Authors: Nate Gubin
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
"Suicide," Crain said, brow lifted.
Hugh broke away from his minders and crashed against the gate. "Lily, what are you doing here?"
"I can't live without you."
"No, Lily, get out of here. It's horrible, death is a horrible place. Please, for me, go back, run back to life."
The reapers recaptured Hugh and pulled him from the gate. Lily pressed against the iron bars, reaching for him. "I won't leave you."
"No, Lily!" Hugh shouted desperately. "This is a horrible place. Run, before it's too late."
"It's the only way we can be together, the only way we can be in love."
"No, Lily, no." He bowed his head and spoke in a low voice, "There is no such thing as love."
The crowd rabbled and then hushed to hear Lily's response. "I love you, Hugh." With a long face and a deep stare, Lily took a step back from the gate and pulled a twenty-two-inch tanto out of her oversized handbag. She had stolen the dagger out of George's luggage, where it was strapped in place with several other tactical knives, blowguns and weapons for hand-to-hand combat. The razor-sharp blade shimmered in the pale fog.
"Please, Lily, no."
"Promise you won't throw him down the vent," Lily demanded of Crain.
"Oh I promise," he nodded. "Come on over, child, be with us." He held his arms out to her and then whispered to Jerry, "The bride on her wedding day committing suicide. The delicate white of her dress stained in voluminous splashes of dark red. How terribly, terribly awful." He grinned.
Lily held the trembling blade to her throat.
"Witness the tragedy that the curse of L-O-V-E hath wrought. This poor, poor creature taking her own life, on her wedding day no less," Crain preached to the crowd. "We must free the living from their slavery of hope. When she cuts her throat, the life will spill out, the gate will swing open and we should hold it open. Cross over to the Land of the Living and release them, every last one of them, to their deaths. I'm talking about war. Who's with me?"
The crowd agitated and a low chant built, "Death reigns supreme, death reigns supreme, death reigns supreme ..."
Crain smiled with evil glee and turned back to Lily. "Yes, my dear, come on now. Just a little cut and you can be with us."
"No, Lily, please no. If you truly love me, go."
Lily pressed the blade tight against her porcelain throat and a teardrop of blood cried out, rolling down her nape and staining her dress just above her heart.
The gate began to creak, its iron jaws quivering, ravenous and ready to consume.
"No, Lily! There's no reason to cross over, because ... because I'm no longer here." Hugh broke free from the reapers and ran to the edge of the vent.
Lily took the sword away from her throat. "What are you doing?"
Hugh turned and looked at her one last time and whispered the words, "I love you." Then without hesitation he threw himself into the horrible vent.
Grisly brayed and reared up on her hind legs. Leroy tightened his grip on her reins. "Whoa, Grizz, whoa."
Lily dropped the sword and reached with both hands through the gate. "No, Hugh, no!"
The vent roared with consumption and the Kingdom shook. Horrible cries and howls of pain trumpeted out of its depths. A bellow of hot smoke plumed and then everything went still.
Crain walked over to the ledge and looked down. "The one called Hugh Rudd is no more." He looked to the crowd. "Soon we will forget him."
Back in the day when Hugh and Lily were just dating, before they had even considered moving in together, they went on a camping trip. The weather was horrible. Sheets of cold rain lashed their tent and a river formed under it, almost washing it out to sea.
With soaked sleeping bags they retreated to the car. Everything they owned was dripping wet and to make matters worse, the car wouldn't start. A new battery for the 1993 Toyota Corolla was long overdue, and Hugh had used the last of its juice to run the headlights while they set up the tent in the storm. Why he didn't leave the engine running while the headlights were on is a mystery. Though the truth is, Hugh really didn't understand how cars worked. Gas and a trip to the quick lube twice a year was the extent of his automotive knowledge.
Their phones didn't work so deep in the woods, and Lily was pretty sure wild animals stalked the dark wilderness between them and the closest gas station. Wild, hungry animals. The storm continued to build and they watched through the windshield as the tent was blown across the campsite and off into the night. The winds howled, rocking the car back and forth. The conversation turned to tornadoes and lightning strikes. If a tornado was spotted, she was pretty sure they should lie in a ditch, but Hugh was almost sure that lightning never hits cars; something to do with the rubber in the tires.
After some debate it was agreed that if a tornado with no lightning started winding toward them they'd hide in a ditch. If there was lightning they'd stay in the car, and if a tornado and lightning came together they'd push the car into a ditch and hide inside.
They were too cold to sleep. They huddled, wet and shivering, in the tiny car and shared a bag of soggy pretzels. The radio wouldn't work, so they took turns sharing their hopes and dreams for the future. She wanted to ride bikes through Spain, he wanted a new car, maybe enough time to road trip to California, start an alternative rock band. She dreamed of a small house with a small backyard, he dreamed of ... actually he dreamed of a lot of things but at that moment all he could dream about was a life with her.
Sometime during the night they fell asleep. The storm passed and the day’s first sun projected flaxen light through the pines. The warm glow kissed Lily's face and she was illuminated.
Hugh sat motionless, trying not to wake her. He watched her sleep and deep down he realized something had forever changed. He wasn't sure how they'd get the car going and he wasn't sure how they'd get home. He wasn't sure how much a new car battery cost or if he could afford it. He wasn't sure if they'd find their tent or the rest of their camping stuff. He wasn't sure about a lot of things, but he was sure of one thing. He was in love with Lily and he wanted to be with her for the rest of his life.
The memory of the camping trip, along with all the others, was starting to dissolve. Lily kneeled in the dead leaves outside the gate and quickly started to forget. She tried to hang onto them. The first smile, the first kiss, the first night in their apartment, a mattress on the floor, some candles, a pizza. They were all slipping away. Like trying to hold onto water, the tighter she grabbed, the faster the memories passed through her fingers, dripping to the ground. Soaking to the very bottom of nothing.
Singed, Scorched and Scalded
Grisly reared up and bucked Leroy off her back. She thrust into the air above the horrible vent and circled three times before tucking her wings and diving headfirst into the smolder. Bolts of black lightning and claps of thunder shattered from the smoking hole.
There was a long silence, and then a low undulating rumble crept up from below.
Dr. Steve and Gilda Moore's wedding reception was well under way. Lily's half of the guests had left after yet another fiasco at a church resulting in Lily not being married off. But Steve's friends and family were trying to make the best of it. Gilda was frantically crossing out Lily's name with a Sharpie and correcting it to hers on all the printed materials.
George tried to get to know her. "Gilda, is that short for something?" He feigned a trip and a stumble but regained his balance with the help of Gilda's left ass cheek.
Morton slowly drove around Cedargrove in an aqua Bentley he had stolen from behind the church. The owner must have been in a hurry, because he’d left the keys in the ignition. With the windows rolled down, Morton searched for someone, but with each lap around town he started to forget who he was searching for. Eventually he ditched the car and made his way toward the cemetery.
The crowd around the horrible vent started to disperse, when all of a sudden Grisly burst forth from the scalding hell mouth. Her wings smoldering, her singed hooves climbed invisible steps in the smoking air, and clinging to her back was a scorched and near-lifeless Hugh Rudd.
The crowd gasped. "Back from the vent!"
Ana stepped forward. "Only one thing could bring someone back from the vent."
"Impossible!" Crain spit.
Grisly landed just in front of the gate and knelt down, stretching out her wing and creating a ramp for Hugh to roll his way down. He propped himself up against the gate and strained to huff a word out of his brazed lungs.
She looked at him, her head tilted. She barely recognized him, worse, she barely knew him anymore. Almost all their shared memories had been jumbled into fragments and almost completely erased.
"Do I know you?"
"It's me, Lily," Hugh begged.
Lily shook her head. "I ... I don't think I know you, I ..." She stumbled back, confused and afraid.
"It's me, Lily ... and I love you." He had said it many times but this was the first time he really meant it. He loved her more than his own life and was willing to sacrifice anything for her.
She stopped her slow retreat and nodded. "I'm not sure why, but deep down ... I love you too." She had never stopped loving him. Through it all, her love was true.
He fell to his knees and dug the engagement ring out of his pocket. "Will you marry me?" He held the ring through the iron bars and Lily slowly walked toward it.
She reached out for the ring and the tiniest spark went from Hugh's hand to hers. She smiled with a nod. "Yes, yes I will marry you." She slid on the ring and grasped Hugh's hand.
"We need a minister to marry them." Ana pushed out of the crowd and looked to the council members.
"Never!" Crain swatted his arms out, blocking any council member from stepping forward. "There will never be a union between the dead and the living."
Ana pleaded with the council, "Please, look at them, deep down in your heart you know what they have. This is it, this is true love."
The ministers mumbled and shuffled their feet.
"I reckon I'll do it," Rusty said, stepping forward.
"Don't you dare." Crain squared off with him.
"Get out of my way, Crain, I'm fixin' to wed these young-uns and there ain’t spit on a painted prairie you can do about it." He tried to push past Crain, who shoved him back into the group of ministers.
"No you won't!" Crain barked, and he pointed at all of them. "Keep in mind, my junior, very junior peers, I am the Head Minister, I speak for the council and I could very well have you, all of you, thrown down the vent for just a hint of insurrection."
"Shoe-me howdy shucks Crain, go right ahead, wrastle me down that there vent," said Rusty, stepping forward again. "But first I'm going to hitch these two lovebirds."
"Reapers, arrest him." Crain pointed at Rusty but the reapers didn't move. "Did you not hear me? I said arrest him!"
Rusty nodded and took another step forward. The rest of the ministers stepped up with him. Rusty said, "Us ministers have been chewin' the straw, Crain, and we figured it's about time you make like a tumbleweed and tumble."
"No, this isn't right," Crain raged. "This is all your fault." He grabbed Hugh and pulled him away from the gate, dragging him toward the vent. He made it half a step before Leroy stepped in front of him, his fist clapping into the palm of his hand. Crain turned to the side and Grisly bared her fangs at him.
"This is crazy, it's mutiny." Crain let go of Hugh and went to Jerry's side. "You will all pay for your insubordination." He looked to Jerry. "Right, Jerry?"
"What are you looking at me for?" Jerry sidestepped away from him in disgust.
"Well ..." Crain looked around. "Well ... If you're not going to obey me, then ... then I guess ..." The eyes of the Kingdom were on him as he dismissed everyone with a wave of his hands. "Then I guess ... whatever." He gathered up his robe tails and retreated through the crowd.
Rusty propped Hugh back up against the gate and Lily reached through, grabbing both his hands, helping to hold him steady.
"I just wish we had more time to prepare. I know it's last-minute but we should decorate, it's a wedding, for Pete's sake," Patrick fretted, and he scavenged for last-minute decorations.
Hugh held onto Lily through the gate, and as if on cue a ray of sunlight illuminated her, casting her in a gentle glow.
"Reckon I'm gonna go ahead and hitch you two the only way I know how, cowboy-style. Now Hugh, do you take this beautiful filly to have and to hold, in green pastures and dusty badlands, where even your shadow won't grow?"
"I do." Hugh looked deep in her eyes and felt something inflating inside him.
"Now Lily, do you—"
She cut him off. "I do." She smiled and squeezed Hugh's hands.
"Well that went quicker than a cupcake in a pigpen. By the power I'm saddled with on this here council, I tip my hat to you and declare with a hoot and holler, you're mister and missus."