An Episode of Not Quite Dead.
Episode Content Warnings
- Please bear in mind that this show is a work of horror fiction and frequently places characters in situations which jeopardise their psychological and physical health. This episode contains:
- – discussion of violent deaths
- – heavy descriptions of blood
- – discussion of drinking alcohol/being drunk
- – heavy descriptions of decaying flesh
- – detailed descriptions of violent death
- – descriptions of violent injuries
- – descriptions of dead people
- – swearing
- – a character experiencing dissociation
- – a character struggling with memory issues
It’s five in the morning. I’ve– I’m going to have to drink more of the blood today.
I’m starting to feel the cold, now. It’s a strange experience. Starts in my fingers and toes, a creeping chill, and there, in my ribs.
GASP OF PAIN
God. It’s just a little bit, for now, but too much to sleep through.
I want– I want to talk to someone. I’m so fucking alone. Casper, where the hell are you?
[INTRO MUSIC; this is ‘Not Quite Dead’, Episode Four: A Cobweb on the Soul]
A DEEP BREATH
I’m trying to think about, like. Medically significant information. Stuff that might be important. I can’t go to the hospital, not after the last time Casper dragged me out of there, and I know running any tests on my blood right now, when I’ve consumed so much of Casper’s, it’s the kind of risk I’m not willing to take. Not because of me. In all likelihood I’ll be dead as a doornail soon. But Casper’s got to go on living.
I– I’d know if he was dead. I think. Right? I’d know it. I’d feel it, wouldn’t I? I… Yeah. I’d know if he was dead. We’ve tasted each other, now. There’s a link there, or something. I. Have no idea how it all works. Only that he can find me, wherever I go.
I wish it went both ways, not that I’d be much use. Even if I wasn’t crumbling to pieces on the inside I’d only be human.
That’s the thing, see. The imbalance. Casper’s always worried he’s taking something from me but I have so little to offer, so little on the line compared to what he has. He’s already got a potential infinity ahead of him. It’s. Oh, I don’t know.
In the absence of being able to describe anything even slightly useful, I guess I should just carry on with what happened to me. That’s about the only thing I can do right now. Maybe it won’t help Casper, not if… but yeah. There are others out there, and they need to know, and you, whoever you are, it’s important for you to hear this too so you can understand the gravity of the situation here., there are people out there looking for vampires. They want them for. I don’t know, exactly, nobody does. Not really. But they want them. They’re killing them, by accident, and. The worst thing– The worst thing is what they’re doing to–
If I just try to describe it, you’re not going to believe me. I– I wouldn’t have believed me, either. Not after Casper kissed me and made me forget everything. Maybe before that there were a few weeks where I could have heard what Casper had to say and known it wasn’t some kind of joke but the window is a pretty narrow one. I don’t know what possessed me to use the notes app on my phone to record what happened, I never used it really very much before, that’s why I d idn’t just immediately find record of what happened right away.
Part of it, anyway.
Casper told me what he did to me, the glamour he’d used when he’d kissed me so softly, that might have had an impact too, prolonged the process, made me even less likely than usual to check my notes and find what I’d hidden for myself in there.
Things were getting back to normal. I was going out on night’s out, I was seeing my friends, hanging out with my sisters and my mum. Grace was getting ready to go to Cambridge by then. It was the start of summer and even though she didn’t have her results back, she was pretty sure she was going to get in. She’s always been so self-possessed, Grace. Not like me.
Grace’s excitement was contagious, she’d turned eighteen and insisted that she didn’t find me the most embarrassing person alive and started tagging along with me and my work friends to night clubs. Sometimes she’d bring a school friend along, too, but they were always a little less comfortable with my and my friends than Grace was. She was used to the crassness and the laissez faire way we talked about death ‘cause she was used to me. Her friends always found us odd and unsettling company, or at least they seemed to.
It was on a night out with Grace and one of her friends that the thing happened that properly set me on the course that led me here. The beginning of the undoing. The start of the end.
There’s this poem, my favourite poem, now, maybe, by Emily Dickenson. It goes like this:
Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Are organized Decays.
‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —
Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crash’s law.
And that’s what it was, what happened. Little pieces. A slow slide into the chaos of the world unseen, just around a dark street corner, at the edge of the streetlamp’s glow. Looking back it feels like there was this window of an instant, a pane of glass in my life separating the before and the after. I know the main reason it feels that way is Casper worked so hard to hide the first singes at the edges as the flame began to take.
If I’m angry at him for anything, I’m angry at him for that.
The thing is though if what happened on that night out hadn’t happened at all I wouldn’t be angry. I wouldn’t be anything. Hmm, yeah, I’d have eventually found the notes in my phone I’d made the night Casper made me forget everything about him and the strangeness I’d seen, and I’d have gone ‘huh, weird, what the fuck is this?’ and maybe I’d have thought about it twice more before I let it go, because I had, by then, let it all go.
Casper was nothing to me except a hot guy I sometimes dreamed about, whose face I couldn’t quite place when I woke up. The patients with the torn out throats were a horrible mystery to me just as the were for everyone else.
I do understand why he did it. It was better. The ideal outcome. Make me forget and move on. If that night hadn’t happened, I could be alive right now. Properly, actually alive, instead of whatever this is. This last gasp I’m caught in, this. Cold. And ache. And I appreciate it, I do, but for what happened next and the way it made everything so much harder to cope with when the floodgates opened and I could see through that window for the first time and understood what was really going on.
He was trying to help but made it all so much worse.
It was a night out like hundreds I’d been on before, and like so many of those other nights, we wound up back at my favourite bar, near the river. I was smoking out front, chatting with strangers, sociable in a way I only ever am when I’m absolutely shitfaced, when my ex, Ben, came stumbling out of a club across the street.
He was even drunker than I was, barely standing upright. I cut off what I’d been saying and shrunk backwards, half hiding behind the other smokers so Ben wouldn’t see me if he looked up. Honestly, though, he looked so wasted that even if he had looked up I don’t know that he’d have recognised me.
Ben staggered forwards. The bouncer was looming behind him in that way bouncers often do when they think someone’s going to throw up all down their legs or collapse on the street, that air of annoyance and disapproval, you know? Ben stumbled sideways against the wall, taking a cigarette out of his pocket and crowding around himself to try and light it. I remember I cringed at how long it took him to get going, swaying unsteadily even though the wall was right next to him propping him up. And then he wandered down towards the river, and out of sight.
I stood there for a moment chewing my lip. A part of me wanted to follow him. I don’t know why, really. He was never kind to me when we were together but I still cared about him, residually. I– I think I’d have got a twisted kind of satisfaction out of mopping him up and taking him home, listening to him cry and whine. I imagined that maybe he’d be pleased to see me, begging me to come back to him. Ha. I was drunk. The idea of turning him down to his face was immensely appealing.
I was halfway through talking myself out of that when someone came out from the alleyway beside the club Ben had emerged from. It was a narrow alleyway, nothing more than like a place to store bins and empty barrels of beer. Whoever it was was hunched over, their clothes hanging off them, dishevelled. They moved fast down the street, a clumsiness to the movements of their limbs, but it wasn’t like he was drunk, there was purpose in everything, but it was almost like… their body was shaking slightly apart, like a– a ball-jointed doll whose strings had come loose. They put down their foot sideways and didn’t hesitate despite the falter in their step and they kept walking on their twisted over ankle. Something fell from them, small and noiseless as it hit the pavement, and then, then they turned along the river in the same direction as Ben, and was gone.
I looked around the smoking area to see if anyone around me had noticed and they hadn’t. They were too busy chatting and drinking and smoking. I stepped out into the road and wandered over to what the person had dropped, expecting a wallet or a keyring or… well. Anything besides the thing it was. It was small, ragged along one edge, discoloured in a mottled purple, but it was still unmistakable. It was an ear.
I felt sick looking at it. I’d seen lopped off ears before, and fingers, toes, and other things that ought to be connected to a body but now weren’t. But this ear. Ugh. It looked dead in a way those other things had not been. It was not recently separated from the head it was once attached to, it had been violently removed some time ago, and, ugh, from the colour of it, that blotchy purple, whoever this ear had belonged to had been dead for some time.
I was frozen in place. What could I do? Shout? Scream? Should I call the police? I didn’t know. I just stood, hunched over, looking at the ear on the cobbled street. And then I heard a shout from down by the river. Had it not been Ben I might not have known the exact tone of that scream. It wasn’t a cry of jest or ecstasy but real fear, a sound I’d heard him make only once before when he’d come into the bathroom after I’d fainted and hit my head on the sink and was redecorating the tiles with my blood. It was fear and horror and anger.
Out of instinct, I guess – botched instinct, Casper would say – I ran towards the scream, suddenly not feeling even slightly tipsy. There was a handful of picnic tables right by edge of the river, separated from the swirling depths by nothing more than this chainlink fence. Ben was half on on the ground between the benches, one arm twisted in chain link so tight it must have hurt, and the person with the loose limbs who had dropped a dead thing’s ear into the street was on top of him, body coiled and pulsing, limbs locked around Ben’s torso like a vice.
Ben screamed again, and it was different, worse, than the first, and– and not just because I was closer. It was wet, gargling, and ended with a– a spluttering choke. Still running, I slammed into the thing on top of Ben with the full weight of my body. It squealed and there was an awful rending thud. It slopped sideways, one leg now at an awkward angle to it’s body, kinda loosely hanging there rather than clinging on. Ben looked up at me, eyes wide, mouth opening like he meant to speak, but all that came out was blood.
I kicked the thing again and it came away from Ben with a wet tear sound and a crunch. Its lower jaw was hanging flaccid from the rest of its head. It’s eyes were milky, yellow, looking at nothing. They were pointed at me but they couldn’t see me. One side of its body was mottled red, discoloured the way settled blood discolours a corpse. It made a long, protracted screech and launched forwards at me, pushing itself with its arms. It couldn’t move one of its legs, so as it tried to stand it just slammed into my waist, filthy fingers scrabbling at my t-shirt, smearing blood and dirt. I I couldn’t move or breathe or think.
It stank like a dead thing, and as it curled its fingers into my clothes, the nails buckled and shoved outwards. I tried to squirm and kick as it shoved its ruined, broken face against the inside of my jeans, smearing thick, dark stinking liquid into the fabric. The backs of my knees hit one of the picnic benches and I toppled backwards, my head hit the table with a crack so hard I saw white dots in the centre of my vision for a moment.
The thing was clawing its way up my body as I tried to scramble back and away, its face pressed against me, searching and pressing into my flesh the way newborn babies snuffle into their mothers as they search for milk. Its hands found my neck and its wet, soft fingers closed around me. Its skin felt loose around its bones.
It pushed its face against my throat as I thrashed and thrashed, and I could feel its upper teeth scraping my skin, struggling for purchase without the aid of its lower jaw, which was hanging there, just THERE on my shoulder, dripping gore.
As I fought I could hear the thing squelching and cracking, but its grip was a vice, I! I couldn’t shake it off. I could hear Ben gurgling and spluttering nearby and fought to get free, but there was nothing I could do. Nothing except kept rolling and trying to turn and flip.
And then from nowhere, there was an almighty crack, and my face was sprayed with moisture and the thing on me was squealing like a stuck pig.
‘CLOSE YOUR EYES AND MOUTH’, someone yelled, and somehow I found the wherewithal to do as I was told. There was another crack, and this time it was more than wetness that splattered my face. I could feel bits of bone and flesh in my eyebrows. The thing wasn’t squealing anymore.
Breathing hard and fast through my nose I squirmed backwards and it sloughed off me like a stinking blanket. I kept shrinking backwards further and further until there was a hand on my shoulder.
Someone said ‘Watch out, you’re going to fall.’
I rubbed my face with my hands and he handed me a piece of fabric.
Casper was standing very close to me. Course, I didn’t know who he was, his face sprayed with a fine mist of blood, his dark eyes wide and feral. In his hand was a broken off table leg. There was bone and meat at the end of it. He was looking at me with this kind of horror in his expression. He said, ‘you again.’
I was about to ask him what he meant, when I heard this wet choke.
Ben was still tangled in the chain link fence. Blood was… pulsing fast out of his throat. He was only still alive because he was angled upright; I could hear blood bubbling in his lungs and his aorta had definitely been nicked. The wound in his neck was deep and wide and ragged, a flap of flesh just hanging off, glistening in the light of the street lamps. His eyes were wide, searching mine.
‘It’s alright,’ I told him, and I tried to smile. I found his hand and squeezed it in mine, said ‘it’s okay, I’m right here.’
Ben’s eyes flitted back and forth between each of mine. I remember– I remember thinking ‘oh god hope he’s drunk enough that he can’t feel it’. I hoped it all felt like some weird and strane dream. He kept trying to talk but whatever that thing was had torn his vocal chords. All that came out of him was blood.
ALFIE IS CRYING, TEARFUL
I just. I put my hand on his cheek. Told him it was gonna be okay.
I fucking hated that man but I held onto him.
The blood was coming out of his neck slower by the moment. Told him it was okay, he was safe. Closed his eyes. And I couldn’t hear the bubbling in his lungs anymore.
Casper said ‘Alfie. We need to go.’
I still had no idea who he was. I– I turned to him, I was furious, ‘who the fuck are you?’
Casper just sighed. He said ‘you can’t help him. He’s gone. We need to leave.’
‘Are you insane!? I can’t just leave him dead on the street, I– I–’
Casper looked so tired. He said ‘this is the first time I’ve managed to get here before it was done. We need to go.’
I dropped Ben’s hand to try to stop him but before I could even finish getting to my feet, Casper had already thrown the thing into the river. I watched it’s globed back bob along the current towards the bridge. ‘We have to do something…’
Casper said ‘do what?’ Didn’t even sound annoyed. He said ‘come on. We need to go.’
I told him I couldn’t leave been.
He said ‘we can’t be here. You can’t do anything more for him. We need to go.’ then he just started walking.
I looked down at Ben. He was just motionless, looking up, seeing nothing.
I could feel my pulse in my ears.
I watched as Casper approached the steps up from the river and back onto the street, and fuck knows why but I followed him.
I said, ‘you just killed someone and threw them in the river!’
He said, ‘you must have smelled it. Your nose is less sensitive than mine but you know the smell of death, Alfie.’
I realised then he knew my name. He’d used it before but then, that was when I realised: he knew me.
His car was right at the top of the steps, it was idling but the lights were all off, engine rumbling. Casper reached over and opened the passenger door from the inside as I reached the car. I slid inside, and before the door had fully shut, Casper’s wheels were screeching on the road.
I remember really clearly he said ‘what are the fucking odds. The chances of it being you are infinitesimal. Maybe I’m cursed.’
ALFIE LAUGHS SOMEWHAT HYSTERICALLY
I remember it so clearly, he said ‘maybe I’m cursed’.
ALFIE CONTINUES TO LAUGH
He was the only one who hadn’t just been attacked. Ha.
He rolled his eyes when I said that.
I thought about the creature’s awful nuzzling. I said ‘it was trying to bite me wasn’t it.’
He said yes it was. It was trying to bite me like it had bitten Ben.
He knew Ben’s name as well. Pointed that out.
He looked at me, so sad and said, ‘so we’re on even footing. My name is Casper.’
I said, ‘the friendly ghost?’
He just sighed and said yeah.
I think it was about then I started feeling really dizzy, kind of nauseas. We carried on talking but I can’t really remember any of it, I was just so sick, and everything was starting to feel really odd. I dunno, I remember holding the edge of the seat.
Casper was asking me if I was alright, I was trying to say that I was but I don’t know. I just felt so sick and hot and dizzy. Casper was talking to me but I barely heard it, and a moment later the brakes were screeching and the passenger door was opened in front of me right before threw up into the gutter. Casper put his hands were on my shoulders. I wasn’t sure how he’d got round to me so fast but I was so dizzy I could barely summon the common sense to notice. He was staring into my eyes, he– he was saying something, but I couldn’t hear anything. It was like someone had shoved cotton wool into my ears.
‘It must have grazed the skin,’ was like the only thing I could make out. Casper shoved my head sideways. His hands felt really cold on my neck. He pressed down lightly with the tip of my finger and explosion of pain sent stars dancing across my eyes. Casper swore. He glanced around, closed the door and then the car was speeding onwards again. With every second I felt more and more delirious. I didn’t even notice when we stopped driving, I just felt him slide his arms behind my shoulders and knees and lift me out like I weighed nothing at all.
Even under the stink of the dead thing that was all over us, I could smell that smell of him, fresh and musky at once.
Casper awkwardly shimmied us onto the backseat. He was underneath me, I was lying backwards on him. I was panting, sweating, I couldn’t even make myself move. I was barely aware of anything.
I think he must have said more to me but, ah, the only thing I could remember getting the gist of was that he was gonna have to try and suck an infection out and really didn’t know what he meant. By that point I couldn’t even lift my head let alone speak, and I don’t know if I would have if I had been able to. I just have no idea. Like what would I have even thought he meant?
The next thing I knew, there was this whisper of cold over my neck, and a bright explosion of pain. Casper was holding me really tightly, one arm wrapped over my chest, pinning both of mine, the other one was in my hair, pulling my head sideways. I felt something odd under that pain in my neck, like a mounting pressure which built and released, built and released just under my jaw. All I could hear was my heart hammering, hammering, all I could feel was that steady build and release, the cool grip of his mouth over my throat and his arms wrapped around me like a vice.
God. It hurt so much but there was a kind of ecstasy in it. It felt like it went on and on for hours, but Casper says it was only a couple of minutes.
Finally he… let go and he was breathing really heavily in my ear, I remember. His arms went limp and we were both breathing really ragged and out of time and. Yeah.
Every never in my body felt like… Argh. I felt like I was flying. My heart was racing. I tried to sit up.
Casper said ‘are you insane!?’ He pulled me back down. He sounded absolutely wrecked, almost as breathless as I was. ‘I might have taken a bit too much. I– I’m sorry. Just. Sit for a while. Or you’re going to hurt yourself.’
I remember thinking like, what the hell are you talking about but I couldn’t speak when I tried to, just sort of croaked awkwardly. So I just nodded and, oh god that hurt like hell.
Casper put his hand on my forehead. His fingers were really cold. He said ‘be careful.’ Then his hand was in my hair again, not gripping tight as it had been before, but strung there loosely. His thumb moving back and forth across my ear. God. It was too much for me to bear, all of it. The pain, the shock, the tingling, the softness of his thumb, the rapid rise and fall of his chest under mine.
It’s a funny thing. It was just an accident. A coincidence If it hadn’t have been Ben that night, I may not have left the smoking area. I might not have known that scream was what it was, I might not have followed the thing down to the river and tried to fight it off. It might never have tried to feed on me instead when I interrupted it, never have nicked my skin with its rotten mouth and almost killed me with its rancid, toxic saliva. Casper wouldn’t have had to draw it out of me like snake venom as we lay on the backseat of his car, putting both of us in a frightening amount of risk, risk that neither of us would have taken if we’d had time to think about it. If it hadn’t been me, he might have left me to die. But it was me, and so he didn’t, and instead he was filled with my blood, and there was no looking back.
I fell asleep lying on him, feeling his thumb on my ear, his fingers in my hair, his breath on my neck, listening to him breathing.
But I woke up on the couch in my apartment, filthy, shaky, weak, but alive. I might’ve thought it was all a dream if it wasn’t for the disgusting ooze I was covered with, and the huge bruise on my neck it was covering. Through the centre of the bruise was this shallow graze. Above that and below, two round scabs, incisor’s with apart, so deep that the scabs formed black. They hurt when I touched them, this deep throbbing ache when I pressed them with my fingers. Unfgh. When I touched them, I thought of him. Casper.
My phone was filled with missed calls, and I had a text from an unknown number. ‘I’m sorry. Check your notes.’
So I opened my notes app and I read.
You know what I found in there, you know because I’ve told you.
Okay. Right. Alright.
EIRA: Not Quite Dead is written, performed, and edited by Eira Major, under a Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution License. Live, laugh, bite.