen, he took a big whiff. This was one of his favorite parts of the day. He never told Lucy what to make for dinner. He let her surprise him. She was a great cook. If she hadn’t been, he never would have married her. Vernon believed there were a great many things that could be trained into your wife, like how to keep a good house or how to anticipate your husband’s needs. Cooking was different. It was the pedigree of a good woman. Without it a woman wasn’t worth training.

Something was wrong. No aroma drifted to Vernon’s nostrils. He looked at the flat top stove he had bought Lucy on her last birthday. There was nothing on it, no sauce pan simmering, no pot of stew being kept warm.  Vernon glanced around, The crock pot wasn’t plugged in and the oven was empty.

“What the hell! You haven’t even started dinner,” he yelled. It’s one thing if dinner is running behind, he thought as he unbuckled his belt. I can be understanding. Last time she only got a few swats with the belt as a reminder. Apparently that was not enough.

“Lucy,” he called, sliding his belt out of his pants as he headed down the hall. When there was no response, he called out again this time even louder. “Goddammit Lucy, where are you.” The sound of retching coming from the bathroom dampened his anger slightly.

He went into the bathroom and found Lucy on her knees in front of the toilet. The long cotton nightgown had been white when he had bought it for her but now would be lucky to be called off-white. She looked up at him, clumps of puke matting the ends of her hair together, and started to say something. She barely got out an, “Oh,” before she turned back to the commode, and like a mother bird feeding its young, she heaved her stomach’s contents into the waiting receptacle.

The sight of Lucy throwing up was too much for Vernon and he looked away. He hated vomit. Even turned away, he could smell the foul stench of it and hear her retching. He forced himself to swallow as his stomach churned. He felt the acidic burn in the back of his throat as he backed out and closed the bathroom door.

He stood with his ear pressed against the door and listened as the moist sound of Lucy’s vomiting changed into the more forceful sound of dry heaving. When he was reasonably certain the dry heaves were over, he reentered the bathroom. Lucy had stood up and was sliding her hands down the front of her nightgown, trying ineffectively to smooth the wrinkles out.

For a moment Vernon just stared at her, watching a nickel sized piece of vomit slowly roll down the front of her nightgown until it finally slid off the fabric and dropped onto the tile floor with a soft thud. Disgust warred with the anger that had been building inside him since he had seen the empty stove. He did his best to push both feelings aside. He was not a monster. He would wait to correct the lack of dinner until she was feeling better.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Looking a little wobbly she said, “Oh Vern, I don’t feel very well.”

Vernon’s right fist was flying before he even realized it. It connected with the left side of Lucy’s head with a loud smack, sending her stumbling back. She fell to her right and bounced off the wall as her knees gave out. Falling to the floor, the back of her head connected with the edge of the toilet with a loud crack. She came to rest with her cheek pressed against her chest at an unnatural angle.

At first Vernon didn’t notice. “I’m sorry,” he said shaking his head from side to side, “but you know I hate being called that.” The rage that had so quickly come upon him was just as quickly receding, being replaced with concern. He hadn’t meant to lash out at her like that but he hated being called Vern. He thought the name made him sound like an ignorant hick. Lucy knew this yet she had called him Vern anyway. Really, she had asked for what she got, sick or not.

He noticed that she wasn’t moving and got down on his knees next to her. The smell was nauseating and he brought one hand up to cover his nose as he reached out and gently shook her. “Lucy? Are you hurt bad?”

When she didn’t respond, he reluctantly took his hand away from his nose and grabbed both her shoulders. He pulled her up into a sitting position and said, “Don’t screw around with me, Lucy. Wake up.” Her head had flopped back when he had lifted her up and remained there swaying loosely as he shook her by her shoulders. This started to worry Vernon.

He released her and she immediately dropped backwards, her head missing the commode this time and landing on the tile floor with a heavy thud. He gingerly reached his hand out and pressed his meaty fingers into her throat where her jaw met her neck.

“Oh shit!” he said barely audibly. He slapped her across the face the put his hand pack on her throat. “Fuck!” He stared at his now dead wife, then released a staccato of fucks with a final loud screaming fuck at the end. “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FFUUUUCCCKKK.”

I’m in trouble. I didn’t mean to kill her but the cops won’t care about what I meant to do. They’ll just see a guy who beat his wife to death. They’ll put me in jail for life. Hell, they might even send me to the electric chair. He sat on the cold floor of the bathroom and stared at the dead body.

This isn’t my fault. How could she have done this to me after all I’ve done for her? I gave her a home and worked hard to make sure she had everything she needed and this is how she repays me. I barely even popped her. If she was still breathing, I’d show her what a real punch was.

He knew what he had to do. He went to the garage and got the shovel. Then went to the backyard. There was an area near the back fence they had roto-tilled the prior weekend so Lucy could plant her garden. That’s where Vernon started digging.

He had planned to dig a deep hole, at least six feet deep and six feet long, but digging was hard work. Forty-five minutes into his digging, his hole was only two and a half feet deep and a little over five feet long. Vernon stopped and leaned the shovel against the wood privacy fence that surrounded the backyard. Stretching his arms, he could feel the muscles of his back aching especially between his shoulder blades. His fingers were cramping from gripping the shovel. He wiggled them to try to get the circulation flowing and surveyed his handiwork. Like many times in his life when what he wanted to do turned out more difficult than he had thought it would, he settled. Tilting his head, he imagined Lucy’s body in the hole and decided he could get it to fit.

He went back into the house and headed straight to the bathroom. He avoided looking at Lucy’s body while he yanked the shower curtain down. He laid the vinyl curtain next to her and with some careful maneuvering managed to get her rolled up in it like a vinyl corpse burrito.

He started to lift her up to throw her over his shoulder but his muscles complained that the digging had been enough for them. He settled for grabbing her ankles through the shower curtain and dragging her legs out into the hall. He had to lift the top half of her body up through the door, then shove it down in the hallway. Now that she was out of the bathroom and relatively straight, he was able to grasp her ankles again and pull her to the backdoor.

He opened the back door and then looked around for something to prop it open with. Not seeing anything right in front of him and not wanting to spend any time looking for something, he reached into the folds of the curtain and felt around until his hand came across one of Lucy’s feet. He hooked his finger into the heel of one of her house shoes and pulled it off her foot. Folding the shoe in half, he shoved it under the door frame. Then he opened the screen door and reached up to the cylinder that kept the screen door from slamming and slid the metal washer down it to lock the screen door open.

Satisfied that both doors would stay open, he returned to the task of transporting the body of his dead wife to her hastily made burial site. With a grunt he managed to yank her over the lip of the door frame and down the two steps leading onto the back porch. He dragged her body across the concrete and into the grass. There he paused to catch his breath before dragging her the rest of the way to his recently dug hole. Pulling her body alongside the hole, he rolled the curtain containing the woman who had put up with him for the last twelve years into the ground.

Looking up, he noticed that the sky was starting to dim. He had maybe forty-five minutes until twilight made his task more difficult, and while he figured burying would not take as long as the digging had, he told himself he couldn’t take any more breaks until Lucy was safely hidden by the dirt she liked to work in.

Her body didn’t quite fit but Vernon made it work. He got down on his hands and knees to reach her. Then he bent her knees a little and pushed her head sideways. Whatever damage had been done when she fell allowed her head to be easily moved like a balloon attached to the end of a stick.

Reaching forward to position her head overbalanced Vernon. His left hand, which had been supporting his weight as he leaned forward, slipped on the dirt at the edge of the hole causing Vernon to pitch forward into the open grave. He fell across his wife’s corpse, his face landing in the loose dirt on the bottom of the grave between the wall of the hole and the wrapped up body. His legs were hanging out of the grave and his left arm was straight down his side. His right arm ended up pinned between the warm girth of his body and the cold vinyl wrapped flesh he had been trying to dispose of.

At the moment, Vernon became acquainted with fear in way he never had before. Lying with his face pressed into the damp earth, his world gone dark from the dirt his open stinging eyes were laying in, he heard a low hiss escape from the body trapped underneath him. Vernon felt as if the hand of death had reached out and squeezed his heart until it felt as if it would burst out of his chest.

He froze, unable to breathe because of the dirt but unwilling to move, afraid somehow the thing underneath him would come back to life if he did. The part of him that knew things like that were impossible was forgotten, being weaker than the fear that enveloped him.

So he lay there and listened, his hands trembling. He heard nothing but the normal sounds of the spring evening; a bird singing, the wind blowing through the leaves of the trees, the distant sound of a car. Vernon didn’t realize the sound that had birthed the fear in him was caused by his fall, the weight of his body pushing the last of the air out of his dead wife’s lungs.

He waited, listening, until he felt he couldn’t hold his breath any longer. Then, in a burst of motion, he scrambled awkwardly backward on his hands and knees, alternating between gasping for air and trying to spit wet dirt out of his mouth. His movement stopped when he backed into the wood planks of the fence. Some of the dirt had been sucked down his throat while he was trying to regain his breath and this set off a fit of coughing that lasted a couple of minutes.

When Vernon finally recovered, he returned to the task at hand. No longer as sure of what he was doing but having come too far to stop, he picked up the shovel and started scooping dirt into the shallow grave. He forced himself to continue even when his muscles started aching.

When he was done, he let the shovel slip from his hands and lumbered back to the house, too tired to pack the loose dirt down. He didn’t bother to close the back doors as he shuffled through them on his way to the kitchen where he went straight to the fridge.

He grabbed a six pack and started in on it. The first beer was opened and its entire contents in his gullet so fast he didn’t even taste it, just felt the cold foamy liquid sliding down his throat. With the second one, he swirled the first two gulps around his mouth to wash the taste of dirt and bile away and then guzzled the rest almost as fast as the first one. The third one he drank on the way to the living room’s recliner. The fourth one he opened to drink while he turned the tv on and flipped through the channels until he found the cubs game currently in the fifth inning. The fifth one sat on the coffee table unopened as he started to snore.

 

The screen door banging shut jolted Vernon out of the dream he was having. In it he was the boss and he yelled at everyone and the only thing any of them said to him was “yes, sir.” He didn’t realize that the sound of the screen door is what woke him. He only knew that something had disturbed his rest. Deciding his bed would be a better place to spend the remainder of the night than the recliner he got up and started toward the bedroom.

Even though he had been woken up, he was doing his best to not fully awaken as he made his way to his bed. The sight of someone in his house snapped him to full awareness, leaving no trace of the sleepiness that had held him moments before. As his hand found its way to the light switch on the hallway wall seemingly of its own volition, he yelled, “What the hell are you doing in my…?”

The words caught in his throat as the light illuminated the intruder. Slowly making her way down the hallway was Lucy. There was no mistaking her even in the state she was in. Her head was resting on her shoulder in a way that no living person’s head could be but it was still her face looking at him sideways through milky eyes. The old cotton nightgown stood out against the grayness of her skin which had strips of vinyl hanging off it. Her entire body looked as if it had been sprinkled with dirt which came to rest in every nook and cranny her body provided and clumped in moist clods around her mouth and in the remains of the vomit on her nightgown. No words or moans came from her but the sound of her teeth clacking into each other as she made biting motions towards Vernon, made the hair on the back of his neck rise.

“Lucy?” he called out nervously. “Is that you?”

No words came from Lucy’s lips as she continued to move slowly down towards the person who had been her husband until the death do us part ended the marital contract. She was almost to him, her arms reaching out to grab him when Vernon felt his bladder release a warmth that blossomed in his crotch and spread down his right leg. The fear he had felt when he had first seen her drained out of his body with the urine and the anger he had felt when he had come home to no dinner returned with a vengeance. Dead or not, this was Lucy and there was no way he was going to let himself be afraid of her. She was the one who was supposed to be afraid of him. She was the only one he had ever been able to count on to always be afraid of him when he needed to build himself up at someone else’s expense.

As she reached for Vernon, he lashed out at her, his fist smacking into her nose and knocking her head back. This was quickly followed by another jab and then a right hook that connected with enough force to knock the zombie off her feet.

As she fell backward onto her butt, Vernon pressed his advantage, quickly moving forward and shoving her onto her back. He then sat on top of her and started pummeling her face. A normal person would have been rendered unconscious by the onslaught Vernon released on the corpse of his undead wife. She, on the other hand, continued to try to eat him even after she lost her vision. one eye leaking vitreous fluid and the other covered by a flap of skin from her forehead.

As Vernon continued to punch, the exertion from the prior evening wore on him. His fists lost some of the speed they had started with. They came down just as fast but after each hit, Vernon was a little slower pulling them back up for another swing. And then it happened.

Lucy latched onto Vernon’s left arm and with a strength he never would have believed she was capable of and pulled his arm up to her mouth. Her teeth sank into the flesh of his forearm releasing a stream of bright red blood that poured into her mouth and overflowed onto the floor. The scream that erupted from Vernon was as much from shock as pain.

The bite turned Vernon from aggressor to victim. He no longer wanted to fight the creature underneath him. He just wanted to get away. With strength born of desperation, He managed to free his arm from her grasp, leaving a chunk of meat in her mouth. He struggled to his feet and grabbed his bleeding forearm, trying to stem the flow of blood. As he lurched away from the horror on the hallway floor, blood spread over his hand and down his forearm.

Backing away, he turned around the corner and rushed to the front door. He didn’t think about the coveralls he had left on the floor of the entryway. They weren’t something he ever thought about because Lucy, at least the Lucy he knew before she died and tried to eat him, always picked them up for him. He didn’t realize they were still on the floor until he stepped on them and he felt his feet sliding out from under him. Of course, he only had a moment to think about them before his head connected with the front door and he lost consciousness.

The loss of consciousness was only for a minute but during that time his blood continued to pour out of his arm. Also during that minute, Lucy managed to crawl out of the hallway and across the living room. He came to as she started to feast on his leg. He struggled to push her off of him but the loss of blood robbed him of the strength he needed to escape. As his blood puddled around him like an ink stain growing on a white shirt, he realized that Lucy finally had dinner ready but dinner this time was him.

END.

By Bill Wallace

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