I’ve been dead in Indiana for four days. A dog has taken my ring finger, along with the wedding band my wife gave me to replace the one I lost on a scuba diving excursion. The dog must have found me tough or too gamy, or maybe there’s still enough of my consciousness to exert a foreboding human presence, because after the finger he left quickly, sidling into the broken, brown cornstalks.
Four days and I’ve yet to be found. Given the circumstances I would have thought myself fortunate to land here, in this ditch, this close to the road where the cars hum by and little children gaze steadily out their windows at this bleak, muddy countryside in dismal March. I would have thought I’d stand out in some way. But I haven’t. The fire smoked me the color of slate, and I’ve amassed a patina of mud and debris that make me as inconspicuous as the pill bugs that caper quietly through my hair.
But a car is stopping now. On the other side of the road. A blue Volkswagen with a peace sticker mouldering off the rusted bumper. There’s a hubcap missing, I think. The view isn’t so good from here.
Sound of a car door. The driver pushes something into the opposite ditch. The splish into a cold pool of standing water and weeds. Stalks crackle beneath some weight.
Slam of the door, and the man is off. The puttering of his car makes a tender noise in the falling darkness.
Now a movement coming from the other side of the road. The low whistle of wind? The catching clack of reeds rocking? An animal? A person?
I project this question into the dark, though my voice doesn’t carry so well anymore.
“Hello,” comes the answer. Quiet, small, and stunned. A child’s voice.
Are you all right? I ask.
A beautiful name.
What’s happened? You sound—not so good.
A wet, strangled cough bubbles up out of the opposite ditch.
Are you all right? You should answer me. Was that man your father?
Delia doesn’t answer.
There’s something wrong here. We’ve been banished from the road, Delia and I. Out of plain view. Fear and pain ride the wind up and down the asphalt, and I re-think my tactics.
Delia, my name is Harold. I’m forty-eight.
No answer. The dark has descended heavily, the cold with it. I’m dead. I don’t know about Delia, but if she’s alive, she may not be soon. The air is cold. The water is cold. The voice of the cornstalks is also cold. It claws at the ears and touches me in uncomfortable ways.
David’s stories have won a variety of prizes including the 2013 Emergency Press International Book Contest, 2013 Leapfrog Press Fiction Prize, Jabberwock Review’s Prize for Fiction, the Mississippi Review Prize, the New South Writing Contest, and Yemassee’s William Richey Short Fiction Contest. His stories have been, or are about to be, published in Best of Ohio Short Stories, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Narrative Magazine. David recently finished his PhD as a Black Mountain Institute Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is currently a visiting lecturer at Gonzaga University.