Broken Glass ~ an undead romance
A first draft of this was up on Wattpad previously – it first went up in 2013. I’ve revised it for this month.
CWs: death, entrapment, suicide of POV characters, the undead eating corpses, the dead are amnesiacs.
THE LATE JACOB NOVAK
If you take your own life in a place brimming with geomagic, that is, where secret agricultural cults released some ancient fertility power into the soil that really shouldn’t be there, you shouldn’t be too surprised to wake up as a zombie. Jacob Novak, guitarist, addict and introvert backroom philosopher, was not the mindlessly ravenous kind despite the wanton murder of his own braincells while he was still living.
No one was entirely sure what made the difference, but it made the pathologist’s day a little easier.
When the body rose from the morgue table, right on schedule as far as the morgue staff were concerned, he was confused and bewildered, believing at first the pills hadn’t worked. Yet he felt different. Somehow, there was something about him which defied explanation. His mind was clear. That was a first. Unclouded by the weight of worry and past mistakes, unburdened by life, and above all – he was clean.
I must be dead, the body thought. I must be dead, or this is heaven…
But heaven looked a little soulless and clinical, and he wasn’t sure that it was supposed to. Perhaps this was where all lost souls ended up. He swung his legs off the metallic edge, testing the flooring under his feet. There was a tag on his toe; he took this off, hearing his spine click as he bent over, but he felt nothing. His blood was sluggish and still in his veins, and he suddenly realised that he wasn’t actually breathing. In a sudden panic, he tried to inhale. It was an effort, but his chest inflated. The air stayed there, as if unsure of what to do. No oxygen was getting to his blood or his limbs. This was physically impossible. Bits of him were going to start dropping off. He breathed out, physically pushing his diaphragm in with his fist. His flesh felt different, of an odd consistency, rubbery to the touch but not painful.
A floppy haired pulsing body with a bright smile and scrubs gave him a cheery wave from across the room, one hand on a length of metal pipe. “Hello there! Welcome to the morgue. How are you feeling?”
The body looked around, a little dazed. His muscles still almost worked, but he wasn’t sure how that was possible. He attempted to speak, drawing air into his lungs for it to vibrate passed his vocal chords. “Whhhhhherrrrrrrrrrrrrre aaaaaaaaaaammmm hhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii?”
“The morgue, on Filibut Street,” the pulsing body said, loosening his grip on the pipe. If a Riser could speak, they probably weren’t going to start trouble.”Would you please step into my office? Some find that a hot water bottle helps.”
The body wasn’t sure that anything would really help, but he nodded anyway. His head jerked up and down oddly, as if he had forgotten how.
“I’m Jasper,” the pulsing body said, leading the way through the double doors, “But most people call me Jazz. I’ve got your clothes in here, is that ok?”
Again, the body nodded. Nodding was easier on his throat. He caught a glimpse of himself in the reinforced glass of the small round window in the top of the door, and a dead face looked back.
So I really am dead, he thought.
There was a disturbance within the glass – he thought he saw, just for a moment, another face appear transparently behind his own. Yet there was no one behind him, and no one on the other side of the door. The face, a small female face, flickered for a second, and then disappeared.
THE LATE SALLY MCGUIRE
Sally’s parents had found her before she had time to Rise, and delivered her in two pieces to the funeral home, her head cleanly separated from her body. Just in case.
Sally had watched them do what had to be done from the antique mirror in her bedroom. The mirror had a history unknown to Sally, who had only thought the frame was pretty. She hadn’t known how to tame it, or what to ask it, and without the proper words and the proper time, the mirror grew hungry, as it always did. When the mirror grew hungry, it started to show more than simple reflections.
Sally didn’t know what was real anymore. Even now she was dead. The mirror had sucked away everything, and left her trapped in the world of the back-to-front. She stumbled from mirror to mirror, polished glass to polished glass, always looking out at the reversed world beyond. Her mirror-world was limitless, at least in theory. Still, she wished that someone would look into her eyes and see more than their own reflection.
There were other things in the mirror-half-life world, other things in the shadows and swirling in the misted reflections of reality, and others like her – but they frightened her with their dark black auras of unforgiving pain, and she often fled from them. It was lonely, being dead.
The morgue and the hospital were two places with reflective surfaces which drew her back to them, but the hospital was where the darker things stalked the distorted hallways, and the morgue was much quieter. Not a lot of souls were released in the morgue. It was practically deserted. So Sally returned there, often, and watched the blue bodies on their slabs being dissected and probed, and some of them getting up and walking away, and some of them being beaten off others, and then, one of them looked straight back.
Sally pulled away from the round window, falling back into the grey corridor behind her. If she had a heart, it would be hammering.
Someone had seen her.
Sally forced herself up and streaked through the corridor to the next curved door, appearing in the side of a stainless steel electric kettle in Jazz’s office.
THE MORTICIAN’S OFFICE
The body sat in the offered chair, trying out his muscle movements. Everything was different now that he was dead. All of his memories had sparked out, erased by the death of his neuro-pathways, and whatever had reanimated him had not restored them. Everything he had remembered at the moment of reanimation was fading away the way a dream does, dissipating into the fresh moments of this new life like a nightmare dissolves after the first minute of waking.
He could not remember why he had died.
He looked at Jazz. “Whhhherrrrrre hhhaaaaaaaammmmmm hhhiiiiiii?” he managed, using his lungs like bellows. He may have asked this already, but he was in a different room now. Time and space were connected. He had moved beyond the first answer and needed another.
“The morgue,” Jazz informed him again, putting on his brisk professional voice. “Your name was Jacob Novak, but I suppose you can call yourself anything you like now. Most people change their names when they’re like this, since they can’t remember their past life at all and it’s a bit of an effort to pronounce complicated words at the start. You’re not fully animated yet – that will take time. I would advise you head over to the crematorium and see if there’s an extra shift going. You can eat what you like when the coffins come down to you and burn the rest, and the relatives are none the wiser because they’re just getting ashes back anyway.” He reached in his drawer for the crematorium’s glossy business card. “Here you go. Ask for Raven. He’s in charge. There’s a nice little community over there.”
The body’s arm lifted jerkily to take the card, and it nearly slipped between his fingers. The black and silver edges glinted, and as he looked around the neat little office his eyes caught the face again peeping at him in the side of the tall kettle. “Gllllaaaasssss,” he whispered.
“What’s that? Glass?” Jazz thought it over. “Is that what you want to be called?”
“Glllllaaaaasssssss,” the body repeated. He liked the sound of that.
[Glass, swooned Sally McGuire in her little kettle. He sees me in the glass.]
The newly-christened Glass shambled around to the back of the crematorium. It was a pleasant little spot about a mile from the town centre, a modernised red brick building surrounded by beautiful, well-tended gardens and next door to the golf club.
The sun warmed his pasty dead skin, but his lack of circulation (bar whatever reanimating force was coursing through him and making his new existence possible) meant that he didn’t feel the benefit of its rays. The light irritated his decaying corneas, and he realised that he needed to feed again.
Passing the rose bushes by, their thirsty roots clutched around the fertilising goodness of the cremated dead, Glass shambled around to the heavy STAFF ONLY side entrance, and on towards the Promised Land of snacks.
The metal fire door was propped open a crack by a heavy lead weight. This was probably illegal. The sign on the door [FIRE DOOR – KEEP SHUT] was being flagrantly ignored, so Glass ignored it too. He managed to shoulder it open further until he managed to make it through, snagging the shirt Jazz had handed him on the metal handle on his way in.
Glass managed a grunt. It was darker in here, and for a moment his eyes, robbed of their life, could not adjust. Glass stood still, arms outstretched into the impenetrable gloom to feel his way forwards, but after a few awkward steps the shapes began to make sense.
Details gradually sharpened as something told his pupils to dilate, and they grudgingly obliged. It turned out not to be as dark as all that.
It was odd, Glass thought, synapses crackling into momentary action. All of this was odd.
He struggled once more to recall some aspect of his pre-morgue existence, but all that was well and truly lost.
Moving down the corridor a little further, he came to an open door which led into the furnace room for the crematorium’s first furnace. There were four altogether, the corridor which Glass had fumbled along lapping the underbelly of the airy and tasteful chapels of rest above and leading to the four fiery chambers of the crematorium’s throbbing heart.
There were a few services a day this time of year: heat waves took almost as many as cold snaps, and fortunately Pagham-on-Sea attracted a steadily-replenished stream of pensioners who dreamed of spending their twilight years walking on the beach.
One such pensioner, a retired primary school teacher from Leeds, was on her way down the shaft as Glass came in. The furnace was ready to receive her, but Mrs Mabel Williams was not destined for the roasting her will had stipulated. As soon as her coffin reached the conveyor, Mrs Williams’s polished box was broken open by three crematorium staff and the body carefully removed. A few limbs were sawn off rather deftly by one healthier-looking employee, and replaced in the coffin. It rolled off into the metal-melting maw of the first furnace, while the staff proceeded to take their lunch break.
Glass shambled over eagerly, but the healthier-looking body – still pasty and a little blue – stuck out a hand. “Whoa whoa whoa. You’re the guy Jazz sent round?”
Glass attempted a nod.
The body was similarly unimpressed. “Ok. We’ve got an opening on furnace three. Greasy tit Meat lit hisself on fire.”
Meat. Meat. Greasy meat….
Glass turned to the door. “Whhhhhheeeeerrrre…?”
“Follow the corridor, second door you come to.” The man watched the newest riser shamble off obediently and cursed his own wretched afterlife. He turned back to the workers of furnace one and snarled. “Ok, break’s done. We got another in half an hour. Get raking.”
As the others got back to work, he pulled a finger from his shirt pocket and leaned against the wall, and began to gnaw.
THE GHOST OF SALLY MCGUIRE
Sally saw a distorted figure in the polished side of an urn, a crowd of crow-black mourners in a coppery garden where all the colours had been bronzed away.
She flitted from the curvature of the rim to the lens of somebody’s glasses, and then, hurrying down her endless grey corridor, found a polished coffin handle to peep out of.
There he was.
She had blushed with pleasure (at least, if she could have she would have) when the first word of his afterlife had been ‘Glass’. It may as well have been her name. She had inspired him. Sally had never inspired anyone before.
He was gnawing on something, she didn’t know what. He came up to the coffin, growing larger and larger until she could see nothing else but his great shape. Then he bent down and an eye peered into her small window, and Sally squeaked. The little sound hit the musty confines of the corridor and was deadened to a muffled yelp. The coffin handle got wrenched off in the ghoul’s hand, and Sally’s view was obscured by the soft white palm. Then the handle slipped into a pocket, and Sally could see nothing more.
Marking the windows was hard. She had her nails, which for some reason made marks here on her side of the corridor, and she could steam up the windows and press her hand against the surface to make a lasting print. She wasn’t sure how this worked. It defied logic. Nevertheless, it cheered her up to think that she could make a tangible contribution to her environment simply by existing in it. Perhaps if she had felt that in life, she wouldn’t have ended up here.
The problem was, if she did ever mark a window, she wasn’t the only one who could spot the mark.
Sally had spent a long time trying to avoid the other shadowy things that shared this multifaceted mirror world, the forms that shifted down the corridors and… hunted her. Not all – and only if they noticed her – but like a nightmare she could never wake from, Sally knew instinctively that some were tracking her with malicious intent. She didn’t know why. All she knew was that staying still or marking windows was a risk – and there was nowhere to hide. There were only doors, and blind corners. What she needed was the next window.
While Sally was deciding what best to do, she stood very still with her nose pressed to the window glass, examining the thread count of the pocket folded against it. It was the longest time she had ever stayed in one place, but it was worth it.
When the handle emerged again, he spoke to her.
SPECTRAL SURGERY AT MILL STREET
Miss Charlotte looked up from her desk. “The doctor will see you now,” she said to the final patient in the waiting room.
Glass came in with a shaving mirror in his hand. After a month of good clean crematorium living, he could pass as a pulsing body in a certain light.
“What can I do for you?” Dr Monday asked from behind the mouth of his mask.
Glass, his speech much better and his enforced breath more controlled, was nervous. “I am Glass,” he said, rocking from side to side. “Have mirror. Look.” He held up the round shaving mirror and showed the doctor.
There seemed to be a shadowy face inside.
“Is that… is that a… person in there?”
Glass nodded vigorously.
Dr Monday began to understand. “You… you are here to register her as a patient?”
Glass handed the shaving mirror over. “She doesn’t like. In there.”
Dr Monday took the mirror in his gloved hands. “I see. And – I take it that you and she…”
Glass nodded. “She want body. To be it. Not eat it.”
Dr Monday sighed. “This is a rather delicate procedure. We’re running a rather high electricity bill as it is, so I’m afraid that this will not be totally subsidised by the UHC.”
The Underground Health Care was funded by a means-tested tax, but there was a limit to what this could cover. Spectral Surgery was one of those specialisms that required an additional top-up fee.
Glass held up his wallet. “Money.”
“Very good,” Dr Monday said, behind his mask. He pressed a button on his desk. “Alex, run over to the morgue and see if Jasper can spare us a corpse.”
Finding a body that had died of natural causes in Pagham-on-Sea was rare, but today it appeared they were in luck. A homeless runaway had been brought in, blue and cold, from the subway. It was hard to tell whether some young vampire teens had ganged up on her in the night or if the punctures on her arms were track marks from her needles.
She was unclaimed, and undamaged apart from that.
Dr Monday pronounced her adequate.
The process of extraction was by far the most complicated, but finally a love-struck Sally was drawn through the glass of the shaving mirror into a full length dressing mirror set up for the purpose. This was some kind of cul-de-sac in the mirror world – once in, she couldn’t get out. This panicked her. If it went wrong now, she would have to stay in the dressing mirror for as long as it took to get it to work, if it ever did work. After a month of jumping from reflective surface to reflective surface, mirror to mirror, glass to glass, she felt trapped and afraid. Knowing she could not get out far outweighed the knowledge that the other things in the corridors could not get in.
It was a tricky operation.
Dr Monday’s assistant was poised with paraphernalia, passing bits of this and pieces of that, keeping the room a consistent temperature, priming the rather out-dated machine – the Werner 6.7.
The Werner crackled into choking life, and, as Sally was pulled from the mirror into the empty fleshy shell, the spark ignited something within the newly inhabited brain and, after an hour and a quarter of intense concentration, the operation was complete.
Glass was allowed to look in through the window at the top of the door.
The body, now inhabited by the ghost-girl that had once been Sally McGuire, sat up. She couldn’t remember her old life, or the life of the body she was now inside. She could remember him, though. She could remember him.
There was no breath in her body, so she had to force it into her lungs. In. Then out. It made a rasping noise over her voice box, and the sound was alien to her. She felt things again. New things. Old things. Cold things.
She swung her legs over the edge of the table, forcing her borrowed muscles to remember what to do. Breath came in, and breath went out. Her knees bent, and straightened. Her feet hit the floor. There were others in the room, but they didn’t bother her. She wanted to find him. Afterlife had made her rather single-minded.
“Can you talk to us?” Dr Monday inquired, adopting his rather forced but well-meaning bedside manner. “Can you tell us your name?”
Breath went in. Hands raised. Look at them. Odd. Flexing. Curling. Odd. Touch. Breath went out.
Breath went in.
She turned to look at the mirror. The dressing mirror was smashed. Glinting shards scattered the floor beneath it, and what was left around the jagged hole in the centre was fractured and crazed.
Breath went out.
Dr Monday’s skin-mask creased into a badly-fitting frown. “Broken?”
Breath went in.
Dr Monday nodded and chuckled. “Broken and Glass.”
And so it stuck.
BROKEN GLASS AND GRAVE
The moon was high when the two ghouls settled on a grave in the cemetery. Broken was still a few feeds away from returning to full functioning order, so Glass was the one wielding the shovel.
It was their first date.
The grave had been chosen rather arbitrarily, and Broken had almost forgotten all about her mirror world now. She had even forgotten the past month with Glass, but the bond remained embedded. it was more than a memory – it was a permanent attachment.
Glass hit the coffin with a dull thud, and broke it open. The body was oozing and gooey, and it smelled just right.
They paid no attention to the lettering on the tombstone, but tucked in to their feast. Broken found it delicious.
The two ghouls nibbled their way along the same ropy length of intestine and met in the middle, shy and coy, like Lady and the Tramp.
The moon lit up their midnight feast, setting the scene and colouring it with a wistful mist of romance, and the silvered letters revealed that tonight, dinner was courtesy of SALLY MCGUIRE – BELOVED DAUGHTER. Whoever that was.