Authors: Nate Gubin
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
"Come on, you can't be serious. He's dead, gone, worm food city," Steve whined.
Gilda got up in Lily's face, almost slapping her. "Are you insane? Listen, Lil, I know the perfect wedding is a bust but the rings are ready to go." She turned and yelled at the bridesmaids, "Somebody get that Reverend back in here." She stroked Lily's shoulders. "I'm sure that after a few cocktails at the reception everyone will forget all this, then it's smooth sailing. Husband, house, babies ..."
Lily broke away and turned to the congregation. "I know it's crazy, but I just can't seem to fall out of love with my dead fiancé." She walked back down the aisle with half a smile and turned back just before she reached the jagged hole that used to be the church's front doors. "Thanks for coming." She walked out, leaving everyone in the church stunned.
Steve slumped in a fit. "Aw man, this blows." He looked at the ring and then over at the bridal party. "Any of you want to get married?"
Gilda jumped, reaching for the ring. "I do!"
Across the church, the florist stood up. She had changed into a skintight sleeveless black dress and four-inch pumps that easily could have doubled as stripper shoes. "I do!" She gave Steve a coy wink.
George looked her up and down from the pulpit and nodded. Wetting his finger, he pointed to her with a touch and a sizzle.
Gilda was outraged. "She's not a guest, she's the florist! She's staff! Ineligible!" She slapped her right hand to the top of her head. "Ineligible receiver!" Grabbing Steve, Gilda got in close to him, looking up into his heavenly blue eyes. "I will be the perfect wife to you, we can do whatever you want whenever you want, or if you don't want me around I can keep myself busy with hobbies, and I promise my weight will not fluctuate more than three percent from what it is presently."
Steve shook her loose and turned his back to her. "Give me a sec."
The florist scooped up the bridal bouquet and sauntered toward the front of the church. Gilda met her with a growl and they played tug-o-war with the flowers. Once again the core and arm strength of the florist was a factor, she flexed her pipes and easily wrested the bouquet from Gilda.
Steve turned. "How do you two feel about secrets being the foundation of a good marriage?"
"Sounds right," Gilda said, nodding.
For a moment Steve entertained a thought and he kicked himself for not thinking of it sooner. Why was he limiting himself to one wife? Two or three or even five wives could crank out the kids in a fraction of the time. He looked out in the pews and did a quick social calculation. Best to do this one legit and keep the subsequent marriages under the radar.
Reverend Lucky walked back up to the altar. "Am I to understand there will be a bride substitution?"
Steve nodded. "Yeah, just cut to the I dos."
"Who's the new bride?" the Reverend asked.
Steve nonchalantly gestured over his shoulder. "That one."
"He gestured toward me!" Gilda shoved the florist hard and wrenched the bouquet from her. "He gestured to me." She stood next to Steve with a frantic nod and an elated smile. "It's my day, it's my special day. Can we please have the nonessential staff cleared from the room." She turned and shooed the florist away with her hand.
"Alrighty then." The Reverend flipped to the last page of his notes. "The drive-by version. Do you two want to get married?"
"Yes!" Gilda blurted.
The Reverend looked to Steve, who raised his shoulders and looked over at Gilda. "Are you fertile?"
"You have no idea how fertile I am. You could get me pregnant by just blowing on me."
"So, what's it going to be?" the Reverend asked Steve.
"Yeah, sure, why not." Steve nodded.
"By the power vested in me by www.e-church.com, I now proclaim to the spirits of love that these souls are one in joyful togetherness and ..."
"Just say man and wife," Gilda hissed.
"Man and wife."
Gilda grabbed the microphone from the Reverend. "Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Doctor and Missus Steve Moore. I may now kiss the doctor husband." She dropped the mic with a thud and grabbed Steve by his hair. Kissing him she almost took a bite out of his lips. "Boo-yah!" She yelled
and then looked around. "Now where's that engagement ring? It fits, trust me, I tried it on every time Lily took a shower."
Outside the church, across a rolling field of grass and through an iron gate, Lily quietly walked up to Hugh's gravestone. She ran her fingers in the crevices of his name.
Morton walked up behind her. "Did they get him?"
"Then it's really over." Morton deflated. "He was wrong, wrong about love."
"What do you mean?"
"He thought love would conquer all."
"Conquer?" Lily tilted her head.
"He thought love could conquer death, that if you loved him he could come back to life."
"But I do love him, I do."
Morton shrugged his shoulders and rested his hand on Hugh's stone. "I guess it doesn't matter now. He's back there," Morton motioned to the dark corner of the cemetery, "back being dead."
Lily looked down into the tangle of thickets. The fog still hung in the hollows.
Down Down Down
Hugh was marched at sickle point down the Avenue of the Damned. The street was lined with solemn faces wrenched in disappointment and despair. Any tiny spark of hope they had for love and life was forever trampled by Hugh's tragic footslog.
His chains rattled along the dusty pavers, his head swung back and forth around his broken neck. His broken bones ratcheted and crunched against each other as he was forced forward toward the horrible vent.
Onlookers whispered, “Look what they did to him in the Land of the Living. It's so sad, it's so horribly sad.”
Ms. Swindon bent a mirror around and watched through a window as Hugh was marched past the Ministry of Life Accountancy. She shook her head and chewed, "Idiot. I told him he was making a big mistake." Missy sat at her desk, her lower lip quivering, and then she buried her head in her hands and heaved with sobs, racking sobs that convulsed her body and caused a seam on her seat cushion to split. The rush of highly compressed air flapped out the rupture and made a noise that usually only came out of a living person who was having trouble digesting something.
Patrick broke through the crowd and came to Hugh's side. Almost too distraught to speak, his posture was deflated in sorrow. "I don't know what to say. I didn't think I could possibly feel worse about this death, and now I have to feel bad for you? Think about you forever falling down the horrible vent? It's too much, I ..." He buried his head in his hands and sobbed.
Ahead in the processional, Crain looked back at the teetering Hugh, then at the glum faces of the crowd. He leaned into Jerry with a grin. "They're miserable, hopeless and heartbroken. Their pain will sour to anger and I will harness their wrath to start the war."
Up ahead, spires of smoke rocketed up from the horrible vent. Crain's eyes went wide with gleeful anticipation.
Ana walked alongside Hugh. She didn't know what to say, so she kept her mouth shut, biting her lower lip as she fought back the tears.
"You were right,” Hugh said, “I shouldn't have gone. There is no such thing as true love."
She nodded and turned her face away in a twisted frown. "There must be," she murmured, "there must."
Hugh stopped and looked at the smoke trailing up from the vent. "Maybe it's better this way." A reaper prodded him forward. "The rest of time falling and suffering. At least the torture of hoping will be gone."
Ana couldn't take it anymore. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it. "I'm sure she loves you, I know she does."
Hugh took his hand back and darkly stared at the road in front of him. "No."
His one-word response locked Ana in her tracks. For the first time in her existence she was questioning a truth she held above all else. "No such thing as love?" She whispered.
Ahead, Hugh stopped and swung his head around to address her. "He misses you, I promised him I'd tell you that." The reaper once again shoved him forward.
Ana wiped away a tear. "I just wish ... I wish he could be happy." She shook her head. "I can't wish. There's no hope, no love, there's only nothing."
Crain had arranged to have a sacrificial altar placed on the rim of the vent. An elaborate lectern of black steel skulls stretched into wailing faces was placed front and center. He took to the podium and unfurled an elaborate scroll. Hugh was jostled next to him by two hooded reapers.
Jerry smiled at Hugh. "Guess what? We're letting you go. Can you believe it? You're not going down the horrible vent. We might even let you cross over to the Land of the Living."
"Really?" Hugh's mouth fell agape.
"Sucker! You're gonna burn, lover boy."
The entire Kingdom had turned out. The onlookers stood shoulder to shoulder and formed a single dusty gray mass.
Crain's voice trumpeted out and hushed the whimpering sobs. "He set out to show that Laa ... La-a-ah-vue. Low-vee-oo ..." Crain took a step back. "Let me try this again. He set out to the Land of the Living to try and show that L-O-V-E could bring him back to life. That L-O-V-E could conquer death. That L-O-V-E could conquer all." He stepped out in front of the podium and lowered his voice. "That L-O-V-E could conquer us." He pointed to the crowd, then to himself. "He set out to show that L-O-V-E could destroy you and me." He walked back behind the podium. "He's not being punished for failing, he's being punished for trying, for hoping L-O-V-E was even possible. L-O-V-E will not save you, as if L-O-V-E even exists. It's a fantasy, a concocted dream to keep you shackled to the lie. It is a prison full of hopeless romantics pretending to be happy and free.
"We here know our lot in death!" Crain shouted, his voice echoing throughout the Kingdom. "We don't suffer fools whose actions remind us of our hopeless fate."
The crowd slowly nodded, and whispers slipped out here and there, "Down the vent ... down the horrible vent. Down, down, down ..."
Crain held the scroll at arm’s length, reading, "Therefore I sentence you, Hugh Rudd, to a punishment beyond severe. You will serve the eternity of your perdition down the horrible vent."
The reapers prodded Hugh close to the edge of the platform. The toes of his wedding shoes dangled over the precipice. He dug into the pocket of his warm-up jacket and took out the engagement ring he had given to Lily. He squeezed it tight, hoping it would help him remember.
The vent belched and bellowed, rumbling its hunger for Hugh's soul. The reapers prodded him an inch closer. He balanced, his heels just barely remaining in the Kingdom.
Leroy sat upright in Grisly's saddle with the rest of the mounted reapers in a tight formation. The pegasus started to fidget as Hugh was prodded closer to the edge. She shook her head and fought her bridle. "Easy there, Grizz, easy," Leroy tried to subdue her.
"On my mark, reapers." Crain raised his hand in the air and the reapers got into position for one final shove.
"Wait!" Ana called out. "Wait!"
Crain relaxed his arm and the reapers uncocked.
"He doesn't deserve the vent. I put the foolish thought in his head, so I should suffer the punishment." Ana stepped to the foot of the podium.
"No, Ana." Hugh shook his head. "Don't do this."
"I was wrong. You've shown me that love doesn't exist. I want the vent." She took a step forward. "If it pleases the council, release him and throw me down the vent."
The crowd gasped in shock. The council ministers shrugged their shoulders, not sure what to make of it.
Crain shook his head and his nostrils flared as he lorded over Ana. "It does not please the council. It does the opposite of please the council, in fact it displeases the council. The council finds you and your plea un-pleasurable, non-pleasing even."
Crain raised his hand and the reapers once again got into position for the final shove.
"Here is your complete and final proof of our Kingdom's immutable law." Crain lowered his voice to a growl. "Death reigns supre—"
"Wait!" The gatekeeper hustled to the foot of the podium. "Wait!"
Crain tilted his head back with a groan. "What is it now?"
Out of breath, the gatekeeper gasped, "Trouble at the gate."
"What?" Crain looked over at the Kingdom's gate. A lone woman dressed in white stood on the other side.
Trouble at the Gate
"Trouble, trouble, trouble at the gate. A difficult problem has arisen ..." the gatekeeper sang as he followed a step behind Crain.
"Silence!" Crain snapped.
The gatekeeper startled but kept mouthing the words to his improvised opera.
On the other side of the gate, Lily stood in her wedding dress with her hands clasped in front of her waist.
The gatekeeper shouldered into Crain with a whisper, "She wants in, and she's willing to sacrifice herself in ritualistic fashion." He nodded like it was a big deal.