This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 5. Two and a half hours were spent on this piece; this is the third draft of the story. The prompt: “Write a story about a couple.”
Love after Death
“Can we talk about this later?” Friedrich said, hopping across the waist-high stone wall. “We are working.”
“That is precisely my point, love,” Wilhelm said. As he handed Friedrich the two spades, he continued, “We are always working. Day after day, week after week, month after month. We never take time for each other anymore.”
“Well, we are in the middle of a plague,” Friedrich said before turning and walking deeper into the field of freshly tilled earth. For once, it wasn’t raining, and the sun was nearly gone, its last rays of orange light throwing long shadows across the hastily built grave markers. “Uninfected food is scarce and we don’t know how long this pestilence is going to last. Best to keep our food stores as stocked up as possible.”
He dropped one spade and then bent over a fresh grave with the other, raking the flat of the head across the dirt. His threadbare tan shirt and brown trousers hung loosely on his body, exposing patches of gray-green rotted skin on his gangly limbs. Scraggly, black hair fell across his face.
Wilhelm came up behind him. Like Friedrich, his skin was gray-green and he wore threadbare clothes. Unlike Friedrich, Wilhelm maintained muscle mass after his transformation into a ghoul, so even in undeath he was still broad chested and thick-limbed. A simple weaved hat of straw covered his bald head.
Picking up the second spade, Wilhelm said, “Yes, keeping food stocks high is important during uncertain times. But our burrow has been filled full for months now. Most of what we collect goes to the nearby burrows. It’s okay to let up a bit. None of us will starve anytime soon.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do. Plus, if there is one thing humans are good at, it’s reproduction. Constant visits from the Reapers won’t change that. There will always be food.”
“Maybe . . .”
Friedrich finished removing enough earth to allow the smell of the corpse underneath to waft into the free air. He grimaced. The odor had hints of the plague. Whoever this newly departed soul was, they were inedible.
The couple strolled to the next grave.
“When was the last time we went on a date, a proper one?”
Friedrich shrugged, bending over the grave and beginning the process of scraping away the earth. “A few months ago, when we went to that charming French hamlet.”
“Going blood tasting with your mother and her new vampire sex toy is not a date. It’s an outing.”
“Ugh,” Friedrich said, glancing at Wilhelm. “Would you please not refer to my mother’s new partner as a-a . . . toy. And what’s the difference between an outing and da—”
Wilhelm’s icy glare cut him off. His husband rarely looked at him that way, only when he was genuinely angry with Friedrich. Wilhelm turned and marched off to another grave.
Friedrich hung his head. Forgetting about the grave, he stood straight and observed his partner of nearly three hundred years. The two of them had been bickering more lately. No, not bickering. Bickering had an undercurrent of flirting to it most times. Such an undercurrent didn’t exist in what they were doing.
No, they were fighting. The kind of fighting that eats away at a relationship like maggots on a corpse.
He had thought the fighting was from the stress of the difficult times they were living through. They’d had rough periods in their relationship before during other hard times, but this plague, whatever it was, was dragging on and on. And they had been working extra hard for the burrow for an extended period of time. Most mornings they all but collapsed into bed, exhausted from gathering and storing and preparing corpses all night long.
Friedrich liked work, always did in life and still so in undeath. He liked the daily routine of it. Unfortunately, just like when he’d been alive, he tended to get too focused and obsessive about work. At first it was to the detriment of his wife. Now, it was to his post-life husband.
“You’d think after almost three hundred and fifty years I’d be better at catching myself when I do this,” he said before shuffling over to Wilhelm.
“This body is infected too,” Wilhelm pointedly said without looking at Friedrich. He moved onto the next patch of disturbed earth.
Friedrich followed, as he always would. He opened his mouth, about to say he was sorry but stopped himself. Being sorry would not help solve this issue he created. Instead, he said, “Your right.”
Wilhelm paused his digging, but didn’t look at Friedrich.
“We have been working a lot lately,” Friedrich continued. “Me especially, and I’ve neglected our relationship, neglected you. And no, an outing with my mother is not a date.”
Wilhelm turned but remained silent, maintaining a neutral face as he stared at Friedrich.
Friedrich took a tentative step towards his partner. “But I don’t think a date will solve our problems.”
“Of course it won’t,” Wilhelm scoffed. “But it would be a good start.”
“I think a trip would be an even better start.”
Wilhelm’s cute eyebrow rose in question. “A trip? A trip where?”
“How about the place you’ve wanted to visit since before you and I even met?”
“Egypt?” Wilhelm asked, the tension leaving his body and a hopeful smile taking over his face.
“The undead community there is so much different from ours. And the tombs, oh the tombs I hear are fascinating, a true wonder of the world with the most intricate curses.”
“You’ve mentioned that once or twice.”
“I wonder what the humans will be like there? Gertrude says they have a much different outlook on death and those who have died. I wonder if we’d be able to talk to the living there? Wouldn’t that be something?”
“I don’t know about that, but maybe. At the very least, we can actually enjoy some warm, dry weather for once while sampling exotic food and drink. Partake in some local customs. Maybe even find a romantic spot along the Nile and make up some time.” Friedrich wagged his eyebrows suggestively.
Wilhelm rolled his eyes, but his smile remained. It did falter when he asked, “And the burrow?”
“As you said, they’ll be fine,” Friedrich said, waving away the issue. “There is plenty to eat. You and I have both made more than sure of that, as you also said. Plus, there will be two less to feed for a while, anyway.”
Friedrich closed the distance between them and held out his hand. “So what do you say, love?” he asked. “Join me for a romantic adventure to a faraway land filled with strange monsters and magic?”
Wilhelm took his hind, entwining their fingers. “Sounds like a lovely date to me.”