“Callum, I need you to take out the trash before you leave.”
I can hear my mother’s voice, but her face is gone. Like someone spilled water on a photo and distorted the image, leaving only a blur with running, inky colors.
At least I still have her voice. For now.
“Yeah mom, I’ll get it.”
“And don’t forget to separate the recycling. That’s why we have the big blue bin. Gotta do our part.”
“I know mom.”
“Thanks sweetie, have fun at practice. I love you!”
I didn’t tell her I loved her back. I was busy thinking up snarky comments about how the world would be lost without her noble recycling efforts. If I only knew.
That was the last time I saw my mother. And while my conscience isn’t riddled with guilt over a fight or disagreement, I can’t help but regret not saying those three little words. I love you. I should have said it back.
It’s funny how powerful words become when you can’t use them anymore. I mean, I guess I could, but there really isn’t a reason to.
The Marked don’t talk much. Or at all really. Mostly it’s just groaning when they’re hungry and snarling when they’re eating. Sometimes, they hiss if they feel threatened, but that’s about the extent of it. Besides, they can’t hear me.
I know, because for a week after I ‘awoke,’ I tried everything I could to get my body—I call him Golem—to pay attention to me. I screamed, clapped, sang, yodeled, spooky whispered, you name it; nothing worked. I even made a mad attempt to jump back into my body— possess it, if you will— but I just slipped straight through.
I would talk to other spirits if I could, but there aren’t any others around. It’s been Golem and me for a little over a year now, and even with all the shambling my living-challenged friend does, I have yet to meet anyone else like me. It’s been a lonely year.
To pass the time, I write song lyrics and imagine bass lines to go along with them. I like music, and I am— or, was— pretty good at it before I grayed out. I was even in a band. I know what you’re thinking, every seventeen year old boy is in a band, but my band was awesome. We even got paying gigs at… places.
The fade is getting worse. It seems like every day I forget more and more. It’s like someone is punching holes in my mind. I get bits and pieces of everything, but once my train of thought gets to a certain point, the tracks disappear and it tumbles straight into a black hole.
I can’t even remember my middle name anymore. Callum. I’m Callum … McDonald. I’m seventeen years old, an honor student, musician, average athlete, and … I don’t remember much else.
The onset of the fade started off small. I knew who I was for a few months after I awoke. My biggest concern was getting back into my body. But then, memories started to slip away. I thought it was weird, but I wasn’t really concerned until I started to lose big things: My favorite sport, my best friend’s name, my birthday. By then it was too late.
Now I spend most days fighting to remember. I’ve made a little mantra I make myself repeat a few times a day to stave off the fade.
My name is Callum McDonald. I live at 40221 S. Windsor Drive, in Taylorsville, Utah. I had a mother, a father, and a little sister, Claire. I’m seventeen and I play bass in my band Atomic Cockroach. I read music and advanced literature. I’m stronger than the fade and I’m not going to give up.
It’s been working so far.
A small twinge pulls my stomach and I realize Golem is hungry. Though I haven’t personally been subjected to hunger or cold since I went gray, being connected to Golem gives me a sense of what he’s feeling. And while the Marked don’t exactly have a broad range of emotions—or really any for that matter—the one thing they do feel is hunger. All the time. I’ve gotten used to it for the most part; now I only notice if Golem hasn’t fed in a while.
Another pang yanks at my gut and I wonder when was the last time I —he— ate. It’s hard to remember. Not because of the fade, but because I do everything I can to mentally block Golem’s mealtime. It’s a cruel irony that all of my old memories keep slipping away while new ones try to crowd them out.
I don’t want them.
No matter how hard I try to forget, I can still hear the way Golem’s first victim screamed as he gorged himself on her flesh. She went to my school. I think she was even in my Chemistry class. I probably knew her name. Now all I can remember is how tears flooded her cheeks as she begged for her life. Golem didn’t care.
That didn’t help her. Neither did my desperate shouts or futile attempts to pull Golem off of her. I was a ghost. I tried time and again to grab Golem, to distract him, to reason with him; anything I could to stop him from ripping further into her flesh. But the only thing that took his attention from her skin was when he shattered her bones. Apparently the undead have favorite foods too.
When I finally realized there was nothing I could do, I ran. Up until then, I had been afraid to leave Golem, for fear of the unknown. But at that point, I didn’t care. I only wanted to put as much distance as possible between myself and her agonized screams. I made it about fifty feet when suddenly I was pulled back, like I had been tethered down by some unseen rope. The force jerked me backward, like a human bungee cord, leaving me sprawled against the ground, reeling from the impact, with Golem’s grisly feeding audio ringing in my ears.
Her screams eventually muffled and not long after, died out all together. Mistakenly, I thought it meant it was over. I turned to Golem and was hit by a surprisingly powerful wave of nausea as he hunched over the remains of the girl. She was completely unrecognizable, a torn up carcass surrounded by a sea of blood.
It was too much. I fell forward, feeling ill but unable to expel the knot of sick that was curdling my stomach. Desperate to escape, I curled up into myself and began singing our lead song, Varicose, at the top of my lungs to drown out the scene beside me. I laid there for what felt like an eternity, hiding behind the riffs and guitar licks of our setlist until I felt another tug at my back.
Bracing myself, I turned to find Golem and saw that he had finished. He stood about ten paces away from the remains, shambling off in the opposite direction. I watched him press forward, mentally refusing to follow him. But the invisible cord tightened, beckoning me to follow. I didn’t listen. I stayed in place, my eyes narrowed in anger and determination as I watched my body stagger farther and farther away from me. Every step the tension pulled until I was physically fighting to stay in place.
I continued to struggle until I realized I was fighting a losing battle. I was being dragged across the ground like a stubborn Terrier on a leash. Furious, I scrabbled to my feet. I had lost control of my body, but I would not lose my dignity. Standing tall, I spared one passing glance to the girl from my class. Her body was broken, mangled to the point of being unrecognizable. She was gone. Not fallen to Cainnes, but still one of its victims.
That was over a year ago. I still don’t know what happened to her.
Don’t know what happened to her. That sounds crazy, right? She got eaten, she’s dead.
You would think.
You would think I’d be gone too. But I’m not so lucky. I look at Golem and watch as he mindlessly carries on, oblivious to everything around him, except for his damned hunger. My gut twists as I think of the girl from Chem.
For her sake, I pray she didn’t come back.