The attack was over before Colin could so much as flail. His body rested on the chilled concrete for a long time, and when he awoke at dawn, the creature was gone.
Blood saturating his crisp white dress shirt, he staggered home.
“Drunk again?” his lover asked as he collapsed at her bedside.
Then she saw the puncture wounds.
“You won’t die,” she said in the bathroom, patting the lesions with a warm washcloth. “It’ll be worse than that.”
Colin wretched into the sink. “Why didn’t it finish me?”
“Because you’ll be more useful to them this way.”
The words took awhile to sink in, and when they did, all he could manage was to wobble back to the bed.
“You can’t sleep.” His lover leaned over him. “Sleep will hasten the process.”
“But that’s the only thing I can think about.”
She grasped his arm. “Get up. Let’s take a walk. Like we used to.”
Outside, the weather was colder than he remembered, but Colin didn’t shiver.
His lover tucked her hands into her pockets. “Is there anywhere you want to go?”
“Do you want to see where it happened?”
“I’d rather not.”
“But you’d know what street to avoid,” he said.
“They could be anywhere. Seeing a spot where they’ve attacked once won’t make me any safer.”
A thick layer of snow encrusted the ground, but it had rained overnight, rained while Colin reclined on the back alley pavement. He might have died of exposure if not for his wound insulating him. Though it spread deliberately, one cell at a time, the infection knew how to preserve life until life was no longer needed.
Now hours later, the night rain had frozen atop the snow, and the ground cracked beneath their feet as they started across the nearby game land.
“Aren’t you going to ask why I was out so late?”
“I doubt it matters now,” she said.
The trees enveloped them, and they plodded along the trail they both knew by heart.
He gazed at her, the smoke of her breath snaking through the air. “What would you do?”
“It’s your choice, not mine.”
Though the worst weather was over, the storm wasn’t quite finished. Bits of ice toppled onto the treetops. Overhead, the branches chimed, and Colin listened to each mournful note.
“It’s like an elegy on Sunday morning,” he said.
Through the canopy, sunlight reflected off the snowfall, and he squinted into the searing white. His lover’s wide eyes weren’t so sensitive as his.
“I’ve never known anyone it’s happened to.”
“I knew someone once,” she said. “And I saw him afterwards. What was left anyhow.”
They reached a clearing in the woods, the one where she had always skipped ahead, giggling.
“Witches and pixies live here,” she would whisper to Colin.
But neither of them said anything this time. Instead, they gawked at something up ahead in the center of the pasture.
He inched closer. “What is that?”
Awaiting them like a sacrificial altar was a mountain of gore.
His lover shrugged. “A field dressing. Must be deer season.”
Streams of scarlet seeped into the snow, and every curve of the intestines glistened back at Colin.
He struggled to swallow. “Why does it shimmer like that?”
“It’s cold. Things freeze in the cold.”
“We should leave,” he said. “A hunter might not see us, might fire his gun this way.”
“Or her gun,” she said.
The couple backtracked through the forest with the symphony overhead, eager to play its dirges for only Colin and his lover to hear.
“How would you stop it?” he asked.
“There are different ways. Easier ones. Messier ones.”
“Have you seen it done?”
She nodded. “Never in person though. Only in videos they showed in health class.”
“We never watched any videos like that,” Colin said.
“That’s because you’re older. By the time I reached high school, they knew more about it.”
He removed his coat. “What’s an easier way to do it?”
“This time tomorrow, we take a walk,” she said. “A walk just like this one.”
“And a messier way?”
“Well, there are a hundred of those. I probably couldn’t even think of them all.”
“What if I don’t want it easy? Would you help, even if it’s untidy?”
“If that’s what you want,” she said.
They crossed the field where their walk had begun a half hour earlier.
Colin stepped on each of his previous footprints in the snow. “Do you love me?”
She sighed. “Of course, I do. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be talking about this. I’d just go away and wait for it to be over.”
“Why don’t you? It makes more sense.”
“Because I love you. That’s what I’m saying.”
They reached the front door.
“Maybe you could join me.”
“No,” she said. “And if you try to force me, it won’t be so hard for me to decide. I’m not like you. I know what I want. I’d rather die with open eyes than stay alive with closed ones.”
Inside, Colin followed his own blood splatter back to the bedroom where he turned off the light and collapsed on the bed.
“Will it happen while I sleep?”
His lover sat next to him. “It might.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t wake up at all.”
“Is that what you want?”
“I’ll let you decide,” he said.
Colin rolled over and closed his eyes. Resting against the headboard, his lover peered at him through the darkness. For the next twelve hours, she waited patiently for nightfall.
©2015 Gwendolyn Kiste
Gwendolyn Kiste is a Pennsylvania-based horror and fantasy writer. Her fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including LampLight, Electric Spec, Danse Macabre, and Sanitarium Magazine among others. She also contributes genre editorials to Horror-Movies.ca and serves as the resident “weird wanderer” for the travel-centric Wanderlust and Lipstick. You can find her at www.gwendolynkiste.com and on Twitter (@GwendolynKiste).