Way back in October 2009, I learned about a new online magazine, Ten Flash Quarterly, which had quarterly themed issues. The one for Winter 2010 was an encounter at a lonely crossroads at dusk. As soon as I read the theme, my subconscious created a story, “Dead Wife Waiting.” The editor, K.C. Ball, loved it and it appeared in the January 2010 issue.
In honor of the tenth year anniversary of my first published piece, I’m reposting it here.
Dead Wife Waiting
by Dale Ivan Smith
My dead wife waited for me at twilight on the road through the Sky Touch pass. She stood beside the midway marker stone where we first made love ten years ago. Skeletal corpses were strewn across the broken ground to either side of her, all the way to both canyons.
That drunken librarian at the tavern back in Bandy had set me on this trail, babbling on about a dead woman with a nasty sword guarding the pass.
Mira didn’t look like a corpse. She wore leather pants, the long gray coat I’d given her, and a sword strapped to her side. Her face was scarred, her eyes shadowed. They had been brilliant green in life.
Dying hadn’t been easy for her.
“Thomas, turn back.” Her words were low, husky.
I laid my hand on my six shooter. “Toshi told me you were undead, guarding this pass for Richter.”
She lowered her head. “Yes.”
I drew my gun.
She stepped in front of me. “Turn back.” She smelled like lilac. Her face was scarred, but her breasts were still full beneath her woolen shirt.
My head swam from the smell. “Mira, I miss you.” Damn it.
Her left hand trembled. “Please turn back.”
I blinked at sudden tears, clenching my jaw. “Listen, I have to stop Richter.”
“You will die if you don’t turn back.” She leaned forward. “Or worse.”
The triplets twinkled above in the darkening sky. The scent of lilac faded, leaving grit in my nose. I sneezed, fighting to keep my eyes open in case she lurched forward.
“You left me. And then you got yourself killed.” I cocked the pistol. Four rounds left, all silver. There wouldn’t be any more for a long while but I suppose using one on your undead wife could be forgiven.
Something in her eyes stopped me, a gleam in the shadows. I took a few steps back and sat on a flat rock, stretching my legs and resting my gun hand on my knee. My throat itched. Damn dust. Water sloshed in the canteen hanging from my belt but I didn’t trust her not to strike while I took a swig. She was always faster than me, and she still seemed pretty fluid for a moving corpse. The last animated dead I encountered had been back in Geartown. Some huckster summoned them using an old calling spell he’d scrounged up. They stank to high heaven, moldering something awful. Not a fleck of lilac in that air. I had fought off retching while blazing away with the old double barrel. The shotgun broke in that scrap.
“Why did you leave me?” The words tumbled out like lead weights. My left eye twitched but I forced myself to keep looking at her.
Something worked in her face. “Richter wasn’t going to leave you alone.”
I could smell ozone clearly now. The border stones glowed indigo in the gathering dark.
I rubbed the barrel of my gun. “I quit working for him. My choice.”
Her face hardened. “He wasn’t going to let you. Not permanently.” She shook her head, her velvet cascade of hair rippling.
“You don’t know that.”
She leapt forward, sword out, point thrusting toward me. The tip was inches from my throat. “You’re a bastard. You never saw past your own nose.”
My stomach twisted. “You still didn’t have to leave.”
The sword point wavered and then lowered. “It was the only way to save you.”
I let the air out slowly from my lungs. I was sure she would run me through. “The amulet.”
My wedding charm to her. Silver, like my pistol. She still wore it around her neck
The sword touched the ground now. “I wanted us to have that family you talked about all the time. But that would never happen with that monster around.” She sobbed quietly, without tears. I’d never seen a corpse cry before. I wanted to hug her for all I was worth, to comfort her. But when she’d left, she’d left royally pissed. Never wanted to see me again, she’d said.
And here she was on the winding road, captured by Richter and trying to keep me from getting to Reach.
Or was she?
“How’d you die?” I asked.
Her face was bitter in the wan light from the triplets. “I ran the bastard through with my sword. Black blood oozed out like mud. I realized then he was some new kind of undead. He just turned around and laid a hand between my breasts, and the next thing I know I’m beside this marker stone, waiting for you.”
“But that was a year ago.” A year spent waiting.
She nodded. “There were others, too, always at nightfall. The last forest island is far enough every traveler arrives at dusk.”
On foot was the only way you could go these days. The horses were all gone. I raised my gun and aimed between her eyes.
Her face was calm now.
“You want to die?”
She nodded. “Please. I never knew being dead would hurt so much.”
The silver bullet would do it. My finger tightened on the trigger then I hesitated. Magic’s a crazy quilt but I finally got the pattern straight in my head. Richter was a genius of a mage. People thought he’d figured out how to keep himself going after death. But animated corpses fell apart. Mira was in one still glorious piece. Undead stank. She smelled of lilac.
I reached out and lifted her chin with my fingers. Her skin felt cool, but alive. She’d been ensorcelled and I’d been set up. I turned and headed back toward town.
Mira cried out. “Thomas! You are turning back.”
I smiled for the first time in over a year. “You’re not dead. Neither is Richter. I’m betting I’ll find him in the library back in Bandy.”