THE WIND CRIES MARY
BY BRIAN KEENE
Even in death, she returns to visit me every night.
If time mattered any more, you'd be able to set your watch by her arrival. Mary shows up shortly after the sun goes down. She lumbers up our long, winding driveway, dragging her shattered right leg behind her like it's a dog. I often wonder how she can still walk.
Of course, all the dead walk these days, but in Mary's case, a shard of bone protrudes from her leg, just below the knee. The flesh around it is shiny and swollen - the color of lunch meat. The wound doesn't even leak any more. I keep expecting her to fall over, for the bone to burst through the rest of the way, for her leg to come completely off. But it never happens.
Her abdomen has swollen, too. We were never able to have children, but death has provided her with a cruel pantomime of what pregnancy must be like. I dread what will happen when those gases trapped inside of her finally reach the breaking point. Her breasts have sunken, as have her cheekbones and eyes. Her summer dress hangs off her frame in tatters. It was one of my favorites - white cotton with a blue floral print. Simple yet elegant, just like Mary. Now it is anything but. Her long hair is no longer clean or brushed, and instead of smelling like honey-suckle shampoo, it now smells of leaves and dirt and is rife with insects. Her fingernails are filthy and cracked. She used to take so much pride in them. Her hands and face are caked with a dried brown substance. I tell myself that it is mud, but I know in my heart that it's blood.
None of this matters to me. Her body may be changing, but Mary is still the woman I fell in love with. She is still the most beautiful woman I have ever known. She is still my wife, and I still love her. Death hasn't taken that away. It has only made it stronger.
We had fifteen good years together. Death does not overcome those times. Her body may be rotting, but those memories do not decay. I am sure of this. Why else would she return here, night after night, and stare at the house, fumbling at the door and searching for a way in? It can't be to feed. If it were, she would have given up by now, moved on to the new housing development a few miles up the road, where I am sure there are still plenty of families barricaded inside their homes, too scared or stupid to stay quiet for long. Easy pickings. I don't know what she does during the day. Certainly it isn't sleep. The dead never sleep. I assume she eats. Wanders, perhaps. But the question remains, Why does she return here night after night? Mary doesn't know I'm in here. Of this, I am certain. Although she paws at the door and the boarded-up windows, she can't see inside of our house. She can't see me or hear me. So why does she return?
The answer is simple: she remembers. Maybe not in the way the living remember things, but somewhere, rooted deeply in whatever is left of her brain, there is some rudimentary attachment to this place. Perhaps she recognizes it as home. Maybe she just knows that this was a place where she was happy. A place where she once lived.
Mary hated me the first time we met. It was at a college party. She was an art major. I was studying business. I was a drunken frat boy, a young Republican in training, the next-generation spawn of the Reagan revolution. Mary was a liberal Democrat, involved in a number of volunteer social programs. When she walked into the party, a blonde and a brunette were feeding me a forty-ounce of Mickey's through a makeshift beer bong. She glanced in our direction then turned away. I was instantly infatuated. Not love at first sight, but certainly lust. Love came later.
I got her number from a mutual acquaintance. It took me two months to get a date with her. I was on my best behavior. The date lasted all night. We saw Pulp Fiction (I loved it; she hated it). We went to Denny's (I had steak and eggs; she had a salad). We went back to her place. We talked all night. Kissed a little, but mostly we just talked. And it was wonderful. When the sun came up, I asked for a second date and got it.
We dated for years and broke up a half-dozen times before we finally got engaged. It wasn't that we fought. We were just very different people. Sure, we shared some similar interests. We both liked to read. We both enjoyed playing Scrabble. We both liked Springsteen. But these were small, superficial similarities. At our core, we were different from one another. There are two kinds of people in this world - my kind and Mary's kind. But we made it work. We had love. And we were happy.
Until Hamelin's Revenge. That's the name the media gave it, because the disease started with the rats. Hamelin was the village where the Pied Piper cured the rat problem once and for all. Except that in real life, the rats came back, infected with a disease that turned the dead into rotting, shambling eating machines. Some television pundit called them 'land sharks'. I thought that was funny at the time. I don't any longer. The disease jumped from the rats to other species, including humans. It jumped oceans too. It showed up first in New York, but by the end of the week, it spread to London, Mumbai, Paris, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Hafr Al-Batin, and elsewhere. Armies couldn't fight it. You could shoot the dead, but you couldn't shoot the disease. Global chaos ensued. Major metropolitan areas fell first. Then the smaller cities. Then the rural areas.
Mary and I stayed inside. We barricaded the house. We had enough food and water to last us a while. We had weapons to defend ourselves. We waited for the crisis to pass. Waited for someone - anyone - to sound the all clear and restore order. But that someone never came.
Mary died a week ago. She'd gone outside just for a second to dump the bucket we'd been using as a toilet. A dead crow pecked her neck. Panicked, Mary beat it aside and ran back into the house. The wound was just a scratch. It didn't even bleed.
But it was enough.
She died that night. I knew what had to be done. The only way to keep the dead from coming back is to destroy their brains. I put the gun to her head while she lay still, but I didn't have the courage to pull the trigger. I couldn't do that to her, not to the woman I loved. Instead, I cracked the door open and placed her body outside.
The next morning, she was gone.
That was when I put the gun to my own head and did to myself what I could not do to my wife. That should have been it.
But I came back anyway - not as a shuffling corpse. No, I am a different kind of dead. My body is decomposing on the kitchen floor, but I am not in it. All I can do is watch as it slowly rots away. I can't leave this place. There is no light. No voices from beyond. No deceased loved ones to greet me from the other side.
There is only me . . . and Mary.
I cannot touch her. Cannot follow. I've tried to talk to her, tried to let her know that I am still here, but my voice is just the wind, and she does not notice. Each night, I cry for us both, but I have no tears, so my sobs are just the breeze.
There used to be two kinds of people in this world. Now, in the aftermath of Hamelin's Revenge, there are two kinds of dead - my kind and Mary's kind.
We made it work once before.
I wonder if we can make it work once again?