Four Days Without

by JP Relph

Thursday – three days without

Beth shuffles to the sink, fills two glasses with tepid water. It’s increasingly challenging to read Murph’s expressions, but she knows he’s angry when he returns from the store, even without looking. He stomps in, drops hard onto a chair: a greying gorilla, grunting and banging gnarled fists on the table top. Beth sighs, knows what this mood means.

She sits, noting Murph’s sagging skin, milky eyes, yellowed teeth. His scabbed baldpate. She’s not sad he looks so decrepit, so changed from the spunky, vital man she’d married: she’s sad she undoubtedly looks the same. They’re tragic, ruined versions of the couple who’d fallen in love once, had children. As ramshackle and crumbling as this bungalow, which squats in a garden so overgrown, it resembles a morose brown rat hiding in chest-high weeds infinitely more vigorous than either Beth or Murph these days.

They drink, the water noticeably tainted: as if the flaky skin of the pipes is being sloughed and dredged up. Murph grimaces, liquid dribbling brown and viscous down his chin.

“Will you tell me?” Beth rasps, squeezing her glass.

Her knuckles so prominent now, fingers twisting into claws. She recalls massaging silky lilac-perfumed lotion into elegant hands. Her rings sliding, the diamond winking in lamplight. Now, her skin is dry and ugly, rings lost. Murph looks up—the blue of his eyes lost too,

“They had none,” he croaks a gravel laugh, “again!”

“If it’s the same tomorrow?” Beth’s voice fear-soft.

Murph’s face makes a decent effort of looking nasty. “We’ll have no choice, Elizabeth.”

Beth would cry, if it was possible.


Friday – four days without

They shamble from the store, from the scrawled sign portending more than its two words can convey. Murph’s skeletal frame moves with urgency, a madness holding his mouth open in a silent growl. Beth drags her bad leg; feels a void no quantity of tinned fish and beans can fill. She despises the hunger driving them to the traps, scratch-tears the skin on her neck, but nothing relieves the internal torment. The esurience that has them firmly in its rotting, inexorable grip.

Meat’s on the breeze.

Iron-tangy, storming Beth’s perished nostrils. Her black, gelatinous brain inflames. Murph stalks ahead, the flesh call gives fleeting energy, powers putrefacient limbs. Beth presses through the thorned shrubbery concealing the traps. A tinny cry inducing rancid saliva to pour from her mouth, down her concave chest where it zigzags around her exposed ribs like some foul fairground game. She bursts into the clearing, growling with rage. Falls to her knees beside Murph, who’s cheek and wrist deep in slippery viscera swelling from the twitching man’s torso like obscene snakes. The clearing’s green smell is overcome by a butcher-shop stench.

In the other traps, four people with faces shiny with shock, relief-flushed, curl like grubs on leaf-litter beds, turn filthy backs to the feast. One pale woman prays aloud: her faith somehow unchallenged, even in this Hell on Earth. Tremulous, she begs God to fill the woods and fields with rabbits, pheasants, deer, the refuse-filled alleys with rats. So the hunting packs return with game and the feedstore removes its death-knell sign:


She prays with all she has, which isn’t much, nor nearly enough. She prays until the vile chewing. slurping, tearing and cracking, finally ends. Then she weeps into the silence of night descending over the clearing and the corpse¯a few ribs curve like a hollowed-out old boat, abandoned to flora and bugs.

Murph and Beth lurch back to the bungalow, hunger sated. Almost stuporous with the infusion of meat, blood and marrow; grey abdominal skin stretches to translucency. Beth notes how gloss-smooth her hands appear: crimson ichor nourishes, conceals as the lilac lotion she once coveted.

She remembers a beautiful diamond ring, lost in decomposing flesh that slipped off like a glove during those first weeks of reanimation. Lost, like their lives for a while. Their kids’ lives, forever. Beth can’t evoke their faces—only that their last expressions were imbued with terror, pain.

Beth growls at the tangling weeds, the tangling memories, follows Murph into the dark of their plundered home, eyes already closing.


Sunday – two days without

Beth waits anxiously at the sink – Murph insisted on trying the feedstore this morning. His 30th birthday tomorrow—as if such things still matter—and she hopes he returns with venison. They’d had a haunch for her 27th in June—earthy and dark with blood, latterly gamy-sweet. They’d revelled in it for days, finally infiltrating the bone. Still, she fears Murph won’t be satisfied with any animal meat this time.

Somewhere, deep in Beth’s own polluted, shrivelled innards, the thing scratching and scraping like an intrusion of cockroaches, urges that she also needs what crouches in the traps. The most piquant meat and the oblivion it promises.

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