Death is like the insect
Menacing the tree,
Competent to kill it,
But decoyed may be.
Bait it with the balsam,
Seek it with the knife,
Baffle, if it cost you
Everything in life.
Then, if it have burrowed
Out of reach of skill,
Ring the tree and leave it, --
’T is the vermin’s will.
-Death, By Emily Dickinson
I wake up in a dark place. Afraid. Alone. I try to scream, but there is no air. All is damp soil. It presses against my eyelids, my lips, my nostrils, trying to get in. I begin to claw desperately, my fingertip scraping the rocky soil.
Finally, I feel cool night air as my hand breaks the surface. I pull myself up, crawling to the overground and collapsing upon the earth. I begin to gasp, pulling in the oxygen as quickly as I can, my head spinning.
My head falls to my right and I see the ground slope forward, distant lights shining through the trees. I sit up, looking down to see dozens and dozens of stones. They are small, gray, and all share a strange symbol on their faces.
I shake my head, trying to recall what they might mean. But my mind is blank. I can’t remember anything. I sit there a long while, watching the sky lightening. Finally, under streaks of orange and red, I stand up and start walking downhill.
Eventually, I reach a small café on the outskirts of a town. The little eatery is small but charming, stirring something inside of me. Somehow, despite all the things I’d forgotten, I recall that it was the place my parents met, and a flood of memories hits me. It’s my father, sitting across from me, smiling over tall stacks of pancakes or muffins or coffee. Those Sunday breakfasts with him after church.
I open my eyes, realizing I’ve stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. A man on the street looks at me, my dirt covered, rank smelling self. He walks away quickly as if I might pounce. I wonder how I came to this, pulling myself out of the ground like a zombie, and insanely, I laugh.
My moment of laughter ends, and I’m left feeling very alone, and scared too. I’m sure I look crazy as I pace up to a phone booth next to the cafe. I enter it, shutting the door behind me. I close my eyes and let my hands press the number in themselves.
Lifting the receiver to my ear, I open my eyes and take in the familiar voice on the other side.
“Hello?” A young voice inquires.
“Alex?” I say automatically, not sure how I remember his name. “It’s Emma.” I am on the verge of crying.
He pauses. Takes a sharp breath. “No.” he breathes, sounding like a man from a dream.
“Alex,” I plead, tears springing to my eyes. “I need your help.”
“Don’t call me again, whoever you are.” he says sharply. “She’s been dead four years. It’s not funny. I- I... Just leave me alone.”
I don’t respond. I drop the phone, letting tumble down to hang by its cord, and I stumble out of the booth. Double over.
I’ve been dead for four years.