Ophelia took her first, tentative steps down the sidewalk. She wasn’t sure exactly where she was going, or, come to think of it, where she was coming from. But she still knew in which direction she had to travel; there was a route engraved in her head, as though it had been etched there with a knife. She could see her destination in her mind’s eye, even if she couldn’t quite grasp the significance of the place.

She was going to a house. A modest house, but quite beautiful, with a vegetable garden in the back and an old-fashioned white picket fence in the front. It had sky blue panelling and little red hearts painted on the shutters. There was something there she had to get to. But what? The thought was so close, like a butterfly flitting just out of her grasp, and when she reached out and closed her hand around it, it vanished in a puff of smoke.

She kept moving. Even if she knew nothing else, she knew where she had to go. Her bare feet crunched over the broken glass strewn across the sidewalk, but it didn’t bother her; it didn’t hurt. Ophelia wondered why the broken glass didn’t hurt her, and then she wondered why she wasn’t wearing shoes. She looked down at what remained of her tattered, bloody clothes and knew there was something she should be remembering. Something important. She could almost pull the thought into focus, but at the last second it always evaporated, replaced by the image of a blue house with a white fence and little red hearts on the shutters. She held on to that image as though it was a lifeline, tethering her to a world she couldn’t remember, which is exactly what it was.

Ophelia looked around stiffly as she walked. It was difficult to turn her head, and she quickly discovered there was nothing to see anyway. The streets were empty. Buildings were boarded up. Broken glass littered the eroded streets and sidewalks. She knew there should be people there, lots of people. For a moment she could remember the very street she was standing next to, filled with bustling crowds and honking cars. But then the moment passed and all she could picture was the blue house, and so she kept on moving to where she knew she would find it.  

As she continued to make her way down the sidewalk, a large piece of rubble from a collapsed office building blocked Ophelia’s way. She looked for a way past the blockage, but there was no way to get around it. The street was filled with abandoned cars, many of them burned down to their wiry metal skeletons. The ones that hadn’t been destroyed were simply left to rust, doors still ajar, forsaken in a panicked escape.

Ophelia decided the best way for her to move forward was to crawl over the rubble, though it was no easy task. Like the rest of her body, her legs were stiff and atrophied, hardly able to bend at all. She managed to get one leg up and over the waist-high mound of brick and mortar, but as she tried to follow suit with the other leg, her body fell forward, over the rubble and down onto the other side. She landed face first onto the concrete of the sidewalk, but she felt no pain when she hit it.

As she picked herself up, she saw something on the ground where she had fallen. There was a splotch of blood where her face had made contact, and on top of the red stain there appeared to be a half-dozen tiny, white stones. Now on her hands and knees, Ophelia tried to pick one of the stones up off the sidewalk. It was difficult manipulating her mostly-numb fingers towards so precise a task, but after several attempts, she managed to take hold of the stone between her thumb and forefinger. She brought it close to her face, close enough that she could see it clearly, even through the haze that was starting to cloud her vision.

They weren’t stones. They were her teeth. She immediately dropped the tooth and did her best to stand back up. This wasn’t right. She knew that things were not as they should be. Especially her. She knew that she wasn’t right. Not anymore. But she also knew that it didn’t matter what was wrong with her. She had to get back to the blue house, back to him.

Him! The vision had changed, or at least more of it had been revealed. There was a man standing outside the blue house, a man waiting for her. It wasn’t the house she needed to get to, it was the man who lived there. She saw him clearly now, more clearly than she could see the world around her with her own eyes. He was tall with dark hair and a bearded face. She could see him smiling in her vision and she knew that his name was Alan.

Alan. She could even remember his name. She tried to say it out loud, but her voice box produced only a deep, guttural snarl. She kept trying, but could only get as far as a raspy ‘A’ sound. It was all right. She didn’t need to talk. She knew if she could just get to Alan, then things would be better. She could be right again once she found Alan in the little blue house.

Ophelia tried to move faster towards her destination. She wanted to run, but it was impossible. Even a brisk walk would have been an improvement over the stumbling, shambling gait that she was currently employing. She knew the house was close, even if she didn’t really know where it was. She could feel it inside her; she could sense that Alan was near with every beat… of… her… heart…

Her heart was not beating. How could she not have noticed before? There was no doubt about it, her heart was dead. It was as though she could feel it, cold and still in her chest. It didn’t matter. She knew she wasn’t right, but if she could just get to Alan…

And then Ophelia saw the house. She’d found the house, and Alan would be inside... but something was wrong. It was the house, she was certain of it. But it wasn’t the same as the house she had seen, could still see, in her head. This house wasn’t blue, it was a dull and lifeless gray, as though all the colour had been bled from its walls. The picket fence was smashed beyond repair, with only a few stakes remaining in the ground, surging defiantly upward like faded white grave markers. Wooden planks covered the windows, nails holding the boards tight against the ashen walls. It wasn’t right, just like she wasn’t right. But as long as Alan was there… that was the important thing.

And Alan was there. As Ophelia approached the house, Alan emerged from within it. He had a baseball bat in one hand and a pistol in the other. When she saw him, Ophelia wanted to smile, but her mouth was unfit for the task. She tried her best, but she was unable to contort her lips into anything even remotely resembling a smile. She reached out towards Alan with her numb and bloody fingers and he responded by aiming his gun at her head.

As soon as she saw him in person, Ophelia remembered who Alan had been to her. She saw flashes of their time together. She saw them sitting together watching television on a dusty old couch in their first apartment. She saw them working together in the back yard of their little blue house, tending to the vegetable garden. She saw them holding each other tightly, comforting one another when things went bad and the whole world seemed to be falling apart. She saw all of these visions in an instant and wanted at once to both laugh and cry. There was so much she couldn’t properly remember, about Alan, about herself, about the world crumbling around them. But she knew the important thing was that they were together. She had loved Alan, she still loved Alan, and now they could be together.

Ophelia looked into Alan’s eyes and saw the spark of recognition as he came towards her.

“Ophelia?” he asked her, lowering the gun and stepping even closer. “Baby, is that you?” Alan let the gun drop to the ground, shortly followed by the baseball bat. He rushed forward and wrapped his arms around her, holding her uncomfortably tight, at least it would have been uncomfortable, if Ophelia had had any feeling in her extremities.

Alan continued to hold her closely, whispering in her ear, “I thought I’d lost you. I never thought I’d see you again. But it’s OK now, baby. We’re together. I’ll never let you go again. Everything will be all right.”

But the words rang hollow in Ophelia’s dead heart. This was what she had been looking for; these were the exact words she was hoping to hear. But now that it was happening, now that Alan was close, things felt different. She felt a crawl at the back of her skull, an itch that was slowly enveloping her entire brain. She had been so singularly focused on finding the house, on finding Alan, it hadn’t occurred to her that she might be putting him in danger. Bits and pieces were coming back to her now at an accelerated rate, images of people dying, of the world dying… and then… coming back.

Ophelia pushed Alan away with every bit of strength she could muster in her deadened limbs. She was suddenly overcome with urges she didn’t understand. She felt like she could smell Alan’s blood through his skin. Suddenly all she wanted to do was sink her teeth into his flesh and tear it from his body. She wanted to eat him and she knew almost immediately, that she wasn’t going to be able to stop herself. She opened her mouth in a vicious snarl, perhaps the only thing she was still able to emote, but it was enough to make Alan realise she was no longer herself.

“No, baby…” Alan began to weep, backing slowly away from Ophelia. “Please…” he begged. “Please, no.”

Now the itch at the back of her skull had taken hold of Ophelia’s whole body. She knew the only way to stop the itch was to do the unthinkable. She tried her best to back away from Alan, but instead found herself lurching forward, as if propelled by some power besides her own mind. She snarled again, to make her intent clear to Alan, hoping that he still might run and save himself.

Alan knelt down and picked up his pistol. He held it level to Ophelia’s eyes. “I’m so sorry, baby,” he said, still weeping. She staggered closer, within reach of him. It took every ounce of what little control she still had to keep from attacking him, to keep from rending him limb from limb and ripping into his flesh with her teeth. She silently begged him to pull the trigger, before it was too late. She still didn’t understand what had happened to her, what was happening to her still, but she knew that this would be for the best. Ophelia closed her eyes as best she could. She was wrong to come back. If only she had just stayed away. But she was there now, and Alan was offering her a way out, if her could just…pull…the…trigger…

But Alan couldn’t pull the trigger. He let the gun drop back to the ground, his shoulders heaving with deep breaths. “I’d rather be with you in death, than alone in life,” he said closing his eyes and waiting for the end. What little control Ophelia had retained now drained from her completely. She wrapped her arms around Alan’s wide torso and pulled him to the ground.

Alan never screamed once.

***

Behind a weathered, grayish-blue house, there was a garden where, in life, a man and woman had tended their vegetables. Now, those same two, in death, stood in silent vigil over what remained of the garden, their bloody hands entwined, their lifeless fingers interlaced, together beyond the end of the world.

Ophelia Walking Home
Travis West Writer