‘Just me, the dirt and the flowers’ Rosemary smiled as she took a deep breath and pulled another weed. She loved the smell of sun and soil, her refuge from the storms of life. Her beautiful garden surrounded the house with sprays of iris, foxglove, daisies, marigolds, roses, and pansies. A confetti burst shined from every corner of the yard behind the little white picket fence she had dreamed of since childhood. The perfect life she had always wanted had bloomed around her like her flowers. Thirty years ago she had met Norman, a quiet and kind man. He held a stable job as an accountant and supported her and, a few years later, their child. Henry had grown up a strong, cheerful boy and was now in his last year of college to become a teacher.
Rosemary sat back and looked up at the fluffy clouds, smiling into the warm light. Of course nowadays people were filled with fear of every little thing. They say everything from the sun, wind and rain can give you cancer. Breathing can give you cancer… but no one she knows has it. It’s such a faraway fear that she refused to let it control her, make her decisions for her. Shaking off the dim thoughts marring the bright day, she pulled her wide-brimmed hat down and turned back to the offending weeds attempting to sneak into her beautiful flower beds.
It was nearly an hour later when she had worked her way to the back of the house that she paused. The thin pale, dry dirt here had been disturbed to show the moist earth beneath. Rosemary’s smile faded as she looked toward the broken picket near the alley. The neighbor’s Chihuahua must have snuck in again. Last week she found a surprise next to the large rosebush next to the corner of the house. The terrible smell was not present… but the disturbed dirt said that Cuddles had been here again. She began to stand when she heard something. Her eyes returned to the garden as a clump of soil moved.
“Moles!” She hissed, her brows knitting together in anger. “We’ll see about that!”
She stood and took one step back before a clump fell away to reveal the mole’s nose. ‘Not a mole.’ A quiet voice in her mind said. ‘Not a mole!’
A step back as more fell away and another nose ‘NOT A MOLE!’ emerged and she could not deny the hand reaching up out of the bed of pansies, the fingers curling in a desperate plea for aid. Rosemary stared in horror as the hand was slowly followed by an arm, the flesh loose and rotting away in chunks. With a short scream she sprinted for the door, pulling it closed and bolting it behind her as she called for Norman.
“Rosemary? What happened? Are you alright?” He hurried in, his blue eyes meeting hers in genuine concern. For an irrational moment she felt relief in seeing those eyes, safe and comfortable, but the thing in the garden shifted again and her panic returned.
“There’s something out there… something in the garden!” She gushed, falling in to his arms where she knew nothing could reach her.
“The… garden?” He said slowly, a note of nervous concern entering his voice. “I thought it was full… were you replacing some of the flowers?”
“I was pulling weeds and it moved… it moved, Norman… then a hand…” She shook her head, knowing it sounded insane. Impossible. A hand in the garden? Moving on its own? “It… it came up….”
“Rosemary…. please… calm down.” He held her tightly and sighed. “It’s alright. I know I should have told you but… I didn’t want to worry you. You worry enough as it is…”
“What is it?” She pulled back until she could look at him, frowning as she took in his expression. Sadness, regret and embarrassment dominated his features, apparent in the worry lines that no longer seemed to fade away. “What happened?”
“A few months ago… you heard a noise downstairs late at night. I told you I had left the window open and a cat got in. Had to chase it down….”
“Yes, I remember.” Her mouth went dry as her mind filled with images from the evening news. If not a cat… it must have been….
“There was a burglar.” Norman said quietly, closing his eyes. “He had no intention of leaving even with people home. …I did what I had to…”
She took a step back as she realized what he meant. The next day he had offered to help her mulch the garden – he started on one side of the house and worked their way around. He helped her in the garden quite often so she had thought nothing of it. It had been such a lovely day – perfect for it. But if he hadn’t… the man would have killed them after God knew what… The shadow that had fallen over her husband did not seem quite so dark knowing that he had sacrificed his innocence to preserve her life. She she felt tears welling up as she rushed back into his arms and his tension faded.
“I’m sorry, Rosemary… I didn’t want to.” He said softly.
“I understand.” She whispered. He took a breath to respond but did not speak. She looked up at him but his eyes were on the window behind her. When she began to turn he pulled her back against him.
“No… don’t…. don’t look.” He said so softly she barely heard him.
“What is it?” She asked a cold fear clutching at her stomach, hoping for anything but the image that returned to her from the garden. The hand lifting itself from the garden… as if it were alive. Her mind crowded with reasons it was impossible, each asserting itself desperately to fight the memory of what she had seen. It had to have been her imagination, a hallucination after a few hours in the sun, perhaps she had been asleep sitting up and it was a dream.
“No… it can’t be. Just…” He took a short, ragged breath. “Go upstairs… don’t look out the window… just run.”
“But Norman…” She began.
“I said run.” She barked, spinning her toward the door and pushing her. It was the first time he had ever treated her so roughly and that alone moved her feet quickly toward the stairs. It was true… what she had seen was what it seemed. Impossible… She reached the top of the stairs and felt her legs wobble. She dropped to the floor and stared at the wall across the hallway, it’s cheerful painting of a field of sunflowers in a sunny meadow seemed distant in every way.
Her world had shifted and the questions she had never thought to ask were pressing in on her.
“Get in the bedroom.” Norman called up the stairs, she twisted to look at him. His face was that of a stranger – sharp where his was soft, angry where his was peaceful. “Close the door. Look in the bottom left shoebox in the closet.”
Before she could respond he was out of sight, running to the garage. She struggled to her feet and stumbled in to the bedroom. She felt so numb, her limbs reacting slowly as her mind grappled with the situation. There was a dead man in the garden… walking around. Norman had killed him and the dead man was walking again… the dead man in the garden was walking…
She looked down to see the closet, their clothes hanging neatly on a bar, shoe boxes separated by a suitcase. Hers on the right, his on the left. He only had six boxes to her seventeen. She knelt and pulled the box out, the weight making alright tight nerves jangle. She opened the lid and looked at the gun. She had never seen a gun outside the holster of a policeman. How long had Norman had this? Why did he have it?
How long she sat there she had no idea – there was the gun and then Norman was touching her shoulder, looking at her in concern. The familiar love in his eyes gave her something to hang on to and she held the gun up to him. He gave her the smallest of smiles, exhaustion in the lines around his eyes as he took it from her and hurried back out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
She heard the familiar rumble of his voice as he talked on the phone. It started normal but soon turned strained. Long silences between short moments of speech, then a sharp curse. She had heard him curse very few times in their life together and it always meant trouble. Last time he had uttered a harsh word three cities had been destroyed by a hurricane. So many lives lost… and among them his family.
Now… dead people were climbing from the ground…. The gun….
A sharp sound seemed to echo from every surface and there was silence again. Slowly she stood, holding the door frame of the closet for support, listening for more shots, more shots would mean the dead man was still standing… still walking…. still alive…
She stumbled to the bed and listened, finally hearing steps on the stairs and let out a relieved breath as Norman entered the room. “Rosemary… it…”
“I know… it climbed out of the garden…. it walked…” She said, her voice weak as she fought to not say words that could not be taken back. It made real what was only thought moments before.
“Yes.” He said, sinking down on the edge of the bed. “It doesn’t make sense.”
She sat next to him, looking up at his strained face. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know. But we can’t stay here.”
“What?” She sat up straight. “Why not?”
“It’s not the only one. I saw another one down the street. This house isn’t safe. The windows are too large. It broke the one by the back door and we don’t have enough tables to replace all of them. Even if we used doors, it wouldn’t be enough.” He chuckled, an edge of hysteria creeping in before he could control it. “Your well-lit dream house.”
She felt a stab of hurt anger. Yes, she had loved the bay windows. The french doors in the back. She adored light and kept a number of potted plants in each room. It was her dream. Her irritation faded when she saw the honest amusement in his smile. “Wrought iron bars can be pretty if they are painted white.” The sound of her voice, louder than she expected, made her jump and she jumped a second time as he roared with laughter.
He clung to her, kissing her forehead. “That’s my girl. We’ll get through this. We just have to get out of the city, figure out the safest place we can go.”
They talked and packed, shoving necessities into lightweight bags and collecting the camping gear from the closet in the guest room. Being in the suburbs would make getting out easier – it was decided to head in to the mountains. Her family had a cabin and if the car had a full tank it might be enough to make it there. It would be a long night.