Amber’s Story

My grandfather died when I was four. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I learned he was supposed to stay that way.

When I read the recent news story about the first natural death in over fifty years, I was skeptical too. Of course I was. This wasn’t the first story of it’s kind. It wasn’t even the first this year. Ever since the tragic 1968 pandemic, the world has latched on to any and every hope that maybe, just maybe the end is in sight – medications, genetic treatments, and, yes, stories like Amber Sawyer’s. And every year, we’ve been left disappointed.

The first such story that I could find in print is from 1973. Gloria Whitaker of Philadelphia claimed her thirty-year old sister, Dolores, passed away in her sleep. But unlike countless incidents of families – even entire apartment complexes and neighborhoods – devoured in their sleep during those first five years, Gloria awoke to a quiet house and her sister’s inanimate corpse still in bed. And according to the article, instead of running in terror, Gloria wept. But she wasn’t heartbroken about Dolores’ death, as they both had been with the passing and subsequent reanimation of their parents in ’71. No, she was overcome with joy at the thought that her sister might be the first of many to once more find rest after death.

Turns out, Dolores died from a ruptured aneurysm that mercifully damaged the part of the brain effected by Romero’s.

When Amber’s case started trending, I assumed the inevitable autopsy would show something similar. Perhaps a head or brain injury she decided to sleep off instead of seeking medical attention. Perhaps drugs or alcohol were involved. This was a nineteen-year old college student, after all. In a world where the dead simply don’t stay that way, it’s not hard to feel a little bit immortal at that age.

But then, nothing.

Far as we know or can tell, Amber Sawyer is the first person to be medically declared dead of natural causes for the first time since 1968. There was nothing in her system. No aneurysm or head trauma. No defect. Nothing but a dead girl with a bad heart who stayed that way.

My mother is getting on in years now. She’s called me up every night since Amber’s story made its way to her local newspaper, sharing stories of a world where Amber’s death wasn’t news, only a fact of life. And like many others, she’s afraid of what will become of her when what should be the end comes, but doesn’t. She doesn’t want my father to keep her around in chains, like how her mother had kept her father, my grandfather, all those years ago. Every night she asks me to tell her that Amber’s story isn’t yet another news story that will come and go like all the rest, and every night I’m left unsure what to say.

When she asked me again last night, I replied with a question of my own.

“Why did grandma keep grandpa around?” I asked her.

And to her credit, she finally shared with me what grandma had said all those years ago. “God took him, but left the rest behind for me.”

I want to tell my mother that the world is a different place. That when she’s gone, she’ll stay that way. But I can’t. Because I’m unsure. Because I still have my doubts. Because I worry Amber’s story will be no different than Dolores’ or my grandfather’s. Because a not-so small part of me is scared of a world without her in it. Because in a world where the dead don’t stay that way, it can be that much harder to let go.

Audrey

Transcribed from recording labeled “Audrey”:

When I first met Audrey McGuire in the bar of a hotel on the outskirts of Los Angeles, she was a fiery shock of red hair poured into a full skirt dress that teased a curvy figure beneath.

Her full, blood-red lips pouted at me as she performed a sob story about needing money for a bus ticket to Indianapolis, to stay with her mother after her husband had raised his hand to her one time too many.

The second time we met, Audrey was a willowy blonde wearing long boots and a short skirt, lying through thin lips about visiting her sister in San Francisco.

Recording stops, continues.

The third time we met, I observed Audrey gracefully flowing from one potential mark to the next, shedding her previous appearance between tables before seamlessly slipping into a new life with a single, gentle touch of each man’s hand.

One moment, she’s an olive-skinned beauty in a cardigan distracting a married man with her piercing blue eyes as she steals his wallet. The next, she’s laughing it up with a group of drunken suits pawing at a pair of milky thighs exposed by the short hem of her fashionable Mod dress.

I never gave a second thought to the way she’d temporarily leave with this or that man as she wore this or that face–sometimes an hour at a time, sometimes for mere minutes. But when some loud, dark-haired stranger in an expensive suit dragged Audrey away by the wrist, the panicked look she shot my way from a hauntingly familiar face convinced me to follow close behind.

Recording stops, continues.

I caught up to Audrey and that dark-haired stranger in the stairwell, just in time to hear a cry of pain closely followed by a drunken voice demanding to know why he had to hear from the boys at the office that his wife was moonlighting as a whore in a hotel bar.

Cynthia. Some poor housewife named Cynthia was probably somewhere cooking dinner for a husband she didn’t know was drunk in the stairwell of a hotel, threatening a frightened woman wearing her face.

And as Cynthia’s face attempted to lie her way out of a literal corner, Cynthia’s husband raised his hand. But as he raised his hand, her face changed. Her left eye darkened and swelled shut. Her bottom lip split and bled. And bruises appeared on her from head to toe.

Whether by fortune, divine intervention, or alcohol, Cynthia’s husband stumbled backward down a flight of stairs and scuttled out the door without another word, looking as if he’d just seen a ghost. Then once we were both sure he wasn’t coming back, I returned to the bar with a woman who looked like my dead wife.

Recording stops, continues.

Over the next several hours and drinks, I found myself lost in the glittering hazel eyes and gentle lines of my wife’s face as she shared the story of a life she never lived with a name she never knew. There was mention of a one-bedroom apartment in Shermer, Illinois, some boy named Reggie, and a kiss behind the high school gym that left her with no choice but to leave behind both Shermer and Reggie forever.

As we danced, the woman I struggled to call Audrey inquired about my work with childish wonder and glee. And as I explained the nature of the microscopic Sutherland Fluke coiled around both her central and peripheral nervous system, how it allowed her body to instinctively reshape itself in reaction to physical and emotional stimuli, she pulled her body closer to mine.

Audrey was gone by morning. And while I’m unsure if I’ve seen her in the years since–or if a person by the name of Audrey McGuire from Shermer, Illinois, ever existed–I do know a lost soul gave a lonely man one last night of happiness. And for that, I will always remember her.

Recording ends.

D’ja Vu’larian

Transcribed from recording labeled “D’ja Vu’larian”:

Feeding exclusively on those threads of time and space intertwined with some poor soul’s untimely, traumatic death, the D’ja Vu’larian’s morbid appetite is seen by some as a cosmic blessing in disguise.

Effectively a wholesale rejection of death itself, these individuals…I hesitate to call them “victims”…regain consciousness sometime in their own past, with only a faint, dreamlike recollection of what transpired.

But much like those affected by a Chronopiller, there is a serious philosophical discussion to be had regarding that lost part of us, devoured moment-by-moment, and now slowly digesting in the belly of some great, trans-dimensional worm.

Recording ends.

Smeltett

Transcribed from tape labeled “Smeltett”:

DR. FINE: The very existence of the Smeltett has been a point of contention for millennia, with records of arguments spurred on by the sudden onset of a foul and malicious odor found in the form of rudimentary cave paintings in both Africa and central Asia.

Current research of the Smeltett leads many to believe that it is the female of the species which is responsible for the foul odor, used in an effort to attract the attention of nearby males, which are believed to be responsible for the… sound also associated with the Smeltett.

Unsurprisingly, all major contributions to research on the Smeltett have been submitted anonymously.

Tape ends.

Wah’wazzat

Transcribed from tape labeled “Wah’wazzat”:

DR. FINE: I hesitate to refer to such a frightening, malicious thing that gleefully toys with its unsuspecting, isolated prey as a mere “creature,” but the Wah’wazzat is certainly one of the most elusive, deeply unsettling entities I have ever encountered.

Because the human mind is fortunately, mercifully incapable of properly processing the physical appearance of the Wah’wazzat, wouldbe victims are left to question the origin and direction of the scattered sound of skittering, rustling, and faint breathing as the Wah’wazzat closes in for the kill.

If not for the fact that the Wah’wazzat is easily and conveniently startled by so much as a quick glance in its general direction, I suspect reports of missing persons would quickly outpace the obituaries in every morning paper.

Tape ends.

Whattamadoon

Transcribed from tape labeled “Whattamadoon”:

DR. FINE: The Whattamadoon itself is hardly a creature worth making note of, as its teeny-tiny, squishy, toothless body makes it incapable of causing any physical, temporal, or psychological harm to any living creature.

However. The Whattamadoon’s web is notorious for snatching up any thoughts blossoming and fluttering about one’s head as they pass through the doorway in which said web is hung.

Fortunately, walking back through the web often allows an unwitting buffet to recover whatever million-dollar idea I totally believe you had before the Whattamadoon can feast upon it.

Tape ends.