's 2018 Horror Write-off:

The Big Emptiness After Death

Submitted by Gareth Barsby

I couldn’t get out of my grave fast enough.

I didn’t care about the worms crawling through the soil, or the maggots crawling through my flesh. I didn’t care about how long it would take me to burst from my coffin and scrape through the soil – it would be worth it.

I was alive again – in a sense.

I died, but then I rose again. I could see and hear and smell and taste and touch my surroundings. I was still me. There was no big emptiness after death.

As I pushed myself through the earth, I thought about what I would do once I emerged. I could revisit some of my favourite haunts – walk through that beautiful forest near my home or sit by the lake. I could see how much the world has changed since I was buried.

I could see the people I knew when I was alive.

I was a zombie. A zombie with rotting flesh, ragged clothes and sharp, bony claws. A zombie, known as a creature that could bring panic and fear wherever it went, a harbinger of the apocalypse, what caused humans to huddle in their homes and board up their windows.

I wasn’t a brain-eating monster though. I was still me.

Though I knew people would scream upon seeing me, I climbed upwards. Certainly, I thought, someone would recognise me. I could do something that would show that I still had sentience, I was still me. I could even be reassurance, showing people there was still something after death, there was no big emptiness.

I was still me, and “me” did more than just shamble about and grunt. When I emerged, I thought, I would run, I would skip, I would dance, do things no zombie in the movies would.

I was prepared. I was prepared to be feared. I was prepared to see people flee at the mere sight of me because I was sure I could convince them otherwise. I was prepared to be shot at and stabbed, because I knew death was not the end, there was no big emptiness awaiting me or anyone else and I could show that to everyone.

What I was not prepared for was the house.

The first thing I saw upon bursting from my grave was a two-storey house looming over me as if threatening to fall over and send me back into the ground. With the wet, rotting planks that made up its walls, it reminded me of the coffin I burst out of. The front door was in the shape of a grinning mouth, underneath two large windows shaped like angry eyes, making the house look more like it belonged in a funfair than a graveyard.

Zombies weren’t supposed to feel fear, yet the sight of this building chilled my bones. At least, I thought, I know I’m still me.

However, something about that house drew me towards it. I racked my brains trying to figure out what it was, and came to the conclusion that it was the smell coming from the window-eyes, the smell of stew which reminded me of the meals I had when I was alive.

So focused was I on the smell, I didn’t notice the claw grabbing hold of my arm.

One of the first things I thought when I became a zombie was believing that in this state, I couldn’t feel pain. That assumption was proved wrong by the stinging of the claws, belonging to a green-skinned monster.

Its fingers were longer and bonier than even mine had become, its hands twice the size of mine. Its head resembled a pickle made of flesh, with myriad warts and bulging yellow eyes and teeth that resembled the wood that his house was constructed with.

He tugged on my arm so hard I was certain it was going to come off, but he managed to pull me into the house, where I witnessed where that heavenly smell was coming from – a cauldron like that of a Halloween witch, watched over by another green creature with long fingers. Her face resembled that of a skull without its jaw, though I could tell she was still alive. When she lifted her head and lay eyes on me, an elongated lizard-like tongue slid from under her teeth.

It licked the skin clean off my face.

‘See?’ croaked the clutching creature, ‘I told you we’d find zombies if we moved to the graveyard!’

‘Flesh that’s both alive and dead is the tastiest!’

His mother, after licking my skull, used her tongue to hold me by the other arm, wrapping around it so they could throw me into the pot. As soon as I fell in, my flesh melted right of my skeleton, dissolving into the stew. As much as I wanted to burst out of the cauldron, I couldn’t move. I could do nothing to resist as my bones and entrails dissolved into the stew as well.

I could still see and hear and smell and taste, though I couldn’t touch. Even when I became part of their stew, I still thought, I was still aware. I could still see their hideous faces when they poured me into their bowls. I still heard their slurping and burping.

Then I heard nothing. I saw nothing. I felt and smelled and tasted nothing.

Yet I was still me. I could still think.

I could still think during the big emptiness after death.