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Author's note: I decided to do something interesting this time as I generally select one ending for a story, but this time, I ended up with two separate and different conclusions. I am creating a poll at the bottom where users can vote on which ending they liked better/thought was more entertaining.As per the audience voting, ending number one is now the accepted conclusion. Users interested in reading ending number two can find it here. Thanks for your feedback and participation.
Robert Cady blew out a heavy sigh as he sat down on a fallen tree. The hike had worn him out and left him feeling queasy. He was never the type to enjoy the great outdoors. He preferred to stay inside and watch tv or read a good book. The idea of going out into the woods; getting blisters on your feet, sweating under the sun, and being preyed on by insects wasn’t his idea of a good time. Despite his hatred of the outdoors, he still made the trip as often as he could. He knew that Camille had loved the woods so he did his best to love it as well. Even though she was gone, he still made sure to celebrate her favorite hobby in honor of her.
As he struggled to regain his breath and calm his stomach, he remembered Camille. Her hair was black and glossy. She had a way of smiling that lit up her entire face and made him feel warm inside. Her beauty was a wonder to behold. Even after years, he couldn’t think of the words to describe it. Lord Byron said it best in his opinion: Camille “walked in beauty, like the night”. Her sparkling eyes rivaled the luster of jasper and her skin was like the night sky. Every month or so, he made sure to visit her grave and remember the beautiful, vibrant girl she was.
He had made this trip dozens of times over the years since her death. Sometimes he would visit her every weekend, other times he could only manage to make the trip monthly. Thinking back on it filled him with remorse. If he knew how little time he had left, he would have visited her more often. He didn’t and he knew that that regret would weigh on him. He also knew that this was going to be his last trip.
It had started off as migraines. Robert just assumed they were just caused by stress from work at the delivery company, but the headaches persisted and grew. It wasn’t until it felt like someone was driving a railroad stake through his head that he knew he had to go to the doctor. Glioma was what they called it. He remembered looking at the MRI scan and seeing the dark splotch. It was like someone had spilled ink onto his brain that was slowly radiating outward and claiming as much grey matter as it could. He didn’t need the doctor’s prognosis to know that he was screwed with a capital S.
The doctor explained that this had likely been growing for years and he was now just beginning to experience the effects. He read off some statistics to him, out of the people whose condition had progressed as far as Robert’s, half would be dead in a year. In two years, only twenty-five percent of those people would be alive. He was living on borrowed time. The tumor had spread from his glial cells and wrapped its dark tendrils around his brain stem. Surgery was not an option and would likely kill or paralyze him if performed. The doctor explained that radiation and chemotherapy would buy him a couple of months, but they were purely temporary measures.
Robert waved off the idea of radiation and chemotherapy. He knew what it would do to him. It may buy him a few extra months, but that time would be spent sick to his stomach, wasting away, and sinking deeper into the hopelessness of his situation as the cancer claimed more of his life. The doctor advised him to sleep on the idea, but Robert’s mind was made up. He was dying and he wanted to do it clear-headed and cognizant. He felt weak and powerless at his impending mortality, but he could still control when and where it would happen.
The neurologist covered the process of dying from a grade-III glioma as clinically as he could. He explained that the headaches would persist. He would find himself getting sick more frequently. As it advanced, he may experience numbness or pain in his extremities and begin to suffer from random seizures. Depending on how it spread, he could even lose his vision. That last bit of news hit Robert the hardest. The thought that he would lose the ability to see the woods that Camille loved was too much.
He brushed off the memory and continued walking. The sun was beginning to set and Robert wasn’t confident that he could find Camille’s grave in the dark. Not being much of an outdoorsman, he had only brought a flashlight, a bottle of water, and a trowel. The trowel had a wide head and a screw-on handle so it could easily be hidden in a backpack until he needed it. He left in the late afternoon when he knew that the reserve would likely be empty. He didn’t want someone stumbling upon him saying goodbye to Camille. He knew that digging her up was a horrible idea, but he couldn’t imagine leaving this world without looking at her one last time.
It took Robert another hour, but eventually he located the area where he buried her. He had marked it with a few stones placed innocently around a nearby tree. By now the sun had completely set. It was the night of a new moon and the area was growing darker every minute. He leaned against the tree and rested for a moment. He listened to the sounds of wildlife around him as he readied his trowel and mentally prepared himself to dig up her corpse.
He wiped at his face as he began the ghoulish task of exhuming her. Camille had been dead for almost three years now. He knew the exact date because he had been there when she died. He had been the one who killed her after-all. As he dug, the memories of Camille returned to him.
He remembered her smile that fateful day in the coffee shop. It was bright and set his heart aflutter. It was meant for someone else behind him that she recognized, but Robert pretended for just a moment that it had been for him and that was enough for something inside of him to crack and give way. He decided that he wanted to see her again. It became a simple routine for him, he would go to the coffee shop everyday at around the same time in the hopes of seeing her. Her caffeine habit worked in his favor and he saw her a few days every week. Spending even a minute in her presence seemed to satiate him, for a while at least.
Eventually the proximity wasn’t enough for Robert. He began following her to work from the coffee shop. Trailing her had been easy. He was an unassuming man and never really stood out in a crowd. Camille worked in a large office building. He would drive a few cars behind her and watch as she pulled into her parking spot before he went off to work as a deliveryman. He did this for a few days before the fates smiled on him. His work had him to deliver a parcel to her office and he was able to match the first name she gave at the coffee shop to a directory in the building. She was the head of the PR department and worked on the fifth floor. Her name was Camille Hills. As much as he wanted to see her office, he knew that it would be a bad idea. Sometimes late at night, he would repeat her name to himself until he fell asleep.
As his love grew, Robert slowly became more daring. If he took off from work early, he would be able to catch a glimpse of her as she left her job. It wasn’t difficult to follow her home and write down her address. He stopped following her from work and now drove by her house on the weekend, hoping to see more of her in a more relaxed setting. It was here that he learned of her hobbies. She was a dog-lover and enjoyed hikes in the great outdoors. Every couple of weeks she would take her English Bulldog on a hike in the woods.
Robert watched her for months before finally getting the courage to talk to Camille. He had taken to hanging around the parking lot of the nature reserve on the weekends. He was always decked out in boots, a windbreaker, and hat to shield him from the sun (which coincidentally also hid his face). He looked like your average outdoorsman enjoying nature. One day he ran into her in the parking lot as she was arriving and he was pretending to leave. They struck up a conversation and he asked if he could pet her dog, Chomps, saying that he was an avid dog-lover (although in reality, he had allergies to dog hair).
Their conversation was enough to twist something deep inside him. He could have blamed the glioma on the change if he knew about it expanding in his head, but it wasn’t that. At that time, the cancer was nothing more than a small seed in his head that hadn’t fully bloomed yet. It was his own mind that poisoned his obsession. He loved her, and he knew she couldn’t love him. She was perfect and he was imperfect. She was beautiful and he was ugly, both on the inside and outside. He knew that they would never be together. He realized that his stalking would eventually be exposed and that beautiful smile of hers would turn into a look of horror and disgust. He knew that eventually his opportunity to see her would be denied to him.
Maybe that was why he chose to kill her. It could have been the pain of knowing she would never reciprocate his affections or maybe it was jealousy at having to share her with the world that drove his desire. In the end, it was his obsession that pushed him to kill her. Much like the glioma germinating in his head, his warped obsession grew and festered inside him. He constantly thought about murdering her and how he would hide her in a place only he could find. By the time he pulled a gun on her and marched her into the woods, his obsession had grown larger and was more malignant than any cancer ever known to medicine.
Camille cried and begged for him to let her go, but it was too late. Robert ignored her and drove her deeper into the woods. She was quiet for most of the walk. Likely she was too frightened to risk setting him off by engaging him. It wasn’t until they reached the spot he had chosen weeks earlier that far away from the beaten trail when she realized what was happening. She saw the handmade coffin resting in the hole he had dug for her that had been adorned with wild flowers and knew the extent of his disease. She turned to him and was about to try begging for her life again, but he had already raised the gun. Robert told Camille that he loved her and then he shot her through the heart.
A week earlier he had fired the gun in that area to see if it would attract any attention. It was far enough away that even if someone did hear the shot, they wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the location. Regardless, Robert still buried her as quickly as he could and left the area after marking it. He pushed her car deep into a nearby lake with Chomps inside the trunk before returning home. He came back a week later and was pleased to learn that no one had found her car or located her grave.
He began visiting her whenever his schedule permitted. Months passed and Robert watched the news religiously. There were no missing persons reports for Camille. Maybe her family assumed she had run off or it could be that there was no one in her life who would ask those sort of questions. Robert watched as her house was foreclosed and reclaimed by the bank. Her work hired a replacement and life continued on without her. He had gotten away with it. Camille was all his now.
Robert was knocked out of his memory by the sound of the trowel striking the lid of the coffin. He scraped the dirt away from the surface and steeled himself. He felt sick, but he knew that he had to see her one last time. He wanted to look on her one last time before the cancer could rot his brain and steal his sight from him. Part of him wanted to die next to her, another part of him knew that he didn’t deserve to die in the same area that she did.
Robert braced himself and lifted the lid. He expected to be hit by the nauseating scent of rot, but he didn’t smell anything. Weirder than that, Camille looked like she hadn’t decayed at all. He couldn’t believe it. He heard rumors about bodies being perfectly preserved like Vladimir Lenin and Eva Perón in incredibly rare circumstances, but he didn’t even dream that it could happen here. Camille Hills looked like she had the day he shot her and buried her. It didn’t even cross Robert’s mind that this could be a delusion or an effect of the tumor’s invasion.
He knelt down and ran his hand across her face. He was surprised that she was cold to the touch. She looked so alive that he was half-expecting that his caress might wake her up. She didn’t, she was dead. He had killed her. Robert’s situation suddenly slammed on him like one thousand bricks. She was dead and soon enough, he would be too. The tears rushed through him and he couldn’t contain them. He wept in her open grave.
The realization was too much and he crumpled inward like a building made of rotting wood. Hot tears stung his eyes and crept down his face before dripping onto Camille’s body. He was going to die and barely anyone would know about it or care. In this moment, he realized how truly alone he actually was. His throat burned and his stomach twisted itself into painful knots. He was too lost in his sorrow to even notice that he was now in her coffin and doubled-over her corpse.
Robert eventually wiped the tears away from his eyes and remembered where he was. He had only wanted to see her, he hadn't planned on touching her like this. He lied to himself and said that he wasn’t a sick man and that there wasn’t a sexual component to his obsession with visiting her grave. He opened his eyes, expecting Camille’s angelic face to bring him some sort of respite. Instead of comfort, he saw her as she really was.
Time had withered the eyes in her sockets and decayed her flesh. Her beautiful hair had dried up and looked more like a collection of hair pulled from a clogged drain. Her skin had decayed and almost looked charred and burned under the moonless sky. The gases that had built up in her abdomen had ruptured long ago, leaving a torn hole where her stomach once was. Robert was too transfixed on the horror in front of him that he didn’t see what was happening behind him. The lid he had pried up and rested on one of the grave walls slammed down on the back of his head, knocking him unconscious.
Robert woke up a few minutes later but by then it was too late. The lid of the coffin was firmly shut and he couldn’t force it open. He pressed, kicked, and shoved at the lid but it held fast. It was almost like some one had nailed it shut from the outside. He screamed for help, but there was no one around to hear his cries. He scratched at the wood and cursed as splinters dug into his fingers and his nails broke off in the wood. How could the lid be stuck on so forcefully?
Robert couldn’t understand what was happening. Had someone followed him out into the woods, knocked him out, and sealed him inside? It didn’t make any sense. The sound of dirt hitting the top of her coffin seemed to confirm that, but when he looked out through a crack in the wood, he couldn’t see anything. Instead, all he saw was the dirt he displaced being pushed back onto the coffin as if by some invisible force.
He desperately looked around the coffin for some way to free himself, but all he saw was Camille’s face. The decay had retracted her lips and gums away from her teeth, in that moment, it almost looked like she was smiling macabrely at him. Robert Cady screamed as he was buried alive, but since he was five miles off the beaten trail in the middle of nowhere, no living person heard his terror. Camille’s corpse continued to smile ghoulishly as her attacker finally received the justice he deserved.
Written by EmpyrealInvective